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Saturday, August 31, 2019

A Top Financier of Trump and McConnell Is a Driving Force Behind Amazon Deforestation

A fire burns trees next to grazing land in the Amazon basin in Ze Doca, Brazil. (photo: Mario Tama/Getty)
A fire burns trees next to grazing land in the Amazon basin in Ze Doca, Brazil.(photo: Mario Tama/Getty)

By Ryan Grim, The Intercept
30 August 19
 
wo Brazilian firms owned by a top donor to President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are significantly responsible for the ongoing destruction of the Amazon rainforest, carnage that has developed into raging fires that have captivated global attention.

The companies have wrested control of land, deforested it, and helped build a controversial highway to their new terminal in the one-time jungle, all to facilitate the cultivation and export of grain and soybeans. The shipping terminal at Miritituba, deep in the Amazon in the Brazilian state of Pará, allows growers to load soybeans on barges, which will then sail to a larger port before the cargo is shipped around the world.

The Amazon terminal is run by Hidrovias do Brasil, a company that is owned in large part by Blackstone, a major U.S. investment firm. Another Blackstone company, Pátria Investimentos, owns more than 50 percent of Hidrovias, while Blackstone itself directly owns an additional roughly 10 percent stake. Blackstone co-founder and CEO Stephen Schwarzman is a close ally of Trump and has donated millions of dollars to McConnell in recent years.

“Blackstone is committed to responsible environmental stewardship,” the company said in a statement. “This focus and dedication is embedded in every investment decision we make and guides how we conduct ourselves as operators. In this instance, while we do not have operating control, we know the company has made a significant reduction in overall carbon emissions through lower congestion and allowed the more efficient flow of agricultural goods by Brazilian farmers.”

The port and the highway have been deeply controversial in Brazil, and were subjects of a 2016 investigation by The Intercept Brasil. Hidrovias announced in early 2016 that it would soon begin exporting soybeans trucked from the state of Mato Grosso along the B.R.-163 highway. The road was largely unpaved at the time, but the company said it planned to continue improving and developing it. In the spring of 2019, the government of Jair Bolsonaro, elected in fall 2018, announced that Hidrovias would partner in the privatization and development of hundreds of miles of the B.R.-163. Developing the roadway itself causes deforestation, but, more importantly, it helps make possible the broader transformation of the Amazon from jungle to farmland.

The roadway, B.R. 163, has had a marked effect on deforestation. After the devastation that began under the military dictatorship and accelerated through the 1970s and ’80s, the rate of deforestation slowed, as a coalition of Indigenous communities and other advocates of sustaining the forest fought back against the encroachment. The progress began turning back in 2014, as political tides shifted right and global commodity prices climbed. Deforestation began to truly spike again after the soft coup that ousted President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party in 2016. The right-wing government that seized power named soy mogul Blairo Maggi, a former governor of Mato Grosso, as minister of agriculture.

Yet even as deforestation had been slowing prior to the coup, the area around the highway was being destroyed. “Every year between 2004 and 2013 — except 2005 — while deforestation in Amazonia as a whole fell, it increased in the region around the B.R.-163,” the Financial Times reported in September 2017. That sparked pushback from Indigenous defenders of the Amazon. In March, Hidrovias admitted that its business had been slowed by increasing blockades on B.R. 163, as people put their bodies in front of the destruction. Still, the company is pushing forward. Hidrovios recently said that, thanks to heavy investment, it planned to double its grain shipping capacity to 13 million tons.

The Amazon, where a record number of fires have been raging, is the world’s largest rainforest. It absorbs a significant amount of carbon dioxide, a major contributor to the climate crisis. The Amazon is so dense in vegetation that it produces something like a fifth of the world’s oxygen supply. The moisture that evaporates from the Amazon is important form farmlands not just in South America, but also in the U.S. Midwest, where it falls to the earth as rain. Protection of the Amazon, 60 percent of which is in Brazil, is crucial to the continued existence of civilization as we know it.

The effort to transform the Amazon from a rainforest into a source of agribusiness revenue is central to the conflict, and linked to the fires raging out of control today. The leading edge of the invasion of the jungle is being cut by grileiros, or “land-grabbers,” who operate outside the law with chainsaws. The grileiros then sell the newly cleared land to agribusiness concerns, whose harvest is driven on the highway to the terminal, before being exported. Bolsonaro has long called for the Amazon to be turned over to agribusiness, and has rapidly defanged agencies responsible for protecting it, and empowered agribusiness leaders intent on clearing the forest. The land-grabbers have become emboldened.

“With Bolsonaro, the invasions are worse and will continue to get worse,” Francisco Umanari, a 42-year-old Apurinã chief, told Alexander Zaitchik, for a recent story in The Intercept. “His project for the Amazon is agribusiness. Unless he is stopped, he’ll run over our rights and allow a giant invasion of the forest. The land grabs are not new, but it’s become a question of life and death.”

Fires in the Amazon have been producing devastation described as unprecedented, many of them lit by farmers and others looking to clear land for cultivation or grazing. Bolsonaro initially dismissed the fires as unworthy of serious attention. Several weeks ago, Bolsonaro fired a chief government scientist for a report on the rapid escalation of deforestation under Bolsonaro’s administration, claiming that the numbers were fabricated.

Beginning with the military dictatorship in Brazil, when agribusiness was fully empowered, roughly a fifth of the jungle was destroyed by the mid-2000s. If the Amazon loses another fifth of its mass, it is at risk of a phenomenon known as dieback, where the forest becomes so dry that a vicious, cascading cycle takes over, and it becomes, as Zaitchik writes, “beyond the reach of any subsequent human intervention or regret.”

Schwarzman, a founder of Blackstone, owns roughly a fifth of the company, making him one of the world’s richest men. In 2018, he was paid at least $568 million, which was, in fact, a drop from the $786 million he made the year before. He has been generous toward McConnell and Trump with that wealth. In 2016, he gave $2.5 million to the Senate Leadership Fund, McConnell’s Super PAC and put Jim Breyer, McConnell’s billionaire brother-in-law, on the board of Blackstone. Two years later, Schwarzman kicked in $8 million to McConnell’s Super PAC.

Blackstone employees have given well over $10 million to McConnell and his Super PAC over the years, making them the biggest source of direct financing over McConnell’s career. McConnell’s Senate campaign declined to comment.

Schwarzman is a close friend and adviser to Trump, and served as the chair of his Strategic and Policy Forum until it fell apart in the wake of the Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally, in which Trump famously praised “very fine people, on both sides.” In December 2017, as the final details of the GOP tax cut were being ironed out, Schwarzman hosted a $100,000-a-plate fundraiser for Trump. Some of the president’s dinner companions complained about the tax bill, and days later, Trump slashed the top percentage rate in the final package from 39.6 to 37.

In recent months, the Sackler family, whose members founded and own the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma, have become pariahs for their role in facilitating the opioid crisis and the deaths of tens of thousands of people.

Schwarzman’s contributions to the destruction of the Amazon, which stands between humanity and an uninhabitable planet, may ultimately render him as socially untouchable as the Sacklers, given the scale of the fallout from the destruction of the rainforest.

In defense of the project, a Blackstone spokesperson noted that it had been approved by the International Finance Corporation, an affiliate of the World Bank, and that the IFC had determined that the project would, in fact, reduce carbon emissions. Blackstone also forwarded a statement that it credited to Hidrovias, which also emphasized the support of the IFC:
Hidrovias has always worked within the highest Environmental, Social and Governance (“ESG”)  standards, constantly evaluated by audits from international multilateral agencies, such as the World Bank – IFC (International Finance Corporation). In addition, Hidrovias maintains all the environmental  licenses required by the competent authorities.
The IFC has financed some of the world’s most environmentally destructive projects, so its endorsement in itself is not particularly persuasive. But even on its own terms, the IFC’s study of the Blackstone project calls the project’s sustainability into question. Transporting soy or grain by waterway is indeed a less carbon-intensive method of transport, the IFC correctly noted in its report. But, it went on, that assessment doesn’t take into account the reality that “the construction of the Miritituba port, close to still-intact areas of the Amazon forest, is likely to lower transport costs for farmers and thereby accelerate conversion of natural habitats into agricultural areas, particularly for soy production.”

The project is OK, the bank argued, because Hidrovias and its clients can be trusted to be responsible, and that “the Miritituba port is being purpose-built to handle soy traded only by responsible traders who are sensitive to the preservation of natural habitats.” The bank assured that “100% of the company’s transport capacity in the North System is contracted to large trading companies, which observe high levels of governance and abide by the Amazon Soy Moratorium. The Moratorium, which prohibits purchasing soy produced on illegally deforested lands, was originally negotiated in 2006 between the big traders, Greenpeace, and Brazilian authorities. It has been renewed on a yearly basis since then.”

The moratorium, however, is only as strong as the government’s ability to monitor it. Proving that soy was grown on illegally deforested lands is highly difficult, as land-grabbers move quickly to clear forest and sell the newly cleared land to ranchers or agribusiness operators who quickly put it into cultivation and later claim that they had no way of knowing it was illegally deforested. The scheme also presumes that the government is interested in regulating agribusiness; the Bolsonaro administration has been quite explicit that it is not interested in doing so, putting top agribusiness officials in key posts, while defunding regulatory agencies.

And even if it were somehow true that all of the soy shipped from the Hidrovias port met all the requirements of the moratorium, commodity markets are fluid. A new port for the big traders eases congestion and lowers transportation costs elsewhere for smaller traders, thereby encouraging more development and more cultivation. (The IFC noted that Hidrovias promised to watch its soy clients closely: “HDB will establish and maintain internal procedures to review clients’ compliance with all provisions of Amazon Soy Moratorium or any other relevant legal requirements aimed at preventing trade in soy produced in illegally deforested areas. If the purpose of the port or the mix of HDB’s clients changes, the company will advise IFC of such changes and may be required to undertake further due diligence to ensure that these do not lead to undesirable indirect impacts.”)

The final justification the IFC made for the project comes down to incrementalism. Other development is also happening, the bank noted, so this single port can only cause so much harm. It concluded that “the port’s incremental contribution to the overall reduction of transport costs is judged to be marginal, given the myriad other factors (paving of B.R.-163, installation of other ports in Miritituba district, etc.) that are contributing to development in the region.” Bolsonaro has plans to pave significantly more roads in the Amazon that have otherwise been impassable much of the year, a project made feasible by international financing.

Of course, Hidrovias is also involved in paving B.R.-163 and other development projects in the region. Those projects, such as the paving of the highway, have additional indirect — though entirely predictable — consequences, as they spur side roads that make previously difficult-to-reach areas of the Amazon accessible for mining, logging, or further deforestation.

A Blackstone spokesperson noted that the fund only owns 9.3 percent of Hidrovias. But that ignores the 55.8 percent of Hidrovias that is owned by Pátria Investimentos. On Hidrovias’s website, Pátria is described as a company “in partnership with Blackstone,” and it is known in the financial industry to be a Blackstone company. A November 2018 article in Private Equity News about Bolsonaro’s election was headlined: “Blackstone’s Pátria: Brazilian Democracy is Not in Danger.”

It quoted the company’s chief economist assuring the public that “descent into authoritarianism is exceedingly unlikely.” That prediction has not borne out terribly well, but Blackstone appears to remain a strong supporter of Bolsonaro. The Brazilian president traveled to New York in May to be honored at a gala, which was sponsored by Refinitiv — a company majority-owned by Blackstone.

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Primary Contradiction: Corporate Power vs. Progressive Populism

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren at Democratic Primary debate. (photo: Getty)
Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren at Democratic Primary debate. (photo: Getty)

By Norman Solomon, Reader Supported News
30 August 19
 
or plutocrats, this summer has gotten a bit scary. Two feared candidates are rising. Trusted candidates are underperforming. The 2020 presidential election could turn out to be a real-life horror movie: A Nightmare on Wall Street.

“Wall Street executives who want Trump out,” Politico reported in January, “list a consistent roster of appealing nominees that includes former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Kamala Harris of California.”

But seven months later, those “appealing nominees” don’t seem appealing to a lot of voters. Biden’s frontrunner status is looking shaky, while other Wall Street favorites no longer inspire investor confidence: Harris is stuck in single digits, Booker is several points below her, and Gillibrand just dropped out of the race.

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are drawing large crowds and rising in polls. In pivotal early states like Iowa and especially New Hampshire, reputable poll averages indicate that Biden is scarcely ahead.

“Bankers’ biggest fear” is that “the nomination goes to an anti-Wall Street crusader” like Warren or Sanders, Politico reported, quoting the CEO of a “giant bank” who said: “It can’t be Warren and it can’t be Sanders. It has to be someone centrist and someone who can win.”

But the very biggest fear among corporate elites is that Warren or Sanders could win — and then use the presidency to push back against oligarchy. If Biden can’t be propped up, there’s no candidate looking strong enough to stop them.

Biden, Warren and Sanders, as The New York Times reported on Wednesday, are “a threesome that seems to have separated from the rest of the primary field.” In fourth place, national polling averages show, Harris is far behind.

Biden’s distinguished record of servicing corporate America spans five decades. He is eager to continue that work from the Oval Office, but can he get there? A week ago, a Times headline noted reasons for doubt: “Joe Biden’s Poll Numbers Mask an Enthusiasm Challenge.” Enthusiasm for Biden has been high among Democratic-aligned elites, but not among Democratic-aligned voters.

While corporate news organizations — and corporate-enmeshed “public” outlets like NPR News and the PBS NewsHour — evade primary contradictions, Sanders directly hammers at how huge corporations are propelling media bias and undermining democracy.

Even though he has inspired media onslaughts — such as the now-notorious 16 anti-Sanders articles published by The Washington Post in a pivotal 16-hour period during the 2016 primary contest — the Sanders campaign is so enormous that even overtly hostile outlets must give him some space. In an op-ed piece he wrote that the Post published seven weeks ago, Sanders confronted Biden’s wealth-fondling approach.

Under the headline “The Straightest Path to Racial Equality Is Through the One Percent,” Sanders quoted a statement from Biden: “I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason why we’re in trouble.” Sanders responded, “I respectfully disagree” — and he went on to say: “It is my view that any presidential candidate who claims to believe that black lives matter has to take on the institutions that have continually exploited black lives.”

Such insight about systemic exploitation is sacrilege to the secular faith of wealth accumulation that touts reaching billionaire status as a kind of divine ascension. Yet Sanders boldly challenges that kind of hollowness, shedding a fierce light on realities of corporate capitalism.

“Structural problems require structural solutions,” Sanders pointed out in his Post article, “and promises of mere ‘access’ have never guaranteed black Americans equality in this country.... ‘Access’ to health care is an empty promise when you can’t afford high premiums, co-pays or deductibles. And an ‘opportunity’ for an equal education is an opportunity in name only when you can’t afford to live in a good school district or to pay college tuition. Jobs, health care, criminal justice and education are linked, and progress will not be made unless we address the economic systems that oppress Americans at their root.”

Like many other progressives, I continue to actively support Sanders as a candidate who bypasses euphemisms, names ultra-powerful villains — and directly challenges those in power who’ve been warping and gaming the economic systems against working-class people.

Those systems are working quite nicely for the ultra-rich, like the giant bank CEO who told Politico that “it can’t be Warren and it can’t be Sanders.” That’s the decision from Wall Street. The decision from Main Street is yet to be heard.


Norman Solomon is co-founder and national coordinator of RootsAction.org. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 Democratic National Convention and is currently a coordinator of the relaunched independent Bernie Delegates Network. Solomon is the author of a dozen books, including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Bedbugs aren’t the only treat in store for world leaders coming to Trump’s Florida resort

 DORAL, FL - JULY 27:  Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a press conference at Trump National Doral on July 27, 2016 in Doral, Florida. Trump spoke about the Democratic Convention and called on Russia to find Hillary Clinton's deleted e-mails.  (Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images) 
Trump press conference at the Doral
 
Donald Trump says that his Doral golf resort is “positioned perfectly” for the next G-7 meeting. Considering that the only requirement is that it be in the United States, and it is in the United States, that’s true. And obviously having world leaders stay at a place that wouldn’t put tens of millions straight into Trump’s pocket is out of the question. So … just what can those leaders expect when they pitch their tents on the 11th fairway?

Well, the settlement in which the staff confirmed that at least one suite tested positive for bedbugs is two years old. So perhaps the world leaders could be spared waking up to dozens of welts on their face, neck, and torso as the unfortunate guest did at that time. But a genuine bedbug infestation isn’t the Doral’s only issue. Or its only insect adventure. According to The Washington Post, visitors to the Florida club should be well entertained even if they can’t play connect the itchy dots.

Let’s start with the kitchen, where health inspectors have logged flies, roaches, various unidentified flying insects, and just plain bugs. It was also cited for serving cold foods that had been warm for too long, and supposedly hot foods that never got hot enough. Plus … no sneeze guard at the salad bar. That should certainly help the “sharing” among the G-7 leaders.

Moving to the lodging, what can guests expect in what Trump called “a series of magnificent buildings.” That’s where inspectors found food debris, mold, and more mishandled food. No comments on whether the beds are soft. Or clean. Apparently this isn’t expected.

Honestly, there’s nothing in the inspections at the Doral that shouldn’t be expected at any motel. Assuming the motel included the number “6” in its name. The reports don’t look unusually horrible, it’s just difficult to say they’re particularly good.

One more thing about the Doral. Trump purchased the resort in 2012 with a $125 million loan from Deutsche Bank. That’s a loan paper it would be interesting to see.

Maybe it’s not just Trump who has an interest in seeing these leaders come to the Doral.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Trump's approvals aren't just sinking nationally—they're plunging in every key battleground

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 22: U.S. President Donald Trump walks away after presenting the Medal of Freedom to retired Boston Celtic Bob Cousy in the Oval Office at the White House on August 22, 2019 in Washington, DC. Mr. Cousy is credited helping the Boston Celtics win six National championships. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Donald Trump's national job disapproval rating has been nudging upward for roughly the last month, but only by a hair, from 52.4% on July 20 to 54% today (Aug. 27) in FiveThirtyEight's aggregate. But that narrow national window obscures a much larger and more important trend in key battleground states since the beginning of Trump's tenure. Indeed, Trump’s net approval rating has plunged in states such as Wisconsin (-14), Michigan (-11), and Pennsylvania (-8)—all of which Trump won in 2016.

Here's the comparison from Axios (using Morning Consult data) with the orange/left column denoting July 2019 and the purple/right column reflecting January 2017.
Graph showing Trump
In addition to plummeting in the Rust Belt states that handed him the Electoral College, Trump has taken dramatic hits in other key battlegrounds such as Arizona, where his net negative is now -7, a whopping 26-point drop overall, or Florida, where his net negative is -1, representing a 23-point downgrade from early 2017.

Yowzer. Or how about a red-leaning farm state such as Iowa, where he's at -11, a 20-point plunge? Just guessing that GOP Sens. Martha McSally of Arizona and Joni Ernst of Iowa aren't digging those data points.

Heck of a job, Trump.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Warren Wows Democratic Establishment

Senator Elizabeth Warren. (photo: AP)
Senator Elizabeth Warren. (photo: AP)

By Edward-Isaac Dovere, The Atlantic
26 August 19
 

oe Biden is ostensibly the candidate of the Democratic establishment. But it was Elizabeth Warren—who’s built her career on trying to challenge the status quo—who spent the weekend wowing party insiders.

At this point in Warren’s campaign, it’s not a surprise anymore when she spends hours working a “selfie line” after a major event, as she did following two massive rallies she’s held in the past week. But it was a surprise when more than 150 of the Democratic Party’s biggest donors similarly lined up on Thursday night after her speech at a dinner here—and it struck even some of the Democrats waiting to take photos with her.

“These are people who should not like her,” said one attendee, who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity to avoid showing favoritism. “And they love her.”

The next day, at the summer meeting of the Democratic National Committee, party members were on their feet cheering when she took the stage for a brief address.

When he spoke there, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey seemed to land more applause lines overall. A few other candidates were also received warmly, including Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who gave a notably conciliatory speech about the proud legacy of the Democratic Party that perhaps no one could have imagined him delivering after his burn-down-the-DNC campaign in 2016.

But it was the Massachusetts senator who got a standing ovation before she’d even said a word, and another as soon as she’d finished speaking. From the start, Warren’s campaign was built on the theory that she’s an outsider whom insiders can live with, and an insider who has credibility with outsiders—in 2016 terms, someone who can attract both Sanders and Hillary Clinton voters. Primary voting is months away. The DNC’s 2020 convention is almost a year from now. But on Friday afternoon, in the huge, bland hotel ballroom where the DNC meeting was held, Warren’s theory seemed to be working out.

She “stretches across a broad spectrum of Democrats,” said Don Fowler, a DNC chair in the 1990s, a longtime Clinton-family loyalist, and someone who’s been to more DNC meetings over more election cycles than most people in Democratic politics today. Explaining what he thinks her appeal is to establishment Democrats, Fowler told me that for all of Warren’s talk of “big, structural change”—by fundamentally reworking the economy—“she does not include in her presentation the implication of being against things, except the current president.”

Warren’s insider-outsider routine is one reason Democratic operatives and analysts told me—and one another, in private conversations—that they’ve begun to see her as the odds-on favorite to win her party’s nomination. However, a few of the Democrats I spoke with noted that her positioning could become a trap: With Sanders and Warren expected to battle even more intensely in the coming months, the change-hungry part of the Democratic base might begin to ask why establishment insiders seem so comfortable with her.

Jay Jacobs, the chair of the New York Democratic Party, told me a few hours after Warren’s Friday speech that although his politics aren’t as far left as Warren’s, “there wasn’t a thing she said today that I could not have written.” Jacobs, who was made chair by the Biden-backing Governor Andrew Cuomo, added, “The times do call for bolder action.”

“I hope Sanders supporters see Warren’s broadening support as a good thing and won’t now cynically try to paint her as beholden to insiders, because she’s not,” said a DNC member who isn’t currently committed to any candidates and who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We will see.”

Most of the Democrats I talked to didn’t seem especially upset that Biden did not attend the summer meeting. But they did have their suspicions about why he skipped it: Multiple state-party chairs and other attendees told me—speaking only on the condition of anonymity—that they assumed he was wary of receiving a less-than-wild reception compared with other candidates.

Asked for comment on those assumptions, the Biden spokesman Andrew Bates wouldn’t say whether they were correct or not, but he noted that the former vice president often attends DNC events. “This weekend he was in New Hampshire, where he had great events speaking directly to voters about the stakes of this election,” Bates said.

Just like every other group of voters, DNC members have their own interests, and Warren tried to appeal to the things that make them tick. In her speech on Thursday, she reminded the audience that in March 2018, she wrote $5,000 checks to each state party from her campaign account, part of an overall $11 million she raised for Democratic Party efforts. During the midterms, she also endorsed and campaigned for candidates across the country. Her work on behalf of other Democrats is likely helpful with the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately types who live for these major meetings of Democrats.

And even if most DNC members are staying studiously neutral in the primaries, several of them told me they like what they’ve seen in the massive ground operation Warren is assembling in the early-voting states. To those who spend their professional lives thinking about campaign mechanics, this is alluring.

“To her advantage, it appears as though she did not let the growing pains of the early stage of her campaign sidetrack her from creating an infrastructure,” said Trav Robertson, the Democratic Party chair in South Carolina, one of the early states where campaign action is already under way. “Her campaign’s been fascinating to watch,” he told me. “It’s a study of ‘Steady and slow wins the race.’”

Warren has made her detailed policy plans a core part of her brand on the campaign trail, and that approach seems to interest establishment Democrats too. After all, they’re the type of voters most likely to actually read those proposals.

Sanders “is providing more of economic aspirations; she’s providing more of a road map,” said Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, the executive vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, and a member of the DNC executive committee. “Even in this room, she comes across as practical, smart,” he said, standing in the hotel ballroom. “I think there is a sense of respect for her and the way she’s conducting her campaign.”

Do the opinions of party insiders even matter anymore? The answer is a resounding “maybe.” DNC members are among the superdelegates whose power in the presidential-nominating process was stripped last year. But all the people at the summer meeting are active and influential in local politics, and they have the potential to softly sway opinions in ways that could ripple out of their communities.

The DNC members won’t come together like this again for almost a year. The next meeting, announced on Saturday afternoon, is set for July 17, 2020, in Milwaukee—the day after the Democratic nominee delivers his or her acceptance speech at the next convention. Democrats have a history of summer flings with lefty insurgents ahead of presidential primaries—think Howard Dean in 2003 and Sanders in 2015.

At least for now, though, Democrats seem to be having fun watching Warren.

“Most of all, she’s smart as shit,” Fowler told me as he tried to put his finger on why he and others like her. “You don’t want a dumb-ass president.”

Monday, August 26, 2019

The Man Who Remembered the Future

  GEORGE TEMPLETON COMMENTARY  


By George Templeton 
Gazette Columnist
As we think, so shall we be.   Proverbs 4:23 
The difference between the past and the future is not about reality.  We have more information about the past.  That is what makes it different.  For us, information is not just data.  It is also intimate.  For our brains, remembering the past is the same as imagining the future.    But what we can dream has no limitations.
Our time is not just the clock’s regularity.  There are unconscious things going on, like bio-rhythms and jet-lag.  Time does not seem to have any single place.  Mortality gives our time a direction.
We know that space and time define location and motion.  Time cannot be separated from space.  The dimensions seem linear (a straight line and the shortest distance between two points in a flat universe), but we also know that they can be bent by mass and confused by motion.  But suppose that time is a circle, turning back upon itself.  Nothing would be temporary.  We would live our lives endlessly over again, not realizing it.
We are travelers in space-time.  Our happenings are uniquely personal because everything, including us, is in motion.  There is no fixed point of reference.  We are condemned to be self-referential and in our moment.
Old folks live in the past because there is more there.  Mature folks live in the present.  It has them.  Youth looks toward tomorrow.  The generations cannot live in each other’s time.  The past cannot be mixed with the future.  That would destroy cause and effect.  
The ability to imagine the future is more important than remembering the past.  It is more than personal fortune telling.  The faithful explain how they know the Old Testament writers were prophets.  It came true!  But Dr. Wayne Dyer’s book explains, “You’ll see it when you believe it.”
Consciousness is all about discerning reality, understanding abstraction, language, and symbols.  It is beyond complexity.  Cognition, armed with intensity of conviction, blurs the distinction between perceived fact, truth, and belief.  Intelligence mediates between consciousness and complexity.
Dyer writes that you are “transcendental immortal intelligence”, not what you do, or what you look like.  We are souls with a body, instead of a body with a soul.  In the near future, there will be intelligence that is not alive.  How will it know the difference between right and wrong?
Growing Intelligent       
Sometimes you choose to break the rules.  Will you risk running over the dog, gamble hitting another car, or possibly crash into a street taco vendor?  They are not just obstacles in your way.  It’s all about being conscious, seeing context, and judging probability.  It’s about decency, empathy, and feeling guilty.  Can a computer analyze this problem and generate the code to solve it?  Man writes the rules that computers follow.  There is no such thing as computer error.  It is always the unseen man hiding behind the curtain.  If he can make a mistake, so can his computer.
In the seventies, I built a home-made rig to send and receive Morse code.  It was too perfect, not like humans.  When receiving, the computer made errors.  It measured the length of the dits, dahs, and spaces, their timing, to guess at the letters.  When two computers talked to one another, everything was perfect.  Unlike humans, they consistently followed the same rules.  I received better than the computer could.  I could infer the message from its context, even when interference blotted the signal out.  The computer could not do that.
Have you ever encountered a jerk while driving on the highway?  When all cars become self-driving, the jerks will be gone.  They will be like-minded computers.
If the brain is just a mechanical device, there is no deep reason why transistors cannot lead to thought.  It requires neural networks, genetic algorithms, belief networks, fuzzy logic, cause and effect, and synergism between all these features.
Our brains evolved over millions of years, from countless “bottoms up” trial and error decisions until they were we.  We write computer programs to solve problems from the “top down”.  Reasoning combines combinatorial (choices) and sequential (history) logic.  Accurate conclusions depend on the “sensitivity conjecture”.  How many errors can you make before your conclusion is wrong?
All our experiences are thoughts. They determine our behavior.  We bring our reality to the world outside.  Bigotry, hate, and love are inside of us.  Will computers become like us?
Computers will program themselves and ultimately learn on their own.  Their Darwinian force is not slow biological mutation or adaptation.  It is financial.
Artificial intelligence will do more than drive our cars.  It will be in everything.  Empowered by free speech, internet connectivity, and your personal data, artificial intelligence armed with big data will decide how to best manipulate you (Netflix’s, The Great Hack).  It won’t be just big brother that wants to be your friend.  It will be big business, your credit card, web visits, GPS, and Russians that measure you, change your opinion, and help you vote.  Once facts are gone and lies are O.K. there can be no benefit from social conflict.  All our enemies have to do is get us to disagree.
Mind or Matter?
At first, the only things we knew about the brain involved its physical structure.  Scientists identified the Zonules of Zinn, the Obex, the Aqueduct of Sylvius, and the Tract of Goll, but they didn’t know how they functioned.
Conservatives mapped the brain of liberal democrats.  It included the moral relativity gray area, bleeding heart lobe, smarter than thou tumor, global warming panic center, and guilt for history hypothalamus.  They knew how the progressive brain worked better than they understood its topography.
Liberals mapped the conservative brain.  It contained the Apprentice region where entertainment is real.  Up is down in the inverter region.  The justification region is where somebody else did it first.  The envy node found conservative persecution and unfair treatment.  The conspiracy area contained everyone who disagrees.
Scientists use magnetic resonance imaging to examine brain activity.  For example, the temporal lobe, located by your ear is involved with memory.  The occipital lobe at the back of your head dedicates itself to vision.  We have different kinds of empathy (emotional, cognitive, compassionate) corresponding to different regions in the brain.  To understand the brain, we examine how it functions to control our behaviors and mental states.
But what exactly is love?  What is racism?  Are they only behaviors?
Could there be something missing when we attribute complex behaviors to entire brain regions?  They “talk” to one another through more than 100 trillion connections.  Every act of man springs from the hidden seeds of his thought.    Phenomenal consciousness remains a hard, perhaps impossible, problem to understand.  Science now turns toward network theory in an attempt to understand why some brains are abnormal.
Profiles in Narcissism
One in 25 people are sociopaths.  Their brains are structurally damaged and irreparable.  They lie and cheat on their wives.  They sadistically punish, and humiliate others.  They steal your idea while taking credit for it.  It is in their heart, not just their rhetoric.  They cannot change.
The GOP would fix things by helping people to remember to take their psych-meds, but they can’t see the forest because of the trees.  They want to hold their base and retain power.  It is not about doing what is right for the country.
Robert Hare tabulated the key symptoms of sociopathy in his book, Without Conscience (additions are mine): 
  1.  Early behavior Problems (military reform school)
  2. Poor behavior controls (vindictive, angry, callous, nasty, cruel)
  3. Impulsive (erratic, inconsistent, unreliable)
  4. Need for excitement (craving attention, imprudent risk-taker)
  5. Lack of responsibility (me first, me only, blaming others)
  6. Antisocial behavior (hyper-individualistic con artist, impolite, lacking social etiquette)
  7. Egocentric and grandiose (malignant narcissist, self-aggrandizing, lacking humility)
  8. Glib and superficial (a too-easy solution, childlike, thin, ignoring nuance, uninformed)
  9.  Lack of empathy (does not understand, learn or feel a need to)
  10.  Shallow emotions (feigned love, false pride, cannot feel your pain, materialistic)
  11. Lack of introspection, remorse, or guilt (The self is everything.  It is the opposite of statesmanship.)
  12. Deceitful and manipulative (Toxic liar, it’s not flip-flopping when it’s only the self.)
Trump is the GOP’s Kwisatz Haderach (shortening of the way).  Unaccountable and opaque, they divorced the Tea Party and married him.  The truth did not deter them.  It was a marriage to power and money wherever it existed.  Party now!  Forget that we must repay our debts.  Let democracy go.  Never mind the cost of destroying the environment.  Empathy is bad for business.  Morality goes far beyond the use of bad words.  What will be the offspring of this marriage?
What Will Be?
In her 1964 book, The Virtue of Selfishness, Ayn Rand advocated a materialistic, optimistic cruelty, whose survivors would be happy in the end.
Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces courageously went forth into the unknown to slay the dragon.  Victorious, he returned to his community.
Riane Eisler, in her 2007 book, The Real Wealth of Nations, argues that a care-giving society will be the economic winner.  It involves the raising of our children, elder care, world peace, and the sustainability of our planet.  We have a choice between greed and violence, or creativity and generosity.  We can pursue domination or partnership.
The author and Democratic presidential candidate, Marianne Williamson, made this an issue in her campaign.  We have witnessed the death of facts, the decline of Democracy, the erosion of world respect, and a president who is beyond the law.   All of reality now requires a qualifying adjective, “us” or “them”.  The only thing that can defeat Trump is a moral uprising of the American people.
David Brooks takes a personal look in his TED2019 talk, the lies our culture tells us about what matters….  Most of us are lonely.  Individual joy does not last.  Value and happiness comes from connection with others.  His argument advocates a “relationist life” instead of living an “individualist life”.   His visual is the Native American weaver, who builds an interwoven rug.
Native Americans understood the bond between parent and child.  They created web-like dream catchers that would allow only good dreams to pass through to their sleeping children below.  Their world would not become a dark, fearful, hateful place.
The TV series, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, played from 1968 to 2001.  It taught children about morality, social, and emotional skills.    It emphasized kindness over cynicism as the way to succeed.  Tom Hanks’ and Sony Pictures are bringing it back (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) in November of 2019.
The National Geographic TV show, One Strange Rock, is about intention instead of copious memorization and wisdom over knowledge.  Watch it to better understand why we must learn to live in harmony with one another and nature. 
The future is our child.  Will you help to raise it properly?