Tomdispatch – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Fri, 12 Jul 2024 02:10:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Who Thinks Donald Trump is Racist? Other Racists, that’s Who Fri, 12 Jul 2024 04:02:15 +0000 ( ) – Former president Donald Trump often finds himself on the defensive against accusations of racism. He regularly denies the charges, distorting his record and resorting to his “Black friends” defense, while attempting to throw the allegations back at liberals. However, he never explains why he is the favorite son of the one group in society about whose racial bigotry there can be no debate: avowed racists.

Since Trump emerged as a public political figure, they have been resolute in their loyalty to him. Are Trump’s African American allies like Senator Tim Scott or Representative Byron Donalds, or Latino ones like Senator Marco Rubio, truly ignorant of his unapologetically racist champions? Or is their blind ambition to share a ticket with him (or be close to power) simply more important to them?

In 2016, when Donald Trump first ran for president, just about every self-declared white nationalist, white supremacist, Klansman, neo-Nazi, and fascist in the country supported his candidacy. And that’s no exaggeration.

One of the longest-running white nationalist journals in the United States, American Renaissance, is edited by notorious racist Jared Taylor. In January 2016, during the primary race in Iowa, he circulated a robocall that stated, “I urge you to vote for Donald Trump because he is the one candidate who points out that we should accept immigrants who are good for America. We don’t need Muslims. We need smart, well-educated White people who will assimilate to our culture. Vote Trump.”

Trump was also cheered on by the Ku Klux Klan’s official newspaper, The Crusader, which calls itself the “Political Voice of White Christian America.” Though it said that it wasn’t necessarily endorsing Trump, its urge to ally with him was all too clear. Under the front-page headline banner “Make America Great Again,” Pastor Thomas Robb wrote, “While Trump wants to make America great again, we have to ask ourselves, ‘What made America great in the first place?’ The short answer to that is simple. America was great not because of what our forefathers did — but because of who our forefathers were… America was founded as a White Christian Republic. And as a White Christian Republic it became great.”

And then there was the David Duke crisis. On February 24, 2016, Duke, the Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, stated to his white radio audience, “Voting against Donald Trump at this point is really treason to your heritage.” When Trump was later asked on CNN about his support from the then-most-famous racist in the nation, his reply was, “Well, just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke. OK? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So, I don’t know.” Not exactly an unequivocal denunciation.

And not true in the least. Trump, who claims the best brain and greatest memory on earth, suddenly got amnesia when it came to the way he had spoken out against Duke in 1991 when that figure ran for governor of Louisiana, and, in 2000, when Trump rejected affiliation with the Reform Party in part because of its links to Duke. At the time, he called Duke a “bigot” and a “racist.”

Trump conveniently forgot that past history of his during that CNN interview, as he clearly calculated the nature of his base and where it overlapped with Duke’s. After blaming a faulty earpiece (which, curiously enough, seemed to work fine for the rest of the interview) and evidently fearing swift blowback, Trump rejected Duke’s support the next day.

Duke, however, was undeterred and continued to back him in an enthusiastic fashion. After the election, he even tweeted, “Make no mistake about it, our people played a HUGE role in electing Trump!”

Other racists celebrated as well. At a gathering in Washington, D.C., Richard Spencer, leader of the white supremacist alt-right movement, declared: “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” He was speaking to a crowd of nearly 200, many of whom responded with Nazi salutes. You won’t be surprised to know that they expressed no confusion about what Trump represented.

“Stand Back and Stand By”

In August 2017, within months of being in office, the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, produced a clear opportunity for Trump to denounce racists, Neo-Nazis, and Klansmen who marched to the chants of “White lives matter“ and “Jews will not replace us.” Instead, unlike nearly every other elected official on the national scene, Democrat or Republican, he flubbed his response. After a press conference or two, where he equivocated and went off-script to wax admiringly about “very fine people on both sides,” he ultimately denounced the far-right racists. However, he pointedly agreed with their demand that generated the march in the first place — their objection to the removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a city park. Trump has decried the dismantling of Lee statues on a number of occasions, including in Charlottesville, where he called it “sad” and “so foolish.”

In 2020, after four years in office, he arguably received even stronger and more violent support from his far-right and white nationalist backers. Those years included his anti-(that is, non-white) immigrant fight to “build the wall” on the U.S.-Mexican border, his rejection of immigrants from the “shithole countries” of the Global South, the aspersions he cast on Black-dominated cities, and his endless racist statements about Black athletes, elected officials, women, and protesters.

Then, of course, during the 2020 election campaign, far-right extremist groups like the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, the Boogaloo Boys, and others — many with openly racist members in their ranks — rallied around Trump and became his frontline soldiers after he lost. He famously told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” but not to stand down. They showed up at most “Stop the Steal” events and were front and center during the January 6th insurrection, where Black police officers reported being called the “n-word.” Trump now refers to that same crew as “warriors” and “patriots,” ignoring the Confederate flags, anti-Semitic symbols, racial slurs, and nooses that were ubiquitous that day.

In 2020, some in the racist community were smarter in signaling their support for Trump without formally endorsing him. David Duke, however, once again unabashedly came out for him, while suggesting that disgraced media propagandist and ex-Fox News host Tucker Carlson be added to the ticket as his vice-presidential choice. Carlson seemed like a particularly sensible possibility to Duke because, even while at Fox, he had been a proponent of the “white replacement theory,” the argument that undocumented (and even documented) immigrants of color are part of a larger conspiracy by unidentified liberals and Democrats to supplant white Americans and white American culture with something distinctly (and all too literally) darker and more disturbing. Of course, Trump subscribed to that thesis as well.

The “Anti-White-Feeling” Former President

In 2024, there is little doubt who the nation’s racists will once again be backing for president. Only recently, Trump spewed lies and misrepresentations at a — yes! — white-dominated gathering in an obscure Black church in Detroit, while denouncing that city as “hell” and “totally corrupt,” and describing black communities as dangerous and depressed. He did not, however, repeat for that crowd and representatives of the national media present that day his pledge to address so-called anti-white racism or to make it a priority should he become president again. As he said in a Time magazine interview, “If you look right now, there’s absolutely a bias against white (people) and that’s a problem.” He offered no examples of that “problem,” but it fit in squarely with the belief of 58% of his supporters that “racial minorities” are favored over whites in the United States.

Trump also claims that he is a victim of anti-white racism from “radical vicious, racist prosecutors” in Georgia, New York, and Washington, D.C. They are going after him, he insists, simply because he’s a white man and not because he committed any actual crimes.

Trump will undoubtedly continue to claim again and again, all too disingenuously, that “I don’t have a racist bone in my body,” but the folks who unabashedly support him to the hilt certainly think otherwise. The Trump campaign faces the awkward and inconvenient truth that he has never lost the full-scale support of the nation’s most hardcore racists.

And no wonder! No matter how often he pretends to be free of bigotry, his racist worldview manifests itself at every turn. In his recent “debate” with President Joe Biden, Trump made his usual hateful statements against immigrants (of color) and added that they are “taking black jobs now and it could be 18. It could be 19 and even 20 million people. They’re taking black jobs and they’re taking Hispanic jobs and you haven’t seen it yet, but you’re going to see something that’s going to be the worst in our history.”

By “black jobs” and “Hispanic jobs,” of course, he was referring to his belief that only certain kinds of work define those communities. It should be taken for granted that he wasn’t referring to engineers, lawyers, office managers, professors, veterinarians, or any positions of a professional or middle-class nature. He sees Black Americans and Latinos as nothing but the lowest-paid, lowest-status workers in America.

In fact, Trump never has anything genuinely positive to say about the Black community, which he sees — just to start down a list — as crime-ridden, dirty, and rodent-infested. Nor does he ever identify any of the groups or individuals in such communities who are working on solutions to the issues they face. That doesn’t fit the view of the former president and many of his followers that communities of color are linked only to dysfunction, decay, and (implicitly) inferiority.

Naturally, Trump was wrong on all counts. First, there is no evidence (and, of course, Trump didn’t present any) that immigrants are taking jobs from Black and Latino Americans. As the Washington Post noted, “The Black unemployment rate remains near historic lows and wage gains are at all-time highs.” In fact, the lowest Black employment on record occurred under President Biden when, in April 2023, it fell to 4.8%.

In addition, unlike Trump’s implication that Black people only occupy low-level manual labor jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost half of all African Americans work in professional, management, or office jobs. That would undoubtedly be a revelation to Trump, since in the dozens of businesses he’s started, very few Blacks and Latinos are ever found in high-level or professional positions.

Rather than let Trump get away with his endless series of canards on race in America, interviewers should ask him some pointed questions that are simply never asked in Trump-friendly or Trump-fearful media venues. Three come to mind: Why do you continue to receive such wholehearted support from avowed racists? What is the “anti-white racism” (or “anti-white feeling“) that you so often talk about and why do you consider it more of an issue than racial discrimination against communities of color? Why should Black voters in Atlanta, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia, among other places, vote for someone who spent weeks after the 2020 election desperately attempting to disqualify their votes?

Trump does not deserve a single Black or Hispanic vote. Nada. None. His ongoing gaslighting about his record and his appeal to extremists and racists should doom him to the lowest Black and Hispanic vote support in the last 100 years in election 2024.


An Election in Danger? The Fragile State of American Democracy Fri, 28 Jun 2024 04:02:03 +0000 By and

( ) – Officials and election experts are now struggling in a big-time way. How, they wonder, can they effectively address mounting threats — of violence, election denialism, foreign influence, and voter discrimination? Do they run the risk of alarming the public to the point of reducing voter turnout? Are there reasons to assuage fears about either election disinformation or possible election interference in 2024? Standing in Pointe du Hoc, France, to mark the anniversary of D-Day, President Biden told the world that those who fought in that pivotal battle are “asking us to do our job: to protect freedom in our time, to defend democracy.” Election security would be a good place to start.

Perhaps one way to assess the question of election stability and security in 2024 is to ask: How different is this election from earlier tumultuous ones in American history?

What, if any, lessons can we draw from the past? Or are we in genuinely uncharted territory today? 

In truth, when it comes to presidential elections, this country has faced some frightening moments in its history, ones that touch on a number of the fears that confront us today. We may never have faced the likes of Donald Trump, but we have experienced disputed vote tallies, Supreme Court interference, threats of violence, voting rights restrictions, and a lack of confidence in the process itself.

Contested Elections

Donald Trump has made no bones about it. Should he lose the coming election, he reserves the “right” to refuse to accept the results. In 2020, his denial of the results led to a violent attempt to block Congress from certifying the vote on the following January 6th. To date, any accountability for his past actions has been minimal. Found guilty last month of falsifying business records to conceal election law violations in 2016, he has yet to be sentenced and may well appeal all the way up to a sympathetic Supreme Court. Moreover, he hasn’t been tried yet in Georgia and in federal court in Washington, D.C., on significantly more serious criminal charges about ways he and his followers tried to subvert the results of the 2020 election — and he’s unlikely to be before the November elections. 

Most Republicans have remained at his side. Indeed, election denialism has become a rallying point rather than a mark of shame. As a result, the former president continues to engage in implied threats to the democratic political process with unwavering partisan support. And were he to disappear from the political scene thanks to a decisive defeat in 2024, others could follow him in exploiting the democratic system for political gain.

While there have been a handful of disputed presidential election results since the country’s founding, two stand out. In the election of 1876, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes lost the popular and electoral vote to Samuel Tilden. The Republicans protested that, in three states, the results were uncertain. To resolve the issue, Congress created a bipartisan panel, including House and Senate representatives and five Supreme Court justices. That panel then granted Hayes all 20 disputed electoral votes, giving him a one-point electoral margin over Tilden, and so making him president. Ultimately, the country found a way forward.

More than a century later, in the 2000 election between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore, the results again lay in dispute. Gore had won the popular vote, but the electoral vote was too close to call. All eyes focused on Florida where the results would determine the outcome. Although the Florida Supreme Court ordered a statewide recount, the Supreme Court stopped it and, in doing so, made Bush president.

In neither post-election resolution did the losing candidate contest the results, though Tilden waited four months before conceding. The day after the Supreme Court’s decision, Gore conceded, saying, “I accept the finality of this outcome” — a stark contrast to Donald Trump who still refuses to concede that the 2020 election result was legitimate.

It’s worth mentioning that both elections had major consequences. Hayes’s win, the result of a brokered deal, also ended the post-Civil War Reconstruction era and led to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the South. That election would prove an integral part of efforts to undo the biggest push the nation ever had to achieve racial justice.

The Bush administration, in turn, failed to prevent the attacks of September 11, 2001, and then launched a multidecade-long “war on terror” that would destabilize parts of the globe from South Asia to the Middle East and Africa, while, according to the Costs of War Project, leading to the deaths of more than 7,000 American service members and more than 177,000 allied military and police in conflicts ranging from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Iraq and Syria, not to mention the deaths of more than 430,000 civilians.

Along with the knowledge that uncertainty can accompany election results, Americans sense as well that violence could indeed loom in as yet unknown ways, thanks to Election 2024.

Violence Before, During, and After an Election

It’s not that Americans have never experienced the threat of violence around elections. The Civil War years saw numerous outbreaks of violence. In 1861, a mob of Confederate supporters tried to gather to storm Congress to stop the certification of Abraham Lincoln as president. There was no violence only because General Winfield Scott, a southerner, made sure the Capitol was protected.

So, too, in 1868, in the runup to the first election of the Reconstruction era between Ulysses S. Grant and Horatio Seymour, Ku Klux Klan violence led to thousands of murders in Georgia, Kansas, and Louisiana, and threats of violence kept voters away from the polls in droves. In the 1876 Tilden-Hayes election in which four states submitted multiple slates of electors to Congress, one popular slogan was “Tilden or Blood.” Expecting violence, President Grant secured the Capitol with troops and prepared to deploy them elsewhere as well.

And then (as now), race and violence were a distinct issue. In 1873, white mobs assaulted a courthouse in Colfax, Louisiana, to remove pro-Reconstruction Republican officials. In 1898, a horde of white North Carolinians conducted a coup against the fusionist government of the city of Wilmington to empower reactionary southern Democrats.

During the last part of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, southern Jim Crow laws imposed in response to Reconstruction produced literacy tests and poll taxes that disenfranchised Black voters. And in the twentieth century, racially motivated violence aimed at suppressing the vote became a regular part of election politics.

During “Freedom Summer” in 1964, three civil rights workers — James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner — were killed by white terrorists for participating in Black voter registration initiatives in Mississippi. When demonstrators were assaulted by police and white mobs on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama during a nonviolent march on March 7, 1965, in support of voting rights legislation, the nation witnessed just how much brutality then existed when it came to those seeking to fulfill the nation’s democratic promise.

Twenty-First-Century Challenges

Experts anticipate a surge of violence at the polls in 2024. A Brennan Center survey found that, since 2020, “38 percent of local election officials experienced threats, harassment, or abuse for doing their jobs.” To counter this, the federal government and individual states have already mounted efforts intended to protect both voters and officials. Since 2020, in fact, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and Congress have ponied up an extra $205 million for election protection. And yet, as the Brennan Center points out, a growing fear of violence and harassment has led to “an exodus from the field” of election work. Not surprisingly, a recent Ipsos/Reuters poll reported that two out of three Americans are concerned about the prospect of election violence in 2024 and fear the possibility of a worse version of the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol.

Violence at the polls has, in fact, plagued elections throughout the nation’s history, as Steven Hahn recounts in his new book, Illiberal America, while the Voting Rights Act of 1965 proved to be fragile indeed, as red states continued to put voting restrictions in place based on false allegations of voter fraud.

Worse yet are the threats already emanating from former president Trump and Republicans close to him. The embrace of such anti-democratic sentiment by such a potentially powerful figure and his party at a time when global anti-democratic forces are on the rise has already created an historically rare level of instability in this country.

And keep in mind that not all the dangers of this moment have a footprint in the American past. There are new challenges that face the nation today. Disinformation is a case in point.  While false information has always been a part of politics — smears against alleged communists were, for instance, a staple of the early Cold War years — the Internet has proven a game-changer when it comes to facilitating false narratives that could lead to both voter suppression and a deep mistrust of election results.

The scale and scope of disinformation in the modern age has no precedent. Without editorial control and given the ease of disseminating misinformation, guardrails have crumbled. Experts warn that the massive communications infrastructure that transmits bad information could undermine confidence in election results in ways never before seen. Worse yet, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is likely to prove a particularly dangerous mechanism for producing electoral deepfakes.

Additionally, foreign interference seems now to have become a permanent feature of American elections, although to what end remains in question. As the 2019 report issued by Special Counsel Robert Mueller demonstrated, Russia’s attempts to interfere with the 2016 election, including conducting “information warfare” and attacking voter databases, proved “sweeping and systematic.”

Where Are We Today?

When it comes to elections, despite Donald Trump, it’s not been all downhill. In 2021, the Department of Justice launched an Election Threat Task Force aimed at individuals who posed threats to election workers. To date, 17 people have indeed been prosecuted. Significantly, in 2022, Congress passed the Electoral Count Reform Act, an attempt to update the Electoral Count Act of 1887 and improve the process of certifying the vote, ensuring that the transition period between election day and inauguration day goes smoothly. In addition, in 2022, Congress passed legislation to establish a Foreign Malign Influence Center to counter disinformation from overseas generally, not just in elections.

The federal courts have also proven to be barriers against electoral subversion. In the wake of the 2020 election, they repeatedly denied Donald Trump success in his efforts to overturn the results. Yet even this source of democratic protection has been limited, while the present all too conservative Supreme Court, which in 2013 gutted the Voting Rights Act, has continued to weaken voter protections.

The question then remains: What do the lessons of history — and recent reforms — tell us about our current moment? On the one hand, history suggests that election dysfunction has been overcome time and again. Whether we’re talking about contested results, challenges to voter suppression, outbreaks of violence, or presidents elected without national majorities, such situations have been resolved reasonably successfully in the past. Meanwhile, new measures have been put in place for the security of election workers, the certification of the vote, and the deterrence of voter suppression in new ways. In other words, American democracy has continued, despite deeply rooted problems.

And yet, it’s also clear that past negative experiences have, in our moment, been twisted into newly dangerous configurations. In place of contested elections, there is now outright election denialism. In addition to racially motivated violence, there’s growing extremist violence aimed at the institution of voting itself. In place of partisan campaign rhetoric, we’re experiencing the spread of hate speech based on race, ethnicity, gender, or simply opposition to democracy itself. Instead of support for the outlawing of post-election violence, we now live with references to the imprisoned offenders of January 6, 2021, as “hostages.” And just because this country has survived challenging times in the past doesn’t mean it will do so again, particularly as pressure against democratic norms ramps up globally.

Many would blame such election instability on Donald Trump alone and there’s no question that he does have a profound knack for manipulating public discourse and threatening to upend election laws, not to speak of the rules, norms, and processes that underlie election legitimacy. However significant, though, he’s not the only factor that warrants attention in this election year.

The largest threats to our elections now come not from weaponized technology, or a tone-deaf Congress or Supreme Court, or even perhaps from Donald Trump himself (though dangerous he may be). The biggest challenge may lie in the absence of any long-term focus on the need for fundamental structural changes in how our elections are run.  For centuries, we as a nation have made incremental changes in response to moments of election-related crisis. But far more is needed if we are to escape a future in which questions about whether the electoral process itself is legitimate and whether the results will be accepted become part of every election season.

Our democratic system seems increasingly frail. To face the future with confidence in the most elemental building block of our democracy, we need a longer-term perspective. The elimination of the Electoral College, greater accountability for violence in and around elections, tools for curbing disinformation and improving election administration, a vast increase in funding for public education about polling sites and candidate platforms, strict accountability for attempted voter suppression, and heightened efforts to secure voting rights for all are badly needed. In other words, rather than facing a continual nip and tuck of problems as they appear, what we really need is a commission that will offer a full-scale rethinking of election security in the twenty-first century, while focusing on getting Congress to move toward developing a comprehensive new strategy to deal with it. Even if we get through the 2024 election cycle intact and violence-free, the task of election reform remains both essential and, sadly, all too ignored.

Perhaps, however, there could be a silver lining in our unnerving moment if our ongoing election troubles lead us to conclude that the time for keeping our fingers crossed should end and the time for wholesale reform begin.


Unprecedentedly Hot: Why we Need a National Climate Action Plan Wed, 19 Jun 2024 04:06:21 +0000 By

( ) – While April and May are usually the hottest months in many countries in Southeast Asia, hundreds of millions of people are now suffering in South Asia from an exceptionally intense heat wave that has killed hundreds. One expert has already called it the most extreme heat event in history. Record-breaking temperatures above 122º F were reported in the Indian capital of New Delhi and temperatures sizzled to an unheard of 127º F  in parts of India and Pakistan.

Nor was the blazing heat limited to Asia. Heat waves of exceptional severity and duration are now occurring simultaneously in many areas of the world. Mexico and parts of the United States, notably Miami and Phoenix, have recently been in the grip of intense heat events. In southern Mexico, endangered howler monkeys in several states have been falling dead from trees in their tropical forests due to heat stroke and dehydration. Below-average rainfall throughout Mexico has led to water shortages in Mexico City and elsewhere. In some places, birds and bats, not to speak of humans, are also dying from the heat.

All of this is no coincidence. The hot and heavy hand of climate change is now upon us. Last year was the hottest on Earth in 125,000 years, and the concentration of heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere was the highest in four million years and still climbing at an ever-increasing rate. Meanwhile, global sea surface temperatures also reached a peak, causing severe massive coral bleaching in all three major ocean basins. 

The World Bank is projecting that, by 2050, there will be more than 200 million climate refugees, 20 times the 10 million refugees that have already destabilized Europe. Climate change is also putting an increasingly heavy burden on our social safety net, which could ultimately cause social order to begin to break down, generating chaos.

Nobel Prize-winning former Energy Secretary Steven Chu now claims it’s no longer possible to keep the global temperature from rising more than 1.5°C above the historical average, as the 195-nation signatories to the 2015 Paris climate agreement had hoped. In fact, he projects that the target of 2°C will also be broken and that, by 2050 the global temperature will have risen above 3°C. Nor is his pessimism unique. Hundreds of other scientists have recently forecast a strong possibility of hitting 2.5°C, which should hardly be surprising since, for well over 30 years now, global leaders have failed to heed the warnings of climate scientists by moving decisively to phase out fossil fuels and their heat-trapping gases.

What to make of such dire forecasts?

It could hardly be clearer that the world is already in the throes of a climate catastrophe. That means it’s high time for the U.S. to declare a national climate emergency to help focus us all on the disaster at hand. (Or as famed English poet Samuel Johnson put it centuries ago, “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”)

Such a declaration of a climate emergency is long overdue. Some 40 other nations have already done so, including 2,356 jurisdictions and local governments representing more than a billion people. Of course, a declaration alone will hardly be enough. As the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nation, and the one that historically has contributed the most legacy greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, the U.S. needs to develop a coherent exit strategy from the stranglehold of fossil fuels, a strategy that could serve as an international example of a swift and thorough clean-energy transition. But at the moment, of course, this country remains the world’s largest producer and consumer of oil and natural gas and the third largest producer of coal — and should Donald Trump win in November, you can kiss any possible reductions in those figures goodbye for the foreseeable future. Sadly enough, however, though the Biden administration’s rhetoric of climate concern has been strong, in practice, this country has continued to cede true climate leadership to others.

Despite the laudable examples of smaller nations like Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Paraguay, and Costa Rica that are already at, or within a percentage point or two, of being 100% powered by clean, renewable energy, the world sorely needs the U.S. as a global role model. To make a rapid, far-reaching, and unrelenting break with our fossil-fuel dependency — 79% of the nation’s energy is now drawn from fossil fuels — a national mobilization would be needed, and it would have to be a genuine all-of-society effort.

National Mobilization Amid Crisis

Fortunately, there is a historical precedent for just such a comprehensive mobilization of government and citizenry in dire circumstances: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s and the World War II years provide examples of the scale and intensity of the response needed today to reverse climate change. However, instead of gearing up to produce jobs for the unemployed or planes and tanks for a war, a concerted nationwide industrial effort is needed now to upgrade our electrical grid and produce millions of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, carbon-capture machines, and zero-emission vehicles. All too sadly, this country and the world are now in a situation even more perilous than either the Great Depression or World War II.

Rising seas pose serious threats to major American cities, including Boston, Charleston, Miami, and New York, while, in recent years, millions of acres of the Midwest have been flooded by climate-related extreme weather events. Had a foreign enemy inflicted the kind of damage caused by such floods, or the firestorms that swept California and the Pacific Northwest in 2020, or the hurricanes and droughts the nation has begun experiencing with increased frequency, the U.S. would have immediately mobilized for war. Now, this country needs to do exactly that to face the climate crisis, but (even forgetting the horrifying possibility that Donald Trump could win the coming presidential election and sink any possibility of moving on climate change nationally for years to come) how to get our act together?

As French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote in his classic 1943 novella, Le Petit Prince,  “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” In other words, a national climate action plan is urgently needed.

In the Trump years of climate-science denial, any progress in controlling emissions resulted from actions by states, cities, and businesses or institutions. Over the long term, however, climate policy is far too important to be left to a hodgepodge of laws and policies haphazardly applied across some of our 50 states and thousands of cities and businesses. What this country needs is a plan guided by scientific and technical analysis and based on an ambitious but attainable set of greenhouse-gas-reduction quotas. Its point would not be to override the climate agendas of any city, state, or group, or the aspirations of the Green New Deal (House Resolution HR 109). It would simply be to provide a reliable toolkit of measures and policies along with analyses of their costs and benefits — a compass for getting to negative carbon emission as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.

This country today has no comprehensive climate action plan that proposes clear, enforceable targets, timelines, and roadmaps for climate protection and restabilization — and it desperately needs one. Call it America’s Energy Transition: Achieving a Clean Energy Future and imagine that it would build on previous authoritative studies, analyzing renewable-energy-generating and distribution technologies in terms of their costs, commercial readiness, resource constraints, and potential efficiency. It would formulate and model competing scenarios with clusters of complementary technologies, each requiring different policies for its implementation.

From such an exercise, Americans would learn how to achieve the greatest greenhouse gas reductions with the most speed and cost-effectiveness, as well as the fewest unwanted impacts, while best meeting this country’s ongoing energy needs. Such a study would also reveal the demands on natural resources of each scenario along with its costs and the manufacturing capacity required.

To build trust and engagement in the final plan, regional advisory councils made up of scientists, engineers, businesspeople, and major stakeholder representatives should be created to offer recommendations on how best to adapt such a plan to conditions in each part of the country. The final policy roadmap would then be designated as the “optimal energy path scenario” for the nation and provided to Congress, so that it could use the findings as a basis for funding and implementing new climate legislation.

Without Political Action, Don’t Hold Your Breath for a Bold Climate Plan

Left to its own devices, without strong public pressure, Congress might basically ignore or fail to enact legislation to implement the results of a National Climate Action Plan, especially if Congress were still controlled by the fossil-fuel-loving Republican Party. A Republican stranglehold on Congress and/or the White House would undoubtedly stymie both the creation of a national climate plan and the implementation of its findings, as well as the clean-energy transition it would facilitate.

To prevent such a setback from occurring, a strong popular constituency must be built nationwide capable of exerting powerful pressure on Congress to ensure the creation of a climate plan and the appropriate legislation to make it functional.  Otherwise, no matter how sound the PR campaign on its behalf, serious political obstacles would stand in the way of its adoption, even by a Democratic Congress.

Through its lobbying, think tanks, public relations arms, and advertising, the politically and economically powerful fossil-fuel industry has, for decades, blocked meaningful climate legislation in both Democratic and Republican congresses. The creation of a powerful, broad coalition of constituencies — environmental, labor, public health, faith-based, and even progressive elements of the business community — could serve as a popular countervailing force against the mighty fossil-fuel industry. But as a first step, that coalition would need support, guidance, and a common accepted platform both to stand behind and to mobilize the public. The American environmental community could produce that platform. Yet this would not be a simple matter, due to the way that community is siloed, with each major organization catering to its own constituency, interests, and funders.

To create a common consensual vision around which the national climate movement could mobilize, a broad civil society gathering should be convened to attract the leadership of all environmental and climate action groups and set the stage for the National Climate Action Plan. That gathering would, of course, focus on the roadblocks to implementing such a plan and to a swift, national clean-energy transition — and how those roadblocks could be dismantled.

Put all of this together and you would have a nation mobilized against the fossil-fuel industry, ready to create a climate action plan and mobilize Americans in an all-of-society effort on behalf of slashing national carbon emissions in a radical fashion, accelerating a clean-energy transition, and protecting our endangered world.  What more could you ask for?


The Lasting Legacy of Truth-Teller Daniel Ellsberg Wed, 12 Jun 2024 04:02:52 +0000 By

( ) – On a warm evening almost a decade ago, I sat under the stars with Daniel Ellsberg while he talked about nuclear war with alarming intensity. He was most of the way through writing his last and most important book, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Somehow, he had set aside the denial so many people rely on to cope with a world that could suddenly end in unimaginable horror. Listening, I felt more and more frightened. Dan knew what he was talking about.

After working inside this country’s doomsday machinery, even drafting nuclear war plans for the Pentagon during President John F. Kennedy’s administration, Dan Ellsberg had gained intricate perspectives on what greased the bureaucratic wheels, personal ambitions, and political messaging of the warfare state. Deceptions about arranging for the ultimate violence of thermonuclear omnicide were of a piece with routine falsehoods about American war-making. It was easy enough to get away with lying, he told me: “How difficult is it to deceive the public? I would say, as a former insider, one becomes aware: it’s not difficult to deceive them. First of all, you’re often telling them what they would like to believe — that we’re better than other people, we’re superior in our morality and our perceptions of the world.”

Dan had made history in 1971 by revealing the top-secret Pentagon Papers, exposing the constant litany of official lies that accompanied the U.S. escalation of the Vietnam War. In response, the government used the blunderbuss of the World War I-era Espionage Act to prosecute him. At age 41, he faced a possible prison sentence of more than 100 years. But his trial ended abruptly with all charges dismissed when the Nixon administration’s illegal interference in the case came to light in mid-1972. Five decades later, he reflected: “Looking back, the chance that I would get out of 12 felony counts from Richard Nixon was close to zero. It was a miracle.”

That miracle enabled Dan to keep on speaking, writing, researching, and protesting for the rest of his life. (In those five decades, he averaged nearly two arrests per year for civil disobedience.) He worked tirelessly to prevent and oppose a succession of new American wars. And he consistently gave eloquent public support as well as warm personal solidarity to heroic whistleblowers — Thomas Drake, Katharine Gun, Daniel Hale, Matthew Hoh, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Jeffrey Sterling, Mordechai Vanunu, Ann Wright, and others — who sacrificed much to challenge deadly patterns of official deceit.

Unauthorized Freedom of Speech

Dan often spoke out for freeing WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, whose work had revealed devastating secret U.S. documents on America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. At the end of a visit in June 2015, when they said goodbye inside Ecuador’s embassy in London, I saw that both men were on the verge of tears. At that point, Assange was three years into his asylum at that embassy, with no end in sight.

Secretly indicted in the United States, Assange remained in the Ecuadorian embassy for nearly four more years until London police dragged him off to prison. Hours later, in a radio interview, Dan said: “Julian Assange is the first journalist to be indicted. If he is extradited to the U.S. and convicted, he will not be the last. The First Amendment is a pillar of our democracy and this is an assault on it. If freedom of speech is violated to this extent, our republic is in danger. Unauthorized disclosures are the lifeblood of the republic.”

Unauthorized disclosures were the essence of what WikiLeaks had published and what Dan had provided with the Pentagon Papers. Similarly, countless exposés about U.S. government war crimes became possible due to the courage of Chelsea Manning, and profuse front-page news about the government’s systematic violations of the Fourth Amendment resulted from Edward Snowden’s bravery. While gladly publishing some of their revelations, major American newspapers largely refused to defend their rights.

Such dynamics were all too familiar to Dan. He told me that the attitude toward him of the New York Times, which won a Pulitzer Prize with its huge Pentagon Papers scoop, was akin to a district attorney’s view of a “snitch” — useful but distasteful.

In recent times, Dan detested the smug media paradigm of “Ellsberg good, Snowden bad.” So, he pushed back against the theme as rendered by New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote a lengthy piece along those lines in late 2016. Dan quickly responded with a letter to the editor, which never appeared.

The New Yorker certainly could have found room to print Dan’s letter, which said: “I couldn’t disagree more with Gladwell’s overall account.” The letter was just under 300 words; the Gladwell piece had run more than 5,000. While promoting the “Ellsberg good, Snowden bad” trope, the New Yorker did not let readers know that Ellsberg himself completely rejected it:

“Each of us, having earned privileged access to secret information, saw unconstitutional, dangerously wrong policies ongoing by our government. (In Snowden’s case, he discovered blatantly criminal violations of our Fourth Amendment right to privacy, on a scale that threatens our democracy.) We found our superiors, up to the presidents, were deeply complicit and clearly unwilling either to expose, reform, or end the wrongdoing.

“Each of us chose to sacrifice careers, and possibly a lifetime’s freedom, to reveal to the public, Congress, and the courts what had long been going on in secret from them. We hoped, each with some success, to allow our democratic system to bring about desperately needed change.

“The truth is there are no whistleblowers, in fact no one on earth, with whom I identify more closely than with Edward Snowden.

“Here is one difference between us that is deeply real to me: Edward Snowden, when he was 30 years old, did what I could and should have done — what I profoundly wish I had done — when I was his age, instead of 10 years later.”

As he encouraged whistleblowing, Dan often expressed regret that he hadn’t engaged in it sooner. During the summer of 2014, a billboard was on display at bus stops in Washington, D.C., featuring a quote from Dan — with big letters at the top saying “DON’T DO WHAT I DID. DON’T WAIT,” followed by “until a new war has started, don’t wait until thousands more have died, before you tell the truth with documents that reveal lies or crimes or internal projections of costs and dangers. You might save a war’s worth of lives.” Two whistleblowers who had been U.S. diplomats, Matthew Hoh and Ann Wright, unveiled the billboard at a bus stop near the State Department.

A Grotesque Situation of Existential Danger

Above all, Daniel Ellsberg was preoccupied with opposing policies that could lead to nuclear war. “No policies in human history have more deserved to be recognized as immoral. Or insane,” he wrote in The Doomsday Machine. “The story of how this calamitous predicament came about and how and why it has persisted for over half a century is a chronicle of human madness.”

It’s fitting that the events set for Daniel Ellsberg Week (ending on June 16th, the first anniversary of when Dan passed away) will include at least one protest at a Northrop Grumman facility. That company has a $13.3 billion contract to develop a new version of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which — as Dan frequently emphasized — is the most dangerous of all nuclear weapons. He was eager to awaken Congress to scientific data about “nuclear winter” and the imperative of shutting down ICBMs to reduce the risks of nuclear war.

Five years ago, several of us from the Institute for Public Accuracy hand-delivered paperbacks of The Doomsday Machine — with a personalized letter from Dan to each member of the House and Senate — to all 535 congressional offices on Capitol Hill. “I am concerned that the public, most members of Congress, and possibly even high members of the Executive branch have remained in the dark, or in a state of denial, about the implications of rigorous studies by environmental scientists over the last dozen years,” Dan wrote near the top of his two-page letter. Those studies “confirm that using even a large fraction of the existing U.S. or Russian nuclear weapons that are on high alert would bring about nuclear winter, leading to global famine and near extinction of humanity.”

Dan’s letter singled out the urgency of one “immediate step” in particular: “to eliminate entirely our redundant, vulnerable, and destabilizing land-based ICBM force.” Unlike air-launched and sea-based nuclear weapons, which are not vulnerable to attack, the ICBMs are vulnerable to a preemptive strike and so are “poised to launch” on the basis of “ten-minute warning signals that may be — and have been, on both sides — false alarms, which press leadership to ‘use them or lose them.’”

As Dan pointed out, “It is in the power of Congress to decouple the hair-trigger on our system by defunding and dismantling the current land-based Minuteman missiles and rejecting funding for their proposed replacements. The same holds for lower-yield weapons for first use against Russia, on submarines or in Europe, which are detonators for escalation to nuclear winter.”

In essence, Dan was telling members of Congress to do their job, with the fate of the earth and its inhabitants hanging in the balance:

“This grotesque situation of existential danger has evolved in secret in the almost total absence of congressional oversight, investigations, or hearings. It is time for Congress to remedy this by preparing for first-ever hearings on current nuclear doctrine and ‘options,’ and by demanding objective, authoritative scientific studies of their full consequences including fire, smoke, nuclear winter, and famine. Classified studies of nuclear winter using actual details of existing attack plans, never yet done by the Pentagon but necessarily involving its directed cooperation, could be done by the National Academy of Sciences, requested and funded by Congress.”

But Dan’s letter was distinctly out of sync with Congress. Few in office then — or now — have publicly acknowledged that such a “grotesque situation of existential danger” really exists. And even fewer have been willing to break from the current Cold War mindset that continues to fuel the rush to global annihilation. On matters of foreign policy and nuclear weapons, the Congressional Record is mainly a compendium of arrogance and delusion, in sharp contrast to the treasure trove of Dan’s profound insights preserved at

Humanism and Realism to Remember

Clear as he was about the overarching scourge of militarism embraced by the leaders of both major parties, Dan was emphatic about not equating the two parties at election time. He understood that efforts like Green Party presidential campaigns are misguided at best. But, as he said dryly, he did favor third parties — on the right (“the more the better”). He knew what some self-described progressives have failed to recognize as the usual reality of the U.S. electoral system: right-wing third parties help the left, and left-wing third parties help the right.

Several weeks before the 2020 election, Dan addressed voters in the swing state of Michigan via an article he wrote for the Detroit Metro Times. Appearing under a headline no less relevant today — “Trump Is an Enemy of the Constitution and Must Be Defeated” — the piece said that “it’s now of transcendent importance to prevent him from gaining a second term.” Dan warned that “we’re facing an authoritarian threat to our democratic system of a kind we’ve never seen before,” making votes for Joe Biden in swing states crucial.

Dan’s mix of deep humanism and realism was in harmony with his aversion to contorting logic to suit rigid ideology. Bad as current realities were, he said, it was manifestly untrue that things couldn’t get worse. He had no intention of ignoring the very real dangers of nuclear war or fascism.

During the last few months of his life, after disclosing a diagnosis of inoperable pancreatic cancer, Dan reached many millions of people with an intensive schedule of interviews. Journalists were mostly eager to ask him about events related to the Pentagon Papers. While he said many important things in response to such questions, Dan most wanted to talk about the unhinged momentum of the nuclear arms race and the ominous U.S. frenzy of antagonism toward Russia and China lacking any sense of genuine diplomacy.

While he can no longer speak to the world about the latest developments, Dan Ellsberg will continue to speak directly to hearts and minds about the extreme evils of our time — and the potential for overcoming them with love in action.

A free documentary film premiering now, “A Common Insanity: A Conversation with Daniel Ellsberg About Nuclear Weapons,” concludes with these words from Dan as he looks straight at us: “Can humanity survive the nuclear era? We don’t know. I choose to act as if we have a chance.”


How the Military-Industrial Complex is Killing us All Mon, 03 Jun 2024 04:02:12 +0000 By By David Vine and Theresa (Isa) Arriola | –

( ) – We need to talk about what bombs do in war. Bombs shred flesh. Bombs shatter bones. Bombs dismember. Bombs cause brains, lungs, and other organs to shake so violently they bleed, rupture, and cease functioning. Bombs injure. Bombs kill. Bombs destroy.

Bombs also make people rich.

When a bomb explodes, someone profits. And when someone profits, bombs claim more unseen victims. Every dollar spent on a bomb is a dollar not spent saving a life from a preventable death, a dollar not spent curing cancer, a dollar not spent educating children. That’s why, so long ago, retired five-star general and President Dwight D. Eisenhower rightly called spending on bombs and all things military a “theft.”

The perpetrator of that theft is perhaps the world’s most overlooked destructive force. It looms unnoticed behind so many major problems in the United States and the world today. Eisenhower famously warned Americans about it in his 1961 farewell address, calling it for the first time “the military-industrial complex,” or the MIC.

Start with the fact that, thanks to the MIC’s ability to hijack the federal budget, total annual military spending is far larger than most people realize: around $1,500,000,000,000 ($1.5 trillion). Contrary to what the MIC scares us into believing, that incomprehensibly large figure is monstrously out of proportion to the few military threats facing the United States. One-and-a-half trillion dollars is about double what Congress spends annually on all non-military purposes combined.

Calling this massive transfer of wealth a “theft” is no exaggeration, since it’s taken from pressing needs like ending hunger and homelessness, offering free college and pre-K, providing universal health care, and building a green energy infrastructure to save ourselves from climate change. Virtually every major problem touched by federal resources could be ameliorated or solved with fractions of the cash claimed by the MIC. The money is there.

The bulk of our taxpayer dollars are seized by a relatively small group of corporate war profiteers led by the five biggest companies profiting off the war industry: Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon (RTX), Boeing, and General Dynamics. As those companies have profited, the MIC has sowed incomprehensible destruction globally, keeping the United States locked in endless wars that, since 2001, have killed an estimated 4.5 million people, injured tens of millions more, and displaced at least 38 million, according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project.

The MIC’s hidden domination of our lives must end, which means we must dismantle it. That may sound totally unrealistic, even fantastical. It is not. And by the way, we’re talking about dismantling the MIC, not the military itself. (Most members of the military are, in fact, among that the MIC’s victims.)

While profit has long been part of war, the MIC is a relatively new, post-World War II phenomenon that formed thanks to a series of choices made over time. Like other processes, like other choices, they can be reversed and the MIC can be dismantled.

The question, of course, is how?

The Emergence of a Monster

To face what it would take to dismantle the MIC, it’s first necessary to understand how it was born and what it looks like today. Given its startling size and intricacy, we and a team of colleagues created a series of graphics to help visualize the MIC and the harm it inflicts, which we’re sharing publicly for the first time.

The MIC was born after World War II from, as Eisenhower explained, the “conjunction of an immense military establishment” — the Pentagon, the armed forces, intelligence agencies, and others — “and a large arms industry.” Those two forces, the military and the industrial, united with Congress to form an unholy “Iron Triangle” or what some scholars believe Eisenhower initially and more accurately called the military-industrialcongressional complex. To this day those three have remained the heart of the MIC, locked in a self-perpetuating cycle of legalized corruption (that also features all too many illegalities).

The basic system works like this: First, Congress takes exorbitant sums of money from us taxpayers every year and gives it to the Pentagon. Second, the Pentagon, at Congress’s direction, turns huge chunks of that money over to weapons makers and other corporations via all too lucrative contracts, gifting them tens of billions of dollars in profits. Third, those contractors then use a portion of the profits to lobby Congress for yet more Pentagon contracts, which Congress is generally thrilled to provide, perpetuating a seemingly endless cycle.

But the MIC is more complicated and insidious than that. In what’s effectively a system of legalized bribery, campaign donations regularly help boost Pentagon budgets and ensure the awarding of yet more lucrative contracts, often benefiting a small number of contractors in a congressional district or state. Such contractors make their case with the help of a virtual army of more than 900 Washington-based lobbyists. Many of them are former Pentagon officials, or former members of Congress or congressional staffers, hired through a “revolving door” that takes advantage of their ability to lobby former colleagues. Such contractors also donate to think tanks and university centers willing to support increased Pentagon spending, weapons programs, and a hyper-militarized foreign policy. Ads are another way to push weapons programs on elected officials.

Such weapons makers also spread their manufacturing among as many Congressional districts as possible, allowing senators and representatives to claim credit for jobs created. MIC jobs, in turn, often create cycles of dependency in low-income communities that have few other economic drivers, effectively buying the support of locals.

For their part, contractors regularly engage in legalized price gouging, overcharging taxpayers for all manner of weapons and equipment. In other cases, contractor fraud literally steals taxpayer money. The Pentagon is the only government agency that has never passed an audit — meaning it literally can’t keep track of its money and assets — yet it still receives more from Congress than every other government agency combined.

As a system, the MIC ensures that Pentagon spending and military policy are driven by contractors’ search for ever-higher profits and the reelection desires of members of Congress, not by any assessment of how to best defend the country. The resulting military is unsurprisingly shoddy, especially given the money spent. Americans should pray it never actually has to defend the United States.

No other industry — not even Big Pharma or Big Oil — can match the power of the MIC in shaping national policy and dominating spending. Military spending is, in fact, now larger (adjusting for inflation) than at the height of the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq, or, in fact, at any time since World War II, despite the absence of a threat remotely justifying such spending. Many now realize that the primary beneficiary of more than 22 years of endless U.S. wars in this century has been the industrial part of the MIC, which has made hundreds of billions of dollars since 2001. “Who Won in Afghanistan? Private Contractors” was the Wall Street Journal‘s all too apt headline in 2021.

Endless Wars, Endless Death, Endless Destruction

“Afghanistan” in that headline could have been replaced by Korea, Vietnam, or Iraq, among other seemingly endless U.S. wars since World War II. That the MIC has profited off them is no coincidence. It has helped drive the country into conflicts in countries ranging from Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, to El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, and Grenada, to Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, and so many others.

Deaths and injuries from such wars have reached the tens of millions. The number of estimated deaths from the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, and Yemen is eerily similar to that from the wars in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia: 4.5 million.

The numbers are so large that they can become numbing. The Irish poet Pádraig Ó Tuama helps us remember to focus on:

one life
one life
one life
one life
one life


because each time
is the first time
that that life
has been taken.

The Environmental Toll

The MIC’s damage extends to often irreparable environmental harm, involving the poisoning of ecosystems, devastating biodiversity loss, and the U.S. military’s carbon footprint, which is larger than that of any other organization on earth. At war or in daily training, the MIC has literally fueled global heating and climate change through the burning of fuels to run bases, operate vehicles, and produce weaponry.

The MIC’s human and environmental costs are particularly invisible outside the continental United States. In U.S. territories and other political “grey zones,” investments in military infrastructure and technologies rely in part on the second-class citizenship of Indigenous communities, often dependent on the military for their livelihoods.

Endless Wars at Home

As the MIC has fueled wars abroad, so it has fueled militarization domestically. Why, for example, have domestic police forces become so militarized? At least part of the answer: since 1990, Congress has allowed the Pentagon to transfer its “excess” weaponry and equipment (including tanks and drones) to local law enforcement agencies. These transfers conveniently allow the Pentagon and its contractors to ask Congress for replacement purchases, further fueling the MIC.

Seeking new profits from new markets, contractors have also increasingly hawked their military products directly to SWAT teams and other police forces, border patrol outfits, and prison systems. Politicians and corporations have poured billions of dollars into border militarization and mass incarceration, helping fuel the rise of the lucrative “border-industrial complex” and “prison-industrial complex,” respectively. Domestic militarization has disproportionately harmed Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities.

An Existential Threat

Some will defend the military-industrial complex by insisting that we need its jobs; some by claiming it’s keeping Ukrainians alive and protecting the rest of Europe from Vladimir Putin’s Russia; some by warning about China. Each of those arguments is an example of the degree to which the MIC’s power relies on systematically manufacturing fear, threats, and crises that help enrich arms merchants and others in the MIC by driving ever more military spending and war (despite a nearly unbroken record of catastrophic failure when it comes to nearly every U.S. conflict since World War II).

The argument that current levels of military spending must be maintained for “the jobs” should be laughable. No military should be a jobs program. While the country needs job programs, military spending has proven to be a poor job creator or an engine of economic growth. Research shows it creates far fewer jobs than comparable investments in health care, education, or infrastructure.

U.S. weaponry has aided Ukrainian self-defense, though the weapons manufacturers are anything but altruists. If they truly cared about Ukrainians, they would have forgone any profits, leaving more money for humanitarian aid to that country. Instead, they’ve used that war, as they have Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza and growing tensions in the Pacific, to cynically inflate their profits and stock prices dramatically.

Discard the fearmongering and it should be clear that the Russian military has demonstrated its weakness, its inability to decisively conquer territory near its own borders, let alone march into Europe. In fact, both the Russian and Chinese militaries pose no conventional military threat to the United States. The Russian military’s annual budget is one-tenth or less than the size of the U.S. one. China’s military budget is one-third to one-half its size. The disparities are far larger if you combine the U.S. military budget with those of its NATO and Asian allies.

Despite this, members of the MIC are increasingly encouraging direct confrontations with Russia and China, aided by Putin’s war and China’s own provocations. In the “Indo-Pacific” (as the military calls it), the MIC is continuing to cash in as the Pentagon builds up bases and forces surrounding China in Australia, Guam, the Federated States of Micronesia, Japan, the Marshall Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines.

Such steps and a similar buildup in Europe are only encouraging China and Russia to strengthen their own militaries. (Just imagine how American politicians would respond if China or Russia were to build a single military base anywhere close to this country’s borders.) While all of this is increasingly profitable for the MIC, it is heightening the risk of a military clash that could spiral into a potentially species-ending nuclear war between the United States and China, Russia, or both.

The Urgency of Dismantling

The urgency of dismantling the military-industrial complex should be clear. The future of the species and planet depends on it.

The most obvious way to weaken the MIC would be to starve it of its lifeblood, our tax dollars. Few noticed that, after leaving office, former Trump-era Pentagon chief Christopher Miller called for cutting the Pentagon’s budget in half. Yes, in half.

Even a 30% cut — as happened all too briefly after the Cold War ended in 1991 — would free hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Imagine how such sums could build safer, healthier, more secure lives in this country, including a just economic transition for any military personnel and contractors losing jobs. And mind you, that military budget would still be significantly larger than China’s, or Russia’s, Iran’s, and North Korea’s combined.

Of course, even thinking about cutting the Pentagon budget is difficult because the MIC has captured both political parties, virtually guaranteeing ever-rising military spending. Which brings us back to the puzzle of how to dismantle the MIC as a system.

In short, we’re working on the answers. With the diverse group of experts who helped produce this article’s graphics, we’re exploring, among other ideas, divestment campaigns and lawsuits; banning war profiteering; regulating or nationalizing weapons manufacturers; and converting parts of the military into an unarmed disaster relief, public health, and infrastructure force.

Though all too many of us will continue to believe that dismantling the MIC is unrealistic, given the threats facing us, it’s time to think as boldly as possible about how to roll back its power, resist the invented notion that war is inevitable, and build the world we want to see. Just as past movements reduced the power of Big Tobacco and the railroad barons, just as some are now taking on Big Pharma, Big Tech, and the prison-industrial complex, so we must take on the MIC to build a world focused on making human lives rich (in every sense) rather than one focused on bombs and other weaponry that brings wealth to a select few who benefit from death.


Turning Universities into Homeland Security Classes, 101 Thu, 30 May 2024 04:02:58 +0000 By

( ) – The academic year that just ended left America’s college campuses in quite a state: with snipers on the rooftops and checkpoints at the gates; quads overrun by riot squads, state troopers, and federal agents; and even the scent of gunpowder in the air.

In short, in the spring semester of 2024, many of our campuses came to resemble armed camps.

What’s more, alongside such brute displays of force, there have been congressional inquisitions into constitutionally protected speech; federal investigations into the movement for divestment; and students suspended, evicted, and expelled, not to speak of faculty disciplined or simply dismissed.

Welcome to Repress U., class of 2024: a homeland security campus for the ages.

But don’t think it all only happened this spring. In reality, it’s an edifice that’s been decades in the making, spanning the George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden administrations. Some years ago, in the wake of Occupy Wall Street, I wrote a step-by-step guide to how the original homeland security campus was created. Let me now offer an updated manual on the workings of Repress U. in a newly oppressive era.

Consider the building of just such a homeland security campus a seven-step process. Here they are, one by one.

Step 1. Target the movement for divestment.

As a start, unconditional government support for the state of Israel triggered a growing movement of student dissent. That, in turn, came to focus on the imperial entanglements and institutional investments of this country’s institutions of higher learning. Yet, instead of negotiating in good faith, university administrators have, with a few exceptions, responded by threatening and even inviting state violence on campus.

Nor, in a number of cases, did this offensive against the student left start, or end, at the campus gates. For instance, a targeted campaign against Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) kicked off in October, when the State University System of Florida, working with Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, announced that “based on the National SJP’s support of terrorism… the student chapters must be deactivated.”

Private universities would soon join in with their own public displays of intolerance. Brandeis, Rutgers, George Washington, and Harvard all imposed similar sanctions on student groups. Columbia broke new ground by suspending not only SJP but also Jewish Voice for Peace after its student chapter held “an unauthorized event… that included threatening rhetoric.”

Over the course of the academic year, the student movement has been elevated, at least rhetorically speaking, to the level of a national security threat — one which has figured prominently in White House briefings and House Republican hearings. And by far the greater part of the threatening rhetoric overheard in recent weeks has been directed not by the movement, but at the movement.

“We have a clear message,” said House Committee on Education and Labor Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC) in announcing the latest round of congressional inquisitions. “American universities are officially put on notice that we have come to take our universities back. No stone must go unturned while buildings are being defaced, campus greens are being captured, or graduations are being ruined.” Held on May 23rd, the hearings were an exercise in twenty-first-century McCarthyism, with House Republicans going on the warpath against “radicalized students” and “so-called university leaders.”

President Biden, when speaking of the student movement, has struck a hardly less belligerent tone, declaring that “vandalism, trespassing… shutting down campuses, forcing the cancellation of classes and graduations — none of this is a peaceful protest” and that “order must prevail.”

Step 2. Censor pro-Palestinian speech.

For all the talk of free speech and the right to protest, pro-Palestinian advocacy and antiwar activism have, in these last months, come to represent a notable exception to the rule. From the words of commencement speakers to the expressive acts of student occupiers, outright censorship has become the order of the day.

Take the case of Asna Tabassum, a graduating senior scheduled to give this month’s valedictorian address at the University of Southern California. When, on social media, Tabassum dared link to a page denouncing “racist settler-colonial ideology,” she was subjected to an organized smear campaign and ultimately barred from speaking at commencement.

Across the country, the cancellations have piled up. The Palestinian writer Mohammed El-Kurd was banned from speaking at the University of Vermont. The artist Samia Halaby saw her first American retrospective cancelled by the Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University. And a group of Jewish students seeking to screen a film critical of Israel were denied space at the University of Pennsylvania.

Again, the trail of repression leads all the way back to Washington, D.C. Over the course of the past year, since the White House released its “National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism,” the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have shown an increasingly active interest in policing what can and can’t be said on campus.

According to the latest White House fact sheet, dated May 7th, “FBI and DHS have taken steps to expand and deepen engagements with campus law enforcement and others.” Such “engagement” has been evident for all to see in the recent crackdowns on campuses like Columbia’s, where the administration bragged, in a leaked internal memo, about “coordinating with the FBI.”

Step 3. Punish student protest.

It was not enough, however, for certain university administrators to ban Students for Justice in Palestine or censor pro-Palestinian speech. It was also imperative that they make students pay. The punishments have varied, ranging from interim suspensions to permanent expulsions to evictions from campus housing. What they have in common is a logic of retribution for even distinctly nonviolent student protests.

It became common practice for administrations to demand that students leave their on-campus encampments or be barred from graduating. In Harvard’s case, the Corporation went ahead and struck 13 pro-Palestinian students from the rolls anyway, just days before commencement.

Expulsions have also proliferated in the wake of the occupation of administration buildings, from Columbia’s Hamilton Hall to Vanderbilt’s Kirkland Hall. In justifying the expulsions, Vanderbilt’s chancellor helpfully explained, “My point of view had nothing to do with free speech.”

Last but not least, student dissidents have been the victims of doxxing, with their names and faces prominently displayed under the banner of “Leading Antisemites” on billboards in public places and on websites belonging to a far-right organization, Accuracy in Media. The group was recently revealed to be bankrolled to the tune of nearly $1.9 million by top Republican megadonors.

Step 4. Discipline faculty dissent.

Students have not been the only targets of such repression. They have been joined by faculty and other employees of colleges and universities, who have also faced disciplinary action for standing up for the rights of Palestinians. By one count, more than 50 faculty members have been arrested, while hundreds more have been disciplined by their employers.

The backlash began last fall with the suspension of two educators at the University of Arizona, then ramped up with the summary firing of two teaching assistants at the University of Texas at Austin. Their offenses? Sharing mental health resources with Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab students, who had specifically requested them in the wake of October 7th.

Further controversy attended the suspension of a tenured political science professor, Abdulkader Sinno, at Indiana University following an “unauthorized event” held by the school’s Palestine Solidarity Committee (which Sinno advised). Then came the removal of a noted Palestinian-American artist and activist, Amin Husain, from his adjunct position at New York University.

The University of Florida, for its part, circulated a directive threatening that “employees will be… separated from employment” should they be “found responsible for engaging in prohibited activities,” including “disruption,” indoor demonstrations, or outdoor encampments.

And Washington University in St. Louis, in April, placed six employees on leave after they were accused of participating in a Gaza solidarity protest and allowing “unauthorized persons” onto campus. That same day, another Palestinian-American professor, Steve Tamari, of Southern Illinois University, had nine ribs fractured and one of his hands broken while exercising his right to film the police.

Step 5. Lock the community out, but let the vigilantes in.

In the face of sustained student protest, universities have converted themselves into heavily guarded, gated communities, each with its private security force, and each with its own laws to enforce. “Harvard Yard will be closed today,” read a typical text, in bold red letters hanging from Johnston Gate. “Harvard affiliates must produce their ID card when requested.”

Other schools have responded to the encampments with a new architecture of control, extending from the metal barricades erected around George Washington’s University Yard to the plywood walls now surrounding New York University’s Stern School of Business. Still others, like Columbia, went as far as to cancel their major commencement ceremonies, given “security concerns.”

At the same time, the private firms entrusted with the public’s safety on college campuses have failed to intervene to keep far-right agitators out. Instead, as seen at the University of California, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, they have allowed vigilante violence to run wild.

At UCLA, on the night of April 30th, a gang of anti-Palestinian militants, wearing white masks and bearing blunt instruments and incendiary devices, were permitted to terrorize the school’s Palestine Solidarity Encampment for more than three hours before public officials felt compelled to take action. At least 16 serious injuries were reported. Not one of the attackers was detained.

“At first, I couldn’t understand why,” reported one eyewitness to the bloodshed. “But an hour in, and then two hours in, and then three hours in, it just reached the point where I was like, ‘UCLA knows this is happening, and they don’t care enough to protect their students.’”

“I thought I was going to die,” recalled another. “I thought I’d never see my family again.”

Step 6. Call the cops. Incite a riot.

Again and again, administrators have turned to the baton-wielding arm of the law to sweep Gaza solidarity encampments off school grounds. In calling the riot squads out on their own students, they have launched the most wide-reaching crackdown on campus protest in more than half a century, with some 3,000 arrests and still counting.

The military-style raid on Columbia’s Morningside campus, on April 30th, was just one case in point. It was one I watched unfold with my own eyes a few paces from occupied Hamilton Hall (or “Hind’s Hall“). It started with a group of students linking arms and singing “We Shall Not Be Moved,” and ended with 112 arrests and one gunshot fired from an officer’s Glock 19.

First, I watched three drones surveil the protesters from above, while a veritable army of beat cops, clad in riot gear, surrounded them on all sides. Next, I saw paramilitary squads with names like Emergency Service Unit and Strategic Response Group, backed by an armored BearCat, stage an invasion of the Columbia campus, while their counterparts laid siege to nearby City College.

In the end, law enforcement unleashed a full “use-of-force continuum” on students and workers, including that live bullet that “unintentionally” discharged from a sergeant’s service weapon “into the office they were attempting to gain access to.” Said one officer to another: “Thought we fucking shot someone.”

And Columbia was but the tip of the spear. A similar pattern has played out on campuses across the country. At Emory University, a Gaza solidarity camp was met with stun guns and rubber bullets; at Indiana and Ohio State universities, the police response included snipers on the rooftops of campus buildings; and at the University of Texas, gun-toting troopers enforced Governor Greg Abbott’s directive that “no encampments will be allowed.”

Step 7. Wage information warfare.

In most, if not all, American cities and college towns with such protests, the police, pundits, and elected officials alike have doubled down on their defense of Repress U., while vilifying the student movement in the media. In doing so, they’ve engaged in the kinds of “coordinated information activities” typical of a classical counterinsurgency campaign.

It began with House Republicans like Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who dubbed the student protesters a “pro-Hamas mob,” and Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), who called them “lawless agitators and radicals.” Donald Trump took it a step further, claiming that “many of them aren’t even students, and many of them come from foreign countries. Thousands and thousands are from foreign countries… I’m like, ‘Where did these people come from?’”

Novel conspiracy theories, blaming the outbreak of campus protests on groups ranging from Hamas to Antifa (or even Jewish billionaire George Soros), have reverberated across the echo chambers of the right. But the agitprop didn’t stop at the far-right fringe. Democratic officials have since taken it up, too, with New York Mayor Eric Adams leading the charge: “What should have been a peaceful protest has been coopted by professional outside agitators.”

Within 24 hours of the raids on Columbia and CCNY, the New York Police Department had, in fact, produced its own live-action propaganda from the scene of the crime, concluding with these words of warning: “To any other individuals that wanna protest… If you’re thinking about setting up tents anyplace else… think again. We’ll come there. We’ll strike you. Take you to jail like we did over here.”

This is the future envisioned for America’s college campuses by the partisans of Repress U. It’s a future where what passes for “homeland security” takes precedence over higher learning, where order prevails over inquiry, and where counterinsurgency comes before community. Then again, the next generation — the one behind the “People’s University” protests — may well have other plans.


Housing, Not Handcuffs: The Moral Response to Homelessness Wed, 22 May 2024 04:02:14 +0000 By and

( ) – On April 22nd, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Grants Pass v. Johnson, a case that focuses on whether unhoused — the term that has generally replaced “homeless” — people with no indoor shelter options can even pull a blanket around themselves outdoors without being subject to criminal punishment.

Before making its way to the Supreme Court on appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court held that municipalities can’t punish involuntarily homeless people for merely living in the place where they are. This is exactly what the city of Grants Pass, Oregon, did when it outlawed resting or sleeping anywhere on public property with so much as a blanket to survive in cold weather, even when no beds in shelters were available. The law makes it impossible for unhoused residents to stay in Grants Pass, effectively forcing them to either move to another city or face endless rounds of punishment. In Grants Pass, the punishment starts with a $295 fine that, if unpaid, goes up to $500, and can escalate from there to criminal trespass charges, penalties of up to 30 days in jail, and a $1,250 fine.

The issue before the court is whether such a law violates the Eighth Amendment’s restrictions against cruel and unusual punishment. The city is asking the court to decide that the Eighth Amendment doesn’t impose any substantive limit on what can be criminalized, so long as the punishment itself isn’t considered cruel and unusual. If so, municipalities across the nation would be free to make involuntary homelessness unlawful.

In response, more than 40 amicus briefs with over 1,100 signatories were filed against the city’s case, representing millions of people concerned about or potentially affected by the far-reaching consequences of such a decision. The Kairos Center for Religions, Rights & Social Justice — to which the two authors of this piece belong — submitted one such brief together with more than a dozen religious denominations, historic houses of worship, and interfaith networks. Along with the 13 official signatories of that brief, many more clergy, faith leaders, and institutions support its core assertion: that the Grants Pass ordinance violates our interfaith tradition’s directives on the moral treatment of poor and unhoused people. Indeed, the Supreme Court’s decision could dramatically criminalize poverty and homelessness nationwide, especially if cities near Grants Pass, in the state of Oregon, and across the country, put in place similar restrictions.

Sadly, such a scenario is anything but far-fetched, given not just this Supreme Court but all too much of this country. Since the early 2000s, our nation has regularly turned to policing and “law and order” responses to social crises. Often wielded against poor and low-income communities in the form of fines, fees, and risks of jail time, such threats are regularly backed up by police in full body armor, using tactical gear and, in this century so far, hundreds of millions of dollars of military equipment transferred directly from the Pentagon to thousands of police departments nationwide.

All of this has made the possibility of using violence and brute force more likely in relation to many situations, including the world of the unhoused. Most recently, of course, militarized police have swarmed campuses to help quell largely peaceful student protests over the war on Gaza. Consider it anything but ironic that when Northeastern University students were arrested for their Gaza encampment, they were taken to the same facilities where unhoused people were being processed during homeless encampment sweeps, as local contacts in Boston have told us.

Poverty and Housing Insecurity

The homelessness and housing crises unfolding today reflect a broader national crisis of economic insecurity. In 2023, after all, approximately 135 million people or more than 40% of the nation, were considered poor or low-income and just one crisis away from becoming homeless. In a dramatic return to pre-pandemic conditions, this included 60% of Latinos (38.9 million), 59% of Native Americans (2.3 million), 55% of Blacks (22.5million), 36% of Asian people (8 million) and 32% of Whites (61.8 million).

Among those tens of millions of Americans, housing insecurity is alarmingly widespread. Before the pandemic, there were approximately 8 to 11 million people who were homeless or on the verge of becoming so, relying on a crumbling shelter system and a growing constellation of informal encampments on America’s streets, or trapped in a rotating series of sleeping places, including cars and couches, or doubled or tripled up in apartments. Worse yet, even those numbers were likely an underestimate: when the pandemic hit in 2020 and millions of people lost their jobs, 30 to 40 million people suddenly found themselves at risk of becoming homeless.

In a nation once known as “the home of the brave” and “the land of the free,” there are untold numbers of brave souls who are without homes or on the verge of homelessness. Today, there is not a single state or county where someone earning the federal minimum wage can afford a two-bedroom apartment.

As reported this May, between 2019 and 2023, rents rose by more than 30% nationally. Despite a number of local and state increases in the minimum wage this year, a living wage adequate to cover housing and other basic needs would often have to be at least twice as high as what those hourly increases add up to. In California, where the minimum wage rose to $16 an hour, single parents would need to earn at least $47 an hour to meet their basic needs, whereas a household with two working adults and two children would need close to $50 an hour. In Alabama, where the minimum wage is just $7.25, a single parent would need an hourly wage more than four times as high to meet basic household needs.

This, of course, means that tens of millions of people of every race, age, and gender identity, in every state and county in the country, are facing multiple forms of deprivation daily and will do so for years to come.

Although the depths of this crisis are hard to fathom, it can be measured in death. In 2023, researchers from the University of California, Riverside, found that poverty is the fourth-leading cause of death nationally, claiming 183,000 of us in 2019. Their research also showed that cumulative or long-term poverty was associated with 295,000 deaths annually, or 800 deaths a day. During the pandemic crisis, poor and low-income counties experienced Covid death rates that were three to five times higher than wealthier counties, while the mortality rate among renters facing eviction was 2.6 times higher than that of the general population. Housing insecurity led to increased death by Covid and had negative health impacts more generally.

Underestimating the Crisis

The extent of the (un)housing crisis is so much greater than the systems and structures that exist to respond to it. In part, this is because, as with poverty, measures of housing insecurity generally underestimate the need at hand. The most commonly used reference point on housing is the point-in-time (PIT) homeless count. The “PIT count” includes both the number of the unhoused who are in shelters and a street count of unsheltered homeless people. However, it only deals with those it can reach and so literally count. It also leaves out some forms of homelessness, including the millions of people who are living “doubled up” or “tripled up” with friends, family members, or even strangers.

In the pre-pandemic years, the PIT count was often around half a million people, but didn’t include the 2.5-3.5 million people living in temporary homeless shelters, transitional housing centers, and informal encampments or tent cities, or the estimated seven million people who had lost their own homes and moved in with others. In other words, the PIT count was short by about 9 to 11 million people (and that was before the pandemic caused greater homelessness and housing insecurity).

Although grossly inadequate, the PIT count remains the measure used to allocate federal resources toward homelessness. Unfortunately, when a housing program is designed for tens or even hundreds of thousands rather than millions of people, it will fail. For this reason, housing organizers and advocates have for years been pushing alternatives and urging the consideration of housing solutions that could actually respond to this crisis at scale. The Housing First model is one of those solutions, prioritizing access to permanent and stable housing, alongside wraparound services for employment, recovery, and greater housing stability for those in need. The use of this model has been shown to result in higher rates of housing retention among previously unhoused people, with (not surprisingly) an improved quality of life as well.

In fact, some pandemic policies did temporarily (even if unintentionally) implement and expand on the Housing First model. They moved people into hotels or other available, unused rental units, stopping all evictions and foreclosures; distributed economic stimulus payments; and built up this country’s decrepit social welfare system by expanding unemployment insurance and food security programs, while issuing monthly payments to households with children. All of this did, in fact, prevent massive dislocations of millions of people between 2020 and 2022, while providing more housing and keeping at least 20 million people above the poverty line.

A common thread of these programs was that they prioritized financially vulnerable households over Wall Street, real estate tycoons, and corporate landlords. Years later, a majority of Americans continue to support many of these policies, which were put in place alongside breakthrough organizing among poor, unhoused, and housing-insecure people.

During the early weeks of the pandemic, unhoused people living in encampments also fought to become certified as “essential workers” so that they could get protective equipment for their community members. Around the same time, low-income housing organizers and tenant associations became acutely aware of the vulnerabilities of low-income tenants who couldn’t then afford to pay their rent and feed their families. Despite fears of eviction, rent strikes broke out in March and April 2020, as tenants decided to withhold their limited resources to ensure that they could provide food to their families. This happened weeks before the federal eviction moratorium was enacted. When it expired months later, communities blocked eviction hearings to make sure as many people as possible could stay in their homes.

Despite widespread support for a more robust right to housing, it didn’t take long for powerful interests to begin pushing back. The real estate industry spent upwards of $100 million lobbying against pandemic eviction moratoriums at both the federal and state levels. In 2022, the Cicero Institute created a template for state legislation that would criminalize unhoused people. That model legislation would have banned encampments on public land and diverted funds from Housing First programs to short-term shelter programs, while forcing unhoused people into state-run encampments. Versions of this bill have been introduced in half a dozen states and passed in Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas.

Recently, in New York (where we live), Governor Kathy Hochul enacted a budget that prioritized the state’s wealthy residents over its poor and low-income ones. Not only did she refuse to increase taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers and corporations, losing billions of dollars in new revenue, but her housing policies provided tax incentives to developers rather than focusing on creating stable housing for housing-insecure and homeless New Yorkers.

According to the New York Labor-Religion Coalition and the Housing Justice for All Coalition, at least 3.4 million tenants will be excluded from good-cause eviction protections, among them all upstate municipalities, while those who are eligible may not be able to exercise their rights unless they have adequate legal representation in housing court. That budget also rolls back rent-stabilization measures, making elderly tenants in particular more vulnerable to eviction, while failing to allocate a single dollar to move homeless New Yorkers into stable housing. And in all of this, New York is anything but out of the ordinary.

What You Do to the Least of These, You Do Unto Me

Although America’s political leadership is generally failing to respond to the need at hand, millennia of religious teachings have helped shape society’s views on our responsibility to care for, not punish, poor and unhoused people.

Indeed, there are over 2,000 Biblical passages that address poverty — most of them focusing on those made poor by a society that fails to provide for all our needs. As Jesus says to his followers in Matthew 25:

“[F]or I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. Then [the nations] also will answer, Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you? Then [Jesus] will answer them, Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

This responsibility rests not only on individuals, but those in positions of authority in society. As Isaiah 10:2 puts it: “Woe to those who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right.” Instead, Isaiah 3:15 instructs those who make the laws and issue decrees not to “grind the face[s] of the poor,” making their already difficult conditions worse. Such teachings are consistent not just with the Abrahamic tradition but other belief systems like Hinduism, which prioritizes non-violence and non-injury as a core moral responsibility.

A law like the one now before the Supreme Court in Grants Pass v. Johnson that would punish unhoused people for simply living departs from such moral wisdom in a radical fashion. As Justice Elena Kagan pointed out during oral arguments over the case, “For a homeless person who has no place to go, sleeping in public is kind of like breathing in public.” How true! If only four other justices would see the situation similarly.

Our faith traditions and constitutional values certainly should be clear enough that it is cruel and unusual punishment to treat the homeless the way Grants Pass wants to do. The court and the nation should respond to this moral crisis with care and compassion, with housing, not handcuffs.

May it be so.


Trumpism, Race and Authoritarianism: The Storm is Coming Mon, 20 May 2024 04:02:29 +0000 By

( ) – Consider Donald Trump to be in a racial bind when it comes to election 2024. After all, he needs Black voters to at least defect from Joe Biden in swing states, if not actually vote for him. Yet, more than ever, he also needs his white nationalist base to believe that a second Trump term will be even more racist than the first and he’s been openly claiming that he’ll address the ghost of anti-white racism. Not surprisingly, his evolving strategy for the Black vote has been high on empty symbolism and viral moments, but distinctly low on specific promised policy benefits for the Black community.

Milkshakes and far-right policies are all the presumptive Republican presidential candidate has recently offered Blacks. Take his orchestrated photo op at a Chick-fil-A in Atlanta a preview of things to come. The event was organized by Black MAGA supporter and Republican operative Michaelah Montgomery, who recruited some young African Americans, probably students from nearby historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), to cheer for Trump when he entered the place. He proceeded to buy milkshakes for everyone. Montgomery herself gave Trump a picture-perfect hug and, to the glee of MAGAworld, stated, “I don’t care what the media tells you, Mr. Trump. We support you.”

Naturally, while there he made false claims about what he had done for Black folks while president. It wasn’t quite a speech, but he more or less mumbled that he had great support in the area because “I have done more for the people of Atlanta than any other president by far. I have done more for the black community than any other president since Abraham Lincoln and maybe including Abraham Lincoln, but since Abraham Lincoln. And it looks like our polling is very good in the state of Georgia overall. We are very happy about it. We have had — you see the support. It’s been really something.”

Note to Trump: You had such great support in Georgia in 2021 that the GOP lost two Senate seats in run-off elections there (while you were trying to overthrow the government). And that was primarily because of the turnout of Black voters who, the previous November, had voted for President Biden and returned to vote Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock into office.

Without actually engaging the students at Chick-fil-A, and speaking in his usual broken fashion, Trump boasted: “That’s really nice. We took care of the — black colleges, university. They are taken care of. Biden did nothing for them. I did everything.”

Note to Trump: The Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education Act (or FUTURE Act) you signed ensured that permanent funding for HBCUs would remain at essentially the same level as during the Obama administration (about $85 million). The Biden administration, on the other hand, has invested over $7 billion in HBCUs. That includes “$3.6 billion for HBCUs through the American Rescue Plan and other COVID relief,” “$1.6 billion in capital finance debt relief for 45 public and private HBCUs,” and “$1.7 billion in grant funding to expand academic capacity and provide support for low-income students.”


Michaelah Montgomery is steeped in contemporary MAGA politics. She has ties to the Blexit Foundation, a group started by far-right provocateur and conspiracy theorist Candace Owens to sway African Americans from the Democratic Party. Montgomery states on her LinkedIn page that she was Blexit’s city director for the Atlanta metro region. She is also the founder of Conserve the Culture, a group apparently devoted to converting young African American students to conservative, that is, Trumpublican, politics.

In interviews with the right-wing media, she made it appear that Trump had encountered a group of everyday young Black people at that Chick-fil-A who spontaneously expressed their love for him. In fact, it was a handpicked group that did not represent most HBCU students or the Black community more generally.

If she really thought Trump had developed significant popularity among Black students, why didn’t she schedule him to speak at an HBCU? Montgomery later said: “The media will definitely have you thinking that if [Trump] were to show up to our neighborhood… that an angry mob of some sort would form or a riot would ensue.” She can pretend otherwise, but if Donald (“the Black people like me”) Trump actually ever showed up to spew his usual lies to any HBCU audience or Black community in the nation, there would indeed be massive protests.

While he claims he’s had great relations with HBCU presidents, he only visited one of those schools during his presidency and it turned into a scandalous Trumpian event. In 2019, he gave a talk at Benedict College in South Carolina to crow about his criminal justice reform policies. However, Benedict students were asked to stay in their dorms, where they were essentially imprisoned for an hour and served lunch while Trump bloviated. The faculty, too, were requested to stay away. According to USA Today, only seven students were allowed to attend the event and they were not allowed to ask questions.

Black and Far Right

Trump’s Black supporters continue to propagate the false notion that he’s going to make a historic breakthrough in voter support in the coming election. Polls are one thing, election results another. While his campaigns in 2016 and 2020 were wish-casting that he would get 15% to 20% of the Black vote, he only won 6% and 8% respectively.

And it should be noted that Trump desperately wants to dump Black votes not cast for him. The Big Lie that he won in 2020 was premised on his contention that voting in Black-dominated cities was corrupt and that millions of votes should have been discounted. Accepting that “reality” is the price of admission to Trumpworld, whether at the Trump-colonialized Republican National Committee or for any prospective vice-presidential candidate.

And worse yet, his African American sycophants continue to drink the Kool-Aid. South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott humiliated himself recently on NBC’s Meet the Press when he clumsily refused six (yes, six!) times to state that he would accept a Trump defeat in the fall. Repeatedly asked, he demonstrated that his desire to stay in Trump’s good graces and potentially become his running mate took priority over the most basic stance for maintaining a constitutional democracy.

In the service of Trump, Scott also launched a video series, “America’s Starting Five,” a weekly discussion between him and the other four Black Republicans in Congress, Representatives Burgess Owens (UT), John James (MI), Wesley Hunt (TX), and Byron Donalds (FL). The goal: to convince Black voters that the GOP and Trump are the only way to go if African Americans want to get ahead.

The first episode, however, didn’t focus on policy differences between the Democrats and Trump, but on two ill-advised and well-criticized statements by Joe Biden. In 2019, he said that “poor kids are just as bright and talented as white kids,” implying it was a given that white kids were bright and talented. He immediately recognized his mistake and tried to clean it up with gibberish. (“Wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids, no, I really mean it, but think how we think about it.”) In 2020, as he was finishing an interview with the popular Black radio host Charlamagne tha God, Biden said, “Well I tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” At the time, criticism flowed from across the political spectrum in the Black community, chastising the president for seemingly attempting to police Black racial identity.

Scott and the others used those statements to draw a conclusion about Biden’s bigotry and then extend that critique to the Democratic Party. This required, of course, burying decades of Trump’s racist statements and behavior in a memory hole that went deep into the center of the earth. It was an act of epic historical revisionism. They functionally erased the fact that he gave succor to white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, attacked voting rights, expressed a desire to shoot Black Lives Matter protesters, demanded that there be less immigrants from “shithole” nations and more from Norway, defamed black prosecutors, judges, and district attorneys with racist verbal attacks, insulted Harriet Tubman, and so much more during his presidency.

The Racial Storm Is Coming

Yet consider Trump’s first term nothing but an appetizer, should he be reelected. According to his campaign website, the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025, and Project 47, he will unleash a program of racial authoritarianism unseen since the worst days of slavery and Jim Crow segregation. And he’ll be emboldened and enabled by a constitution filled with ambiguities and undemocratic provisions, by an increasingly reactionary Supreme Court he helped appoint, and by millions of his supporters (many of whom have shown a propensity for using violence to meet their idea of his agenda).

Trump’s second-term racial program is already emerging. He stated while president and recently reiterated that “we will terminate every diversity, equity, and inclusion program across the entire federal government” and end Biden’s “Marxist executive order that seeks to impose racist and woke sexual ideology across the federal government.”

Believe him.

And it won’t just stop at the federal level or in the public sector. As the Guardian recently reported, MAGA forces are planning to go after all efforts at inclusion (whether related to racial, gender, religious, or sexual-orientation), including in the corporate sector and the non-profit world. Trump’s former adviser Stephen Miller’s America First Legal group and other far-right actors have already filed suits against Fearless Fund, a venture capital business founded by Black women; Hello Alice, which provides grants to small Black business owners; and the George Floyd Memorial scholarship program at Minneapolis’s North Central University, among other initiatives. America First Legal has been on a hyper mission to end diversity efforts, all of which it perceives as harmful to white Americans.

In a broader context, Trump has stated, “But if you look right now, there’s absolutely a bias against white and that’s a problem.” First and foremost, Trump sees himself as a victim of racism by Black public authorities and has been signaling that he’s all in on a campaign of overt white nationalism. It couldn’t be clearer where he’ll focus the resources of the White House and federal government should he return to power.

And one thing is guaranteed: he’ll have support for his actions. As USA Today noted, citing a CBS November poll, “Most white voters supporting Trump believe that racial minorities are favored over white people.” About 58% of Trump voters (as opposed to 9% of Biden ones) believe “racial minorities” are favored over “white people.”

And his plans (as well as those of his GOP allies) to get back into office include not only voter suppression tactics like closing polling sites, ending early voting, and questioning mail-in or drop-box ballots, but attempting to employ an army of Election Day militias who will look for “irregularities” and “illegal” behavior. Is there any doubt where those 100,000 election watchers will be sent (or what they will look like)? And by the way, there has been stone-dead silence from Trump’s Black supporters on the plan to send hardcore MAGA troops to Black and Latino communities in swing states.

Absurd to the End

Trump has said to his Black backers, “I’m being indicted for you, the Black population.” That’s his way of attempting to link his own misconduct and corruption to his conviction that the Black community is overwhelmingly filled with criminals. Even worse, he has insultingly compared himself to South African leader Nelson Mandela, one of the most famous prisoners in the world for nearly three decades. Of course, he knows absolutely nothing about Mandela or what sent him to prison, only that he was famous for it. Mandela became a global hero to tens of millions who fought for years for his freedom.

You undoubtedly won’t be surprised to learn that, according to former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, The Donald had a remarkably low opinion of Mandela. Cohen wrote in Disloyal: A Memoir that, after Mandela died in 2013, Trump told him, “Mandela f—ed the whole country up. Now it’s a s—hole. F— Mandela. He was no leader.”

Of course, Trump knew little and could have cared less about Africa, or South Africa in particular. There is almost no record of him discussing or tweeting about South Africa. The one time he did, based on a news report by far-right commentator Tucker Carlson, he tweeted a white supremacist talking point, falsely claiming that there were “large-scale killings” of white farmers in that country. From former Klan leader David Duke to hard racist websites like the Daily Stormer, white supremacists naturally celebrated Trump’s tweet.

In 2016, every white nationalist and supremacist in this country supported Donald Trump. In 2020-2021, in the wake of the Charlottesville riots, immigration cruelties, and the January 6th insurrection, they supported him again. And now, as the 2024 election looms, and Trump fights “anti-white” racism, he has once more earned their love and their votes.

Singer and activist John Legend who, along with his wife Chrissy Teigen, has battled Trump for years, summed up the former president best. He said: “He’s done very little for us and he is at his core, truly, truly a racist.”

Welcome to the 2024 election season and a world in which Black MAGA is still MAGA to the core.

Who will Tell the Story of Regional Climate Disasters when the News Desert Swallows all Local Newspapers? Mon, 13 May 2024 04:02:51 +0000 By

( When wildfires began erupting in the Texas Panhandle in February, Laurie Ezzell Brown, the editor and publisher of the Canadian Record, was in Houston on a panel discussing ways in which losing local newspapers represents a danger to democracy. Running the once-a-week Record from the Panhandle town of Canadian, she certainly knew something about the rise of “news deserts” in this country. While she was meeting with other journalists concerned about disappearing local newspapers, Brown kept an eye on reports about ignitions sparking wildfires west of her town and posted updates from afar so that her readers would remain informed.

“Those fires never stay in the next county,” Brown said grimly. And indeed, as the flames galloped through fallow fields and approached her hometown, she began a desperate drive back to Canadian with a friend. In and out of cell coverage, traveling through black-ash smoke, she saw distinctly apocalyptic scenes of torched trees and powerlines dangling from still-burning poles. As she went, she posted every scrap of information she could get for the scattered and distraught readers of her paper. How else would they know about the houses that were being torched ever closer to their own homes?

In the days that followed, as that historic nightmare of a blaze just grew and grew, finally burning through more than a million acres of the Texas Panhandle, Brown continued to keep Canadian Record readers informed about crucial matters like how to apply for financial assistance, where to take fire debris, and when the next embattled town meeting would be held. It was part of what she’s been doing since 1993: keeping an eye on Canadian’s Hemphill County commissioners, investigating economic salvation schemes, and posting high school sports scores as well as local obituaries.

“There’s no one else to do this and people need to know what’s happening. It’s what I do. It’s what I’ve always done,” she told me.

It’s what I do, too. Like Canadian, my adopted hometown of Greenville in Plumas County, California, was hit by a climate-driven wildfire in 2021 that devastated 800 homes and left the downtown smoldering on its Gold Rush-era dirt foundations. Two years into rebuilding, the only local online publication announced that it was shuttering. So, I set aside my freelance journalism career, joined a team of like-minded citizens, and launched The Plumas Sun.

Like Brown and hundreds of journalists across the country, we’re reporting from the intersection of news deserts and climate disasters. As floods, fires, and tornadoes surge, and daily as well as weekly publications collapse, local journalism maintains an all-too-slender lifeline in devastated rural communities like mine. Local journalists remain after the Klieg lights go dark and the national media flee our mud-strewn, burned-out Main Streets. We continue to report as our friends and neighbors face the challenge of rebuilding (or not).

Somehow, along with flattened towns and shattered lives, disaster sometimes even breeds innovation. Among the ruins left by walls of water and towering flames, bootstrapped publications like mine do their best to keep the news alive in communities now struggling just to survive.

Nowhere Will Be Spared

If there’s one overarching message from the Fifth National Climate Assessment, released in November 2023, it’s that, in this era of climate change, nowhere will be spared disaster. As the burning of fossil fuels warms the world ever more radically, conditions are created that only exacerbate a Pandora’s box of extreme weather events. Scientists predict more intense hurricanes and the storm surges they generate, more frequent and intense wildfires throughout the calendar year, an elevated risk for flooding, and so much else in the new era of global warming.

Still, as the climate scientists report, the impacts of such disasters aren’t landing equitably. Blacks, Indigenous Americans, and other people of color are bearing the brunt of them along with the rural poor. They are “disproportionately exposed to environmental risks and have fewer resources to address them,” as the assessment puts it.

For Laurie Ezzell Brown and her newspaper, that bureaucratese translates all too simply into hardship. The town of Canadian, perched on the high plains near the Oklahoma border, had suffered an economic hit to both its ranching and its oil and gas industries even before the panhandle fires. The Canadian Record was struggling. Launched in 1893, the weekly newspaper that Brown now owns spent half its life in her family’s hands. Ben and Nancy Ezzell, her parents, became its publishers in 1947. Brown took over in 1993. In March 2023, 30 years later, unable to find a buyer for it, she suspended publication of the Canadian Record.

It didn’t go well. Brown, who has lived in Canadian most of her life, got an earful. And she took it personally. “I had to see all these people who I’d let down every day. And hear them tell me how much they missed the paper, how much they needed it, how they didn’t know what was going on. I guess it just got to me.” She and a skeleton staff are, however, maintaining an online version of the paper while she continues to hunt for a buyer.

It’s a tough sell. After all, most disaster-struck rural towns are already on the economic edge. Lacking the resources that might shield them from some of the impacts, they now face the Herculean task of rebuilding from scratch with scratch. After a town is demolished, said Mary Henkel Judson, editor of the Port Aransas South Jetty, people leave and many simply never come back.

Judson faced disaster in 2017 when Hurricane Harvey blew the roofs off homes and tore businesses from their foundations in that island community off the Texas coast near Corpus Christi. Compared to Canadian, Port Aransas is affluent. The South Jetty enjoys the support of second-home owners and tourists, many of them birders visiting the island’s five sites on the Great Texas Birding Trail. So Port Aransas did rebuild.

It’s a simple fact that the majority of the newspapers that have folded nationwide are in economically disadvantaged areas. In Texas, they are also in the least populous areas, Judson said. Canadian is among them. When businesses are struggling to make ends meet, paying for advertising is an expense that can be postponed. That makes it rough on publications like the Canadian Record.

“Laurie Brown is one of the best journalists in the world as far as I’m concerned. And one of the hardest-working. That community knows what she does for them and supports her as best they can, but it’s tough,” Judson told me.

She knows what can happen without a newspaper — and not just in times of disaster. City councils, school boards, and special government districts meet regularly. Most elected officials are honorable, she adds, “but you’re looking at the opportunity for corruption to raise its ugly head. You put a kid in a candy store when nobody’s watching and things happen.”

Teaching Disaster Communities to Do Journalism

Local reporters and paper owners like Brown and Judson are now an increasingly vanishing breed. Since 2005, in fact, 2,900 American newspapers, mainly smaller weeklies and local dailies, have ceased publication, according to the State of Local News Project 2023 (produced by researchers at Northwestern University’s Medill School). One-third of them were in small counties. Today 195 of those mostly rural counties have no local newspaper at all or any other source of local news. An additional 1,387 counties have only one local news source.

As in so many other economic sectors, the trend is toward consolidation. Fewer and fewer corporations now own more and more publications. Brown describes it as “gobbling up all the newspapers, spitting them out, and firing the real writers.” The result leaves nearly 200 communities without a reliable source of information for everything from political scams to cribbage tournaments. And there’s more bad news ahead. Based on the higher-than-average poverty rates and the population size of those mostly rural counties, the 2023 report determined that an additional 33 communities are at elevated risk of losing their sole remaining source of news.

When Lyndsey Gilpin started Southerly in 2016, her goal was to fill a growing gap in reporting in Southern states. She was particularly interested in providing a regional outlet to cover environmental justice and climate issues. The decline in newspapers in the rural South is worse than anywhere else in the country. After all, 108 counties were already without a local newspaper in 2020. Yes, reporters from the national media sometimes “parachute” in to cover special events like fierce storms or raging tornadoes, but they tend to leave as quickly as they come.

Gilpin wanted to cover climate and energy issues in a more consistent way. Local news institutions are trusted sources of information in a community, often the only source. “We wanted to build deeper relationships with local news outlets, residents and community members who were living this day to day and doing the work to get information out,” she told me.

Southerly’s inaugural year coincided with a startling series of natural disasters. The United States suffered 15 devastating weather and climate events, each causing at least a billion dollars in damage, the second-highest number ever recorded. The South, in particular, was hit with tornadoes, wildfires, hurricanes, and three different major floods. Over the next five years, Southerly became increasingly focused on just such climate disasters.

Gilpin soon discovered personally what the assessment scientists asserted in their 2023 document: Disasters do not inflict damage equally. And adding insult to literal injury, the most ill-equipped communities when it comes to climate disasters are almost always ones without newspapers. “Folks were already struggling and now they don’t know where to turn, who to talk to,” she said. “That leaves a huge, huge hole for industries or politicians or other players to feed them misinformation or accidentally give inaccurate information.”

In response to the growing prevalence of climate-driven disasters, Southerly began developing tools that would help communities do their own disaster coverage. Gilpin built templates that outlined how to apply for aid and navigate paperwork, processes that are nearly the same for hurricanes, floods, or fires. “We morphed into a place that could train people to learn how to do journalism — to do storytelling in more creative ways,” she told me.

As those journalists began to focus on recovery efforts in places repeatedly hit by hurricanes like southern Louisiana, they reported on the effects of such disasters ranging from the disabling of the voting process to damaging disruptions in education. They also tracked disparities in disaster funding by neighborhood, economic class, and race.

As Gilpin put it to me: “The way journalism can do the most good is by making sure people are equipped to do that work. By understanding the process, they can feel confident about knowing what’s happening around them.”

Sadly, however, Southerly ended operations in May 2023, thanks to a lack of funding and fundraising exhaustion. As Gilpin summarized the situation: “The nicest way I can put it is the nonprofit journalism world is difficult. It’s not fair that all the money goes to a few places and not to other places.”

Covering Recovery

Even as the larger newspaper world is suffering blow after blow, the situation could be changing if ever so slightly for local papers. Growing public attention to America’s news deserts has, in recent years, been attracting at least some philanthropic funding. Press Forward and the American Journalism Project are among the efforts to rebuild local news platforms. The State of Local News Report celebrates 17 new local outlets at least five years old and identifies 164 others that are just getting started. All are providing their communities with reporting essential to democracy while searching for stable, sustainable business models.

It was certainly not the lure of foundation funding that gave life to The Plumas Sun. The driver was utter fear of living without a newspaper in a community in the throes of disaster recovery. The local century-old newspaper in my area, The Feather River Bulletin, had folded early in the Covid pandemic, even though it continued to maintain an online presence until July 2023. When it announced it was shutting down, shock reverberated through the small mountain towns in California’s northern Sierra Nevada where I live.

We had already lost so much: Our timber-dependent economy was declining and the spread of Covid had only exacerbated our isolation. But the most profound blow was the devastating 2021 Dixie fire, a climate-change-induced nightmare that scorched an area of the West the size of Rhode Island. It quite literally incinerated most of my town of Greenville and three other local communities. Nearly a million acres of the conifer forests that had once drawn so many of us to this rural outpost were reduced to charred specters. Now, we were losing the only source of local news that had kept us from feeling utterly disconnected from the rest of America and one another during such traumatic times.

The Plumas Sun was conceived in that hapless moment. One urgent phone call led to another until we had mustered a core team of seven with the skills to mount an online news publication. Just days before we launched it, we still didn’t have a name for it.

The two-year mark after a disaster event is a pivotal moment for community recovery, says Sue Weber, an ex-nun who served as coordinator of the Dixie Fire Collaborative, formed after that fire as a voice for the community. State and federal money starts to disappear. Victims begin to move on. That’s when local newspapers play a critical role in keeping places like Greenville invigorated and part of the rebuilding process. “For communities,” Weber told me, “it’s all about where we go from here. Nobody else is paying attention.”

Disaster trauma often shows up in ways that seem unrelated to the torching of entire towns. In the first months of covering county government, The Plumas Sun reported on a sheriff’s dispatcher charged with embezzling from a needy children’s Christmas fund and a county official filing a hostile work environment complaint against the district attorney. It has also posted news on local community suppers and library book giveaways, while offering kudos to people around the county doing extraordinary work. And, of course, obituaries.

“Connecting people is healing,” Weber points out. “Newspapers do that, too.”

Laurie Brown and Canadian are still in the early trauma stage in the scorched Texas Panhandle. Whether her Canadian Record or The Plumas Sun or any of the startups nurtured by Southerly survive depends not just on the whims of funding but on the grit and guts of local reporters. Brown, who is living on Social Security, shows no signs of quitting, despite all too many misgivings about the future.

“I’ve seen good things that didn’t happen because they weren’t encouraged. I’ve seen bad things that didn’t happen because they were exposed,” she says. “And I just keep thinking, you know, you can make a difference. And that still seems worth doing to me.”