With President Obama's historic visit Friday to Hiroshima, he became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Japanese city that was the target (some might say victim) of the first atomic bombing, in August 1945. Many Japanese, and most people in the world, consider Hiroshima to be a milestone in human history, a chilling symbol of how science and technology, capable of such creativity and creation, can also deliver terrible forms of destruction and cruelty. Of course, the bar for his speech, at the city's Peace Memorial Park, was set very high.
A legendary orator, President Obama is making a calculated attempt to forge a new narrative about Hiroshima, or at least revise and improve on an official U.S. government narrative that presents the bombing of Hiroshima as a necessary evil, if not a positive good. In America, more critical perspectives on Hiroshima remain widely held, but still carry an unofficial, and vaguely subversive feel: that the bombing was a demonstration, especially to the Russians, of American technological power; and that defeating Japan was likely with conventional means so use of the bomb succeeded only in igniting a global race for nuclear weapons.
With his soaring oratory, could Obama alter perceptions of Hiroshima? Perhaps. He could have even apologized for America’s atomic bombings, however belatedly. But he didn't. And he wasn't expected to. When Obama announced intentions to visit the hallowed ground of Hiroshima earlier this month, a spokesman ruled out an apology.
In his speech, Obama described the moment that opened a dark, new chapter in history: "Seventy-one years ago, on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed. A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself."
He talked about the violence of "the very first man," who "learned to make blades from flint and spears from wood used these tools not just for hunting but against their own kind."
He noted that, "Every great religion promises a pathway to love and peace and righteousness, and yet no religion has been spared from believers who have claimed their faith as a license to kill."
He pointed out that, "Science allows us to communicate across the seas and fly above the clouds, to cure disease and understand the cosmos, but those same discoveries can be turned into ever more efficient killing machines."
"Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering," Obama said about "all the innocents killed across the arc of that terrible war and the wars that came before and the wars that would follow."
"But we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again," he said, calling for a "world without nuclear weapons."
He closed his speech by describing "a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening."
But what else might have Obama said, if not express regrets over America’s use of atomic weapons and its humbling status as the only nation ever to have used these weapons of mass destruction?
Addressing the question demands a brief history lesson. Coming at the end of a murderous world war in which millions of civilians were killed, often by bombings from the air, American leaders argued in 1945 that the vastly more powerful atomic weapon, designed and built by American scientists and engineers in a secret lab in New Mexico, would quickly force the Japanese government to capitulate. With a single bomb against Hiroshima, and another lone bomb three days later dropped on the city of Nagasaki, the U.S. killed anywhere from 115,000 to 250,000 people and injured 100,000 more.
President Harry Truman made the decision to bomb both cities, a decision never regretted and always defended. Truman said the bombing hastened an end to the war with Japan, which the Japanese had begun with a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. In an oft-quoted reply a few days after the bombings to a letter from a Christian group, Truman wrote: “I was greatly disturbed over the unwarranted attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor and their murder of our prisoners of war. The only language they seem to understand is the one we have been using to bombard them.” Truman added, ominously: “When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast.”
Might Obama deliver a solemn remembrance of the event, a kind of masterful memorial for those killed and maimed that fateful day? Perhaps. But requiems for war casualties usually come quickly, while the embers of war still burn. The classic example: President Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Lincoln’s 276-word speech, considered a classic in political rhetoric, came merely four months after the famously bloody battle between Union and Confederate soldiers. Rather than celebrate the victory of his Union army, Lincoln tried to link together the fates of winner and loser, declaring:
“We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.”
Lincoln quickly shifted ground, adding: “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”
Lincoln’s identification of the "living” as his principal audience could provide Obama with a useful reminder of how we might today think about the meaning of Hiroshima, the challenge of a world where nuclear weapons remain an unstable and menacing technology. In this context, what special role if any does the U.S. have, especially in light of the simple fact that our country remains the only one ever to use nuclear weapons in war?
Obama might also recall how American anxieties over nuclear weapons rose in the years after Hiroshima. In the wake of the Soviet Union’s first atomic bomb test in 1949, Americans began to fear the experience of incineration and radiation (the lethal characteristics of the first atomic bombings). By the late 1950s, after Russia put a rocket into space—essentially demonstrating that one of its nuclear bombs could reach the U.S.—American anxieties grew to near-hysteria. In the Twilight Zone episode "The Shelter," which aired in September 1961, a routine drill turns ugly as the father of one suburban family with a well-built shelter refuses to share it with his neighbors, overruling his wife’s insistence that they must. One year later, Russia secretly placed nuclear weapons on the island of Cuba, 90 miles off the coast of Florida. President Kennedy considered a military response, which both sides feared would lead to a general nuclear war. When the Russians removed their missiles from Cuba in exchange for the U.S. doing the same in Turkey, the crisis was averted.
Lasting lessons were learned. Above-ground tests of nuclear weapons, which poisoned the environment with radioactivity in the 1950s and led to the rise of a global environmental movement, were banned. Worries about nuclear weapons quickly retreated, so much so that in 1964 director Stanley Kubrick could create a movie parody of nuclear war in which Americans could laugh at the rogue General Jack D. Ripper and the nuclear expert Dr. Strangelove who improbably predicted that a privileged elite would survive an all-out nuclear war.
That Obama has waited until the midnight hour of his presidency to address the American use of nuclear weapons suggests he either plans an important statement, or that having waited this long to address America’s troubling nuclear past, he will simply use the opportunity to make another pitch for his $1 trillion plan to “modernize” the country’s nuclear weapons.
While Obama might want to reinforce support for improving the arsenal, such a speech might seem to blaspheme the hallowed ground of Hiroshima, which has come to be viewed as a symbol. Just as Jews say they remember the Holocaust in order to promote the idea of “never again,” Japanese and others mark August 6, the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, in ways that highlight the pyrrhic nature of nuclear weapons. Everyone loses when these weapons are used, these anniversaries remind us.
Here’s a short list of things that should have been in Obama's speech. They amount to a list of reforms that critics of U.S. policies on nuclear weapons have supported, some for more than 50 years.
1. No first use.
Every U.S. president since Truman has reserved the right to use nuclear weapons, including Obama. He’s insisted that as president he needs flexibility to respond to shifting and only partially apparent threats. Yet freedom has its costs. Because the U.S. government won’t rule out using nuclear weapons in a “first strike,” other countries worry about being the target of an American nuclear attack, and as a result they may see the benefits of developing their own nuclear weapons. By embracing “no first use,” Obama might, even if only for the remainder of his presidency, set an important precedent—one that might influence his successor to do the same.
2. Give an honest account of the role of the Soviet Union in dropping the bomb.
Did the U.S. drop atomic bombs on two Japanese cities to deny Russia (then the Soviet Union) time and opportunity to invade and perhaps occupy Japan? One perspective, long championed by the historian Gar Alperovitz, was that Hiroshima was a form of “atomic diplomacy,” whereby the U.S. sought to limit Russian influence in Asia. Might Obama bring more candor to the official narrative of American nuclear history by setting the record straight about the extent to which intimidating Russia factored into the decision to launch atomic bombs on Japan? According to Russian historical records painstakingly studied by David Hollinger, a historian at Stanford University, the effect of Hiroshima was likely the opposite: Stalin, then the Soviet dictator, immediately ordered accelerated work on atomic weapons after learning of the Hiroshima bombing.
3. Link the bombing of Hiroshima to the rise of the military-industrial complex.
Once the U.S. military possessed what historian Gregg Herken has called “the winning weapon,” the marriage between scientists and the military became permanent. By 1961, in his farewell address to the nation, outgoing President Eisenhower complained that science and the military had reduced the rest of the citizenry to captives in a techno-scientific race toward ever more destructive, if technically “sweet,” weaponry. While the military’s domination of scientific advancement is much less than 50 years ago, the specter of science and engineering dominated by security concerns remains.
4. Junk the $1 trillion plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
Obama could express doubts, or even abandon his $1 trillion plan to modernize the country’s nuclear weapons. The plan seeks to reduce accidents and improve control over nuclear weapons by replacing old and clunky command-and-control computer systems. But the planned improvements, critics say, have caused Russia and China to openly talk about improving their nuclear arsenals. Recently, the New York Times argued for the existence of a new nuclear arms race, ignited by Obama’s plans.
5. Remember Nagasaki.
Obama mentioned Nagasaki twice in his speech, only fleetingly. But much more could have been said about the other city the U.S. destroyed with a single atomic weapon, three days after Hiroshima. Why did President Truman drop this bomb? While the Japanese emperor had not yet accepted American demands for surrender, he and his war cabinet were teetering on collapse when Nagasaki was hit on August 9. Historians are unequivocal about the senselessness of this atomic bombing. “Whatever one thinks about the necessity of the first A-bomb, the second dropped on Nagasaki… was almost certainly unnecessary,” historian Barton Bernstein wrote in 1995. He then asked, “Why not at least admit Nagasaki was a mistake?”Related Stories
Jack Nicholson dryly noted that his mother once called him a son of a bitch — and didn’t comprehend the irony.
2016 has certainly been an odd year for the political and corporate elites. They certainly couldn’t predict (and then subsequently stayed in denial about) the groundswell from the masses in terms of the popularity of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Much like the Nicholson example, the aloof Powers That Be are oblivious to irony: They are the ones who gave birth to the mass anger that now confronts them.
The political cognoscenti have not understood the massive public rage from today’s “unAmerica” of glaring inequality and mass downward mobility that is the direct product of their wrenching the system with such power tools as: “free” trade agreements, union busting, defunding public services, downsizing, offshoring, price gouging, Citizens United, privatization, the Wall Street bailout, student debt, tax dodging, criminalization of poverty, militarization of police … and so god-awful much more.
Instead of comprehending the public rage from the above injustices, the established powers have lashed out at these political riff-raff and intruders. Their conventional wisdom (endlessly parroted by the corporate media) is that hordes of blue-collar voters, young people, independents, and others surging into the two outsiders presidential campaigns have been naive, unrealistic, selfish, stupid, ignorant, racist, misogynistic, anti-immigrant, fascist or some combination of the above. Of course, such characteristics can be found among every campaign’s supporters, but smearing an insurgency of millions as nothing but airheads and haters only reveals the desperation of the smearers.
Take Trump’s campaign. Yes, he has recklessly continued to fan the embers of hate, belittling Muslims, the disabled, Latino immigrants, women, Spanish-language reporters, and his catchall category of “losers” — all the while reveling in the role of outlandish, boorish autocrat. Therefore, pundits and the GOP’s big shots conclude, his appeal and his supporters are racism personified. End of discussion. Yet, in addition to walling off Mexico and banning Muslim refugees, Trump speaks about NAFTA, runaway corporations, and our “stoopid” leaders who’ve turned their backs on American manufacturing and the struggling of families who count on those good jobs — and that’s what many of his working class supporters say they’re responding to.
Sanders, too, is winning phenomenal support from a similar constituency, and he’s winning an amazing 70-85 percent of 17-to-30-year-old voters. Like Trump, he’s hammering the pampered rich who disdain and discard the working class, but in a very different way: He’s also offering a renewed, uplifting, Rooseveltian vision of an “America for All,” not just for billionaires.
The real story, however, is not about the two maverick candidates, but about the waves of ordinary people who’ve created and lifted their campaigns. They embody and give voice to the millions wrecked by Wall Street greed in the 2008 crash, who were left out of the widely ballyhooed “recovery,” and who now realize that they’re not included in the elite’s laissez-faire schemes of future American prosperity. These voters are hurting today, distressed about tomorrow, and fed up with the two-party indifference to “people like us.”
They are the reason the Bernie and Donnie phenomena are not just 2016 flare-ups — but in the words of Sanders’ clarion call — “a political revolution.” The elite’s ploys to trivialize the impact of these campaigns will only stoke the fires of the newly politicized outsiders. No matter what happens this year to Sanders and Trump, the people are not going away. The rebellion is on. Sanders and Trump are only the current messengers. The message itself is that We, the Grassroots People, now see that we’re being sold out to giant corporations by our own leaders. Like the distant rumble of thunder, the boisterous uprising of outsiders in this year’s presidential election signals the approach of a historic storm.
I remember the first client I ever met who wanted to do drugs during a session. It was a doubles call in 2003, when I was still a newbie escort, young, dumb and 21. I remember wincing in secondhand embarrassment at Dan the Welshman as he confided to us, all put-on nonchalance and pride at his own edginess, “Oh, yes, sometimes I do a little crack… and sometimes I do a little horse.” I remember thinking that if he wanted to impress us with his street cred—this middle class expatriate in a bedroom suburb in Western Massachusetts, with some forgettable job in corporate agriculture—then maybe he shouldn’t have used ’60s-era slang.
My colleague, Brenda, smiled brilliantly as she took the pipe from him and I demurred. As they indulged, the room filled with the forced gaiety of uppers, exasperating to witness from the outside looking in. As they giggled incessantly, I felt like I was trapped taking care of two toddlers—I couldn’t wait to get home and sniff some OxyContin and calm my nerves.
It was the first time I felt I’d lost control of a call. This was back in the day, before the Girlfriend Experience (“GFE”) promised in our advertising didn’t implicitly include a “BBBJ”—a bareback blowjob. Back before my rigid insistence on a covered blowjob didn’t end up losing me business to the competition, because in that long-ago era it was industry standard that we all used a condom for giving oral sex. But Brenda went down on Dan without, and when I looked at her askance, she just said, “Oh, well, I know him.” As if meeting a man a few times somehow served to protect her from STI transmission.
As soon as she relented, it opened me up to a litany of entreaties from him, lasting throughout our hour-long session, for me to to the same. “You sure you don’t want to get your mouth around this and really taste it?” he kept asking me, giving me what he must’ve thought were bedroom eyes.
If that wasn’t bad enough, after we finally left he wouldn’t stop calling us frantically every five minutes for the remainder of the evening, alternating between my phone and hers when we wouldn’t pick up. Brenda had unwisely tossed off at one point in the conversation that maybe she might be able to get him some more crack sometime, and apparently he took that throwaway comment as a solemn vow to procure him more that very night.
The Promise of Pleasure
When men pay sex workers, they’re not just purchasing a sexual service. They’re purchasing pleasure divorced from the stress and dullness of their everyday lives—something like what’s promised in travel ads and pleasure cruise commercials, but with sex.
We act as a sort of tour guide for our clients through their indulgence of more illicit vices, so it’s no wonder that these men often want to pair the sex we provide with the consumption of drugs, to maximize their relaxation.
“[Client’s] drug use is [viewed as] a way for them to blow off steam…because they work so hard all day at their jobs,” elaborates Cynthia, a 20-something East Coast escort.
As a fellow sex worker explains in the context of strip clubs, men want commercial sex as a risqué holiday from mundane worry. “Strip clubs are billed and understood as…adult playgrounds where boys will be boys, and boys don’t want or need to self-police. That’s boring, not relaxing,” writes a contributor to Tits and Sass (a blog by and for sex workers which I co-edit).
When part of the fun of modern sex work for clients is the perception that here, for once, they don’t have to deny themselves, things can get precarious. For us and for them: Men don’t like to be told no when they’re taking a load off.
“When some wrinkly old dude with a limp boner is hoovering cocaine, I pray that he doesn’t get a heart attack and I end up in the news as the hooker who fled the scene,” says Maxine, a New York city massage worker.
That’s basically what happened to sugar baby Alix Tichelman when the heroin injection she gave her Google executive client, Forrest Hayes, led to his overdose death in 2013. Tichelman was eventually convicted of Hayes’ manslaughter last year, because despite the fact that she tried to revive him, she eventually panicked and left when she realized he was dead. Media coverage of the case painted the young sex worker as a heartless killer. But it seems unlikely that Tichelman had much freedom to tell Hayes that the dose he asked for might be too much when she was not only his supplier, but also the paid companion he expected to empower him to enjoy himself.
Mixing Booze, Cocaine and Sex Work
In my experience, most clients are partial to alcohol and cocaine. Marijuana is a close runner-up.
Sex workers revile drunk clients. Of all psychoactive substances, alcohol is the only one whose consumption has been shown to commonly increase aggression.
“I have the most concerns with clients who’ve been drinking,” says Bea Lewis, an escort who’s done various kinds of sex work for over half her life. “I find people on alcohol unpredictable, and that unpredictability can make them dangerous. You don’t know what might set them off.”
Meg, a former escort and California-based sex worker and trafficking survivor rights activist, says that her experience was similar. “One of the most scary calls I ever went on was [with] a client who’d been drinking too much,” she remembers. “Because of a language barrier, we couldn’t communicate well with one another and things quickly went south. I did everything I could to make sure I’d held up my end of the deal, but because his body wasn’t cooperating, he got aggressive and violent, chasing me down the stairwell and blocking me from leaving the parking garage.“
“Alcohol has always proven the most problematic with clients,” she continues. “I could deal with a little stumbling. I could comfort and navigate around paranoia. I could creatively work around flaccidity. I was un-phased by hallucinations or nodding off. But if there was any entitlement, any sense of lording power over me, any superior arrogance, any sense of me owing them more than what was agreed to, it was generally exacerbated by excessive alcohol consumption.”
The other major pitfall of alcohol is, well, whiskey dick. Because (cisgender) men are conditioned to associate their potency with their manliness, being caught limp is always deeply embarrassing for them.
But while a sober client can usually be assuaged when you nod your head after they’ve repeated the well-worn lie that “this has never happened to me before” a few times, what alcohol—and coke—do is make impotency more likely and the owner of the flaccid cock much less reasonable.
They’re more likely to blame us than to accept the limitations of their own bodies. They’re more likely to expect that we have some magic sex trick up our sleeve which will suddenly rectify matters.
In sex work scholar Melissa Ditmore’s Harm Reduction International paper, “When Sex Work and Drug Use Overlap,” she notes that: “The use of drugs, including alcohol, can contribute to difficulty with sexual functioning. For example, drugs can increase the time it takes for a male client to ejaculate, thereby lengthening the time spent providing a physical sexual service and increasing the potential risk of torn membranes vulnerable to infection.”
So clients’ drugged-up sexual dysfunction is not only exasperating; the extra time we spend trying to cater to their unreliable boners also exposes us further to STI risk.
“I’ve played with someone’s limp coke dick for an hour before,” groans Cynthia. “It sucked but…I needed the cash.”
Cocaine, while less likely to lead to violence, is just as likely to make men incapable of getting it up.
“That cliche about how men love blowing money on coke and hookers has its basis firmly in reality,” Cynthia explains. “[It’s] my clients’ second favorite, probably because my demographic skews old, rich, and white.”
Coke has its own drawbacks. Cynthia tells me that it makes her Seeking Arrangement guys “unpredictable and prone to false promises.”
And of course, clients who combine alcohol and cocaine for a sort of middle-class speedball can be doubly frightening for a sex worker.
“I have mostly experienced violence from clients who were combining cocaine and alcohol—the comorbid effect of those substances on hobbyists is not good,” Cynthia concludes.
There are occasional advantages to client drug use, certainly. There are even advantages to whiskey dick and coke dick—when they lead to hours of extended sessions where all you have to do is allow an intoxicated client to keep ranting, and especially when inebriation also loosens the client’s purse strings.
“They can be in a more generous mood and more likely to […] really splurge in that they have planned ahead and want to invest in having a good time,” says Ryry, a 26-year-old escort .
“I know I’ve had multiple hour and overnight sessions because of cocaine use,” Jordan, a 25- year-old East Coast touring escort, tells me.
Or sometimes, a call can involve little time and effort if the client quickly gives up on getting it up or, conversely, has a hair-trigger dick.
“There have been multiple times where I got out of having sex because the person was wasted and either couldn’t manage it or just wanted someone to talk at while they were high,” Cynthia says.
“The benefits [to client use] included…wrapping up a session faster…because someone was either more ‘eager’ than usual or unable to do anything,” Meg confirms.
Perks and Further Risks
Drug-using sex workers in need might occasionally even be provided with the drug they’re addicted to via a client. Certainly, clients are good for sometimes turning up drugs we want.
“Clients have given me Xanax or Valium,” Cynthia tells me. “ I like it when they do that. Prescription drugs are the only ones I’ll accept from clients because I imagine the likelihood of them being tampered with is a bit lower.”
“I got pretty lucky when a really awesome overnight client shared some of his LSD with me,” Maxine relates.
Personally, I fondly look back to the afternoon I took a couple of Valiums with a regular and we hopped into a warm bath together as one of the best days of my life. These days, though, I’ve cut “partying” callers out of my clientele almost entirely by working weekdays and daytimes, so that I get men on business lunches rather than guys on 3 am coke binges. I’ve learned that despite the occasional perks of client drug use, it’s just better to be safe than sorry.
But ultimately, it’s not the drugs themselves which make drug using clients dangerous. It’s the lack of accountability. As Ryry explains, “People often say things like ‘oh, clients on ice are violent’ or ‘I don’t see clients on drugs coz they behave so badly,’ but thinking about drug use like this isn’t very helpful. It’s behavior that needs to be addressed, not drug use in itself. So if someone is behaving in a way that is disrespectful or violent…of course that is not ok. But even if the person blames it on their drug use, and says the drugs made them do it, I think the underlying behavior is still the actual problem.”
“And if a person still thinks that if they take a particular substance and that it then makes them out of control and leads them to disrespect boundaries or be violent,” she adds, “then they need to take back control of their actions and then maybe not use that substance if they really believe it affects them in this way.”
When you view illicit drugs and sex as a vacation from your day-to-day, law-abiding life, it’s unlikely that you’ll take responsibility for the way you behave towards the criminalized people you hire.
Many sex workers face other risks, too, when their clients are high.
“I definitely think my clients’ drug use puts me at risk, “ says Jordan. ”It puts me in a position where I have access to drugs I am trying to avoid. Many times my clients pressure me to join them in their drug use. The few times I have partook, it made it more difficult to keep my wits about me, which is dangerous. When I refuse to join, they often do not respect my wishes and continue to pressure me throughout the session. Sometimes I think they want me to get high with them in an attempt to get free services from me and otherwise make it easier to cross boundaries.”
One of the most important boundaries drug-using clients are likely to cross—like Dan the Welshman—are our limits around safer sex. “Most of my clients request drugs because they want to share an extra kind of intimacy with me…casually trying to coerce bareback, for example,” New York state sex worker “M” tells me.
While sex workers have been unfairly characterized as vectors of disease for centuries, it’s our clients who are the ones angling for barrier-free sex, especially when they’re high. A recent widely publicized example is Charlie Sheen. He claimed in his open letter to fans disclosing his HIV positive status that in his often coke-fueled liaisons with sex workers he “always led with condoms.” But one anonymous escort he saw recalled that he requested bareback while seeing her in his crack fume-filled bedroom in 2007. And his porn performer ex-girlfriend Bree Olson told the Howard Stern Showthat throughout their relationship, which ended in 2011 well after he was diagnosed, he used lambskin condoms, which don’t protect sexual partners from STI infection.
Aside from the fact that the risk of unprotected sex looms larger when drugs are involved, even sex workers who are drug users often prefer to keep a clear head while engaging in work where we navigate potential criminalization and violence. Or, more prosaically, we just don’t want to taint a high with the work of placating a client throughout it: “The client being around while I get high kind of ruins the high for me,” says M.
Our drug use and a client’s drug use are not viewed the same way—and for sex workers who are drug users, this can make babysitting a client who’s high out of his mind while you’re stone cold sober sadly ironic. “It’s not ok for sex workers to spend our income on drugs, but it’s ok if you are a lawyer to buy cocaine,” observes Ryry.
“I think the public views client drug use as more like an occasional indiscretion, often brought on by the sex worker,” echoes Maxine.
In contrast, even clients who do drugs themselves tend to have nothing but disdain for our drug use. “I was always conscious about the power dynamics when seeing a client, so I never admitted to using or being high,” recalls Meg. “I was fully aware that they would probably see me differently and potentially use that to push boundaries, get freebies, trade sex for drugs, or even get violent/abusive.”
“And it’s clear that sex workers who use drugs are automatically categorized as financially desperate, willing to do anything for their next fix or line, the bottom of the social barrel…having no boundaries or standards, “ she continues. “Clients, on the other hand, are often viewed as simply men with a problem, often pitied more than made the objects of social derision and scorn.”
“My clients are boring old farts, so they see their drug use as something that makes them cool and edgy, while they view the drug use of some of my coworkers [at the massage parlor] as evidence [that] they are sad and broken,” Maxine observes bitterly.
When white middle-class men like our clients use drugs, it is at worst a tragic vice, not a marker of sociopathy. The sex workers these men call upon to facilitate their double lives are the ones that typically get to wear the scarlet A for their addiction. These men, on hiatus from their lives on the straight-and-narrow, expect us to cater to them on their benders, often leaving us to nanny reckless, inexperienced users.
It’s particularly sobering to remember, while in session with an addled client whose drugs are strewn about the hotel room, that were we to be caught, the legal consequences would not be the same for him as for me. Client drug use is a situation which starkly clarifies the difference between a criminalized person and a more privileged person who sometimes indulges in criminalized behavior behind closed doors.Related Stories
The first case of a superbug resistant to “last resort antibiotics” appeared in the United States last month, prompting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Tom Frieden Thursday to warn it could spell “the end of the road for antibiotics unless we act more urgently.”
According to a report by the Department of Defense, the bacteria, found in the urine sample of a Pennsylvania woman, is a strand of E. coli carrying MCR-1, a genetic mutation that makes it resistant to colistin, one of several “last resort antibiotics” used to treat infections that prove impervious to more standard forms of treatment. The CDC listed CRE—Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, the family that contains the colistin-resistant E. coli, among other superbugs—as one of the most dire public health threats facing the country. CRE superbugs kill up to half the patients who are affected.
Even more alarming, the MCR-1 gene can transfer resistance to other bacterium through small bits of DNA called plasmids, meaning the gene can pass between species of bacterium as opposed to remaining contained to one species.
“The fear is that this could spread to other bacteria and create the bacterium that would be resistant to everything,” Beth Bell, director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, told ABC News.
Scientists in China first discovered the MCR-1 gene in November. Since then the mutation has been found in Europe and Canada, and now for the first time, the United States. Health officials in the U.S. screened 949 animal samples, finding the one case of colostin-reistant E. coli in a pig’s intestine. The sample also carried an additional resistance pattern, ASSuT, which makes it invulnerable to ampicilin, steptomycin, sulfas and tetracycline.
Food-producing animals raised in crowded conditions on factory farms are “of particular concern” in spreading drug-resistant bacteria, in part because of the high volume of antibiotics now used on such livestock. “Antibiotics must be used judiciously in humans and animals because both uses contribute to the emergence, persistence, and spread of resistant bacteria,” the CDC warns.
Antibiotics are also overprescribed in humans; one study indicated as many as one-third of all antibiotic prescriptions are superfluous. The World Health Organization warns that drug resistance “can come from the overuse and misuse of antibiotics and from the spread of resistant strains among people, in communities and across countries.”
Steven Roach, the food safety program director at the Food Animal Concerns Trust, said the finding “shows that we are right on the verge of getting into the territory of routine bacterial infections being untreatable.”
“It underscores the failure of both the federal government and Congress, and the industry, to get a grasp of the problem,” Roach continued. “We can’t continue to drag our feet on taking needed action.”
In 2014, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to combat the spread of superbugs including MRSA and multi-drug-resistant tuberculoisis. The order established a task force between the Secretaries of Defense, Agriculture and Heath and Human Services to prevent the spread of drug-resistant bacteria and improve internal collaboration among the departments. Critics of the executive order say it does little to prevent the overuse of antibiotics in the agriculture and healthcare industries.
According to the CDC, at least 2 million people are infected by drug-resistant bacteria each year, leading to at least 23,000 deaths. The CDC's Frieden warned “the medicine cabinet is empty for some patients.”
“We may be in a situation where we have patients in our intensive-care units, or patients getting urinary tract infections for which we do not have antibiotics,” Frieden added.
Watch CBS News coverage of this developing story:Related Stories
Three men incarcerated in Massachusetts who were working with a prison reform caucus of state legislators have been thrown in solitary confinement, in an apparent retaliation against their activism and an attempt to disrupt further communications.
In the middle of the night on March 23, 52-year-old Timothy Muise, 44-year-old Shawn Fisher, and 39-year-old Steven James were taken from their cells at the medium-security prison MCI Shirley, handcuffed, and transported by van to three separate prisons spread across the state (Norfolk, Bridgewater, and Gardner), where they were placed in solitary confinement. Muise has since been moved to a different cell every 30 days, while Fisher and James have also been moved more than once.
The three did not receive their underwear or other basic belongings until 41 days after their midnight transfer. Since their placement in solitary confinement, the men’s communication abilities have been significantly curtailed, limited to two phone calls a week for 15 minutes, two one-hour non-contact visits a week, and writing letters.
Muise and Fisher are longtime advocates for prisoners’ rights and prison reform. In the past year, they have organized multiple meetings with the Legislative Harm Reduction Caucus, a coalition of 70 state legislators working to “address the root causes and symptoms of mass incarceration.” Speaking to Solitary Watch, Massachusetts representative Benjamin Swan, one of its leading members, called the caucus, “A group of progressive legislators who see the need for some reform in the criminal justice system and corrections as well.”
Muise and Fisher had organized meetings at MCI Shirley with caucus members and prisoners in October and February to discuss potential reform options. The two were in talks with the caucus to soon travel to the statehouse to testify before the Public Safety Committee.The October and February meetings were sanctioned by Shirley prison officials and attended by correctional staff. Though James was not present at the meetings, he has also been involved in the push for reform within Shirley, and is friends with Muise and Fisher.
The night that the three men were transferred and placed in solitary confinement, they were initially brought into separate interview rooms for questioning by investigators from the Department of Corrections. According to people close to the men, they were initially asked about their work with the legislative caucus, and the meaning of “Phases I, II, and III.” This referred to meetings with the caucus. The first two were the meetings in October and February. The third “phase,” which was still being planned, was to be the culmination of the prior two meetings, and would involve some of the incarcerated being brought to testify about prison conditions and possible reform solutions at the Massachusetts statehouse in Boston. After the phases were clarified, the investigating officers began to accuse the three men of an illegal “plot to build a computer.”
According to people present, the meetings in February and October focused on overuse of solitary confinement, the lack of vocational training in Massachusetts prisons, low pay for incarcerated workers despite high fines and prices at the prison canteens, and the high number of deaths (22) in MCI Shirley last year. Representative Swan said that hearing the suggestions of the prisoners has been extremely helpful for his development of new policies to introduce to the legislature. “Sometimes I think the inmates ought to run the facility,” he told Solitary Watch. “I think they might do a better job than the administration.”
The DOC has not yet provided any evidence of a computer building plot, nor any explanation as to how any of the men could remotely be connected to one. Additionally, it remains unclear why the three men would desire a homemade computer. Steven James was already enrolled in a daily computer class, and all general population prisoners at MCI Shirley were granted significant communication privileges by phone and letter.
On May 22, two months after their initial transfer and placement in solitary confinement, Muise received a disciplinary report accusing him of masterminding a plot to build a computer to hack into the DOC’s communications systems. Fisher was told that he has a disciplinary report filed against him, but has yet to be made aware of its contents. James had not yet received a disciplinary report. When reached for comment, a spokesperson for the DOC informed Solitary Watch that under Massachusetts’s CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) laws, the DOC is legally unable to publicly comment on why specific prisoners were being held in solitary confinement.
However, in the time that has elapsed since the three men’s initial transfer and placement in solitary, the DOC appears to have backed away from claims of a computer-building plot. Though the DOC has failed to provide a clear answer as to why the men are being punished with 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement, Muise has apparently been upgraded to “Level A Escape Status,” which is the highest designation of escape threat.
“Level A is for people with previous escapes, escape attempts, or possession of escape tools, and does not fit me,” wrote Muise, who has only 17 months left in a 17-year sentence. “Outrageous for any to portray that I would attempt to escape! Pure retaliation because I exercised my rights.” All three of the prisoners seem unlikely candidates for escape. James has served 22 years and was approaching his parole date, and is currently engaged in a lawsuit challenging the specifics of his initial conviction. Fisher, too, is up for parole in 2019. However, at this point, it remains unclear if Fisher’s or James’s escape status designations have been changed, or only Muise’s.
According to Muise and people close to the other two men, the presentations in October and February may have angered some of the correctional officers at MCI Shirley. Muise’s lawyer, John Reinstein, said that the DOC has been opaque in justifying the placement of the prisoners in solitary, but stated that he is under the impression that the punishment is based on their reform efforts. “While there is a fairly clear appearance that Tim and the others were shipped out—and now locked up—because of their involvement in the meetings with legislators, it appears that they are looking for some other basis for bringing disciplinary charges against them, Reinstein said. “I don’t think they have anything, but I can’t simply say that it is based on their advocacy.”
Muise in particular has a long history of advocacy in the prison system, and has faced retaliation before. In 2010, he went public with complaints about a pervasive “sex for snitching” system of abuse within another Massachusetts state prison, MCI Norfolk. This resulted an investigation by the Massachusetts Assistant Deputy Commissioner Paul DiPaolo, and in Muise being promptly thrown in solitary confinement, with the DOC falsely claiming that he had been “inciting a group demonstration.” Muise was then moved to MCI Shirley—which he referred to as a “retaliatory transfer”—moving him away from the life he had built behind bars. After spending over three months in solitary confinement, Muise successfully sued the Massachusetts Department of Corrections for impingement of his freedom of speech.
Swan and other Caucus members told Solitary Watch that they are aware of the situation involving Muise, Fisher, and James, and are monitoring the situation. Swan, who met with Muise last week in solitary confinement, has called on the Legislative Harm Reduction Caucus, as well the Black and Latino Caucus, to meet with Massachusetts’s Executive Officer of Public Safety and Commissioner of Corrections in order “to talk about how is it that a group of inmates can get in trouble for trying to see the governor” and to “give us some understanding as to why this is happening, and tell us if they think this is what should happen or if someone is overstepping their policy.”
Andrew Sullivan Is Blinded by Fear of Popular Self-Government: Trump's Rise Was Fueled by Elitism, not 'Hyperdemocracy'
What is all the fuss about? Sullivan, in critiquing the Donald Trump phenomenon and the political factors that gave rise to it, makes a few good points, but buries them under a ridiculous premise: The culprit responsible for Trump is too much democracy, and the cure is more elite control of the political process.
Sullivan gets everything backward. It is as if a safety inspector had gone aboard RMS Titanic, minutely examined her watertight hatches, boiler and steam turbine, and then declared her safe because he judged that the lack of lifeboats reduced the chances of capsizing from too much top weight.
In a nutshell, Sullivan attributes Trump’s nomination for the presidency by one of our two major parties to the rise of what he calls “hyperdemocracy.” Accompanying this alleged excess of democracy is a mania for equality that leads to all manner of pointless leveling of social classes along with an undermining of authority. As chief witness for the prosecution, he calls to the stand no less than Plato, who argued that the ripening of democracy births manifold horrors like gender equality, the treatment of foreigners as equals, an abatement of cruelty to animals, and the rich mingling freely with the poor.
One wonders if Sullivan could have cited a more relevant critic of the contemporary political system of a continent-sized nation with 320 million people than a metaphysician dwelling in a tiny city-state more than 2,400 years ago. And a rather implausible critic at that: the bedrock of Plato’s philosophy was his belief that physical objects and events are mere shadows of their ideal forms, which exist only insofar as they crudely simulate the perfect idealizations of themselves.
This kind of patently silly epistemology may make for a great debate topic at the Oxford Union, but it’s hardly a usable tool for analyzing the world around us. Sullivan might better have used the testimony of Alexis de Tocqueville, who at least laid eyes on the political system he was critiquing. Sullivan produces as his killer quote a passage of Plato’s that sounds like a half-senile Fox News viewer grumbling about kids these days. Serious thinkers like Karl Popper, who experienced the rise of fascism up close and personal, have considered Platonism not as a model for human society, but as an absolutist philosophy that buttresses a totalitarian mindset.
Sullivan employs the arguments of a profoundly anti-democratic elitist who held that wise philosopher kings ought to rule over the riffraff. But is his specific charge true that too much democracy is responsible for Trump’s Mongol devastation of the Party of Lincoln, allegedly because during the 1970s the parties adopted direct primaries as a substitute for the selection of candidates by party bosses? The evidence is wanting.
Hyperdemocracy or Elective Oligarchy?
Let us suppose our presidential nominees were still chosen for us via the smoke-filled room (a method known in Sullivan’s mother country as the old-boy system). In 2016, on the Democratic side, our nominee would be Hillary Clinton. On the GOP side it would be Jeb Bush, a truly exciting prospect. In reality, of course, we have the direct primary system, but it has hardly given rise to a mob-instigated revolution: for 28 of the last 36 years, a Bush or a Clinton has occupied the presidency or the vice presidency, and we still have in Hillary the thrilling potential for a further eight years of the same dynastic dyad.
The other institutional features of Sullivan’s alleged hyperdemocracy do not strike one as particularly Jacobin. Gerrymandering has achieved such perfection that in many congressional districts it denies a large number of voters fair representation. Wherever they run state governments, Republicans have engaged in shortening voting times, closing DMV offices, requiring onerous identification procedures and other measures to suppress voting by constituencies they dislike. The population of California is 66 times that of Wyoming, and both states elect two US senators. These arrangements do not resemble the systems of highly democratic states like Finland or New Zealand, but they would fit comfortably within the Whig oligarchy of 18th-century England. The Electoral College is an archaic system that inflates the power of small states. The conventional wisdom is that “it has served us well,” but it has not: four times (1824, 1876, 1888 and 2000) it elected the candidate with fewer popular votes.
Sullivan might object that in any case he is not arguing in favor of majoritarian democracy. But would he suggest that the travesty of 2000, when the philosopher kings of the Supreme Court chose a president too stupid and incurious to pay attention to an intelligence briefing warning of imminent attack on the United States, was a better outcome than obeying the will of the people?
Trading Fort Wayne for Empire
This anti-democratic tendency suffuses much of our governance. The most recent Congress completed, the 113th, saw a record number of filibusters, whereby a minority of senators was able to thwart the majority. Important trade bills, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are examples of oligarchical engineering at its most sophisticated.
These trade pacts are negotiated in secret, with members of Congress not allowed to know what’s in them; on the other hand, task forces of corporate lobbyists and lawyers are an integral part of the negotiating process. Once the agreements are complete, representatives and senators can only view them by going to a secure room; copying or note taking is not permitted. Only when the full Congress votes to “fast track” the agreement (thereby nullifying its ability to amend the agreement) is the measure made public.
It is only through an occasional leak that we learn what our corporate overlords are up to, such as bulldozing food safety standards in TTIP, or allowing corporations to sue governments for alleged “lost profits” due to health, safety or environmental laws. These schemes undermine the very concept of democratic self-governance in favor of rule by corporations. But so-called trade bills are deceptive in their very name: they have little to do with trade as commonly understood, or at least the promotion of exports that might help an assembly-line worker in Toledo or Muncie. They are increasingly about making politically untouchable the prerogatives of the wealthy investor class, and a vehicle for the Beltway elites’ obsession with finding novel ways to protect their favorite client states.
It is not too much to say that “trade” agreements are actually our ruling class’s mechanism for hanging on to Pax Americana: they offer allies and satellites privileged access to our domestic market in exchange for those countries’ submitting to Washington’s foreign policy diktats. If, as a consequence, Joe Lunchbucket in Fort Wayne, Indiana, takes it on the chin, it’s a price our Beltway Metternichs are willing, nay, eager, to pay.
But Joe Lunchbucket has gotten a little tired of the charade, and he’s told the Republican and Democratic establishments what they can do with their trade agreements. If he is now following a charlatan like Trump, who at least makes noises pretending he is on Joe’s side, is the man entirely at fault? How about Bill Clinton, or Barack Obama, or Paul Ryan, who never saw a trade bill they didn’t like, or enlightened voices of the Upper West Side, like Thomas Friedman at The New York Times, who once said he didn’t even have to know what was in a trade bill to be in favor of it? Don’t they share a little of the responsibility?
Or maybe Andrew Sullivan, another bard of the comfortable classes whose Nietzschean über-heroes Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher gleefully inaugurated the cutthroat Ayn Rand economics that gutted the social position of the working classes and left them prey to mountebanks promising relief? Sullivan now affects to be horrified by the outcome, what with the blue-collared rabble supporting Trump rather than the Bush dynasty’s latest pretender to the throne.
The Rule of Organized Money
These aspects of the American political system did not fall like an asteroid from outer space upon an unsuspecting country. And they are hardly the stigmata of hyperdemocracy, whatever Sullivan imagines it to be. Some, like the Electoral College, are anti-democratic legacies handed down at our founding. But unlike slavery, female disenfranchisement or whipping at the pillory, they have not been reformed out of existence. Others, like gerrymandering and voter suppression, arise from the natural criminal instincts of political operatives when they are not kept on a short leash by a vigilant public.
The principal factor, however, is the dominance of money in politics. It has always polluted American public life, but ever since Buckley v. Valeo in 1976, and climaxing with the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions of 2010 and 2014, our system has been twisted and corrupted by money.
Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University examined almost 2,000 surveys of American opinion on public policy matters between 1981 and 2002, and discovered how those preferences correlated with policy outcomes. “[T]he preferences of economic elites,” Gilens and Page conclude, “have far more independent impact upon policy change than the preferences of average citizens do.” In an interview with Talking Points Memo, Gilens added, “I’d say that contrary to what decades of political science research might lead you to believe, ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States (my emphasis). And economic elites and interest groups, especially those representing business, have a substantial degree of influence. Government policymaking over the last few decades reflects the preferences of those groups – economic elites and of organized interests.”
President Obama concurs: During the 2012 election campaign, he informed a group of wealthy donors that included Microsoft moguls Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, “You now have the potential of 200 people deciding who ends up being elected president every single time.” Contrary to Sullivan’s essay, the role of money in politics has not been a dud, some exceptions notwithstanding: In 2008, the supposed insurgent Obama turned down public financing in order to raise funds privately, and as we can see from his flattery of the tech tycoons in the quote above, he assiduously courted them.
The practical result of this dominance of money over politics is an appalling wealth inequality in the United States: The bottom 90 percent own a smaller share of the national wealth than in the 27 other countries that track such statistics. Sullivan gives a perfunctory nod to these conditions, but fails to consider that they are the logical outcome of the Reagan-Thatcher-Bush economic policies aimed at the so-called “ownership society.” As economist Thomas Piketty has shown, the tendency of capital to accumulate faster than wage growth means that over time, the big owners of capital will acquire almost everything, including, increasingly, the political process.
Bernie Sanders is not entirely a walking refutation of the dominance of money, as Sullivan would have it, although his candidacy symbolizes the fact that many people are fed up with the status quo. His opponent, Hillary Clinton, is a candidate with historically high negative favorability ratings. She is also a poor campaigner who cannot even state a compelling rationale for her candidacy in one sentence. Yet it appears she is about to prevail as the Democratic nominee, because oceans of money and control of the party organization have overcome both the enthusiasm of Sanders’ supporters and her own personal liabilities.
It is noteworthy that Sullivan takes a gratuitous swipe at Sanders as “the demagogue of the left,” implying a symmetry between Trump and the Vermont senator. This is the laziest sort of “both sides do it” false equivalence that the mainstream media habitually resort to, a practice that political scientists Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann have trenchantly skewered.
Now that he has sewn up the nomination, Trump has in any case already ditched one of the marquee attractions of his pseudo-populist appeal: his refusal to take money from big donors. He is now moving full-bore to buck-rake among the plutocracy, with one of his early catches being the saturnine Sheldon Adelson. The roster of his supporters also includes familiar names like Carl Icahn and T. Boone Pickens.
Calling Dr. Frankenstein
Superficially, we obtained an anomalous result from the most recent batch of presidential primaries, at least on the Republican side. Had Sullivan’s desire for elite control prevailed, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus and his pals, backstopped by big money boys like the brothers Koch, would have anointed Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio or some other walking ATM machine for the plutocracy. But notwithstanding the pearl-clutching by GOP mugwumps, the elevation of Trump was a natural culmination of the philosophies and tactics of the Republican Party over the last several decades. They engineered Trump the way Cold War biologists at Fort Detrick engineered a virulent, weaponized strain of anthrax. Or, more precisely, they engineered a constituency that would be enthusiastically receptive to his toxic tirades.
Going back to Nixon’s Southern Strategy, the GOP has employed dog whistles and code words to condition their base, and particularly the emerging white working-class core of that base, to respond on cue to the siren song of cultural resentment: against elites (invariably defined as college professors rather than bank CEOs), against ethnic and religious minorities, against homosexuals, against pretty much any group that needed to be scapegoated as the need arose. In the last two decades, the party has built up a formidable Conservative Media-Entertainment Complex that allows a human guinea pig to immerse himself 24/7 in a fact-free, Manichean alternate universe. Trump’s bizarre performance art is merely a funhouse-mirror reflection of the propaganda construct the Republican Party had already created.
The delicious (or sick) plot twist is this: The GOP had spent more than three decades patiently explaining to its base the virtues of laissez-faire economics, free trade and small government (while baiting them with the standard culture wars baggage and dog whistles), only to discover that its voters didn’t care a tinker’s cuss about Sullivan’s precious Thatcherite economics, and they certainly were not about to sacrifice their own Social Security or Medicare on the GOP’s altar of entitlement reform. The party intended the culture wars and the dog whistles purely as a sweetener, to make predatory capitalism digestible, but in an irony worthy of O. Henry, the only thing that really stuck was a gooey residue of cultural resentment, bigotry, and xenophobia. That’s where Trump mopped the floor with his befuddled rivals, who thought they could keep ladling free trade and corporatocracy down the gullets of the proles as if they were Strasbourg geese.
What really riles Andrew Sullivan in his essay is how the Trump candidacy is entwined with the crudest manifestations of popular culture. It is certainly true that American pop cult is an unedifying phenomenon. Sullivan presents as his Exhibit A an early incident in the ascent of Sarah Palin. In 1996, according to the Anchorage Daily News, she turned out at an event to see Ivana Trump, “who, in the wake of her divorce, was touting her branded perfume. ‘We want to see Ivana, because we are so desperate in Alaska for any semblance of glamour and culture.’”
A nice story, but what’s Sullivan’s point, exactly? That the rubes in the backwoods are gauche for conflating glamour and culture? Sarah Palin would be a footnote to history had she not been discovered by Bill Kristol, eminence beige among what passes for the neoconservative intelligentsia, and inflicted upon a suffering world by John McCain, son and grandson of Navy admirals and Annapolis ring-knocker, each an epitome of the neoconservative establishment that since the Reagan era has settled in on the Beltway like a permanent infestation. She became a key precursor of Trump.
It is all too easy to make sport of the Archie Bunker replicants on Staten Island or the miners in the West Virginia coalfields who cleave to Trump with dog-like devotion. Trump rallies typically do not reflect the better angels of man’s nature. With all that stipulated, who created him?
In one sense, the Republican Party created him, or at a minimum, as we’ve seen, the ideological space for him. But Trump, the actual personality, is a construct of the so-called gatekeepers of the corporate news media, centered in Manhattan. Because of their relentless hyping, Trump was able to inflate the market value of his name, which he then licensed to be sold as an appellation for a host of tacky products. In the same way Lehman Brothers’ securities were backed by the grossly exaggerated value of subprime mortgages, the main prop to Trump’s empire has always been the media-inflated collateral of the Trump moniker.
During the late 1980s, the heroic Reaganesque Age of elbows-out acquisition, business cable channels like Financial News Network (a precursor of CNBC) drooled over The Donald’s every move. Later, NBC, an institution that once upon a time maintained its own symphony orchestra conducted by Toscanini, gave Trump his own reality TV show that was beamed to the remotest hollows of eastern Kentucky.
And now, the media are giving him $2 billion worth of free publicity. Les Moonves, chairman of CBS, once the network of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, has half-confessed and half-boasted that Trump’s campaign has been “damn good for CBS.”
When we contemplate horrors like “Duck Dynasty” or “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” or the umpteenth sequel of some idiotic superhero franchise, it is hard not to feel sympathy with Sullivan’s critique of popular culture. But there is a factor that he misses. Who creates taste? The populations of the Scandinavian countries like Sweden or Finland have a very high readership of serious newspapers and intelligent books; tiny Iceland has highest level per capita of book publishing in the world. These countries are notably democratic and egalitarian, the furthest thing from what Plato or Matthew Arnold had in mind when they thought of culture.
Ninety years ago, H. L. Mencken asked why the trackside towns near Pittsburgh yielded the most hideous habitations known to man. People commonly thought the miners and steelworkers who inhabited them didn’t know any better because they were mainly unlettered immigrants. But why, he inquired, did they build charming villages in their home countries? There is something about the rawness of American capitalism that with an alarming lust surrenders to what Mencken called “a libido for the ugly.” That capitalism is not controlled at its commanding heights by the residents of trailer parks.
Trump: a stepchild of the Deep State?
Donald Trump is a product of elite structures like the Republican establishment and our corporate media, as well as the anti-democratic tendencies that have become an increasingly prominent accompaniment to this country’s wage-cutting, outsourcing, laissez-faireeconomic orthodoxy. But there is one other powerful faction with an equity stake in Trump: the national security complex.
For the past 15 years, the people who form the bipartisan elite consensus that makes up a crucial element of what I call “the Deep State” – politicians, generals, media personalities, think-tank experts – have been drumming into our heads the message that we must be very afraid of terrorism, despite the fact that we are more likely to die slipping in the bathtub than in a terrorist attack.
It has worked. Voters in the Republican primary in South Carolina, where Trump won in a walk, declared terrorism their foremost concern, eclipsing a low-wage economy, deteriorating living standards leading to an increase in the death rate of GOP voters’ core demographic, and the most expensive and least available health care in the developed world.
This fear that our elite consensus fostered has awakened the latent authoritarianism and paranoia that lurk in all too many people. This dynamic explains why Trump’s candidacy took off like a moon rocket in November and December of 2015, the period of the terrorist attack in Paris and the murders in San Bernardino.
Government officials and the media whipped up a mood in the country that approached hysteria; Trump deftly exploited it. By being the only politician brazen enough to openly advocate torture – not merely to gain information (a dubious claim), but to inflict pain for its own sake – he tapped into the revenge fantasies of millions of Americans who have been fed a steady diet of fear since 9/11.
We delude ourselves in thinking that the United States could be a “normal” country while waging a seemingly endless war on terror. Sullivan, too, got swept up the mania that prevailed in the period between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. He became a militant proponent of the Bush administration’s “you’re with us or against us” foreign policy line by condemning “the decadent Left” for being a fifth column. He later recanted his Trumpism avant la lettre, principally because the Bush administration botched the invasion and resorted to torture. But criticizing the effects of the invasion, which soon became obvious to any observer, rather than the original rationale for it, was a too-easy dodge of the moral core of the issue.
The decision to make aggressive war is the father of all the crimes that flow inevitably from it. As Justice Robert H. Jackson stated at the Nuremburg tribunal in 1946, “To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” The torture and the other excesses, therefore, were logical outcomes of the decision to invade Iraq, not deviations from an initially exemplary desire to preempt Saddam Hussein from employing terrorism against us. Just as Sullivan was stampeded by the hysteria over Saddam’s fictive intentions, he now appears to lose confidence in democracy itself because of the dread apparition of Trump.
There’s no such thing as genteel conservatism anymore
Like his fellow conservative David Brooks, Sullivan yearns for “elite mediation,” a polite term for letting our social betters from the Ivy League run the show. But how did that work out? The 1953 overthrow of Iran’s government by the CIA’s Yalies led to an inexorable chain of events culminating in a smoking debris field in lower Manhattan. The Dulles brothers of Dillon, Read & Co. staged a coup against the first democratic government in Guatemala for the greater glory of United Fruit’s shareholders; in the repression that followed, hecatombs of corpses sparked a destabilization throughout Central America climaxing in the mass immigration to the United States that is the heart and soul of the Trump backlash. The best and the brightest, of course, engineered us into the quicksand of Vietnam, a disaster of almost Hegelian perfection.
For all of his occasional apostasy against the new Republican orthodoxy by being an openly gay conservative, Sullivan still has just enough emotional attachment to a patrician, largely imaginary version of “classic” conservatism as to want to protect his ideological mirage from contamination by the Trump craze. He favors some fantasy version of the conservatism espoused by his idol, the British political scientist Michael Oakeshott. It is his delusion that there now exists a conservatism purged of its reactionary impulses that can function as an anti-ideology rather than the ideology it actually is. Contemporary conservatism, with its harping on tradition and values, is an elaborate evasion of the fundamental political question all societies face: Who gets what, and on which terms? When Abraham Lincoln spoke of “the mystic chords of memory,” he did not mean the dead hand of custom, but rather a steady confidence in popular government derived from the inalienable rights of the governed.
As with other right-of-center polemicists of late, Andrew Sullivan seeks to distract us by playing down or ignoring the role of movement conservatism in creating the ugly carnival that is Trump by waving shiny objects in front of us labeled “political correctness” (so he can blame “the Left”) or popular culture (to diffuse the blame throughout society). Sorry, Andrew: The conservative movement, and the elites who back them, built this Frankenstein monster. They own it.
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With the Democratic primaries grinding to a bitter end, I have suggestions for both Clinton and Sanders supporters that neither will like.
First, my advice to Clinton supporters: Don’t try to drum Bernie Sanders out of the race before Hillary Clinton officially gets the nomination (if she in fact does get it).
Some of you say Bernie should bow out because he has no chance of getting the nomination, and his continuing candidacy is harming Hillary Clinton’s chances.
It’s true that Bernie’s chances are slim, but it’s inaccurate to say he has no chance. If you consider only pledged delegates, who have been selected in caucuses and primaries, he’s not all that far behind Hillary Clinton. And the upcoming primary in California – the nation’s most populous state—could possibly alter Sanders’s and Clinton’s relative tallies.
My calculation doesn’t include so-called “superdelegates”—Democratic office holders and other insiders who haven’t been selected through primaries and caucuses. But in this year of anti-establishment fury, it would be unwise for Hillary Clinton to rely on superdelegates to get her over the finish line.
Sanders should stay in the race also because he has attracted a large number of young people and independents. Their passion, excitement, and enthusiasm are critically important to Hillary Clinton’s success, if she’s the nominee, as well the success of other Democrats this year, and, more fundamentally, to the future of American politics.
Finally and not the least, Sanders has been telling a basic truth about the American political economic system—that growing inequality of income and wealth has led inexorably to the increasing political power of those at the top, including big corporations and Wall Street banks. And that political power has stacked the deck in their favor, leading to still wider inequality.
Nothing important can be accomplished—reversing climate change, creating true equal opportunity, overcoming racism, rebuilding the middle class, having a sane and sensible foreign policy—until we reclaim our democracy from the moneyed interests. The longer Bernie Sanders is on stage to deliver this message, the better.
Next, my advice for Sanders supporters: Be prepared to work hard for Hillary Clinton if she gets the nomination.
Some of you say that refusing to fight for or even vote for Hillary will show the Democratic political establishment why it must change its ways.
But the “Democratic political establishment” is nothing but a bunch of people, many of them big donors and fundraisers occupying comfortable and privileged positions, who won’t even be aware that you’ve decided to sit it out – unless Hillary loses to Donald Trump.
Which brings me to those of you who say there’s no real difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
That’s just plain wrong. Trump has revealed himself to be a narcissistic, xenophobic, hatemonger who, if elected, would legitimize bigotry, appoint Supreme Court justices with terrible values, and have direct access to the button that could set off a nuclear war.
Hillary may not possess Bernie Sanders’s indignation about the rigging of our economy and democracy, or be willing to go as far in remedying it, but she’s shown herself a capable and responsible leader.
Some of you agree a Trump presidency would be a disaster but claim it would galvanize a forceful progressive movement in response.
That’s unlikely. Rarely if ever in history has a sharp swing to the right moved the political pendulum further back in the opposite direction. Instead, it tends to move the “center” rightward, as did Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
Besides, Trump could do huge and unalterable damage to America and the world in the meantime.
Finally, some of you say even if Hillary is better than Trump, you’re tired of choosing the “lesser of two evils,” and you’re going to vote your conscience by either writing Bernie’s name in, or voting for the Green Party candidate, or not voting at all.
I can’t criticize anyone for voting their conscience, of course. But your conscience should know that a decision not to vote for Hillary, should she become the Democratic nominee, is a de facto decision to help Donald Trump.
Both of my morsels of advice may be hard to swallow. Many Hillary supporters don’t want Bernie to keep campaigning, and many Bernie supporters don’t want to root for Hillary if she gets the nomination.
But swallow it you must—not just for the good of the Democratic Party, but for the good of the nation.
Despite evidence that Donald Trump is a serial liar, the man continues to lie about his previous lies. While the origin of the oft-repeated joke is disputed (and perhaps funniest when told by the late, great Richard Pryor), Donald Trump treats America as if it were the wife who has just caught her husband in bed with another woman, “Who you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?”
Media pundits have expressed concern that despite incontrovertible evidence that Trump lies, and he knows that he’s lying, the Trump cultists will vote for him. Trump has bragged that he could murder someone and his poll numbers would not take a hit. The Donald seems to be made of the same material as Ronald Reagan–teflon–the non-stick coating that repels any kind of dirty scandal from harming a politician’s poll numbers.
While psychiatrists recognize Munchausen Syndrome as a disorder, it is associated with the faking of medical symptoms of disease in order to garner sympathy. Trump claims to be a vigorous, virile man who suffers no physical weakness to disqualify him from being president. But he is still a serial liar. Why? Why would Donald Trump lie?
Sports fans were surprised to learn that Kevin Durant is not 6’9″, as his official stats say. He’s actually 6’11”. He says he lied because he wanted to be thought of as a “small forward” rather than a “power forward.” But, Durant says, he tells women that he is 7’0″, because some women express a preference for tall men. Durant’s lie to women may be more revealing of the personality flaw behind Trump’s lies.
A study released in 2015 revealed something about braggart men who lie, a confirmation of something that many women have intuited. Men lie when they feel that their masculinity has been questioned or they fear that they do not measure up to other men. It turns out that the joke about men driving expensive sports cars to compensate for other shortcomings is true.
In the study, men were asked to take part in a “grip test” to determine what the average man’s grip measure was. After squeezing the fake sensor, each man was given a fictional reading, some of which indicated that the man had a stronger grip than the average man and some that told him he was weaker. After being given this information about their strength relative to other men–and with some being told that their grip was weaker than that of an average woman–the men were then asked a series of questions.
Time after time, the men who had just been told that they were “less than” some fictional measure of masculinity proceeded to exaggerate the number of sexual partners they had had, to make themselves taller, to heighten their athletic accomplishments, to talk about how aggressive they are, and to denigrate activities that they perceived to be “feminine.”
The study highlights the pressure that men feel to conform to gender stereotypes and measures applied in defining “masculinity.” Even someone like Chris Kyle, the real-life hero of American Sniper, lied about the number of medals and commendations he had received during his military service. While it’s not clear what drove Kyle’s need to exaggerate, something about the way Kyle felt about himself as a man may have been at the root of it.
In the case of Donald Trump, who seems to react most angrily to taunts about being the short-fingered vulgarian, Donald Trump the man is afraid that he’s just not man enough to measure up to other men. Spy magazine exploited Trump’s weakness for years, and they did so by diminishing Trump. They made fun of the size of his fingers, a taunt that was picked up during the 2016 campaign, and which led to the moment when Trump declared during a presidential debate that he had a big dick.
No one is denying that women don’t lie. But the studies of female lying indicates that women do it to protect someone’s feelings, or to protect themselves. At its root, gender differentiation is rooted in notions of power. In our culture, masculine is privileged over feminine. For women, who despite cultural progress are still extremely vulnerable to male violence, lying is offered as protection against harm. Or women lie to protect the feelings of someone they love. Of course, women lie for other reasons, but women are also conditioned from an early age not to think that they are better than they are. Ask a smart woman about her experiences in school, for example, and you will frequently hear tales of being told not to show up boys by being smarter than they are. Still, women do lie in order to get things they want.
While men lie for some of the same reasons that women do (“no, that dress does not make you look fat,”) and don’t want to hurt folks they love with the truth, they also lie as a means of making themselves bigger than they are–or as they perceive themselves to be. It’s about power and who has it. Being a biological man or a woman often has nothing to do with gender.
While many assign masculinity to men and femininity to women, we frequently label those who we see as “less powerful” as feminine: think of how the epithet “pussy” is applied to anyone who is seen as not measuring up to a standard of masculinity. Any sign of weakness is seen as some feminine flaw within a man. And men who are terrified that they themselves do not measure up to this mythical standard of masculinity are often the biggest bullies toward other men they perceive to be weak. It has become a truism that the biggest “anti-gay” pastors turn out to enjoy sex with other men. During the Clinton impeachment brouhaha, the same men who expressed outrage about the president’s adulterous relationship because adultery should disqualify a man from holding public office, were exposed themselves as being adulterers or child molesters. Fear of being exposed as a fraud often drives the persecution of others, and being outed as a “girly-man” drives a lot of lying.
Donald Trump’s fear of being labeled a pussy drives his “brutal, demagogic make-believe”. Trump will sue anyone who disputes his claims to be worth $10 billion (or whatever today’s figure is), he claims business success despite his bankruptcies, and claims to have opposed previous actions by the Obama administration that Trump actually supported at the time. He has actually used made-up proxy men to stand in for him, so that Trump could lie about himself while pretending to be someone else.
The other hallmark of the insecure male is the constant denigration of women. Men who are secure in their manhood do not feel a need to diminish a woman’s accomplishments or to bully her with disparagement of her physical self. And, as the recent study showed, men who feel a diminished masculinity inflate the number of “conquests” of women. Trump claims that he could have “nailed” Diana, the Princess of Wales. He spends a lot of time talking about his sexual prowess, the hugeness of his businesses, the height of the wall he’s going to build on the Mexican border, and just how great he’s going to be as president. He also mocks women who don’t meet his definition of fuckable. And his anger at Megyn Kelly led to him claiming that her menstrual cycle invalidated any questions that she asked of him.
Trump is a blusterer. Pop the wall of hot air that surrounds him and it turns out, “there’s no there there.” A visit to Trump’s website features declarations about what a Trump presidency would do, with no concrete steps to accomplish these promises. Or, in the case of some of his positions (such as those regarding China), Trump would abrogate treaties and arrogate power.
Donald Trump acts like the cock of the walk, strutting about, claiming access to all that he sees. But Trump’s insecurity about his masculinity is as obvious as the elaborate comb-over on the top of his head. It’s time for Trump’s followers to start recognizing that Trump’s rooster cockscomb is really the sign of a coxcomb–a conceited, foolish jester who makes real leaders laugh.Related Stories
On Jimmy Kimmel's show Thursday night, Bernie Sanders talked about the role he has played as an independent in the Senate, and how he worked with Republicans across the aisle.
“John [McCain] is a friend of mine; I’ve known him for many years. He’s a very decent guy," Sanders told late-night host Jimmy Kimmel. "Obviously we have very strong differences of opinion. On ... veterans' legislation we had more than one shouting match on how to go forward, but we ended up coming together for the veterans of this country and we passed the most comprehensive veterans' health-care legislation in the modern history of this country."
"As an independent, do you feel like you’re able to work with both parties more easily?” Kimmel asked.
Sanders replied, "When I was in the House, before I got to the Senate, in a number of years, I was able to pass more amendments on the floor of the House [than any other member], bringing Republicans and Democrats together on issues where there was common ground."
Photo by Gage Skidmore
The wave of revolutionary politics that Bernie Sanders and his supporters are riding can be traced back to George W. Bush. When Bush decided to Invade Iraq in 2003 he ignited a counter protest movement of young activists that the country had not seen since the Vietnam War. The activism continued through the second Bush election when many felt inspired by Senator John Kerry’s run for president as a well-known anti-war advocate. A presidential run that failed for many reasons, one of which being Kerry positioned himself as anti-war, yet voted in favor of the Iraq invasion.
The movement continued to grow as then Senator Barak Obama gained momentum and his “Yes We Can” campaign slogan brought in young, energized voters that the country desperately needed. However, it was Obama’s failure to be the revolutionary politician he campaigned as they led to the biggest revolutionary shift in the country as he decided not to give the boot the oligarchy and instead bailed out the banks on Wall Street and big business all over the country.
It was this failure that led to the Occupy Wall Street movement as men and women, young and old had had enough. The occupy movement forever changed the language activists used when discussing wealth inequality. Suddenly everyone was talking about the 99 percent, the one percent, and demanding that student debt and rising healthcare costs be tackled once and for all. The movement believed if we had trillions of dollars to invade foreign countries, had billions of dollars to bail out fraudulent bankers than we must have the money to take care of those suffering and living in poverty.
It was the occupy movement that opened the door for a Bernie Sanders campaign. A government that still pandered to the capitalist class, that allowed the insurance giants to mold the Affordable Care Act and leaving millions of Americans with subpar insurance plans with premiums they cannot afford to pay. It is not by accident that Sanders is using occupy language at every campaign stop and in every debate. He genuinely seems to care about wealth inequality and found the ability to turn that into a presidential run that continued occupy’s work of keeping these topics in the minds of every voter, every day.
The economic conditions created by Obama’s administration and the inactive Republican-led congress created the perfect storm that allowed Sanders to rally millions of voters to a cause that would usher in a significant change in the country. Unfortunately, Sanders, a lifelong independent decided to run for president as a Democrat, a party that worked overtime to crush his chances of winning the party’s nomination and silencing his revolutionary ideas. In a sense, when and if Sanders stands on the podium at the Democratic National Convention and asks supporters to rally behind Secretary Clinton he will be betraying his revolution but that does not mean the revolution must come to an end.
Like the movements before, Sanders movement will live well beyond his campaign and should live well beyond what is likely his coming betrayal of the movement when he endorses Hillary Clinton and remains a member of the counter-revolutionary Democratic Party.
For the next stages of the revolution to continue it will need to push beyond the limits the Sanders campaign set. The revolution must be willing to look beyond constraints of capitalism and stop looking for ways to put bandaids on it and find ways to replace it instead.
Sanders made it clear he was not interesting in making sure that workers owned the means of production, but a movement beyond his should make that goal paramount. Without empowering workers to own their own labor, the revolution quickly loses steam as capitalists find new ways to exploit that labor and beat the working class back into submission.
Further conditions created by the ruling class have further prepared activists to ignite social change as well. As the fight for a $15 an hour minimum wage grows, the Republican and Libertarian Party’s have questioned the need for not only an increase but for a minimum wage at all and the belief that the market can do a better job of controlling income. The same market-based argument is being made from the right for healthcare, retirement, and social safety nets. The war on the working class is growing though attacks on workers rights and unions though right-to-work bills. These are the conditions predicted by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and the far left has noticed. Activists need to be inside factories, talking to workers, and working to build a real and vocal coalition of supporters who are no longer willing to be trampled on by the capitalist elite.
How the left responds to this and its success in organizing a mass movement beyond Sanders will become paramount to its success in the coming years. Its success cannot be realized by listening to Sanders forthcoming Clinton endorsement and joining the Democratic Party regardless of who they nominate. A strategy of just not being Donald Trump or the Republican Party is not going to excite change, it will only serve to usher in more of the same, or under a Clinton administration, continue to steer the country more to the right.
It is finally time for workers of the world to unite and realize they don’t actually have anything to lose and do, in fact, have the world to gain. It’s time to think beyond Sanders and time to think beyond capitalism.
Dan Arel is a political writer and social activist. He is the author of Parenting Without God and the upcoming book, The Secular Activist.
Photo by Bruno Sanchez-Andrade Nuño
Having successfully used the EU to conquer the Greek people by turning the Greek “leftwing” government into a pawn of Germany’s banks, Germany now finds the IMF in the way of its plan to loot Greece into oblivion.
The IMF’s rules prevent the organization from lending to countries that cannot repay the loan. The IMF has concluded on the basis of facts and analysis that Greece cannot repay. Therefore, the IMF is unwilling to lend Greece the money with which to repay the private banks.
The IMF says that Greece’s creditors, many of whom are not creditors but simply bought up Greek debt at a cheap price in hopes of profiting, must write off some of the Greek debt in order to lower the debt to an amount that the Greek economy can service.
The banks don’t want Greece to be able to service its debt, because the banks intend to use Greece’s inability to service the debt in order to loot Greece of its assets and resources and in order to roll back the social safety net put in place during the 20th century. Neoliberalism intends to reestablish feudalism—a few robber barons and many serfs: the One Percent and the 99 percent.
The way Germany sees it, the IMF is supposed to lend Greece the money with which to repay the private German banks. Then the IMF is to be repaid by forcing Greece to reduce or abolish old age pensions, reduce public services and employment, and use the revenues saved to repay the IMF.
As these amounts will be insufficient, additional austerity measures are imposed that require Greece to sell its national assets, such as public water companies and ports and protected Greek islands to foreign investors, principally the banks themselves or their major clients.
So far the so-called “creditors” have only pledged to some form of debt relief, not yet decided, beginning in 2 years. By then the younger part of the Greek population will have emigrated and will have been replaced by immigrants fleeing Washington’s Middle Eastern and African wars who will have loaded up Greece’s unfunded welfare system.
In other words, Greece is being destroyed by the EU that it so foolishly joined and trusted. The same thing is happening to Portugal and is also underway in Spain and Italy. The looting has already devoured Ireland and Latvia (and a number of Latin American countries) and is underway in Ukraine.
The current newspaper headlines reporting an agreement being reached between the IMF and Germany about writing down the Greek debt to a level that could be serviced are false. No “creditor” has yet agreed to write off one cent of the debt. All that the IMF has been given by so-called “creditors” is unspecific “pledges” of an unspecified amount of debt writedown two years from now.
The newspaper headlines are nothing but fluff that provide cover for the IMF to succumb to pressure and violate its own rules. The cover lets the IMF say that a (future unspecified) debt writedown will enable Greece to service the remainder of its debt and, therefore, the IMF can lend Greece the money to pay the private banks.
In other words, the IMF is now another lawless Western institution whose charter means no more than the US Constitution or the word of the US government in Washington.
The media persists in calling the looting of Greece a “bailout.”
To call the looting of a country and its people a “bailout” is Orwellian. The brainwashing is so successful that even the media and politicians of looted Greece call the financial imperialism that Greece is suffering a “bailout.”
Everywhere in the Western world a variety of measures, both corporate and governmental, have resulted in the stagnation of income growth. In order to continue to report profits, mega-banks and global corporations have turned to looting. Social Security systems and public services are targeted for privatization, and indebtedness so accurately described by John Perkins in his book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, is used to set up entire countries to be looted.
We have entered the looting stage of capitalism. Desolation will be the result.
Paul Craig Roberts is a former Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal.
Back in the US of A after 12 years for a family celebration. It feels slightly surreal, listening to the comments and opinions on the elections. Both Democrat and Republican supporters seem bemused, stunned, almost. As though this can’t really be happening to America.
I don’t personally know many Trump supporters. But conversations overheard on buses and street corners indicate many average Americans hate being ‘swamped by an alien culture’. A young mother – Caucasian, blonde hair, blue eyes, pushing a pram – says: ‘In our area, the Hispanics have become a majority, over 60 per cent now, and growing. So my kids will listen to more Spanish in school than English. How crazy is that?’
An almost identical opinion is voiced by a group of Indian-American professionals – black hair, black eyes, the opposite end of the ethnic spectrum! They have lived in the US for over 40 years now and remember what it felt like to be fresh off the boat. ‘I feel sorry for them,’ says Beena, a doctor (whose million-dollar house is cleaned once a week by two Latina women). ‘But how many immigrants can one country take?’
My brother-in-law Prem surprises me. An engineer from Trichur, Kerala, he moved to the US in 1972. He is the epitome of the American Dream: worked in a major company, gained experience and then started his own small business. He has worked his butt off for the last 40 years, leaving home at 6am every day. Now he lives in a two-million-dollar house in Boston’s poshest suburb, Weston. Rich Indian professionals – doctors, scientists, engineers, lawyers – generally vote Republican.
So I was taken aback when Prem said he supported Democrat nomination candidate Bernie Sanders.
Why? I ask him. He replies, ‘I like that Sanders is frank and sincere. He has integrity. He is the only person thinking ahead. I like his far sight. If American kids continue to pay huge college fees, many will drop out. When I came to the US 40 years ago, the average person could live a decent life with just a high-school education. Now even a college degree doesn’t get you anywhere. We need better education to cope with the global competition.
‘I have a small business but I pay huge taxes. Transnational corporations pay nothing. CEOs walk away with old people’s pensions. Only Bernie Sanders cares about these things.’
A feisty, feminist American friend and lifelong Democrat supporter shocks me when she says she would vote for Sanders if he had a chance in hell of winning the Democratic nomination, but he doesn’t, so she will vote for Hillary Clinton. What else is there to do? Can’t let Trump take over. She is over 80 and has fought the good fight on the side of the poor and oppressed for over six decades.
Most people I met hate Trump, and are disillusioned with Hillary. They feel that Sanders is honest, committed, the only person who cares about the poor and brings fresh hope, especially to the young. But since he can’t possibly win, there is no alternative to Hillary.
Strangely, though Republicans have finally been forced to give Trump the go-ahead for the Republican nomination, they are a tired, dispirited lot. TV commentators ask, ‘Is it the end of the Grand Old Party?’ And a truly US expression, ‘bring out the barf bags’ appears at the end of articles and news analyses about the main candidates.
It’s a tragic comment on the state of the world. Because the same sort of scenario appears in several countries where people feel like voting ‘none of the above’ but end up choosing ‘the best of a bad lot’.
Waiting for a miracle. Nothing else will do.
A special committee of the California Legislature has ordered the state auditor to investigate Los Angeles’ largest charter school chain and the state’s charter school trade association for a series of union-busting and privacy breaching actions taken during 2015 to stop a teacher-led union drive at the franchise.
The Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC), composed of members of the Assembly and Senate, voted 8-3 Wednesday to authorize the audit of Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, which has 11,000 students in 27 schools. The audit comes after a Los Angeles County Court issued a temporary restraining order against the taxpayer-funded but privately run school to stop its anti-union actions, which include not only intimidating and threatening teachers but also working with the California Charter School Association (CCSA) to recruit parents and alumni to fight the union drive.
“Alliance schools are publicly funded,” said State Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, who requested the audit committee take up the issue. “The purpose of those funds is to educate children inside the classroom—not to intimidate teachers and parents.”
The chain has received hundreds of millions in public funds. How much was spent fighting the union drive, including hiring consultants, legal fees, producing media, running phone banks and other outreach activities will be investigated by the state’s auditor. Similarly, how CCSA acquired the names and contact information of the students’ and alumni family members, and the policies related to sharing that information outside classroom-related settings, will also be investigated.
“It’s a shame that Alliance management has put so many resources into fighting the school community, instead of working together to do what’s best for our students,” said Rosalba Naranjo, a parent of students at Alliance Richard Merkin Middle School. “The legislators did the right thing today. We need to know if administrators are using public money to attack us, instead of putting resources where they belong—in the classroom to help out schools.”
The timetable for the state audit is not yet known.
The legislative action on Wednesday will likely expand an already detailed and damaging record of anti-union activities by Alliance. In March 2015, when teachers and counselors at the chain began a unionization campaign—which is legal under state labor law—the charter school chain responded with aggressive tactics, including illegal surveillance, interference with union meetings, phone calls to parents attacking teachers involved in the campaign, blocking teacher emails and retaliation against organizers.
The teachers organizing the drive filed a series of legal complaints with the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), which is charged with enforcing state labor laws including the right to organize a union. Following its review, PERB attorneys filed four unfair labor practice complaints against Alliance. As that litigation proceeded, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfont issued two restraining orders that put a halt to the anti-union actions. The restraining orders are still in place and will not be rescinded until all the complaints and legal appeals are exhausted.
What the teachers at Alliance want is for the charter chain’s management to sit down with them and start working under the umbrella of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, as opposed to fighting them in court and bringing the controversy before legislators. But because Alliance is one of the state’s largest charter chains, the California Charter School Association—which is strongly anti-union—has a big stake in the outcome, which undoubtedly is why it became so involved in fighting Alliance educators' effort to join the city teachers’ union.
This fight is a classic example of charter schools wanting to have it both ways and shows the peril of privatizing K-12 public education, where charter schools operate as a parallel world inside the traditional public school system. Alliance, like most charter chains, says its schools are public when it comes to taking taxpayer per-pupil dollars and claiming other public perks, such as multi-millions of dollars in government-backed bonds for real estate deals. But then it says it needs to run like a private corporation and should be exempt from other state laws, including upholding public employees' right to unionize.
All of that is in play in Los Angeles with the ongoing union drive at Alliance, which also happens to represent the largest charter school teacher organizing campaign in U.S. history.Related Stories
Much has been made of Politico's fresh revelations that President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are planning to lease an 8,200-square-foot mansion in the wealthy Kalorama neighborhood of Washington, D.C. after they leave the White House.
The right-wing Daily Caller wasted no time in running a predictably Islamophobic article, in which reporter Eric Owens gleefully noted that the home is also “1,096 feet from the Islamic Center of Washington — one of the largest mosques in the Western Hemisphere." Other outlets marveled at the glamour of the post-presidential mansion, which is worth roughly $6 million and will place the Obamas in one of the most upscale zip codes in the country.
Lesser noticed, however, is that the deal was struck with Joe Lockhart, who is a longtime Democratic Party insider and the founder of a lobby firm hired by the repressive Egyptian government. Joe Lockhart owns the mansion along with his wife, Giovanna Gray Lockhart.
Until at least earlier this year, Joe Lockhart was managing director and founder at the the Glover Park Group, a Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm. Numerous media outlets are reporting that Lockhart recently accepted a position as executive vice president for communications for the National Football League in Manhattan, but his LinkedIn page still associates him with the Glover Park Group.
As Alex Kane previously reported for AlterNet, the Glover Park Group has worked for the Egyptian government since 2013, for the purpose of improving its image to media outlets and helping it forge ties with U.S. elected representatives. It has received at least $5 million dollars from Egypt in exchange for its services.
Headed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Egyptian government rose to power through a military coup and has orchestrated a large-scale, violent crackdown on political dissent, “detaining, charging or sentencing” at least 41,000 people between July 2013 and May 2014 alone, according to the count of Human Rights Watch. Al-Sisi oversaw the 2013 massacre in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya Square, where up to 1,000 people were slaughtered in a single day.
Amid these abuses, al-Sisi has received favorable treatment from the Obama administration, which last year approved shipments of weapons and fighter jets to his government. In February, Intercept reporter Zaid Jilani revealed that Obama proposed to remove key human rights conditions on U.S. military aid to Egypt.
In addition to his professional link to al-Sisi's government, Lockhart has numerous ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton, serving as press secretary and advisor under the former’s administration. He also worked as a strategist for John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. Giovanna Gray Lockhart is an editor at Glamour magazine.
The Lockharts have declined to answer questions from the press, instead referring queries to the White House, and Joe Lockhart did not immediately respond to a request for comment from AlterNet. At this point, it is unclear whether the deal between the Lockharts and the Obamas was arranged directly or through a third party, or whether the transaction was made while Joe Lockhart was still on the payroll of the lobby team working for Egypt. But at the very least, the handover of the mansion offers a potent illustration of how two insider families have profited handsomely from their time in Washington.Related Stories
Can Bernie Sanders change the Democratic Party from the inside out? Several campaign developments this week have posed that question. The Sanders campaign’s latest TV ad before California’s June 7 primary features Sanders asking, “What choice do Californians have in this election?” His reply, “The biggest one of all. You have the power to choose a new direction for the Democratic Party.”
That followed Monday’s Democratic National Committee announcement that it will allow him to appoint five people to the party’s 15-member 2016 platform-writing committee. Sanders picked outspoken progressives including Cornel West, one of the nation’s leading racial justice critics; environmentalist and climate change activist Bill McKibben (who has been arrested during anti-Keystone Pipeline protests); and Arab-American Institute co-founder James Zogby (who in 2008 testified to the DNC’s platform committee about changing America’s anti-Palestinian foreign policies and opposing Islamophobia).
Then on Wednesday, the Washington-based outlet The Hill ran a lengthy report suggesting that Democrats in Congress were discussing whether the DNC’s controversial chairwoman and longtime Hillary Clinton loyalist, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, might have to be replaced to bring the party together after the nominating season ends to satisfy Sanders' supporters. “There have been a lot of meetings over the past 48 hours about what color plate do we deliver Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s head on,” it quoted a Democratic senator as saying.
These points underscore the question of how much is Sanders changing the party, even if he does not emerge as the 2016 presidential nominee. Clinton’s campaign, and much of the media, are looking ahead and asking what she has to do to beat Donald Trump. Many things, different outlets have said, from connecting to tens of millions of people who didn’t vote during the primaries and caucuses, to figuring out how to respond to Trump’s bullying antics better than any of the 16 senators and governors he beat for the nomination.
But the Democratic primary season is not over, even if June 7 portends to be one of the weirdest days yet, with Clinton likely declaring she is the nominee as polls close in New Jersey, which would be hours before the polls close in California; and Sanders possibly winning in the Golden State. The latest polls this week show him trailing Clinton by 2 points, within the margin of error. Adding to that was Wednesday’s news that a State Department inspector general concluded that Clinton’s use of a private email server violated department policy and posed security risks. (The report found that former secretaries of state such as Colin Powell have also used private email servers.)
Taken together, these developments suggest Clinton Democrats and Sanders Democrats need each other far more than they are willing to admit in order to win in the fall. That raises intriguing questions about whether the party can evolve from the inside out in response to what its two leading presidential candidates have done, which is split the party along ideological and generational lines.
The answer remains to be seen. But it also is much more relevant now, heading into the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July, than to speculate about the implications of theoretical matchups between every combination of Sanders, Clinton and Trump in states that won’t be voting for months.
The platform committee assignments shows some willingness by the party’s Clinton wing to make a peace offering to Sanders’ supporters. The party’s presumptive nominee have never allowed their opponent’s representatives to help draft the platform—which, to be fair, is often a vaguely worded document filled with lofty goals much like a State of the Union speech. The Democrats’ 2012 platform, for example, called for a higher federal minimum wage, but didn’t specify how much; supported natural gas hydraulic fracturing, or fracking; and touted President Obama’s achievements reining in Wall Street.
These omissions and self-congratulatory stances are not going to impress the Sanders platform team. However, just what he can achieve with drafting the 2016 platform is an open question.
“I don't know how any of it's going to go down, and I don't know how much effect the platform will eventually have,” Bill McKibben said. “My job is to push for the things that he's pushed for in the campaign: an end to fracking, keeping fossil fuels in the ground on public lands, a price on carbon to reflect the damage it does in the atmosphere, and so on.”
No matter what is put on paper, McKibben said the advocacy must continue. “My guess is, even in the best of circumstances, movements would still need to work very hard to make Democrats live up to their commitments,” he said. “Hell, I told Bernie, only half in jest, that I'd doubtless find myself chained to the White House even if he was living there. But commitments are always useful.”
Having a seat at the platform-writing table many only be the start of Sanders’ demands—especially if he wins California even as Clinton clinches the nomination in New Jersey. That would signal that the party needs to accommodate him further, which could involve replacing Debbie Wasserman Schultz as DNC chair, giving Sanders and his allies primetime speaking slots on the podium—like the way Sen. Elizabeth Warren spoke before Bill Clinton in 2012—or even scrapping the party’s fundamentally anti-democratic superdelegate system.
Can the Democratic Party be changed from the inside out? Many people have long concluded no, but like much related to Sanders’ role in the 2016 campaign, many traditional expectations have been upended.Related Stories
Ken Starr Demoted as President of Baylor for 'Fundamental Failure' to Appropriately Investigate Sexual Assaults
Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel who led the investigation into President Bill Clinton’s sexual trysts in 1998, is officially out as president of Baylor University after an exhaustive investigation revealed his administration's “fundamental failure” to appropriately handle sexual assault accusations.
The announcement comes after the Baylor Board of Regents insisted Tuesday, amid speculation, that Starr had not been ousted, but noted the board was continuing to review an investigation into the school’s handling of sexual assault victims. That report, compiled by Pepper Hamilton law firm at the board’s request, found the school “accommodated or created a hostile environment, rather than taking action to eliminate a hostile environment.”
The report noted the school had failed “to identify and train responsible employees under Title IX,” the federal law that requires prompt and appropriate investigations into allegations of sexual assault on campus. The law firm found the “overwhelming majority of cases did not move forward to an adjudicative hearing, with only an extremely limited number of cases resulting in a finding of responsibility or significant sanction.
“Actions by University administrators directly discouraged some complainants from reporting or participating in student conduct processes and in one instance constituted retaliation against a complainant for reporting sexual assault,” the report said, adding that football staff conducted inquiries outside of policy “which improperly discredited complainants and denied them the right to a fair, impartial and informed investigation.”
Baylor initiated the investigation after a series of high-profile sexual assault cases drew national attention over the span of several years. In one of those instances, the victim filed a Title IX lawsuit against the school, alleging school officials told the victim’s mother they were “too busy” to investigate her claims.
The report released by Pepper Hamilton revealed systemic negligence by school administrators. In a statement, Richard Willis, chair of the Baylor Board of Regents, said the board is “horrified by the extent of these acts of sexual violence on our campus.”
“This investigation revealed the University’s mishandling of reports in what should have been a supportive, responsive and caring environment for students,” Willis said. “The depth to which these acts occurred shocked and outraged us. Our students and their families deserve more, and we have committed our full attention to improving our processes, establishing accountability and ensuring appropriate actions are taken to support former, current and future students.”
Despite being stripped of his position as president, Kenneth Starr will transition to the role of chancellor and remain a professor at the university’s law school. Baylor’s head couch, Art Biles, “has been suspended indefinitely with intent to terminate according to contractual procedures,” according to the university. Baylor’s athletic director, Ian McCaw, was placed on probation.
In February, Starr released a letter to the Baylor community affirming his commitment to sexual assault victims. “Our hearts break for those whose lives are impacted by execrable acts of sexual violence,” Starr wrote. “No one should have to endure the trauma of these terrible acts of wrongdoing. We must never lose sight of the long-term, deeply personal effects such contemptible conduct has on the lives of survivors.”
“Let me be clear: Sexual violence emphatically has no place whatsoever at Baylor University,” Starr added.Related Stories
A Boston Police officer is reportedly under investigation after he was caught on video pinning a pedestrian to the ground while off duty.
Video posted to Facebook by Stephen Harlowe this week shows the off-duty officer, who is wearing a Red Sox jersey, with his knee in the back of a man who is face down on the sidewalk. The officer can be heard telling the man that he’s “under arrest right now.”
As the officer pulls the man down the street by his collar, the man explains that the officer cut him off while he was using a crosswalk.
“I tapped his [vehicle’s] glass with my umbrella,” the man says.
“And you tackled him and shoved his head into the ground?” Harlowe asks the officer, repeatedly asking to see a badge.
Harlowe briefly spars with the officer over whether drivers must yield to pedestrians. And although the officer claims that the man “cracked” his glass, Harlow observes that the mark is simply a “smudge, not a crack.”
Within minutes, police backup arrives and the video ends.
Harlowe later told NECN that the officer “acted like [the man] had shot somebody.”
“It was very uncalled for, it was completely unnecessary,” he said.
Boston Police confirmed in a statement that the department was aware of the video.
“It has been turned over to the internal affairs division who has initiated an inquiry,” the statement said. “This inquiry will including speaking to the officer and attempting to contact witnesses and parties involved.”
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who viewed the video, noted that the officer’s tactics “seemed a little aggressive.”
“We’re going to wait and see what happens with internal affairs before we take any action, before I make any further comment on it.”
According to the Boston Police Department, the man who was tackled in the video was never arrested.
Watch the video below.Related Stories
Photo from Public Domain
No CCF Government will rest content until it has eradicated capitalism and put into operation the full programme of socialized planning which will lead to the establishment in Canada of the Co-operative Commonwealth.
— Regina Manifesto, 1933
The years of compromise and moderation were about to bear fruit in 2015. In 1933 the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) proudly declared itself a socialist party dedicated to the eradication of capitalism and building a socialist economy and society. Voices of moderation within the party appealed to the party’s rank-and-file to be more pragmatic, less ideologically pure. A sustained attack by the capitalist press joined the chorus from outside the party. These voices became more urgent as the CCF achieved some electoral success, most importantly the 1944 victory in Saskatchewan. The capitalist press now combined the usual nasty red-baiting with sage advice to the CCF about not being too dangerously radical. The road to victory in Ottawa required a softening of the party’s language, a moderation of its hard program, and friendly assurances to business to overcome capital’s fears. M. J. Coldwell, J. S. Wordsworth’s successor as national leader, bitterly complained the Regina Manifesto was “a millstone around the neck of the party.” It had to go. In 1956 it was replaced by the moderate Winnipeg Declaration.
As the years went by, the language of the party, and its programs, became increasingly moderate: no more talk of socialism, public ownership of resources and industry, nationalization. Each failure to advance electorally was met with yet more moderation… and so it went. This pact with Satan progressed as the party traded pieces of its socialist soul for the elusive promise of electoral victory. In the end all that was left was a commitment to moderate social democracy, the welfare state, and the use of a cautiously interventionist state to win incremental advances in social and economic justice. In private, and at party conventions, the word socialism was still uttered from time to time, usually to defend the strategy of socialism by stealth from the party’s left.
The final surrender occurred in response to the triumph of global neoliberalism in the 1990s characterized by a successful assault on the welfare state and activist governments. NDP premiers Bob Rae of Ontario, Roy Romanow of Saskatchewan, and Mike Harcourt of BC, and federal leader Audrey McLaughlin, abandoned social democracy and embraced neoliberalism. From then on NDP election campaigns jettisoned basic social democratic program proposals while critically supporting neoliberalism, arguing it should not be so harsh, but characterized by a human face and a helping hand. The inner circle insisted the party retained social democracy as an ultimate goal, pointing to the party’s constitution promising the application of “democratic socialist principles to government.”
This final compromise seemed to bear tangible electoral fruit after Jack Layton became leader, leading the party in four elections (2004, 2006, 2008, 2011). Each election saw a significant gain in seats culminating in the outstanding showing in 2011, 103 seats with 31 per cent of the vote. As Official Opposition the NDP was one election away from federal power. The long cherished hope of replacing the Liberals was finally realized.
Layton’s flirtation with neoliberalism was viewed by the party establishment as a pragmatic electoral tactic. No one doubted Layton’s core commitment to moderate social democracy. In creating the conditions for the NDP sweep of Quebec in 2011 (59 of 75 seats), Layton’s political savvy combined with historical circumstances. Layton recruited Tom Mulcair to the NDP, made him his Quebec lieutenant, convinced Mulcair could assist in making gains in Quebec, long a wasteland for the party. This was a controversial choice since Mulcair, though a party member of the federal NDP in Quebec, served in the cabinet of Jean Charest’s Liberal government (1994-2007), where he established a reputation of being on the right on economic policy: a committed fiscal conservative who embraced the core economic ideology of neoliberalism. Mulcair made history as the first NDP MP elected in Quebec, winning the 2007 by-election in Outremount, long a Liberal bastion. He was named co-deputy leader by Layton. Mulcair’s political and organizational skills, Layton’s charismatic charm, the NDP’s Sherbrooke Declaration (a referendum on sovereignty required 50 per cent plus 1), the collapse of the Liberals over the Sponsorship Scandal, and the loathing of Stephen Harper across Quebec, combined to bring about the Orange Crush in 2011.
But federal power was a possibility built on a foundation of illusion. The NDP’s dramatic sweep of Quebec was not reflected in significant gains in the other regions: 15 of 92 seats in the West; 22 of 106 in Ontario; 6 of 32 in Atlantic Canada; 1 of 3 in the North. To win power the NDP had to consolidate its support in Quebec while persuading voters in other regions it was time to give the party the mantle of power. A daunting task. Layton might have been up for the challenge, but his death in August 2011 left the party leaderless at the most important conjuncture of electoral forces in its history.
Total Retreat from Social Democracy
The outcome of the leadership contest was the final element in a total retreat from social democracy, even as a core belief hidden from public view. Tom Mulcair won the leadership narrowly (57 to 43%) after a divisive campaign against the established moderate social democratic leadership core, led by Ed Broadbent and Brian Topp, Mulcair’s rival and Layton’s chief of staff. They argued Mulcair was not a social democrat and the NDP’s core values would disappear under his leadership. But the tantalizing dream of imminent power was too much for the party. Enough delegates were convinced Mulcair could secure the Quebec seats and go on to win power. Mulcair put his autocratic stamp on the party, including amending the constitution to eliminate the party’s commitment to apply “democratic socialist principles to government.” Mulcair was convinced the NDP must transform into a mature, responsible, and non-ideological government in waiting. Above all it had to convey the image of a party able to manage the economy with prudence.
When Harper called the 2015 election, polls revealed that two in three voters wanted change, i.e., Harper’s defeat. Voters appeared prepared to vote strategically en masse for the party best able to achieve change. At first the NDP was the obvious contender, as the Official Opposition with early polls recording a tie between the three parties. The odd poll showed the NDP ticking ahead of the Liberals. Then the Mulcair campaign imploded. Campaigning on the slogan “real change,” Mulcair presented a cautious plan for change: balanced budgets and no new taxes on the wealthy were the first priorities, while all the good social programs promised would only be realized over years of careful spending and balanced budgets. Trudeau’s Liberals pounced with the slogan “ready for change,” promising deficit spending immediately upon election to renew infrastructure and enhance program spending. The rest is a sad chapter in NDP history as Mulcair stumbled to a third place finish.
Mulcair’s apologists insist his principled stand against the proposed Tory ban on women wearing the niqab during citizenship oaths began his decline. This is not what hurt Mulcair, since Trudeau took the same position. Mulcair’s problem was that a number of Quebec NDP MPs and candidates publicly equivocated on the issue, creating a controversy with legs in Quebec and across Canada. The public divisions hurt the party. But the niqab was a side issue. The real issue was the Liberal party had risen from the ashes of defeat to seize the mantle of the social democratic option in the election, promising big changes now.
Mulcair paid the price for the party’s sins and his role in the final temptation. The April 2016 federal NDP convention ousted him from the leadership in a 48 to 52 per cent vote, uncannily reflecting a reversal of the margin of his leadership victory. A coalition of the core social democratic establishment, which had resisted his leadership, joined ranks with labour, the left, and Alberta delegates to end his career. He had promised victory and failed. The party was deeply embarrassed at being so badly outflanked on the left by the Liberals. Alberta’s delegates were angry over his refusal to enthusiastically support new pipelines and his willingness to accept the green Leap Manifesto as a basis for internal debate on the party’s renewal.
Wither the post-Mulcair NDP? What was left of the party’s credibility as an agent of change toward a socialist and green economy and society is in tatters. Even if the Leap Manifesto is adopted, either it will be watered down to platitudes or suffer the same fate as the Regina Manifesto. Already the right of the party has called it political madness and has been dutifully joined by the capitalist press, declaiming the NDP is again on a left-wing path to suicide. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, in an echo of Coldwell, has made it clear that even talking about the manifesto is a millstone around the neck of her government.
Thanks to the Mulcair episode, the NDP has earned a place in the dustbin of history, but is unlikely to go there willingly. It will need a push from the growing left outside the party.
This article originally appeared on SocialistProject.ca.