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Do Red and Yellow Food Dyes Disrupt Child Behavior?

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If you weren’t a label reader before, now is a good time to start.

Birthday cakes with all the colors of the rainbow were the touchpoint that would change our friendly and gentle daughter into a belligerent crank puss for a few hours after eating her slice. We always braced for the aftermath of the birthday parties. Given that we didn’t serve meals with FD&C food dyes at home, it wasn't too hard to track down the cause of her dramatic behavior changes as they only happened under isolated circumstances.

Anecdotal evidence, yes. But I surely paid attention when I heard that in 2007 the EU required a label on foods containing synthetic food dyes that states the product "may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children." In 2011 in the U.S., however, the Food and Drug Administration held a Food Advisory Committee Meeting about certified color additives, and while they determined that more study is needed, labels alerting hyperactivity in children was unwarranted.

Where does the division of the EU and the U.S. recommendations leave parents? To make up our own minds, draw our own conclusions and make our own choices.

Chemical food dyes have a long, nefarious and toxic history. They were used to disguise rotting food and adulterate food's appearance in general. In the 1800s, people died or were sickened after being poisoned from dyes made of heavy metals such as lead and arsenic.

We have butter to thank for the practice of a more widespread use of food dyes. Until the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the color of butter naturally varied with the seasons. It was yellow in the spring and summer when cows ate foods rich in yellow carotenoids, and white in the fall and winter when they were fed corn that is low in such carotenoids. It was a breakthrough for dairies when they could make butter the same color year-round. These new and increasingly popular synthetic dyes were less costly and more stable than natural colors made from plants and minerals, but there was a downside: They were made with toxic coal tar.

Coal tar started to be widely used for consumer products including food dyes in the industrial revolution, though in 1775 coal tar was linked to "chimney sweep carcinoma," one of the first chemicals to be linked to cancer from occupational exposure. Coal tar is made by combining aromatic hydrocarbons such as toluene, xylene, benzene, and petroleum distillates, and has high amounts of the ubiquitous environmental pollutants, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

In the United States, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 reduced the permitted list of synthetic coal tar colors from 700 down to seven. According to the FDA, those dyes for food use are chemically classified as azo, xanthene, triphenylmethane, and indigoid dyes. Although certifiable color additives have been called coal-tar colors because of their traditional origins, today they are synthesized mainly from raw materials obtained from petroleum

The current nine artificial colorings permitted by the FDA in food are:

  • FD&C Blue No. 1 (a triarylmethane dye)
  • FD&C Blue No. 2 (an Indigo carmine dye)
  • FD&C Green No. 3 (a triarylmethane dye)
  • FD&C Red. 3 (organoiodine compound)
  • FD&C Red No. 40 (an Azo dye)
  • FD&C Yellow No. 5 (an Azo dye)
  • FD&C Yellow No. 6 (an Azo dye)
  • Orange B (not used in many years due to safety concerns)
  • Citrus Red No. 2 (used rarely on oranges amid safety concerns)

The two FD&C dyes called out for hyperactivity in children are Red #40 and Yellow #5. An NIH study recommends that since current dyes do not improve the safety or nutritional quality of foods, all of the currently used dyes should be removed. There is a general agreement that there is inadequate testing for FD&C dyes.

What tests there are on how food dyes affect behavior seem to show that some children are genetically vulnerable to behavioral changes from dyes and that a smaller subset have very strong reactions. "In Europe, that's enough to get it banned because a manufacturer has to show lack of toxic effects. In this country, it's up to the government to find out whether or not there are harmful effects," says Bernard Weiss, professor emeritus of the Department of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Weiss supports banning artificial colors until companies have evidence that they cause no harm.

"The fundamental problem is that good research studies about food dyes are very hard to do. The default position of the regulatory industries seems to be that food dyes are safe until proven otherwise," notes Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann.

In 1965, Dr. Ben F. Feingold, a pediatrician and chief of allergy at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Centers in Northern California, was way ahead of his time in seeing a biochemical relationship to behavior. His hypothesis was that "hyperactivity can be triggered by synthetic additives—specifically synthetic colors, synthetic flavors and the preservatives BHA, BHT (and later TBHQ)—and also a group of foods containing a natural salicylate radical. This is an immunological—not an allergic—response.”

Feingold went on to develop the famous Feingold Diet, removing food additives including artificial coloring. The internet is overflowing with success stories written by grateful parents. The Feingold site has an impressive compellation of studies on the topic. The diet’s benefits are still controversial, but the Feingold Association claims that more than 50 percent to more than 90 percent of children responded well to the diet.

Prevention and Solutions

Imagine the array of colors in heirloom foods and plants of all kinds that could be used for natural dyes, just as they had been for centuries by weavers. For example, a natural match for Red #40 can be made from beets, elderberry, and even purple sweet potatoes.

The FDA has a broad list of approved natural colors that are exempt from certification, including beets, caramel, B-Carotene, cochineal extract, carmine, grape color, turmeric, paprika and more.

Baked goods, candy, cereal, beverages, orange peels, ice cream, sausage, maraschinos, medications, over-the-counter treatments and more, can all contain FD&C dyes. If you weren’t a label reader before, now is a good time to start.

Parents like me who decided to follow the evidence before our eyes, that Yellow #5 and Red #40 caused behavioral changes in our children, look far and wide for natural food substitutes for those with these synthetic additives. It was wonderful when a candy shaped like an M&M but dyed with natural colors came on the market.

Baking with blueberry and beet juice becomes a common way to bring festive colors to holiday baked goods in households like mine. A child standing on a chair to be tall enough to stir the bowl hardly knows the difference between that and the commercial FD&C food coloring kits.

Experimenting with natural dyes can be a fun family adventure. You can juice spinach for green, carrots for orange, the list is as endless as the beautiful colors found in nature. Natural dyes are less neon, more nuanced, and can be very beautiful.

Once you have the colors you want to use, here, below, is how you can use them in baking. This one example for making red baked goods can be used for any color.

DIY Folk Formula for Red (Valentine) Cookies and Cupcakes Frosting

Choose any red juice that stains clothing! Examples include beets, strawberries, raspberries and cherries. Canned beets work effectively. Just drain the juice to use. Alternatively, thaw some frozen berries in a bowl and you’ll find that there will be plenty of juice.

Substitute in equal measure the amount of juice you are using from the recipe's liquid. If the recipe doesn’t include liquid, add enough additional flour to help absorb the liquid.

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It Costs U.S. Taxpayers Just 1 Cent a Year to Protect America's Marine Mammals—but Trump's Budget Scraps It

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Trump's proposed budget would eliminate the Marine Mammal Commission.

In the 1970s, several species of marine mammals in U.S. waters were at risk of extinction or depletion due to human activities such as fishing bycatch, ship strikes and offshore drilling. Iconic animals like manatees, polar bears and seals faced myriad severe threats.

Out of nationwide concern for the survival and welfare of whales, dolphins, manatees, seals and sea lions came the Marine Mammal Protection Act, signed into law in 1972 by President Richard Nixon. The MMPA's passing was a milestone in marine animal protection. Indeed, the United States has been a global leader ever since in the protection of iconic ocean wildlife.

Because of the MMPA, the hunting and harassment of marine mammals, including whales and polar bears, has been almost entirely outlawed. And thanks to the MMPA, marine mammal species that were facing extinction—like the Steller sea lion—have grown to healthier population levels. Not one marine mammal species found in U.S. waters has gone extinct in the 45 years since the MMPA became law, even as human activities in the ocean have dramatically increased.

Fundamental to these successes is the Marine Mammal Commission (MMC), charged by Congress to oversee the MMPA's implementation.

And the cost to the American taxpayer? Just one cent per U.S. citizen per year.

But this progress may soon be under siege. Last week, the Trump administration released a budget proposal to Congress that eliminates the Marine Mammal Commission altogether.

World Animal Protection launched our global Sea Change program in 2014. Our objective is clear if not simple: to prevent the entanglement of ocean wildlife in lost and discarded fishing gear (known as ghost gear) and provide rescue to the animals whose entanglement we could not prevent.

While my colleagues and I are fortunate enough to be able to provide relief to marine animals through disentanglement and medical treatment, we are guided in the United States by the Marine Mammal Commission, which ensures that rescue professionals are properly trained to save injured marine mammals, and that none of our actions cause any significant disturbance to other animals in the vicinity.

The MMC also balances this guidance with consideration for the safety and economic needs of the fishing and tourism communities that rely on marine and coastal resources for their economic livelihoods. The presence of whales leads to algae growth, contributing to a healthy fishery. Thriving dolphin populations in the wild is a draw for tourism. Every species has a role to play in the sustainability of our ocean and marine communities.  

We think this is surely worth a penny per year.  

You can make a difference: Tell your congressional representatives that any budget they pass should ensure funding for the Marine Mammal Commission. Your voice has the power to turn the tide for aquatic animals, who enrich our planet so much.

Many marine mammal species facing extinction and harm from human activity would not have been revived without the MMC’s expertise and commitment. Critically endangered species like the North Atlantic right whale, with just an estimated 450 individual animals left, need our protection now more than ever. We urge the Trump Administration to ensure that the Marine Mammal Commission continues to be funded.

Our marine life deserve no less.

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Trump and GOP Want the Supreme Court to Take on a Major Gerrymandering Battle in Pennsylvania

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The GOP is backed into a corner and eyeing desperate measures.

A crystal ball revealing the Republican Party’s future has appeared in Pennsylvania, where top GOP legislators, joined by national Republicans including the president, see their power threatened and are behaving like cornered rats—striking out in all directions.

On Monday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court approved a new map of its 18 House districts to make 2018’s congressional races more competitive. The Court-imposed maps came after the GOP-led state legislature failed to redraw the boundaries under the Court’s criteria, which sought more balanced and representative districts.

By Tuesday, Pennsylvania Republicans, egged on by their Washington counterparts, vowed to file a federal lawsuit—even though the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an earlier appeal by the state's Republicans over the revised congressional maps.

“The suit will highlight the state Supreme Court’s rushed decision that created chaos, confusion, and unnecessary expense in the 2018 election cycle,” a National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman said, adding the GOP will sue “as soon as tomorrow to prevent the new partisan map from taking effect.” 

“Hope Republicans in the Great State of Pennsylvania challenge the new ‘pushed’ Congressional Map, all the way to the [U.S.] Supreme Court, if necessary,” tweeted Trump. “Your Original was correct! Don’t let the Dems take elections away from you so that they can raise taxes & waste money!”

The GOP knows that courts are reluctant to interfere in elections; hence its accusation the state's Supreme Court has sown chaos and confusion. They are suggesting that the judicial process in Pennsylvania, which holds 2018 primary elections on May 15, has created a political crisis, when, in fact, “this is perfectly normal procedure,” as James A. Gardner, a University of Buffalo law professor, told the Philadelphia Enquirer.

But local Republicans and their national allies are huffing and puffing the U.S. Supreme Court should intervene, because, in effect, they have lost in state court, failed to produce remedies that would satisfy Pennsylvania’s Constitution, and see the likely outcome: they will be forced to compete fairly and probably lose some seats. The Republicans now hold 13 of the state's House seats, compared to five held by Democrats.

“Make no mistake: this is the PA map Dems wanted,” tweeted David Wasserman, The Cook Political Report’s House analyst and a gerrymandering expert. “It's a ringing endorsement of the 'partisan fairness' doctrine: that parties should be entitled to same proportion of seats as votes. However, in PA (and many states), achieving that requires conscious pro-Dem mapping choices… The result: Dems have a great shot to win 8-11 of PA's 18 seats in November. Under a truly partisan-blind compact map, maybe 7-10. Under old GOP map, maybe 6-9.”

Pennsylvania and Washington Republicans know this. They are throwing everything against the courtroom wall to see what sticks in an effort to postpone the new maps until after the 2018 election. They know Pennsylvania is the only state where congressional maps stood to be redrawn before 2018’s midterms. That’s because other litigation, including appeals now before the U.S. Supreme Court, won’t be decided until later this spring—too late for 2018’s electoral calendar.

What Pennsylvania Republicans are now facing is what the party could be facing in many states if 2018 and 2020 are blue wave elections.

In Pennsylvania, a Democratic governor and majority of state Supreme Court justices dismantled the GOP's political coup—supermajority control through extreme gerrymandering. Nationally, Democrats are hoping to see a wave of new governors elected this fall that could veto bad maps—just as Pennsylvania did.

“The fair map issued by the state Supreme Court is a major victory in the fight against gerrymandering in Pennsylvania and around the country,” said Eric Holder, who leads the Democratic anti-gerrymandering effort. “Republicans all over the country should be on notice; their days of partisan map-rigging are numbered."

“Republicans can complain about [Pennsylvania Supreme Court expert Nate] @persily's map, but here is the rub: the PA GOP had a chance to draw a map most in compliance w/ the court order, but they choose to gerrymander instead by keeping as many people in the same gerrymandered districts as before,” tweeted Michael McDonald, a University of Florida redistricting expert. “If the PA GOP could've done better map than the fair, non-political map that they claim is a Democratic gerrymander, they screwed themselves by not submitting it to the court.”

Pennsylvania’s GOP gambled and lost in its effort to preserve its supermajority House delegation, but that doesn't mean they are going quietly into the night. They are cornered and desperate and are trying everything to delay implementing the state's new congressional map until 2020. They have attacked their state Supreme Court, enlisted the national party and Trump to pressure the U.S. Supreme Court to step in, and refuse to admit their errors.

Stay tuned. What happens next will be a preview of what's to come in other states in the near future, when the GOP can no longer hold onto power by rigging the electoral process.

 

 

 

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The Complex History of 'In God We Trust'

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It's not a motto that reflects universally shared historical values but a Christian perspective—one that is embraced by President Trump and the modern GOP.

In his address to the National Prayer Breakfast on the morning of Feb. 8, President Donald Trump emphasized the centrality of faith in American life. After describing the country as a “nation of believers,” Trump reminded his audience that American currency features the phrase “In God We Trust” as does the Pledge of Allegiance. He also declared that “our rights are not given to us by man” but “come from our Creator.”

These remarks come a week after Trump linked religion with American identity in his first State of the Union address. On Jan. 30, he similarly invoked “In God We Trust” while proclaiming an “American way” in which “faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of the American life.”

But the history of such language is more complex than Trump’s assertions suggest.

The place of “In God We Trust,” and similar invocations of God in national life, have been a subject of debate. From my perspective as a religious history scholar, they reflect a particular view of the United States, not a universally accepted “American way.”

The Civil War

Political rhetoric linking the United States with a divine power emerged on a large scale with the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. M.R. Watkinson, a Pennsylvania clergyman, encouraged the placement of “In God We Trust” on coins at the war’s outset in order to help the North’s cause. Such language, Watkinson wrote, would “place us openly under the divine protection.”

Putting the phrase on coins was just the beginning.

In 1864, with the Civil War still raging, a group supported by the North’s major Protestant denominations began advocating change to the preamble of the Constitution. The proposed language – which anticipated President Trump’s remarks about the origin of Americans’ rights – would have declared that Americans recognized “Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government.”

If the amendment’s supporters had succeeded in having their way, Christian belief would be deeply embedded in the United States government.

But, such invocations of God in national politics were not to last. Despite lobbying by major Protestant denominations such as the Methodists, this so-called Sovereignty of God amendment was never ratified.

The 1849 liberty head design by James B. Longacre. National Numismatic Collection, National Museum of American History.

Though “In God We Trust” was added to coins, it was not added to the increasingly common paper money. In fact, when coins were redesigned late in the 19th century, it disappeared from coins as well.

As I demonstrate in my book, these developments were related to the spread of secularism in the post-Civil War U.S. For many people at the time, placing religious language in the Constitution or on symbols of government was not consistent with American ideals.

The revival of ‘In God We Trust’

The 1950s, however, witnessed a dramatic resurgence of religious language in government and politics. It was that decade that brought “In God We Trust” into widespread use.

In 1955, President Dwight Eisenhower signed a bill placing the phrase on all American currency. One sponsor of that legislation, Congressman Charles Bennett, echoed the sentiments that had inspired the Sovereignty of God amendment during the Civil War. Bennett proclaimed, that the U.S. “was founded in a spiritual atmosphere and with a firm trust in God.”

The next year, “In God We Trust” was adopted as the first official motto of the United States.

U.S. Capitol’s ‘In God We Trust’ plaque. US Capitol

Both of these developments reflected the desire to emphasize Americans’ religious commitment in the early years of the Cold War. Historians such as Jonathan Herzog have chronicled how leaders ranging from President Eisenhower to the evangelist Billy Graham stressed on the strong faith of the nation in setting the U.S. apart from the godlessness of Soviet communism.

Recently, however, Princeton University historian Kevin Kruse has shown that religious language was not merely rhetoric against communism. “In God We Trust” reflected domestic concerns as well.

The belief in American religiosity that put “In God We Trust” on coins and made it the national motto in the 1950s had emerged over several decades. Conservative businessmen had allied with ministers, including Billy Graham, to combat the social welfare policies and government expansion that began with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. These wide-ranging programs, designed to tackle the Great Depression, irked many conservatives. They objected to government intervention in business and Roosevelt’s support for labor unions.

As Kruse notes, this alliance of conservative business leaders and ministers linked “faith, freedom, and free enterprise.”

In this way then, President Trump’s repeated assertions of “In God We Trust” could be said to reflect certain American values. But, as my research shows, for much of U.S. history, the acceptance of such values ebbed and flowed.

“In God We Trust” is a not a motto that reflects universally shared historical values. Rather it represents a particular political, economic and religious perspective – one that is embraced by President Trump and the modern GOP.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on Feb. 2, 2018.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Robert Reich: Morality and the Common Good Must Be at Center of Fighting Trump’s Economic Agenda

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Don't just focus on the monster in the White House.

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump made a promise to the American people: There would be no cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Well, the promise has not been kept. Under his new budget, President Trump proposes a massive increase in Pentagon spending while cutting funding for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Trump’s budget would also slash or completely eliminate core anti-poverty programs that form the heart of the U.S. social safety net, from childhood nutrition to care for the elderly and job training. This comes after President Trump and Republican lawmakers pushed through a $1.5 trillion tax cut that overwhelmingly favors the richest Americans, including President Trump and his own family. We speak to Robert Reich, who served as labor secretary under President Bill Clinton. He is now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. His most recent book, out today, is titled The Common Good.

Transcript

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump made a promise to the American people: There would be no cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

DONALD TRUMP: Save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, without cuts. Have to do it. Get rid of the fraud. Get rid of the waste and abuse. But save it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, that promise has not been kept. Under his new budget, President Trump proposes a massive increase in Pentagon spending while cutting funding for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Trump’s budget would also slash or completely eliminate core anti-poverty programs that form the heart of the U.S. social safety net, from childhood nutrition to care for the elderly and job training. This comes after President Trump and Republican lawmakers pushed through a $1.5 trillion tax cut that overwhelmingly favors the richest Americans, including President Trump and his own family.

AMY GOODMAN: Our next guest has been one of the vocal critics of President Trump’s economic policies. Robert Reich served as labor secretary under President Bill Clinton. He’s now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. Most recent book is out today, it’s called The Common Good.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you back, Robert Reich.

ROBERT REICH: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: So, respond to what we see today. You have this fall in Wall Street, which doesn’t necessarily reflect what happens on Main Street, and you have this budget that’s been introduced, that we just heard, and the broken campaign promises of President Trump. Who’s winning and who’s losing at this point?

ROBERT REICH: Well, I think we’re all losing. That is actually the theme of my book. The rich in America cannot continue to do well when most others are not. If the social contract, that is the basis of this country, is coming apart, if we are basically saying to everyone, “You’re on your own,” we’re all going to be worse off. There is a common good. At least there was a common good. I think the purpose of the book is to ignite a discussion about whether we can re-establish a sense of common good in America.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, when you say there has been a common good, talk about that historically in terms of the how the concept developed.

ROBERT REICH: Well, in the Constitution, Juan, it says, “We the people.” We, the people, are establishing a government, and one of the purposes is for our own domestic well-being. And the Declaration of Independence and our founding documents and the Gettysburg Address—I mean, go through everything over the last 200 years that has talked about who “we,” what the pronoun “we” means, and it means equal political rights. And that has been a goal. It hasn’t been effectuated. We’ve sought it. We certainly—I don’t want to romanticize a past in which we certainly have not had equal political rights. But there was—for much of our history, we’ve at least been seeking it. The same with equal opportunity. The same with the rule of law, that no person is above the law. And you go—you go down the list. Again, I want to emphasize these are aspirations, these are ideals, that kept us together, again and again.

And I fear we’re losing them. I mean, Donald Trump is sort of the essence of the problem, but he is not the cause of the problem. I mean, his election was, I believe, a result, at least in part, of a great deal of disillusionment and anger and cynicism that many people have toward a system, toward a ruling class, that did not deliver, that has not delivered. And Trump’s conflicts of interest, his narcissism, his sort of inability to understand that there is something called America that is greater and more important than flag salutes and standing for a national anthem or securing the borders, is symptomatic of something that is much deeper that’s gone wrong in America.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Robert Reich, who was the labor secretary under President Clinton. And you had a lot of problems with Clinton. I mean, you talked about walking the streets the day he signed off on welfare reform, what some called “welfare deform,” walking the streets of Washington, wondering where all the people were. Well, today, actually, there are a number of people in the streets. They are young people. They are high school kids, who could turn the entire system on its head, not only around gun control. These are the survivors of the massacre in Florida. They’re on a bus to Tallahassee. They’re doing lie-ins and die-ins in Washington, D.C. And they’re saying what even the media—though the media has come out, except for Fox, pretty anti—pretty much for gun control. They always start off by saying, “Well, you can’t get an automatic weapons ban. We will start there. But what is it you think you can do?” They are questioning everything right now. They’re talking about corruption. They’re talking about money in politics. These are kids in 10th, 11th and 12th grade, and younger.

ROBERT REICH: Well, they give me a great deal of encouragement, Amy, you know, that young lady, Emma Gonzalez, for example, that very powerful speech she gave Saturday about gun control. What I see around the country is that there’s a silver lining to Trump and to everything that’s going on right now in our nation’s capital and elsewhere. That silver lining is that you have young people, you also have many activists, who are becoming more active than ever before. A lot of people who had given up on politics, had become cynical, are saying to themselves, “I can’t afford to be cynical, because this country is too important to me and my children and my grandchildren.” They are becoming engaged in politics in a way I haven’t seen since the Vietnam War or the anti-Vietnam War movement. I teach young people. And I can say that every day I count my blessings, because I’m surrounded by kids who care about this country, care about the future, and are not going to allow us to continue to ignore the common good.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And yet, the supporters of Trump have doubled down even more in their backing of him, as we’ve seen, repeatedly been seeing, most recently the Oprah interview with a group of a cross-section of Americans, half of whom had voted for Trump, and then Trump started blasting, on Twitter, attacking Oprah for the interviews. There is a sense among his supporters that he’s doing exactly what they expected him to do.

ROBERT REICH: Well, I think, to a large extent, Juan, those supporters have been watching, you know, the propaganda arm of the White House, which is Fox News. And if you get into that propaganda arm, you know, you begin to accept the lies that Trump has been propagating and Fox News has been propagating. I mean, he—in his whole life, he has been a con man. And I think there are a lot of Americans, sadly, who have been conned by him.

I mean, look at the tax bill. I mean, the idea that the working class is going to do better under that tax bill is absurd. That tax bill, that went through Congress, tax plan, is overwhelmingly favoring the very wealthy, and it’s being paid for—they’re already talking about paying for it. I’m talking about Paul Ryan and Trump, are already talking about paying for it by cutting programs like Medicare and Social Security and Medicaid, that so many Americans depend on, many Trump voters depend on. I mean, the Trump voters are the ones who are being shafted almost worse than anybody else.

And yet, because of the lies, the big lies, they don’t know it—or at least don’t know it yet. I think they will. They can’t help but understand it. In fact, I have spent a lot of time over the last year and a half in so-called red states talking to people who voted for Trump, and many of them are becoming deeply disillusioned. I mean, look at the—look at even the escapades that are coming out about paying off Playboy bunnies and prostitutes. And, I mean, you’ve got evangelicals in America who are saying, “Wait a minute, this can’t—we trusted that this man was somebody who he said he was, but he’s somebody entirely different.” The truth is going to catch up with them.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, you wrote recently, though, that in the 2016 election, that “he sucked all the oxygen out of the race by making himself its biggest story. Now, he’s sucking all the oxygen out of America by making himself our national obsession.” And you go on to say, “Schooled in reality television and New York tabloids, Trump knows how to keep both sides stirred up: Vilify, disparage, denounce, defame, and accuse the other side of conspiring against America. Do it continuously. Dominate every news cycle.”

ROBERT REICH: And that’s his—if you want to call it a gift. It’s certainly his technique. And that is what he knows how to do: divide and conquer, make us all feel as if we are against one another, that the most important kind of conflict in America is between them—the “they” being either Trump voters or the people who are against Trump—and disguise the fact that most Americans are now battling over a smaller and smaller share of an economic pie. I mean, you’ve got, for example, white working-class people who are on a downward escalator—they still are on a downward escalator—and they are now being taught to believe that African Americans and Latinos and foreigners and DACA children are somehow responsible for their plight. I mean, it’s taking their eyes off the system, what has happened as a system. This is why I wrote the book. Again, if we don’t start focusing on the common good and what we mean by that, and taking our eyes, at least occasionally, off of this egomaniac in the White House, who knows how to aggravate us and obsess us, then we are going to, in a kind of ironic way, allow him to succeed.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Robert Reich, chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, former labor secretary under President Clinton. He has a new book out. It’s out today. It’s called The Common Good. We’ll be back with him in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Silver Dagger” by Joan Baez. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we turn to President Trump talking about the infrastructure plan that he’s just presented.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This morning I submitted legislative principles to Congress that will spur the biggest and boldest infrastructure investment in American history. The framework will generate an unprecedented $1.5 to $1.7 trillion investment in American infrastructure. We’re going to have a lot of public-private. That way it gets done on time, on budget.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s President Trump introducing his infrastructure plan. From infrastructure, if you can respond to that, to the budget, to the tax plan, talk about what he’s proposed and what would be a plan for the common good.

ROBERT REICH: Trump is proposing what he says is $200 billion of federal money, that somehow, magically, creates $1.5 trillion of infrastructure spending. Well, first of all, there’s no money left in the federal budget. All of the money that was there has been basically taken with the big tax cut. So, he—on closer inspection, he and the White House are saying, “Well, that $200 billion is going to have to come out of other programs.” Now, when they say “other programs,” we know what they mean. That means programs for the working class and the poor. They’ve been the first on the chopping block for the entire administration so far.

But beyond that, where does the rest of the money come from? It comes from private developers, private investors. How can we attract private investors for that much infrastructure? By giving them the receipts of tolls and fees and user fees—basically, turning the future infrastructure of America, and much of the present, over to the private sector. So we pay twice. We pay not only through our taxes, but we also pay through all of the tolls. And money—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But they also expect large contributions from local, city and state governments—

ROBERT REICH: Exactly.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —that would also be us paying, as well.

ROBERT REICH: Exactly. And the state governments are not going to just be able to come up with the money. They are going to have to raise taxes, as well. And so, you’ve got a system that is Trumpian in all its dimensions, again, without any understanding of the common good. It is going to cost more people more money, and it’s not even going to be infrastructure where we most need it. I mean, where we most need it is repairing old bridges and old highways and water treatment facilities. But where do private investors want to see infrastructure? Where can they get the biggest return? On brand-new highways and brand-new bridges, that will basically skirt the poor areas of this country, not only the poor rural areas, but many of our minority communities.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about the—in terms of the tax cut, because I remember, before the election, both Democrats and some Republicans, like John Kasich, were talking about using an amnesty for corporate profits that were being held offshore, when they would repatriate it, to use that for infrastructure, because that was a one-time shot in the arm to the U.S. economy. And that didn’t happen, actually. Most of that money seems to have gone into the overall plugging the gap of this plan. But you’ve also focused on stock buybacks and how companies are using stock buybacks now with this tax plan, while all the attention is going into the pittances that they’re giving in bonuses to their workers.

ROBERT REICH: Exactly. And those bonuses have proven to be very, very tiny relative to the amount of profits that companies are now sinking into buying back their shares of stock, which is a technique used by companies to artificially raise stock prices. Why are they doing this? Largely because CEO pay is so intimately related to share prices, that CEOs, even in an era like this, when there’s almost no reason for share prices to go up—in fact, they’re going down—but artificially keep them up, or keep them from falling as much as they would, by buying back the shares of stock. Now, this has nothing whatever to do with the promise that the Trump—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And how has the buybacks increased now, in the past year, compared to previously?

ROBERT REICH: Buybacks were already at a record level in 2017. And so far this year, they are even at a higher level. So, all of that corporate tax in the new tax plan that’s gone into effect, that was supposed to inspire and encourage a lot of new investment—you know, the trickle-down economics theory—well, it’s already proved to be bankrupt.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this month, Senator Sanders questioned Budget Director Mick Mulvaney about President Trump’s budget plan.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Explain to me the morality of a process by which we give the third-wealthiest family in America—major contributor, I might add, to the Republican Party—over a billion dollars a year in tax breaks, and yet we cut a program which keeps children and the elderly warm in the winter.

MICK MULVANEY: Here’s the morality of the LIHEAP proposal, Senator: 11,000 dead people got that benefit the last time the GAO looked at it. That’s not moral, to take your money, to take my money, to take the money from the people that you were just mentioning—

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Eleven thousand people got it who shouldn’t have. Correct that. But 7 million people get the program. To say that 11,000 out of 7 million—deal with that.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Bernie Sanders questioning Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. Robert Reich?

ROBERT REICH: Well, morality is very much at the center of all of this. I mean, this is the discussion we ought to be having. I mean, say what you want about Donald Trump. He has at least brought us back to first principles. Why are we together in this nation? What—who are we? Are we just a bunch of individuals who happen to be born here and who should be making as much money and accumulating as much power as possible? Is that the meaning of America? Or is it that we are a bunch of white Christians who were all born here and speak English as a first language? Is that the meaning of America? Well, I’m sorry, that is not the meaning of America as we’ve understood it for much of the 200 years—more than 200 years of our existence. There are ideals that undergird our understanding of why we are a nation. As a great political philosopher Carl Friedrich once said, you know, “To be a Frenchman is a fact. To be an American is an ideal.” You know, we are not a creed. We are not a religion. We are a conviction, a conviction about the importance of certain ideals.

Donald Trump obviously doesn’t understand the common good. He’s never uttered the words “the common good,” I’m sure. But they were understood. You know, I’m old enough to remember people like Robert F. Kennedy, who talked in terms of the common good. I even worked—my first job in government was working for Robert F. Kennedy in his Senate office in 1967. And I, like many of my generation, went out and campaigned for Eugene McCarthy 50 years ago, because we believed so deeply that there was a common good that was being violated by the Vietnam War. Many of us sacrificed our time. And some of my—a friend of mine, very good friend, sacrificed his life in the civil rights movement. Most of us, many of us, were weaned on the notion that this country had moral principles. When Bernie Sanders asks Mick Mulvaney about morality, he is asking a question about what this country once represented and should represent.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, in your book, when you’re talking about what are some of the shifts that have begun to tear away at the concept of the common good, you talk about the notion of whatever it takes to win. Can you talk about that?

ROBERT REICH: Well, that has become—and again, Donald Trump is sort of the emblematic of that idea, but it’s been growing for the last three or four decades, whatever it takes to win. In politics, it doesn’t matter what you do, doesn’t matter the effect on the institutions of our democracy, if you can still just win. The same thing with business. If you just show a profit and show a bigger and bigger profit, it doesn’t matter what effect you’re having on communities or on employees or the consequences for the nation. You just win.

All of this win-at-any-cost mentality is actually rather new. You know, we, as Americans, we went through a Depression, we went through World War II. We understood, at some point, that we’re all in the same boat together. It’s not—and again, I want to emphasize this, I don’t want to romanticize the past. It’s not that we were an equal society that adhered in every respect to an understanding of the common good, but we at least strove for it—you know, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, the Environmental Protection Act. We at least were on the road to trying. And then there was a big U-turn, Juan, and you know as well as I. It starts with Ronald Reagan. And we no longer talk about the common good.

AMY GOODMAN: Talking about the common good, let’s talk about immigrants for a moment. You are a professor at University of California, Berkeley. There are many students who have DACA at University of California, all over the country. We’re talking about nearly a million young people, who are threatened now with not knowing what’s happening, because President Trump says he was ending the program, a judge has now stopped it. But what’s happening at universities, for example, in dealing with kids? How do you talk to young people who are dealing with this uncertainty, with this crisis, the ripping apart of their families, and if not them, the possibility that their parents will be deported, immigrant leaders around the country being targeted, being detained, being threatened with deportation right now, as President Trump talks about the national security of the country, explaining that’s why he’s ripping families apart? And yet you have this seven—this 19-year-old shooter, self-confessed shooter, who has easy access to guns, and President Trump hardly talks about this.

ROBERT REICH: Well, I think this is again a good exemplar of the problem we’re in and the ironies we find ourselves. These DACA kids were promised—there was a promise made to them—that if they registered, if they basically provided information about themselves—they came here as children, it’s not their fault that they came here as children—that they would, if they registered, have an opportunity to stay, an opportunity to apply for permanent citizenship, an opportunity to work. And then, suddenly, arbitrarily, we have a president come along, a new president, who says, “Well, all of that is off. You are actually going to be targeted. You should not be here. Yes, well, it’s too bad you came here as a child.”

This kind of insensitive, amoral—in fact, it’s immoral—approach to these kids, at the same time you’ve got guns in schools and guns all over the place, you know, a kind of an insensitivity to the reality of what this nation is experiencing, it seems to me, is, again, the essence of the problem we now face. Why is it so hard to understand that no nation, except the United States, suffers the gun violence we do, and no nation, except the United States, has as easy access to guns? You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to connect up the dots. But you do have to at least have a concern for the common good.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask, briefly—we have about a minute left. You talk in the book about bumping into the CEO of Wells Fargo one day at a light on a street corner at Berkeley and the conversations you had with him. Wells Fargo, probably a racketeering conspiracy all of its own, in terms of how it’s dealt with its clients.

ROBERT REICH: CEOs today—and the CEO of Wells Fargo at the time was just another example—I think, don’t understand that they have public obligations that go beyond public relations. You know, John Stumpf, who was the CEO, he said to me, over coffee—and we did bump into each other—that he wanted to just distinguish Wells Fargo from all the other banks that had been caught up in the 2008 banking crisis, and he wanted to make sure that the public understood that Wells Fargo really was a responsible bank. And he said this with a complete seriousness. I mean, he fooled me.

AMY GOODMAN: We have three seconds.

ROBERT REICH: Well, in three seconds, let me just say, it’s not just Trump. It’s all of us.

AMY GOODMAN: The Common Good is Robert Reich’s new book. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Thanks for joining us.

 

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The 'Alt-Right' Is Building a White Nationalist Mass Movement With 'Operation Homeland'

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It's trying to build membership with a hateful, anti-immigrant message.

The "alt-right" didn't really enter the spotlight of mainstream US culture until it dropped back into the gutter. For the first years of its infancy, from the founding of "AlternativeRight.com" in 2010 until the popularization of the #AltRight hashtag in early 2015, members had focused on trying to rehabilitate the image of white nationalism.

A bad public image, terrorist violence, a history of mass genocide and vulgar racism had understandably made white nationalists pariahs, and Richard Spencer, the essential founder of the movement, wanted to wash all that away. Instead, the "alt-right" would take the example of the European New Right and focus on making a pseudo-academic movement that could influence what Spencer identified as "meta-politics" -- ideas and identities that are "pre-political." 

It wasn't until the slew of trolls, podcasters and hashtags flowed into their world that the "alt-right" was able to expand, although it came at the cost of their previous base-building "intellectual" work. Now, their major publications have returned to their white supremacist roots, filled with expletive-laced vitriol toward non-white people.

As the "alt-right" movement tries to move from its online world, which has largely kicked members off of their web platforms and into real-world activism, members are having a tough time reconciling their online persona with practical organizing. Spencer is trying to repair that with a new project coming out of his National Policy Institute nonprofit and its tabloid "AltRight.com." This project, aptly titled "Operation Homeland," was launched in the beginning of December 2017 by Spencer and is taking its inspiration from the "identitarian" movement in Europe.

"Identity Is Our Movement"

The European New Right helped build a philosophical fascist system that was more appealing to Baby Boomers raised on New Left and post-colonial rhetoric, but it was usually separated from practical political organizing. Starting in the late 1960s, far-right philosophers led by Alain de Benoist worked decided to reframe fascist values and ideas in the language of popular national liberation struggles that were erupting across the colonized Global South.

Instead of vulgar racism, they would talk about the "right to difference," and argue for "Ethno-pluralism," which they called a "nationalism for all people." Nationalist politics in France has been dominated by Le Pen's Front National party that, while still marginal, came close to winning the presidential election last year. Marine Le Pen's second place at the finish line is a high-water mark for a party constantly muddled in controversy, but shows the power they are truly gaining. The European New Right's conception of politics, on the other hand, is revolutionary, not reformist, and its meta-political vision was more about building a sense of identity and counter-power.

The European New Right opposes wars because of isolationist views that reject intervention in foreign nations. This fascist movement is anti-capitalist, as members view international trade as culturally homogenizing, and have a vision of communities trading and living in mono-racial exclusivity. They even buck Europe's historically Christian character for its distant pagan roots -- all in an effort to reclaim a romantic mythology about their own heritage and identity.

Out of that philosophical tradition emerged a movement that was more radical than the nationalist parties known throughout Europe, and looking to build a ground-up grassroots movement rather than winning seats in parliament. This has broadly been called the "identitarian" movement; a well-crafted brand name for a movement that members claim is about identity rather than racial animus.

The best known piece of this movement is "Generation Identity" in France, which has banked its success on opposing refugee resettlement in Western Europe, going as far as blocking refugee boats and risking the lives of Syrian children. Generation Identity started as the youth wing of the nationalist Bloc Identitaire movement, bringing together young French people around the amorphous concept of "identity" as a unifying motivator. Immigration -- specifically in regard to immigrants from Muslim-majority countries -- has been Generation Identity's focus, taking the call from European New Right author Guillaume Faye that there is a battle with Islam for the fate of Western Civilization.

"Identity America"

The "alt-right's" Operation Homeland will be a further attempt at reviving the "identitarian" movement in the US, bringing Generation Identity's format to a broad-based far-right US audience. Operation Homeland will stake its claim on immigration, just as Generation Identity has -- an issue the US far right pursues since it has popularity with the mainstream GOP electorate.

"Our positions are clear: we support immigration restriction and free speech, and we resolutely oppose more wars fought in the interest of foreigners," wrote Richard Spencer in his announcement on AltRight.com. "Homeland is not a broad-based membership organization or social club. Rather, it is a core of part- and full-time activists who provide leadership to the movement as a whole."

From here, the "alt-right" wants to take the atomized world of young, mostly anonymous activists and train them to be leaders in the movement. Organizations like Identity Evropa have already been doing this for almost two years, focusing primarily on college-aged men in a fraternally modeled organization. Operation Homeland will expand that pool, becoming another organization that will work as an independent organization and movement.

Spencer has been building this cadre ever since the creation of AltRight.com and his push into public protests and college speeches. He has brought over a whole new host of young people to support his podcast, security teams and National Policy Institute operations -- many of whom have been publicly doxxed and fired from their previous careers because of their white nationalist views.

It is this group that has helped to organize many of Spencer's events over the past 18 months, including the disaster at Charlottesville, Virginia, last year, and the "alt-right" wants to employ those skills into a professionalized setting. This includes new "alt-right" figures like podcaster Gregory Conte, AltRight.com contributor Christoffer Dulny, Spencer's event-organizer Cameron Padgett, and Eli Mosley, who had a very brief tenure as leader of Identity Evropa. All of these figures publicly signed a letter of declaration on AltRight.com, showing a new willingness to be public with their white nationalism.

Spencer has always had an entourage around him, usually lesser-known commentators and writers in the white nationalist scene. His newest class has aged down significantly, most in their early to mid-20s, and who have given up careers and normal social lives to support his racialist mission. This newest formation owes more to Milo Yiannopoulos's inner circle's inner circle than Spencer's previous efforts, as well as to Spencer's renewed focus on college campuses.

Spencer has staked his claim on forcing state schools to allow him to use their spaces for public speeches and recruitment events. This has been supported by successful lawsuits from his attorney, white nationalist Kyle Bristow, and Bristow's organization, the Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas. The most recent success has been forcing Michigan State University, of which Bristow is an alumnus, to allow an "alt-right" conference on March 4 and 5. This will allow Operation Homeland, along with Identity Evropa, to continue to recruit, which will likely pull from dissident college Republican types and from crossover "alt-light" organizations like Turning Point USA.

While Operation Homeland actually held its first public action on December 3, 2017, along with the neo-Nazi allied Traditionalist Workers Party, it has remained relatively silent since then. The rally, held at Lafayette Square in Washington, DC, focused on Trump's border wall promise, and towed the line on immigration restrictionism. This acted as more of a "coming out" event rather than a part of the organizational program.

Instead, March could signal the real blitz from Operation Homeland, using the hype from campus appearances to start a wave of recruitment and public outreach. This gives an even larger impetus to student-faculty alliances like the Campus Antifascist Network, as well as other student-based antifascist organizing efforts that are seeing the effects of far-right growth on campus.

While the "alt-right" is seeing some level of decline, this may be a way for members to continue bringing new blood into a movement that needs a youth base to stay alive. If they are not challenged, they could become as large as Generation Identity, mobilizing reactionary anger into the kind of violent edge that can cost real lives.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted with permission. 

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These Spy Sunglasses Help Cops Pick a Face From a Crowd of Thousands

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They're only in use in China...for now.

An Orwellian new tech gadget is helping China expand its already massive surveillance state, and it may only be a matter of time until other countries take an interest in the device. Police in central China are the early adopters of sunglasses outfitted with face-recognition technology that can pick a suspect out of a crowd. The Wall Street Journal reports that Beijing manufacturer LLVision Technology Corp. has said in early tests, “the device has been able to identify individuals in a database of 10,000 suspects in as little as 100 milliseconds.”

That means in the very near future, it may be nearly impossible to get lost in a crowd.

Here’s how it works: Wearers of the smart sunglasses scan a large group of people while the glasses collect biometric information from the faces in the group. Cameras mounted on the glasses run captured images through an offline database of faces to determine a perfect match. For years, Chinese officials have been collecting biometric information including eye scans, blood types and even “voice pattern” samples from citizens in various provinces. Human Rights Watch reported last year that China's law enforcement databases "have more than one billion faces and 40 million people’s DNA samples.” With such a vast collection of data, results from pilot runs of the glasses have already yielded results. 

Transit cops in Zhengzhou, home to one of China’s biggest and busiest train stations, have worn the glasses while they monitor the millions of commuters traveling for Lunar New Year, the largest annual migration on Earth. A state-run newspaper claims the glasses have helped cops bust “seven people wanted in connection with major criminal cases, and 26 others who were traveling using other people’s identities.”

This is not Google Glass, but facial recognition glass connected to Chinese police database. Deployed to a Zhengzhou railway station 5 days ago, it has detected at least 7 fugitives and 26 fake ID holders. #surveillance pic.twitter.com/eXrzRgORam

— FAN Wenxin (@xinwenfan) February 6, 2018

There are already more than 170 million surveillance cameras across China, and the government has announced 400 more will be installed in the next three years. But while CCTV cameras are highly effective tools for ferreting out suspects (and spying on citizens), they don’t offer the speediness of the new camera devices. “In many cases, by the time authorities rush to where a suspect has been identified, their target has melted back into the crowd,” WSJ notes. That problem is erased by these all-seeing, artificial intelligence sunglasses, which allow wearers to keep subjects locked in their sights.

“By making wearable glasses, with AI on the front end, you get instant and accurate feedback,” Wu Fei, CEO of LLVision, told WSJ. “You can decide right away what the next interaction is going to be.”

Without crossing the line from healthy concern to paranoia, it’s worth wondering if this new surveillance advancement could end up being used to keep a watchful eye on American citizens. There are already more than 35 million surveillance cameras across the U.S., and the use of facial recognition technology has been steadily expanding. In 2016, a study by the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy and Technology found that roughly half of Americans have their pictures in law enforcement facial recognition networks. According to an ACLU report, “the Baltimore Police Department used [facial recognition] to locate, identify and arrest certain people protesting Freddie Gray’s death in police custody” and “the Los Angeles Police Department deployed to undisclosed locations 16 wireless video cameras that can conduct real-time face recognition.” Another ACLU cautionary report on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Traveler Verification Service warns of the program’s mission to use facial recognition technology on every passenger boarding a flight bound for outside of America’s borders. Raising the concern of mission creep, the ACLU points out that facial recognition technology has “higher error rates” when assessing the faces of African Americans and women and children of all races.

A less advanced version of the glasses, lacking facial recognition technology, has reportedly been shipped to parts of Africa, Europe, Japan and the U.S. But WSJ indicates that LLVision, like every money-making entity, wants to increase sales of its newest spy gadget far beyond the borders of its home country. That could very well lead to bulk sales of its new glasses to law enforcement entities in other countries.

“There might be an opportunity there,” Wu suggested to the outlet. “Who knows?"

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Neoconservatives Like Max Boot Are the Last People We Should Listen to About Russia

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The champions of the Iraq war want to pull us into a catastrophic new conflict.

The cultural rehabilitation of George W. Bush may be the stupidest thing in America today, including the collective utterances of our current president. The spoiled son of an apparatchik father, Bush was smuggled into the Texas governorship by a combination of his daddy’s friends’ money, the tail-end of the post-Civil Rights realignment of the conservative South as a solidly Republican region, and calling his opponent a lesbian. He became popular, serving up tax cuts, loosening gun restrictions and frequently invoking Jesus Christ as our lord and savior.

He won reelection against Garry Mauro, the decidedly uninteresting four-term commissioner of the Texas General Land Office, with almost 70 percent of the vote. With their preternatural ability to double down on failure with rewards, the Democrats made Mauro the co-chair of Al Gore’s Texas campaign. Al Gore lost Texas 59 percent to 38 percent in 2000. We all know what happened in Florida.

We tend to remember W.’s first year as desultory and inconsequential, a brief interregnum of “compassionate conservativism,” “faith-based initiatives,” pledges to avoid “nation-building” and the construction of a more reserved foreign policy. But even before 9/11, it was clear that this was all a subterfuge. Bush’s foreign policy and national security teams were stuffed with ghoulish, Nixon-era conservatives, and no one should have reasonably believed that this drawling, barely sober figurehead—a man who let the head of his own vice-presidential committee make himself the vice president—could hold out against the combined machinations of the Rumsfelds and Cheneys and Wolfowitzes of the world, seasoned and brutal bureaucratic operators with Washington Rolodexes against which poor Junior couldn’t have competed even if he’d wanted to.

Then came 9/11, the long-building blowback for the CIA’s proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan and Poppy Bush’s stationing of troops in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War. The attacks were preceded by the first World Trade Center bombing and the attack on the USS Cole, although it became national policy and an article of faith in the national media that September 11 was a literally unprecedented event, Pearl Harbor or the burning of the White House in the War of 1812 its only possible antecedents. After nearly six decades of peace (never mind Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, the Balkans, etc., etc.), they had attacked what would soon become, in the grimly ridiculous neologism, the “homeland.”

“Imagine,” tweeted Max Boot, a sort of anti-Trump neocon and recently named columnist at the Washington Post, “if, after 9/11, the president saw the attack as a political embarrassment to be minimized rather than as a national security threat to be combated. That’s roughly where we stand after the 2nd-worst foreign attack on America in recent decades.”

Really, can you imagine? 9/11 was a terrible attack nevertheless carried out by a relatively small band of militants. A targeted interdiction of certain Saudi bank accounts and some international police actions could have disrupted the entire network. But the neoconservative cabal at the heart of Bushland had been itching for a crisis to justify cranking up the vast apparatus of the U.S. war machine, and Bush himself, owing in no small part to an incurious conversion to Christianity that seems to have settled on a bric-a-brac evangelism, seemed eager to embrace a new status as an almost messianic figure in a great global struggle for the future of civilization.

We invaded Afghanistan, where we are now, 16 years later, flailing after some kind of political settlement with the very faction whose incarnate evil we first determined to overthrow (while also making an even more uncertain ally of neighboring Pakistan). We invaded Iraq with even less justification a few years later, a move that could go down as the single greatest foreign policy blunder in the history of the United States; a still-unfolding catastrophe in which we destroyed a state, threw its mid-level military officers into hellish jails together, and then watched as they radicalized and conspired to form the core of ISIS (which we are now both fighting and aiding in Syria, depending on the precise coordinates and the day of the week). Meanwhile, we are brushing wings with Russia, which has its own geopolitical interests in Syria, a far more dangerous and provocative situation than our churlish grifter president’s half-hearted unwillingness to impose more useless economic sanctions on Moscow.

We abducted people off the streets of European cities—no worse than abducting cabbies and low-level couriers in Islamabad, but somehow even more shocking—and sent them off to secret central-Asian dungeons and cargo ships in the middle of the Indian Ocean to be tortured. We built an electronic surveillance apparatus that sucked up virtually every email and phone call on the planet.

Abu Ghraib. Waterboarding. Trying to add up the list of horrific stupidities, moral abdications and plain strategic defeats unleashed in the wake of an unembarrassed galoot like Bush imagining himself as a new Charles Martel is like trying to count the stars in the sky: the best you can do is isolate a representative sample and then multiply to approximate the whole.

To be clear, the evidence that Russia dumped political content into the American media ecosystem during the 2016 elections is overwhelming, just as it's apparent that the Trump family has secret Russian oligarchs they are afraid to upset, owing in no small part to the fact that Western creditors want nothing to do with family’s corrupt and perennially cash-strapped businesses. But these Fifth-Column insinuations, the idea that this is the “2nd-worst foreign attack on America in recent decades,” are pure nonsense, a wish-fulfillment fantasy that some kind of deus ex machina will do away with a vulgar, prematurely elderly egomaniac. In fact, if you regard Trump’s foreign policy—escalating in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan; aiding the Saudis in Yemen; arming Ukraine; expanding “anti-terror” activities in Africa; an increased bellicosity toward China; saber-rattling toward North Korea—you find almost precisely the priorities that neoconservatives like Boot have argued for for years!

So it returns, as it often does in America, to a matter of mere style. Trump’s failure to take the bullhorn and climb atop the wreckage of your conservative uncle’s Facebook feed to proclaim “the people who circulated this Hillary arm-wrestling Satan meme are going to hear us!” renders him unspeakably dangerous and un-American, even as he more or less continues to pursue the same stupid militarism the right has wanted all along. However unlikely it is that Robert Mueller will set things right at the end of this farcical production, there is actually something commendable about his approach: a quiet, sober and steady investigation of potential wrongdoing, free of bombastic pronouncements, subpoenas in place of bombs. We may have arrived here by accident, and maybe even over the objections of the president himself, but good lord, it beats another war.

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Trump's Horrific National Defense Strategy

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It's the worst of the Bush years, with none of the checks and balances.

Think of it as the chicken-or-the-egg question for the ages: Do very real threats to the United States inadvertently benefit the military-industrial complex or does the national security state, by its very nature, conjure up inflated threats to feed that defense machine?

Back in 2008, some of us placed our faith, naively enough, in the hands of mainstream Democrats -- specifically, those of a young senator named Barack Obama. He would reverse the war policies of George W. Bush, deescalate the unbridled Global War on Terror, and right the ship of state. How’d that turn out?

In retrospect, though couched in a far more sophisticated and peaceable rhetoric than Bush’s, his moves would prove largely cosmetic when it came to this country’s forever wars: a significant reduction in the use of conventional ground troops, but more drones, more commandos, and yet more acts of ill-advised regime change. Don’t get me wrong: as a veteran of two of Washington’s wars, I was glad when “no-drama” Obama decreased the number of boots on the ground in the Middle East. It’s now obvious, however, that he left the basic infrastructure of eternal war firmly in place.

Enter The Donald.

For all his half-baked tweets, insults, and boasts, as well as his refusal to read anything of substance on issues of war and peace, some of candidate Trump’s foreign policy ideas seemed far saner than those of just about any other politician around or the previous two presidents. I mean, the Iraq War was dumb, and maybe it wasn’t the craziest idea for America’s allies to start thinking about defending themselves, and maybe Washington ought to put some time and diplomatic effort into avoiding a possibly catastrophic clash or set of clashes with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Unfortunately, the White House version of all this proved oh-so-familiar. President Trump’s decision, for instance, to double down on a losing bet in Afghanistan in spite of his “instincts” (and on similar bets in Somalia, Syria, and elsewhere) and his recently published National Defense Strategy (NDS) leave little doubt that he’s surrendered to Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, the mainstream interventionists in his administration.

In truth, no one should be surprised. A hyper-interventionist, highly militarized foreign policy has defined Washington since at least the days of President Harry Truman -- the first in a long line of hawks to take the White House. In this context, an ever-expanding national security state has always put special effort into meeting the imagined needs (or rather desires) of its various component parts. The result: bloated budgets for which exaggerated threats, if not actual war, remain a necessity.

Without the threat of communism in the previous century and terrorism (as well as once again ascendant great powers) in this one, such bloated budgets would be hard to explain. And then, how would the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines get all the weaponized toys they desired? How would Congressional representatives in a post-industrial economy get all those attractive “defense” jobs for their districts and how would the weapons makers get the government cash they crave?

The 2-2-1 Threat Picture

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the newly released National Defense Strategy document. It offers a striking sense of how, magically enough, the Pentagon’s vision of future global policy manages to provide something for each of its services and their corporate backers.

Start with this: the NDS is to government documents what A Nightmare on Elm Street is to family films; it’s meant, that is, to scare the hell out of the casual reader. It makes the claim, for instance, that the global “security environment” has become “more complex and volatile than any we have experienced in recent memory.” In other words, be afraid, very afraid. But is it true? Is the world really more volatile now than it was when two nuclear superpowers with enough missiles to destroy the planet several times over faced off in a not-so-Cold War?

Admittedly, the NDS does list and elaborate some awesome threats -- and I think I know just where that list came from, too. When I went through the document, I realized that I had heard it all before. Back in 2015, when I taught history at West Point, a prominent departmental alumni -- a lieutenant general by the name of H.R. McMaster who, today, just happens to be President Trump’s national security advisor -- used to drop by occasionally. Back then, he commanded the Army Capabilities Integration Center, which was basically a future-planning outfit that, in its own words, “develops concepts, learns, and integrates capabilities to improve our Army.”

In 2015, McMaster gave us history instructors a memorable, impromptu sermon about the threats we’d face when we returned to the regular Army. He referred, if memory serves, to what he labeled the two big threats, two medium threats, and one persistent threat that will continue to haunt our all-American world. In translation: that’s China and Russia, Iran and North Korea, and last but not necessarily least Islamist terrorism. And honestly, if that isn’t a lineup that could get you anything you ever dreamed of in the way of weapons systems and the like, what is?

So can we be surprised that, in the age of McMaster and Mattis, the new NDS just happens to lay out the very same lineup of perils?

The Two Bigs: “Revisionist Powers”

The document kicks off with a pivot of sorts: forget (but not forever!) the ongoing war on terror. The U.S. military is on to even more fearsome things. “Inter-state strategic competition [which, in Pentagonese, means China and Russia], not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security,” the document insists. Those two countries are -- the Pentagon’s most recent phrase of eternal damnation -- “revisionist powers” that “want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model.” In other words, they have the staggering audacity to actually want to assert global influence (the very definition of evil in any power other than you-know-who).

This section of the NDS reads like a piece of grim nostalgia, a plunge back into the pugnacious language of the long-gone Cold War. It’s meant to be scary reading. It’s not that Russian irredentism or Chinese bellicosity in the South China Sea aren’t matters for concern -- they are -- but do they really add up to a new Cold War?

Let’s begin, as the document does, with China, an East Asian menace “pursuing” that most terrifying of all goals, “military modernization” (as, of course, are we), and seeking as well “Indo-Pacific Regional hegemony” (as, of course, has... well, you know which other country).

The National Defense Straregy isn’t, however, keen on nuance. It prefers to style China unambiguously as a 10-foot-tall military behemoth. After all, countering a resurgent China in the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea ensures a prominent role for the Navy and its own air force of carrier-based naval aviators. In fact, the military’s latest “AirSea Battle” doctrine hinges on a potential conflict in a place that bears a suspicious similarity to the Taiwan Straits (and thanks to the catchy name, the Air Force gets in on the action as well). Consider all of this a formula for more blue-water ships, more advanced fighter planes, and maybe even some extra amphibious Marine Corps brigades.

But what about the poor Army? Well, that’s where that other revisionist power, Russia, comes in. After all, Putin’s government is now seeking to “shatter” the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. No point, naturally, in reminding anyone that Washington was the country that expanded what was, by definition, an anti-Russian military alliance right up to Russia’s borders, despite promises made as the Soviet Union was collapsing. But this is no time to split hairs, so bottom line: the Russian threat ensures that the Army must send more combat troops to Europe. It may even have to dust off all those old Abrams tanks in order to “deter” Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Ka-ching! (Consider this, by the way, a form of collusion with Russia that Robert Mueller isn’t investigating.)

If you look at the Pentagon’s 11 “defense objectives” included in the National Defense Strategy document, you get a sense of just how expansive the one great non-revisionist power on the planet actually is. Yes, the first of those sounds reasonable enough: “defending the homeland from attack.” Skip down to number five, though -- “Maintaining favorable regional balances of power in the Indo-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, and the Western Hemisphere” -- and you’re offered a vision of what an expansionist attitude really is. Although the NDS claims this country is threatened by the rise of Russia or China in just two of these areas (the Indo-Pacific and Europe), it asserts the need for favorable “balances of power” just about everywhere!

By definition, that’s an urge for hegemony, not defense! Imagine if China or Russia staked out such claims. An unbiased look at that set of objectives should make anyone (other than a general or an admiral) wonder which is really the “rogue regime” on this planet.

The Two Mediums: “Rogue States”

Now, on to the next group of threats, Uncle Sam’s favorite bad boys, North Korea and Iran. North Korea, we’re told, is a land of “outlaw actions” and “reckless rhetoric” (never to be compared to the statesmanlike “fire and fury” comments of President Donald Trump). And indeed, Kim Jong-Un’s brutal regime and the nuclear weapons program that goes with it are cause for concern -- but they also turn out to be deeply useful if you want to provide plenty of incentive for the funding of the Air Force’s and the Navy’s trillion-dollar nuclear “modernization” effort (that already looks like it may actually cost more like $1.7 trillion). In other words, more nuclear subs, heavy bombers, and intercontinental ballistic missiles, not to speak of the immense cost of recent investments in such missile defense systems as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD).

In this way, “rogue states” couldn’t be more helpful. Take Iran, which, according to the NDS, “remains the most significant challenge to Middle East stability.” Hmmm. It’s hard not to wonder why ISIS, Bashar al-Assad’s rump Syria, Saudi terror bombing in Yemen, even old-fashioned al-Qaeda (and its new-fashioned affiliates) don’t give Iran at least a run for its money when it comes to being the clearest-and-presentest danger to the region and to the United States. (And that’s assuming that, in the Middle East, the U.S. hasn’t been the greatest danger to itself. Exhibition one being the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.)

No matter. Anti-Iranian hysteria sells fabulously in Washington, so who wouldn’t want to run with it? In fact, the alleged Iranian threat to us is the gift that just keeps giving inside the Beltway. Iran’s nuclear threat -- though there’s no evidence that the Iranians have cheated on the nuclear deal President Obama signed with them in 2015 and that President Trump is so eager to abrogate -- guarantees yet another windfall for all the services. The Army’s air defense programs, for example, should get a long-needed shot in the arm; the Navy will clamor for more Aegis cruisers (with anti-ballistic systems on board); and the Air Force will certainly need yet more bombers for the potential preemptive strike against the nuclear threat that isn’t there. Everyone wins (except perhaps the Iranian people)!

One “Persistent Condition”: Terrorism

And then, of course, there’s terrorism or, to be more exact, Islamist terrorism, that surefire funder of the twenty-first century. It may no longer officially be the military’s top priority, but the National Defense Strategy assures us that it “remains a persistent condition” as long as terrorists “continue to murder the innocent.” The proper question, though, is: How big of a threat is it? As it turns out, not very big, not for Americans anyway. Any of us are so much more likely to choke to death or die in a bicycle or car accident than lose our lives at the hands of a foreign-born terrorist.

And here’s another relevant question: Is the U.S. military actually the correct tool with which to combat persistent terrorism? The answer, it seems, is no. Though U.S. Special Operations forces deployed to 75% of the world’s countries in 2017, the number of Islamist threat groups has only risen in certain areas like Africa thickest with those special operators. It turns out that all the advising and assisting, all the training and coaching, has only made matters worse. As for those overstretched forces, relentless deployments are evidently breaking them down as reports indicate that rates of mental distress and suicide are again on the rise among them.

Still, here’s the positive part of the NDS’s continuing emphasis on “degrading” terrorist groups and “countering extremism”: it ensures a financial and manpower bonanza for U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). In the Obama years, that “elite” set of forces already experienced a leap in numbers to almost 70,000. (By the way, at what point in the escalation game do such troops stop being so “special”?) Since SOCOM, a joint command that’s home to personnel from all the services, hadn’t yet been dealt into this NDS version of largesse, it’s lucky that terrorism and the war on it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, which means that SOCOM will never want for funds or stop growing.

Guns Versus Butter

In 1953, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, a West Point graduate and retired five-star general, gave a speech that couldn’t have been more unexpected from a career military man. He reminded Americans that defense and social spending were always in conflict and that the “guns” versus “butter” tradeoff couldn’t be a more perilous one. Speaking of the growth of the defense budget in that tense Cold War moment, he asserted that:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed... This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

Those words still seem salient today. As Americans experience acute income inequality, the rising cost of a college education, and ongoing deindustrialization in the heartland, the country’s runaway spending continues to rise precipitously. The planned 2019 Pentagon budget is now expected to hit a staggering $716 billion -- more than much of the rest of the world’s defense spending combined.

The battle between “guns and butter” is still raging in the United States and, if the new NDS is any indicator, the guns are winning.

 

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Two Simple Laws Could Solve America's Epidemic of Violence

0 sec ago
Let's regulate gun ownership the same way we regulate car ownership.

Two simple changes to U.S. law, both things based in other laws that we already know and like, could solve most of America’s gun violence problem:

  1. Treat all semi-automatic weapons in a similar way under the same laws as fully-automatic weapons.
  2. Regulate gun ownership and usage the same way we regulate car ownership and usage.

Here’s the backstory and how each would work:

Semi-Automatic Weapons

Back in the prohibition era, before and during the time John Dillinger and friends were shooting up American cities from New York to Chicago to San Francisco, the National Rifle Association approved of two very consequential laws that restricted gun ownership and use.

(The NRA didn’t become a lobbying and promotional front group for the weapons industry until the 1970s when the Supreme Court’s Buckley v. Valeo decision ruled that the #MorbidlyRich and wealthy gun-manufacturing corporations could legally buy and own their very own politicians. For nearly a century prior to that, the NRA supported rational gun control.)

The Uniform Firearms Act of 1931 in Pennsylvania was the harbinger of the federal 1934 National Firearms Act, which brought an end to the widespread legal availability of fully automatic “tommy guns,” along with, later, silencers and sawed-off shotguns. But ownership of such used automatic weapons isn’t really “banned”—it’s just a somewhat complex process to get permission to own and use them.

First, you must find a local law enforcement officer who will vouch for you and perform a background check on you. His or her signature is the necessary first step to getting an Automatic Weapons Permit, and you must have an absolutely clean record, from a clean criminal record, to not owing any child support, to not having any past firearms violations. If you lie about this, or apply for your permit through a “clean” third party, you and your third-party could both end up in jail.

Then you need to pull together two sets of your fingerprints and two passport-type photos. Plus the $200 “tax stamp” fee for the permit. And get all the information you’ll need on the gun you want to buy, including its serial number and details on its last owner.

Finally, you need to fill out an OMB No. 1140-0014 Application for Tax Paid Transfer and Registration of Firearm form, with such easy questions as category 14:

1. Are you under indictment or information in any court for a felony, or any other crime, for which the judge could imprison you for more than one year?

2. Have you ever been convicted in any court for a felony, or any other crime, for which the judge could have imprisoned you for more than one year, even if you received a shorter sentence including probation? (See definition 1m)

3. Are you a fugitive from justice?

4. Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?

5. Have you ever been adjudicated as a mental defective OR have you ever been committed to a mental institution?

6. Have you been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions?

7. Are you subject to a court order restraining you from harassing, stalking, or threatening your child or an intimate partner or child of such partner?

8. Have you ever been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence?

You also have to provide the government with the reason why you think it appropriate for you to have a fully automatic weapon, sawed-off shotgun, or other “destructive device”:

13. Transferee Necessity Statement: I ___________, have a reasonable necessity to possess the machinegun, short-barreled rifle, short-barreled shotgun, or destructive device described on this application for the following reason(s) ________________ and my possession of the device or weapon would be consistent with public safety (18 U.S.C. § 922(b) (4) and 27 CFR § 478.98).

Karl Frederick, the NRA’s president back when these laws were put into place, was enthusiastic. “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons,” he said. “I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” When asked if he thought the National Firearms Act of 1934 violated a person’s Second Amendment rights, he famously said, “I have not given it any study from that point of view.”

The result of the restrictions on ownership of fully automatic weapons (and other “destructive devices”) has been that they’ve pretty much vanished as the scourge on public safety that they were in the late 1920s and early '30s.

Thus, it’s rare that either automatic weapons or the less-efficient-at-killing-lots-of-people revolvers and bolt-action rifles are used for mass murders. This is largely because the former are hard to buy/own, and for the latter the time necessary to re-cock and re-load presents victims an opportunity to stop a mass shooting.

Remember, the only reason the shooter who tried to kill Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was stopped after “only” killing six people was that he had to replace his 33-shot magazine with a fresh one, and Bill Badger, a 74-year-old man standing near him (whom he’d just shot), tackled him and held him to the ground.

Thus, as the volume of production of semi-automatic weapons has increased in the past 30 years or so, and their price has come down, the older-fashioned pistols and bolt-action rifles have been replaced by a more recent generation of semi-automatic pistols, rifles, and assault weapons.

But if most handguns in circulation were revolvers, and most rifles were bolt- or break-action, there would be far fewer (or at least far less deadly) mass shootings.

Revolvers typically have a cylinder that holds from 5 to 10 rounds of ammunition, and each chamber in the cylinder must be individually loaded. While there are autoloaders and other ways to speed up the process, the gun is still largely limited, at least in an “active shooter” situation, to the rounds in its cylinder.

With a single-action revolver, the gun can’t even be fired until it’s cocked by pulling back the hammer (although a double-action revolver will accomplish this with the first part of the trigger pull).

Revolvers are very efficient killing machines, having been in widespread use since their popularization by the Colt Company in the 1830s, but while they’re great for sport and self-defense (and were police weapons of choice just up until the past 30 or so years), for mass killings they can’t hold a candle to semi-automatics.

Semi-automatic pistols are, in their modern form, a creation of the last century. They use the recoil force of a shot (some also use the exhaust gases) to load a new round into the chamber and cock the gun, all in one seamless and nearly instantaneous motion.

As a result, semi-automatics can be fired as fast as one can pull the trigger, and the amount of trigger pressure a revolver would require to cock the hammer is unnecessary. And, because they don’t have a built-in cylinder like a revolver, the magazine in a semi-automatic that stores the ammunition (some as large as 50-shots) can be quickly replaced.

The rifle side of the equation is largely the same; while bolt-action rifles don’t have a cylinder, they do require the shooter to pull back the bolt between shots, which ejects the spent shell, inserts a new one, and re-cocks the weapon itself. Variations on this include lever-action and pump-action rifles or shotguns, although all require action by the shooter between shots.

Semi-automatic rifles, on the other hand, like semi-automatic pistols, use recoil or gases to reload and recock the weapon, so that shots can be squeezed off as fast as the shooter can pull the trigger. And, because – like semi-automatic pistols – they have quickly replaceable magazines, they’re far deadlier than bolt- pump- or break-action rifles.

Since the vast majority of mass murders of the 1930s were accomplished with fully automatic weapons, tightly regulating who could buy and own them pretty much removed mass murders from the streets of America. It’s time to do the same with semi-automatic weapons, which are the new mass killers’ weapon of choice.

All it would take is amending the National Firearms Act to put any semiautomatic gun of any sort under the same sort of oversight and permitting necessary for fully automatic weapons.

What We Learned From Cars

While there were a number of automobile manufacturing companies in the late 19th century, it was really at the turn of the 20th century that cars became a hot commodity in the United States.

R.E. Olds (I used to live in and run a business out of his mansion in Okemos, Michigan) rolled out the first assembly line in 1901, but it was Henry Ford who cranked the popularity of cars up a notch with his “first version” of the Model A in 1903, and then developed the assembly line to crank out the Model T in 1908.

By 1927, around the time he rolled out the “second version” of his Model A, he’d sold over 15,000,000 cars.

So it was that, around 1915, many states began to notice that cars were killing people. They were being hit on the roads, dying when drivers didn’t know how to avoid running into trees or off bridges, and in accidents with horse-drawn carts and other automobiles. 

Which presented the lawmakers of most states with a serious question: What to do to protect the public, including the car owners, from the dangers of death and disfigurement that cars presented?

The answer that most states came up with, and has now largely been standardized across the U.S. and most of the world, was a very simple and straightforward three-part criterion for car ownership and operation.

  1. Establish ownership. In order to be able to manage all the cars coming onto the roads, both as valuable pieces of theft-worthy hardware and to track liability issues, all cars were required to have a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which was stamped onto the car during manufacture and followed it until the day it was destroyed or decommissioned. Similarly, the owner of that car and its VIN had to present himself to state authorities and sign a title of ownership, which had to be recorded with the state whenever title was transferred to a new owner.

  2. Prove competence. By the years around 1915 there had been so many fatalities and serious injuries attributable to cars that the states decided they only wanted people driving on public roads who actually knew how to handle a car properly. This meant defining rules for the road, having people learn those rules, and testing them – both in writing and practically in person – to show they truly could drive safely. When people passed the tests, they were given a license to drive.

  3. Require liability insurance. Because virtually all car accidents were just that – accidents – most people who “caused” accidents were at both financial and legal risk. Many were fine, upstanding citizens (in fact, because cars were expensive, most car owners fell into this broad category). And they wanted some defense against the chance of making a mistake and ending up in jail or broke because of lawsuits or the liability costs of caring for people they’d injured. What came out of this was the development of automobile liability insurance, and the establishment of a requirement for it to be carried by all owners/drivers. While most states adopted this requirement substantially later than 1915, it’s now established as a fundamental part of the three steps necessary to drive a car.

Which brings us to today. 

These three things that we do for owners of cars are perfect to deal with our American gun problem. 

  • Registration and title – as a requirement rather than an option – would establish a clear chain of custody and responsibility, so when people behave irresponsibly with their guns they can be held to account.

  • Having a shooter’s license be conditional on passing both a written and a shooting-range test would demonstrate competence and also insert a trained person into the process who could spot “off-kilter” people like the Parkland shooter. Taking a cue from most other countries, we could also require people to prove a need or sporting/safety use for a weapon.

  • Today, if a car had run down mass-shooting victims, their families would be getting millions from Geico, et al. Because a gun killed them, they get nothing. This is bizarre in the extreme; we all end up paying the costs of gun violence.

These three steps are nothing but common sense, and don’t infringe on the “rights” of gun owners any more than they infringe on the "rights" of car owners. They could even provide a stream of revenue for gun-owners’ organizations that chose to train people to prepare for their licensure test, and/or offer low-cost liability insurance. 

Learning From Others

Just like most Americans have no idea that every other developed country in the world has already figured out how to inexpensively and efficiently provide health care for 100 percent of their citizens as a right, so too, most Americans have no idea how all the other developed nations of the world have managed to keep their gun-deaths-per-100,00-people below 0.5, while in the USA it’s over six people killed with guns per 100,000 citizens.  

But other countries have done it, and we can learn a lot from their experience.  

This is largely the path Australia has taken. After a decades-long series of mass gun-shootings culminated in the 1996 Port Arthur massacres, that nation, in a moment of collective revulsion, chose to require a license to own virtually any type of gun, and to make semi-automatic pistols and rifles as tightly regulated as fully automatic ones.  

They also put into place a series of national amnesty and gun-buyback programs, which pulled hundreds of thousands of now-illegal guns out of circulation in that country, while appropriately compensating former gun owners.

It’s still relatively easy for hunters and sportspeople to get pistols or rifles. All they have to do is prove that they are who they say they are, pass a background test, and then prove on an ongoing basis that they’re actually using their weapons for sport, at least annually.

Since the implementation of these laws in 1996, Australia has not yet had another mass shooting incident. In the first years after the laws took place, firearm-related deaths in Australia fell by well over 40 percent, with suicides dropping by 77 percent.

And it's not just Australia. Every other developed or developing country in the world has more stringent gun control laws than the United States. Which may be why no other such country has the horrific rate of gun deaths and mass shootings we regularly experience.

None of these solutions is difficult. We’ve done them all before in other venues (like car ownership and fully automatic weapons) and they’ve worked fine, and every other developed country in the world has successfully applied them to guns.

We can, too. All it takes is for the NRA to get out of the way, or for American politicians to gather together the courage to stop taking the NRA’s money.

Thankfully, the young people of Parkland, Florida, are doing everything they can to make that happen. They deserve our support.

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Watch Ali Velshi Link Sean Hannity's Twitter Account to Russian Troll Farm Propaganda

7 hours 5 min ago
The Fox News host's embarrassing gaffe was pulled into clear focus.

MSNBC host Ali Velshi called out Fox News personality Sean Hannity on Tuesday for pushing a conspiracy theory created by a Russian troll farm, the weekend before the 2016 presidential election.

NBC News discovered how the Russians were able take advantage of America’s existing right-wing echo chamber to smear Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton with charges of Satanism in the home stretch of the campaign. The reporting was based on 202,000 tweets were recovered from 2,752 Twitter accounts the House Intelligence Committee confirmed as Russian trolls.

“I want to dig in a little more and show you exactly how the Internet Research Agency, this troll farm for Twitter was so influential,” Velshi explained.

“Take a look at these popular people that falsely accused Hillary Clinton and her campaign chair of being involved in a satanic ritual called spirit cooking,” he reported. “These lies spread so far, it showed up on the Drudge Report and in Sean Hannity’s account.”

“This is kind of crazy stuff,” Velshi concluded.

MSNBC correspondent Ben Popken explained how Hannity’s actions were exactly what the Kremlin wanted.

“You don’t know who to believe or what to believe. That’s one of the primary goals,” Popken explained. “You don’t know what’s real or what’s not. Don’t trust anyone, return to your tribal groups, stop communicating, and just break down and weaken the American conversation.”

Watch:

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Watch Sarah Huckabee Sanders Confuse Herself While Trying to Defend Trump's Russia Tweet

7 hours 18 min ago
A reporter asked if the president tweeted accidentally, and the press secretary fell apart.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders clashed with ABC News chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl on Tuesday.

“The president hasn’t said that Russia didn’t meddle. What he’s saying is it didn’t have an impact, and it certainly wasn’t with help from the Trump campaign. It’s very clear that Russia meddled in the election,” Sanders said during a press briefing.

But Karl asked Sanders if President Donald Trump really thought — as he tweeted over the weekend — that the FBI failed to stop a school shooting in Florida because it was preoccupied with the investigation of the Trump campaign’s potential collusion with Russia during the 2016 election.

Sanders insisted that was not what Trump thought.

“Did he mistweet?” Karl shot back. “He said this is not acceptable. they’re spending too much time to prove Russian collusion.”

“I think he’s making the point that we would like our FBI agencies to not be focused on something that is clearly a hoax in terms of investigating the Trump campaign and its involvement,” Sanders said.

“You just agreed that the evidence is that there the Russians interfered,” Karl said.

“I said that the Trump campaign interfered and colluded with it,” Sanders said.

“But the investigation is obviously about what Russia did and raises the question now that you’ve said the president agrees, the national security adviser says the evidence is incontrovertible, what is the president going to about it?” Karl asked.

Sanders insisted the Trump administration had “spent a lot of time” on cybersecurity and said Russia was not fond of the president’s defense budget.

Sanders later claimed Trump “has been tougher on Russia than Obama was in eight years combined.”

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Van Jones Shuts Republican Jack Kingston Down When He Pathetically Tries to Undermine Parkland Survivors

7 hours 28 min ago
The former conservative legislator wasn't getting away with his insidious insinuation.

Former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) went on CNN’s “AC 360” Tuesday to double-down on the allegation he made earlier in the day that survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School school shooting massacre were left-wing pawns.

“It’s so tough to see the distinction between those young people who are so clear, so forthright. Disagree with them, don’t like their policies, if you feel that way, that’s fine,” CNN contributor Van Jones explained. “But if you look at the character of these young people, how clear they are, how forthright they are, how much integrity they have, and to have that — right up against these presidential tweets — you couldn’t imagine a more juvenile response to a mass killing of children than to use that opportunity to try to stick your finger in the eye of the people who you didn’t like before, anyway.”

“Those young people are better-spoken than most of us on television and they’ve never been on television before,” Jones observed. So if there’s any hope in the country, it’s in this generation that’s rising.”

Jones added, “to stand over the bodies of children and poke your finger in the eye of your add adversary is as low as you can possibly go in public life, and it’s a shame the president did that, but I’m proud of these young people.”

“You think they are being hijacked by left-wing groups?” host Anderson Cooper asked.

“I was referring to the national rally,” Kingston replied. “It would shock me, I hope I’m wrong, but it would shock me if 17-year-olds around the country — and I agree with you, Van, very articulate, very sincere — but it would shock me if they did a nationwide rally and the pro-gun control left kept their hands off.”

Groans could be heard as Kingston tried to validate his conspiracy theory, by stating, ”As Rahm Rahm Emanuel famously said, ‘don’t waste a good crisis.'”

CNN viewers demanded the network fire Kingston after his initial pushing of the conspiracy theory.

“When you say something like that, it’s so bad,” Jones blasted. “I’m going to tell you why it’s bad.”

“Here’s the thing, it’s not fair — you’re sprinkling out there, that maybe these kids are illegitimate and that’s wrong,” Jones concluded.

Watch:

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Support for Gun Control Surges to Highest Level Ever as GOP Lawmakers Sit on Their Hands

Tue, 2018-02-20 23:32
In a new poll, a whopping 97 percent of people say they support universal background checks.

More and more people say they want stricter gun laws in the United States even as Republican lawmakers insist on preserving the status quo.

A new poll from Quinnipiac University found that 66 percent of people say they want stricter gun laws, while only 31 percent say they don't. This is the highest level of support the poll has ever found on this question, but even these numbers understate the true extent of public support.

Ninety-seven percent of people say they want universal background checks for gun purchases, the poll found. This is a staggeringly high number; it's nearly impossible to get this amount of agreement on anything.

It also shows that most of the 31 percent of people who say they don't want stricter gun control are, frankly, confused. We don't have a system of universal background checks right now in the United States, so saying we should implement this measure means you support stricter gun laws.

An assault weapons ban is approved of by 67 percent of the population. Another 83 percent back a mandatory waiting period for firearm purchases, and 75 percent say Congress must do more to reduce gun violence.

As the outcry for gun legislation continues in the wake of the Parkland shooting, these findings should help buoy activists. 

"If you think Americans are largely unmoved by the mass shootings, you should think again. Support for stricter gun laws is up 19 points in little more than 2 years," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump ordered the Justice Department to craft regulations banning bump stocks. These devices essentially turn semi-automatic weapons into automatic weapons, and they played a key part in making the Las Vegas shooting so deadly.

It's not clear, however, that the department has the authority to regulate bump stocks, and it may require Congress to act. Advocates are already calling Trump's embrace of a bump stock ban insufficient.

The American people support further, more wide-reaching action to address the devastating problem of gun violence in the country. That support only seems to be growing. If lawmakers can't respond to this clear, decisive call for change, what business do they have crafting the nation's laws?

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Kentucky Democrat's Win Shows the Potential for a Huge 2018 Wave

Tue, 2018-02-20 23:01
Her opponent's numbers in the Trump-supporting district didn't even come close.

Another special election, another major win for Democrats.

Linda Belcher, a teacher and school principal, sailed to victory Tuesday night in a race for a seat in the Kentucky state legislature. She won District 49 with over 68 percent of the vote, despite having lost the seat in 2016 by one point.

This large improvement in less than two years bodes well for the Democrats' chances in the midterms.

There are a few caveats to mention before anyone gets too excited about the Tuesday night win. The district is small — just under 5,000 people voted. And the circumstances of this particular vote are unique; the special election was called when Rep. Dan Johnson,  the occupant of the seat, committed suicide in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations. His wife ran to replace him and lost Tuesday night.

But special elections have consistently been swinging in Democrats' favor this cycle. As Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight notes, Democrats have been outperforming what we would expect in a normal year by 12 percentage points on average in recent special elections.

"The point is that Democrats are doing better in all types of districts with all types of candidates," Enten wrote. "You don’t see this type of consistent outperformance unless there’s an overriding pro-Democratic national factor."

Meanwhile, a new poll published Tuesday by Quinnipiac University found that Democrats are winning on a generic ballot by 15 points when voters are asked who should control Congress.

These signs suggest that, despite a recent uptick in President Donald Trump's popularity, Democrats are still poised to win big in 2018.

This Vile Right Wing Attack on Florida Massacre Survivors Is Unbelievably Cruel

Tue, 2018-02-20 20:59
Some even accused the students of being part of a secret FBI plot.

For all the divisions in our country, one might have thought that respect the child victims of an unimaginably brutal assault would find universal support. That would be wrong.

As discussions about the mass shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida continue into the second week, the students who experienced the attack have become the target of a vile smear campaign conducted by parts of the right wing. 

Even as they cope with the trauma of the event and the loss of classmates, many of the students have bravely gone public with their opinions on the attacks, calling for their state and federal government to enact significant gun safety measures in response.

For those who oppose any gun control efforts, this was completely unacceptable. 

David Hogg, one of the students who spoke out, was accused by Gateway Pundit of being a shill for the FBI, which is supposedly "looking to curb YOUR Constitutional rights and INCREASE their power." The only evidence for this ridiculous claim is that Hogg himself mentioned his father is a former FBI agent in an interview.

One America News Network, a far-right outlet, helped spread Gateway Pundit's bizarre, conspiratorial story.

"Based on the way those kids are milking the deaths of their peers for careers,"  said Lucian Wintrich of Gateway Pundit, "it's completely safe to say that they don't care about those lives lost, they only care about their SJW agenda, and the soullessness comes from social media desensitization." Later, he added: "They're little pricks."

Wintrich apparently gives no credit to the thought that these suffering students might be doing what they truly think is best for the country and what their fallen friends would have wanted.

Dinesh D'Souza, the notorious right-wing filmmaker, joined the repugnant attacks against the students, saying, "How interesting to hear students who can’t support themselves for one day giving us lectures about American social policy." When students were shown distraught over the failure of a gun control measure in the Florida legislature, he humorlessly quipped, "Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs."

This cruel and baseless attack on children who have already been viciously victimized is unnecessary and senseless. Disagree with their positions if you wish, but no good can come from attacking high school students and mocking their grief. 

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Donald Trump Jr.'s India Speech Mixes Business and Politics in the Worst Way

Tue, 2018-02-20 20:05
The president's family continues to disregard basic ethical standards around conflicts of interest.

As the Trump family continues to tear up all basic norms that undergird our political system, Donald Trump Jr. has made plans to give a speech in India reportedly about foreign policy as he travels to the country while selling luxury apartments to the largely impoverished country. 

The eldest of President Donald Trump son's will give a speech titled "Reshaping Indo-Pacific Ties: The New Era of Cooperation" this week in New Delhi at the Global Business Summit. According to Trump Jr., he's in the region to sell condos at Trump-branded buildings, and the State Department says he has not coordinated with the administration on the travel. 

"it raises questions about certain lines being blurred," said Sumit Ganguly, a political scientist at Indiana University, on PBS Newshour. "Where does a simple property development end, and where to the president's personal interests, particularly financial interests, becoming implicated?"

The Trump family has said it has committed to a policy of "no new deals" while the president is in office, but it's hard to know for sure what this means. Trump Jr. is certainly hoping to make some "deals" by selling condos on his current trip. Does anyone doubt that his father's political stature hasn't raised the value of these properties?

And what exactly do the buyers think they're getting? Access to the president? One advertisement for the condos certainly seemed to suggest as much, telling potential buyers: "Trump is here. Are you Invited?"

The visit also raises the specter of the Trump family's practices in India and elsewhere. The country has recently ranked ninth among the countries with the most corrupt businesses practices. It's hard to be confident that the Trump family stuck to the letter of the law over there as it bends every norm and standard for behavior in office at home. Should we expect that the man who said "If it's what you say, I love it"  to people offering secret dirt from the Russian government on a political opponent stuck to the highest standards of behavior abroad?

The Trump Jr. speech represents what we've come to expect from this president and his family. They have little regard for complying with basic principles to avoid conflicts of interest, so it's par for the course that Trump Jr. will deliver a speech with clear political implications while supposedly on a business trip. It's just another example of how Trump continues to degrade the standards by which a presidency is judged and weaken the moral standing of the country.

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The GOP Is Conducting Cyber Warfare Against Political Opponents

Tue, 2018-02-20 16:07
Click here for reuse options! Automated Twitter storms, faked emails and fabricated endorsements are all part of the GOP's bag of dirty tricks.

As speculation builds over the extent of Russian meddling in 2018’s elections, the deceptive and influential tactics revealed in last week’s indictment by special counsel Robert Mueller—as well as some newer tactics—are already in use by U.S. politicos with pro-corporate, pro-GOP agendas.

The examples run the gamut from the seemingly trite to the more overtly serious: A Republican Senate candidate in Arizona touts an endorsement from a new website impersonating local newspapers; a tweetstorm calling for Minnesota Democratic Senator Al Franken to resign, which he did last year after escalating accusations of sexual harassment; and tens of thousands of faked emails calling for the repeal of net neutrality, which the GOP-led Federal Communications Commission recently repealed.

In these examples and others, a new hall of mirrors is emerging that threatens American elections and governance, and it is coming from shadowy domestic operatives, not Russians. Websites mimicking news organizations are endorsing candidates. Online identities are being stolen and used to send partisan messages, with people unaware they are being impersonated for partisan gain. Targets are slow to detect or acknowledge the high-tech ruses used against them. The media is catching on, but typically after the fact—not before crucial decisions are made.

While many progressives were split on whether Franken should have left the Senate, the Republican right was unambiguous in seizing the moment to force the Democrats to lose a popular senator.    

Twitter War

“White nationalist provocateurs, a pair of fake news sites, an army of Twitter bots and other cyber tricks helped derail Democratic Senator Al Franken last year, new research shows,” a report by Newsweek’s Nina Burleigh began, describing new details about how Franken was targeted. “Analysts have now mapped out how Hooters pinup girl and lad-mag model Leeann Tweeden's initial accusation against Franken became effective propaganda after right-wing black ops master Roger Stone first hinted at the allegation.”

“A pair of Japan-based websites, created the day before Tweeden came forward, and a swarm of related Twitter bots made the Tweeden story go viral and then weaponized a liberal writer's criticism of Franken,” Burleigh explained. “The bot army—in tandem with prominent real, live members of the far right who have Twitter followers in the millions, such as Mike Cernovich—spewed thousands of posts, helping the #FrankenFondles hashtag and the "Franken is a groper" meme effectively silence the testimonies of eight former female staffers who defended the Minnesota Democrat before he resigned last year.”

The evidence trail tracing how right-wingers used software to amplify the attacks on Franken was discovered by Mike Farb at UnhackTheVote, an election transparency group. He noted this tactic was also one tool used by Russian propagandists during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.  

What’s new is not that technologies like bots are being created, but that domestic political operatives are using them in much the same way as robo-calls, negative campaign mailers and other attacks to undermine political opponents—before the internet and its social media platforms amplified the speed, intensity and impact of such attacks. 

“Like targeted Facebook ads that Russian troll farms used in the 2016 election, Twitter bots have been around for years and were originally created for sales purposes,” Burleigh wrote. “But since the 2016 election, arguably lost due to the right's superior utilization of darker online strategies, the left is not known to have created or mobilized its own fake cyber army to amplify its viewpoint.”

Burleigh’s observation may be the most chilling. The evidence so far does suggest that pro-GOP and pro-corporate forces are quicker to embrace the latest version of political dark arts, as seen in the growing list of examples of deceptive and influential online campaigns.

Endorsements That Weren’t

Last week, Politico reported what seemed like a silly story, at first—a Republican senatorial candidate from Arizona fell for a fake endorsement that seemed to boost her chances in an upcoming primary.

“It looked as if Arizona Senate candidate Kelli Ward had scored a big endorsement: On Oct. 28, she posted a link on her campaign website and blasted out a Facebook post, quoting extensively from a column in the Arizona Monitor,” Politico reported. “There was just one problem: Despite its reputable sounding name, the Arizona Monitor is not a real news site… The site launched just a few weeks before publishing the endorsement, and its domain registration is hidden, masking the identity of its owner. On its Facebook page, it is classified as a news site, but scant other information is offered.”

The general public doesn’t pay much attention to endorsements early in campaigns. So Ward falling for a faked one might be a typical mistake inexperienced candidates make—and thus easily forgotten. But Politico’s report said her endorsement was part of a larger and far more disturbing trend: the mass-production of fabricated endorsements by anonymous political operatives clearly pushing a far-right agenda.

“The Arizona Monitor seems to be part of a growing trend of conservative political-messaging sites with names that mimic those of mainstream news organizations and whose favored candidates then tout their stories and endorsements as if they were from independent journalists,” wrote Politico. “It’s a phenomenon that spans the country from northern New England, where the anonymous Maine Examiner wreaked havoc on a recent mayoral election, all the way out to California, where Rep. Devin Nunes launched — as reported by Politico— his own so-called news outlet, the California Republican.”

“This basically is an appropriation of credibility,” Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, told Politico. “As the credibility of reputable news outlets is appropriated for partisan purposes, we are going to undermine the capacity of legitimate outlets to signal their trustworthiness.” 

Political Identity Theft

Cyber deception also is appearing across the government in the nooks and crannies where White House directives or Congress’ laws are turned into the rules Americans must abide by—or in the Trump era, are repealed.

Here, political identity theft is increasingly becoming a tactic used to push federal agencies to end consumer protections and other regulations that impede profits. Hundreds of thousands of public comments, purportedly made by real Americans, have come in over the electronic transom at five different agencies in recent months, a series of investigative reports found. Except, the people who supposedly sent these comments never did.

A recent example concerns the "Fiduciary Rule," which originated in the Labor Department and was to take effect July 2019, to try to prevent conflicts of investment from investment advisers targeting retirees.

“The [Wall Street] Journal previously found fraudulent postings under names and email addresses at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Communications Commission,” it noted.

The highest-profile example concerned the FCC’s so-called net neutrality rule, which previously had regulated telecom giants from overcharging the public and smaller businesses for access to online data. A day before the FCC voted in November to gut net neutrality, the Verge reported, “A search of the duplicated text found more than 58,000 results as of press time, with 17,000 of those posted in the last 24 hours alone.”

In other words, a bot-like program was hijacking online identities and impersonating those people to file pro-corporate comments at the FCC. When public officials like New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, sought more information from the FCC, he received no response.

While one can speculate about who specifically coordinated these efforts, only one category of special interest has the means and motives to thwart government regulators: that's the targeted industries, professional trade association and lobbyists and the biggest corporate players.

No Accountability Coming

These are people and interests that are represented by Republicans in Washington more so than Democrats. But as Schneiderman learned, the GOP and its political appointees have no inclination even to acknowledge that cyber deception is becoming a new coin of the political realm, while they rule that roost.

Progressives and Democrats might point out that the GOP is the party that obsesses over voter fraud—one person voting many times, which almost never occurs in real life—while Republican-friendly operatives appear to be embracing cyber political identity theft on an unprecedented scale.

What this means for 2018’s elections is uncertain, but it doesn’t bode well. No matter where partisan cyber warfare is coming from—domestically or abroad—its occurrence will undermine public confidence in the results.

The congressional midterms and governors’ races in many states are occurring against the backdrop of a rising blue voter turnout wave. It’s in the GOP’s interests in preserving its power to do anything that undermines the credibility of electoral outcomes that should favor Democrats.

Cyber political warfare is the latest means for doing so. It’s already begun. 

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Riots Rage in Sudan Against Cruel IMF Austerity Policies

Tue, 2018-02-20 15:38
Will the president be forced out just as he surrenders to the West?

In mid-January, protests broke out across Sudan - from the capital Khartoum to the western city of al-Junaynah to the eastern town of Sannar. Thousands of people took to the streets to defy the government’s decision to revoke subsidies on bread, sugar and electricity. In Khartoum, they marched bravely through, moving across the capital’s main thoroughfares - al-Qasr and al-Jamhoriyah streets. Hawkers along Jackson Square and El Shaabiya Square had to pause their trade as attention was drawn towards the protests. Cell phones captured the peaceful demonstrators, the energy electric, the chants explosive.

Protests spread across the country. College students from the University of Khartoum, the University of El Gezira (in Wadi Madani) and the University of Zalingei (in Central Darfur) closed down their campuses.

The State acted with great force against the protesters. Tear gas came first, followed by gunfire. Three people died in the crackdown.

Students at the University of Khartoum - most of them women - were expelled from their dormitories for participating in the protests. The platform to combat violence against women played an active role in the protests. Women arrested complained that they were called sharmuta (whore) by the police officials. But this did not deter them.

The government shut down several newspapers that had been active in covering the protests. The newspapers of the Communist Party of Sudan - El Midan - and two other independent papers - El Jareeda and El Tayyar - were seized. They arrested reporters such as Amal Habani, El Haji Abdelrahman el-Moz, Kamal Karrar and Ahmed Jadein. Reports have come that Amal Habani was tortured during her detention. She is familiar with Sudan’s prison system. She was in jail last year in July for her coverage that is often critical of the government. Habani received the Amnesty International prize for human rights journalism in 2014.

The government arrested between 80 and 300 people (the lower figure comes from the Sudanese government, the higher from the opposition political parties). Those arrested included leaders of the different opposition parties from the Sudanese Communist Party to the National Umma Party as well as from trade unions and social movements such as the Teachers’ Union and the Sudan Liberation Movement.

Fatima Idris who represented the families of those detained said that the prisoners were held without charge and without family visits. She said that some of the prisoners had been sent to detention centers outside the capital. It took a full month for some of the prisoners to be released.

Farouk Ali Issa of the National Consensus Forces, an opposition group, said that the release of some detainees should be seen as an attempt by the government to divide the opposition. Most of those released came from the National Umma Party led by Sadiq al-Mahdi. Members of the Sudanese Communist Party - including its leader Mohammed Mukhtar el-Khatib - remain in prison as do the members of the Sudanese Congress Party and the Islamic Party. Journalists are also still in prison. The Sudanese Communist Party said that many of its leaders ‘still languish in the jails of the dictatorship,’ which is seen by the Party ‘as a clear sign that the regime is targeting our party.’

Bread Intifada.

What accounts for the protests against the government of Omar Bashir in Sudan? These are not the first such protests. Sudan’s streets were flooded with the wave of unrest that crested in 2011 across the Arabic speaking world. In 2013, again, a major protest took hold of Sudan. This was the largest protest since the military coup in 1989. Inflation drove people to the streets, with the Communist Party of Sudan as one of the main leaders of that unrest. ‘We went to the streets against the thieves of our sweat’ was a common slogan from 2013. Police repression was swift and harsh. It is said that 185 people were killed in that uprising. Amal Habani won the Amnesty prize for reporting on those protests.

Sudan has been weakened by the partition of the country in 2011 and the loss of South Sudan - where three-quarters of Sudan’s oil reserves lie. There has been no alternative to the loss of the oil revenue. Under US sanctions since 1997, Sudan has not been able to freely borrow from the international financial markets. It has used the oil revenue to subsidize the basic needs of the population. Expensive wars in Darfur and in South Sudan further hampered the public budget. With the oil gone, Sudan has had to reassess its situation. Cuts in subsidies provoked the 2013 uprising as it did the one in 2018.

Last October, the US government decided to lift the sanctions against Sudan if the country would break ties with North Korea. Omar Bashir, ever the survivor since he took power in 1989, decided to follow Washington’s lead. Sudan both backed the Saudi war against Yemen and cut its links with North Korea. The US government ended the sanctions and began the process to normalize relations with Sudan. This normalization includes a package of debt relief that amounts to $300 million that the Trump administration slipped into the Economic Support and Development Fund account of the current budget (it has not been passed yet).

If the US Congress passes the debt relief package of $300 million it would help Sudan but not remove the debt burden. Currently - according to the World Bank - Sudan has an external debt of over $50 billion - 61% of its GDP - with about 84% of it in arrears. There is no easy way for Sudan to pay this money back - 89% of which is owed to countries and to commercial banks (only 11% is owed to international financial institutions). Sudan is eligible for debt relief through the Heavily Indebted Poor Country initiative. Whether it will receive enough political support for this process is to be seen.

Meanwhile, in November, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) released a report based on its study team’s visit to Khartoum in September. This report recommended that Sudan cut bread subsidies and fuel subsidies. It also suggested that the government devalue the Sudanese pound and bring to heel the gap between the official exchange rate and the black market foreign exchange rate. In December, the Sudanese National Assembly passed its budget which contained the cuts in subsidies. The government later announced the devaluation of the Sudanese Pound.

Merchants hastily transferred the burden of the cuts of these subsidies and the rationalization of the exchange rate onto the consumers. When protests began, the government blamed the crisis on black market manipulation. None of this convinced a population fed up with the government. The IMF had recommended that the government phase in the pain, including using cash transfer schemes funded by the African Development Bank, the World Bank, and the Zakat system to enable the 700,000 vulnerable families from being hit by the changes. Not even this modest safety net was proposed. Instead, the government went head first into the land of IMF policy.

Unrest continues to simmer. Calls for the overthrow of Bashir are now common. He was once seen as an arch-villain, wanted by the International Criminal Court. Bashir decision to back the West’s policy in Yemen and North Korea, as well as his accession to IMF policy, could make him the darling of the White House. This decision by Bashir might be his undoing.

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Steven Seagal Goes All in on Pyramid Cryptocurrency 'Bitcoiin' as 'Worldwide Ambassador'

Tue, 2018-02-20 15:27
An action star attempts to find relevance through cryptocurrency scam.

Far-right actor Steven Seagal is promoting a sketchy cryptocurrency called Bitcoiin 2Gen (with two “i”s).

Gizmodo noticed Seagal tweet out a promotion for the company as it undergoes Initial Coin Offering (ICO) crowdsales.

 

From Team Seagal
Steven has just become the worldwide ambassador for the Bitcoiin 2nd Generation crypto currency. Press Release https://t.co/aY13wDCbzh
More to Follow
Love and Peace
Team Seagal

— Steven Seagal (@sseagalofficial) February 20, 2018

 

Seagal doesn’t clarify if he’s being paid by the company or has been given any of the currency for the tweet, but he’s signed on as the “worldwide ambassador.”

The company describes itself as the place where people who missed out on Bitcoin can invest with “10x lower transaction costs.”

Meanwhile, the Securities and Exchange Commission is cautioning investors against throwing their money into a potentially unlawful ICO. In November they specifically cited “celebrity-backed” ICOs.

The whitepaper from Bitcoiin 2Gen uses a kind of pyramid scheme-like structure and promises payouts to each level.

“Here is the opportunity where life does give the second chance,” the paper awkwardly states. Ethereum, a rival crypto framework to Bitcoin, is the one the new Bitcoiin is using.

The rest of the details are thin, but the site claims over 9 million investors have invested. They’re being promised huge payouts.

 

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