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Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Future of Women Under President Trump

Ivanka Trump. (photo: Reuters)
Ivanka Trump. (photo: Reuters)

By Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker
25 December 16
 
Wishful thinkers hope that Ivanka will curb her pussy grabbing father’s worst behavior, but it’s unclear how much influence she will have.

here are many reasons to worry about what a Trump Administration holds in store for women. The President-elect has vowed to appoint Justices to the Supreme Court who will overturn Roe v. Wade. Some states will be emboldened to impose restrictive new laws that can become test cases; the Ohio legislature did so last week, passing a bill that effectively bans abortions, with no exception for rape or incest, after six weeks of pregnancy—a point at which many women do not yet know they are pregnant. Janet Porter, an activist against the “criminalization of Christianity,” who has been pushing for the Ohio law since 2011, said, “It’s a brand-new day with a Trump-appointed Supreme Court, and we are very hopeful.”

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans are feeling bullish about finally achieving a goal that they’ve sought for years: getting rid of federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides health services like cancer screening and contraception, as well as abortion. If a Trump Administration succeeds in dismantling the Affordable Care Act, or simply in eliminating the mandate that health plans include contraception coverage, many more women will lose access to health care and, especially, to more expensive, but also more effective, long-acting contraceptive methods, such as the I.U.D.

Tom Price, Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services Secretary, is an opponent of the A.C.A. who apparently doubts that any woman in America would have trouble affording birth control. “Bring me one woman who’s been left behind,” he told an interviewer in 2012. “There’s not one.” Under Jeff Sessions, the anti-abortion Alabama senator whom Trump has named as his candidate for Attorney General, the Justice Department is unlikely to provide robust protection for abortion clinics. Eric Scheidler, the head of Pro-Life Action League, a group that leads confrontational protests outside such clinics, wrote earlier this month, “With Jeff Sessions at Justice, pro-life activists like me can breathe a sigh of relief.” As members of Congress, both Sessions and Price voted against the federal Violence Against Women Act when it last came up for reauthorization. For Labor Secretary, Trump has in mind Andrew Puzder, the C.E.O. of the company that runs Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. An opponent of raising the minimum wage and of expanding overtime pay, Puzder, referring to the company’s ads, told the magazine Entrepreneur, “I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American.”

Trump won the Presidency despite a well-documented penchant for the vulgar belittlement of women, and with the help of a fan base energized by chants of “Lock Her Up.” The oddly medieval demonization of Hillary Clinton continues among Trump supporters: see the conspiracy theory that posits her as a child-sex-trafficking witch, hiding in tunnels beneath a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant, where last week a man turned up with an assault-style rifle to “self-investigate” the claim.

To be fair, Trump has suggested one decent policy for women and families: a six-week paid maternity leave, which would indeed end a national disgrace. (The U.S. is the only developed country with no guaranteed family leave.) But the plan pointedly omits paternity leave, enshrining an old-fashioned view of families and potentially creating new grounds for employment discrimination against women. Details of how the plan would be funded—by eliminating fraud in unemployment insurance—are murky.

There is a popular notion that Trump’s daughter Ivanka, a self-proclaimed avatar of “women who work,” will ward off her father’s worst excesses. (It seems unlikely that Trump’s wife, Melania, will play such a role: after proposing, late in the campaign and apparently without irony, that her mission as First Lady would be to campaign against bullying, she has retreated to the background, and will reportedly be staying in New York with the couple’s son, Barron, when the President-elect moves into the White House.) Trump has already started outsourcing to Ivanka issues related to women. At a rally in Iowa, in September, he explained that it was because of his daughter that he took up the maternity-leave proposal. He imitated her, saying, “Daddy, Daddy, we have to do this.” A recent piece in the Times reported that, when Nancy Pelosi, the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, spoke to Trump by phone shortly after the election and raised the subject of women’s issues, he handed the phone to Ivanka.

Perhaps Ivanka Trump will succeed in persuading more people that she is an aspirational figure who can seamlessly combine running her (made-in-China and, in the future, Ethiopia) clothing line with advising her father on policy matters, keeping a hand in the old family business (she’s said to be considering a leave of absence from the Trump Organization), and bringing up her three young children. She does seem to have found a new way of having it all. After the election, she appeared in a family interview on “60 Minutes,” and her company sent out a press release touting the bracelet she wore, available for $10,800. The fact that she is negotiating licensing deals in Japan did not stop her from meeting with her father and Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan, in the President-elect’s first sitdown with a foreign leader.

But, even if Ivanka does want to be a steadying hand on the wheel, it’s unclear how much influence she’ll have. Last week, she and her father discussed climate change with Al Gore, but a couple of days later the President-elect announced his selection for the head of the Environmental Protection Agency: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a climate-change skeptic who has sued the agency he now seeks to run. And anyone who hoped that Ivanka might be a voice decrying the white supremacists and anti-Semites activated by her father’s campaign is still hoping.

In her unelected, unappointed capacity, Ivanka Trump calls to mind a daughter not so much of American democracy as of nepotistic autocracy. In the U.S., if family members who don’t hold office get too mixed up in governing, hackles are raised, as Bill and Hillary Clinton discovered when he put her in charge of health-care reform. And in countries where ruling families have used elected office to promote their own business dealings democratic freedoms tend to be correspondingly weak.

The United States almost had its first female President, who, however flawed as a candidate, would certainly have protected the fundamental rights of women, among other now newly vulnerable groups. Instead, we have a First Daughter, and what she will protect—or undermine—we really don’t know.

Friday, December 30, 2016

5 Things You Can Do Right Now About Trump

Filmmaker Michael Moore. (photo: Getty)
Filmmaker Michael Moore. (photo: Getty)

By Michael Moore, Michael Moore's Facebook Page

29 December 16
 

t's been seven weeks since Hillary beat Trump by nearly 3 million votes but lost the presidency to him. So if your head is still spinning from that mindf***, or you can't quite believe a malignant narcissist will now sit in the Oval Office, or if you are simply still working your way through the 17 stages of grief, then I am here to say to you, "There's no crying in TrumpLand -- Let's get to work!" All hands on deck! Brush your yourself off and let's get busy because: a) All hope is not lost; b) There are more of us than there are of them; and c) The roadside is littered with the ended careers of self-absorbed, narcissistic politicians whose arrogance led them to do things that caused their early resignation or impeachment. Don't think that can't happen here.

I do not say these things because I am filled with optimism. In fact, I think the first thing we all have to do in order to move on is to admit out loud what we already think privately: As bad as we know it's going to be, it's actually going to be worse. A lot worse. Now cheer up and read on...

THE FIVE THINGS EACH OF US MUST DO THIS WEEK

1. MAKE YOUR PRESENCE KNOWN. Your Senators and Members of Congress are home right now, in your town (or a nearby town), for their holiday break. Their office is open! You don't need an appointment. Just show up (to find out where the local office is click here: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ and type in your zip code). Go there (take a friend!), walk in and say "I'm a constituent and I'd like a few minutes with my Congressman/woman." He/she may be busy, so tell them you'd like to speak to someone on the staff for a couple minutes. Most local congressional offices are LOATHE to turn anyone away because to them you are that one vote who could vote them out of office. Tell the person you get to speak to why you want the Congressman to block all the damage Trump is going to do (cite examples). If he/she is a Republican, they will explain why they "support the new President." You then must politely tell them you and everyone you know will work to unseat them in 2018 if they don't act independently from Trump. The calmer and cooler you say this, the more they will believe it. If your rep is a Democrat, tell him/her that you expect them to AGGRESSIVELY fight the Trump agenda -- and if they don't, you will work with others to support a true progressive in the Democratic primary in 2018. Tell them that millions of us will do what the Tea Party did to the Republicans: primary them and toss them out of office. Say it politely, thank them, then leave. You actually showing up in person to do this is as powerful as 100 letters or a large demonstration on the street in front of their office. Do this and post it on social media. Post it on my Facebook or Twitter and I'll try to re-post/tweet as many as I can.

2. WRITE TO THE DNC TONIGHT. It will take 5 minutes. Send a quick email to the Democratic National Committee (http://my.democrats.org/page/s/contact-the-democrats) and tell them you want them to elect Congressman Keith Ellison as the new chairperson of the Democratic Party. He is the future and everyone else is the past. Here's what the old guard gave us: TWICE in 16 years the Democratic candidate WON the vote for President but LOST the White House. Incredible! This has to stop! Ellison and the progressive wing of the party must take us forward. Keith has the backing of Bernie Sanders and myself, but also the endorsement of some of the old guard who've come around to see the error of past ways (Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, etc.). In addition to being born in Detroit, spending his adulthood as a community organizer and now representing the Twin Cities in the House, Ellison is also the only Muslim member of Congress. He was one of the few members of Congress brave enough to back Bernie. He will fight to turn this around and, as a son of the Midwest, bring that part of the country back from the dark side. Let's flood the DNC with emails tonight (and cc: the your state Democratic Party, too - you can look up their email address on Google).

3. FORM YOUR OWN RAPID RESPONSE TEAM. By New Year's Day this Sunday, I want you to ask 5 to 10 friends, family members, co-workers, classmates or neighbors to be part of your Rapid Response Team. Pick a name for it -- the "Doyle Family Rapid Response Team", the "Oak Street Rapid Response Team", the "Seabrook High School Rapid Response Team", the "Gilmore Girls Fan Club Rapid Response Team", etc. Set a plan to contact each other online as soon as word goes out on any given day to oppose what Trump and Congress are up to. Your Rapid Response Team will agree with each other to email elected reps, make calls, post on social media, go to protests and/or organize others at work, school or in the neighborhood. Through my own social media sites, as stuff happens, I will send out instructions immediately as to what we all must do. Sign up now to follow me on my Facebook (facebook.com/mmflint) and Twitter (twitter.com/mmflint) if you don't already. Form your team this week. I'm personally organizing a Rapid Response Team in the apartment building where I live. We need to get prepared and be ready now. If we wait til late January to organize, it will be too late.

4. MAKE PLANS NOW TO BE AT THE INAUGURATION WEEKEND PROTESTS! We need millions in the streets in DC -- and that's what it looks like it's shaping up to be. The big march will be the day after the Inauguration - the Million Women March on January 21st. Click here for details https://www.facebook.com/events/2169332969958991/. On January 20th - Inauguration Day - a call has been gone out to non-violently disrupt the proceedings. Go to http://www.disruptj20.org/ and learn about civil disobedience on that day. Planes and trains are already selling out, as are hotels. Contact the above sites to get info on buses and housing (or charter your own bus from your town). Everyone who can should be there. If you can't make it, find (or organize) a local protest in your area. Take the day off. No one should be silent that day.

5. YOU SHOULD RUN FOR OFFICE. Yes, YOU. Why not? Who else do you think is going to do it? I'm not saying you have to be the next Senator from Michigan, but why not run for State Rep. or school board or city council? At the very least, run for precinct delegate in the local Democratic Party. It's time to stop carping about politicians and become one. But a different kind of one! I ran for and got elected to the school board at 18-years old. Form your campaign committee now for the elections in 2017 and 2018. (If you need me, I'll even offer to be your honorary chair!) You know you can do this. We have no choice. We've left it up to others - yes, Democrats - and they are inept and continual losers. Haven't you had enough? Run for office, any office!

There you go. 5 Easy Pieces. Start tonight. And spread this around. ALL HANDS ON DECK!

-- Michael Moore

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Dystopian Donald: The Future According to Trump

President-elect Donald Trump. (photo: NBC)
President-elect Donald Trump. (photo: NBC)

By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch
27 December 2016
readersupportednews.org

an you doubt that we’re in a dystopian age, even if we’re still four weeks from Donald Trump entering the Oval Office? Never in our lifetimes have we experienced such vivid previews of what unfettered capitalism is likely to mean in an ever more unequal country, now that its version of 1% politics has elevated to the pinnacle of power a bizarre billionaire and his “basket of deplorables.” I’m referring, of course, not to his followers but to his picks for the highest posts in the land. These include a series of generals ready to lead us into a new set of crusades and a crew of billionaires and multimillionaires prepared to make America theirs again.

It’s already a stunningly depressing moment -- and it hasn’t even begun. At the very least, it calls upon the rest of us to rise to the occasion. That means mustering a dystopian imagination that matches the era to come.

I have no doubt that you’re as capable as I am of creating bleak scenarios for the future of this country (not to speak of the planet). But just to get the ball rolling on the eve of the holidays, let me offer you a couple of my own dystopian fantasies, focused on the potential actions of President Donald Trump.

There is already an enormous literature -- practically a library -- of writings on our unique president-elect’s potential conflicts of interests. He does, after all, own, or lease his name to, various towers, elite golf courses, clubs, hotels, condos, residences, and who knows what else in at least 18 to 20 countries. That name of his, invariably in impressive gold lettering, soars to striking heights in foreign skies across the planet. These days, in fact, the Trump brand and its conflicts are hard to escape, from Bali, the Philippines, and Dubai to Scotland, India, and the very heart of Manhattan Island. There, in my own hometown, at a cost to local taxpayers like me of more than a million bucks a day, the police are protecting him big time, while the Secret Service and the military add their heft to the growing armed camp in mid-Manhattan. They are, of course, defending the Trump Tower -- the very one in which, in June 2015, to Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World,” he rode that escalator directly into the presidential campaign, promising to build a "great wall," lock out all Mexican "rapists," and "make America great again."

That tower on busy Fifth Avenue is now fronted by dump trucks filled with sand (“to help protect the Republican presidential nominee from potentially explosive attacks”) and, with the safety of the president and his family in mind, the Secret Service is reportedly considering renting out a couple of floors of the building at a cost to the American taxpayer of $3 million annually, which would, of course, go directly into the coffers of a Trump company.  (Hey, no conflict of interest there and don’t even mention the word “kleptocracy”!)  All of this will undoubtedly ensure that New York’s most Trump-worthy building, aka the White House North, will be kept reasonably safe from intruders, attackers, suicide bombers, and the like.  But much of the imperial Trump brand around the world may not be quite so lucky.  Elsewhere, guards will generally be private hires, not government employees, and the money available for any security plans will, as a result, be far more modest.

With rare exceptions, the attention of the media has focused on only one aspect of Donald Trump’s conflict-of-interest issues (and they are rampant), not to speak of his urge to duck what he might do about them, or dodge and weave to avoid a promised news conference to discuss them and the role of his children in his presidency and his businesses.  The emphasis has generally been on the kinds of problems that would arise from a businessman with a branded name coming to power and profiting from, or making decisions based on the money to be made off of, his presidency.  Media reports have generally zeroed in, for instance, on how foreign leaders and others might affect national policy by essentially promising to enrich Trump or his children.  They report on diplomats who feel obliged to stay at his new hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue just down the street from the White House; or foreign heads of state reaching out to him via his business partners in their lands; or Trump brand deals that are now going through in various countries thanks to his election victory.

The focus is almost invariably on how to cope with a president who, for at least the next four years, could stand to profit in mind-boggling ways from his various acts in office (or simply from the position he holds, even if he does nothing). And make no mistake, that issue might indeed edge Trump’s presidency into the truly dodgy, not to say paradigm breaking, when it comes to the history of the White House. But don’t call that dystopian.

What few people (the Secret Service aside) are thinking about is the ways in which conflicts of interest could consume the new president by threatening not to enrich, but impoverish him (and his children). Head down that path and believe me you’re instantly in dystopian territory.

Here’s a scenario for you:

It’s April 1, 2017. Donald J. Trump has been in office for less than two and a half months when a nattily dressed “businessman” manages to enter Trump Towers Istanbul, which soars into the skyline of the Turkish capital with the name of the new American president impressively done up in gold letters atop one of its towers.  Once in the lobby, that man, a messenger from the Islamic State who made it through the complex's private security screening with a suicide vest strapped to his body, blows himself up, killing a doorman, a security screener, and a number of residents, while wounding a dozen others.

Of course, I’ve never been to Trump Towers Istanbul, so I don’t really know what security measures are in place there in the heart of that already explosive capital, but given the Trump projects scattered around the world, feel free to pick your own branded building, resort, or hotel.  And that initial explosion would just be a start.

Don’t forget that it only cost Osama bin Laden a reported $400,000 to stage the 9/11 attacks and lure the Bush administration into a set of trillion-dollar failed wars that would help spread terror movements across the Greater Middle East and Africa.  So don’t for a second imagine that the leadership of ISIS (or similar groups) won’t see the advantages of sending such messengers on the cheap to get under the oh-so-thin-skin of the new American president and embroil him in god knows what.

Imagine this as well: it’s 2018.  China and the U.S. are at loggerheads across the Taiwan strait, pressures and emotions are rising again in northern Africa, where continuing American military assaults in Libya and Somalia have only increased the pre-Trumpian chaos, as well as in the heartlands of the Middle East where, despite massive American bombing campaigns, ISIS, once again a guerilla group without territory, is causing chaos. In addition, in Afghanistan, 17 years after America's second Afghan War began, the U.S.-backed government in Kabul is tottering in the face of new Taliban, ISIS, and al-Qaeda offensives. Massive waves of immigrants from all these unsettled lands continue to endanger an angry Europe, and everywhere anti-Americanism is on the rise, not in a generalized sense, but focused in fury on the American president and his much-beloved brand.

Imagine as well for a moment growing demonstrations, protests, and the like, all aimed at various towers, clubs, resorts, and condominiums in the Trump stable.  And consider just what a combination of threatened terror attacks and roiling demonstrations, as well as increasing anger over the Trump name across the Islamic world and elsewhere, might mean to the profitability of the president's brand.  Now, think about the Trump towers in Pune, India, or the 75-story tower in Mumbai, or the “six-star” luxury resort in Bali, or the tower going up in Manila’s Century City (each a high-end Trump-labeled project expected to come online in the near future and all, except Pune, at past sites of devastating terror bombings).  What will their owners do if prospective buyers, fearing for their comfort, health, or even lives, begin to flee? What happens when the hotels can’t keep their rooms filled, the condominiums lose their bidders, and the Trump brand suddenly begins to empty out?

There is, of course, no guarantee that such a thing will happen, but if you stop to consider the possibility, it’s not hard to imagine.  Next, take into account what you already know about Donald Trump, a man inordinately proud of his brand and hypersensitive beyond belief.  Now, try to imagine -- and in Trumpian terms we’re talking about a truly dystopian world here -- what American foreign policy might look like if, amid the fears of resort-goers, golfers, business types, and the like, that brand began to tank internationally, if raising those giant gold letters over any city immediately ensured either mind-boggling problems or staggering security costs (and, at a minimum, a life of TSA-style lines for consumers).

Don’t for a second doubt that, under such circumstances, American foreign and military policy would end up being focused on saving the Trump brand, which, in turn, would be a nightmare to behold.  Speaking of past controversies over presidential appointments -- okay, I know we weren’t, but humor me here -- in 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower had his own Rex Tillerson-style moment and picked Charles Wilson, the CEO of industrial giant General Motors, to be his secretary of defense.  At his confirmation hearings, Wilson infamously offered this formula for success, “I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa.”  If the State Department and the military were indeed tasked with digging out the Trump brand, you would need to turn that comment upside down and inside out: “I thought what was bad for the Trump brand was bad for America, and vice versa.”

Indeed, if the Trump brand starts to go belly up, knowing what we do about the president-elect, we would be almost certain to see a foreign policy increasingly devoted to saving his brand and under those circumstances -- in the words of former State Department official Peter Van Buren -- what could possibly go wrong?

Now, that is dystopian territory.

Assassin-in-Chief
Let me add another dystopian fantasy to what obviously could be an endless string of them. For a moment, let’s think about the topic of presidential assassinations. By that I don’t mean assassinated presidents like Lincoln, McKinley, or Kennedy.  What I have in mind is the modern presidential urge to assassinate others.

Since at least Dwight Eisenhower, American presidents have been in the camp of the assassins.  With Eisenhower, it was the CIA’s plot against Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba; with John Kennedy (and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy), it was Cuba’s Fidel Castro; with Richard Nixon (and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger), it was the killing of Chilean President Salvador Allende in a U.S.-backed military coup, which was also the first 9/11 attack (September 11, 1973).

In 1976, in the wake of Watergate, President Gerald Ford would outlaw political assassination by executive order, a ban reaffirmed by subsequent presidents (although Ronald Reagan did direct U.S. Air Force planes to bomb Libyan autocrat Muammar Gaddafi’s home).  As this new century began, however, the sexiest high-tech killer around, the appropriately named Predator drone, would be armed with Hellfire missiles and sent into action in the war on terror, creating the possibility of presidential assassinations on a scale never before imagined.  Its subsequent missions threatened to create a Terminator version of our world.

At the behest of two presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, a fleet of such robotic assassins would enter historically unique terrain as global hunter-killers outside official American war zones.  They and their successors, Reaper drones (as in the Grim Reaper), would be dispatched on mass assassination sprees that have yet to end and that were largely organized in the White House itself based on a regularly updated, presidentially approved “kill list.”

In this way, the president, his aides, and his advisers became judge, jury, and executioner for “terror suspects” (though often enough any man, woman, or child who happened to be in the vicinity) halfway around the world.  As I wrote back in 2012, in the process, the commander-in-chief became a permanent assassin-in-chief.

 Now, presidents were tasked with overseeing the elimination of hundreds of people in other lands with a sense of “legality” granted them in secret memos by the lawyers of their own Justice Department.  Talk about dystopian!  George Orwell would have been awed.

So when it comes to assassinations, we were already on dark terrain before Donald Trump ever thought about running for president.  But give the man his due.  Little noticed by anyone, he may already be developing the potential for a new style of presidential assassination -- not in distant lands but right here at home.  Start with his remarkable tweeting skills and the staggering 17.2 million followers of whatever he tweets, including numerous members of what’s politely referred to as the alt-right.  And believe me, that’s one hell of an audience to stir up, something The Donald has shown that he can do with alacrity.

In a sense, you could already think of him as a kind of Twitter hit man.  Certainly, his power to lash out in 140 characters is no small thing.  Recently, for instance, he suddenly tweeted a criticism of arms-maker Lockheed-Martin for producing the most expensive weapons system in history, the F-35 fighter jet.  (“The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military [and other] purchases after January 20th.”)  The company’s stock value promptly took a $4 billion hit -- which, I must admit, I found amusing, not dystopian.

He also seems to have been irritated by a Chicago Tribune column that focused on Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg’s criticisms of his comments on international trade and China, where that company does significant business.  Muilenburg suggested, mildly enough, that he “back off from the 2016 anti-trade rhetoric and perceived threats to punish other countries with higher tariffs or fees.”  In response, The Donald promptly took out after the company, calling for the cancellation of a Boeing contract for a new high-tech version of Air Force One, the president’s plane. (“Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!”)  That company’s stock similarly took a hit.

But giant military-industrial corporations can, of course, defend themselves.  So no pity there.  When it comes to regular citizens, however, it’s another matter.  Take Chuck Jones, president of an Indiana United Steelworkers local.  He disputed Trump on how many jobs the president-elect had recently saved at Carrier Corporation. Significantly less, he insisted (quite accurately), than Trump claimed.  That clearly bruised the president-elect’s giant but remarkably fragile ego.  Before he knew what hit him, Jones found himself the object of a typical Trumpian twitter barrage.  (“Chuck Jones, who is President of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!”)  The next thing he knew, abusive and threatening calls were pouring in -- things like “we’re coming for you” or, as Jones explained it, “Nothing that says they’re gonna kill me, but, you know, you better keep your eye on your kids. We know what car you drive. Things along those lines.”

A year ago, an 18-year-old college student had a similar experience after getting up at a campaign event and telling Trump that he was no “friend to women.”  The candidate promptly went on the Twitter attack, labelling her “arrogant,” and the next thing she knew, as the Washington Post described it, “her phone began ringing with callers leaving threatening messages that were often sexual in nature. Her Facebook and email inboxes filled with similar messages. As her addresses circulated on social media and her photo flashed on the news, she fled home to hide.”

On this basis, it’s not hard to make a prediction.  One of these days in Trump’s presidency, he will strike out by tweet at a private citizen (“Sad!”) who got under his skin.  In response, some unhinged member of what might be thought of as his future alt-drone force will pick up a gun (of which so many more will be so much closer at hand in the NRA-ascendant age of Trump).  Then, in the fashion of the fellow who decided to “self-investigate” the pizza shop in Washington that -- thank you, “fake news” -- was supposed to be the center of a Hillary Clinton child-sex-slave ring, he will go self-investigate in person and armed.  In “Pizzagate,” the fellow, now under arrest, fired his assault rifle harmlessly in that restaurant, whose owner had already received more than his share of abusive phone messages and death threats.  It’s easy enough to imagine, however, quite another result of such an event.  In that case, Donald Trump will have given assassination by drone a new meaning.  And should that happen, what will be the consequences of the first presidential Twitter “hit” job in our history?

Don’t forget, of course, that, thanks to George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Trump will also have all those CIA drones to use as he wishes to knock off whomever he chooses in distant lands.  But as a potential Twitter assassin, rousing his alt-drones to the attack, he would achieve quite another kind of American first.

A Message for Planet Earth
And that’s just to edge my way into the future universe of Donald Trump, which is, of course, about to become all our universes. I suspect that his will turn out to be the screw-you presidency of all time. And believe me, that will prove to be dystopian beyond compare -- or do I mean beyond despair?

Take the most dystopian issue of all: climate change.  In recent weeks, Trump has mumbled sweet nothings to the assembled New York Times staff, swearing that he’s keeping an “open mind” when it comes to the link between humanity and a warming planet.  He's also sweet-talked Al Gore right in the heart of Trump Tower.  (“I had a lengthy and very productive session with the president-elect,” said Gore afterward. “It was a sincere search for areas of common ground... I found it an extremely interesting conversation, and to be continued.”)  Whatever else Donald Trump may be, he is, first and foremost, a salesman, which means he knows how to sell anything and charm just about anyone, when needed, and reality be damned.

If, however, you want to gauge his actual feelings on the subject, those outer borough sentiments of his youthful years when he evidently grew up feeling one-down to New York’s elite, then pay no attention to what he’s saying and take a look at what he’s doing.  On climate change, it’s screw-you devastating all the way and visible payback to the many greens, liberals, and those simply worried about the fate of the Earth for their grandchildren who didn’t vote for or support him.

The Guardian recently did a rundown on his choices for both his transition team and key posts in his administration having anything to do with energy or the warming of the planet.  It found climate deniers and so-called skeptics everywhere.  In fact, “at least nine senior members” of his transition team, reported Oliver Milman of that paper, “deny basic scientific understanding that the planet is warming due to the burning of carbon and other human activity.”

Combine this with the president-elect’s urge to release American fossil fuels in a way no one previously has and you have a message that couldn’t be clearer or more devastating for the future of a livable planet. Think of it as so dystopian, so potentially post-apocalyptic, that it makes 1984 look like a nursery tale.

The message couldn’t be clearer. If I had to put it in just five words, they would be:

Trump to Earth: Drop Dead.
And oh yes, happy holidays!



Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Republican Sabotage of the Vote Recounts in Michigan and Wisconsin

Photo of Michigan ballot with bubble. (image: Palast Investigative Fund, 2016)
Photo of Michigan ballot with bubble. (image: Palast Investigative Fund, 2016)

By Greg Palast, Reader Supported News
19 December 16
 

ichigan officials declared in late November that Trump won the state's count by 10,704 votes. But hold on – a record 75,355 ballots were not counted.

The uncounted ballots came mostly from Detroit and Flint, majority-Black cities that vote Democratic.

According to the machines that read their ballots, these voters waited in line, sometimes for hours, yet did not choose a president. Really?

This week, I drove through a snowstorm to Lansing to hear the official explanation from Ruth Johnson, the Republican secretary of state. I was directed to official flack-catcher Fred Woodhams who told me, "You know, I think when you look at the unfavorability ratings that were reported for both major-party candidates, it's probably not that surprising."

Sleuthing about in Detroit, I found another explanation: bubbles.

Bubbles?

Michigan votes on paper ballots. If you don't fill the bubble completely, the machine records that you didn't vote for president.

Susan, a systems analyst who took part in the hand recount initiated by Jill Stein, told me, "I saw a lot of red ink. I saw a lot of checkmarks. We saw a lot of ballots that weren't originally counted, because those don't scan into the machine." (I can only use her first name because she's terrified of retribution from Trump followers in the white suburb where she lives.)

Other ballots were not counted because the machines thought the voter chose two presidential candidates.

How come more ballots were uncounted in Detroit and Flint than in the white 'burbs and rural counties? Are the machines themselves racist?

No, but they are old, and in some cases, busted. An astonishing 87 machines broke down in Detroit, responsible for counting tens of thousands of ballots. Many more were simply faulty and uncalibrated.

I met with Carlos Garcia, University of Michigan multimedia specialist, who, on Election Day, joined a crowd waiting over two hours for the busted machine to be fixed.

Some voters left; others filled out ballots that were chucked, uncounted, into the bottom of machine. When the machine was fixed, Carlos explained, "Any new scanned ballots were falling in on top of the old ones." It would not be possible to recount those dumped ballots.

This is not an unheard of phenomenon: I know two voters who lost their vote in another state (California) because they didn't fill in the bubble – my parents! Meet mom and dad in my film, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy:

How did Detroit end up with the crap machines?

Detroit is bankrupt, so every expenditure must be approved by "emergency" overlords appointed by the Republican governor. The GOP operatives refused the city's pre-election pleas to fix and replace the busted machines.

"We had the rollout [of new machines] in our budget," Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey said. "No money was appropriated by the state."

Same in Flint. GOP state officials cut the budget for water service there, resulting in the contamination of the city's water supply with lead. The budget cuts also poisoned the presidential race. 

The Human Eye Count
There is, however, an extraordinary machine that can read the ballots, whether the bubbles are filled or checked, whether in black ink or red, to determine the voters' intent: the human eye.

That's why Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, paid millions of dollars for a human eyeball count of the uncounted votes. While labeled a "recount," its real purpose is to count the 75,355 votes never counted in the first place.

Count those ballots, mostly in Detroit and Flint, and Trump's victory could vanish.

Adding to the pile of uncounted ballots are the large numbers of invalidated straight-ticket votes in Detroit. In Michigan, you can choose to make one mark that casts your vote for every Democrat (or Republican) for every office. Voters know that they can vote the Democratic ballot but write in a protest name – popular were "Bernie Sanders" and "Mickey Mouse" – but their ballot, they knew, would count for Clinton.

However, the Detroit machines simply invalidated the ballots with protest write-ins because the old Opti-Scans wrongly tallied these as "over-votes" (i.e., voting for two candidates). The human eye would catch this mistake.

But Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette stymied Stein's human eye count. The Republican pol issued an order saying that no one could look at the ballots cast in precincts where the number of votes and voters did not match – exactly the places where you'd want to look for the missing votes. He also ordered a ban on counting ballots from precincts where the seals on the machines had been broken – in other words, where there is evidence of tampering. Again, those are the machines that most need investigating. The result: The recount crews were denied access to more than half of all Detroit precincts (59 percent).

I met with Stein, who told me she was stunned by this overt sabotage of the recount. "It's shocking to think that the discounting of these votes may be making the critical difference in the outcome of the election," she said.

This story was repeated in Wisconsin, which uses the same Opti-Scan system as Michigan. There, the uncounted votes, sometimes called "spoiled" or "invalidated" ballots, were concentrated in Black-majority Milwaukee. Stein put up over $3 million of donated funds for the human eye review in Wisconsin, but GOP state officials authorized Milwaukee County to recount simply by running the ballots through the same blind machines. Not surprisingly, this instant replay produced the same questionable result. 

Adding Un-Votes to the Uncounted
Stein was also disturbed by the number of voters who never got to cast ballots. "Whether it's because of the chaos [because] some polling centers are closed, and then some are moved, and there's all kinds of mix-ups," she said. "So, a lot of people are filling out provisional ballots, or they were being tossed off the voter rolls by Interstate Crosscheck."

Interstate Crosscheck is a list that was created by Donald Trump supporter and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to hunt down and imprison voters who illegally voted or registered in two states in one election.

An eye-popping 449,092 Michiganders are on the Crosscheck suspect list. The list, which my team uncovered in an investigation for Rolling Stone, cost at least 50,000 of the state's voters their registrations. Disproportionately, the purged voters were Blacks, Latinos and that other solid Democratic demographic, Muslim Americans.  Dearborn, Michigan, has the highest concentration of Arab Americans in the US.

The Michigan Secretary of State's spokesman Woodhams told me the purpose of the mass purge was, "to clean our voter lists and ensure that there's no vulnerability for fraud. We've been very aggressive in closing vulnerabilities and loopholes to fraud."

While Woodhams did not know of a single conviction for double-voting in Michigan, the "aggression" in purging the lists was clear. I showed him part of the Michigan purge list that he thought was confidential. The "double voters" are found by simply matching first and last names. Michael Bernard Brown is supposed to be the same voter as Michael Anthony Brown. Michael Timothy Brown is supposed to be the same voter as Michael Johnnie Brown.

Woodhams assured me the GOP used the Trump-Kobach list with care, more or less. He said, "I'm sure that there are some false positives. But we go through it thoroughly, and we're not just canceling people."

As to the racial profiling inherent in the list? Did he agree with our experts that by tagging thousands of voters named Jose Garcia and Michael Brown there would be a bias in his purge list?

The GOP spokesman replied, "I've known a lot of white Browns."

Jill Stein didn't buy it. Responding to both Michigan's and Trump's claim that voter rolls are loaded with fraudulent double voters, Stein said, "It's the opposite of what he is saying: not people who are voting fraudulently and illegally, but actually legitimate voters who have had their right to vote taken away from them by Kris Kobach and by Donald Trump."

Crosscheck likely cost tens of thousands their vote in Pennsylvania as well. "It is a Jim Crow system, and it all needs to be fixed," Stein concluded. "It's not rocket science. This is just plain, basic democracy." 

A note in the snow
Last week, I flew to Detroit with my team at the request of a major west coast publication. When I landed, they got cold feet; assignment cancelled. Without funding to continue, I should have headed home. But I was getting tips of nasty doings with the ballots in Motown. I could get the evidence that Trump’s victory was as real as his tan.

So I tucked my long-johns under my suit, put on my fedora, and headed out to meet the witnesses, see the evidence and film an investigative report on the Theft of Michigan. With almost no sleep (and no pay), my producer David Ambrose and I put together an investigative film—and donated it, no charge, to Democracy Now! and several other outlets.

As to the airfares, hotels, cars, camera batteries, sound equipment, local assistants and the rest, the bills have piled high as the snow and uncounted ballots. So, here I was, literally out in the cold, hoping you'd see the value of top-flight investigative reporting.

So, buddy, can you spare a dime? Or $100 or so? For that, I’ll send you my new film, the one that, back in September, told you exactly how Trump would steal it. Or a signed copy of the book that goes with it: The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, a tale of billionaires and ballot bandits.

I want to thank all of you who donated to get me to Washington DC to testify at the ad hoc Congressional hearing and to speak with the Justice Department about the suppression of minority votes.

(On Monday, I was joined at the Washington Press Club by the nation’s top voting rights attorney, Barbara Arnwine; civil rights legend Ruby Sales; Muslim activist Sameera Khan. They announced plans to take legal and political action against Crosscheck, the Trumpistas’ latest Jim Crow tactic, the one our team uncovered for Rolling Stone. Khan joined me at Justice to present them 50,000 signatures (we unloaded reams of paper on them) gathered by 18 Million Rising, the Asian American advocacy group, to light a fire under Justice.

On Tuesday, I joined the presidents of the NAACP chapters of Michigan and Wisconsin and other front-line voting rights leaders, to plan next steps for this week, for this year, for this decade.

My presentation to Justice, to Congressmen and rights advocates, to the press, was so much more powerful because I arrived in DC with the goods, the evidence, the film, the facts from Michigan, from the scene of the electoral crime.

So, in the end, my assignment wasn’t cancelled: I went to work for YOU. Because I have faith that my readers agree that this work is important, that I’m not on some fool’s errand.

The US media doesn’t want to cover the vote theft—because, hey, the count is over—and we should get over it. I am not over it. I am standing my ground. Let me know if you think I’ve made the right decision. Feed the team. I have nothing to offer you in return except some signed discs and books (or the Combo)— and the facts. – Greg Palast


Greg Palast has been called the "most important investigative reporter of our time - up there with Woodward and Bernstein" (The Guardian). Palast has broken front-page stories for BBC Television Newsnight, The Guardian, The Nation Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Harper's Magazine. He is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Billionaires & Ballot Bandits, Armed Madhouse, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, and the highly acclaimed Vultures' Picnic, named Book of the Year 2012 on BBC Newsnight Review. His books have been translated into two dozen languages. His brand new film of his documentary reports for BBC Newsnight and Democracy Now! is called Vultures and Vote Rustlers.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Now that it's over - Christmas lives on

The lighting ceremony for the 2016 National Christmas Tree. (photo: Alex Brandon/AP)
The lighting ceremony for the 2016 National Christmas Tree. (photo: Alex Brandon/AP)

By Garrison Keillor, The Washington Post
24 December 16
 
t is hard to believe that the Creator of our universe with its billions of galaxies could have sent Himself to this little blue blip not so long ago in the form of an infant born to a virgin, to be first worshiped by illiterate shepherds where He lay in a feed trough, livestock peering down at Him, Eastern potentates following a star to the site. But here we are again, singing those songs, so we shall see.

My mother loved Christmas with her whole heart. With six children and no credit cards and my father ever watchful for unnecessary expense, Christmas was a mountain for Grace to climb, requiring endurance, planning, stealth and skill, but she brought it off to perfection every year, until she was in her 90s and then she coasted on her memories.

Her mother died when my mother was 7, and Mother had no memory of her, which troubled her deeply. She looked at photos of her mother, tall, haggard, from the early 1920s, and tried to dredge up some recollection, anything at all, the sound of her voice, what she cooked, what her hand felt like. Grace was third from the end of 11 children, the 12th having died with the mother, of scarlet fever, and Grace was raised by her older sisters, Marian and Ruby and Margaret. Complaint was not encouraged in that family, and mental health was not a topic for discussion, but clearly Christmas was a shining moment of gaiety in a family of modest means and strict decorum.

When I was 19, my older brother asked me to look after his house over Christmas so he and his young family could drive out to New York for a week. His house was in the woods, and I, intoxicated by Thoreau at the time, was more dramatic than necessary and announced that I would spend Christmas alone out there “to figure things out.” A poem of mine got in the college literary magazine, with the lines:
The ice is thin and deep is the dark
Below, green lights in the trees and red,
Winding my way into the winter mist.
Coat open and the silver blades are sharp
And that long long bend ahead
Will take me out and away from you and all of this. 

Which was about skating, but a girl I knew thought it was suicidal and she came out to the woods to visit me and bring me dinner from her mother — turkey, candied yams, cranberry, in tinfoil. We lit candles and sat and meditated on the mystery of life, and it was pleasant to have someone be so concerned about my well-being. At the time, I thought of suicide as poetic, an artistic choice stemming from great emotional depths. Two months later, her boyfriend Leeds was killed when a drunk driver pulled out of a parking lot and into his mother’s car coming back home from a play at the Guthrie Theater. Twenty-some years later, sunk in depression, my friend filled her pockets with rocks and paddled a canoe out to the middle of a lake and capsized it and drowned.

Life is good. On a winter night, looking into a fire, our dead are around us, testifying to that. The books on the shelves, the young people around the table, the carols on the radio in the kitchen, the shining snow on the hill that looks out at the Mississippi River.

As you get old, you gain a stripped-down life, minus the clutter and hullabaloo, the excess food and alcohol, the meaningless gifts, and it is quite satisfying to sit with your true love in candlelight, a plate of cookies on the table, and let memories come and go. My mother is there. It’s 6 a.m., still dark out, and I’ve come down the stairs in my pajamas to the darkened tree, a note from Santa, the crumbs of the gingersnap I left for him, and I hear the padding of bare feet on the stair, and suddenly the tree bursts into light, and my mother is standing there in a raggedy robe. She missed her dead mother and found her every year in making Christmas for us.

Even after she moved to Florida, she flew back for a proper Minnesota Christmas with frost on the windows and wind in the chimney. What you do for children is never wasted: This Christmas will live on and nourish them long after you have faded away.

Some year-end good news for progressives: We actually made progress in 2016

Bernie Sanders at a November rally on Capitol Hill for economic and social justice. (photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Bernie Sanders at a November rally on Capitol Hill for economic and social justice. (photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

2016 is the last gasp for angry white conservatives

By Scott Galindez, Reader Supported News
26 December 16
 

OK, I hear you: Donald Trump is a huge step backward for our country. It was, however, the last gasp for the angry white conservatives. They may have one more national election in them, but the electorate is becoming more progressive. Millennials will lead us in the right direction.

Bigotry is not as big a deal in our schools and playgrounds as it was in the past that many Trump supporters want to return to. Race and gender are not seen as obstacles by our youth. That is one of the reasons Hillary Clinton did not do as well with young people as Bernie. Young women do not fear the glass ceiling like their elders. It’s easy for them to imagine a woman in the White House, so it wasn’t a factor they considered when choosing their candidate.

Of course, African Americans know the presidency is a job they can aspire to and achieve.

The establishment of the Democratic Party erred in ignoring the negatives of a Hillary Clinton candidacy and blocked the candidate who energized their base from receiving the nomination.

The movement that Bernie Sanders awakened is unstoppable.  Many in the establishment are reading the writing on the wall and moving in our direction. Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid are supporting Keith Ellison because they know that progressives have touched a nerve and will continue to build a majority, either as Democrats or in a new party. They know they have to make room in the Democratic Party for the Political Revolution or watch the party fade away.

I know many of you advocate letting the Democratic Party wither on the vine, but I think that would be a mistake. It will take too long to replace it with a party that the American public will take seriously. The best strategic move is to take control of the Democratic Party.

While the country took a step backward in November, progressives went from Dennis Kucinich in 2008, who never made it out of Iowa and New Hampshire, to getting 13 million votes and winning 22 states in 2016. We are on the rise, and if we look forward and continue to organize we can lead the Democratic Party when the demographic shift in the country gives us the advantage.

Donald Trump and his surrogates have said it many times. According to The Hill: “I think this will be the last election if I don’t win,” Trump told the Christian Broadcasting Network’s “Brody File.” “I think this will be the last election that the Republicans have a chance of winning because you’re going to have people flowing across the border, you’re going to have illegal immigrants coming in and they’re going to be legalized and they’re going to be able to vote, and once that all happens, you can forget it.”

Michele Bachmann echoed Trump’s remarks: “If you look at the numbers of people who vote and who live in the country and who Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton want to bring into the country, this is the last election when we even have a chance to vote for somebody who will stand up for godly moral principles. This is it,” Bachmann told the radio program.

OK ... This was Trump and Bachman using fear to motivate conservatives to vote, but there is some truth in what they were saying. Donald is wrong that it would take more illegal immigration to change the demographics of the country. According to the Census bureau, in 2055 a majority of Americans will be non-white. Between now and then the minority vote will continue to rise. Forget the identity politics if you want, Generation X is more progressive than their parents. Millennials are even more progressive than Generation X. Our day is coming.

We must continue to build our movement and be prepared to lead when the tipping point hits. Change doesn’t come overnight, but at times it comes quickly. We made more progress in 2016 than we have made in decades.

I know that many of you thought Bernie conceded too soon. The reality is Bernie picks his battles wisely. He knew when to move on to the next fight. The Democratic Party establishment stopped him short of the nomination, but he knew he had built a movement that they wouldn’t be able to hold back forever. He could have directed that movement in the wrong direction. If he had gone third party or Green and even got 15% of the vote, Trump would still be President, and Bernie would be blamed for the Democrats’ loss.

Instead, we find ourselves in a position where Bernie’s choice for DNC chair is a frontrunner. In states around the country, Berniecrats are taking leadership positions in the party. Bernie and the political revolution are stronger today than if they had run a third party campaign that would have been seen as a spoiler. Bernie did what was right for the movement and the country. 

One day when progressives take power, 2016 will be seen as a turning point.



Scott Galindez attended Syracuse University, where he first became politically active. The writings of El Salvador's slain archbishop Oscar Romero and the on-campus South Africa divestment movement converted him from a Reagan supporter to an activist for Peace and Justice. Over the years he has been influenced by the likes of Philip Berrigan, William Thomas, Mitch Snyder, Don White, Lisa Fithian, and Paul Wellstone. Scott met Marc Ash while organizing counterinaugural events after George W. Bush's first stolen election. Scott will be spending a year covering the presidential election from Iowa.