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the biomass industry's hollow self-regulatory scheme has been exposed as a smokescreen to destroy forests for corporate profit

if we want clean air and a livable planet, cutting down trees for fuel is one of the most counterproductive things we can do.

standing forests are a critical tool in the fight against climate change. cutting trees down to use as fuel in energy production—known as biomass energy or bioenergy—is one of the most counterproductive things we can do if our goal is clean air and a livable planet.

despite this reality, policymakers around the world have invested heavily in bioenergy. nowhere is this more true than in the european union, where bioenergy policies in the u.k. and other member states enable billions in subsidies each year to flow to the balance sheets of large utility companies, padding their profits and financing the conversion of old coal-fired power plants to burn wood.

meanwhile, the evidence of the climate and ecological harm wrought by the biomass industry continues to mount. yet too many policymakers remain unwilling to acknowledge the impacts of bioenergy and adequately limit its growth. they argue that the industry’s impacts on the climate, forests, and people are still uncertain, that we need more studies, more "proof."

for five years running, leading media outlets, ngos, climate scientists, health professionals, and even official government reports have offered this proof time and time again. scientists tell us that burning whole trees and other large-diameter wood increases carbon pollution compared to coal for many decades.

public health experts tell us burning biomass emits myriad harmful air pollutants, with serious consequences for air quality and public health.

economists tell us biomass conversions are a bad investment compared to truly clean energy sources, such as solar and wind.

communities tell us that they don’t want biomass producers in their backyards.

and for five years running, respected reporters and local and national ngos have documented the unsustainable logging practices uses to source the biomass industry, putting some of the most biodiverse and valuable forests in the world in peril.

unlike the biomass industry, these communities, advocates, reporters and researchers have no political or financial stake in bioenergy subsidies.

it’s time to turn the tables and place the burden of proof where it belongs—at the feet of the biomass industry and the policymakers who are its benefactors.

these policymakers are elected to advance the public’s interest. they pay out biomass subsidies under the guise of advancing national goals of increasing renewable energy production and taking meaningful action on climate change.

in exchange for the public’s generous support, biomass-burning utilities are assumed to deliver a public good: cleaner air and lower carbon emissions. both parties should be held accountable for demonstrating that the public is getting what it’s paying for.

enter the sustainable biomass program. the sbp was created in 2013 by biomass companies to provide assurances that their wood pellets and other biomass fuel are sustainable and legally sourced. unfortunately, from the start, this certification scheme was dominated by industry and built to allow the industry to effectively "self police."

now, a report by the natural resources defense council and the dogwood alliance reveals the program to be highly deficient and not a credible tool in assessing the carbon emissions or ecological impacts of biomass producers.

amongst the key findings is that the program uses flawed and incomplete carbon accounting, lacks adequate independent audits and verification, leaving biomass producers to conduct their own risk assessments and choose their own verifiers and data sources, despite the obvious conflict of interest, and fails to provide performance-based thresholds and protections.

put plainly, the sbp allows the biomass industry to hide their carbon emissions and destructive forestry practices to fuel an environmentally damaging energy industry. in doing so, it actually undercuts vital efforts to address climate change and protect forests and communities.

the impacts of industrial scale bioenergy are now well known and well documented. hiding behind a smokescreen of an industry certification scheme such as the sbp doesn’t change the facts on the ground—or in the atmosphere the message to policymakers cannot be clearer: if they are looking to the sbp to provide assurances on the sustainability and carbon intensity of biomass fuels, they cannot be confident in using it.

the world has been generating electricity the same way since the 1880’s. burning biomass is a step backwards, not forwards towards the 21st century clean energy system we deserve and our climate desperately needs. to truly act on climate change, european policymakers must end subsidies for dirty and destructive industrial-scale biomass and invest in truly clean and low-carbon energy sources like solar and wind and the protection and expansion of our standing forests.

other key findings of the comprehensive analysis of the sbp include:

  • the sbp does not require calculation of emissions at the smokestack when biomass is burned, essentially classifying biomass ‘carbon neutral’, on a par with truly clean energy technologies such as wind and solar. as noted, recent scientific studies have concluded that burning biomass for electricity—in particular whole trees and other large-diameter wood—increases carbon emissions when compared to coal and other fossil fuel for decades.
  • the sbp ignores several crucial aspects for forest carbon accounting allowing assessments to be conducted with a fundamental lack of objectivity, consistency and connection to the management of actual source forests and rarely require on-the-ground verification.
  • the sbp feedstock standard lacks concrete, performance-orientated thresholds and protections, and thus provides little assurance regarding environmental or social protection in source forests.

read the executive summary or the full report.


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preparing for doomsday: a shelter-in-place mentality is the new american normal

everyone is a survivalist in 2017.

has there ever been a nation as dedicated to preparing for doomsday as the united states? if that’s a thought that hasn’t crossed your mind, maybe it’s because you didn’t spend part of your life inside cheyenne mountain.  that's a tale i’ll get to soon, but first let me mention america’s “doomsday planes.”

last month, troubling news emerged from u.s. strategic command (stratcom) that two of those aircraft, also known as e-4b national airborne operations centers, were temporarily disabled by a tornado, leaving only two of them operational.  and that, not surprisingly, caught my attention.  maybe you don’t have the world’s end on your mind, not with donald trump’s tweets coming fast and furious, but i do.  it’s a kind of occupational hazard for me.  as a young officer in the u.s. air force in the waning years of the cold war, the end of the world was very much on my mind.  so think of this piece as the manifestation of a disturbing and recurring memory.

in any case, the reason for those doomsday planes is simple enough: in a national emergency, nuclear or otherwise, at least one e-4b will always be airborne, presumably above the fray and the fallout, ensuring what the military calls “command and control connectivity.”  the e-4b and its crew of up to 112 stand ready, as stratcom puts it, to enable america’s leaders to “employ” its “global strike forces” because... well, “peace is our profession.” yes, stratcom still references that old sac motto from the glory days of former strategic air commander curtis lemay who was so memorably satirized by director stanley kubrick in his nuclear disaster film, dr. strangelove.

the pentagon reassuringly noted that, despite those two disabled planes, the e-4b’s mission -- including perhaps the implementation of a devastating nuclear strike or counter-strike that might kill tens of millions and even cause a “nuclear winter” (a global nightmare leading to a billion deaths or more) -- could be accomplished with just two of them operational.  still, relieved as i was to hear that, it did get me thinking about the other 190 or so nations on this planet.  do any of them have even one “doomsday” plane to launch?  and if not, how will they coordinate, no less survive, the doomsday the u.s. government is so willing to contemplate and ready to fund?

when it comes to nuclear weapons and what once was called “thinking about the unthinkable,” no other nation has as varied, accurate, powerful, deadly, or (again a word from the past) “survivable” an arsenal as the united states.  put bluntly, the nation that is most capable of inflicting a genuine doomsday scenario on the world is also the one best prepared to ride out such an event (whatever that may turn out to mean).  in this sense, america truly is the exceptional nation on planet earth.  it’s exceptional in the combination of its triad of nuclear weapons, its holy trinity of sorts -- nuclear missile-carrying trident submarines, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, and strategic bombers still flown by pilots -- in the thoroughness of its armageddon plans, and especially in the propagation of a lockdown, shelter-in-place mentality that fits such thinking to a t.

my lockdown, shelter-in-place, cold war moment

once upon a time, i thought i was exceptional, or at least exceptionally well protected.  my job as an air force software engineer granted me regular access to the innards of the cheyenne mountain complex, america’s nuclear command center.  in the 1960s, the complex had been tunneled out of granite at the southern edge of the front range of mountains, dominated by pike’s peak, near colorado springs, colorado. 

i can still remember military exercises in which the mountain would be “buttoned up.” that meant the command center’s huge blast doors -- think of bank vault doors on steroids -- would be swung shut, isolating the post from the outside world.  i don’t recall hearing the word “lockdown” in those days (perhaps because back then it was a term generally applied to prisons), but that was certainly our reality.  we sheltered in place in that mountain redoubt, the most literal possible version of a fortress usa.  we were then cut off (we hoped) from the titanic blasts and radioactive fallout that would accompany any nuclear attack, most likely by that evil empire, the soviet union.  in a sense, we were a version of a doomsday plane, even if our mountain couldn’t be sent aloft.

my tour of duty lasted three years (1985-1988), the specifics of which i’ve mostly forgotten.  but what you don’t forget -- believe me, you can’t -- is the odd feeling of having 2,000 feet of granite towering over you; of seeing buildings mounted on huge springs intended to dampen the shock and swaying caused by a nuclear detonation; of looking at those huge blast doors that cut you and the command center off from the rest of humanity (and nature, too), theoretically allowing us the option both of orchestrating and surviving doomsday.

i sometimes think the decision in the 1960s to bury a command center for nuclear war under megatons of solid granite was america’s original lockdown moment.  then i remember the craze for building small, personal, backyard bomb shelters in the 1950s.  there was a memorable twilight zone episode from 1961 in which neighbors fight bitterly over who will take refuge in just such a shelter as the threat of nuclear war looms.  indeed, the idea of a mountain of a bomb shelter to keep out nuclear war was no more anomalous in those years than donald trump’s “big, fat, beautiful wall” to keep out mexicans is today.  both capture a certain era of fear, whether of exploding nukes or rampaging immigrants, and an approach to that fear -- controlling it by locking it out and us in -- that was folly then and is folly now.

for soon after cheyenne mountain was completed, the soviets developed improved missiles sufficiently accurate and powerful to obliterate the command center.  assuming trump’s dream wall was ever completed, immigrants would assuredly develop the means to subvert its intent as well.  but no matter: cheyenne mountain became a symbol of american resolve as well as fear, the ultimate shelter, just as trump’s wall has become a symbol of a different sort of resolve and fear. (keep “those people” out!)

eventually decommissioned, cheyenne mountain lives on as a manifestation of an american bunker mentality in the age of doomsday that’s suddenly back in vogue.  or rather what’s in vogue now is not the militarized mountain i remember, which was dark, dank, and depressing, or those crude, tiny, private backyard nuclear shelters of the 1950s, but a craze that fits a 1% era with a bizarre billionaire as president.  a new urge is growing among the ultra-wealthy for what are, in essence, privatized mini-cheyenne mountains for the super-rich. think: billionaire bunkers with all the perks of “home,” including a pet kennel, a gun safe, and a small gym, as well as “12-and-a-half-foot ceilings, sumptuous black leather couches, wall art featuring cheerful parisian street scenes, towering faux ferns, and plush carpets.”  surviving doomsday never looked so good.

and who can blame the richest among us for planning to outlast doomsday or a trumpocalypse in the style to which they are already accustomed?  with the world’s “doomsday clock” ticking ever closer to midnight, seeking (high-priced) shelter from the storm has a certain logic to it.  if it’s not full-scale nuclear war that beckons, then perhaps major climate catastrophe and social collapse.  as naomi klein recently put it at the intercept, “high-end survivalists” from silicon valley to wall street are “buying space in custom-built underground bunkers in kansas (protected by heavily armed mercenaries) and building escape homes on high ground in new zealand.”  i don’t normally pity the kiwis, but i will if legions of doomsday-fleeing uber-rich start hunkering down there like so many jealous dragons guarding what’s left of their gold.

the department of homeland security card: don’t leave home

remember those old american express card commercials with the tag line “don’t leave home without it”?  if america’s department of homeland security had its own card, its tag would be: “don’t leave home.” 

consider the words of retired general john kelly, the head of that department, who recently suggested that if americans knew what he knew about the nasty terror threats facing this country, they’d “never leave the house.”  general kelly, a big bad marine, is a man who -- one would think -- does not frighten easily.  it’s unclear, however, whether he considers it best for us to "shelter in place" just for now (until he sends the all-clear signal) or for all eternity.  

one thing is clear, however: islamic terrorism, an exceedingly modest danger to americans, has in these years become the excuse for the endless construction and funding of an increasingly powerful national security state (the department of homeland security included), complete with a global surveillance system for the ages.  and with that, of course, goes the urge to demobilize the american people and put them in an eternal lockdown mode, while the warrior pros go about the business of keeping them “safe” and “secure.”   

i have a few questions for general kelly: is closing our personal blast doors the answer to keeping our enemies and especially our fears at bay?  what does security really mean?  with respect to nuclear armageddon, should the rich among us indeed start building personal bomb shelters again, while our government continues to perfect our nuclear arsenal by endlessly updating and “modernizing” it?  (think: smart nukes and next generation delivery systems.)  or should we work toward locking down and in the end eliminating our doomsday weaponry?  with respect to both terrorism and immigration, should we really hunker down in homeland u.s.a., slamming shut our trumpian blast door with mexico (actually long under construction) and our immigration system, or should we be working to reduce the tensions of poverty and violence that generate both desperate immigrants and terrorist acts?

president trump and “his” generals are plainly in favor of you and yours just hunkering down, even as they continue to lash out militarily around the globe.  the result so far: the worst of both worlds -- a fortress america mentality of fear and passivity domestically and a kinetic, manic urge to surge, weapons in hand, across significant parts of the planet.

call it a passive-aggressive policy.  we the people are told to remain passive, huddling in our respective home bunkers, sheltering in place, even as america’s finest aggressively strike out at those we fear most.  the common denominator of such a project is fear -- a fear that breeds compliance at home and passivity before uniformed, if often uninformed, experts, even as it generates repetitive, seemingly endless, violence abroad.  in short, it’s the doomsday mentality applied every day in every way. 

returning to cheyenne mountain

thirty years ago, as a young air force officer, cheyenne mountain played a memorable role in my life.  in 1988 i left that mountain redoubt behind, though i carried with me a small slab of granite from it with a souvenir pen attached.  today, with greying hair and my very own time machine (my memories), i find myself returning regularly to cheyenne mountain, thinking over where we went wrong as a country in allowing a doomsday-lockdown mentality to get such a hold on us.

amazingly, barack obama, the president who made high-minded pleas to put an end to nuclear weapons (and won a nobel prize for them), pleas supported by hard-headed realists like former secretaries of state henry kissinger and george shultz, gave his approval to a trillion-dollar renovation of america’s nuclear triad before leaving office.  that military-industrial boondoggle will now be carried forward by the trump administration.  though revealing complete ignorance about america’s nuclear triad during the 2016 election campaign, president trump has nevertheless boasted that the u.s. will always be “at the top of the pack” when it comes to doomsday weaponry.  and whether with iran or north korea, he foolishly favors policies that rattle the nuclear saber.

in addition, recent reports indicate that america’s nuclear arsenal may be less than secure.  in fact, as of this march, inspection results for nuclear weapons safety and security, which had been shared freely with the american public, are now classified in what the associated press calls a “lockdown of information.”  naturally, the pentagon claims greater secrecy is needed to protect us against terrorism, but it serves another purpose: shielding incompetence and failing grades.  given the u.s. military’s nightmarish history of major accidents with nuclear weapons, more secrecy and less accountability doesn’t exactly inspire greater confidence.    

today, the cheyenne complex sits deactivated, buried inside its mountain, awaiting fresh purpose.  and i have one.  let’s bring our collective fears there, america.  let’s bury them under all that granite.  let’s close the blast doors behind us as we walk out of that dark tunnel toward the light.  for sheltering in place shouldn’t be the american way.  nor should we lock ourselves down for life.  it would be so much better to lockdown instead what should be truly unthinkable: doomsday itself, the mass murder of ourselves and the destruction of our planet.



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devos’ new cause: the rights of those accused of raping women on campus

the alleged perpetrators of rape, according to the trump administration, are the real victims.

devos’ world gets stranger by the day.

after hearing from rape victims, devos and her top civil rights official have decided to champion the rights of those accused of raping the women.

the new york times calls this “a new look” at the issue of campus rape.


the letters have come into her office by the hundreds, heartfelt missives from college students, mostly men, who had been accused of rape or sexual assault. some had lost scholarships. some had been expelled. a mother stumbled upon her son trying to take his own life, recalled candice e. jackson, the top civil rights official at the department of education.

“listening to her talk about walking in and finding him in the middle of trying to kill himself because his life and his future were gone, and he was forever branded a rapist — that’s haunting,” said ms. jackson, describing a meeting with the mother of a young man who had been accused of sexual assault three months after his first sexual encounter.

the young man, who maintained he was innocent, had hoped to become a doctor.

in recent years, on campus after campus, from the university of virginia to columbia university, from duke to stanford, higher education has been roiled by high-profile cases of sexual assault accusations. now education secretary betsy devos is stepping into that maelstrom. on thursday, she will meet in private with women who say they were assaulted, accused students and their families, advocates for both sides and higher education officials, the first step in a contentious effort to re-examine policies of president barack obama, who made expansive use of his powers to investigate the way universities and colleges handle sexual violence.

how university and college administrations have dealt with campus sexual misconduct charges has become one of the most volatile issues in higher education, with many women saying higher education leaders have not taken their trauma seriously. but the obama administration’s response sparked a backlash, not just from the accused and their families but from well-regarded law school professors who say new rules went too far.

in an interview previewing her plans, ms. jackson, who heads the education department’s office for civil rights and organized thursday’s sessions, made clear that she believes investigations under the 1972 law known as title ix have gone deeply awry. a sexual assault survivor herself, she said she sees “a red flag that something’s not quite right” — and that the rights of accused students have too often been ignored.

the alleged perpetrators of rape, it seems to candace jackson, are the real victims.

what a strange new mission for the office for civil rights.



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protest at your own peril: inhumane ways baton rouge police treated protesters they locked up after the police murder of alton sterling

a year after the murder and protests, a new report details police brutality in local jails.

participating in a civil rights march – in 2016 – shouldn’t result in being jailed in inhumane conditions, denied medical care, and deliberately humiliated.  but that is exactly what happened in baton rouge, louisiana last july and it bears an uncanny resemblance to the treatment of those fighting for civil rights over half a century ago.

a year ago today, thousands of people protested the police murder of alton sterling, a local black entrepreneur and father, in baton rouge louisiana.  approximately 180 individuals were arrested and detained over the course of these protests.  over 67 percent of these arrestees were black, and nearly 90 percent of those arrested were charged with obstruction of a highway, a misdemeanor. most of the protesters were booked, processed, and held at the east baton rouge parish prison, sometimes for days.

a new report released by the promise of justice initiative details the conditions of the prison, the experiences of a dozen arrested protesters, and the governing legal standards for detention of arrestees.  here is what we learned:

1. protesters were pepper-sprayed and threatened with violence in the prison. nearly every interview referenced prison staff violence (or the threat of violence).  one guard pepper sprayed approximately thirty men, all being held in one cell, for being too loud.  thirty minutes later, the men were pepper sprayed again, with no reason given.  a prison guard reportedly also sprayed a group of detainees while they were singing gospel songs.  this indiscriminate use of pepper spray, which causes intense burning in the eyes and throat, affected people housed in neighboring cells and even the guards themselves.  guards also threatened to “knock [their] asses off,” “pushed [a detainee] down,” and generally “treated [the detainees] like animals.”  the blatant use of excessive force is even more appalling given that there is not a single report of detainee violence or threats to prison security or staff.  several guards also made clear that detainees were being punished for participating in the protest earlier that day.  when one woman rhetorically asked out loud, “how many people are going to be killed before we wake up?,” an officer responded by staring threateningly at her and responding, “as many as needed.

2. protesters were denied medical care in the prison. after protesters were unnecessarily pepper sprayed, prison staff doubled down and failed to provide any medical treatment for their burning eyes and throats, despite prison policies that require medical treatment.  prison staff also refused to provide medical care for injuries sustained during arrests, including head trauma, punctures from being tasered, and a swollen ankle.  even in those cases where a medic was called to evaluate a detainee, the examination was perfunctory and abrupt.  prison staff also failed to provide medical care for existing conditions, such as diabetes and gout.  the only treatment one protester with diabetes received, after hours of complaints about her spiraling blood sugar, was cookie crumbs wrapped in a napkin.  the lack of medical care for the protest detainees is consistent with an independent evaluation by health management associates, which concluded that east baton rouge parish prison “would not pass standards outlined by [the national commission on correctional health care] ncchc for healthcare within a jail setting” due to lack of training, policies, documentation, and staff.

3. protesters were subjected to inhumane and unsanitary conditions in the prison. detainees were housed in unsanitary cells caked with grime and blood, coating the walls.  prison staff didn’t provide basic supplies to detainees, such as tampons, toothbrushes, toilet paper, soap, or even running water in some cases.  prison officials apparently adjusted the air conditioning to freezing cold temperatures when the protest arrestees arrived, while simultaneously failing to provide socks, jackets, or usable blankets without massive holes.  prison guards initially withheld access to drinking water and then only provided four ounces for each detainee. detainees went hungry, either because they missed mealtime or because the food provided didn’t meet basic food health standards.  in addition, none of the interviewed detainees received a free telephone call after being booked into the facility, violating the prison’s own policies.

4. protesters were crammed into cells without space to sit or lie down overnight in prison. the holding cells were deliberately packed to the brim, even though at least one protester reported viewing empty cells down the hall.  the cells had enough space for eight to ten people to sit, but at times contained 20-to-40 people for hours and even overnight.  one of the detainees was a 17-year old minor, who was deliberately separated at the prison from her mother.  the minor spent the night terrified, housed in an adult prison, in violation of the louisiana children’s code. a prison guard mocked a detainee, who identifies as female, for requesting housing with other females.  the overcrowding experienced by protesters at east baton rouge parish prison appears to be routine.  though the prison is designed to house a maximum of 1,594 people, the online prison roster regularly shows populations exceeding 2,000.  the overcrowding at the prison threatens the safety of the guards and detainees, because of staffing per detainee ratios, and undercuts the ability of the prison to provide constitutionally adequate care to detainees. 

5. protesters were deliberately humiliated by the prison staff in group strip searches. five of the interviewed protesters reported being forced to undergo group strip searches.  the strip searches required that protesters disrobe completely, expose their genitals, and spread their “butt cheeks” for prison guards.  even the seventeen year old was strip-searched.  though the prison may claim the searches were necessary to maintain a secure environment, there is also evidence that the strip-searches were intended as punishment.  at least two women were strip searched at least twice during their detention at the prison, even though they hadn’t left the facility or been in physical contact with anyone outside the prison. many of those searched had already been in custody for hours.  a woman of color was forced to relinquish her underwire bra, while other women – all white – were allowed to keep their underwire bras. 

“protest at your peril”

the experiences of these protesters, sustained over several days in some cases, speaks to the unconstitutional conditions endured by tens of thousands of others who are arrested and detained in the parish prison.   east baton rouge parish prison staff – in their own words and by their own conduct – intended to punish the detainees for exercising their constitutional right to protest. the unnecessary and excessive use of force, the denial of medical treatment and basic supplies, the deliberate overcrowding and humiliation – for protesters arrested for “obstruction of highway” – served a purpose.  prison staff violated the u.s. constitution, louisiana law and even their own policies, to send a message: protest at your own peril. 


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as trump jr. shows, cutthroat fear and loathing are the operating principle in gop politics

when offered intelligence from a foreign government, donald trump jr. said, "i love it."

to many, the revelation that donald trump jr. was anxious to get dirt on hillary clinton from the russians will not come as a surprise. it is but the latest example of the take-no-prisoners, anything-goes politics of our day. sure, soliciting help from a hostile foreign power is exceptional, and it is certainly true that the trumps have taken “unconventional” politics to new heights. but how we do politics in the united states, the boundaries of acceptable behavior, has been shifting for two decades.

the real surprise – the part of the story that we should be gravely concerned about – is that this disclosure will not matter to a great many american voters. after thinking and writing about politics for two decades, i have come to the conclusion that the real issue we face is not the conduct of public officials or their surrogates, but how nefarious acts are now sanctioned, and even applauded, by so many on both sides of the partisan fence.

the conversation

so what’s changed in our politics?

fear and loathing

for one, the nature of partisanship is different. until about a decade ago, one’s attachment to a party was centered around policy disputes or cues from groups and associations. but today’s version is grounded in the fear and loathing of the other side. trunkloads of data, much of it from the pew research center, suggest each side sees the other party as crazy and certainly dangerous. so it does not matter what your side does so long as it keeps the nut jobs on the other side at bay.

a new volume by political scientists christopher achen and larry bartels further helps to fine-tune our understanding how people vote and which party they identify with. their book, “democracy for realists: why elections do not produce responsive government,” suggests “issue congruence [between voters and parties], in so far as it exists, is mostly a byproduct of other connections, most of them lacking policy content.” in other words, we don’t think through issues, policies and candidate characteristics, but instead see elections as “us versus them.” these scholars argue voters tie themselves with racial, ethnic, occupational, religious, recreational and other groups, with partisanship as the byproduct. our group identity, not policy concerns or ideology, determines vote choice. that is to say, we gather comfortably with our tribe and tune out other points of view.

a central force propelling hostility toward the “other” party is the partisan media. many such outlets have figured out a sustainable business model. smaller audiences can be profitable, so long as they remain loyal. loyalty springs from “crisis” and, of course, “menace.” this leads to treating every issue as a true threat to our existence or a usurpation of fundamental “rights.” the other party is always the villain, and your side can do no wrong – so long as it is for the grand struggle.

and then there is the online world. voters rarely explore new ideas and perspectives, but share, like and retweet concordant ones. we fence in and we fence out. as recently noted by journalist and author megan mcardle, “social media, of course, makes this problem worse. even if we are not deliberately blocking people who disagree with us, facebook curates our feeds so that we get more of the stuff we ‘like.’ what do we ‘like’? people and posts that agree with us.”

sorting and filtering

is the filtering of information really a new development? it is not at all clear that voters have ever absorbed a broad range of information or shifted though competing evidence. it is likely party bosses, elected officials, candidates and even media elites have always been able to manipulate mass opinion to a degree. cognitive time-saving cues, especially party identification, have always been used to sort and filter.

but something very different is happening today. in the recent past, news was more widely viewed as objective, leading to a high degree of accepted facts and authority. when the news media unraveled the story of watergate, for example, citizens of all partisan stripes accepted it as fact. what scholars dubbed “short-term influences” could override partisan leanings.

which leads us to “alternative facts,” the aggressive spinning of policies and arguments regardless of contrary verifiable information. this may be a game-changer in our politics. the barrier for evidence has, it seems, evaporated, and emotion-rich information is used to draw more viewers, readers and listeners. if we add the continual drive for fresh “news” and the high costs of creating traditional journalism, we are left with little consensus or authority. new york times blogger farhad manjoo put it this way: “we are roiled by preconceptions and biases, and we usually do what feels easiest – we gorge on information that confirms our ideas, and we shun what does not.”

finally, popular culture has also probably contributed to our growing indifference to nefarious acts. we pick our reality show contestant and applaud every backhanded, despicable move that gets him across the finish line. there can’t be two winners or a collective good, only a sole survivor. or shall we say that only one apprentice can get the job? and the best part of the show – the segment that really gets the producers juiced – is when things get truly ugly.

democratic accountability

the latest trump team revelation is a shocker, but even more stunning is the meager impact it will likely have on his supporters. as noted in a recent usa today story, in trump country the russia disclosure is no big deal.

as voters, citizens are called to judge those in power. but there must be an objective standard for the assessment, which is why the framers of the constitution put so much stock in a free press. the governed in a democracy must be willing and able to fairly judge the acts of the governors. but today “your side” has always done a good job and the “other” party has always failed. any contrary revelation can be explained away as fake news.

the key ingredient in the democratic accountability process – objectivity – is disappearing, and the foundation of our limited government has been shaken. in federalist #51 and elsewhere, james madison wrote, “a dependence upon the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government…” many are starting to wonder if americans are up to the job – and whether the fate of the grand experiment is at risk.

this article was originally published on the conversation. read the original article.


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trump team resurrects voodoo economics pushing tax cuts and ludicrous growth projections

"trump's policies will lead to larger deficits, fewer people with health care, more dangerous workplaces, and a dirtier environment."

office of management and budget director mick mulvaney had a wall street journal column highlighting the benefits of "maganomics." the piece can best be described as a combination of groundhog day and outright lies.

in terms of groundhog day, we have actually tried maganomics twice before and it didn't work. we had huge cuts in taxes and regulation under both president reagan and george w. bush. in neither case was there any huge uptick in growth and investment. in fact, the bush years were striking for the weak growth in the economy and especially the labor market. we saw what was at the time the longest period without net job growth since the great depression. and of course his policy of giving finance free rein gave us the housing bubble and the great recession.

the story of the 1980s was somewhat better, but hardly follows the maganomics script. the economy did bounce back in 1983, following a steep recession in 1981-1982. that is generally what economies do following steep recessions that were not caused by collapsed asset bubbles. furthermore, the bounceback was based on increased consumption, not investment as the maganomics folks claim. in fact, investment in the late 1980s fell to extraordinarily low levels. it is also worth pointing out that following both tax cuts, the deficit exploded, just as conventional economics predicts.

by contrast, clinton raised taxes in 1993 and the economy subsequently soared. it would be silly to attribute the strong growth of the 1990s to the clinton tax increase, other factors like an it driven productivity boom and the stock bubble were the key factors, but obviously the tax increase did not prevent strong growth.

the outright lies part stem from the comparison to prior periods' growth rates. mulvaney notes that the 2.0 percent growth rate projected for the next decade is markedly lower than the 3.5 percent rate that we had seen for most of the post-world war ii era.this comparison doesn't make sense.

we are now seeing very slow labor force growth due to the retirement of the baby boom cohort and the fact that the secular rise in female labor force participation rate is largely at an end. maganomics can do nothing about either of these facts. slower labor force growth translates into slower overall growth.

mulvaney also complains about government benefits keeping people from working. the idea that large numbers of people aren't working because of the generosity of welfare benefits shows a startling degree of ignorance. the united states has the least generous welfare state of any wealthy country, yet we also have among the lowest labor force participation rates. the idea that we will get any substantial boost to the labor force from getting benefits further is absurd on its face.

mulvaney apparently missed the fact that energy prices have plummeted in the last three years. oil had been over $100 a barrel, today it is less than $50. while it is always possible that it could fall still further, any boost to the economy from further declines will be trivial compared to what we have seen already. it would be amazing if mulvaney was ignorant of the recent path in energy prices.

in short, there is nothing here at all. mulvaney has given us absolutely zero reason that trump's policies will lead to anything other than larger deficits, fewer people with health care, more dangerous workplaces, and a dirtier environment.

cbo slaps trump budget on growth projections

several news outlets have reported that the congressional budget office (cbo) does not accept the trump administration's claims that its program will lead to a big surge in growth. it is worth mentioning in reference to this dispute that the "robots will take all the jobs" gang agrees with trump in this dispute. many people in the debate are probably not aware of this fact because it requires an understanding of third grade arithmetic.

economic growth is the sum of labor force growth and productivity growth. there is not too much dispute about the rate of growth of the labor force over the next decade, since it is mostly due to population growth. apart from large changes in immigration policy, we can't do much about the number of working age people who will be in the u.s. over the next decade.

the main question is projecting economic growth is therefore the rate of productivity growth. cbo essentially projects that the slowdown of the last decade will persist, with productivity growth averaging roughly 1.5 percent annually. the trump crew is betting on a more rapid pace of productivity growth, as are the robots will take all the jobs gang. after all, robots taking the jobs of workers is pretty much the definition of productivity growth.

so, there are many reasons for mocking trump and his administration, but if any of the robots will take the jobs gang mock the trump growth projections, they are showing their ignorance. they agree with trump's projections of more rapid growth, they are just too confused about the arithmetic and economics to know it.



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the 5 best moments from jeremy corbyn's illuminating interview with naomi klein

the british labour leader on the future of the left, and how we can forge a better world.

there are few moral victories in politics, but jeremy corbyn's performance in the 2016 british elections almost certainly qualifies, as the labour party made its biggest gains in a generation. this week, he sat down with the intercept's naomi klein to discuss the future of the left, the challenges presented by a resurgent right, and how we can forge a better world.

here are five lessons he imparted american progressives would be wise to internalize.

1. work backward from the worst-case scenario.

"i’m not in any way minimizing the horror of what happened or the awful things the individuals did," corbyn said of the recent u.k.  terror attacks. "but i said you’ve got to look at the international context in which there’s been this growth. and i can hear myself [as if it was] yesterday, on february 15, 2003, saying, 'what could be the worst-case scenario if we went to war in iraq?' i wasn’t defending saddam hussein. i was just saying, if you go to war in iraq and you destabilize the whole country, there are consequences."

2. do not retreat from trumpism.

"i think [progressives world leaders have] got to meet trump and discuss with him, as one would with any leader," he concluded. "i was shocked by the language he used during his election campaign—about women, about muslims, about mexicans, about other people in society. i was also appalled at the language he used surrounding the paris climate change discussions. i mean, these are serious, serious global issues."

3. shift focus to cities.

"i think that the image of the usa is too often presented as the image of what donald trump has said day-to-day. the number of jobs in renewables in california alone runs into the hundreds of thousands," the labour leader argued. "look at the growth of renewable energy systems across the usa, the number of states and cities that are serious about protecting their environment and controlling what they can of climate change."

4. develop a strong social presence.

"you knock on doors and you identify voters," corbyn said of campaigning. "that’s key, crucial. but if you’re seen solely through the prism of media that is quite right-wing and quite conservative in its views, then all you’re doing when you knock on the door is hearing an echo of what people have heard on a right-wing television station or through the printed media."

"social media and the technology, and techniques that are there through social media, give an opportunity that’s never been there before to get that message across," he continued. "the opportunities are there. and it’s not regulated, it’s not censored, it’s not controlled."

5. understand the world's crises are connected.

"climate change and refugees are linked. climate change and war is linked. environmental disaster, not necessarily always associated with climate change, is also linked when you have deforestation and you end up destroying your local environment because of it."



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how did democrats become the party of elites?

in order to win back statehouses and congress, democrats must rewrite the political narrative that now has them on the side of the establishment and republicans on the side of sticking it to the man.

how did it come to pass that of the two political parties, the democrats — who have long fought for the underdog, civil rights, consumer protections, universal health care, the minimum wage and for unions against powerful interests that try to crush them — have now been branded in large swaths of the country as the party of the establishment and the elites?

and how did it come to pass that republicans — whose policies, regardless of stated intent, benefit polluters, entrenched interests and the upper brackets of american wealth — are now seen by many as the anti-establishment populist party which delights in flipping off elites on behalf of the everyman?

for the moment, keep donald trump out of this conversation — after all, democrats have been hemorrhaging seats in statehouses and congress for decades. also set aside any talking points about which party’s policies truly benefit forgotten americans or which short-term trends show up in the polls.

more important for democrats is whether they can rewrite the political narrative that now has them on the side of the establishment and republicans on the side of sticking it to the man.

if democrats want to regain their electoral stride and recapture defiant voters who once saw the party as their advocate and voice — the same voters they need to establish a sustained governing majority throughout the land — they must think less about policies per se than about how those policies translate to messaging and brand.

just as consumers purchase products not merely for what they do but for what they say about the people who buy them, voters are drawn to narratives, brands and identities as much as the policies that affect their lives. these narratives give voters meaning, define who they are, and become an essential part of their identity and self-image.

and what’s most toxic in american politics today — as it has been throughout our history — is to become the party associated with domineering overlords and supercilious elites who seem to enjoy wielding power over the rest of us.

to some extent, the democrats have only themselves to blame for their elite, establishment image.

few question the party’s need to build its campaign coffers in what is now an arms race for political dollars. but by cozying up to wall street and the privileged — and appearing more at ease hobnobbing among them than among those who work in factories, small businesses and call centers — democrats have sent a subtle message about the people they prefer to associate with and seek out for advice. to many americans, it reeks of hypocrisy at best.

republicans, who unapologetically celebrate wealth as a symbol of american dynamism, face no such messaging dissonance.

but perhaps more important is the jujitsu maneuver that republicans have used to turn one of the democratic party’s strengths — its good faith use of government to level the playing field and help the little people — into a weakness.

from the new deal through the ’60s, the democrats were able to show that government was an essential tool to correct market inequities, protect the little people from unchecked power and special interests and ensure that the american birthright included safeguards against crippling poverty and misfortune.

government, most americans believed, was their defender and their voice. in 1964, according the the american national election studies, more than three-fourths of americans said they trusted government most of the time or just about always. it was the democrats that stood for grass-roots change and the republicans who represented the powerful and resistant establishment.

democrats then expanded their vision of a righteous government by exercising its power to fight segregation, discrimination, environmental blight, corporate malfeasance and consumer hazards — and to advance health care as a right and not a privilege. all of that seemed to follow the new deal script of government as a force for good.

but with richard nixon channeling george wallace’s racialized anger at the federal government and ronald reagan saying that the only way to christen our shining city on a hill is to free up aggrieved entrepreneurs and ordinary citizens stifled by burdensome red tape and regulations, the democratic association with government began to turn noxious.

as reagan put it in his 1981 inaugural address, we should not allow “government by an elite group” to “ride on our back.”

for four decades now, republicans have succeeded in framing democrats as the party that uses government to bigfoot rather than aid the american people. democrats may celebrate public servants for keeping our food safe and our lakes healthy, but republicans have successfully portrayed them as a humorless bureaucrats who salivate at the urge to exert power and control over taxpaying americans.

and republicans have very artfully created a counternarrative, turning the market into a synonym for liberty and defining it as an authentic expression of american grass-roots energy in which small businesses and entrepreneurs simply need freedom from government to shower benefits on us all.

of course the market’s magic may be more mythical than real — given that powerful corporations and interests dominate and exploit it often at the expense of workers — but that inconvenient fact is immaterial to the brilliant messaging advantages republicans have derived from it.

indeed, in the republican playbook it’s the teachers, unions, environmental groups, professors and civil rights organizations that constitute the establishment whereas koch and other industry-funded astroturf groups are the real gladiators fighting the status quo.

but it’s not just the democratic association with government that republicans have used to brand it as the party of the establishment and elites. republicans have also turned the table on the liberal values that democrats embrace.

beginning in the 1960s, liberals have sought to flush prejudice, bigotry and discriminatory attitudes from society by turning diversity into a moral value and creating a public culture intolerant of misogyny and intolerance. on the surface, that should be a sign of national progress.

but conservatives — with help from an unwitting or overly zealous slice of the left that too often overreaches — took these healthy normative changes and cleverly depicted them as an attempt by condescending and high-handed elites to police our language and impose a politically correct finger-pointing culture.

in effect, conservatives have rather successfully portrayed liberals and democrats as willing to use cultural and political power against ordinary americans. they want to take my guns, regulate my business, dictate who i can hire, and tell me what i can buy, which doctors i see, how i live, when i pray and even what i say — so goes the conservative narrative.

that their definition of “ordinary americans” is quite narrow — meaning whites and particularly men — is beside the point because it’s the political branding that matters, not the fact that liberal economic policies and efforts against bigotry and discrimination have helped millions of ordinary americans.

taken together, republicans have successfully defined democrats as a party of bureaucrats, power brokers, media elites, special interests and snobs who have created a client state for those they favor, aim to control what everyone else does and look down their noses at the people who pay the taxes to fund the same government that democrats use to control their lives.

and why is this so damning for democrats? because our nation was founded on resistance to power, and it’s part of our political and cultural dna to resent anyone who exercises or lords that power over others.

read past the first paragraphs of our declaration of independence and it’s all about king george iii and his abuses of power. our constitution encodes checks and balances and a separation of powers. our economic system rests on antitrust law, which is designed to keep monopolies from crushing smaller competitors and accumulating too much power.

so if large numbers of americans see democrats as the party of entrenched elites who exert power over the little people, then democrats have lost the messaging battle that ultimately determines who prevails and who doesn’t in our elections.

and let’s be clear: donald trump didn’t originate this message in his 2016 campaign; he simply exploited, amplified and exemplified it better than almost any republican since ronald reagan.

the bernie sanders answer, of course, is to train the party’s fire at banks, corporations and moneyed interests. after all, they are the ones exerting unchecked power, soaking up the nation’s wealth and distributing it to the investor class and not the rest of us.

and to some extent that has potential and appeal.

but remember, most americans depend on corporations for their jobs, livelihoods, health care, mortgages and economic security. so it’s much more difficult today to frame big business as the elite and powerful establishment than it was when when workers manned the union ramparts against monopoly power. working americans today have a far more ambivalent relationship with corporate america than they did in the new deal days.

somehow democrats have to come up with their own jujitsu maneuver to once again show that theirs is the party that fights entrenched power on behalf of the little people. liberals have to figure out how to merge their diversity voice with the larger imperative of representing all of america’s underdogs. these are not mutually exclusive messages.

democrats can preach all they want on health care and trump and the environment. but if they don’t correct the larger narrative about who holds power in america — and who’s fighting to equalize that power on behalf of us all — then whatever small and intermittent victories they earn may still leave them short in the larger battle for the hearts and souls of american voters.



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redneck revolt: the armed leftwing group that wants to stamp out fascism

redneck lefties fight racism but don't much like liberals—and they like their guns.

the cookout offered free food, a face-painting booth and a “protest sign-making station” – a pile of cut-up cardboard boxes, paint markers and rolls of packing tape. a group of neighborhood boys, each no older than 12, gathered around. they wanted signs to tape to their bicycles, so they could ride around and “tell trump” what they thought of him.

one grabbed a piece of cardboard and wrote in big letters: “trump’s a bitch.”

max neely quickly stepped in.

“i’m not sure you should use that word,” he said, his voice taking on a fatherly tone. at 6ft2in, he towered over them. “that word isn’t very respectful to women, and there are a lot of women around here today that we should be respecting. maybe you can think of another word to use.”

the boys conferred. eventually, they settled on a different, less offensive protest sign – at least in neely’s eyes. “fuck trump,” it read, followed by four exclamation points.

a 31-year-old activist with long hair and a full bushy beard, neely had a full day of political activism ahead of him: donald trump was in harrisburg to mark his 100th day in office with a speech at the pennsylvania farm show complex. in other parts of the city, the liberal opposition were also readying themselves: organizations such as keystone progressdauphin county democrats and the local indivisible group planned to march in protest.

neely’s group were not among them. instead, they had set up a picnic site in a small park, offering a barbecue and leftist pamphlets. someone had planted a bright red hammer-and-sickle flag in the grass. on a nearby table hung a black banner that bore the words “redneck revolt: anti-racist, pro-gun, pro-labor”.

“if you haven’t noticed, we aren’t liberals,” said jeremy beck, one of neely’s cookout friends. “you know, if you keep going further left, eventually, you go left enough to get your guns back.”

wooly liberals, they’re not. redneck revolt is a nationwide organization of armed political activists from rural, working-class backgrounds who strive to reclaim the term “redneck” and promote active anti-racism. it is not an exclusively white group, though it does take a special interest in the particular travails of the white poor. the organization’s principles are distinctly left-wing: against white supremacy, against capitalism and the nation-state, in support of the marginalized.

pennsylvania is an open-carry state, where gun owners can legally carry firearms in public without concealment. redneck revolt members often see the practice of openly carrying a gun as a political statement: the presence of a visible weapon serves to intimidate opponents and affirm gun rights. many of the cookout attendees owned guns, and had considered bringing them today – but ultimately they had decided to come unarmed, in the interest of keeping the event family-friendly.

redneck revolt began in 2009 as an offshoot of the john brown gun club, a firearms training project originally based in kansas. dave strano, one of redneck revolt’s founding members, had seized upon what he saw as a contradiction in the tea party movement, then in its infancy. many tea party activists were fellow working-class people who had endured significant hardships as a result of the 2008 economic crisis which, in his eyes, had been caused by the very wealthy. and yet, tea partiers were now flocking in great numbers to rallies funded by the 1%.

by supporting economically conservative politicians, strano thought, they would only be further manipulated to benefit the already rich.

“the history of the white working class has been a history of being an exploited people,” he wrote. “however, we’ve been an exploited people that further exploits other exploited people. while we’ve been living in tenements and slums for centuries, we’ve also been used by the rich to attack our neighbors, coworkers, and friends of different colors, religions and nationalities.”

now, eight years later, more than 20 redneck revolt branches have sprouted across the us; the groups range widely in size, some with only a handful of members. max neely is a member of the mason-dixon branch, which encompasses central pennsylvania as well as his native western maryland. many members are white, but the organization seeks to build on a “redneck” identity beyond race.

“i grew up playing in the woods, floating coolers of beer down a river, shooting off fireworks, just generally raising hell, all that kind of stuff,” said neely. “things most people would consider a part of redneck culture. we’re trying to acknowledge the ways we’ve made mistakes and bought into white supremacy and capitalism, but also give ourselves an environment in which it’s ok to celebrate redneck culture.”

the group draws a great deal of inspiration from the young patriots organization, a 1960s-era activist group consisting primarily of white working-class appalachians and southerners. “i’m very impressed with redneck revolt,” said hy thurman, one of the early founders of the young patriots. “i think they’re right on with what they’re trying to do.”

the group opposed racism and worked closely with the black panthers, but they did make use of the confederate flag in their recruiting. thurman explained that it was used only strategically, to start conversations with poor white people who might identify with the symbol.

in the same way that the young patriots once used the confederate flag, redneck revolt seeks to employ another emblem of rural america: guns.

redneck revolt groups work on providing an explicitly anti-racist presence in rural areas, and focus particularly on gun shows. many members are from places where guns are relatively normalized, and neely wants redneck revolt to serve as a viable alternative for people who might otherwise join the growing right-wing militia movement.

since the 1992 ruby ridge siege, the us has witnessed an increase in anti-government paramilitary organizations. oath keepers, for example, is a militia group that strives to defend the us constitution, which the group believes is under threat by its own government. they claim to be nonpartisan, but its members’ politics tend to skew far right. during last year’s presidential election, they announced that members would be monitoring voting booths to prevent election tampering, stating he was “most concerned about expected attempts at voter fraud by leftists”.

but groups like oath keepers have much in common with far leftists: concerns about the infringement of human rights, objections to mass surveillance and the ever reauthorized patriot act, anger at the continued struggles of the working poor.

“we use gun culture as a way to relate to people,” said neely, whose grandfather was an avid hunter. “no liberal elitism. our basic message is: guns are fine, but racism is not.”

officially, oath keepers’ bylaws prohibit anyone associated with a hate group from joining, though their background checks have proven to be inconsistent at best. but there are other rightwing groups around – the explicitly racist kind.

“i’m worried about pikeville,” said neely. “i’ve got friends out there.”

pikeville is a small kentucky town deep in the heart of appalachia. it has no major airport or interstate, a population of less than 10,000 and an abundance of idyllic mountain scenery. mining has long been the major industry here, though pikeville also attracts tourism: mid-april draws over 100,000 visitors to the annual hillbilly days festival, a celebration of appalachian culture and music.

in the week after the festival ended, however, pikeville’s atmosphere had taken a distinct turn. neo-nazis were coming to town the same day as trump’s appearance in harrisburg.

the nationalist front – an alliance of far-right white nationalist organizations – was planning a rally in front of pikeville’s courthouse. “take a stand for white working families,” read an invitation that circulated online.

“this begins a process of building and expanding our roots within white working class communities to become the community advocates that our people need and deserve,” wrote matthew heimbach on the daily stormer, a neo-nazi website.

pike county – chronically impoverished, overwhelmingly white – is seen as a fertile setting for spreading their ideology. the city of pikeville itself has actually experienced some growth in the past few years, but the greater area is struggling. pike county’s unemployment rate is one of the highest in the nation: 10%, more than twice that of the us as a whole.

trump successfully tapped into this desperation with his pro-labor, anti-immigrant rhetoric and successfully won more than 80% of votes cast. citing this figure, heimbach hoped to develop existing pro-trump sentiments into full-blown national socialism.

“we’re doing this because we care about the people of pike county,” said jeff schoep, head of the neo-nazi national socialist movement, in a video promoting the rally. “we’ve seen factories shut down, we’ve seen people losing their jobs, we’ve seen families getting desperate and reaching out for drugs or other things that they shouldn’t be doing. we want to give people hope again. something worth fighting for.”

that something happened to be a white ethno-state, and many pikeville residents were not interested.

the city approved a permit for the nationalist front to gather downtown, citing the constitutional right of free speech and assembly, though donovan blackburn, the city manager, also issued a statement promoting peace, respect and diversity.

students at the university of pikeville planned a counter-protest, but the event was quickly canceled due to safety concerns: university officials feared that a conflict between the nationalist front and members of the antifascist movement – or antifa – could escalate into violence.

developed in europe over the past few decades, antifascists represent the left’s own united front: a conflux of anarchists, communists, social democrats and others, dedicated to stamping out fascism by any means necessary, including violence –which they see as a justified response to the inherent violence of fascism. they often employ “black bloc” tactics, where individuals wear masks and all-black clothing to avoid police identification.

antifascist groups have never been as prominent in the us as they have been in countries such as greece, where masked individuals recently smashed the windows of the golden dawn’s headquarters. but in the wake of trump’s election and the ensuing spate of hate crimes, they have swiftly mobilized. a masked man famously punched white nationalist richard spencer in washington dc on inauguration day; two weeks later, antifascists lit fires on uc berkeley’s campus in protest of rightwing ideologue milo yiannopoulos.

“we live in a historical moment where there’s unprecedented wealth inequality, and the average person is struggling to get by,” said sidney (not his real name), an appalachian antifascist who has been keeping a close watch on white nationalist activity in his area. “when governments, as they characteristically do, fail to step in, people look to other institutions for an answer. fascism is having a resurgence because we’re in that moment. it’s not a problem that’s going to be solved by leaving it alone. that’s like leaving an infection alone.”

a 27-year-old native of west virginia, sidney comes from a coal mining family. he splits his time between installing drywall and organizing with redneck revolt.

“pikeville really caught my attention,” said sidney. “the traditionalist worker party’s been making real efforts to organize in appalachia. i’m not a kentuckian, but i’m a working-class appalachian, and it really sticks in my craw.”

to dissuade antifascists, who often wear masks during demonstrations, the pikeville city commission passed an emergency ordinance that prohibited the wearing of masks or hoods in downtown pikeville. anyone above the age of 16 wearing a mask or hood would be subject to 50 days in jail and a $250 fine.

antifascist demonstrators would have to show their faces, which could be potentially dangerous: neo-nazi groups have been known to use facial recognition software and other tactics to identify counter-protesters, acquire personal information and subject those identified to further harassment.

“at redneck revolt, we tend not to cover our faces anyway,” said sidney. “we want to make inroads with the community, and it’s easier if they knew who you are.”

but sidney had a greater concern: kentucky is another open-carry state and heimbach had encouraged members of the nationalist front to come armed, ahead of “possible leftist attacks”. at least, however, he would have his own firearm: his smith and wesson semi-automatic pistol, which he decided to carry concealed.

a couple locals had expressed to sidney that they wished they would all go home – both neo-nazis and antifascists.

“i can’t blame them for feeling like that,” said sidney. “they’ve got this huge ideological fight on their doorstep that they didn’t ask for.”

regardless, some time after noon, a large group of antifascist protesters – some armed, some wearing bulletproof vests – headed to the courthouse, ready to face the nationalist front.

instead, they saw only about 10 white nationalists, waiting in a little area that had been fenced off by police. they were members of the league of the south, a group that promotes a renewed attempt at secession from the us. the two major nationalist front delegations, the traditionalist workers party and the national socialist movement, were missing.

rumor soon spread that they were lost.

“given that they’re not from this region, and they don’t represent the people here, it’s not terribly surprising,” said sidney.

back in harrisburg, a group of six young white nationalist men wearing a uniform of white polo shirts approached neely’s cookout site; they looked like missionaries, clean-shaven with neatly combed hair.

max neely approached them and asked, cautiously, whether they were interested in socialism.

no, they responded. they identified themselves as members of identity evropa, a white nationalist group that endorses racial segregation and only admits applicants of “european, non-semitic heritage”. they had initially supported trump as a presidential candidate, but were now in harrisburg to protest him; they were disappointed that he had not yet created a white ethno-state.

neely wanted to keep them away from the cookout. on another day, in a different setting, some of his associates might have come ready for a fight. but today was meant to be family-friendly, and many of the picnic attendees were young black activists from a local high school. they could handle themselves, neely knew, but the task of arguing for the legitimacy of your existence against those who deny your humanity is an arduous one.

so while his redneck revolt friends kept a careful watch from across the street, neely let the identity evropa members talk more about their ideology – about how the us was a nation meant for white people, how white culture was under attack. neely debated them as politely as he could, hoping his quiet listening could diffuse the situation. they thanked him for being so calm and civil.

“it’s easy to be calm when you’re a white man,” said neely. “it’s easy when it’s not your life or your family’s lives at stake.”

they could not see the back of his shirt, which depicted a hooded figure dangling from a tree, and the words hang your local klansman.

the encounter ended rather decisively: three local teenage girls had chased off the white nationalists.

by mid-afternoon, the cookout was in full swing. nearby residents filled plates with barbecued chicken and strawberries. a neighborhood man looked at the pamphlets that neely had laid out. “piece now, peace later: an anarchist introduction to firearms”, read one title.

“y’all trying to overthrow the government?” he asked.

“it’s more about community defense,” answered travis, one of the redneck revolt members.

“i just wanted to warn you,” the man continued. “west philadelphia, 1985. look what happened to them.”

he was talking about the left’s own ruby ridge moment: in may 1985, a philadelphia police helicopter dropped a bomb on to the row house that had served as a headquarters for move, an armed black liberation group. there were 11 casualties, including the group’s founder, john africa, as well as five children. the resulting fire destroyed 65 houses. a special commission later appointed by the mayor to investigate the incident concluded that the bombing had been “unconscionable”.

when neely and other white members of redneck revolt claim allyship with movements like black lives matter, they are compelled to acknowledge their whiteness – in particular, their ability to carry weapons with impunity.

when oath keepers began to patrol rooftops during the 2014 protests in ferguson, missouri, their intention was to protect protesters from the police – but many activists were alarmed and intimidated by the appearance of heavily armed white men. when redneck revolt members show up at black-led protest events, they are generally invited.

“they are our security,” said katherine lugaro, an organizer with this stops today, harrisburg’s local iteration of black lives matter. “they’re a wall between us and anyone hateful. they put themselves on the line.”

back in pikeville, a full hour after the rally was scheduled to begin, a caravan rolled into the parking lot down the street. matthew heimbach and the rest of the neo-nazis had arrived. close to 100 people, dressed in head-to-toe black and carrying nazi insignia, marched up to the courthouse building. many in the front were visibly armed; others carried wooden shields decorated with swastikas and norse runes. someone had brought a shield featuring pepe the frog and the words “pepe über alles”. they sieg-heiled to heimbach.

they were outnumbered by protesters two-to-one.

then came a few hours of scheduled neo-nazi speeches. this turned into a few hours of shouting, as the antifascists attempted to drown out the sound system with drums and jeers. “from the midwest to the south,” they chanted, “punch a nazi in the mouth.”

a handful of pikeville residents lingered on the other side of the police barricade, listening to the nationalist front speeches. but most locals present had trickled in along with the protesters, eventually making up a third of the crowd, and had joined in with the jeering.

“they were absolutely the most strident antifascist voices there,” said sidney. “i’m assuming most of these folks were apolitical, or maybe conservative, but they were drawing a line in the sand.”

no injuries, no shots fired; the nationalist front finished their speeches and returned to their caravan. a heavy police presence had kept the two groups separated and prevented any opportunity for confrontation. it was over.

in harrisburg, night fell. max neely and his band of companions eventually regrouped at a local bar. they drank beers and talked about hockey. after a while, they gathered in a private side room to debrief.

they sat around an ashtray and chain-smoked cigarettes and carefully took turns recalling the events of the day. late in the evening, keystone progress had led a protest march down the street near the cookout, though after police refused to let them pass through a blocked area the march fizzled.

“liberals,” chris siennick muttered. a general disdain for liberals is, perhaps, the most notable commonality between the far left and far right.

but there were other items on the agenda. a trump protester had been arrested earlier in the day, accused of having an altercation with a police horse; the group wanted to provide jail support. there was an immigration rights event in two days. and what did they want to do for the central pennsylvania pride festival?

incidentally, the room was draped with american flags.


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is team trump imploding?

there's still a cadre of loyalists, doing their best to spread lies. but the trump coalition is coming unglued.

for the first time in a year’s worth of reporting on the russian attack on the 2016 presidential election, a series of watershed articles published by the new york times has placed one of the alleged conspirators inside the white house. specifically, the attendance of president donald trump’s son-in-law and constant shadow, jared kushner, in the june 9, 2016, meeting between donald trump jr., paul manafort and a kremlin-linked russian lawyer named natalia veselnitskaya represents the first hard evidence that a senior white house aide was in on the conspiracy.

while much of the reporting so far has provided a sense of who’s most involved in the plot, this is also the first time that a trump insider, the president’s eldest son, has deliberately spilled the beans about his own involvement and the involvement of trump a-listers kushner and manafort — kushner being the only figure in the meeting last june who is currently a white house staffer. as a consequence of these revelations, we’ve heard that chaos inside trumpworld has been significantly amplified, with, for example, rumors swirling around washington that kushner may have outed trump jr. in order to divert attention away from himself.

meanwhile, in addition to admitting to what could be treasonous activities, the president and his hectic press office continue to formulate kooky explanations for the meeting, including that the democrats somehow framed donald trump jr., coercing him to attend the bogus meeting with veselnitskaya. naturally, this raises a salient question: if the democrats were behind the entire trump-russia story, why didn’t they leak any of the damning information about it during the 2016 election, when it would have been useful to them? this blindingly obvious tall tale grows even more dubious when we loop into the equation all of the other fronts in the story, including potential money-laundering, social media psy-ops, fake news, weaponized bots and attempted infiltration into various election systems, not to mention the elements of the subsequent coverup, including obstruction of justice and abuse of power.

as always, the white house triage is confoundingly herky-jerky and nearsighted, focused on this one story while neglecting the myriad other angles being pursued by both the press and federal investigators. in other words, the trump machine is constantly reacting to individual news stories while leaving itself open for glaring contradictions and backpedaling when the next batch of stories drop. for instance, president trump himself apparently signed off on the “adoption” excuse while returning from the g20 — only for this flimsy excuse to become blindingly obsolete given new press revelations the following day, and the day after that. whomever first observed that trump lives in “the eternal now” absolutely nailed it.

the other whopper the pro-trump conservatives are peddling is that the democratic party colluded with operatives in ukraine to dig up opposition research on trump. this could be the most absurd story they’ve conjured so far, as well as being another case of trump going full pee-wee herman: call it the “i know you are but what am i?” gambit. the clinton-ukraine excuse presupposes that there wasn’t enough damaging information on trump in the first place that could be gathered through publicly attainable, domestic sources. it also leaves out that absolutely nothing was mentioned about this plot in the dnc emails that were stolen by russian intelligence and released, to trump’s delight, via wikileaks.

it’s dizzying that we have to even mention this, but the ukrainian government wasn’t engaged in an historically pervasive cyber-attack on the united states and the 2016 election, nor is there any connection between the democrats and such an enterprise. likewise, the democrats haven’t obstructed justice in any kind of transparent attempted coverup. hell, trump is the president: he gets daily briefings on national security. if there were a democratic version of the trump-russia story, he would’ve found out about it a long time ago, and blurted it on twitter.

again, the trump white house is not playing a long game. it’s the eternal now. that’s why house oversight committee chair rep. trey gowdy, r-s.c., is so visibly frustrated with trump at the moment. the heretofore party loyalist and pit bull house investigator went on fox news this week and excoriated trump’s political doofery, telling the network’s pro-trump audience, “if you had a contact with russia, tell the special counsel about it! don’t wait until the new york times figures it out!” he continued, “someone needs to get everyone in a room and say, from the time you saw ‘dr. zhivago’ until the moment you drank vodka with a guy named boris, you list every single contact with russia.”

if you open your window and listen carefully, you might hear the sound of the trump coalition ripping apart at the seams.

in addition to gowdy, it’s trump’s corruption and rank incompetence, not to mention his erratic, obnoxious, unpresidential behavior, that’s finally driven msnbc morning show host joe scarborough to leave the republican party, changing his status to that of an independent voter. until recently, scarborough had been an intermittent trump supporter, going so far as to advise the president-elect during the transition. trump probably doesn’t care, but he ought to. trump stupidly drove away his last ally at nbc news just as msnbc is skyrocketing in the ratings, crushing fox news. (the rachel maddow and lawrence o’donnell shows on msnbc ranked no. 8 and 9 in the ratings on wednesday night — among all shows, across all of television, including the networks.)

even intrepid conservative thinker charles krauthammer seems to be abandoning trump. the longtime political commentator and columnist said on fox news this week, “if you get a call to go to a certain place in the middle of the night to pick up stolen goods and it turns out the stolen goods don’t show up but the cops show up, i think you’re going to have a very weak story saying, ‘well, i got swindled here.’”

no one’s buying this ridiculous series of childish, flimsy alibis. when we consider that other prominent republicans like david frum, bill kristol, rick wilson, charlie sykes, nicolle wallace and steve schmidt abandoned their party’s nominee more than a year ago, it seems as if trump’s roster of friends is growing thinner by the day. it’s these republicans and others who will make the difference when it comes to backstopping the end result in the trump-russia investigations, when trump’s loyalists try in vain to undermine the dispensation of justice.

the resistance will need all hands on deck as the various inquiries push closer and closer to trump’s spackled face. we can probably count on the white house to grow increasingly erratic and unpredictable as the bombshells fall. there are few avenues of escape for trump and his henchmen, but the paths that remain are harrowing ones, given the full scope of presidential power. trump will not go quietly and the chaos will escalate before this is all over.


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ivanka trump fancies herself a champion of 'women who work'—tell that to her brand's factory workers

a new report exposes the absurdity of the first daughter's hashtag feminism.

since her father took office, ivanka trump has attempted to position herself as a champion of #womenwhowork. unfortunately, the hashtag doesn't appear to include the women toiling in substandard conditions in the overseas factories that manufacture her brand's clothing and accessories. 

a recent investigation by the washington post reveals just how much of ivanka's brand has been outsourced. virtually all of her clothing line is produced in china and southeast asia, despite her father’s constant braying about putting american jobs first

the report also details how the ivanka trump brand has taken a more passive and hands-off approach to monitoring overseas production, lagging behind most apparel companies’ practice of overseeing the treatment of its predominantly female workforce. big and small apparel brands have improved their protections of factory workers abroad in recent years, often by hiring independent auditors to inspect labor conditions, and by being transparent with consumers about where their goods are made.

while the ivanka trump brand claims it has a code of conduct to prevent any abuses in its factories, it does not follow the same monitoring practices as other brands, leaving its suppliers to enforce its code of conduct. the apparel company has also declined to follow common industry practice of publishing the addresses of the facilities where its products are made.

in recent years, a large group of north american retailers has donated millions to the accord on fire safety in bangladesh and the alliance for bangladesh worker safety, two initiatives designed to improve safety conditions in the country’s factories. neither trump’s brand nor g-iii apparel, an apparel company that began working with the trump brand in 2012, has contributed to these initiatives.

despite ivanka's personal branding efforts, female laborers in factories that produce her clothing and handbags work under poor conditions with incredibly low pay. according to the post investigation, working at trump’s garment factories “come[s] with exhausting hours, subsistence pay and insults from supervisors if they don’t work fast enough.”

“my monthly salary is not enough for everyday expenses, also not for the future,” a 26-year-old sewing operator in subang, indonesia, told the post.

denim pants are produced in garment factories in bangladesh, where the minimum wage for garment workers is about $70 a month.

“we are the ultra-poor,” kalpona akter, a bangladeshi labor organizer and former garment worker said. “we are making you beautiful, but we are starving.”

in addition, labor movements that protest on behalf of low-paid garment workers are often suppressed. about 1,500 garment workers in dhaka, bangladesh were suspended or fired in december after going on strike for higher pay.

in china, three activists from china labor watch were detained by authorities after investigating facilities where trump’s products are made. at one facility, the activists found laborers “working 18-hour workdays and enduring verbal abuse from managers.” other activists in the country, where more than two-dozen factories have produced trump’s products, also say surveillance and heavy policing are common practices.

ivanka trump has yet to make any public statements about the conditions in the factories that produce her brand’s attire. in may, she published a book titled “women who work,” trumpeting her dedication to fair working conditions.


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democrats better focus on the races that matter in '18 or we will have another decade of right-wing extremists in charge

retaking the house in 2018 slows the gop. only governors can stop gop gerrymanders and political monopolies through 2031.

for most of this decade, democrats have not understood why they keep losing the u.s. house and state legislatures to republican super-majorities. it’s not because american voters have moved to the right. the biggest single reason the gop has that outsized grip on power is because they outsmarted democrats when drawing political maps in 2011 for u.s. house races and state legislatures. those maps last a decade and set the stage for our increasingly extreme politics by segregating reliably blue and red voters into non-competitive districts. 

that strategy, called gerrymandering, has typically given the gop an edge of 6 percent or more of the reliable voters. (in these same states, democrats are packed into fewer seats but typically win by much bigger margins.) the gop's voter suppression strategy, like stricter id rules to get a ballot, builds on this uneven baseline.

extreme redistricting has become a hot topic. former president obama and former attorney general eric holder are focusing on it. democratic party officials in washington say the gop’s 2011 gerrymander won’t happen again. in 2016, the seminal book on the topic, ratf**ked: the true story behind the plan to steal america’s democracy, by david daley, explains this starting-line advantage, how it came to pass and its effects.

now a new edition has been published with an epilogue about 2016. alternet’s steven rosenfeld talked with daley about 2016, and what democrats are facing in 2018 and 2020. daley’s take is sobering. he doesn’t think democrats understand the obstacles to retaking the house, nor do they really appreciate how gop mapmakers created super-majorities in red states that keep passing far-right legislation. worst of all, these red state-level super majorities are poised to monopolize the next round of political mapmaking, which will set the national stage for the 2020s.  

steven rosenfeld: let's talk about what happened in 2016. a lot of voting rights activists noted we won big cases against gop vote suppressors, in wisconsin and north carolina. but those states and others remain deeply red. they are passing laws that are as extreme as what we see in the congress around efforts to repeal obamacare and gut medicaid. what’s going on?

david daley: you don't get an outcome like this for just one reason. but once you start looking at the world through a redistricting prism, it's hard to stop. one of the things that happened first of all, is that since 2010 especially, republicans kept making promises to their base, that they either knew they couldn't deliver on or had no intention of delivering upon and the accumulated weight of those promises, made those voters angry. what you saw in the [presidential] primaries in 2016, was a 17-candidate field, that essentially came down to donald trump and ted cruz. the two folks who were willing to stand on top of this party and be the loudest, "no." what also happened is that the republicans built themselves a congress that they could not lose a majority of.

they built themselves an unbeatable majority caucus, but they also built a caucus that they could not control for two reasons. the first because these districts began electing deeply conservative members from districts that had once been swing districts. you can look at this in pennsylvania, in georgia, in north carolina. districts that had gone back and forth throughout the 2000s, are now represented by tea party republicans who win with more than 60% of the vote. that changes the tone and tenure of the body. it sends people to washington who are not interested in compromise. what it also does is, it signals that the true power is within the primary base of the party and that even if you want to be a compromiser, even if you want to be a bridge builder or a problem solver, working with the other side is the one thing that will guarantee you that kind of primary challenge. a primary challenge, that, in those districts, in this day and age, an incumbent is likely to lose.

so you've seen 50-plus votes on a repeal of obama care. the base demanded it. the candidates promised it. they were going to repeal it root and branch, right? then once you get complete power, it doesn't happen. that breeds i think, even more anger and cynicism within the base. it will be very interesting to see where those voters wind up in 2018.

sr: yes, angry times, angry voters. but this is not just washington. it's more extreme in many states.

dd: the other piece of this is, as much as we talk about how gerrymandered the u.s. house is, state legislators have been gerrymandered in an even more extreme manner. we're talking about states like north carolina, wisconsin, ohio, pennsylvania, michigan. if these states keep sounding familiar, they are the states that helped put donald trump in the white house with an electoral college majority, even though he lost the national popular vote by 2.8 million.

the first thing that these gerrymandered state legislators have done is go after voting rights. you see it in north carolina, where there was an entire host of things that they did, as far as voter id, as far as eliminating early voting hours, as far as cutting back on the number of open precincts. it goes on and on. you see it in wisconsin on the extraordinarily stringent voter id laws that were passed there. you saw it in ohio, where they eliminated the golden week, where you could register and vote in the same week. you saw it in michigan, where they simply changed the rules on requiring an affidavit if you didn't have id at the poles but they simply didn't make it clear to people that that was what had to be done. an awful lot of the states, states like wisconsin, which came down to 23,000 votes. a state like michigan, 11,000 votes. pennsylvania, 44,000 votes.

in races this close, it is not difficult to suggest that a deciding factor could well have been the kind of voter suppression laws that these gerrymandered legislators put into effect. when people say, you can't gerrymander the electoral college, i think they're wrong. you quite clearly can. if the next step is that some of these gerrymandered legislators attempt to reapportion their electoral college votes by congressional districts, that becomes the next piece of how that can go. some are looking at that.

sr: we'll have to watch that. but let's turn to 2018 and 2020 because there's an expectation that democrats can take back the house in 2018. you've written that’s far harder than people imagine because of gerrymandering. what do you see?

dd: i see a really tight map. democrats need to take back 24 seats and my challenge to people who say the democrats can take back the house is, name those districts. and you better name more than just 24 because you're not going to win all of them. where are the 60 districts that can be targeted, in order to have a fighting chance of taking back half of them?

sr: let's think about that for a second. i’ve heard there might be a half-dozen seats in california, which was not heavily gerrymandered.

dd: i would say there are three seats in california that are very likely targets but if anybody thinks there’s more...

sr: florida was gerrymandered; texas was gerrymandered.

dd: it sure was.

sr: pennsylvania, ohio, michigan, wisconsin, georgia, as well.

dd: that's the trick. if you take michigan, if you take ohio, if you take north carolina, if you take pennsylvania, that's what? those four key swing states are 44/16 [red house seats to blue seats] and the democrats have not won a single race in any of those states this decade. they have not flipped a single seat red to blue, in any of those states. if you add in wisconsin to that, it makes it what? it’s 49/20 and they still haven't flipped any of those seats this decade. if you add in virginia, it makes it 56/24 and the only seat then that has gone red to blue this decade, is virginia's fourth, which was the court ordered redraw because of racial gerrymandering last year.

when you wipe all of those states off the table, how do you get to 24? the performance of the democratic party in these states, largely due to the drawing of these district lines [in 2011’s redistricting], suggests they probably should take them off the table. where you find those other 24 seats, is extraordinarily difficult. i can see a handful in california. you can possibly see one in florida. you can see a couple in new york state, but they're hard to find.

sr: you're in washington. you’ve talked to all the people who have run and are running the democratic campaign committees. you hear democrats saying, oh, we're on it now. do you just shake your head and think, they're dreaming?

dd: yes. they still think that what happened to them in 2010, was a perfect storm. they think that they simply lost a wave election year in a bad mid-term and that democrats simply didn't turn out. what they don't understand still is, that they didn't get defeated by the perfect storm. they got defeated by the perfect strategy. that strategy has had brutal consequences for the democrats over the course of this entire decade. until they come to terms with the way things have changed and the landscape and the districts that they have to run in, they're never going to fix it.

sr: you persuasively argue that the races that matter in 2018 are the governors’ races in super-majority red states, not control of the u.s. house, because you need a seat at the table to veto the next bad maps that otherwise would last for the next 10 years. does anybody take that seriously enough?

dd: i haven't seen any ... well, let's see. the democrats got into this position because they only focused on the presidency and they stopped caring about the down-ballot races. they became a party that was obsessed at the top of the ticket and the republicans understood the importance of these down ballot races. over decades, they built an infrastructure that lead them to the kinds of victories they were able to have in 2010. i still don't see the proof that democrats understand that the way back from the hole that they're in, has to be a similar slow long-term party building strategy in 50 states.

in september and october of last year, nancy pelosi was out there saying, "we're going to take back the house," and the new york times, the washington post, quoted her and believed it. it wasn't going to happen. now nancy pelosi has a job to do and that is fundraise and try to drive democratic party turnout. i can understand why she doesn't want to come out and say, man, the game is rigged, we don't have a chance, because then all of the donors who feed the consulting class and everything else, have no reason to open up their checkbooks until 2020, right? if you tell people you can't with the election, they're not going to bother turning out. it's one thing to not say that stuff in public, and then to be organizing to do the work in the states.

i don't see the evidence on a state-by-state basis of a re-energized democratic party apparatus. i don't just blame the leadership of the party. the leadership of the party spent some of that $30 million on jon ossoff, but it also was everyday folks who were trying to resist the trump and do something good by sending off their five, 10 bucks to georgia 6th, who helped feed that. as long as everyone continues this top-down, flip the house strategy, it is going to interfere with the actual work that needs to be done in these states. imagine what that $30 million could have done for party-building efforts in north carolina or in virginia or pennsylvania or michigan. the $30 million is a lot of money and they essentially lit it on fire in georgia 6th, trying to rent a congressional district for 18 months. that would have done what exactly? send a message, sure, but in reality, it would have sliced the gop’s margin down by one. it would not have had the same impact that spending that money on say, virginia's house of delegates races might have had.

in the book, i talked to chris jankowski, who was the mastermind of the republican redmap operation [that executed the 2011 gerrymander]. he told me he had to push republican donors away from the bright lights big city of the presidential race or u.s. senate races. he had to convince them and make them understand that, "no, $10,000, $20,000, $50,000 spent in a pennsylvania or michigan or alabama state legislative race, actually would had more impact and influence and consequence." democrats still don't have a jankowski who understands this and is willing to make the case at the higher levels and to the donors, that this is what has to be done, if you want to unravel this.

i also think that too many democrats are overestimating what it means to take back the house in 2018. it would be a consequential check on the republicans and on donald trump. absolutely. i do not mean to minimize that in any way but democrats would still have to go out in 2020 and hold those seats on the same tilted maps and it would still be the same incredibly difficult task. moreover, the new lines that will be drawn after 2020, are not going to be drawn by the us congress. they're going to be drawn in all of these states. they're going to be drawn in ohio, where republicans hold a 12/4 seat advantage in congress but a 66/33 advantage in their state house. they have these insane super majorities and you're not going to get fair congressional lines, until you do something about these insane super majorities in radically gerrymandered states.

sr: there’s more short-term thinking around the supreme court. many people are hoping that the court this fall, in a wisconsin case, is going to rule there’s a point of unfairness in excessively partisan gerrymanders. i should note that there are two flavors of gerrymandering: racial gerrymandering, which is illegal; and partisan gerrymanders, which so far is legal. people are saying, what republicans have done is so extreme that it should be illegal and they have ways to measure it. in a recent court ruling about north carolina’s racial gerrymanders, the court’s conservatives, without neil gorsuch, said excessive partisanship was distasteful but a part of politics. should we be optimistic?

dd: the supreme court has never been willing to rule that the partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional. it would certainly be a terrific thing for democracy, if they were finally ready to cross that bridge. all of this rests on justice kennedy. even with gorsuch on the court, kennedy remains the swing vote and i was much more optimistic about kennedy's mindset, before harris v cooper [the north carolina ruling]. i mean, kennedy, let's remember, is the justice who asked for a standard by which to measure partisan gerrymandering.

sr: yes, but then he signed the dissent saying the liberals went looking for race, found it, and extreme behavior is a natural part of politics.

dd: you cannot count on the supreme court and the efficiency gap [the new measure of how many votes are wasted by gerrymandering], as being some kind of democracy miracle drug that will save us. this is 2017. there are two election cycles before 2020, where the state legislative winners will draw the maps. it seems very likely to me that republicans will keep control of the state legislatures that will draw the maps, the districts that we will be competing on throughout the 2020s. that’s in all the crucial states we've been talking about, north carolina, pennsylvania, ohio, michigan, wisconsin. republicans will be drawing these lines in 2021. their majorities in the state legislator are just too big. the lines are too stout and the amount of time left is too short. it's not crazy or hyperbolic to look at this and say, it's going to be another decade before democrats have a chance at fairer maps.

this is why i think it's so important for them to try to have a seat at the table, by winning these governors races. if they do not win those key races, the 2020 redistricting battle will be over on election day 2018, because these governors will be in office in 2021 and it will largely be settled, suddenly you're looking at 31. i wish i had a more inspiring and optimistic note.

sr: that is so sobering. it raises the question of what are the democrats’ priorities for 2018. it makes me think these governors’ races and the possibility of a florida constitutional amendment to re-enfranchise 1.6 million ex-felons, which would completely change its politics, are the game-changers. the house matters, but do we want to live with this gop crew through 2031?

dd: the democrats don’t get it yet... did you see those bumper stickers that dccc [democratic congressional campaign committee] put out the other day? it was like, “democrats 2008. have you seen the other guys?" this is why i don't think the democrats understand what they're up against because that was their strategy in 2016, right? it was, "have you seen this guy trump?" it didn't work. if the democrats think that they can just go back and say, "have you seen the other guy," and have that work in 2018 and take back the house, i mean, it's the definition of insanity.

it's doubling down on the failed strategy last time. they need 24 seats and they keep talking about the 23 seats where hillary defeated trump but elected a republican. that's the essence of their strategy, trying to win those 23 seats. georgia 6th was not one of them but it might as well been. hillary gets 47% there and ossoff gets 48.1% in the april run-off and then he gets 48.1% in the june election. that's what $30 million did—budged from 47% to 48.1%. unless if you're going to spend $30 million in all of these districts and that wasn't enough to win…

it's an incoherent strategy and so far, they're ignoring all of these other districts. why do you ignore montana [where another house special election was held], where there is a democratic governor, and a democratic u.s. senator, and it's an at-large seat [meaning there’s no gerrymandering]? why would you not consider that a target? the strategy is incoherent. it is not being thought out and it is a mystery to me why any donors keep contributing into this black hole.

they could get lucky, but it wouldn't have anything to do with a good strategy. the 2016 election ought to teach us all to be careful about our predictions. i'm not going to say it's impossible to take back the house in 2018, but it's extraordinarily uphill. deeply unlikely and in the end, it's not that meaningful.


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7 things selling like hotcakes since trump won

what we buy says a lot about who we are.

you can always gauge the temperature of a place by its spending habits. the years after 9/11 saw a precipitous rise in sales of the hummer, a car more suited to combat than the suburbs, and the perfect emblem of the fear pervading these united states at the time. more recently, donald trump’s presidency has sparked new spending trends, all indicative of widespread cultural ideas—and mostly fears—of what his tenure in office will mean. and if we also vote with our dollars, these don’t appear to be ballots cast in confidence.

here are seven products that have sold like hotcakes since trump won the election.

1. preparations for the apocalypse.

trump is a walking, talking nuclear threat, whose insults to american allies and diplomatic recklessness have frightened people into preparing for the end times. for the disgustingly rich, that means investing in underground bunkers where they can wait out the radioactive fallout until it’s safe to come aboveground again. norad shelter systems, based in texas, has seen sales increase by eightfold since trump’s election, according to nbc news. clyde scott, who runs bunker manufacturer rising s company, says after the election, "business went out the roof. i'd say 500 to 700 percent in one month." ("we've had liberals coming out of the woodwork to protect themselves," scott told nbc.) the subterranean shelters run about $45,000 for a no-frills structure with minimal amenities and two years' worth of food storage. a luxury unit, complete with pool, hot tub and 600 square feet of space will set you back around $8 million—though you can get far fancier if you’ve got the cash. scott says kanye west and kim kardashian are customers, and told dazed digital that while he didn’t build any of trump’s own bomb shelters he “might be doing some add-ons for his one up in colorado.”

on the less pricey end, emergency supply companies with names like doomsday prep and my patriot supply have also seen big sales jumps since trump was elected. among the many supplies they offer to the addled and afraid are freeze-dried foods, home canning equipment, water filtration systems, gas masks and generators. "prepping used to be something a few people did—end-of-the-world doomsday types—and didn't tell anybody," keith bansemer, vp of my patriot supply told business insider. "that's not who's calling. i have more mothers trying to protect their families that you would think."

2. firearms—for black and lgbt folks.

watching trump incite his racist, homophobic base to violence, both during his campaign and in the months following his ascent to the white house, has left already vulnerable black and lgbt folks feeling particularly unsafe. while gun and ammunition sales have fallen precipitously since nra darling trump took office, there’s anecdotal evidence that african american and lgbt people are buying and learning to use guns in numbers greater than before. members of lgbt shooting group the pink pistols (whose mission is to stop those “who hate and fear gay, lesbian, bi, trans, or polyamorous persons [from using] us as targets for their rage”) told the washington post that membership is up and new chapters are proliferating in the trump era. philip smith, president of the national african american gun association, told the outlet his group has 7,000 new members since november 8. nbc news surveyed gun shop owners who reported “they're seeing up to four times as many black and minority customers.” black women, in particular, are arming themselves in numbers not previously seen. marchelle tigner, a former national guard officer and nra pistol instructor, runs trigger happy firearm instruction, which teaches african-american women how to shoot. she’s had to add classes to fill the increased demand. “with the political climate being as unstable as it is,” she told the guardian, “black women can be the target.”

3. long-term birth control.

trump, along with the entire gop, is committed to denying women access to family planning services and reproductive justice. (both in the u.s. and abroad, because the republicans believe #allwomenshouldsuffer.) the party is also doing everything in its power to strip millions of health care, which often covers or subsidizes the cost of birth control. in response to the threat to their constitutionally protected reproductive rights, women are getting the one form of birth control the trump regime can’t interfere with: intrauterine devices, or iuds. even before the election, iuds were gaining steam as the preferred method of birth control for an increasing number of women. with trump in office, the appeal of iuds—which once inserted, can outlast even two terms of this presidency by 4 years—became even more apparent. the proof is in the numbers: between election day and early january, planned parenthood saw demand for iuds increase a staggering 900 percent, according to president cecile richards.

4. meditation and yoga.

there’s nothing like wellness practices to calm your frayed nerves when, for example, the new president of your country proves he is off his rocker for the 389th time. that likely explains why meditation and yoga seem to be attracting more people in the months following the election. vox reports that one day after trump became president-elect, popular meditation app headspace “saw a 44 percent jump in sos sessions”—or short meditations for those in emotional crisis mode. as of july, “there’s been a 31 percent bump in sos sessions monthly compared to 2016” according to the outlet. calm, another meditation app, has reportedly also seen its numbers rise post-trump.

and though there are no stats yet available, usa today spoke with yoga teachers around the country who say their classes have been fuller since the election and inauguration day.

5. encrypted messaging apps.

trump, describing the russian hacking of dnc files, once said, “i wish i had that power. man, that would be power.” along with his hissy fit over apple encryption and expressed desire to “close up” the internet, he has made it abundantly clear that his disdain for privacy could lead him to do something crazy, like colluding with a rival foreign power to commit cyberespionage. or something. the u.s. surveillance state already being too expansive for comfort, millions were moved to encrypt their communications in the shadow of a trump win. on the heels of the election, secure messaging app signal saw a 400 percent increase in daily downloads. “there has never been a single event that has resulted in this kind of sustained, day-over-day increase,” moxie marlinspike, the pseudonym of a former twitter cybersecurity head and signal designer, told buzzfeed. “trump is about to be put in control of the most pervasive, largest, and least accountable surveillance infrastructure in the world. people are maybe a little bit uncomfortable with him.”

6. psychotherapy.

around the country, numerous therapists reported a flood of new—and newly traumatized—patients after trump’s win. but psychotherapy can be prohibitively expensive or difficult to arrange for the busy among us. enter talkspace, one of several online counseling services offering therapeutic services to users. according to a cnbc report, the company has “been growing 70 to 80 percent faster than projected since” the november 2016 election. the news site also notes that “on election day itself, the company had five to seven times more customers than usual, and it had three times the normal volume on january 20, inauguration day.” the increases were mostly among early-30-somethings, and “minority, lgbt, muslim and jewish customers.”

most of talkspace’s users, 75 percent, are self-described democrats. "there's been a lot of anxiety and stress, which may have been there before," oren frank, the company co-founder, told cnbc. "but it's definitely been triggered by election night and the inauguration."

7. dystopian fiction.

can’t afford even the most basic underground bunker? prepare for the worst by reading classic books depicting how truly bad corrupt authoritarian fascism can be. that’s what millions of people did in the weeks after trump won. margaret atwood's "the handmaid's tale," sinclair lewis' "it can't happen here" and george orwell's "1984" all returned to the top levels of bestseller lists.

“it’s a frame of reference that people can reach for in response to government deception, propaganda, the misuse of language, and those are things that occur all the time,” alex woloch, who teaches english at stanford university, told the new york times. “there are certain things this administration is doing that has set off these alarm bells, and people are hungry for frames of reference to understand this new reality.”


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jimmy kimmel dismantles trump's insane new design proposal for the mexican border wall

"our president is worried that people are going to get hit on the head with drugs and die."

donald trump has largely avoided the media since his son, donald jr., published emails on twitter detailing his attempted collusion with russian officials. but on his way to paris, the president managed to share his design proposal for the mexican border wall with some reporters aboard air force one, and it is something else.

not only is trump insisting the wall be solar-powered, he also "wants [it] to be see-through," jimmy kimmel noted thursday.

"one of the things with the wall is you need transparency," the president said. "you have to be able to see through it. in other words, if you can't see through that wall—so it could be a steel wall with openings, but you have to have openings because you have to see what's on the other side of the wall."

"i'll give you an example," he rambled on. "as horrible as it sounds, when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don't see them—they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff? it's over."

"he's worried," remarked kimmel. "our president is worried that people are going to get hit on the head with drugs and die, so he wants a wall you can see through."

"it's unbelievable," the host continued, incredulously. "he's turning the country into an aquarium! we're all going to be living in sea world under president shamu."



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stephen colbert scolds trump for his sexist treatment of french first lady brigitte macron

"bad donald! no! bad!"

stephen colbert can't blame president trump for ducking the drama in washington. 

after all, "the man has had a really rough week," the "late show" host opened thursday. "his son admitted to colluding with russia, his health care plan is looking dead in the water, and his press secretary still has his head stuck in that honey pot."

the u.s. president arrived in paris on thursday, one day ahead of a bastille day celebration where he was the guest of honor. but the summit was soon overshadowed by the president's awkward greeting with france's first lady, brigitte macron.

"you're in such good shape. she's in such good physical shape. beautiful," trump told the wife of french president emmanuel macron as she stood next to first lady melania trump.

"of course, he treated her like any other woman—by objectifying her," colbert noted.

"bad donald. no! bad," he continued, chiding the president. "this is not one of your european wife-shopping trips. this is business."

trump and the french president held a joint press conference, which prompted questions about the week's biggest story: donald jr.'s emails.

defending his son, trump explained strangely, "he took a meeting with a russian lawyer, not a government lawyer, but a russian lawyer.it was a short meeting. it was a meeting that went very, very quickly, very fast."

"welcome to trump's america," colbert quipped. "where morality is measured by speed."

"it's like a five-second rule for your soul," the host mused. "i had sex with your sister, hon, but it was over like that."



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paul krugman: republicans are on the brink of completing a long, deadly con

gutting american health care is what the gop has wanted all along.

it was supposed to die in the house of representatives. as recently as june, pundits were pronouncing the senate's health care legislation dead in the water. but this week mitch mcconnell unveiled a revised version of the better care reconciliation act, and incredibly, democrats lack a third republican vote to kill the bill. even more remarkable is that the newest bcra is even more monstrous than the last.

for paul krugman, "it’s surpassingly ugly, intellectually and morally." on thursday, the new york times columnist called republicans' efforts to roll back some of the savage medicaid cuts a "scam." that's because mcconnell's health care legislation dictates tax-favored health savings accounts pay insurance premiums. this would not only enable the rich to set up huge tax shelters, but subject them to marginal tax rates, providing obscene savings.

"this is still a bill that takes from the poor," krugman writes, "it just does so with extra stealth."

as if that weren't enough, trumpcare would effectively decimate protections for people with pre-existing conditions. the new bcra includes a cruz amendment enabling insurers to offer skeleton health care plans with huge deductibles. even industry insiders believe republicans are flirting with disaster. america's health insurance plans, a national political advocacy and trade association with approximately 1,300 members, warns the amendment would “fracture and segment insurance markets into separate risk pools,” causing “unstable health insurance markets.” in layman's terms, it would kick off the dreaded death spiral republicans have been predicting for the affordable care act since its passage in 2010. 

it's really very simple. if the gop manages to pass its health care bill, millions of americans will be deprived of insurance, while those who manage to keep theirs will pay considerably more for less. as krugman sees it, this is what republicans have wanted all along.

"conservative ideology always denied the proposition that people are entitled to health care; the republican elite considered and still considers people on medicaid, in particular, 'takers' who are effectively stealing from the deserving rich," he concludes. "so what we’re seeing here is supposed to be the last act in a long con, the moment when the fraudsters cash in, and their victims discover how completely they’ve been fooled."

read paul krugman's column at the new york times.


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aaahhhhpocalypse now!: 10 dark visions headed your way

first, the bad news.

things are not looking good out there. manmade climate change has already led to widespread devastation, with more unimaginable horrors on the way. for half a generation, the united states has been immersed in futile wars that have only made the world more unsafe, and recent saber-rattling suggests more conflict is on the horizon. this country has too many guns, too many prisons and too few people holding nearly all the wealth. on top of it all, a hotheaded bully is charged with deciding when to whip out our great big missiles.

this is no time for pollyannaish optimism. things will probably get worse before they get better, and the only way to ensure the latter is to come to terms with the former. gloom and doom isn’t so bad if it serves a purpose. you have to contend with the darkest looming realities in order to have any hope of staving them off.

to that end, we’ve gathered some of the best—or uh, the worst—apocalyptic thinking out there. there’s plenty of bad news on economic, planetary and political fronts, and all of it is represented below. consider it inspiration for figuring a way out of this mess. here are 10 visions of the apocalypse—coming soon!

1. the uninhabitable earth, by david wallace-wells

it is, i promise, worse than you think. if your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today...rising oceans are bad, in fact very bad; but fleeing the coastline will not be enough. indeed, absent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century.

the present tense of climate change — the destruction we’ve already baked into our future — is horrifying enough. most people talk as if miami and bangladesh still have a chance of surviving; most of the scientists i spoke with assume we’ll lose them within the century, even if we stop burning fossil fuel in the next decade. two degrees of warming used to be considered the threshold of catastrophe: tens of millions of climate refugees unleashed upon an unprepared world. now two degrees is our goal, per the paris climate accords, and experts give us only slim odds of hitting it. the u.n. intergovernmental panel on climate change issues serial reports, often called the “gold standard” of climate research; the most recent one projects us to hit four degrees of warming by the beginning of the next century, should we stay the present course. but that’s just a median projection. the upper end of the probability curve runs as high as eight degrees — and the authors still haven’t figured out how to deal with that permafrost melt. the ipcc reports also don’t fully account for the albedo effect (less ice means less reflected and more absorbed sunlight, hence more warming); more cloud cover (which traps heat); or the dieback of forests and other flora (which extract carbon from the atmosphere). each of these promises to accelerate warming, and the geological record shows that temperature can shift as much as ten degrees or more in a single decade. the last time the planet was even four degrees warmer, peter brannen points out in the ends of the world, his new history of the planet’s major extinction events, the oceans were hundreds of feet higher.

2. how trump could literally tweet his way into nuclear war with north korea, by laura rosenberger

if our allies, partners and adversaries all attach meaning to trump's words that are in no way what he intended, the problem isn't just one of mere confusion. deterring north korea from taking dangerous actions and reassuring our allies of the credibility of our defense are both critical. but both deterrence and reassurance are based on credibility and capability—and credibility requires clear signaling of intentions.

trump's vague, blustery words, unattached to any strategy and without any plan to back up whatever he did mean, will undermine both our deterrence and our reassurance, which we have spent decades building. this could lead to miscalculation by north korea or our allies. such miscalculation could lead to war: trump could literally tweet us into a nuclear war.

we know that kim jong-un is thin-skinned and will probably take trump's comment about "this guy" as a personal insult. or kim may be confused—after all, just a few months ago, trump said he would be "honored" to meet with kim under the right circumstances. to be clear, i don't care at all about kim's feelings. but i do care about whether an offhand, hotheaded remark could provoke kim to take actions that would have real consequences. picking a twitter fight with a nuclear-armed dictator is not wise—this is not reality tv anymore.

3. we have a year to defend american democracy, perhaps less, by matthias kolb

the temptation in a new situation is to imagine that nothing has changed. that is a choice that has political consequences: self-delusion leads to half-conscious anticipatory obedience and then to regime change...most americans are exceptionalists, we think we live outside of history. americans tend to think: “we have freedom because we love freedom, we love freedom because we are free.” it is a bit circular and doesn’t acknowledge the historical structures that can favor or weaken democratic republics. we don’t realize how similar our predicaments are to those of other people...

i wanted to remind my fellow americans that intelligent people, not so different from ourselves, have experienced the collapse of a republic before. it is one example among many. republics, like other forms of government, exist in history and can rise and fall...a quarter century ago, after the collapse of communism, we declared that history was over—and in an amazing way we forgot everything we once knew about communism, fascism and national socialism...

the constitution is worth saving, the rule of law is worth saving, democracy is worth saving, but these things can and will be lost if everyone waits around for someone else. if we want encouragement out of the oval office, we will not get it. we are not getting encouragement thus far from republicans. they have good reasons to defend the republic but thus far they are not doing so, with a few exceptions...i think things have tightened up very fast, we have at most a year to defend the republic, perhaps less.

4. noam chomsky on the prospects for nuclear war under trump

george yancy: returning to trump, i take it that you view him as fundamentally unpredictable. i certainly do. should we fear a nuclear exchange of any sort in our contemporary moment?

noam chomsky: i do, and i’m hardly the only person to have such fears. perhaps the most prominent figure to express such concerns is william perry, one of the leading contemporary nuclear strategists, with many years of experience at the highest level of war planning. he is reserved and cautious, not given to overstatement. he has come out of semiretirement to declare forcefully and repeatedly that he is terrified both at the extreme and mounting threats and by the failure to be concerned about them. in his words, “today, the danger of some sort of a nuclear catastrophe is greater than it was during the cold war, and most people are blissfully unaware of this danger.”

in 1947, bulletin of the atomic scientists established its famous doomsday clock, estimating how far we are from midnight: termination. in 1947, the analysts set the clock at seven minutes to midnight. in 1953, they moved the hand to two minutes to midnight after the u.s. and u.s.s.r. exploded hydrogen bombs. since then it has oscillated, never again reaching this danger point. in january, shortly after trump’s inauguration, the hand was moved to two and a half minutes to midnight, the closest to terminal disaster since 1953. by this time analysts were considering not only the rising threat of nuclear war but also the firm dedication of the republican organization to accelerate the race to environmental catastrophe.

perry is right to be terrified. and so should we all be, not least because of the person with his finger on the button and his surreal associates.

5. is america past the point of no return? by thom hartmann

has corporate/billionaire control of our republic reached such a point that it’s no longer reversible? have we passed the tipping point where democracy dies? while republicans are doing the will of their oligarch owners, replacing real scientists with industry lobbyists and shills everywhere from the white house to congressional science committees to the epa, the media stubbornly refuses to report in depth on it, preferring instead to following the worldwide wrestling moves of our tweeter-in-chief.  

while climate change is ravaging the world, the administration of billionaire oligarch donald trump has pulled the u.s. out of the paris climate change agreement and is rolling back climate-protecting rules on behalf other oligarchs in the oil, coal and gas business so they can continue to use our atmosphere as a sewer.

from trying to destroy the consumer financial protection bureau (which has returned to consumers billions of dollars in ill-gotten gains from our country’s banksters), to gutting environmental laws, to preventing students from even declaring bankruptcy when their efforts to join the middle class by going to college don’t work out, the oligarchs who now largely run america are solidifying their power and their wealth. this is rule by the rich. it’s here. it’s now.

6. the age of anger, by chris hedges

neoliberalism, in the name of this absurd utopia, stripped away government regulations and laws that once protected the citizen from the worst excesses of predatory capitalism. it created free trade agreements that allowed trillions of corporate dollars to be transferred to offshore accounts to avoid taxation and jobs to flee to sweatshops in china and the global south where workers live in conditions that replicate slavery. social service programs and public services were slashed or privatized. mass culture, including schools and the press, indoctrinated an increasingly desperate population to take part in the global reality show of capitalism, a “war of all against all.”

what we were never told was that the game was fixed. we were always condemned to lose. our cities were deindustrialized and fell into decay. wages declined. our working class became impoverished. endless war became, cynically, a lucrative business. and the world’s wealth was seized by a tiny group of global oligarchs. kleptocracies, such as the one now installed in washington, brazenly stole from the people. democratic idealism became a joke. we are now knit together, as mishra writes, only “by commerce and technology,” forces that hannah arendt called “negative solidarity.”

7. doomsday prep for the super rich, by evan osnos

last spring, as the presidential campaign exposed increasingly toxic divisions in america, antonio garcía martínez, a forty-year-old former facebook product manager living in san francisco, bought five wooded acres on an island in the pacific northwest and brought in generators, solar panels, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. “when society loses a healthy founding myth, it descends into chaos,” he told me. the author of “chaos monkeys,” an acerbic silicon valley memoir, garcía martínez wanted a refuge that would be far from cities but not entirely isolated. “all these dudes think that one guy alone could somehow withstand the roving mob,” he said. “no, you’re going to need to form a local militia. you just need so many things to actually ride out the apocalypse.” once he started telling peers in the bay area about his “little island project,” they came “out of the woodwork” to describe their own preparations, he said. “i think people who are particularly attuned to the levers by which society actually works understand that we are skating on really thin cultural ice right now.”

in private facebook groups, wealthy survivalists swap tips on gas masks, bunkers, and locations safe from the effects of climate change. one member, the head of an investment firm, told me, “i keep a helicopter gassed up all the time, and i have an underground bunker with an air-filtration system.” he said that his preparations probably put him at the “extreme” end among his peers. but he added, “a lot of my friends do the guns and the motorcycles and the gold coins. that’s not too rare anymore.”

8. how the student loan industry is helping trump destroy american democracy, by binta baxter

[t]he untold story of student loan debt in the united states is that it is being used as a form of economic terrorism designed not only to redistribute wealth from everyday americans to the elite, but to undermine and degrade american democracy as a whole.

up until her confirmation as secretary of education, betsy devos had financial ties to a large student loan servicer in contract negotiations with the department of education. prwatch reported in january that one of the firms devos divested from, lmf wf portfolio, helped finance a $147 million loan to a student debt collection agency called performant, which had more than 346 complaints brought against it with the better business bureau. the student loan industry is said to be worth $1.3 trillion in total debt owed according to forbes.

9. stephen hawking warns trump withdrawal from climate deal could turn earth's temperature to 250 degrees and bring sulphuric acid rain, by reynard loki

"we are close to the tipping point where global warming becomes irreversible," said hawking, who is a recipient of the presidential medal of freedom, the highest civilian award in the united states. "trump’s action could push the earth over the brink, to become like venus, with a temperature of 250 degrees and raining sulphuric acid."

trump's decision to abandon the landmark agreement, which was signed by nearly 200 nations to limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5°c above pre-industrial levels, puts the accord in jeopardy, as the u.s. is the world's second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, after china.

10. a language older than words, by derrick jensen 

it’s unavoidable: so long as we value money more highly than living beings and more highly than relationships, we will continue to see living beings as resources, and convert them to cash; objectifying, killing, extirpating. this is true whether we’re talking about fish, fur-bearing mammals, indians, day-laborers, and so on. if monetary value is attached to something it will be exploited until it’s gone.

also by derrick jensen, the culture of make believe

let's be honest. the activities of our economic and social system are killing the planet. even if we confine ourselves merely to humans, these activities are causing an unprecedented privation, as hundreds of millions of people-and today more than yesterday, with probably more tomorrow-go their entire lives with never enough to eat. yet curiously, none of this seems to stir us to significant action. and when someone does too stridently point out these obvious injustices, the response by the mass of the people seems so often to be...a figurative if not physical blow to the gut, leading inevitably to a destruction of our common future. witness the enthusiasm with which those native nations that resisted their conquest by our culture have been subdued, and the eagerness with which this same end is today brought to those-native or not-who continue to resist too strongly. how does this come to happen, in both personal and social ways?


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'watch your back': read trump lawyer marc kasowitz's unhinged, expletive-laden emails to a total stranger

the pressure appears to be getting to the president's legal team.

marc kasowitz, president trump’s personal attorney on the russia case, threatened a stranger in a string of profanity-laden emails wednesday night. the man, a retired public relations professional in the western united states who asked not to be identified, read propublica’s story this week on kasowitz and sent the lawyer an email with the subject line:…


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donald trump's ties to russian gangsters stretch back more than 30 years

an explosive report details the president's business dealings with criminals and shady oligarchs.

on air force one on thursday, president trump actually took questions from reporters but there was some confusion about whether or not the exchange was on the record. the white house later released a transcript that left out a couple of things. since reporters were released from their agreement to keep it off the record, they filled in the blanks:

so we are getting closer to an admission that our president knew that representatives of the russian government wanted to help him win the election. he simply doesn’t believe there’s anything wrong with that.

we know for sure that he doesn’t think there’s anything unusual about it. he told the reporters:

honestly, in a world of politics, most people are going to take that meeting. if somebody called and said, hey — and you’re a democrat — and by the way, they have taken them — hey, i have really some information on donald trump. you’re running against donald trump. can i see you? i mean, how many people are not going to take the meeting?

when asked about it again during his press conference in paris with french president emmanuel macron, he said the same thing.

donald trump used to brag about doing business with russians. he told david letterman back in 2013 “i’ve done a lot of business with the russians, i know the russians very well. they’re smart and they’re tough and they’re not looking so dumb right now.” that was around the time of the miss universe pageant in moscow, when trump was tight with billionaire oligarch aras agalarov, also known as putin’s builder, and his pop star son emin, both of whom were instrumental in the “hillary dirt” meeting with donald jr. after years of trying fruitlessly to get a trump project off the ground in the country, he had finally succeeded in making the contact who could make his dream come true.

according to michael isikoff at yahoo, it was a typical trump arrangement in which agalarov would build the tower and license trump’s name for big dollars. donald jr. was put in charge and ivanka even made a trip in 2014 to see the proposed property. unfortunately for the trumps, the project got shelved when the russian economy went south due to the sanctions imposed by the u.s. and the european union following the russian incursion into crimea (something president trump is now in a position to “fix”).

agalarov told forbes back in march that he was still on board the trump train and that “anything trump related i would be interested to pursue. i think today the trump brand is stronger all over the world. and him being the president; i mean, it’s a big brand now.” indeed it is.

nonethless, trump was all over the map about his involvement with russia during the campaign, saying in one breath that he was good pals with vladimir putin and another denying that he’d ever had anything to do with russia in any way, shape or form. in his first press conference as president he said, “i own nothing in russia. i have no loans in russia. i don’t have any deals in russia.”

but asking if trump has investments in russia was never the right question. the question to ask was whether any russians had investments in donald trump. some years back donald trump jr. told a real estate conference, “russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets. we see a lot of money pouring in from russia.” when writer james dodson asked how the trumps were able to finance their purchase of golf courses during the recession when credit had all dried up, eric trump told him, “well, we don’t rely on american banks. we have all the funding we need out of russia.” (eric trump has denied he ever said this.)

nonetheless it has been difficult to analyze trump’s financing arrangements since his company is family-owned and he refuses to release his tax returns or detail his holdings in any useful way. we know trump was cited numerous times for money-laundering in his atlantic city casinos. (i wrote about that here.)  but this blockbuster article by craig unger in the new republic confirms that trump has been financed for years by russian mobsters who have laundered money through his high-end real estate projects. and when i say russian mobsters i’m talking about the most powerful russian mobsters in the world.

unger makes clear that he can find no evidence that trump was ever involved in criminal activity, or knew exactly where the money pouring into his buildings was coming from. he didn’t need to know or want to; if nothing else trump has finely honed survival instincts. but unger also documents that criminals and oligarchs lived in and ran illegal activities out of trump properties, including trump tower in manhattan, for more than 30 years. they provided trump with some of his most lucrative branding deals, the ones in which he was not required to make any personal investment. the unending flow of russian money, unger writes, that “provided trump with a crucial infusion of financing that helped rescue his empire from ruin, burnish his image, and launch his career in television and politics.”

it’s hard to believe that anyone with that kind of criminal exposure would think it was a good idea to run for president. but trump had been in the public spotlight and had gotten away with it for years. books were written about his ties to criminals and he’s been sued thousands of time for fraudulent business practices. in his experience, this is just how the world works.

trump’s comments about his son’s nefarious meeting shows that he believes everyone does whatever it takes to win and use any means at their disposal. he’s so casual about it that it’s obvious that if at some point before he ran for president he was personally offered the help of the russian fsb, he would have taken it without a second thought. he simply assumes that everyone in the world is exactly like him.

i’m sure there is a clinical term for this but it’s just as easy to simply say that he has the ethos of a mobster. why wouldn’t he? he’s been doing business with them for years.


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paul krugman: republicans are on the brink of completing a long, deadly con

gutting american health care is what the gop has wanted all along.

it was supposed to die in the house of representatives. as recently as june, pundits were pronouncing the senate's health care legislation dead in the water. but this week mitch mcconnell unveiled a revised version of the better care reconciliation act, and incredibly, democrats lack a third republican vote to kill the bill. even more remarkable is that the newest bcra is even more monstrous than the last.

for paul krugman, "it’s surpassingly ugly, intellectually and morally." on thursday, the new york times columnist called republicans' efforts to roll back some of the savage medicaid cuts a "scam." that's because mcconnell's health care legislation dictates tax-favored health savings accounts pay insurance premiums. this would not only enable the rich to set up huge tax shelters, but subject them to marginal tax rates, providing obscene savings.

"this is still a bill that takes from the poor," krugman writes, "it just does so with extra stealth."

as if that weren't enough, trumpcare would effectively decimate protections for people with pre-existing conditions. the new bcra includes a cruz amendment enabling insurers to offer skeleton health care plans with huge deductibles. even industry insiders believe republicans are flirting with disaster. america's health insurance plans, a national political advocacy and trade association with approximately 1,300 members, warns the amendment would “fracture and segment insurance markets into separate risk pools,” causing “unstable health insurance markets.” in layman's terms, it would kick off the dreaded death spiral republicans have been predicting for the affordable care act since its passage in 2010. 

it's really very simple. if the gop manages to pass its health care bill, millions of americans will be deprived of insurance, while those who manage to keep theirs will pay considerably more for less. as krugman sees it, this is what republicans have wanted all along.

"conservative ideology always denied the proposition that people are entitled to health care; the republican elite considered and still considers people on medicaid, in particular, 'takers' who are effectively stealing from the deserving rich," he concludes. "so what we’re seeing here is supposed to be the last act in a long con, the moment when the fraudsters cash in, and their victims discover how completely they’ve been fooled."

read paul krugman's column at the new york times.


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