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Steven Donziger is free – posted 4/28/2022

April 28, 2022 1 comment

“Steven Donziger Walks Free After 993 Days of ‘Completely Unjust’ Detention “He should have never been detained for even one day,” said an Amnesty International official, “as it has been clear the whole process against him has been in retaliation for his human rights work that exposed corporate wrongdoings.”

April 25, 2022

Human rights lawyer Steven Donziger walked free Monday after 993 days of detention stemming from his decades-long legal fight with Chevron, which deployed its vast resources in a campaign to destroy Donziger after he won a $9.5 billion settlement against the fossil fuel giant over its pollution of the Amazon rainforest.

“Corporations must not be allowed to continue abusing the U.S. justice system to silence and intimidate human rights defenders.”

“It’s over. Just left with release papers in hand,” Donziger wrote on Twitter. “Completely unjust that I spent even one day in this Kafkaesque situation. Not looking back. Onward.”

Donziger’s case has attracted global attention and outrage, with the United Nations high commissioner on human rights calling his prolonged detention a violation of international law. Lawmakers in the United States have also decried Donziger’s prosecution as an “unprecedented and unjust legal assault.”

“We are relieved that Steven Donziger will finally recover his freedom after almost 1,000 days of arbitrary detention, which included 45 days in prison and over 900 days under house arrest,” Daniel Joloy, senior policy advisor at Amnesty International, said in a statement Monday. “He should have never been detained for even one day, as it has been clear the whole process against him has been in retaliation for his human rights work that exposed corporate wrongdoings.”

“Corporations must not be allowed to continue abusing the U.S. justice system to silence and intimidate human rights defenders or anyone else exposing their wrongdoing,” Joloy added.

The legal battle began in 1993 when Donziger and other attorneys—on behalf of tens of thousands of farmers and Indigenous people who lived near the Ecuadorian Amazon—filed a class-action lawsuit against Texaco alleging that the company contaminated the rainforest with its oil drilling operations.

Chevron, which purchased Texaco in 2001, denied the allegations, but an Ecuadorian court in 2011 ordered the U.S. based oil and gas corporation to pay a $9.5 billion settlement—a ruling that Ecuador’s Supreme Court later upheld.

Claiming the settlement was fraudulently obtained, Chevron withdrew its assets from Ecuador, refused to pay the settlement, and launched a massive legal attack on Donziger, suing him in New York City.

“My prosecutor has financial links to Chevron, my judge has financial links to Chevron, the charging judge… has investments in Chevron.”

In 2014, a federal judge with ties to Chevron ruled that Donziger was guilty of a “pattern of racketeering activity,” a charge he has denied. U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan’s decision was based on testimony from a witness who later admitted to lying.

When Donziger refused to comply with Kaplan’s order to hand his cell phone and computer over to Chevron, arguing that the devices contained sensitive client information, Kaplan charged Donziger in 2019 with six counts of criminal contempt and the attorney was placed under house arrest while awaiting trial.

After the Southern District of New York declined to take up the case against Donziger, Kaplan appointed a Chevron-connectedprivate law firm to pursue the prosecution. Kaplan then chose U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska—previously a member of the Chevron-funded Federalist Society—to preside over the case.

“So my prosecutor has financial links to Chevron, my judge has financial links to Chevron, the charging judge, Judge Kaplan, has investments in Chevron, and they’re denying me jury,” Donziger said in an interview last year.

Last July, Preska found Donziger guilty on all six counts of criminal contempt of court, a decision he slammed as an “obvious travesty of justice.” Donziger was sentenced in October to six months in federal prison, where he remained until December, when he was transferred back to house arrest under a coronavirus-related early release program.

Given that Donziger spent more than two years in detention before even receiving a trial, his sentence has been deemed the longest “ever recorded for a misdemeanor charge.”

Human rights and environmental organizations have urged U.S. President Joe Biden to pardon Donziger, slamming his prosecution as “retaliation for his work in defense of the rights of Indigenous peoples in Ecuador who were victims of Chevron Corporation’s oil dumping.”

Donziger emphasized in a video posted to Twitter Sunday that Chevron is still pursuing a civil case against him:

Joloy of Amnesty International said Monday that while Donziger is finally free from detention, “the end of this sentence does not mean the end of the injustices Steven has faced.”

“The U.S. government,” said Joloy, “must fully implement the decision of the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, including launching an impartial and independent investigation into the circumstances that led to Steven’s arbitrary detention, to prevent something like this from happening again.”

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The billionaire tax swindle of the American public – posted 4/24/2022

April 24, 2022 Leave a comment

The French writer, Honore de Balzac, once wrote, “Behind every great fortune, there is a crime”. Today’s crop of billionaires are determined to prove Balzac right. Tax cheating is a billionaire specialty in the crime world.

A new ProPublica investigation looked at the tax records of the top .001% wealthiest Americans. All earn more than $110 million a year. ProPublica found that between 2014-2018, the 25 wealthiest Americans paid a tax rate of about 3.4%. In 2018, Elon Musk, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, paid zero income taxes.

In contrast, the average single worker earning $45,000 paid an average tax rate of 21% while a married couple with one child who earned $200,000 paid a rate of 26%.

ProPublica found two big reasons for why the super-rich are taxed at lower rates. First, much of their wealth is accumulated through investments, like stocks. Second, they use charitable donations to get huge deductions. A goal of their financial shenanigans is to escape wealth from being classified as “income”, subject to taxation.

Theoretically, our tax system was designed to tax the rich at higher rates than everyone else but it hasn’t worked out that way. The super-rich run a variety of scams. They hide billions outside the U.S. in tax havens like the Cayman Islands or Switzerland. They have legions of lobbyists to avoid taxes while writing tax policies in their favor. They have long argued, like for 40 years, that tax rates on the wealthiest would promote growth and trickle down but the trickle-down never happens.

It helps the billionaires that the Internal Revenue Service has been de-fanged. Between the years 2010-2017, Congress reduced the IRS budget with the number of IRS tax auditors cut by one-third. The primary beneficiaries were corporations and the super-wealthy.

Audits of households making more than $1 million a year have fallen by nearly three-fourths in recent years. Almost inexplicably, the IRS has focused more on poor taxpayers. Overall, the IRS conducted 675,000 fewer audits in 2017 than it did in 2010. The result is many billions in lost revenue every year with the super-rich getting away with murder.

Since the pandemic, the nation’s 735 billionaires have seen their collective wealth skyrocket by 62% while worker earnings have inched forward by just 10%.

Considering the enormous gains made by billionaires , it is remarkable how little commentary has focused on them. The super-rich are masters of evasion. They have transcended accountability but there are some things that deserve to be said.

Compared to robber barons of old, they have junked any notion of noblesse oblige. The concept of noblesse oblige goes back to the late nineteenth century. The idea was that there is an unwritten obligation for people of great wealth to act honorably and generously to others. Whatever their checkered history, earlier robber barons like Andrew Carnegie or John D. Rockefeller are examples.

What is different about our current crop of billionaires is their absolutely voracious, unfettered hyper-greed. While you can find examples of billionaire philanthropy (for example, Bill Gates), billionaires now are generally conscience-free predators who seize every opportunity to expand their wealth.

How many billions is too much? I am afraid they have set no limit. They are fundamentally about amassing unprecedented fortunes for themselves. Does the DSM have a diagnosis for such unrestrained behavior, such bottomless greed?

Just to cite a recent example, why is Jeff Bezos fighting so hard to deny workers a union that could provide better wages and working conditions? In 2021 Amazon reported record profits of more than $35 billion. Surely the company can easily afford a union. The other side of the coin of the extreme wealth of billionaires is crushing workers. Many Americans appear to be unaware of that dark side relationship.

In his book, Davos Man, Peter S. Goodman provides a good description of the billionaires:

“Those reared in the most exclusive communities, educated at the fanciest schools, and intertwined in the most elite social networks have leveraged their privileges to secure unfathomable wealth, shuttling in their private jets between their beachfront villas and their mountain redoubts, buying their children passage to Ivy League universities, while stashing their holdings on Caribbean islands and other territories beyond reach of a tax collector.”

Goodman argues that the super-rich are expert at finding ways to evade taxation focused on income. Through the use of accountants, lawyers and lobbyists they move money around like a giant game. They buy politicians from both parties to do their bidding. Their public relation shills try to make it seem like the status quo is inevitable. They fail to speak out when authoritarian demagogues blame immigrants and threaten democracy as their big concern remains protecting their ungodly amount of money.

Contrary to the protestations of the billionaire class, a wealth tax is eminently doable. Our tax code is archaic and needs to be reformed so that hidden wealth can be reached. During the 2020 Democratic primaries, both Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren advocated such a tax.

Sen. Sanders proposed a a 1% annual tax on fortunes greater than $32 million with increases reaching to 8% for those whose wealth exceeded $10 million. Sen. Warren favored a 2% annual tax on fortunes greater than $50 million and 3% above $1 billion. If enacted, it was estimated both proposals could raise over two trillion dollars over the ten year period from 2020-2029.

That kind of revenue could guarantee universal health care and child care, could greatly expand affordable housing, could assist the cancellation of much student loan debt and could help address our looming climate catastrophe.

More recently, President Biden, as part of his proposed budget for fiscal year 2023, has also proposed a wealth tax on billionaires.

It is entirely predictable that the billionaires will howl to the heavens about any tax. They always will say it is unworkable but such a tax would be highly popular. It would require more bodies at the IRS and more expertise with complex tax issues but the rewards would be great.

A long time ago Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote:

“We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few but we can’t have both.”

Those words still ring true.

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The conservative narrative about immigrants is divorced from reality – posted 4/17/2022

April 17, 2022 2 comments

One of the most despicable aspects of the Trump presidency was the hate that administration directed against immigrants. Children in cages and family separation come immediately to mind. Immigrants seeking asylum or refuge in the U.S. were demonized and were seen as part of a supposedly uncontrolled invasion.

In the fifteen months since Trump’s presidency ended, the immigration crisis has continued to receive much coverage by the media with Republicans claiming President Biden is responsible for a massive surge in illegal immigration.

Conservatives also became comfortable arguing the Great Replacement theory saying that Biden and Democrats were opening borders to nonwhite immigrants who would steal the jobs of white Americans. FOX personality Tucker Carlson repeatedly has made this argument as has Congressman Matt Gaetz.

The Great Replacement theory, another conspiracy theory, has white supremacist and neo-nazi roots. The theory has different iterations but the gist is that liberal elites are trying to change the population demographics in the U.S. to favor people from the Third World over white Americans. Jews are often seen as manipulating in the background.

When the Anti-Defamation League criticized Carlson and said the Great Replacement theory was dangerous, racist and xenophobic, Carlson responded “Well (expletive) them”. He said the Anti-Defamation League was “racist”.

I would suggest that Tucker Carlson is trying to normalize white supremacy and create a narrative that is contrary to the facts. The Great Replacement theory has about as much truth as QAnon. Carlson is playing a dangerous game, feeding the public disinformation.

Since 2021, immigration into the United States has plunged. This was a result of restrictive American immigration policies and a decline in international travel because of COVID-19. Although it got little publicity, a new report from the Census Bureau found that net international migration into the U.S. increased by about 247,000 people in 2021. This was the lowest annual level since 2010, hardly an invasion.

The number of immigrants who came into the country in 2021 is half the number of people who came into the country between 2019-2020. It is way below numbers from 2015-2016 when 1,049,000 came into the U.S.

Media coverage of immigration has fed on misleading data and images. James Risen, a reporter for the Intercept, has shown that conservatives focused on the number of apprehensions along the southwestern border in 2021 rather than the number of people who migrated to the U.S. and were allowed to stay. The focus on apprehensions did not consider how many times the same person made repeated efforts to cross the border. That significantly inflated the numbers.

Many of the people who repeatedly tried to cross the border were victimized by Title 42, a public health statute the government has used to carry out expulsions from the U.S.. Under Title 42, people seeking asylum got no chance to make their asylum case. They are summarily expelled with public health used as an excuse to shut down legal migration.

Trump and now Biden are making it impossible for those with legitimate claims for asylum to have due process. They are forced to remain in Mexico under often dangerous conditions. Under Biden, the non-profit Human Rights First has documented nearly 10,000 cases in which people blocked from seeking asylum by Title 42 in the U.S. have been kidnapped, tortured, raped and violently attacked in Mexico.

It is embarrassing and shameful to see any Democrats supporting Title 42 expulsions. Such expulsions are scientifically baseless and the policy is known to be a “Stephen Miller special”. Title 42 does not prevent the spread of COVID-19. Going along with this Stephen Miller-Trump creation is pandering to white supremacy.

At the same time immigration to the U.S. has reduced, we are having a major labor shortage in America. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as of the end of February 2022, there were 11.3 million open jobs. There are two million fewer working-age immigrants living in the U.S. than there would have been if pre-2020 immigration trends had continued. One million are college-educated. We need workers to fill these positions and it hurts the economy that they are not here.

Low immigration has worsened the labor shortage. Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, not exactly a left-wing outfit, has called for a doubling of legal immigration. Instead of spurning immigrants, many more should be welcomed.

The idea that nonwhite immigrant workers are taking jobs from white Americans is not supported by the facts. Many immigrants have worked in dead-end low-paying manual-intensive jobs like fruit-picking and work in the meat and poultry industries. Some are in the service sector, working in fast food joints. These are jobs many white workers typically shun. Immigrants are not replacing white workers, more often than not white workers do not want these jobs because of dangerous conditions or low pay.

The conservative narrative about immigrants is a thread deeply embedded in American history. Earlier waves of immigrants to the U.S. have faced wariness and xenophobia. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924 and now Trump’s nativism are consistent in their animus toward immigrants. The historian Erika Lee writes:

“Americans have labeled immigrants threatening because they were poor, practiced a different faith, were nonwhite. They have argued that immigrants were too numerous, were not assimilating, were taking jobs away from deserving Americans, were bringing crime and disease into the country, held dangerous political ideals, were un-American or even hated America.”

There is a body of experience showing where white supremacy and xenophobia end. After getting dehumanized, immigrants get killed. The conservative narrative about immigrants is another Big Lie. It is racist scapegoating. Xenophobia, not immigration is the real danger to America.


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Spring hike and swim – posted 4/16/2022

April 16, 2022 3 comments
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The inspiring example of the Amazon workers – posted 4/10/2022

April 10, 2022 2 comments

Over the last 40 years, the American labor movement has been stomped. The percentage of American workers in unions has drastically declined, down to 10.3%, which is the lowest rate in decades. The decline is no accident and it is not primarily from self-inflicted wounds. Employers have turned union-busting into an art.

At the same time unions were being crushed, neither political party did anything to help. The Republicans are owned by the 1% bosses and their record is consistently anti-labor. Trump pretends to be a populist but he has always been anti-union. Unfortunately, the Democrats also have failed to respond. Defending labor has been a low priority for Democrats.

This background makes the organizing victory of the Amazon workers in New York all the more stunning. In a vote of 2654-2131, the Amazon Labor Union, the ALU, shocked the world and scored a victory that could inspire all underdogs.

For those unfamiliar with the labor movement or union organizing, I would offer that the deck has been stacked against labor for a very long time and organizing success has been like snow in April. It happens but you won’t see it too often. To be successful now is very hard.

I can speak from some personal experience. Earlier in my life, I spent nine years trying to organize unorganized workers. For seven years, I worked at Mass General Hospital in Boston trying to organize the service workers. Management deployed strategies very similar to those used against the Amazon workers. It is a well-trod path.

First, management hires a union-busting law firm. They figure a plan for creating fear and intimidation. Typically this involves firing union activists. They play on existing divisions to try and divide and conquer. They use captive audience meetings to badmouth the union. Whether or not unfair labor practices are alleged by union activists, no outside entity effectively interferes with the anti-union practices. Workers learn they have little protection.

The Amazon workers in New York relied on a highly creative, personalized strategy. The organizers were workers in the company. They did not rely on any organized union. They created an independent union, getting initial funding from a GoFundMe. Derrick Palmer, the Vice-President of organizing for the ALU, described how they succeeded:

“At the end of the day, having workers organize workers, I feel like that was really the game-changer because I don’t think Amazon ever expected that to happen.”

Amazon had argued that the union was a third party from outside. Considering that the organizers worked in the shop, that approach backfired. Through publicly available information, the ALU showed that Amazon was paying each anti-union consultant $3200 per day to turn workers against the union. Amazon spent $4.3 million on the union-busting firm not even counting the legal work.

It was actually the many union busters who were walking around the warehouse talking to workers who were the outsiders.

The ALU camped out near the warehouse to meet with workers and answer questions. They used social media videos, organized in break rooms off work time, held regular barbecues near the warehouse and held phone banks. When management held captive audience meetings, the pro-union workers interrupted and talked back, showing no fear.

As the election drew near, the ALU passed out union shirts and workers started wearing them in the warehouse. The ALU also passed out lanyards. These acts showed workers the strength of union support all over the warehouse and helped to break down fear.

Meanwhile, Amazon insulted the union organizers calling them “thugs” and they called Christian Smalls, co-founder of the ALU “not smart or articulate”. Smalls was a former supervisor at Amazon. Amazon fired him in Spring 2020 when he led a walkout over inadequate COVID-19 safety measures by the company.

Many of the classic reasons workers form unions were at play with Amazon. There is a lack of job security. The turnover rate is very high and workers are terminated for many reasons. The pace of work is brutal and Amazon relentlessly clocks expectations. The investigative journalist Will Evans has found that “the company’s obsession with speed has turned its warehouses into injury mills”.

Supposedly “essential workers” are not well-compensated even though in 2021 Amazon reported record profits of more than $35 billion. Since the pandemic Amazon’s profits have absolutely skyrocketed but there is no willingness to share the wealth. There is an unsurpassed level of greed here. Remember: in 2018 it was Bernie Sanders who shamed Amazon into paying a $15 an hour minimum wage. Shamelessness defines Amazon.

The Amazon workers must now get management to the bargaining table to negotiate a contract. This may be very difficult because it is a safe bet Amazon bosses would hate such a precedent.

The positive examples of the Amazon workers as well as the recent victories at multiple Starbucks locations show the effectiveness of the worker-to-worker organizing strategy. To reverse labor’s decline, the union movement must pour resources into organizing the unorganized. Walmart, Target, McDonald’s, Burger King, Uber, Lyft, Kroger and many others are all fair game.

While President Biden has laudably voiced support for the Amazon workers, there is a problem with the Democratic Party’s follow through. If workers are not getting the PRO Act aimed to help organizing or the labor provisions of Build Back Better, it is fair to ask: what are the Democrats delivering? It appears to be mostly talk.

To kickstart a renewed labor movement, more pro-worker legislation is needed to give union organizing a chance. The long-time employer game plan of intimidation, firing and unfair labor practices needs to be stopped.

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Clarence Thomas should resign – posted 4/3/2022

April 3, 2022 Leave a comment

On Twitter, I saw that Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said that Justice Clarence Thomas should resign from the Supreme Court. I must say – I agree.

People often say that there are no ethical rules binding on Supreme Court justices. That is not entirely true. While there is no specific judicial code of conduct for the High Court, justices are bound by a federal law that bars them from hearing cases if their spouses have “an interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding”.

That statute, 28 U.S.C. 455, also stipulates that they recuse themselves in cases where their impartiality might reasonably be questioned. There is the matter of the appearance of impropriety. Conflicts of interest matter and it is fundamental ethics that a judge recuse if there is a bad look.

We now know that Justice Thomas’s wife, Ginni Thomas, was integrally involved in the pro-Trump Stop the Steal movement. She made repeated efforts to pressure White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to pursue various avenues to overturn the 2020 presidential election. In more than two dozen bizarre text messages between the election and January 6, 2021, Ginni Thomas begged Meadows to do everything in his power to reverse the election.

Ginni Thomas told Meadows to “release the Kraken and save us from the left taking America down”. She texted that members of “the Biden crime family” would eventually be living on barges off GITMO to face military tribunals for sedition. She described the election as “a heist” and “an obvious fraud”.

Ms. Thomas attended the January 6 rally held near the White House. She also signed an open letter criticizing the congressional investigation of January 6. She is not a party in a January 6 case but she is very much on one side.

In spite of his wife’s partisan role, Justice Thomas has not recused himself from any January 6-related case. There have already been a number of cases. He was the sole dissenter in the recent case in which Trump attempted to stop the House January 6 Committee from obtaining White House records held by the National Archives. He offered no reasoning.

Charles Geyh, a legal ethics professor at Indiana University, responded:

“There’s a difference between having a spouse who has an active interest in seeing the law changed and someone who is actually part of the story of the case. I don’t know how someone could be impartial when their spouse is part of the record that may be before the judge.”

This is not an ethical close call. No way should Justice Thomas be sitting on any January 6-related case, now or in the future. His association is too close and his ruling would have the appearance of impropriety. It is highly possible, even likely, that disclosures could reveal more about his wife’s involvement in Trump’s coup attempt. She has been called to testify before the January 6 committee.

Unfortunately, where Justice Thomas is concerned, the January 6 cases are just the tip of an ethical iceberg. Ginni Thomas’s lobbying for a wide range of far right causes has repeatedly enmeshed her political activities with cases where Justice Thomas rules.

Justice Thomas is aware of the need to recuse in some situations because he has done it 54 times since 1993. Many of his recusals were due to possible conflicts because of his son’s business and choice of college. He has, however, never recused from any case because of his wife’s lobbying.

The situation is unusual. As Gabe Roth, the Executive Director of the organization Fix the Court, has said:

“No spouse, to my knowledge, has ever actively lobbied other branches of government in the public sphere on issues before the justices like Ginni Thomas has.”

I would expect that the supporters of Justice Thomas would say the left is trying to take him down but his ethical wounds are entirely self-inflicted. There are quite a few examples and I will cite a few:

  • During the years 2003-2007, Ginni Thomas worked for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank and public policy promoter. The job was lucrative and she earned $686,589 working for Heritage in this period. Justice Thomas repeatedly failed to report his wife’s income on financial disclosure forms as required by federal law.
  • In January 2008, Justices Thomas and Scalia attended a private political retreat organized by the billionaire Koch brothers, opponents of campaign finance reform. All expenses were paid by the Federalist Society. Later, Thomas would rule with the majority on Citizens United. He has been the lone justice to argue that laws requiring public disclosure of large political contributions are unconstitutional.
  • In 2009, Ginni Thomas set up her lobbying firm, Liberty Central, dedicated to fighting the “tyranny” of Obama and Obamacare. The organization was funded by two large anonymous contributions. Ms. Thomas paid herself an annual salary of $120,000. Again, Justice Thomas failed to disclose her income on financial disclosure forms. Thomas always ruled against Obamacare.
  • In 2017-18, Ms. Thomas received $200,000 from Frank Gaffney’s organization, the Center for Security Policy. Gaffney is a well-known Islamophobe and anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist who advocated for Trump’s Muslim ban. His group submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court when the Court considered the issue. Thomas upheld the Muslim ban.

Where things get sketchy is the overlap between Ginni Thomas’s lobbying and Clarence Thomas’s judging. There is a failure of accountability and a wild level of corruption. Spouses often share income. Ginni Thomas profits and gets dark money from a wide range of powerful conservative interest groups that have cases that come before the Court. Are we supposed to pretend the obvious impropriety does not exist, that they don’t share income, or discuss everything?

Ethical self-policing by the justices hasn’t worked. Sadly, Chief Justice John Roberts has turned a blind eye. In suggesting Justice Thomas resign, I hold no hope that would actually happen. But, it should. Justice Thomas hasn’t simply embarrassed the Court – he has tarnished its integrity.

The Trump era has led to such a moral debasement and cynicism that circumstances which obviously require investigation get brushed over and blown off. Thomas should not be getting a pass.

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The plan to steal the 2024 presidential election – posted 3/27/2022

March 27, 2022 Leave a comment

You might think that if some political partisans had a plan to steal a presidential election, it would be kept top secret. That is not the case with the Republican Party. Their plan to steal the 2024 presidential election could not be more public. The writer, Ari Berman has accurately summarized:

“Ahead of the midterms, Republicans have launched a full-scale assault on the election system. Fueled by the Big Lie, this attack relies upon a multi-pronged strategy of gerrymandering, voter suppression and the takeover of election positions by ideologues who allege the 2020 election was stolen.”

Because more has been written about the gerrymandering and the voter suppression, I wanted to focus on the election subversion. That subversion is far more organized than is generally known. The plan comes out of lessons learned by Trump’s unsuccessful coup attempt in 2020-2021.

The Republicans are advancing a Big Lie alliance to take control of the presidential election process in key battleground states. They did not have the operatives in place in 2020 to overturn the result although Trump certainly tried.

The plan is to put into place “Stop the Steal” authoritarians who will oversee how elections are run and how votes are counted. These pro-Trump forces believe, without evidence, that Trump was cheated out of a 2020 election win. It must always be remembered that over 60 federal and state courts upheld the fairness of the election.

In deciding the 2024 election, Republicans will deem the election “legitimate” if the Republican candidate wins. If the Democratic candidate wins, Republicans will deem the election “illegitimate”. The Republicans will allege voter fraud if they are on the losing end just as Trump did in 2020.

The big difference is that this time around the Republicans plan to seize control of vital electoral positions. At least 11 Big Lie advocates are running for Attorney General in 10 states. 21 Big Lie advocates are running for Secretary of State in 18 states. The Republicans are also fielding 51 Big Lie supporter candidates who are running for governor in 24 states. These are people who wanted to certify Trump as president in 2020 even though he lost.

If Big Lie supporters were willing to install Trump into power before, is there any reason to believe they would not do it again? They are running for office on a pledge to do it.

There is actually a coalition of America First Secretary of State candidates including candidates in key swing states. We have Jody Hice in Georgia, Mark Finchem in Arizona and Kristina Karano in Michigan. They have all received the coveted Trump endorsement. It would appear that only the most slavish devotees get the nod.

Finchem, who has in the past identified as an Oath Keeper, was at the January 6 insurrection. Without evidence, he argued that Biden relied on fraudulent votes by undocumented immigrants living in Arizona. He signed a joint resolution from 30 Republican lawmakers that called on Congress to block the state’s 11 electoral college votes going to Biden. The resolution urged Congress to accept “ the alternate 11 electoral votes for Donald J. Trump”.

Here is the most disturbing scenario: if the Democratic candidate wins the popular vote in a battleground state, the pro-Trump forces are prepared to replace electors chosen by the populace with electors hand-picked by legislators. This is hardly that far-fetched. 147 House Republicans voted to invalidate Biden’s election last time.

Part of the problem we are facing is weakness in the Electoral Count Act of 1887 which governs how Congress counts presidential electors. Last time Trump tried to get state officials to change the results in states Biden won. Then he tried to get Vice President Mike Pence to reject key states’ elector slates.

Legal scholar Matthew Seligman has written extensively about the anti-democratic dangers that currently exist. Seligman writes that the risk that most threatens the 2024 presidential election is what he has called the Swing State Governor’s Gambit. Say the Republicans win the House in 2024. In a close election, rogue Republican governors could send a Republican slate of electors for certification even if the Democrats won the vote. The pretext would again be voter fraud.

Under the Electoral Count Act, both the House and the Senate must object to a slate of electors to invalidate it. If the Republicans controlled one chamber, the slate of electors would still eke through the fray.

No doubt there would be court challenges but it is impossible to predict the outcome. Possibly the Court would punt, say it is a political question, and not intervene. On the other hand, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court might entertain the independent state legislative doctrine which could allow state legislatures to replace the voters in choosing electors. Such a process could make the loser the winner. It would certainly provoke a monumental constitutional crisis.

After the 2020 election, the need for reforming the Electoral Count Act should be obvious. Not even getting into the Electoral College which is its own can of worms, it must be clarified that the Vice President doesn’t decide elections. The popular vote must be honored in the states.Again, this should be obvious but even Democrats have underestimated the potential for bad faith manipulation.

I fear the Democrats are sleepwalking toward disaster and the end of American democracy where they could be a permanent minority. They seem stuck in some past paradigm, underestimating how many Republicans have fallen for the Trump propaganda. A sense of urgency is lacking and there is fatalism about losing the mid-terms. The Democrats are pretending normalcy.

What is truly sad though is what has happened to the Republican Party. Maybe they want to win too much but they do not see the harm they are doing by sabotaging democracy. Democracy needs political parties that will accept the will of the voters. One side cannot always obtain its desired outcome. Accepting loss is part of the process.

Too many Republicans have fallen prey to disinformation. Conspiracy theories are their currency whether birtherism, QAnon or the Big Lie. There is also a self-righteous tendency on the Right to see themselves as the only real Americans. A large number of Republicans are too ready to resort to violence. A poll from the non-partisan Public Religion Research Institute revealed that one-third of Republicans believe that violence may be necessary “in order to save our country”.

This is not a “both sides are doing it” matter. The Republicans are guilty of an asymmetric polarization.

It may be though that the threat to democracy in 2024 will come more from amoral lawyers than from violent insurrectionists. Lawyers who are bad faith manipulators could and would justify the losing side winning.

On January 6, 2021, Mitch McConnell said:

“If the election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral. We’’d never see the whole nation accept an election again. Every four years would be a scramble for power at any cost.”

I don’t usually agree with Mitch McConnell but with this statement, I agree.

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Time to retire “woke” – posted 3/20/2022

March 20, 2022 Leave a comment

In his classic essay “Politics and the English Language”, George Orwell made a number of still-pertinent statements. He said:

“In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. When it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinion, and not a “party line”. Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style.”

Orwell went on to discuss how political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Rather than fresh, vivid expression, words degenerate into cloudy vagueness.

I would suggest that the use of the term “woke” is a prime example of both the vagueness and the lifeless imitative style Orwell warned about. Republican use of “woke” has become a party line, repeated endlessly.

It is now a defense mechanism to avoid a legitimate discussion about institutional racism.

Use of “woke” on the Right is an automatic reflex. Just say “woke”, regardless of the circumstance. Debate then shifts into “is it woke?” This is an example of the slovenliness of language and the meaninglessness of words.

Like an invasive weed, its use is everywhere now. The theme of CPAC 2022 was “Awake, Not Woke”. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis says wokeness is “a virus”. On his podcast with guest Erik Prince, Steve Bannon said:

“Putin ain’t woke. He is anti-woke. The Russians know which bathroom to use. They know how many genders there are.”

Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina said:

“Remember that Zelenskyy is a thug. Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”

Fox host Tucker Carlson has railed against woke activism and woke generals in the Pentagon. Former President Trump has said, “Woke means you’re a loser. Everyone ultimately loses with woke”. When Republican Senator Mike Rounds from South Dakota acknowledged that the 2020 election was “fair”, Trump called him “woke” and “a jerk”.

Woke and the phrase “stay woke” actually have a long history. If anyone did a deep dive, you can go way back to long before Black Lives Matter, the 2014 Ferguson protests, and the #StayWoke hashtag. You could reference Marcus Garvey, Leadbelly’s song about the Scottsboro Boys or Erykah Badu’s song Master Teacher.

Charles Blow said that woke was a word born as a way of saying “Be aware of and alert to how racism is systemic and pervasive and suffuses American life. Wake up from the slumber of ignorance and passive acceptance”.

The history of woke is not germane to the Republican use of the term. Describing something as “woke” is a substitute for thought but it is actually worse than that. To go back to Orwell, it is a defense of an indefensible status quo. That status quo has hurt working people of all races and nationalities. The racism is a double whammy.

Use of woke to change the subject has obscured the Republican descent into authoritarianism and their acceptance of violence. It is a mistake to see “woke” outside the substitution of normal political conservatism by the Trumpist insurrectionist politics best reflected by January 6.

The attack on woke is of a piece with the assault on critical race theory. Republicans are attacking something they do not understand while creating a boogeyman. I would lay odds that if you asked rank-and-file Republican voters to explain critical race theory, nine out of ten could not give a coherent answer. Yet Trump says stopping critical race theory remains a life-and-death battle.

In his March 12 speech in Florence, South Carolina, Trump said:

“Getting critical race theory out of our schools is not just a matter of values. It’s also a matter of national survival. We have no choice…The fate of any nation ultimately depends upon the willingness of its citizens to lay down – and they must do this – lay down their very lives to defend their country…If we allow the Marxists and communists and socialists to teach our children to hate America, there will be no one left to defend our flag or protect our great country or its freedom.”

From beginning to end, Trump’s words are hyperbolic nonsense. Whether or not critical race theory is taught is not a matter of national survival. How we understand the past is a complicated matter and different ways of looking at history are protected by the First Amendment as a matter of intellectual freedom. You have to ask: why is Trump so scared of critical race theory? Could it be that it threatens his white supremacist world view? Talk about laying down lives is absurdly over-the-top.

Understanding American history is not about teaching children to hate America. It is about intellectual integrity. It is not enough for Trump to maintain a Big Lie about the 2020 election. He wants the Big Lie to extend to a whitewashed American history. He is always saying we have no choice when that is patently false.

I see the war on wokeness and critical race theory as an extension of Trump’s January 6 coup attempt. When people talk about left fascism, there is no comparability to what is going on with the extreme right. Nobody on the left tried to overthrow the government or violently attack the Capitol . January 6 was a clear warning shot and Trump and his insurrectionist allies have not backed off one bit.

Most of the media remain in denial about the authoritarian threat to democracy that is ongoing. We should be listening and paying close attention to the language being used by the Republican-authoritarians. Being anti-woke is about maintaining white supremacy.

James Baldwin once wrote, “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” Instead of mandating a white supremacist version of our history, we should embrace the contradictions and teach a wide range of perspectives, including critical race theory. To my Republican friends I would say: abandon “woke” and say something original for a change.

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Sol Solomon – posted 3/17/2022

March 18, 2022 2 comments

My friend Sol died on March 2. Death ruthlessly snatched him away at age 74. The speed of it all is still shocking. He was playing tennis in January.

One of the most difficult aspects of aging is losing your friends. I saw that happen with my parent’s friends, getting picked off one by one. Sol was a very good friend, kind and big-hearted. As Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote, and I take license, I am not resigned to this death.

Sol and I got acquainted around the end of 2018. He had reached out and organized get-togethers of some writers of Concord Monitor “My Turns” He and I often visited on the weekend.

Sol was a social organizer and he took the initiative to set up lunches with many of his friends. He had a wide circle. He loved good food and we hit spots in and around New London. He was a known quantity at the Millstone at 74 Main in New London. When you would go in they would ask, “Are you with Sol?”

Being a strong environmentalist was a major passion in Sol’s life. I remember his columns about people who see the earth as a dead rock. He most emphatically did not. He saw everything as inter-connected and having its own unique vibratory life force.

Sol was in touch with the earth as a hardcore gardener. He proudly showed me his raised beds. For forty years, he perfected his garden. He was very influenced by a book he read in 1978, The One-Straw Revolution, by Masanobu Fukuoka. Fukuoka had a minimalist approach to gardening that proved highly effective

Sol worried about our absurd carelessness with Mother Earth. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres just called the climate crisis “code red for humanity”. Sol’s attitude reminded me of a Tennessee Williams quote:

“We all live in a house on fire, no fire department to call; no way out, just the upstairs window to look out of while the fire burns the house down with us trapped, locked in it.”

He was not a fatalist, however. In his own way, Sol remained an activist.

I do not know many members of Sol’s family but he was devoted to it. He was proud of his daughter Jen, who is an artist and his granddaughter, Eliza. He loved to show me Jen’s art. He lit up at just the mention of Eliza. He treasured his time with his granddaughter.

Sol looked to the example of indigenous people who understood their connection to the natural world and lived in harmony with it. A Native American chant captures Sol’s spirit:

“Walk tall as the trees; live strong as the mountains; be gentle as the spring winds; keep the warmth of summer in your heart, and the Great Spirit will always be with you.”

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Miscalculation and the increased risk of nuclear war – posted 3/6/2022

March 6, 2022 2 comments

One of the most unsettling aspects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is the increased risk of nuclear war. At the start of the invasion, President Putin led off with this:

“To anyone who would consider interfering from the outside: If you do, you will face consequences greater than any you have faced in history. All relevant decisions have been taken. I hope you hear me.”

That was certainly a nuclear threat. Putin told his top defense and military officials to put nuclear forces in a “special regime of combat duty”. It is not entirely clear what that means but it would appear to raise the nuclear threat level up a notch. Putin blames “illegal sanctions” and “aggressive statements” from countries in NATO. He has called the sanctions “a declaration of war”.

The United States and Russia continue to maintain the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons in the world. Russia has 6,000 nukes. The U.S. has 5,600. Both sides can deliver them by plane, submarine and land-based ballistic missiles. The lethal potential is a doomsday scenario where a nuclear attack would result in both sides being annihilated many times over. As has been said about this outcome, the living would envy the dead.

As horrible and as criminal as Putin’s invasion is, the world must avert far worse possible catastrophes like a nuclear war. As Noam Chomsky has said, there has been a reaction “to reach for the six-gun rather than the olive branch”.

Efforts to de-escalate the Ukraine crisis should take center-stage, including ceasefires. We must support any diplomatic options that still exist whether through Israel, France or China. We should be looking for a face-saving off-ramp for Putin.

Nothing about the Ukraine invasion justifies a nuclear exchange. That should be obvious. Ideas like a no-fly zone or the introduction of American or NATO troops must be a non-starter because of the potential risk.

So much media discussion has centered around Putin’s “miscalculation”. And there is plenty of evidence Putin has miscalculated. It is hard not to worry that if Putin fears he is losing the war, he might miscalculate in worse ways.

America also has a long history of miscalculating. Looking back, the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq were horrible miscalculations. Our leaders repeatedly told us lies to justify those wars. Our military-industrial complex has a financial stake in such miscalculations so they can sell their weapons of mass destruction and profit off of war.

History is replete with examples of nations stumbling into war or almost accidentally stumbling into a war.

The outstanding example is the Cuban missile crisis from sixty years ago. The world was incredibly lucky then when Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev miscalculated, placing nuclear missiles in Cuba. We were much closer to a nuclear holocaust than is generally known. For thirteen days, humanity teetered on a knife’s edge. As a young boy, I remember the time.

There is a story from the Cuban missile crisis that deserves our attention.

On October 27, 1962, a little-known senior officer on a Soviet submarine, Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov, saved the world from nuclear war and mutually assured destruction. Arkhipov was aboard the Soviet sub B-29 which was in the waters off Cuba. He was the Brigade Chief of Staff on the submarine.

Arkhipov’s sub was one of four that had been sent from Moscow. Each carried a special weapon, a single ten-kiloton nuclear torpedo, comparable in strength to the bomb the Americans dropped on Hiroshima.

The commander of each submarine had permission to act without direct orders from higher-ups in Moscow if they believed they were under threat.

President John F. Kennedy had placed Cuba under a strict blockade. When our navy became aware of the presence of Arkhipov’s sub, they sent several vessels to identify it. The U.S. Navy did not know the Russian sub was equipped with a nuclear torpedo.

U.S. forces began dropping low-explosive practice depth charges the size of hand grenades in an effort to get the Soviet sub to surface. Then-Defense Secretary Robert McNamara believed the procedure would allow American forces to “actually hit the submarine without damaging the submarine”. He thought those on board would interpret the depth charges as a “warning notice and the instruction to surface’.

The crew on the B-29 sub had been incommunicado. They had been unable to make contact with Moscow for days. They were unaware of the American intention behind the use of the depth charges. Air-conditioning on the sub had failed and it was sweltering. The atmosphere on the sub was extremely tense. Lack of oxygen was leading some to think they would die.

The depth charges were interpreted as an indication war had already started.An intelligence officer on B-29, Vadim Orlov, later described the scene:

“They exploded right next to the hull. It felt like you were sitting in a metal barrel, which somebody is constantly blasting with a sledgehammer…We thought – that’s it – the end.”

The sub’s captain, Vitali Savitsky, panicked. He ordered the sub’s nuclear torpedo to be assembled for launch as he believed the war had started. He said, “We’re going to blast them now! We will die, but we will sink them all – we will not disgrace our navy!”

In order to launch the nuclear torpedo, protocol required the captain to get unanimous agreement from the two other political officers on the sub. Deputy political officer, Ivan Maslennikov, gave the green light but his second-in-command, Vasili Arkhipov, said “no”. Arkhipov was able to calm the captain down The nuclear torpedo was not launched.

If Arkhipov had said “yes”, we all might not be here now. A different political officer might have concurred with the captain. The explosion of a nuke off Cuba destroying American warships could have lit the fuse.

I think Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the scariest nuclear moment since the Cuban missile crisis. The nuclear threat is too casually written off or dismissed as unlikely. In the context of the invasion, just the proximity of so many hostile troops and military hardware increases the chance of an accident or a miscalculation.

It would not take much for a military escalation. It could be a fighter plane crash or collision or an unexplained shoot-out between some macho trigger-happy soldiers. All it takes is one side misinterpreting the other side. Tough guy posturing and miscalculations could get us all killed and end life on the planet. We need the wisdom of an Arkhipov. Sanity requires we step back from the brink.

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