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Updated: 14 hours 59 min ago

Blame the Media? The NY Times Coverage of Clinton v. Trump Was Lacking

35 min 35 sec ago
According to Columbia Journalism Review, the most influential mainstream media was gossip-prone and failed to inform the public about what mattered.

For months, readers of the New York Times and other influential mainstream media have heard about how “fake news” soiled 2016’s election. But they haven’t heard how poorly the Times and its peers covered the election, especially in its pivotal final months.

Now a major report in the renowned Columbia Journalism Review has presented a detailed analysis showing the most influential mainstream media—with the New York Times as Exhibit A—was as superficial and scandal-obsessed as any online outlet trafficking in political gossip in the 2016 campaign.

“We agree that fake news and misinformation are real problems that deserve serious attention. We also agree that social media and other online technologies have contributed to deep-seated problems in democratic discourse such as increasing polarization and erosion of support for traditional sources of authority,” Duncan J. Watts and David M. Rothschild write in a lengthy article, "Don’t blame the election on fake news. Blame it on the media." “Nonetheless, we believe that the volume of reporting around fake news, and the role of tech companies in disseminating those falsehoods, is both disproportionate to its likely influence in the outcome of the election and diverts attention from the culpability of the mainstream media itself.”

Their investigation suggests mainstream media were far more influential than the most partisan and propagandistic social media, yet they make a larger and more important point. As any American who paid attention to the 2016 election can attest, mainstream media loved covering Trump like a never-ending Super Bowl of play-by-play idiocies and outrages. Crucially, they went overboard in covering Hillary Clinton’s flaws, starting with her dumb decision to use a private email server as secretary of state.

But Watts and Rothschild single out the Times for especially vacuous coverage.

“It seems incredible that only five out of 150 front-page articles that the New York Times ran over the last, most critical months of the election, attempted to compare the candidate’s policies, while only 10 described the policies of either candidate in any detail,” they noted. “In just six days, the New York Times ran as many cover stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails as they did about all policy issues combined in the 69 days leading up to the election.”

The not-advertised truth about mainstream outlets, including National Public Radio, is that much of their political coverage takes its cues from a handful of print outlets, either by rewriting their stories or quickly doing in-house versions. Here, the CJR authors found the trend-setting Times and its peers were favoring political gossip over substance and applying different editorial standards to their coverage of Clinton and Trump.

Their analysis compared the major focus of coverage of each campaign. Though the authors don’t put it quite this way, it’s clear the national political press was tired of a wonky candidate they knew, especially compared to the very novel newcomer who kept surprising them. An upside-down dynamic ensued. Trump was treated with kid gloves for lightweight policy and ugly personality traits. Meanwhile, Clinton was tarred for personal foibles, such her use of a private email server, while her detailed policy prescriptions were all but ignored.

“What did all these stories talk about?” they write, referring to the mainstream coverage in the 69 days before the election. “The research team investigated this question, counting sentences that appeared in mainstream media sources and classifying each as detailing one of several Clinton- or Trump-related issues. In particular, they classified each sentence as describing either a scandal (e.g., Clinton’s emails, Trump’s taxes) or a policy issue (Clinton and jobs, Trump and immigration). They found roughly four times as many Clinton-related sentences that described scandals as opposed to policies, whereas Trump-related sentences were one-and-a-half times as likely to be about policy as scandal.”

A year after the campaign ended, the daily fog of campaign coverage revealed some striking and deeply disturbing patterns, the authors reveal.  

“Given the sheer number of scandals in which Trump was implicated—sexual assault; the Trump Foundation; Trump University; redlining in his real-estate developments; insulting a Gold Star family; numerous instances of racist, misogynist, and otherwise offensive speech—it is striking that the media devoted more attention to his policies than to his personal failings. Even more striking, the various Clinton-related email scandals—her use of a private email server while secretary of state, as well as the DNC and John Podesta hacks—accounted for more sentences than all of Trump’s scandals combined (65,000 vs. 40,000) and more than twice as many as were devoted to all of her policy positions.”

The authors then take a harder look at the Times’ front page. Their report classifies stories in three ways: “miscellaneous” for horse-race coverage of who’s ahead; “personal/scandal;” and “policy,” noting whether policy details were given or not.

“Of the 150 front-page articles that discussed the campaign in some way, we classified slightly over half (80) as Campaign Miscellaneous,” they write. “Slightly over a third (54) were Personal/Scandal, with 29 focused on Trump and 25 on Clinton. Finally, just over 10 percent (16) of articles discussed Policy, of which six had no details, four provided details on Trump’s policy only, one on Clinton’s policy only, and five made some comparison between the two candidates’ policies.”

The authors do the same analysis for other leading mainstream media, including the Washington Post, and found the same pattern. “The results for the full corpus were similar: Of the 1,433 articles that mentioned Trump or Clinton, 291 were devoted to scandals or other personal matters while only 70 mentioned policy, and of these only 60 mentioned any details of either candidate’s positions,” they write.

Stepping backward, they conclude that mainstream media colossally failed to serve the public in a manner that cannot be blamed on the propaganda spread on social media.

“The problem is this,” they write, continuing: 

“As has become clear since the election, there were profound differences between the two candidates’ policies, and these differences are already proving enormously consequential to the American people. Under President Trump, the Affordable Care Act is being actively dismantled, environmental and consumer protections are being rolled back, international alliances and treaties are being threatened, and immigration policy has been thrown into turmoil, among other dramatic changes. In light of the stark policy choices facing voters in the 2016 election, it seems incredible that only five out of 150 front-page articles that the New York Times ran over the last, most critical months of the election, attempted to compare the candidate’s policies, while only 10 described the policies of either candidate in any detail.”

The authors note this pattern was especially damaging between October 29 and Nov. 3, 2016, six days that followed then-FBI Director James Comey’s decision to announce that the FBI was revisiting its examination of Clinton’s email server use. (Comey later said there was nothing new, but the political damage was done.)  

“To reiterate, in just six days, the New York Times ran as many cover stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails as they did about all policy issues combined in the 69 days leading up to the election (and that does not include the three additional articles on October 18, and November 6 and 7, or the two articles on the emails taken from John Podesta),” the authors write. “This intense focus on the email scandal cannot be written off as inconsequential: The Comey incident and its subsequent impact on Clinton’s approval rating among undecided voters could very well have tipped the election.”

The Times’ obsession with scandal is not unique, they add, before speculating on what may have been reporters and editors’ motives.

“To be clear, we do not believe the Times’ coverage was worse than other mainstream news organizations, so much as it was typical of a broader failure of mainstream journalism to inform audiences of the very real and consequential issues at stake,” they write. “In retrospect, it seems clear that the press in general made the mistake of assuming a Clinton victory was inevitable, and were setting themselves as credible critics of the next administration.”

“Possibly this mistake arose from the failure of journalists to get out of their hermetic bubble,” they continue. “Possibly it was their misinterpretation of available polling data, which showed all along that a Trump victory, albeit unlikely, was far from inconceivable. These were understandable mistakes, but they were still mistakes. Yet, rather than acknowledging the possible impact their collective failure of imagination could have had on the election outcome, the mainstream news community has instead focused its critical attention everywhere but on themselves: fake news, Russian hackers, technology companies, algorithmic ranking, the alt-right, even on the American public.”

That last point is particularly salient one year into the Trump presidency. Mainstream media organizations have been collaborating with Facebook, Google and other big online platforms to combat “fake news” by establishing new “trust standards” that grade content based on metrics they have collectively established. Independent media like AlterNet are not part of these discussions, even though these standards will generally downgrade analysis and opinion journalism, compared to mainstream media reports.

As Edward S. Herman wrote for the Monthly Review, before his recent death, “It has been amusing to watch the New York Times and other mainstream media outlets express their dismay over the rise and spread of ‘fake news.’ These publications take it as an obvious truth that what they provide is straightforward, unbiased, fact-based reporting. They do offer such news, but they also provide a steady flow of their own varied forms of fake news, often by disseminating false or misleading information supplied to them by the national security state, other branches of government, and sites of corporate power.”

“Mainstream media fake news is especially likely where a party line is quickly formed on a topic, with any deviations therefore immediately dismissed as naïve, unpatriotic, or simply wrong,” wrote Herman, who co-authored 2008’s Manufacturing Consent with Noam Chomsky.    

The Columbia Journalism Review’s analysis of the most influential mainstream media coverage in 2016 shows that the “party line,” as Herman put it, failed journalism’s basic mission to represent the public before the powerful.

There’s no ambiguity surrounding the results: Donald Trump’s America is taking hold. The GOP Congress is dismantling safety nets and raiding the middle class to enrich the wealthy. And mainstream news is still dominated by personal scandals before policy impacts.   

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For-Profit Medical Companies Are Making Tons of Money Taking Poor Peoples’ Blood

1 hour 7 min ago
Donors hope to get $30 a pop for their plasma, but sometimes they aren't even paid what they're promised.

Here’s another example of wealthy corporations sucking poor people dry—literally. While many good samaritans donate blood or bone marrow out of good will, others sell their bodily fluids on a biweekly basis just so they can make ends meet. Multimillion-dollar medical companies know this, and eagerly take advantage. The for-profit plasma donation industry has been quietly targeting poor Americans for decades, and sometimes, the donors aren’t even paid what they’re promised.

Plasma is used to manufacture medicines that help people with diseases like blood-clotting and immune deficiency disorders. According to ABC, 94 percent of the plasma used internationally comes from the U.S. Four out of 5 American plasma centers are located in poorer neighborhoods around the country, and are frequented mainly by poor people who need to supplement their income with the extra money they receive from donating. These donors receive $30 to $40 per donation on average. Compare that to the biotech companies that turn a profit from the plasma, estimated to be a $19.7 billion global industry.

Darryl Lorenzo Wellington, who wrote in a piece for the Atlantic that he donated plasma to pay his rent one month, explains how for-profit plasma companies are well aware they are making money off of poor donors. He writes, “the number of centers in the United States ballooned during the Great Recession, with 100 new centers opening and total donations leaping from 12.5 million in 2006 to more than 23 million in 2011.”

Some reports show that donors who frequent these for-profit plasma donation centers don’t end up being paid the amount they were promised.

At this point big business is stealing blood from the poor through plasma centers. They say they'll pay blood donors (in poor areas) but do so on debit cards with high fees. Actual blood money. https://t.co/BlOOavDt5E

— Matt Stoller (@matthewstoller) December 8, 2017

As one plasma donor wrote in a complaint on RipoffReport:

“Bio life plasma Mankato pays $20 the first donation of the week and 50 for the second[. T]he problem is you can't get to all your money because of the car[d] that they use to pay you is in $10 increments which no ATMs around have so therefore you have to pay every time you use the stupid card when you happen to have a week where it's off also they charge You a monthly fee just for having the card therefore if you do get a $50 donation and are able to take it out for whatever reason you have overdraft on said card so therefore you can't get your money you have to use their card and guess what they make money off of it these people are bloodsucking vampires.”

Wellington confirms this unfair payment process: "'Plassers' [donors] receive payments on a special debit card that extracts a surcharge whenever they use it.”

It’s a cruel move for people who come to plasma donation centers as a last resort. One donor told ABC, “I donate specifically for the money because I work a minimum wage job. I work as a cashier and a stocker. I used to work as a repair technician for 14 bucks an hour, so I’m used to more than what I’m getting.”

Another donor in Kansas City who has a day job at Burger King said he makes donating a regular part of his routine. “I go Fridays and Sundays. Right arm I use Friday. Other I use Sunday. I switch up every time.”

Not everyone in the health industry is a fan of for-profit plasma. The Atlantic writes, “Hospitals, Red Cross units, and nonprofit agencies relying on voluntary donations reject the plasma center model because cash incentives for whole blood may give donors an incentive to lie [about their health histories], heightening risks of a tainted supply. Such risks are higher overall for whole blood, too.”

One expert on the subject finds the practice notably creepy. “For a majority of people, apparently, it’s relatively safe. We really don’t know the long-term effects because it’s a relatively new phenomenon," Roger Kobayashi, a clinical professor of immunology at UCLA, told ABC. However, he said that what used to be “a simple gift of life has now evolved into a multi-national, highly profitable corporate enterprise.”

“What was once an act of altruism has now evolved into an act of necessity or desperation,” Kobayashi said.

The Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association said in a statement to ABC News, "Source plasma donation is safe and is highly regulated. Donors must meet criteria defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and voluntary industry standards. Healthy, committed donors are the foundation of plasma-derived therapies."

Yet if donors are desperate enough, there’s no way to monitor the possibility that they’ll lie about their medical history.

The plasma industry has a surprisingly shady history. In the '60s and '70s, the Atlantic writes, for-profit plasma companies used to source donors from prisons, sometimes paying them just $5 per donation to cut costs. As a result, many people got sick. According to the Atlantic, “Roughly 50 percent of American hemophiliacs contracted HIV from bad plasma-based pharmaceuticals (a much higher infection rate than that suffered by gay men at the time).”

One plasma donor told the Atlantic, “Hearing all this, I never want to walk into those places again.”

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Brain-Wave Treatment for Alzheimer's Is Promising, but the First Human Subject Is Left Behind

2 hours 54 min ago
An Alzheimer’s patient sees improvement‚ but declines again when the study ends.

Peg Gleason, who is 83 and lives in San Francisco, was the first to sign up for the initial human trial of an MIT-backed experimental treatment for Alzheimer’s disease last January. 

The trial had a slightly eccentric setting at the warehouse offices of TheraNova, a San Francisco-based medical-device developer. Seven days a week for seven months, until the study ended, Peg and her husband Ed, 85, were dropped off by Uber at a side door and taken to a small room inside an old metal vault.

The experimenters were “all very good and smart people, and they were all 32-and-a-half-years old,” Ed, a retired product manager for AT&T, joked. 

“They put very large sunglasses on Peg with the lenses blacked out,” he said in a phone interview, in which Peg also participated. “[They] taped very small LED lights to them, so that when you put them on, all you saw were the four little lights on each lens. And they would be calibrated to flicker at 40 hertz.” 

Along with the glasses, Peg was fitted with earphones that played a tone at 40 hertz, and pads on each hand that vibrated at that frequency. The treatment lasted an hour a day, with another 15 minutes for post-trial cognitive testing, and then the Gleasons were driven home.

The San Francisco experiment began last January, a month after Nature published an MIT study reporting that exposure to LED lights flickering at 40 hertz (40 cycles per second) was linked to a sharp reduction in beta-amyloid plaques—clumps of abnormal proteins—in the visual cortex of mice bred to develop an Alzheimer’s-like disease. 

Neurons in the brain sometimes fire in synchrony, producing brain waves. Brain waves around 40 hertz, in the so-called gamma band—a frequency associated with higher-order cognitive functions, such as working memory and spatial navigation—have long been known to be impaired in Alzheimer’s disease and some other brain-based disorders. 

Disrupted gamma activity is also characteristic ofmice bred to develop Alzheimer’s disease, MIT professor of neuroscience Li-Huei Tsai, the lead author of the Nature paper, explained in a presentation to a congressional panel last July.

But after experimental mice spent just one hour daily for a week in a box fitted with LED lights flickering at 40 hertz, she said, their gamma brain waves rebounded, and amyloid plaques were reduced by half.

Photo Credit: Coalition for Life Sciences

The mice were also able to learn again. “They can remember an object in an environment, they can remember a place and they can navigate better,” Tsai said.

What happened? Tsai said that the 40-hertz flicker “entrained” the mice’s brain waves to follow along, syncing in the gamma frequency. Such syncing was first demonstrated in cats in the 1990s, she said, pointing at a GIF of a cat staring at a blinking light.

It’s not clear how, Tsai went on, but restoring the mice’s gamma brain waves also revived their microglia, the brain immune cells that clear toxic substances like amyloid and that are “on strike” in Alzheimer’s disease. 

“These janitor cells, the microglia, become active again,” Tsai said. “They become larger in size, their branches become more complex, and there are just more of them. But more importantly, they are very busy gobbling up this amyloid.” 

Tsai said that neurofibrillary tangles, another marker of Alzheimer’s, “disappeared” in the experimental mice. Blood vessels in their brains also changed, with the lumens—the interior channels—dilating twofold.

“But it doesn’t stop there,” she said. “In the Alzheimer’s brain, a large number of neurons die, and the brain becomes smaller.” Six to eight weeks of daily exposure to 40-hertz light, however, “protected the brain cells from dying, it prevented the brain from shrinking. And the synaptic connections, the density, is restored.”

Most spectacular, and what made Tsai “speechless,” was that the effects spread beyond the visual cortex to the rest of the brain, “including the hippocampus, the memory center, and the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain known to be important for making decisions and performing executive functions.” 

Photo Credit: Coalition for Life Sciences

When the lights were stopped, however, even for only 12 hours, the amyloid plaques rebounded. And the flickering had to be at 40 hertz; other frequencies or random flickering had no effect. 

Tsai and her colleagues checked and rechecked their findings. “We were excited, but we were also very anxious,” she said. “It was such an unbelievable and unexpected result. We just had this anxiety to repeat it as many different times as possible, to get as many different people to repeat it.”

“In my wildest dreams, I never thought I would come upon this kind of observations, this profound, this sort of hard-to-believe,” Tsai, who directs MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, said on an Amazing Things podcast. 

Last fall, soon before their Nature paper was published, Tsai and her lead co-author, MIT professor Edward S. Boyden, founded a startup, Cognito Therapeutics. Backed by MIT and with venture capital funding, the firm aims to develop “device-based” therapies for Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Cognito engaged TheraNova in San Francisco for the human feasibility study last January. Ed and Peg Gleason learned of it from a flyer passed along by a friend at the University of California Medical Center. 

They had little to lose; there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia. It does not kill quickly, but over months or years as the brain progressively fails and victims lose all ability to communicate or care for themselves. Alzheimer’s is now the third leading cause of death among older Americans.

Photo Credit: Coalition for Life Sciences

Peg was diagnosed in 2011, when an MRI during a routine physical found shrinkage in her frontal lobe.

“When she explained that it was Alzheimer’s, I looked at her and said, ‘No, no, that’s not me, I don’t have anything wrong with me,” Peg said. She ran out of the doctor’s office, crying. In the six years since, her short-term memory has declined. She rarely remembers events from earlier in the day, even something memorable, like a visit from one of their six children. 

But within days of beginning the trial at TheraNova, Peg’s memory improved. She began to remember events from the day before, not always, but far more often. Their children remarked on it. 

Peg also seemed mildly euphoric after the sessions, telling Ed she felt good. “It would last for two or three hours after every treatment,” Ed said.

The researchers seemed sanguine about the results as well. Two staff members told Ed that everyone in the pilot study—five people were enrolled in all—was showing improvement.

About a month into the trial, however, the experimenters announced a hiatus. “They said, ‘We’re going to stop the study and evaluate,’ Ed said. “I don’t know what they were thinking. I would not like to think that we were guinea pigs, and that they wanted to see if there was, you know, a recession, a bad effect.”

But within a few days, Peg declined. "I told them," Ed said, "the plaque is coming back; it’s like the fog coming in from the ocean."

The researchers were noncommittal. “They would say, ‘The time is up for the study, we’re going to review where we are.’” 

After eight days, Ed got a call that the trial was resuming, and a car would pick them up again the next day. The daily sessions continued after that without a break, except for a few weekend days, until mid-August. 

Then, with a week and a half’s notice, the study ended. The researchers said the trials were being moved to Boston, where Cognito is based. 

Immediately, Peg drooped again. By late September, five weeks after the study ended, there was a significant decline in her short-term memory. Ed said, "her anxiety and sundowning became more pronounced, and there’s more confusion.”

For the first time, she failed to recognize Ed. A few times, she thought Ed was her father. She also wandered off twice, something that had not happened before.

Peg's grandmother died of Alzheimer’s, as did her older sister two years ago. 

“The one thing I want to know," Peg said, "is how much I’m going to expect. I don’t want to hurt him or the kids.”

As the trial came to a close, Ed began asking the researchers to allow Peg to continue her daily treatments, or for help putting together a device to use at home. He’d been told they were assembled with off-the shelf components and powered with 9-volt batteries. The 40-hertz lights should be simple enough to replicate by someone with electrical engineering skills; several YouTube accounts had already posted schematics. 

But Ed didn’t know anyone with those skills other than the TheraNova engineers. And verifying that a light is truly flickering at 40 hertz requires an oscilloscope, which costs thousands. Still, he ordered a $40 string of 40-hertz LED lights from a new online business, gammalighttherapy.com, that was founded in mid-August (its website refers to the MIT research), and a "gamma bulb" from another. 

He also searched out 40-hertz sound on YouTube videos posted by New Age and brain hacking enthusiasts, who have long used the tones in meditation; they point to studies at the University of Wisconsin that found strong gamma brain-wave activity in meditating Tibetan Buddhist monks. 

He and Peg began listening to the sound together on earphones for an hour every day. It seemed to help, but in the evenings Peg’s confusion returned. Ed continued to call and email the researchers at Cognito and TheraNova, asking for their help and growing angry when they did not respond.

On September 27, 12 days after Ed’s last email, Cognito general manager and president Zach Malchano wrote back. He said he was very sorry to hear of Peg's decline, but that no further trials were planned for San Francisco, and the company could not provide access to an unapproved medical device.  

Malchano declined to be interviewed, but emailed a statement that said Cognito would not allow access to investigational devices, even under a compassionate-use program, because of the early stage of the research and Cognito’s “size and resources." Malchano also wrote: "Many of us at Cognito have personal connections to the disease and are working as quickly and as hard as we can to study the effectiveness of this technology in trials necessary to understand the potential effectiveness and safety of this approach." 

The Food and Drug Administration approves almost every compassionate use request for seriously ill patients who lack therapeutic alternatives—but only if the medical developer agrees.

Ed says it is unethical of the researchers to abandon Peg to her disease. 

“We are guinea pigs; we signed the paper,” Ed said, “But if you know the plaque is coming back in the mice, then you can assume the plaque is coming back in the people, and you have to address that. That’s your moral responsibility.”

A friend puts it more starkly: “It’s like testing to see whether a life raft works, and throwing the person back in the water.”

There’s something reminiscent of Flowers for Algernon in the Gleasons’ experience: eager scientists, a seeming improvement and then rapid, hopeless regression. Ed contends that the MIT scientists, whose research was partly funded by federal grants, are also wrong to seek ownership of technology and concepts that aren’t particularly novel.

“They can’t patent 40 hertz any more than General Motors can patent 40 mph,” he said. 

Other researchers, in fact, have investigated gamma brain-wave-inducing devices in human subjects. A 2016 University of Toronto study reported improved cognition in Alzheimer’s patients after six sessions in vibroacoustic therapeutic chairs with built-in speakers set at 40 hertz.

Devices to entrain brain waves via audiovisual stimulation have also been used by psychotherapists and sold to the public for a decade.

Psychologist Ruth Olmstead, who authored a 2005 Journal of Neurotherapy paper about audiovisual entrainment for learning disabilities, sells a “Synaptic Stimulus Trainer” with a headset that looks like the device used in the San Francisco study. Like other such devices that claim to increase creativity, treat depression and sleep disorders, or help children with learning disorders, it is marketed with a disclaimer that it is only for “recreational” purposes.

For her part, Li-Huei Tsai says she doubts exposure to 40-hertz LED lights could do harm, but that DIY attempts at brain-wave entrainment at some intensities could potentially be dangerous. 

Results from the “extensive, rigorous, really well-controlled, blinded” studies that are necessary, Tsai said in a phone interview, might be available in three or four years. She declined to answer questions about the TheraNova study, or the 12-patient study now underway in Boston.

In her summer presentation to Congress and on the podcast, Tsai was less guarded, saying she was hopeful that 40-hertz research would yield noninvasive treatments that could be “life-changing for millions.”

“My dream is that perhaps one day we can try to create a ‘gamma society,’” Tsai said. “We can try to change our lighting system(s) at home, or on the streets, the refresh rate of computer monitors or TV, so people can get exposure to the gamma flicker more readily, to create a healthy society.”

Peg Gleason will be long past helping before then; probably long before clinical trials are done. As of mid-November, her confusion and sundowning had continued to grow worse. She was mistaking Ed for her father again. She didn’t want to listen to the sound or look at the lights, and he’d given up searching for another device. He hoped to be able to keep taking care of her at home. On December 7, he emailed: 

"Peg has declined. When she entered the study she was seen as stage three of seven, she stayed in 3 for the whole trial until August, At the end of trials she immediately regressed to 4 in my opinion. When she fell and got an infection she went to 5 Now, the last week she has entered 6, Our support group leader said the decline can be quick, We will see. I'm determined to keep her at home as even the best and most expensive places are a sad end. I promised myself and Peg that I would accompany her at home to the end with the help of my children and grandchildren."

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Patagonia Joins Native Tribes and Environmental Groups to Sue the Trump Administration Over Utah Land

3 hours 17 min ago
Trump's massive land grab is the largest elimination of protected land in U.S. history.

The outdoor retailer Patagonia announced this week that it intends to join forces with a coalition of Native American tribes and environmental groups and file a lawsuit against the Trump administration. Like the environmental groups and tribes, Patagonia said it will sue Trump and members of his administration over their unprecedented decision to dismantle two million acres of public national monument land in Utah—Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.

The move by Trump's administration is by far the largest elimination of protected public land in U.S. history. No president has ever attempted to abolish such an enormous region of public land before. Most presidents have added to public land protections, if anything.

The coalition of conservation groups that have already filed lawsuits includes the Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and seven other groups as plaintiffs. A coalition of five Native American Indian tribes has also already filed suit against the president and members of his administration. All parties filing suits are arguing that the administration does not have the legal authority to shrink the land's National Monument designation or remove any protections.

The various court cases over the national monument land could take years to settle, and could be landmark cases that set a precedent for the future of land protections. 

“The President stole your land.” This message is plastered in big white font against a black backdrop on Patagonia's new website landing page.

Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia's CEO and founder, has called Trump's land grab illegal, and told CNN:

"It seems the only thing this administration understands is lawsuits. I think it's a shame that only 4% of American lands are national parks. Costa Rica's got 10%. Chile will now have way more parks than we have. We need more, not less. This government is evil and I'm not going to sit back and let evil win.… I'm going to sue him."

Valley of the Gods, Bears Ears, Utah. (Credit: Bureau of Land Managment/ Flickr CC)

A "Take Action Now" link below Patagonia's message takes readers to a petition and pages of information on what's at stake and the Trump administration’s ignominious move.

The land at stake is sacred to several Native American tribes, and prior to Patagonia's announcement, the five-tribe coalition joined forces to sue, on Monday, Dec. 4. The tribes are alleging that Trump's dismantling of protections for the monuments violates the U.S. Constitution and Antiquities Act of 1906. The Antiquities Act, signed by famous public lands-preserving president Theodore Roosevelt, gives the president authority to create national monuments to preserve significant natural, cultural or otherwise alluring federal lands for future use. The act was born out of concerns over the safety and preservation of Native American artifacts and ruins.

The Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments are not just sacred to Native Americans, but also precious to the millions of people who come from around the world to visit the gravity-defying rock formations and majestic desert-scapes.

Trump's move would make these ancient spaces vulnerable to the predations of mining, logging and oil extraction. Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton used the Antiquities Act to prevent oil, gas and mining companies from reaping these pristine lands. Trump wants to give these extractive industries a green light.

Other outdoor brands, including REI, have banded together with Patagonia in the effort against the Trump administration’s massive land grab. Patagonia and REI have a long and storied history of standing up in the name of the environment and public lands. Patagonia criticized Trump when he backed out of the Paris Climate Agreement, and the company donates 1 percent of its annual sales to environmental activism (amounting to a $10 million donation in 2017).

But launching a lawsuit against a presidential administration is unprecedented for any brand.

REI states on its website:

“The nation’s outdoors have benefited from longstanding support on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. Today’s decision hurts the people who love these places. Americans enjoy our public lands in every part of the country, irrespective of politics. Not only have hikers, cyclists, climbers and hunters enjoyed national monuments, but economies have been built around them through outfitters, guides and retailers. The $887 billion outdoor recreation economy employs over 7.6 million people in good, sustainable jobs.”

Devil's Garden, Escalante. (Credit: John Fowler / Flickr CC.)

Successful lawsuits against Trump's administration would make it clear that the Antiquities Act is strictly for giving land to the public, not stealing it back to give to the oil and mining industries to exploit.

You can read more about Trump's land grab and ways to take action on Patagonia's website.  Related Stories

Editorial: Don't Let the Tech Giants Undermine AlterNet's Fight Against Trump

6 hours 18 min ago
Independent journalism is more important than ever in the era of Trump.

This fall we shared the disconcerting story of how new threats to democracy were undermining independent, progressive media like AlterNet.

Many readers responded to our call to action, and we are so grateful for the support.

The painful reality is that it’s not just Donald Trump and the right wing wreaking mind-boggling destruction on our society. Google and Facebook, giant monopolies we all use every day, have also become a serious threat to journalism and democracy. This makes it more difficult to challenge Trump.

In June, Google, under the guise of fighting fake news, and addressing the worries of corporate advertisers, implemented an algorithm change called Project Owl. It seemed like a good idea: Fighting fake news, often one of Trump's tools, is a top priority for us. 

But we and other progressive sites quickly discovered that Project Owl, while trying to eliminate fake news, hurt us by dramatically reducing the visibility of our content. We saw a sharp drop-off in traffic from Facebook as well.

How We Were Impacted

The new algorithm reduced our Google search traffic by more than 40 percent. The changes at Facebook also had a dramatic effect. Suddenly, 2 million fewer people were reading AlterNet stories every month, and millions more across the internet were not accessing progressive content.

We are suddenly faced with the reality that independent, progressive news sites have become inconvenient to the bottom line of the Google and Facebook duopoly.

The impact of Project Owl has been to invisibly censor independent news, while at the same time boost the standing of a group of mainstream print and broadcast outlets that have collaborated with these platforms to “solve” the fake-news crisis.

Take a look at our data below:

Independent Media Squeezed by the Tech Monopolies

AlterNet is currently receiving roughly 300,000 visits a week (1.2 million a month) from Google. At the beginning of 2017, AlterNet’s traffic had reached as many as 800,000 weekly visitors (3.3 million a month) from Google. The steep decline starting in early June coincided with Google’s announcement that it was changing its algorithm to reduce referral traffic from hate groups and notorious right-wing fake news operations.

In addition, Facebook is now sending an audience size to AlterNet only half of what it was in the first five months of the year; we were getting 2.3 million visitors a month through May, and it cratered to 1.2 million each month by the fall.

Overall, AlterNet’s monthly traffic has stabilized since August between 3 and 3.5 million unique visitors, but we are missing millions of visits a month that we had been getting for years. That’s a lot of people who are not being exposed to the counter-narrative against the corporate media and its enablers of the hard-right Trump agenda.

The Good News

Faced with this crisis, we appealed to you, our community. The response was fantastic, with financial contributions and support. As a result, we have stabilized our short-term advertising revenue for now.

Unfortunately, the larger duopoly information problem still exists. We must dedicate ourselves to a long-term fight. Other sites like Salon, Democracy Now, Media Matters and many more have had significant traffic drops. And it could get worse. 

The bottom line, as scholar Jonathan Taplin’s recent op-ed "Can the Tech Giants be Stopped?" makes quite clear, is that “Digital technology has become critical to the personal and economic well-being of everyone on the planet, but decisions about how it is designed, operated and developed have never been voted on by anyone… It is time for that to change.”

What We Are Doing About the Duopoly Problem

AlterNet feels that the long-term future of independent media is at risk. Progressive media is a crucial element in fighting back and stopping a total right-wing and corporate takeover. Tech giants have a firm grip over the information channels, and we must aggressively resist their attempts to marginalize our voices.

We all need to fight back. Working with the Media Consortium, in January 2018, we plan to bring together the independent media sector to better understand the issues and prepare to fight back.

  • We call on Google to rescind the algorithm changes made under Project Owl and instead consider adopting a more transparent method of determining what is fake news.
  • We call on the public, the FTC and Congress to consider regulating Facebook and Google as monopoly platforms for the distribution of content.

What About Trump and the Right Wing?

Despite the monopoly challenges, AlterNet is fiercely fighting the Trump agenda every day, 24/7. White supremacy, toxic masculinity, anti-science, anti-immigrant, anti-democracy—these are all essential elements of the Trump administration and the rabid right-wingers in Congress.

AlterNet still has one of the biggest audiences in progressive online media. We need your support to continue to provide all of our readers with the reporting and analysis necessary to fight back and make it through the crisis we face as a news organization, and as a democracy at large.

Can we count on you to help?

Warmly,

 

Don Hazen
Executive Editor, AlterNet

 

P.S.: If you'd like to make a donation to AlterNet, click here. Your contribution is 100% tax-deductible.


 

Nothing Protects Black Women From Dying in Pregnancy and Childbirth

7 hours 49 min ago
Not education. Not income. Not even being an expert on racial disparities in health care.

This story was co-published with NPR.

On a melancholy Saturday this past February, Shalon Irving’s “village” — the friends and family she had assembled to support her as a single mother — gathered at a funeral home in a prosperous black neighborhood in southwest Atlanta to say goodbye and send her home. The afternoon light was gray but bright, flooding through tall arched windows and pouring past white columns, illuminating the flag that covered her casket. Sprays of callas and roses dotted the room like giant corsages, flanking photos from happier times: Shalon in a slinky maternity dress, sprawled across her couch with her puppy; Shalon, sleepy-eyed and cradling the tiny head of her newborn daughter, Soleil. In one portrait Shalon wore a vibrant smile and the crisp uniform of the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, where she had been a lieutenant commander. Many of the mourners were similarly attired. Shalon’s father, Samuel, surveyed the rows of somber faces from the lectern. “I’ve never been in a room with so many doctors,” he marveled. “… I’ve never seen so many Ph.D.s.”

At 36, Shalon had been part of their elite ranks — an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the preeminent public health institution in the U.S. There she had focused on trying to understand how structural inequality, trauma and violence made people sick. “She wanted to expose how peoples’ limited health options were leading to poor health outcomes. To kind of uncover and undo the victim blaming that sometimes happens where it’s like, ‘Poor people don’t care about their health,’” said Rashid Njai, her mentor at the agency. Her Twitter bio declared: “I see inequity wherever it exists, call it by name, and work to eliminate it.”

Much of Shalon’s research had focused on how childhood experiences affect health over a lifetime. Her discovery in mid-2016 that she was pregnant with her first child had been unexpected and thrilling.

Then the unthinkable had happened. Three weeks after giving birth, Shalon had collapsed and died.

The sadness in the chapel was crushing. Shalon’s long-divorced parents had already buried both their sons; she had been their last remaining child. Wanda Irving had been especially close to her daughter — role model, traveling companion, emotional touchstone. She sat in the front row in a black suit and veiled hat, her face a portrait of unfathomable grief. Sometimes she held Soleil, fussing with her pink blanket. Sometimes Samuel held her, or one of Shalon’s friends.

A few of Shalon’s villagers rose to pay tribute; others sat quietly, poring through their funeral programs. Daniel Sellers, Shalon’s cousin from Ohio and the baby’s godfather, spoke for all of them when he promised Wanda that she would not have to raise her only grandchild alone. “People say to me, ‘She won’t know her mother.’ That’s not true,” Sellers said. “Her mother is in each and every one of you, each and every one of us. … This child is a gift to us. When you remember this child, you remember the love that God has pushed down through her for all of us. Soleil is our gift.”

Underneath the numb despair was a profound sense of failure — and an acute understanding of what Shalon’s death represented. The researcher working to eradicate disparities in health access and outcomes had become a symbol of one of the most troublesome health disparities facing black women in the U.S. today, disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality. The main federal agency seeking to understand why so many American women — especially black women — die and nearly die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth had lost one of its own. Even Shalon’s many advantages — her B.A. in sociology, her two master’s degrees and dual-subject Ph.D., her gold-plated insurance and rock-solid support system — had not been enough to ensure her survival. If a village this powerful hadn’t been able to protect her, was any black woman safe?

The memorial service drew to a close, the bugle strains of “Taps” as plaintive as a howl. Two members of the U.S. Honor Guard removed the flag from Shalon’s coffin and held it aloft. Then they folded it into a precise triangle small enough for Wanda and Samuel to hold next to their hearts.

In recent years, as high rates of maternal mortality in the U.S. have alarmed researchers, one statistic has been especially concerning. According to the CDC, black mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers, one of the widest of all racial disparities in women’s health. Put another way, a black woman is 22 percent more likely to die from heart disease than a white woman, 71 percent more likely to perish from cervical cancer, but 300 percent more likely to die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes. In a national study of five medical complications that are common causes of maternal death and injury, black women were two to three times more likely to die than white women who had the same condition.

That imbalance has persisted for decades, and in some places, it continues to grow. In New York City, for example, black mothers are 12 times more likely to die than white mothers, according to the most recent data; from 2001 to 2005, their risk of death was seven times higher. Researchers say that widening gap reflects a dramatic improvement for white women but not for blacks.

The disproportionate toll on African Americans is the main reason the U.S. maternal mortality rate is so much higher than that of other affluent countries. Black expectant and new mothers in the U.S. die at about the same rate as women in countries such as Mexico and Uzbekistan, the World Health Organization estimates.

What’s more, even relatively well-off black women like Shalon Irving die or nearly die at higher rates than whites. Again, New York City offers a startling example: A 2016 analysis of five years of data found that black college-educated mothers who gave birth in local hospitals were more likely to suffer severe complications of pregnancy or childbirth than white women who never graduated from high school.

The fact that someone with Shalon’s social and economic advantages is at higher risk highlights how profound the inequities really are, said Raegan McDonald-Mosley, the chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, who met her in graduate school at Johns Hopkins University and was one of her closest friends. “It tells you that you can’t educate your way out of this problem. You can’t health-care-access your way out of this problem. There’s something inherently wrong with the system that’s not valuing the lives of black women equally to white women.”

For much of American history, these types of disparities were largely blamed on blacks’ supposed innate susceptibility to illness — their “mass of imperfections,” as one doctor wrote in 1903 — and their own behavior. But now many social scientists and medical researchers agree, the problem isn’t race but racism.

The systemic problems start with the type of social inequities that Shalon studied — differential access to healthy food and clean drinking water, safe neighborhoods and good schools, decent jobs and reliable transportation. Black women are more likely to be uninsured outside of pregnancy, when Medicaid kicks in, and thus more likely to start prenatal care later and to lose coverage in the postpartum period. They are more likely to have chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension that make having a baby more dangerous. The hospitals where they give birth are often the products of historical segregation, lower in quality than those where white mothers deliver, with significantly higher rates of life-threatening complications.

Those problems are amplified by unconscious biases that are embedded throughout the medical system, affecting quality of care in stark and subtle ways. In the more than 200 stories of African-American mothers that ProPublica and NPR have collected over the past year, the feeling of being devalued and disrespected by medical providers was a constant theme. The young Florida mother-to-be whose breathing problems were blamed on obesity when in fact her lungs were filling with fluid and her heart was failing. The Arizona mother whose anesthesiologist assumed she smoked marijuana because of the way she did her hair. The Chicago-area businesswoman with a high-risk pregnancy who was so upset at her doctor’s attitude that she changed OB-GYNs in her seventh month, only to suffer a fatal postpartum stroke.

Over and over, black women told of medical providers who equated being African American with being poor, uneducated, noncompliant and unworthy. “Sometimes you just know in your bones when someone feels contempt for you based on your race,” said one Brooklyn woman who took to bringing her white husband or in-laws to every prenatal visit.

Hakima Tafunzi Payne, a mother of nine in Kansas City, Missouri, who used to be a labor-and-delivery nurse and still attends births as a student midwife, has seen this cultural divide as both patient and caregiver. “The nursing culture is white, middle-class, and female, so is largely built around that identity. Anything that doesn’t fit that identity is suspect,” she said. Payne, who is also a nurse educator lecturing on unconscious bias for professional organizations, recalled “the conversations that took place behind the nurse’s station that just made assumptions — a lot of victim blaming, ‘If those people would only do blah, blah, blah, things would be different.’”

Black expectant and new mothers frequently told us that doctors and nurses didn’t take their pain seriously — a phenomenon borne out by numerous studies that show pain is often undertreated in black patients for conditions from appendicitis to cancer. When Patrisse Cullors, a cofounder of the Black Lives Matters movement who has become an activist to improve black maternal care, had an emergency C-section in Los Angeles in March 2016, the surgeon “never explained what he was doing to me,” she said. The pain medication didn’t work: “My mother basically had to scream at the doctors to give me the proper pain meds.” When white people advocate for themselves or their family members, she said, providers “think they’re acting reasonably. When black people are advocating for our family members, we’re complaining, we’re being uppity, we don’t know what we're talking about, we’re exaggerating.”

Limited diversity in the medical profession contributes to the black mothers’ sense of alienation. Blacks make up 6 percent of doctors (though 11 percent of OB-GYNs), 3 percent of medical school faculty and less than 2 percent of National Institutes of Health-funded principal investigators. “That's a real problem that across the spectrum that [black women] are not feeling listened to and respected—that’s a structural problem,” said Monica McLemore, a nursing professor at the University of California­, San Francisco, who has conducted focus groups with dozens of mothers as part of a $50 million initiative to reduce preterm births. “The health sector doesn’t want to admit how much of this is about us.”

But it’s the discrimination that black women experience in the rest of their lives — the double-whammy of race and gender — that may ultimately be the most significant factor in poor maternal outcomes. An expanding field of research shows that the stress of being a black woman in American society can take a significant physical toll during pregnancy and childbirth.

“It’s chronic stress that just happens all the time — there is never a period where there’s rest from it, it’s everywhere, it’s in the air, it’s just affecting everything,” said Fleda Mask Jackson, an Atlanta researcher and member of the Black Mamas Matter Alliance who studies disparities in birth outcomes.

It’s a type of stress from which education and class provide no protection. “When you interview these doctors and lawyers and business executives, when you interview African-American college graduates, it’s not like their lives have been a walk in the park,” said Michael Lu, a longtime disparities researcher and former head of the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the Health Resources and Services Administration, the main federal agency funding programs for mothers and infants. “It’s the experience of having to work harder than anybody else just to get equal pay and equal respect. It’s being followed around when you’re shopping at a nice store, or being stopped by the police when you’re driving in a nice neighborhood.”

Arline Geronimus, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, coined the term “weathering” for how this continuous stress wears away at the body. Weathering “causes a lot of different health vulnerabilities and increases susceptibility to infection,” she said, “but also early onset of chronic diseases, in particular, hypertension and diabetes” — conditions that disproportionately affect blacks at much younger ages than whites. It accelerates aging at the cellular level; in a 2010 study, Geronimus and colleagues found that the telomeres (chromosomal markers of aging) of black women in their 40s and 50s appeared 7 1/2 years older on average than those of whites.

Weathering can have particularly serious repercussions in pregnancy and childbirth, the most physiologically complex time in a woman’s life. Stress has been linked to one of the most common and consequential pregnancy complications, preterm birth. Black women are 48 percent more likely than whites to deliver prematurely (and, closely related, black infants are twice as likely as white babies to die before their first birthday). Here again, income and education aren’t protective. 

The effects on the mother’s health may also be far-reaching. Maternal age is an important risk factor for many severe pregnancy-related complications, as well as for chronic diseases that can affect pregnancy, like hypertension. “As women get older, birth outcomes get worse,” Lu said. “If that happens in the 40s for white women, it actually starts to happen for African-American women in their 30s.”

This means that for black women, the risks for pregnancy likely start at an earlier age than many clinicians — and women— realize, and the effects on their bodies may be much greater than for white women. This doesn’t mean that pregnancy should be thought of as inherently scary or dangerous for black women (or anyone). It does mean, in Geronimus’ view, that “a black woman of any social class, as early as her mid-20s, should be attended to differently” — with greater awareness of the potential challenges ahead.

That’s a paradigm shift that professional organizations and providers have barely begun to wrap their heads around. “There may be individual doctors or hospitals that are doing it [accounting for the higher risk of black women], but ... there’s not much of that going on,” Lu said. Should doctors and clinicians be taking into consideration this added layer of vulnerability?

“Yeah,” Lu said. “I truly think they should.”

Shalon Irving’s history is almost a textbook example of the kinds of strains and stresses that make high-achieving black women vulnerable. The child of two Dartmouth graduates, she grew up in Portland, Oregon, where her father’s father was pastor of a black church. Even in its current liberal incarnation, Portland is one of the whitest large cities in the U.S.

Thirty years ago, Portland was a much more uncomfortable place to be black. African-American life there was often characterized by social isolation, which Geronimus’ research suggests can be especially stressful. Samuel Irving spent years working as a railroad engineer; he got a law degree and later ran a city agency, but felt his prospects were still constrained by his race. Wanda held various jobs in marketing and communications, including at the U.S. Forest Service. In elementary school, Shalon was sometimes the only African-American kid in her class. “There were many mornings where she would stand outside banging on the door wanting to come back into the house because she didn’t want to go to school,” her mother recently recalled.

Shalon’s strategy for fitting in was to be smarter than everyone else. She read voraciously, wrote a column for a black-owned weekly newspaper and skipped a grade. Books and writing helped her cope with trauma and sorrow — first the death of her 20-month-old brother Simone in a car accident when she was six, then the fracturing of her parents’ marriage, then the diagnosis of her beloved older brother, Sam III, with a virulent form of early-onset multiple sclerosis when he was 17. Amid all the family troubles, Shalon was funny and driven, with a fierce sense of loyalty and “a moral compass that was amazing,” her mother said. She was also overweight and often anxious, given to daydreaming (as she later put it) about “alternative realities where people hadn’t died and things had not been lost.” When it came time to go away to college, she chose the historically black Hampton University in Virginia. “She wanted to feel that nurturing environment,” Wanda said. “She had had enough.”

By then, Shalon had noticed that many of her relatives — her mother’s mother, her aunts, her far-flung cousins — died in their 30s and 40s. Her brother, Sam III, sardonically joked that the family had a “death gene,” but Shalon didn’t think that was funny. “She didn’t understand why there was such a disparity with other families that had all these long lives,” Wanda said. Shalon nagged her father to stop smoking and her mother to lose weight. She set an example, shedding nearly 100 pounds while managing to graduate summa cum laude. At the start of graduate school at Purdue University, she was a svelte 138 pounds, “very classy and elegant, a lot like her mom,” said Bianca Pryor, a master’s student in consumer behavior who became one of what Shalon called her cherished circle of “sister friends.”

They were all bearing the same burden. “There’s this feeling that we’re carrying the expectations of generations, the first ones trying to climb the corporate ladder, trying to climb in academe,” said Pryor, now a marketing executive in New York City. “There is this idea that we have to work twice as hard as everyone else. But there’s also, ‘I’m first-generation, I don’t know the ropes, I don’t how to use my social capital.’ There’s a bit of shame in that … this constant checking in with yourself — am I doing this right?”

Shalon set the bar especially high: She was pursuing a double Ph.D. in sociology and gerontology, focusing on themes she would return to often — the long-term effects of early childhood trauma and maltreatment, the impact of the parent-child relationship on lifelong health. She finished in under five years, once again with top honors — “one of the best writers I’ve had in my academic career,” her adviser, sociologist Kenneth Ferraro, said.

She tried teaching, then decided to pursue a second master’s degree, this time from Johns Hopkins. She was also juggling family responsibilities. Wanda had followed Shalon around the country, earning her own master’s degree and working in nonprofit management. “They were like the ‘Gilmore Girls,’” Pryor said. In 2008, Sam III joined them in Baltimore to take part in a study on an experimental MS therapy. With his family’s support, he’d managed to finish college and run a poetry-slam nonprofit for kids. His next goal was to walk across the stage to receive his diploma instead of using his wheelchair. In February 2009, while he was doing physical rehab to regain strength in his legs, a blood clot traveled to his lung, killing him at the age of 32. Afterward, Wanda and Shalon clung to each other more tightly than ever.

In 2011 came what Ferraro called Shalon’s “change-the-world opportunity” — a consulting gig at the CDC with Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative. Soon she joined the agency’s prestigious Epidemic Intelligence Service, a training program in applied epidemiology — in her case, with a focus on community health — whose members served as first responders in health emergencies. As part of the uniformed ranks of the U.S. Public Health Service, she could eventually discharge her student debt — more than $165,000 for Hopkins alone — travel, buy a house. “The permanence was very appealing,” Pryor said.

What Shalon wasn’t prepared for was how unfulfilled she was. After Johns Hopkins, she had worked on the frontlines helping at-risk infants, teenage girls and mothers with HIV/AIDS. She was passionate about improving food and housing security to reduce people’s risk for high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems, but felt like much of her CDC research ended up sitting on a shelf. It bothered her that she rarely met the people behind the data she was analyzing. “She might see the numbers, but I don’t think she actually saw that little girl or little boy have a healthier lunch,” Pryor said.

The stress and frustration triggered the old corrosive self-doubts. But gradually, Shalon saw a way out of the box. She joined the CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention, refocusing on issues around trauma and domestic abuse— a mission she saw as “liberating” for African-American women, Wanda said. She started a coaching business called Inclusivity Standard to advise young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who wanted to get into college or grad school, as well as organizations seeking to become more diverse. She enlisted her mother, now working as a consultant, and Pryor to join her team. And she decided to write a self-help book, on the theory that many people in the communities she cared about couldn’t afford psychotherapy or didn’t trust it. “She was one of those people — one thing is just not enough,” said her coauthor Habiba Tran, a therapist and life coach with a multicultural clientele. “One modality is just not enough. One way of [reaching people] is just not enough.”

Shalon couldn’t remember a time when she didn’t want to be a mother. But her romantic life had been a “20-year dating debacle,” she admitted in the manuscript of her self-help book, in part because “I am deathly scared of heartbreak and disappointment, and letting people in comes with the very real risk of both.”

In 2014, when Shalon was 34, medical problems forced the issue. For years she’d been suffering from uterine fibroids — non-malignant tumors that affect up to 80 percent of black women, leading to heavy menstrual bleeding, anemia and pelvic pain. No one knows what causes fibroids or why blacks are so susceptible. What is known is that the tumors can interfere with fertility — indeed, black women are nearly twice as likely to have infertility problems as whites, and when they undergo treatment, there’s much less likelihood that the treatments will succeed. Surgery bought her a little time, but her OB-GYN urged her not to delay getting pregnant much longer.

Shalon had spent her adult years defying stereotypes about black women; now she wrestled with the reality that by embracing single motherhood, she could become one. The financial risk was substantial — she’d just purchased a town house in the quiet Sandy Springs area north of Atlanta, and her CDC insurance only covered artificial insemination for wives using their husbands’ sperm. In Portland, no one would have blinked an eye at an unmarried professional woman having a child on her own, but in Atlanta, “there is very much a vibe there that things should happen in a certain order,” Pryor said. “And Shalon was not having that at all. She was like, ‘Nope, this is what it is.’”

The gamble — funded with her parents’ help — ended in a series of devastating failures. In September 2015, in the midst of one unsuccessful insemination treatment, Shalon was alarmed to discover that her right arm had become swollen and hard. Doctors found a blood clot and diagnosed her with Factor V Leiden, a genetic mutation that makes blood prone to abnormal clumping. Suddenly a part of the family’s medical mystery was solved. Wanda’s mother had died of a pulmonary embolism, so had Sam III, so had other members of their extended family. But no one had been tested for the mutation, which is primarily associated with European ancestry. Had they known they carried it, maybe Sam’s deadly blood clot could have been prevented. It was a what-if too painful to dwell on.

By April 2016, Shalon had given up. She had a new boyfriend and she was on her way to Puerto Rico to help with the CDC’S Zika response, working to prevent the spread of the virus to expectant mothers and their unborn babies. There she discovered she’d gotten pregnant by accident. Her excitement was tempered by fear that the baby might have contracted Zika, which can cause microcephaly and other birth defects. But a barrage of medical tests confirmed all was well.

More good news: A few weeks later Pryor learned she was pregnant, too. “All right,” she told Shalon, “let’s finally go after our rainbows and unicorns! Because for so long it was just dark clouds and rain.”

In reality, Shalon’s many risk factors — including her clotting disorder, her fibroid surgery, the 36 years of wear and tear on her telomeres, her weight — boded a challenging nine months. She also had a history of high blood pressure, though it was now under control without medication. “If I was the doctor taking care of her, I'd be like, ‘Oh, this is going to be a tough one,’” her OB-GYN friend Raegan McDonald-Mosley said.

Shalon got through the physical challenges surprisingly well. Her team at Emory University, one of the premier health systems in the South, had no trouble managing her clotting disorder with the blood thinner Lovenox. They worried that scarring from the fibroid surgery could result in a rupture if her uterus stretched too much, so they scheduled a C-section at 37 weeks. At several points, Shalon’s blood pressure did spike, Wanda said, but doctors ruled out preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced hypertension) and the numbers always fell back to normal.

Wanda blamed stress. There was the painful end to Shalon’s romance with her baby’s father and her dashed hopes of raising their child together. There were worries about money and panic attacks about the difficulties of being a black single mother in the South in the era of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice. Shalon told everyone she was hoping for a girl.

Steeped in research about how social support could buffer against stress and adversity, Shalon joined online groups for single moms and assembled a stalwart community she could quickly deploy for help. “She was all about the village,” Rashid Njai said. “She’d say, ‘I’m making sure that when I have my baby, the village is activated and ready to go.’”

She poured more of her anxious energy into finishing the first draft of the book. She sent Tran the manuscript on Jan. 2, the day before the planned C-section, then typed one last note to her child. Boy or girl, its nickname would be Sunny, in honor of her brother Sam, her “sunshine.”

“You will always be my most important accomplishment,” she wrote. “No words have been created to adequately capture the fear and love and excitement that I feel right now.”

Until recently, much of the discussion about maternal mortality has focused on pregnancy and childbirth. But according to the most recent CDC data, more than half of maternal deaths occur in the postpartum period, and one-third happen seven or more days after delivery. For American women in general, postpartum care can be dangerously inadequate — often no more than a single appointment four to six weeks after going home. “If you’ve had a cesarean delivery, if you’ve had preeclampsia, if you’ve had gestational diabetes or diabetes, if you go home on an anticoagulant — all those women need to be seen significantly sooner than six weeks,” said Haywood Brown, a professor at Duke University medical school. Brown has made reforming postpartum care one of his main initiatives as president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

The dangers of sporadic postpartum care may be particularly great for black mothers. African Americans have higher rates of C-section and are more than twice as likely to be readmitted to the hospital in the month following the surgery. They have disproportionate rates of preeclampsia and peripartum cardiomyopathy (a type of heart failure), two leading killers in the days and weeks after delivery. They’re twice as likely as white women to have postpartum depression, which contributes to poor outcomes, but they are much less likely to receive mental health treatment. If they experience discrimination or disrespect during pregnancy or childbirth, they may be more likely to skip postpartum visits to check on their own health (they do keep pediatrician appointments for their babies). Lack of paid maternity leave and childcare can create additional hurdles. In one study published earlier this year, two-thirds of low-income black women never made it to their doctor visit.

Meanwhile, many providers wrongly assume that the risks end when the baby is born — and that women who came through pregnancy and delivery without problems will stay healthy. In the case of black women, providers may not understand their true biological risks or evaluate those risks in a big-picture way. “The maternal experience isn’t over right at delivery. All of the due diligence that gets applied during the prenatal period needs to continue into the postpartum period,” said Eleni Tsigas, executive director of the Preeclampsia Foundation.

It’s not just doctors and nurses who need to think differently. Like a lot of expectant mothers, Shalon had an elaborate plan for how she wanted to give birth, even including what she wanted her surgical team to talk about (nothing political) and who would announce the baby’s gender (her mother, not a doctor or nurse). But like most pregnant women, she didn’t have a postpartum care plan for herself. “It was just trusting in the system that things were gonna go okay,” Wanda said. “And that if something came up, she’d be able to handle it.”

The birth was “a beautiful time,” Wanda said. Shalon did so well that she convinced her doctor to let her and Soleil — French for “sun” — leave the hospital after two nights (three or four nights are more typical). Then at home, “things got real,” Pryor said. “It was Shalon and her mom trying to figure things out, and the late nights, and trying to get baby on schedule. Shalon was very honest. She told me, ‘Friend, this is hard.’”

C-sections have much higher complication rates than vaginal births. In Shalon’s case, the trouble — a painful lump on her incision — emerged a few days after she went home. The first doctor she saw, on Jan. 12, said it was nothing, but as she and her mother were leaving his office, they ran into her longtime OB-GYN, Elizabeth Collins. Collins took a look and diagnosed a hematoma — blood trapped in layers of healing skin, something that happens in about 1 percent of C-sections. The OB-GYN drained the “fluctuant mass” (as her notes described it), and “copious bloody non-purulent material” poured out from the one-inch incision. Collins also arranged for a visiting nurse to come by the house every other day to change the dressing. Collins didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Over the next two weeks, Shalon’s records show three more visits to Emory and two nursing visits at home. She feared that the incision wasn’t healing fast enough, perhaps because the blood thinners she was taking to prevent an embolism —another C-section risk — were hampering coagulation. But a wound specialist said everything looked OK. Shalon was worried about Soleil, too: Breastfeeding was harder than expected, and she’d stopped taking narcotic painkillers because she thought they were making the baby groggy. But less powerful painkillers weren’t working; between the pain and the anxiety, she was hardly sleeping. “Patient has poor endurance,” the visiting nurse noted on Jan. 16. “Leaving the home is a TAXING and CONSIDERABLE effort.”

What troubled the nurse most, though, was Shalon’s blood pressure. On Jan. 16 it was 158/100, high enough to raise concerns about postpartum preeclampsia, which can lead to seizures and stroke. But Shalon didn’t have other symptoms, such as headache or blurred vision. She made an appointment to see the OB-GYN for the next day, then ended up being too overwhelmed to go, the visiting nurse noted on Jan. 18. In that same record, the nurse wrote that Shalon had to change the dressing on her wound “sometimes several times a day due to large amounts of red drainage. This is adding to her stress as a new mom.” Her pain was 5 on a scale of 10, preventing her from “sleeping/relaxing.” Overall, Shalon told the nurse, “it just doesn’t feel right.” When the nurse measured her blood pressure on the cuff Shalon kept at home, the reading was 158/112. On the nurse’s equipment, the reading was 174/118.

“We provide caring and compassionate care to all of our patients,” the Visiting Nurse Health System said in an email. “She was in our care for less than four days but we gave the very best care we could.”

Under current ACOG guidelines, blood pressure readings that high should trigger more aggressive action, such as an immediate trip to the doctor for further evaluation, possibly medication and more careful monitoring. A history of hypertension and multiple other risks should raise more red flags, Tsigas said. “We need to look holistically at the risk factors irrespective of whether or not she had a diagnosis of preeclampsia,” she said. “If somebody has a whole plateful of risk factors, how are you treating them differently?” High blood pressure in the postpartum period should always be considered an emergency, she said.

“It would have made sense to admit her to the hospital for a complete work-up, including chest xray, an echocardiogram to evaluate for heart failure, and titration of her medication (both pain meds and hypertension meds) to sort out what she needed to feel OK and get [her] blood pressure out of the severe range,” wrote one doctor, a leading expert on postpartum care, who agreed to look at Shalon’s records at ProPublica’s request, but asked not to be identified. “Education on signs / symptoms of stroke seems insufficient — we don’t want to wait until someone is having a stroke to get their BP treated. A next-day follow-up for a BP of 174/118 seems questionable for a postpartum woman. Same-day assessment in her provider’s office, or in the ER, would have been very much within the bounds of common practice.”

Instead, Shalon was given an appointment for the following day, Jan. 19, with an OB-GYN at Women’s Center at Emory St. Joseph’s, which handled her primary care. By then, Shalon’s blood pressure had fallen, and there were “no symptoms concerning for postpartum [preeclampsia],” the doctor wrote in his notes. He wrote that Shalon was healing “appropriately” and thought her jumps in blood pressure were likely related to “poor pain control.” Wanda and Shalon left feeling more frustrated than ever.

At home over the next couple of days, Wanda noticed that one of Shalon’s legs was larger than the other. “She said, ‘Yeah, I know, Mom, and my knee hurts, I can’t bend it.”

When McDonald-Mosley looked over the voluminous medical records a few months later, what jumped out at her was the sense that Shalon’s caregivers didn’t seem to think of her as a patient who needed a heightened level of attention, despite the complexity of her pregnancy.

“She had all these risk factors. If you’re gonna pick someone who’s going to have a problem, it’s gonna be her. … She needs to be treated with caution.” The fact that her symptoms defied easy categorization was all the more reason to be vigilant, McDonald-Mosley said. “There were all these opportunities to identify that something was going wrong. To act on them sooner and they were missed. At multiple levels. At multiple parts of the health care system. They were missed.”

Shalon’s other friends were growing uneasy, too. Back in New York, Bianca Pryor had her own pregnancy emergency — her son was born very prematurely, at 24 weeks — so she couldn’t be in Atlanta. But she and Shalon talked often by phone. “She knew so much about her body one would think she was an M.D. and not a Ph.D. To hear her be concerned about her legs — that worried me.” Pryor encouraged her, “‘Friend, are you getting out of the house? Are you going for your walks? She told me, ‘No, I’m on my chaise lounge, and that’s about as much as I can do.’”

Habiba Tran was so upset at Shalon’s condition that she took her frustrations out on her friend. “I was cussing her out. ‘Go to the f— ing doctor.’ She’s like, ‘I called them. I talked to them. I went to see them. Get off my back.’”

On the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 24, Shalon took a selfie with her father, who’d been visiting for a week, then sent him to the airport to catch a flight back to Portland. Towards noon, she and Wanda and the baby drove to the Emory Women’s Center one more time. This time, Shalon saw a nurse practitioner. “We said, ‘Look, there's something wrong here, she’s not feeling well,’” Wanda recalled. “‘One leg is larger than the other, she’s still gaining weight’— nine pounds in 10 days — ‘the blood pressure is still up, there’s gotta be something wrong.”

The nurse’s records confirmed Shalon had swelling in both legs, with more swelling in the right one. She noted that Shalon had complained of “some mild headaches” and her blood pressure was back up to 163/99, but she didn’t have other preeclampsia signs, like blurred vision. She checked the incision — “warm dry no [sign/symptom] of infection” — and noted Shalon’s mental state (“cooperative, appropriate mood & affect, normal judgment”). She ordered an ultrasound to check the legs for blood clots, as well as preeclampsia screening.

Both tests came back negative. As Wanda remembers it, Shalon was insistent: “There is something wrong, I know my body. I don’t feel well, my legs are swollen, I’m gaining weight. I’m not voiding. I’m drinking a lot of water, but I’m retaining the water.” Before sending Shalon home, the nurse gave her a prescription for the blood pressure medication nifedipine, which is often used to treat pregnancy-related hypertension.

Emory Healthcare “is dedicated to the highest quality patient care,” it said in an email. It declined to answer questions about Shalon’s care, citing patient confidentiality.

Shalon and Wanda stopped at the pharmacy, then decided to go out to dinner with the baby. While they ate, they talked about a trip Shalon had planned for the three of them to take in just a few weeks. Ever since Sam III had died, Wanda and Shalon made a point of traveling someplace special on painful anniversaries. To mark his 40th birthday and the eighth anniversary of his death, Shalon had gotten the idea of going to Dubai. (“It’s cheap,” Shalon had told Wanda. “The money is worth so much more there. It’s supposed to be beautiful.”) She had long ago purchased their tickets and ordered the baby’s passport. Now Wanda was worried — would she be feeling well enough to make such a big trip with an infant? Shalon wasn’t willing to give up hope just yet. Wanda recalls her saying, “I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine.”

They got home and sat in Shalon’s bedroom for a while, laughing and playing with the baby. Around 8:30 p.m., Shalon suddenly declared, “I just don’t know, Mom, I just don’t feel well.” She took one of the blood pressure pills. An hour later, while she and Wanda were chatting, Shalon clutched her heart, gasped and passed out.

Paramedics arrived to find Shalon on the floor near the foot of her bed “pulseless and not breathing…” They tried to stabilize her, then rushed her to Atlanta’s Northside Hospital, just a couple of miles from her home. In the emergency room, doctors discovered that the breathing tube had been “incorrectly placed,” according to the ambulance service report — into her esophagus instead of her lungs. She never regained consciousness. Four days later, on Jan. 28, Wanda and Samuel withdrew life support and she died.

The news spread quickly among her colleagues at the CDC. William Callaghan, chief of the maternal and infant health branch, recalled in March that his boss, who had visited Shalon at the hospital, called to let him know. “It was a chilling phone call,” said Callaghan, one of the nation’s leading researchers on maternal mortality. “It certainly takes, in that moment, what I do, it made it very, very, very concrete. ... This was not about data, this was not about whether it was going up or it was going down. It was about this tragic event that happened to this woman, her family.”

Northside declined to do an autopsy, telling Wanda and Samuel that none was required, they recalled. (The hospital declined to comment.) So Wanda paid $4,500 for an autopsy by the medical examiners in neighboring DeKalb County. The report came back three months later. Noting that Shalon’s heart showed signs of damage consistent with hypertension, it attributed her death to complications of high blood pressure.

Wanda always knew she would be spending a lot of time caring for her granddaughter. She and Shalon loved the idea of the three of them making their way in the world together, trying to change it for the better.

Instead, Wanda has had to find a way to go on without her daughter and best friend. She took a break from her consultant work and moved into Shalon’s cozy townhouse, now crowded with baby books and gear, to assume her new role. Soleil was colicky, prone to gastric problems that kept both of them up all night. Shalon’s villagers stopped by often to help, but much of the time Wanda was on her own. Her grief was most acute at nights, but she couldn’t let it interfere with her duties to Soleil.

Eventually the colic went away and Soleil thrived. In June, Wanda and her five-month-old granddaughter went to Chattanooga for the annual meeting of U.S. Public Health Service scientists. A new honor — the Shalon Irving Memorial (Junior) Scientist Officer of the Year Award — had been created to celebrate Shalon’s legacy, and Wanda had been asked to say a few words. She handed the baby to one of Shalon’s CDC colleagues and took the small stage.

“Striving for excellence is a choice,” she told the audience through barely suppressed tears. “It is a commitment. … It’s a struggle to become the person you want to be. It’s harder than you want. It takes longer than you want. And it takes more out of you than you expected it should.”

Shalon personified excellence, Wanda said. “I don’t know if Shalon became the woman that she ultimately wanted to be. But I do know that she wanted to be the woman she was.”

She also knew how Shalon wanted to raise her daughter, and she was determined to do the same: reading to her, traveling with her, taking her to gymnastic and music classes. “She wanted Soleil to go to Montessori school, so I’m looking for a Montessori school for her,” Wanda said. “She wanted her to be christened, we got her christened.” Wanda and Soleil have developed a routine: Every morning they say hello to the photos of Shalon on the living room walls. Every evening they say goodnight. Sometimes Wanda shows Soleil the flag from her mother’s casket, now encased in a wooden frame. She set aside other mementos for later — the academic writings, the certificates and awards, the manuscript of her book with Tran. If all goes according to plan, it will be published early next year.

One Saturday afternoon in October, Wanda received another book, this one compiled by Shalon’s friends from the Epidemic Intelligence Service and entitled “Letters to Soleil.” She put the baby on her lap and said, “I’m gonna read you some letters about your mom.” One thing Wanda has tried never to do is cry in front of Soleil. But as she began reading aloud, she was sobbing. “And Soleil just kept looking at me — she couldn’t understand what was going on. And about a minute later she took my glasses off with her hands and put them down and then laid her head right on my chest and started patting me. Which made me cry all the more.”

Shalon was a letter-writer too. One day not long after the funeral, Wanda found a note that her daughter had written to her two years earlier, around the sixth anniversary of Sam III’s death. Shalon had left it among the other important items in her computer, trusting that if something ever happened to her, Wanda would find it. The letter reads like a premonition of her own death: Shalon wasn’t afraid for herself, but agonized over how it would affect her mother.

I am sorry that I have left you. On the particular day that I am writing this I have no idea how that may have occurred but know that I would never choose to leave.

I know it seems impossible right now, but please do not let this break you. I want you to be happy and smile. I want you to know that I am being watched after by my brothers and grandma and that we are all watching you. Please try not to cry. Use your energy instead to feel my love through time and space. Nothing can break the bond we have and you will forever be my mommy and I your baby girl!

Now 11 months old, Soleil has her mother’s precociousness, energy and headstrong yet sweet disposition. Like the sun she was named for, “she just lights up a room when she smiles,” Wanda said. She comes into Wanda’s bed every night and wakes her early to play. “She’ll bite my nose and kick me — ‘Nana, time to get up! Time to get up!’” And so Wanda does.

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Nearing the End Game: The 6 Phases of Trump’s Plan to Fire Robert Mueller

Mon, 2017-12-11 19:02
Republicans prepare to end the rule of law in America.

President Trump is now ready, willing and able to fire special prosecutor Robert Muller. It's a matter of when, not if. The warning signs have been accumulating since Trump decided not to fire Mueller last summer, and now alarm bells are ringing.

New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait says Mueller’s investigation is in "mortal danger." E.J. Dionne Jr. of the Washington Post says the campaign to fire Mueller is pushing us "closer to the precipice" of lawlessness.

And the Republicans who once said firing Mueller was unthinkable or sure to lead to impeachment have fallen silent. Indeed, Trump critics on the right who might have spoken in Mueller’s defense have signaled their allegiance to the president, not the law. Last week, the editors of the Wall Street Journal said Mueller has a "credibility problem" and should resign.

Trump talked about firing Mueller as early as last June, according to Newsmax publisher Christopher Ruddy, but he didn’t have any idea how to do it. Trump was blocked, not by considerations of morality or politics, but by a parliamentary maneuver quietly approved by Mitch McConnell.

McConnell’s move was not an expression of support for Mueller personally, or for an independent Russia investigation generally. It was merely a tactical maneuver designed to protect McConnell’s legislative agenda (repealing Obamacare and cutting taxes for the rich) from getting swamped by Trumpian chaos.

At that time, Trump and adviser Steve Bannon recognized the president did not have political muscle among Republicans to kill off the Russia investigation. Since then, they have devised a comprehensive plan to overwhelm the objections of establishment Republicans like McConnell and conservative allies like Ruddy.

That campaign has six phases, four of which have been implemented.

Phase 1: Trash Mueller’s reputation among Republicans.

As a registered Republican appointed to head the FBI by a Republican president, Mueller once enjoyed a reservoir of respect among Republicans. When Mueller was appointed special prosecutor in May, Newt Gingrich called him a "superb choice."

So smearing Mueller’s good name became the first goal. By early August, Gingrich dutifully said Muller embodied the "deep state at its worst."

Phase 2: Unify Republican media around scandals about Hillary Clinton.

After his return to Breitbart News, Bannon revived the Uranium One story first floated by Peter Schweizer in his 2015 bookClinton Cash. Schweizer alleged that Clinton played a "central role" in approving the sale of Uranium One, a Canadian company with mining rights in the United States, to Russian’s nuclear energy agency.

Fox News joined the effort. From mid-October to early November, Fox News devoted an extraordinary 12 hours of news coverage to this recycled story in just three weeks. Tucker Carlson said it was “insane” that Clinton had "given away" 20 percent of America’s uranium supplies. He suggested Clinton did so because Russians and people linked to the deal had given money to the Clinton Foundation.

The only problem, as Fox News’ Shepard Smith pointed out, is there was no evidence that Hillary Clinton had actually intervened, to facilitate the tale. And the Russian atomic energy agency did not obtain any uranium from the deal because it does not have the license necessary to import American uranium.

The conservative media also played up the Clinton campaign’s role in funding the production of a salacious dossier about Trump, which was prepared by a former British spy who got information from Russian sources. 

With these stories in wide circulation, Trump had a Russia defense that didn’t involve any facts about his Russian dealings, only the story of a unified party under siege from partisan liberals.

Never seen such Republican ANGER & UNITY as I have concerning the lack of investigation on Clinton made Fake Dossier (now $12,000,000?),....

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 29, 2017

By the end of October, only 38 percent of Republicans approved of Mueller’s investigation.

Phase 3: Link the Clinton scandals to Mueller and export the story to more mainstream news outlets.

Once the talking points about Muller’s reputation and Clinton’s scandals were engrained in the conservative news cycle, they were then linked in the new narrative that Mueller is a Clinton partisan.

This strategy of mass distraction relieved Republicans of the difficult job of explaining away the accumulating evidence of undisclosed contacts between the Trump entourage and Russian agents during the election campaign. It gave them something else to talk about.

Trump’s defenders on the congressional intelligence committees called on Mueller to investigate Uranium One. If he didn’t, he must be protecting Clinton.

If Mueller investigated the allegations in the Steele dossier, then he was doing Clinton’s work. 

If Mueller’s team included a lawyer who gave money to Obama in 2008, then his whole team was motivated by partisanship.

And if Mueller took steps to protect his investigation, his integrity could be used to undermine him. When it was revealed that Mueller had removed an FBI agent, Peter Strzok, from his investigation, after finding out that Strzok and a colleague had exchanged messages that could be interpreted as pro-Hillary Clinton, it wasn’t a good-faith effort to eliminate the appearance of bias; it was proof, as Sean Hannity put it, that Mueller and company are a "partisan, extremely biased, hyperpartisan attack team."

Now Trump’s partisans can criticize Mueller for being unfair and they don’t even have to talk about firing him.

In USA Today, James Robbins says Mueller should suspend his investigation. In The Hill, former Bush speechwriter Ned Ryun calls for “complete transparency” about the Clinton scandals as a way of achieving truth, without the need for a special prosecutor. “Trump can let Americans make up their own minds, know the truth, and move on to better things to do with their lives,” he writes. 

That's the script for firing Mueller.

Phase 4: Establish the expectation that the Russian investigation will be wrapped up soon.

“It is my hope and expectation that shortly after Thanksgiving, all the White House interviews will be concluded,” White House counsel Ty Cobb told CNN. The Washington Post reports he’s telling West Wing staffers that the investigation overall will soon conclude, exonerating President Trump.

Since no one familiar with Mueller or the complexity of the Russia investigation shares this fantasy, the Atlantic’s David Graham was puzzled. “Where does he get his optimistic take, and could he be right?” he asked.

As liberals ponder Trump’s veracity—and miss the point—the president continues to repeat this deliberately false talking point to establish the perception that the Mueller investigation is coming to an end. The president thinks his involvement in the investigation "will be wrapped up pretty soon," reliable mouthpiece Chris Ruddy said last week.

So when the Russian investigation doesn’t end by the New Year—and it won’t—Trump can argue the special investigator is on a fishing expedition that has gone on too long.

Phase 5: Wait for a moment of strength.

Trump can’t risk a political firestorm right now. He’s the least popular American president in a century. Four of his aides have been indicted, and he has no legislative accomplishments to speak of. His best hope is the Republicans’ regressive tax plan, which has to be rewritten by a conference committee. With major differences between House and Senate versions still outstanding, any controversy over Mueller could prevent Trump from gaining his first major legislative victory.

But if the tax cut is signed this month, as Republicans hope, Trump can claim a victory and he’ll have the muscle to move on Mueller.

Phase 6: Find a Justice Department official willing to fire Mueller.

By law, a president can’t fire a special prosecutor. Only the Attorney General can do that. Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation so the job would fall to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. In his confirmation hearings, Rosenstein made clear he would not obey an order to fire Mueller without "good cause." Nothing Mueller has done so far comes close to meeting that standard.

So Trump will have to fire Rosenstein. The department’s third-ranking official, Assistant Attorney General Rachel Brand, whom Trump appointed last May, would face the decision whether to obey Trump’s order. As I pointed out last June, Brand is a foot soldier in the conservative counterrevolution.

Given a choice between protecting Mueller, a nonpartisan career civil servant, and protecting Trump, a conservative president in danger of impeachment, I don’t think Brand will hesitate. She’s been training her whole professional life to do the ideologically correct thing. She (or someone other a Trump appointee) will fire Mueller. Congressional Republicans will not defend him. And the president will rule beyond the rule of the law. 

Trump's Enablers: A Leader This Malignant Stays in Power With a Lot of Help

Mon, 2017-12-11 16:54
Click here for reuse options! Trump's co-conspirators must be held responsible too .

Anyone who spends a lot of time studying the mind, behavior, emotions and communications of human beings could have told you Donald Trump was disturbed and unfit to hold the office of president, or any significant public service office, well before he decided to make a run for it. When he did make that fateful decision, there were plenty of warnings from experienced politicians, leaders, journalists, and ordinary citizens alike that this was not a good idea.

It did not take long for experienced mental health experts to speak out, abandoning the equivalent of professional gag orders for the sake of what many considered to be of higher importance and graver concern. They believe Trump is not only "not a good idea," but a danger to America, to the world and to the existence of American democracy (see The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump). It seems the country has found validity for its own fears and reactions in the analyses of these experts about how truly dangerous he is.

But Trump does not exist in a vacuum. He is not an island. If we keep hysterically reacting to every off-the-wall and totally dangerous tweet until our nervous systems ebb just enough to allow for the new normal, he will continue to terrorize us and eventually obliterate those facets of America even the least patriotic among us hold dear. Trump is the epicenter of a system that, even if frightened by him, or privately confused by his behavior, is nonetheless working very hard to maintain him in power. He is being explained, supported and justified by enablers, and many of them.

When he blows through norms of presidential conduct, they stretch the norms to make room for him, as if we had all agreed presidential norms were far too restrictive and needed loosening. When he lies, they lie right along with him as if there really were such things as "alternative facts." When he says something openly hateful, it is denied that it was hateful, as if we all don’t share a common language and cultural understanding. When he threatens and humiliates his own staff we are told he is being “reined in,” as if the American public should find comfort in the idea that the president needs to be reined in. And when he turns around and does it again at the remotest sign of competition, we are asked to accept that no one can control him and that controlling him is not in anyone’s job description.

Let’s give some of these dangerous enablers a little benefit of the doubt. It is safe to assume some of them are simply afraid of him. He is a bully and has been his whole life. One can only imagine how he has alternately charmed and seduced thousands of people simply to turn on them or communicate that he would if they ever stepped out of line. I certainly can feel empathy for that. After all, he is very powerful. And a powerful and disturbed man is a dangerous thing.

Let’s assume others are still under the sway of his charm or his big, simple, “let’s get things done” personality, even if reality shows that not much is getting done. They, like any hubristic teenager, can still convince themselves that they are the exception. They may be very motivated to please him and believe that if he is displeased with others it is their own fault. They are under the illusion that he would not turn on them either because 1) they are better; or 2) they know how to manage him. This is a hazardous bet to be sure, but understandably human.

Then there are the deniers. Perhaps they do not feel very secure and so their best survival instinct is to deny what is right before their eyes. Perhaps they keep telling themselves that he will eventually settle down and become a regular president. They may engage in “if only” thinking, as in, “If only the press would just let this whole Russia thing go, he could stop being so afraid and would settle into the job,” or, “If only we could get that tax bill passed, he would relax.” To take in that something is deeply wrong is simply too much for us human beings sometimes, and so the explanation is always that it’s “out there” instead of staring us in the face.

Still others are motivated to further their own agendas. Perhaps they see the ineptitude, impulsivity, delusion, mendacity and how all that in one package is not a great gift. But it is the deal they made. Maybe they even betrayed their own consciences to support him, and now owning that is too hard politically and even too hard psychologically. They have been waiting years to push through a political agenda and conservative judges. The tunnel vision on those issues, as well as the fate of their own political careers, allows them to continue to justify keeping up appearances and keeping him in power, despite the queasiness some may feel.

And finally, there are those who are motivated either by pure greed or lust for power, or both. The desecration of whole swaths of different people (most recently Native Americans, Puerto Ricans and Muslims) and the degradation of a system of checks and balances does not give them the willies, because they hope to capitalize on it. The corporate donors who hope to get rich off the tax scheme, the directors of various departments enriching themselves and holding positions of power they never would have held because are not qualified for them, the racists whose long-disguised hatred is joyfully rekindled every time Trump tweets, all relish the brutish tactics of Trump because none of them truly believes in equality. They wear their lapel American flags while they fail to be moved by the idea of America itself.

Whether we can empathize or not, all of these enablers are endangering us. This president and this administration are so much more dominated by vice than by the slightest desire to be virtuous. Fear, pride, weakness, foolishness, selfishness, and greed are all human experiences and something we are all vulnerable to at some point or another. But when they are chronic and when that chronicity has deleterious effects on others, they need to be challenged. We do not elect people to be run by their vices. Nor do we elect them to ignore the debilitating vices of others also in power. We elect them to be guided by their better selves, to embody and make decisions on behalf of all of us based on courage of conviction, concern for fellow human beings (even above themselves at times), intelligence and good discernment, and some connection to a communal striving toward a better life for all. And the beauty of our democracy is that we can stop electing them and we can make their work very unpleasant if they do not measure up to those high expectations.

So what are we doing about the dangerousness of our president and his many enablers? Could we be enabling them in some way? Do we wallow in our helplessness because we are not near the center of power, nursing our anxiety and letting ourselves off the hook? Are we crippled by our fear? Are we engaging in our own self-soothing denial? Do we pass the buck onto the next person, just cross our fingers, or perhaps sanctify Robert Mueller as our next savior? Are we blinded by our own hopes for a financial reward for suffering this presidency? Do we secretly nurture fears and hatred of other people enough to hope for that wall, ignoring all the signs that Trump has never been who he said he could be?

Trump is not the only dangerous one. Anyone who excuses him and does not hold him to account for his behavior in a serious way every time is enabling, and therefore dangerous. If we are not finding ways to participate in our democracy both to resist the destructive things he is doing and to build enough momentum to get him out of office, we are dangerous as well.

In some collective way, whether we voted for Trump or not, we are responsible for the calamity of this presidency. This is because the epicenter cannot hold if the system changes. And the system cannot change until we hold ourselves and all the enablers responsible. We are all potentially dangerous. But we are also all potentially corrective.

 

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The Republican Tax Bill Is a Poison Pill That Kills the New Deal

Mon, 2017-12-11 16:16
Today’s Republicans would have fit right in to Herbert Hoover’s administration.

Shortly after President Trump took office, House Speaker Paul Ryan could feel just how close he was to finally achieving the goal he and his party colleagues had dreamed about for decades. With Republicans in uncontested power in Washington, he tweeted, they had a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enact real comprehensive tax reform and get our economy moving.” Many Trump supporters thought reform meant relief for the “forgotten Americans” he talked about on the campaign trail. But Republicans had other plans, intending to take a wrecking ball to the system of American government that has been in place since 1933 and replace it with one based in their own ideology. If the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” becomes law, they will have succeeded.

It is hard to overstate the significance of this bill. It is a poison pill, killing the New Deal. The series of laws put in place by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and a Democratic Congress in the 1930s regulated business so employers could no longer abuse their workers or destroy the environment. It provided basic social welfare to support the elderly and infirm, and it developed infrastructure to guarantee everyone equal access to economic opportunity. Crucially, Democrats based their system on a distinctive ideology: The government must keep the economic playing field level for all Americans. As people at the bottom prospered, they would fuel economic growth for everyone.

This was indeed a “new deal for the American people,” as FDR put it. When he named it in 1932, government policy was based on the opposite ideology. Republicans who controlled the government in the 1920s insisted that national prosperity depended on government protection of the rich, who they believed would plow their capital back into the economy to provide jobs and higher wages for workers. When they took control of all branches of the federal government in 1921, they used their unchecked power to remake the government along the lines of their ideology. They slashed taxes and regulations and turned government over to businessmen, arguing that their policies would speed up the economy and bring the nation untold wealth.

In fact, the Republican policies did increase worker productivity by about 43 percent, but the profits went to business owners. So did the benefits of the tax cuts. By 1929, 5 percent of the population received one-third of the nation’s income. The structural weaknesses of this economy plunged the nation into the Great Depression. By the time FDR took office, 13 million people — 25 percent of the population — were out of work, the price of wheat had dropped from $1.05 to 39 cents a bushel, mothers went hungry so their children could eat, and people who had lost their homes lived in packing boxes in “Hoovervilles,” named after Herbert Hoover, the Republican president who oversaw the crash. Roosevelt’s call for a government responsive to the general welfare rather than the demands of the very wealthy won him the White House in a landslide, and the popularity of his New Deal committed the federal government to providing for the general welfare for the foreseeable future.

But while a vast majority of Americans — Democrats and Republicans both — liked the New Deal and believed it was a necessary corrective to the unfettered capitalism that had plunged the country into economic ruin, there was always a rump group of Republicans who loathed the idea that they could not run their businesses without check. They insisted that it was not their policies that had created the Depression, but rather that their policies had not been implemented fully enough. Rather than destroying individual liberty with government activism, government must be slashed still further. “Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate,” advised Hoover’s treasury secretary. “It will purge the rottenness out of the system. High cost of living and high living will come down. People will work harder, live a more moral life. Values will be adjusted, and enterprising people will pick up the wrecks from less confident people.”

When Republican Party leaders ignored the Hoover holdouts and embraced a philosophy similar to that of the Democrats, the discredited faction howled that the Grand Old Party had become a “Me, too” party embracing socialism. In the 1950s, with America enjoying a prosperity and standard of living unimaginable to the rest of the world, they insisted that Democrats and Eisenhower Republicans were cozying up to Communists and crushing the US economy. To save America — and the Republican Party — they demanded a return to the ideology of the 1920s.

To get there, a cabal of Republicans deliberately chose to abandon reasoned argument and pushed their ideology as sacrosanct. In 1951, William F. Buckley, Jr.  dismissed as “superstition” the Enlightenment belief that societies progressed through the free exchange of ideas. After all, given the facts, Americans chose an active government. Buckley argued that true Americans should refuse to compromise the principles of individualism and the Christianity they believed supported it.

Buckley and his brother-in-law L. Brent Bozell not only hated Democrats; they cheered on Sen. Joe McCarthy’s attacks on the Republican Eisenhower administration. In 1954, the two self-proclaimed “conservatives” condemned “liberals,” by whom they meant everyone, Democrat or Republican, who argued for fact-based government activism. Complaining that liberals were socialists who dominated all public spaces in America — government, media and universities — Buckley hit up rich industrialists for money to start a magazine to give voice to the “violated businessman’s side of the story.”

Led by National Review, “movement conservatives” set out to oust liberals from power, arguing that Americans were wrong to think that active government protected them from the excesses of unfettered capitalism. Rather, big government destroyed the lives of hardworking Americans. It sucked up a man’s hard-earned wages through taxes and gave it to lazy voters who demanded handouts. In the 1950s, when the government began to enforce desegregation, the “takers” were African-Americans, but over time, the category of takers included all women, minorities, and union members who wanted the government to level the playing field. This redistribution of wealth crushed the individual, they said; it was communism.

In 1971, business lawyer and future Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell actively enlisted business interests in the crusade. He urged the director of the US Chamber of Commerce to attack media, education, politics, and the courts in order to destroy the socialists who were attacking the American system of free enterprise.

The onslaught worked. Voters signed on to the goal of reducing handouts to lazy ingrates. In 1980, they put Ronald Reagan in the White House, and he promptly began to roll back regulations, cut taxes and slash social welfare programs. Wealth began to move upward.

Rather than acknowledging that their programs did the opposite of what they promised, the Reagan administration pushed movement conservative ideology by killing the Fairness Doctrine, an FCC regulation that required news to be honest, equitable and balanced. Immediately, talk radio hosts and Fox News started their own media, calling it “fair and balanced” because it gave airtime to the ideological narrative of movement conservatives.

Propelled by talk radio, movement conservatives gained control of the Republican Party in the 1990s. They purged from it as “RINOs” — Republicans In Name Only — all leaders who were willing to admit any role for government regulation or social welfare legislation. They vowed to oppose all taxes under any circumstances whatsoever, for without money, the federal government would be forced to shrink and cut regulation and welfare programs. Their ideology was absolute: The New Deal state must be destroyed. True believers, they would not compromise with Democrats or moderate Republicans, and as they refused to budge, they moved the window of acceptable policies closer and closer to their ultimate goal.

Republican reshaping of the government continued. By 2015, the top 1 percent of families took home more than 20 percent of income. Wealth distribution was 10 times worse than that: the families in the top 1 percent owned as much as the families in the bottom 90 percent. And yet the dismantling of the New Deal state was not complete because Americans clung to FDR’s signature programs: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Donald Trump capitalized on movement conservative rhetoric in the 2016 election by turning the party’s racist and sexist dog whistles into bullhorns, but it was his promises to protect the New Deal state by expanding health care, bringing back jobs, “draining the swamp” and reforming taxes that put him over the top.

But his promises were a con. With majority control in Congress, Republicans are scrambling to deliver a final death blow to the New Deal. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts slashes taxes on the very wealthy and kills regulations with the idea that rich businessmen will invest their money into the economy to support workers — the same idea that Republicans embraced in the 1920s. The $1.4 trillion hole the bill creates in the deficit will require crippling cuts to Medicare and Medicaid: This is deliberate. The bill also repeals the individual mandate, the piece of the ACA that enables it to work. That cut follows Congress’ refusal to fund the originally bipartisan Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Today’s Republicans would have fit right in to Hoover’s administration. Regarding social welfare programs, Utah’s Sen. Orrin Hatch noted: “I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves — won’t lift a finger — and expect the federal government to do everything.” Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley defended killing the estate tax because the repeal “recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.” Conservative economist Stephen Moore, who advised Trump on tax policy, explained the Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts with crystal clarity: “It’s death to Democrats.”

Welcome back to the Roaring ’20s.

 

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Former Facebook Executive Criticizes Social Network For 'Destroying How Society Works'

Mon, 2017-12-11 16:10
Chamath Palihapitiya warned that the social-media platform is “ripping apart the social fabric."

A second former Facebook executive is claiming that the social-media platform presents a threat to its users and society.

Chamath Palihapitiya, who served as the vice president for user growth at the company, described feeling "tremendous guilt" for his legacy at the company during a talk at the Stanford Graduate School of Business according to CNBC.

"The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we've created are destroying how society works," Palihapitiya commented, identifying the problem as online interactions being fueled by shallow instant gratifications such as receiving likes, hearts and thumbs-up icons.

Palihapitiya added, "No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it's not an American problem — this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem." He noted that he has minimized his use of Facebook and his children "aren't allowed to use that s**t."

Drawing a line under what he feels are the potential threats presented by Facebook and social media in general, he drew focus to an incident in India where false reports spread over WhatsApp led to the lynching death of seven people. "That's what we're dealing with," he said. "And imagine taking that to the extreme, where bad actors can now manipulate large swathes of people to do anything you want. It's just a really, really bad state of affairs."

After Facebook, Palihapitiya launched into a successful career as a venture capitalist in the tech sector. As well as funding multiple companies, he has commissioned studies about and led initiatives against various problems within and caused by Silicon Valley's startup community including the resulting shortage of affordable housing in the Bay Area and the industry's general moral failings and "anarchist cheerleading."

Palihapitiya's comments echo those made by Sean Parker at an Axios event last month. The founding president of Facebook commented, "The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them . . . was all about: 'How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?'"

He added, "And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that's going to get you to contribute more content, and that's going to get you . . . more likes and comments."

The problem, Parker noted, was that it created "a social-validation feedback loop . . . exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you're exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology."

Generally speaking, there is no concrete scientific data proving either Parker or Palihapitiya's claims, though there have been studies into the potential effects of a heavy diet of social media on the brain that have yielded at least some suggestion that what they allege may be the case.

 

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7 Enraging and Heartbreaking New Revelations from Trump's Accusers

Mon, 2017-12-11 13:10
Three women spoke out today in the hopes America finally will listen.

On Monday morning, three women who have accused Donald Trump of sexual abuse appeared on Megyn Kelly’s NBC Morning Show and took part in a press conference led by Brave New Films to demand a congressional investigation into the charges against the president.

Jessica Leeds says Trump groped her repeatedly on a plane three decades ago. Rachel Crooks, a former receptionist for a real estate development company with an office in Trump Tower, has alleged that Trump tried to kiss her several times in 2005. Samantha Holvey, who represented the state of North Carolina in the 2006 Miss USA pageant, says Trump would appear backstage to leer at her and other contestants. At least 16 other women have accused Trump of sexually inappropriate behavior.

Here are seven of the most disturbing allegations to emerge from their interviews.

1. Trump verbally insulted one of the women years later.

Leeds says that three years after he assaulted her on a plane, she ran into Trump at a gala.

“I recognized him, immediately,” she said. “He's the guy on the airplane. But he stands there, as I'm handing him this table assignment, and he says, 'I remember you. You were that...woman from the airplane. He called me the worst name ever."

“You don’t want to say it out loud. Does it begin with a C?” Kelly asked.

“Yes,” Leeds responded.

2. They were disappointed by the majority of white women voting for Trump.

Kelly asked what the women made of the fact that 53 percent of white women voted for Trump, despite at least a dozen women having accused him of sexual assault and/or harassment, and the emergence of a 2005 video in which Trump boasted about grabbing women by the genitals.

“That’s what hurt the most,” Holvey responded. “That women, who have lived through this—everybody has their own story of a man touching them inappropriately...This is not an incident that only happens once in a blue moon. This is a daily thing for women. And for [white women who voted for Trump] not to say, ‘You know what? That’s wrong. I don’t support that. I’m not voting for that. I don’t want that person to be leading my country.’ And that was so painful.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. They were attacked by Trump supporters for telling their stories.

Kelly asked the group about the “blowback from [Trump’s] Twitter army” they’d received for coming forward. Crooks recounted how she had been accused of lying by a woman who claimed to know her family, but whom she’d never actually met. “Of course,” she said. “Definitely. Social media is harsh.”

Kelly pointed out that Leeds’ detractors tried to pick apart her story by focusing on tiny details, such as her recollection that the armrest between her seat and Trump's had been removed at the time of the incident. She said subsequent reports noted that in the 1970s, armrests in first-class seats on that type of plane were, indeed, removable.

4. They questioned why some politicians seem to get away with serial abuse and assault.

Leeds suggested partisanship among Republicans was at the root of Trump’s “Teflon” ability to remain unscathed by the mountain of sexual assault and harassment allegations.

“I really wanted people to know who he is and what he is,” she said of going public with her accusations. “And I think his core supporters do know...but he’s their dog, so they’re going to stick with their dog.”

“Because he’s got the right team jersey on,” Kelly said.

At another point in the conversation, after a brief mention of the resignations of senators Al Franken and John Conyers, Crooks questioned the difference. “Why is the president immune to that?” she asked, later noting, “Politicians of a certain background seem to not be held accountable. And I think that’s sad.”

5. One victim described not being believed, and Trump’s election, as 'heartbreaking.'

“We’re private citizens,” Holvey stated. “And for us to put ourselves out there to try to show America who this man is and especially how he views women and for them to say ‘Meh, we don’t care,’ it hurt. And so, you know, now, it’s just like, all right, let’s try round two. The environment’s different. Let’s try again."

“For us to put ourselves out there to try to show America who this man is and especially how he views women and for them to say ‘Eh, we don’t care,’ it hurt. Trump accuser Samantha Holvey on @MegynTODAY pic.twitter.com/BIWZCYlQzA

— TODAY (@TODAYshow) December 11, 2017

6. They’re calling for a long overdue congressional investigation into the charges against Trump.

“We’re at the position now where in some areas of our society, people are being held accountable for unwanted behavior,” Leeds stated before a group of assembled press. "But we are not holding our president accountable for what he is and who he is.”

“They’ve investigated other Congress members, so I think it only stands fair that he be investigated as well,” Holvey added. “And I think a nonpartisan investigation is very important...This isn’t a partisan issue. This how women are treated every day.”

7. All of them wish they didn’t have to be in the spotlight.

“None of us want this attention,” Leeds said,during the press conference. “None of us are comfortable with it. If we had been comfortable with being a star, we would have done something else with our lives. But this is important. So when asked, we speak out.”  

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A Victory for Clean Elections in Alabama Special Senate Election

Mon, 2017-12-11 12:47
An order by a Montgomery County judge means a recount, if needed, will be more credible.

An Alabama court ordered the state’s election officials to preserve all digital ballot images of the paper ballots cast in Tuesday’s high-profile special U.S. Senate election between Democrat Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore.

The temporary restraining order by Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Roman Ashley Shaul is a key step in verifying the vote in a controversial election, in case a vote count challenge or recount ensues.

“It appears that Plaintiffs and similarly situated voters would suffer irreparable and immediate harm if digital ballot images are not preserved,” Judge Shaul wrote.

He cited “a reasonable belief that the results may be close,” state and federal law requiring “digital images to be preserved,” the fact that the secretary of state routinely “provide[s] election information to election officials,” and the “nominal” cost of doing so—sending an email telling election offices to check one box on software that runs the scanners reading and tabulating the results from ink-marked paper ballots.

Shaul rejected the contention by Alabama’s top election official, Secretary of State John Merrill, a Republican, that the four citizens who brought the case had sued the wrong office.

“Even if the Secretary of State were an improper party, the only action being requested of him at this point is to send a communication through a system that already exists and is routinely used,” Shaul wrote before ordering Merrill and Alabama Election Director Ed Packard to “communicate and send to all probate judges and election officials in the State of Alabama, the following ORDER: All counties employing digital ballot scanners in the Dec. 12, 2017 election shall set their voting machines to save ALL PROCESSED IMAGES in order to preserve all digital images.”

The order is a victory for voting rights and election transparency activists. It affirms that paper ballots—and the electronic images that scanners create while counting them—are public records that must be saved.  

Federal law states that all federal election materials must be kept for 22 months, but some states and counties have not done so in recent years. That was the case in Alabama, where, until Monday’s order, top election officials only told local election officials to preserve digitized imaged of write-in ballots.

While the paper ballots that were scanned would remain, Alabama, like many states, does not have a recent history of election challenges and recounts. That means the potential destruction of Tuesday’s ballots scans would only have added another layer of complexity to verifying the results, should a challenge ensue. 

Four Alabamans—a Republican, Democrat, Independent and a minister—late last week sued Alabama’s Republican Secretary of State John Merrill and State Election Director Ed Packard after their lawyers were rebuffed by the statewide officials, who refused to instruct county election officials to properly scan the ballot images.

Next Tuesday’s special election for the seat previously held by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is one of the most controversial in recent state history. It has been rocked by accusations by more than half a dozen women that Roy Moore sexually harassed or assaulted them several decades ago.

Those disclosures have led to swings in pre-election polls, prompting the voting rights advocates to sue to ensure all the votes cast are accurately counted. Their suit cited Alabama law that required election records be preserved for six months and federal law that required all the records be preserved for 22 months.

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Trump's Tweets of Anti-Muslim Videos Set the Stage for Jerusalem Speech

Mon, 2017-12-11 12:25
The more dangerous message sought to be conveyed by the video represents the Trump administration's hostility toward Islam.

Some political events are volcanic; others are like a slow-burning fuse.

US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a political volcano but days earlier he lit an interfaith cultural fuse by retweeting three anti-Muslim videos originally posted by a fringe far-right British group.

One of the three videos merits particular attention because it appears to assert the inherent incompatibility between Islam and Christianity.

The second of the video series tweeted by the Britain First group’s Jayda Fransen is frozen on the image of a heavyset man holding a demurely white-gowned, blue-cloaked statue. A single sentence, presumably appended by Fransen, offers a stark indication of the content: “Muslim Destroys a Statue of the Virgin Mary!” Even those who do not click to play the video will get the gut-wrenching message.

The New York Times, which examined the video, said it is 4 years old and the man is an extremist Syrian cleric, Abo Omar Ghabra.

Ghabra’s actions fit a pattern set by the Taliban’s dynamiting of the monumental Buddahs of Bamiyan in 2001 and other conspicuous attempts by Muslim extremist groups to destroy representational art.

The more dangerous message sought to be conveyed by the video and its wide dissemination by Trump is the implacable hostility between Islam and Christianity. The video is meant to intensify the struggle between the iconoclastic upstart faith founded by Prophet Mohammad in seventh-century Arabia and the older religion that shaped Western civilisation.

How? There is a great and terrible power in seeing a bearded, apparently Muslim man carelessly, even triumphantly smashing an icon of the Christian faith. It is even more disturbing that he is seen destroying a symbol of female virtue, an inspirational figure for Christians across the world.

Some might say the video and its retweeting are a slightly more spiritual version of the inflammatory cover featured by a mass-market, politically conservative Polish magazine in February 2016. That didn’t get as much attention or traction as this video. (Trump didn’t retweet it and he was still considered a bizarre, improbable presidential candidate.)

Even so, as this columnist noted in this newspaper at the time, the wSieci magazine cover sent a dangerous and powerful message at the height of European concerns over the influx of Muslim refugee men. It bore the words “The Islamic Rape of Europe” and showed a white woman wrapped in the European Union’s blue flag, her mouth open in a Munch-like scream while three pairs of dark-skinned male hands pull at her hair, clothes, waist and arms.

Both the magazine and the retweeted video have the same subtext: the threat of Muslim sexual dominance over the Christian West. But Trump’s second retweeted video also taps into something else. It reinforces the expectation of a decisive coming struggle between Islam and Christianity.

Trump’s former chief strategist at the White House, Stephen Bannon, is known to think along these lines. In 2014, he delivered a Skype address to a Vatican conference hosted by conservative Catholic group the Institute for Human Dignity. He declared that the impending conflict needed all Christians to join together as a new “church militant.” That was the only way, Bannon said, to “fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting.”

The video retweeted by Trump is supposed to illustrate that “barbarity.” For, to smash a statue revered by another elicits a visceral reaction.

The retweeted video certainly does convey a dangerous threat, albeit at the level of a provincial cleric in northern Syria. The video tries to portray such behaviour as an article of the Islamic faith when it is anything but. Practices such as Ghabra’s are not condoned by stories about the Prophet’s own actions.

When he entered the pre-Islamic pagan shrine Kaaba in Mecca, the Prophet is said to have destroyed all the images of gods but allowed a painting of the Virgin and infant Jesus to remain. There are varying accounts of how he protected that painting. Some say he covered it with his hands; others that he directed it to be left intact.

The painting perished when a fire destroyed the building in 683, barely half a century after it was saved.

That story offers not just a wholesome but a holistic perspective of the Muslim faith’s approach to other people’s icons.

 

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Why Aren't Leaders Held Accountable for War as They Are Beginning to Be for Sexual Abuse?

Mon, 2017-12-11 11:52
What’s puzzling is why that capacity for outrage and demand for accountability doesn’t extend to military folly that costs many thousands of lives.

What makes a Harvey Weinstein moment? The now-disgraced Hollywood mogul is hardly the first powerful man to stand accused of having abused women. The Harveys who preceded Harvey himself are legion, their prominence matching or exceeding his own and the misdeeds with which they were charged at least as reprehensible.

In the relatively recent past, a roster of prominent offenders would include Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and, of course, Donald Trump. Throw in various jocks, maestros, senior military officers, members of the professoriate and you end up with quite a list. Yet in virtually all such cases, the alleged transgressions were treated as instances of individual misconduct, egregious perhaps but possessing at best transitory political resonance.

All that, though, was pre-Harvey. As far as male sexual hijinks are concerned, we might compare Weinstein’s epic fall from grace to the stock market crash of 1929: one week it’s the anything-goes Roaring Twenties, the next we’re smack dab in a Great Depression.

How profound is the change? Up here in Massachusetts where I live, we’ve spent the past year marking John F. Kennedy’s 100th birthday. If Kennedy were still around to join in the festivities, it would be as a Class A sex offender.  Rarely in American history has the cultural landscape shifted so quickly or so radically.

In our post-Harvey world, men charged with sexual misconduct are guilty until proven innocent, all crimes are capital offenses, and there exists no statute of limitations. Once a largely empty corporate slogan, “zero tolerance” has become a battle cry.

All of this serves as a reminder that, on some matters at least, the American people retain an admirable capacity for outrage. We can distinguish between the tolerable and the intolerable. And we can demand accountability of powerful individuals and institutions.

Everything They Need to Win (Again!)

What’s puzzling is why that capacity for outrage and demand for accountability doesn’t extend to our now well-established penchant for waging war across much of the planet.

In no way would I wish to minimize the pain, suffering, and humiliation of the women preyed upon by the various reprobates now getting their belated comeuppance.  But to judge from published accounts, the women (and in some cases, men) abused by Weinstein, Louis C.K., Mark Halperin, Leon Wieseltier, Kevin Spacey, Al Franken, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor, my West Point classmate Judge Roy Moore, and their compadres at least managed to survive their encounters.  None of the perpetrators are charged with having committed murder.  No one died.

Compare their culpability to that of the high-ranking officials who have presided over or promoted this country’s various military misadventures of the present century.  Those wars have, of course, resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and will ultimately cost American taxpayers many trillionsof dollars.  Nor have those costly military efforts eliminated “terrorism,” as President George W. Bush promised back when today’s G.I.s were still in diapers.

Bush told us that, through war, the United States would spread freedom and democracy.  Instead, our wars have sown disorder and instability, creating failing or failed states across the Greater Middle East and Africa.  In their wake have sprung up ever more, not fewer, jihadist groups, while acts of terror are soaring globally. These are indisputable facts.

It discomfits me to reiterate this mournful litany of truths.  I feel a bit like the doctor telling the lifelong smoker with stage-four lung cancer that an addiction to cigarettes is adversely affecting his health.  His mute response: I know and I don’t care.  Nothing the doc says is going to budge the smoker from his habit.  You go through the motions, but wonder why.

In a similar fashion, war has become a habit to which the United States is addicted.  Except for the terminally distracted, most of us know that.  We also know -- we cannot not know -- that, in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. forces have been unable to accomplish their assigned mission, despite more than 16 years of fighting in the former and more than a decade in the latter.

It’s not exactly a good news story, to put it mildly.  So forgive me for saying it (yet again), but most of us simply don’t care, which means that we continue to allow a free hand to those who preside over those wars, while treating with respect the views of pundits and media personalities who persist in promoting them.  What’s past doesn’t count; we prefer to sustain the pretense that tomorrow is pregnant with possibilities.  Victory lies just around the corner.

By way of example, consider a recent article in U.S. News and World Report.  The headline: “Victory or Failure in Afghanistan: 2018 Will Be the Deciding Year.” The title suggests a balance absent from the text that follows, which reads like a Pentagon press release. Here in its entirety is the nut graf (my own emphasis added):

“Armed with a new strategy and renewed support from old allies, the Trump administration now believes it has everything it needs to win the war in Afghanistan. Top military advisers all the way up to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis say they can accomplish what two previous administrations and multiple troop surges could not: the defeat of the Taliban by Western-backed local forces, a negotiated peace and the establishment of a popularly supported government in Kabul capable of keeping the country from once again becoming a haven to any terrorist group.”

Now if you buy this, you’ll believe that Harvey Weinstein has learned his lesson and can be trusted to interview young actresses while wearing his bathrobe.

For starters, there is no “new strategy.” Trump’s generals, apparently with a nod from their putative boss, are merely modifying the old “strategy,” which was itself an outgrowth of previous strategies tried, found wanting, and eventually discarded before being rebranded and eventually recycled. 

Short of using nuclear weapons, U.S. forces fighting in Afghanistan over the past decade and a half have experimented with just about every approach imaginable: invasion, regime change, occupation, nation-building, pacification, decapitation, counterterrorism, and counterinsurgency, not to mention various surges, differing in scope and duration.  We have had a big troop presence and a smaller one, more bombing and less, restrictive rules of engagement and permissive ones.  In the military equivalent of throwing in the kitchen sink, a U.S. Special Operations Command four-engine prop plane recently deposited the largest non-nuclear weapon in the American arsenal on a cave complex in eastern Afghanistan.  Although that MOAB made a big boom, no offer of enemy surrender materialized.

 In truth, U.S. commanders have quietly shelved any expectations of achieving an actual victory -- traditionally defined as “imposing your will on the enemy” -- in favor of a more modest conception of success.  In year XVII of America’s Afghanistan War, the hope is that training, equipping, advising, and motivating Afghans to assume responsibility for defending their country may someday allow American forces and their coalition partners to depart.  By 2015, that project, building up the Afghan security forces, had already absorbed at least $65 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars.  And under the circumstances, consider that a mere down payment.

According to General John Nicholson, our 17th commander in Kabul since 2001, the efforts devised and implemented by his many predecessors have resulted in a “stalemate” -- a generous interpretation given that the Taliban presently controls more territory than it has held since the U.S. invasion.  Officers no less capable than Nicholson himself, David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal among them, didn’t get it done. Nicholson’s argument: trust me.

In essence, the “new strategy” devised by Trump’s generals, Secretary of Defense Mattis and Nicholson among them, amounts to this: persist a tad longer with a tad more.  A modest uptick in the number of U.S. and allied troops on the ground will provide more trainers, advisers, and motivators to work with and accompany their Afghan counterparts in the field.  The Mattis/Nicholson plan also envisions an increasing number of air strikes, signaled by the recent use of B-52s to attack illicit Taliban “drug labs,” a scenario that Stanley Kubrick himself would have been hard-pressed to imagine.

Notwithstanding the novelty of using strategic bombers to destroy mud huts, there’s not a lot new here.  Dating back to 2001, coalition forces have already dropped tens of thousands of bombs in Afghanistan.  Almost as soon as the Taliban were ousted from Kabul, coalition efforts to create effective Afghan security forces commenced.  So, too, did attempts to reduce the production of the opium that has funded the Taliban insurgency, alas with essentially no effect whatsoever.  What Trump’s generals want a gullible public (and astonishingly gullible and inattentive members of Congress) to believe is that this time they’ve somehow devised a formula for getting it right.

Turning the Corner

With his trademark capacity to intuit success, President Trump already sees clear evidence of progress.  “We're not fighting anymore to just walk around,” he remarked in his Thanksgiving message to the troops.  “We're fighting to win. And you people [have] turned it around over the last three to four months like nobody has seen.”  The president, we may note, has yet to visit Afghanistan.

I’m guessing that the commander-in-chief is oblivious to the fact that, in U.S. military circles, the term winning has acquired notable elasticity.  Trump may think that it implies vanquishing the enemy -- white flags and surrender ceremonies on the U.S.S. Missouri.  General Nicholson knows better. “Winning,” the field commander says, “means delivering a negotiated settlement that reduces the level of violence and protecting the homeland.” (Take that definition at face value and we can belatedly move Vietnam into the win column!)

Should we be surprised that Trump’s generals, unconsciously imitating General William Westmoreland a half-century ago, claim once again to detect light at the end of the tunnel?  Not at all.  Mattis and Nicholson (along with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster) are following the Harvey Weinstein playbook: keep doing it until they make you stop.  Indeed, with what can only be described as chutzpah, Nicholson himself recently announced that we have “turned the corner” in Afghanistan.  In doing so, of course, he is counting on Americans not to recall the various war managers, military and civilian alike, who have made identical claims going back years now, among them Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in 2012.

From on high, assurances of progress; in the field, results that, year after year, come nowhere near what's promised; on the homefront, an astonishingly credulous public. The war in Afghanistan has long since settled into a melancholy and seemingly permanent rhythm. 

The fact is that the individuals entrusted by President Trump to direct U.S. policy believe with iron certainty that difficult political problems will yield to armed might properly employed.  That proposition is one to which generals like Mattis and Nicholson have devoted a considerable part of their lives, not just in Afghanistan but across much of the Islamic world. They are no more likely to question the validity of that proposition than the Pope is to entertain second thoughts about the divinity of Jesus Christ.

In Afghanistan, their entire worldview -- not to mention the status and clout of the officer corps they represent -- is at stake.  No matter how long the war there lasts, no matter how many “generations” it takes, no matter how much blood is shed to no purpose, and no matter how much money is wasted, they will never admit to failure -- nor will any of the militarists-in-mufti cheering them on from the sidelines in Washington, Donald Trump not the least among them.

Meanwhile, the great majority of the American people, their attention directed elsewhere -- it’s the season for holiday shopping, after all -- remain studiously indifferent to the charade being played out before their eyes.

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It took a succession of high-profile scandals before Americans truly woke up to the plague of sexual harassment and assault.  How long will it take before the public concludes that they have had enough of wars that don’t work?  Here’s hoping it’s before our president, in a moment of ill temper, unleashes “fire and fury” on the world.

Men Accused of Plotting Kansas Mosque Bombing Demand Jury of Trump Voters: Report

Mon, 2017-12-11 11:38
The defense is pulling out all the stops to get its clients off.

The Associated Press, via ABC News, reports that attorneys for defendants argued on Friday that it would be wrong to only pick jurors from a pool of urban residents because they could be prejudiced against the defendants for political reasons.

In fact, the attorneys want to make sure the jury includes residents of rural parts of the state, who were more likely to have voted for President Donald Trump last year.

“This case is uniquely political because much of the anticipated evidence will center around, and was in reaction to, the 2016 Presidential election,” the defense attorneys wrote.

The AP also says that the defense attorneys believe that this trial “will require jurors to weigh whether the alleged conduct constitutes a crime or whether it is constitutionally protected speech and assembly and the right to bear arms.”

The three defendants — Gavin Wright, Patrick Stein and Curtis Allen — were arrested last year after officials uncovered an alleged plot to detonate truck bombs at an apartment complex in Garden City, Kansas, on the day after the 2016 presidential election. The three men were each charged with one count of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction at the apartment complex.

The trial of the three men is scheduled to begin in March 2018.

 

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Incentive for Terrorism: America Has Taken Nearly 70% of the World's Wealth Gains Since 2012

Mon, 2017-12-11 11:24
The super-rich are pillaging the world and making everyone less safe in the process.

America's super-rich are taking not just from their own nation, but from the rest of the world. Data from the 2017 Global Wealth Databook and various war reports help to explain why U.S. citizens are alienating people outside our borders.

From 2012 to 2017, global wealth increased by $37.7 trillion, and U.S. wealth increased by $26 trillion. Largely because of a surging stock market, our nation took nearly 70 percent of the entire global wealth gain over the past five years. Based on their dominant share of U.S. wealth, America's richest 10 percent—much less than 1 percent of the world's adult population—took over half the world's wealth gain in the past five years.

Wealth in the Volatile Middle East Has Declined

It's not surprising that young men in the Middle East and Africa would harbor resentment against a country that takes the great majority of the wealth—especially considering that the most troubled areas of the world have collectively lost wealth between 2012 and 2017. That's both average wealth and median wealth.

Although the GWD has limited data about individual nations in the Middle East and Africa, some is available. Median wealth has plummeted in Syria and Iran and Yemen. It has gone down by almost half in all of Africa. Wealth levels are crashing in the areas of the world where we wage war.

We're Bombing Nations That Aren't Terrorist Threats

An explosion jolted Basim awake, and he could see the night sky through the massive hole in his bombed-out Iraqi house. "Mayada!" he screamed for his wife. No response from her, or from his daughter Tuqa.... In the hospital days later, Basim lifted his phone and looked at the smiling images of a wife and daughter he would never see again. He began to sob uncontrollably.

One would think that a nation monopolizing the world's new wealth would avoid alienating the victims of inequality. But it's just the opposite. The U.S. dropped thousands of bombs on seven Middle Eastern and African countries in 2016. Estimates of civilian deaths by airwar monitoring groups surpass official Pentagon numbers by a wide margin.

For the desperate residents of Yemen, attacks by Saudi Arabia continue with American weapons, using American targeting data and delivered by American jets. Power and water facilities have been destroyed. Supply lines have been cut. Hospitals have been bombed, and a cholera epidemic is raging out of control.

In Africa, the Pentagon is engaged in about 100 missions in 20 African countries. That includes Somalia, which has been the target of a wave of new U.S. bombings in 2017, even though that country is one of the Middle Eastern states that "are not serious terrorism risks," according to the Cato Institute. The bombing campaign in Somalia is waged with no public debate or congressional authorization. Since 2001 the Authorization for Use of Military Force Act has been used to justify deadly attacks on any newly feared potential enemy, under the guise of taking aggressive action on any nation that might have "planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks" of 9/11.

Apology to the Troops

Big money interests have turned America into a financial machine, accumulating more and more tax-deferred wealth through the stock market, and using the media to frighten us with overblown terrorist threats. At the same time, Americans are brainwashed into believing that we're forever fighting a war for freedom. But freedom has become a distorted concept in our increasingly unequal nation. Young lives are put at risk to ensure that a few thousand American households are free to take most of the wealth.

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The Republican Tax Bill Is White Supremacy by Another Name

Mon, 2017-12-11 10:15
Fiscal policy is never race-neutral, and the GOP's plutocratic legislation is no exception.

The empire has struck back. It almost always does.

Fiscal policy is not race-neutral. It prioritizes certain groups and interests while punishing and disadvantaging others. The Republican Party's new "tax reform" bill is no different.

This legislation takes hundreds of billions of dollars away from poor and working-class Americans and gives it to the (already) very rich. As I have suggested in an earlier essay, the Republican tax bill has no redeeming social value. It can be understood as a Malthusian effort to kill off the "useless eaters," with the goal of creating a social-Darwinist dystopia where the amount of money a person has is taken as the ultimate indicator of human worth. On the surface the Republican tax plan is simply legal theft. But its deeper goal is to radically remake American society by undoing the changes made by the civil rights movement, the Great Society and the New Deal.

As it does in almost every area of American life, the color line plays a role here. The Republican Party is the United States' largest white identity organization. Movement conservatives and the right-wing more broadly uses both white racial resentment and old-fashioned overt racism to win election. Today's Republican Party actively works to undermine the freedom and equal rights of nonwhites. President Donald Trump is championed by white racial terrorists such as the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and other white racial reactionaries who have rallied to the banner of the "alt-right."

Most important still, the unifying vision of the Republican Party since at least the post-civil rights era has been to elevate and maintain the power of white people as a group (and "whiteness" as a cultural and political force).

The Republican tax bill reflects this bundle of interests, goals and desires in at least two ways.

The "tax reform" bill has a disproportionately negative impact on nonwhites (in addition to the disabled, women and those who live in large urban areas and "blue states"). This is a function of the way systemic inequality is created, reproduced and nurtured both historically as well as in the present.

For example, it is estimated that whites have at least 10 times the wealth of black Americans (and 12 times that of Latinos). Some estimates of the racial wealth gap actually indicate that whites as a group have 69 times more wealth than blacks if ownership of a car is excluded from the calculations. Racial discrimination against nonwhites in the labor market is estimated to cost the United States economy at least $2 trillion a year in lost productivity.

The housing, banking and lending markets are also sites of racism and other types of discrimination against black and brown Americans. These outcomes rest upon a foundation in which black and brown Americans were subjected to centuries of land theft, slavery, ethnic cleansing, racial pogroms and other types of interpersonal and structural violence that stole wealth from them and gave it to whites -- including newly arrived immigrants from Europe.

These policies are the result of decisions by policymakers and other political and social elites. These disparate, unjust and anti-democratic outcomes are not accidental or random. They are a choice.

In America, wealth inequality has both a gender and a race. White people own 90 percent of America's wealth. Roughly 2 percent of black and Latino households are worth $1 million, while 15 percent of white households have a net worth of at least that much. In the United States, the proverbial "one percent" as measured by wealth and income almost entirely consists of older white men.

Predictably, the Republican tax bill was largely crafted by white men of a certain economic class and political orientation to expand their political power and personally enrich themselves financially. Donald Trump is estimated to receive at least $1 billion in benefits because of proposed changes in the estate tax.

Dedrick Asante-Muhammad, an expert on race and economics who has worked with organizations such as the NAACP and Prosperity Now, discussed this with me by email:

The Republican "tax reform" bill is another significant step forward in concentrating wealth among the wealthiest and reinforcing the racial economic inequality which is and always has been the foundation of racial inequality. As the Inequality Charts from Urban Institute note, wealth is declining for the poorest Americans over the last 50 years and wealth is disproportionately going to the wealthy.

Whites will disproportionately benefit from the proposed changes to the tax code, Asante-Muhammad continues, largely because whites are so much wealthier: "Median white wealth, not including durable goods, is about $140,000 while African Americans have about $4,000 of [median] wealth and Latinos have about $6,000." About 90 percent of people wealthy enough to be affected by the current estate tax are white, although Asante-Muhammad adds the important qualifier that "most whites do not have the high level of assets required to benefit from a decrease in the estate tax."

Perhaps the biggest effect of the Republican tax proposal, he suggests, will be the creation of "a massive deficit that prevents the investment needed to have a broad, inclusive middle class" and that will require further reductions in social programs that benefit the working class and the poor.

The Republican "tax reform" bill is really the next step in a concerted effort to destroy the social safety net by eliminating programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid with the goal of giving more money to plutocrats and corporations. By using racist stereotypes against nonwhites, who are portrayed as "moochers" or "takers," conservatives will win support among many white Americans for this assault. The end goal of destroying the social safety net, and by extension gutting funding for the public sector as a whole, also has a disproportionately negative impact on nonwhites, who are over-represented in public sector jobs as well as in nursing and health care occupations.

It is also true that the Republican tax bill is one of the most unpopular pieces of legislation in modern American political history. As such, Democrats and others are hopeful that the harm done to hundreds of millions of Americans from losing their health insurance coverage, being unable to afford higher education or seeing the value of their homes decrease will create a backlash against the Republican Party at the polls. This is entirely too optimistic, as Asante-Muhammad warns:

After almost 40 years of a regressive economy I think we are seeing an increasing pessimism, particularly among whites, about future economic possibilities. The success of building a strong white American middle class that occurred during the mid-20th century is increasingly in danger of regressing. We already see that the slower middle-class economic growth for white Americans is causing a sense of outrage and demands to go back to a beloved time like the 1950s and '60s when the civil rights of all Americans were much less enforced, [and] also a time when white Americans saw record levels of economic progress.

Slower economic progress, he suggests, encouraged large numbers of whites to support the "regressive economics" of the Reagan era and thereafter. This damaged their own socioeconomic progress, "but harms the growing communities of color even more. This sets up the country to become more politically and economically divided."

Voters are not rational. As shown in important new books such as "Democracy for Realists" and "Neither Liberal Nor Conservative," the (white) American voter is tribal, relatively unsophisticated and easily manipulated by emotion, symbolic politics and other calculations. Because of this, racial animus is extremely powerful in influencing white Americans to vote against their material self-interests and in favor of the "wages of whiteness" that come from feeling superior to nonwhites, especially black people.

Today's Republican Party, the broader right wing, their media and other leaders are masters of political sadism. They know that they can hurt white voters -- especially in red-state America -- and still win politically by doing so. How? By blaming black and brown people for the country's problems. The Republican Party and its allies will use the harm and pain caused by their tax reform plan to remain in power, in a variation of the white-supremacist "Southern Strategy" that has guided American conservatives since at least the 1960s.

The deeply unpopular, evil and destructive tax bill should be a noose that the Democrats can hang around the metaphorical neck of the Republican Party. But as they seem to almost always do, Republicans will likely be able to slip out of that death knot and put the Democrats on the gallows instead. Democrats will stand there gobsmacked, just as they did in 2016 when Trump won the White House, wondering how the hell all this could have happened.

 

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3 Trump Accusers Detail Their 'Gross and Dirty' Experience with the Former Reality Star

Mon, 2017-12-11 09:54
"Whether it was 15 minutes or not, it seemed like forever."

During an interview Monday with Megyn Kelly, three women who allege they were sexually assaulted or harassed by President Donald Trump came forward to reveal more about their stories.

Jessica Leeds, Samantha Holvey and Rachel Crooks all revealed horrifying details about the president.

Leeds met Trump in the 1970s while working as a saleswoman. Times were different, she said in a New York Times interview before the election in 2016. According to her account, Trump groped and kissed her while the two sat next to each other in first-class seats on a flight.

“Whether it was 15 minutes or not, it seemed like forever,” she recalled.

“They served a dinner. After the dinner was cleared, he began encroaching on my side of the seat,” Leeds later told NPR’s Audie Cornish. “Mr. Trump started coming over to me and groping me and trying to embrace me. And then his hands started going up my skirt.”

“I don’t recall saying no, I don’t recall saying stop,” she said. “I don’t recall saying anything. It was like a silent pantomime. I remember at one point looking over at the guy in the seat across the aisle, and his eyes were like bugging out of his head.”

“At that point, I had been in the city long enough to read about the Trump family and some of the gossip that was going around and I recognized him immediately as the guy on the plane,” Leeds said. She went on to say that Trump told her, “I remember you. You were that c*nt woman from the airplane.”

When Trump began “going up my skirt,” Leeds said she struggled and stood up and went to the back of the plane. When the flight landed, she said she waited for everyone to get off first because she didn’t want to risk running into Trump.

Former Miss USA contestant Samantha Holvey recalled Trump treating women like a “piece of meat.”

She represented her home state of North Carolina in the 2006 pageant, but after her experience with Trump, she stopped entering beauty pageants. She said none of her childhood dreams “involved a creepy old man checking me out backstage.”

The accusation seems to match up with Trump’s own 2005 admission during a Howard Stern, prior to Holvey’s pageant.

“Before a show, I’ll go backstage and everyone’s getting dressed, and everything else, and you know, no men are anywhere, and I’m allowed to go in because I’m the owner of the pageant and therefore I’m inspecting it,” Trump boasted. “You know, I’m inspecting because I want to make sure that everything is good.”

Forcibly kissing and touching women seemed to be a theme in many of the accusations. Crooks’ story was remarkably similar. The same year as Trump’s “hot mic” moment on “Access Hollywood,” Trump allegedly accosted her while waiting for an elevator.

During a recent appearance on CNN’s “New Day,” Crooks said she was grateful the “Access Hollywood” tape came to light, because on it, Trump admitted to what he did to her. “I mean, yeah, he’s basically admitting to the behavior that I was a victim of,” she said.

“I’m automatically attracted to beautiful women — I just start kissing them, it’s like a magnet,” Trump told former host Billy Bush. “Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything,” he said in the 2005 conversation. “Grab ’em by the pussy.”

Trump has denied all of the claims made by the women and now alleges the “Access Hollywood” tape is fake. Bush came forward to confirm that he was present and that not only is the tape authentic, but he corroborated Trump’s comments.

“Nothing shocks me anymore about him,” Crooks said of Trump. “I think he’s a pathological liar — it’s not shocking, but it’s sad that people don’t hold him more accountable.”

She brought email exchanges with her sister from the time, which she said proves it wasn’t something she simply invented.

She told Kelly it all happened so fast. She said she ran back into her office and hid in her boss’ office and called her sister to talk about how disgusting she felt. It was more difficult for her because she was forced to see him every day at work. At one point, days later, he asked her for her phone number. He claimed it was standard procedure and that it was for his modeling agency.

“I felt like I didn’t have a choice,” she told Kelly. “You feel like you have to say yes to guys. Like you don’t want to be the ‘nasty girl’ the ‘mean girl’ who doesn’t comply and puts up a fight, I guess. So, yeah, I wish I had been stronger then. I’m now. It would be different now.”

Kelly introduced the interviews by quoting Nikki Haley saying that these women all deserve to be heard. She cited Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who has asked for the resignation of Trump. Kelly then played videos from the 16 women who have publicly detailed allegations.

It was difficult for Holvey to come out and have America say that they didn’t care, she told Kelly. She told the story of Trump looking at her like she was a piece of meat not as a person. She said it felt “gross and dirty.” When she was in her robe doing hair and makeup, she described Trump walking in past two security guards assigned to protect them from anyone coming in.

Kelly wondered if people believed that as a pageant contestant this was what she signed up for.

“It’s not what I signed up for!” the former Miss North Carolina pageant contestant said. “I felt so gross. That something that I had dreamed and worked hard for — and I had just turned 20 years old. I was very young and naive and I just felt so gross and that wasn’t what I signed up for. I wanted to be a good role model. I wanted to do charity work. I more than doubled my scholarship for college. I didn’t have to take out any more student loans because of the Miss North Carolina/USA title. Nobody dreams of being ogled when you’re a little girl wanting to wear a crown.”

She described Trump’s behavior as being like because Trump owned the pageant “he owns us.”

When Kelly’s show reached out to the White House head of the episode, they said they had nothing to say. However, during the airing of the show, the White House said that the claims were “false” and “totally disputed in most cases by eyewitness accounts.” It went on to say that because the American people still elected Trump they have “voiced their judgement.”

Crooks called the statement “laughable” and noted that people have told her that security footage would be available if it was real. She’s asked that the footage be released. “I would love for that to be made public.” For those who have accused Crooks of simply trying to take Trump down or get her 15 minutes of fame, she said that she never would want to be known for something horrible like this that happened to her. Rather, she’d like to be known for her accomplishments.

“The things that happened to us spanned decades, state, you know, all over. What could we possibly — could we have colluded to come up with these tales that all sound so similar,” Crooks said.

Watch the videos below:

Part 1:

Part 2:

 

Charles Blow: The GOP May Never Survive Roy Moore

Mon, 2017-12-11 09:29
Click here for reuse options! Republicans will be remembered for embracing an accused child molester.

Roy Moore is not a bad apple within the Republican Party; he's what the Republican Party has become, despite many well-meaning Americans' attempts to claim otherwise. In fact, Charles Blow writes in his Monday column, if Moore wins the Alabama Senate race on Tuesday, "the Donald Trump-diseased party once known as the Republicans may as well call themselves Roypublicans."

Pundits and average voters alike have been comforting themselves with fantasies of a kinder, non-sexist, non-racist Republican Party that may or may not have ever existed, but certainly doesn't now. How could it, when "Moore has been fully endorsed by the Republican 'president' of the United States, the leader of his party, and is now fully supported by the Republican National Committee."

Even if there was a better Republican Party in previous decades, or at least a better faction, Trump's rise all but assured its destruction. Evangelicals, who in previous years shunned Trump's gold-plated excesses and multiple marriages, have flocked to his side. In doing so, Blow writes, "Republicans have surrendered the moral high ground they thought they held, and have dived face-first into the sewer."

With a known child molester in the Senate, "There will be no way to simply say that Moore is the abominable outgrowth of Alabama voters’ anger. There will be no way to shake the stench of this homophobic, Islamophobic, sexist, racist apologist and accused pedophile. He is them, and they are him. Any pretense of tolerance and egalitarianism, already damaged by a Republican history of words and deeds, will be completely obliterated."

As if the sexual abuse charges weren't enough, Moore is also an unabashed racist. Blow reminds his readers of a September campaign event, in which one the few black people in attendence asked what Moore thought Trump means when he says "Make America Great Again." At the time, Moore replied, “I think it was great at the time when families were united, even though we had slavery, they cared for one another. People were strong in the family.”. 

Yes—Roy Moore thinks America was greatest when black people were enslaved. And the Republican Party thinks this is fine. 

It was bad enough when the Republican Party framed taking away Social Security and Medicare as the growth of "personal responsibility," when they first claimed that cutting taxes on corporations would magically produce benefits that trickle down to the poorest Americans. In 2017, "The Trump agenda is the Republican agenda: hostility to women and minorities, white supremacy and white nationalism, xenophobia, protectionist trade policies, tax policies that punish the poor and working class and people living in blue states." 

Moore and his Democratic rival Doug Jones are neck and neck in the polls. If Moore wins, Blow warns us, "Trump will solidify his position as the author of the rewritten conservative. He will have led to the rise of the Roypublicans."

Read the entire column.

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U.N. Official Shocked and Horrified by Poverty in Rural Alabama

Mon, 2017-12-11 09:28
"I think it's very uncommon in the First World." U.N. Official Shocked at Poverty In Rural Alabama

A United Nations official investigating poverty in the United States was shocked at the level of environmental degradation in some areas of rural Alabama, saying he had never seen anything like it in the developed world. "I think it's very uncommon in the First World. This is not a sight that one normally sees. I'd have…{C}

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