Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Recognizing and remembering Fannie Lou Hamer – posted 11/21/2021

November 21, 2021 Leave a comment

In recognizing and acknowledging heroes of the modern-day civil rights movement, a number of male names come immediately to mind but not so many female names. I would like to elevate and highlight Fannie Lou Hamer for her under-recognized contributions to the civil rights movement. Her story is not well-known.

Born in 1917, Hamer was the youngest of twenty children. Her parents were Mississippi sharecroppers, engaged in a constant struggle for survival of their family. Starting when she was six, she had to pick cotton. By the age of thirteen, she was picking 200-300 pounds of cotton daily. Considering that she suffered from polio and had a gait problem with a limp, that is impressive.

Her family was often hungry. Her mother fed her children greens with flour gravy. Hamer did not own shoes. She tied rags to her feet in the winter.

Hamer only got six years of schooling and had to drop out of school at age twelve to work full-time picking cotton on a plantation. She went to school after harvest as the limited education that was available was organized around work production needs.

Because of her literacy, the plantation owner selected Hamer as the time and record keeper at the plantation. She worked there for eighteen years and that is where she met her future husband. Her parents had unsuccessfully tried to escape the plantation by renting a farm, buying mules and tools for farming. However, a white neighbor poisoned their mules. This set the family back into debt peonage.

This was a time when blacks were absolutely expected to be subservient to white people. Whites controlled where black people could live and where they could work. Any transgressions in how black people acted would be met with devastating consequences. When she was eight, Hamer experienced the lynching of a black man who had spoken up when he was not paid for his work.

In 1961, Hamer went to the doctor for what she believed was a uterine surgery for a tumor. Without her knowledge or consent, she was sterilized by a white doctor. Hamer coined the phrase “Mississippi appendectomy” to refer to such hysterectomies. Involuntary medical procedures were part of Mississippi’s plans to reduce the number of impoverished blacks in the state. White supremacists deemed blacks unfit to reproduce.

By the early 1960’s, only five percent of Mississippi’s black people were registered to vote. Blacks were entirely shut out of the political process. In spite of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, mob violence, grandfather clauses, poll taxes and literacy tests were all part of a comprehensive scheme to deny the franchise to black citizens.

Until 1962 Hamer never knew that black people could register and vote. On August 23, 1962, she went to hear Rev. James Bevel of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee or SNCC speak. That was a night that changed the trajectory of her life. After learning of her constitutional rights, Hamer volunteered for SNCC to register people to vote.

Possibly readers will remember the movie Mississippi Burning. Or the Nina Simone song Mississippi Goddam. Registering black voters in Mississippi in the early 1960’s was genuinely life threatening. Think Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner.

When Hamer went to register to vote in Indianola, Mississippi she was met by a wall of armed guards at the door of the courthouse. You might have thought she and her activist friends were breaking into a bank.

In her biography of Hamer, Until I am Free, the historian Keisha N. Blain described the scene. As part of registering to vote, Hamer and other activists were forced to take literacy tests. The registrar produced a section of the Mississippi constitution about de facto laws and asked her to interpret its meaning. Hamer said, “I knowed about as much about a de facto law as a horse knows about New Year’s.” She went on:

“By the time the eighteen of us going in two by two had finished taking the literacy test – now there’s people, mind you, there that day with guns, dogs and rifles. Some of them looking exactly like Jed Clampett with the Beverly Hillbillies, only they wasn’t kidding.”

On the way home from the failed attempt to register, the police stopped the old school bus in which they were traveling. The police charged the driver for driving a bus that was “too yellow” and forced the bus to return to the courthouse. The passengers had to pay an expensive fine to resolve the matter but they made it home safely.

That night the plantation owner where Hamer worked came by and told her that she had to leave the plantation unless she withdrew her voter registration. Hamer left the plantation but refused to withdraw her voter registration. Several nights later, white supremacists sprayed her house with bullets.

In 1963, after attending a voter workshop in South Carolina, the police in Winona, Mississippi dragged Hamer to jail after she had stopped to get a bite to eat. The owners of the cafe where she stopped would not serve black people. The police viciously assaulted Hamer physically and sexually. She was hit with a blackjack. She suffered permanent damage to her kidney and a blood clot in her left eye that hurt her vision. It took a month to recover from the assault.

Hamer had to take the literacy test to vote three times before she passed. Such tests were ultimately outlawed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Hamer’s persistence made me think of a James Baldwin quote:

“Not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

In that time, the Mississippi Democratic Party barred black participation. When Hamer co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in the summer of 1964 she became a prominent national figure. She and other activists protested the all white delegation at the Democratic National Convention held in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Hamer argued that her delegation should be the official delegation from Mississippi to the convention. She spoke to the Credentials Committee. President Lyndon Johnson was so freaked out that he gave an emergency press conference to pre-empt and distract from her speech. Johnson wanted to prevent her testimony from getting a wide audience since he feared losing the Southern white vote. Johnson’s ploy did not work.

Hamer’s speech was aired later over the three networks. It vividly recounted Mississippi realities. Hamer had a gift for public speaking. The civil rights activist Eleanor Holmes Norton described Hamer as “an unbelievably brilliant orator and conceptualizer…You’ve never heard a room flying like one Fannie Lou set afire”.

Johnson’s Vice-President Hubert Humphrey tried to persuade Hamer and the other Mississippi freedom activists to accept a compromise that would allow token representation of two non-voting representatives. Hamer refused. Hamer lost in 1964 but her actions did lead to change in 1968. The Democrats required equality of representation at their conventions after that.

Hamer remained active in the civil rights movement until her death in 1977 at age 59. She was a co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus which was started to recruit more women of all races to run for office. Hamer helped thousands of African Americans to become registered voters.

Historian Blain correctly notes how Hamer speaks directly to our time with voting rights again under attack. This time it is the Republican Party that has organized nationally, passing laws to make it harder to vote. The Republicans are today’s Jim Crow Party dedicated to white supremacy. Their voter suppression efforts must be vigorously opposed.

Those who may be discouraged or frightened by the voter suppression going on now can obtain strength from Hamer’s example. She successfully fought under far more trying circumstances than currently exist. To quote her:

“We have a long fight and this fight is not mine alone. But you are not free whether you are white or black, until I am free. Because no man is an island to himself. And until I’m free in Mississippi, you are not free in Washington; you are not free in New York.”

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History shows how to respond to the authoritarian threat – posted 11/12/2021

November 12, 2021 2 comments

Unlike many nations, America, for generations, has had a two party political system. That has long been the normal. Sometimes Democrats would win and sometime Republicans would prevail. That old normal may soon disappear because one party, the Republicans, have degenerated into an anti-democratic cabal. They want to eliminate the possibility that Democrats could ever win a national election.

The process of degeneration has been multi-faceted. Our former president turned his party into a cult of personality devoted to his Big Lie of election fraud. If you are a Republican who does not agree with the Big Lie, you are likely to have been ostracized, threatened or punished. You will be primaried or forced to retire. Witness Liz Cheney, Anthony Gonzalez and Adam Kinzinger. You must pledge loyalty to the Big Lie.

The party, which used to be conservative, is now supportive of whatever Trump wants, no matter how ridiculous. Republican leaders like Marjorie Taylor Greene called Republicans who voted for Biden’s infrastructure bill “traitors”.

Republican silence around Trump’s failed coup on January 6 is telling. New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu is a good example. He maintains a cowardly silence about Trump since he is afraid to alienate the Trump base. That Is typical of many Republicans who privately despise Trump. No one will ever be writing a book about Sununu titled “Profiles in Courage”.

The Republicans have been taken over by extremists and Q’Anon conspiracists who had planned to keep Trump president indefinitely. In 2020, they came close to succeeding.

Their focus is now on gerrymandering, changing voting laws and election personnel to put into place their loyalists. The former Executive Director of the Michigan GOP, Jeff Timmer, summarized:

“It’s kind of scary looking ahead because the Republicans are making no secret about their plans to create chaos and throw a monkey wrench in the gears of the next election trying to put people in place who will go beyond what the law allows and to do things in the next election that they didn’t feel they had people in place to do in the last one.”

There are many things to say about how the Republicans are killing democracy. They weaken elections by making it harder to vote. In swing states like Georgia, Arizona, Nevada and Michigan, they hope to replace state Secretaries of State with Big Lie partisans. You have to wonder about bias if such people are overseeing and administering elections.

Additionally, Republicans target and demonize outsiders like immigrants. They weaponize fear and embrace violence as in January 6, threats to other Republicans who voted for Biden’s infrastructure bill, and Rep. Paul Gosar’s social media. They attempt to rewrite American history by erasing white supremacy and racism using the utterly false excuse of critical race theory. They use racism to divide and conquer.

Sadly, the Democratic response to the increasing authoritarianism is less than impressive. Not recognizing the urgency of the threat, the Democrats bicker among themselves, increasing the chance of Republican victory in 2022 and 2024. Most people don’t care about Senators Manchin and Sinema and excuses for failing to deliver. If you promise a lot, you must deliver.

Along with the lack of urgency among the Democrats is the weak response by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to the authoritarian threat. So far, Attorney General Merrick Garland has done little to hold Trump and his circle accountable for their crimes. Insufficient pressure has been exerted to punish Trump and his January 6 co-conspirators. Apparently, the DOJ only goes after little fish.

Time is of the essence as Trump is playing a delay game. I expect he is hoping to use court appeals to run out the clock in the hopes Republican wins in 2022 will squash investigations of his crimes. Delay has always been a key tool in his bag of tricks.

In surveying the big picture, I would suggest a relevant historical example from American history about how to counter rising authoritarianism. During the Great Depression roughly 90 years ago, America faced a homegrown fascist threat from the German-American Bund, America Firsters, Silver Legion and followers of Father Charles Coughlin. These were the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters of their day.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt effectively sidelined the fascist threat with his New Deal. Just to recall the time: tens of millions of Americans were desperate, thrown into unemployment and abject poverty. Many looked to Germany as an example for America to follow. This was before things in Germany seriously devolved into mass concentration camps and worse.

President Roosevelt led a radical program of massive government investment and intervention into the economy. The New Deal employed millions of jobless people. Roosevelt invested heavily in public infrastructure. He subjected Wall Street speculators and Big Business to strict regulation.

Roosevelt blamed economic royalists who had managed to gain economic power through what he called “concentration of control”. He warned that fascism was the result of democratic governments failing to enact bold agendas while protecting an economic status quo that enriched small elites at the expense of the masses.

While he can be legitimately criticized for failing to tackle racism, Roosevelt became a beloved figure to millions of Americans because he boldly addressed the economic inequality of his day. He went big and the American people re-elected him four times.

There is a lesson here for Democrats and progressives. We need to follow the FDR example. We need a visionary politics that opposes a corporatist state that concentrates power in the hands of the super-rich at the expense of the many. We cannot go backwards on the progressive agenda whether it is climate change, racism, women’s reproductive rights or economic inequality.

The Democrats and moderates who are saying we should just not be Trump are wrong. That agenda will lead to the return of Trump or a Trump surrogate. It doesn’t provide enough reason to vote.

To defeat the authoritarians, we must invest in our working class to restore faith in democratic government. Democrats are underestimating how much of a disaster it will be if they jettison their most popular initiatives in subservience to corporate donors.

For example, 82% of registered voters support adding dental and vision benefits to Medicare. 72% favor allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices. 70% support paid family and medical leave. Polling by Priorities USA, a Biden-aligned firm, also found that raising taxes on the rich was the most popular economic proposal.

To the extent the Democrats fail to pass, water down or abandon their most popular initiatives, they will be shooting themselves in the foot. It is not unnoticed that the Democrats keep whittling down social spending on the Build Back Better plan. Nor that it is at the behest of corporate donors.

Corporations do vote-buying as they have done with Manchin and Sinema. It is a form of legalized bribery to buy their desired public policy.Whether it is Republican or Democratic, it is both corrupt and sickeningly familiar.

The best bet for saving our democracy is passage of the strongest, most far-reaching Build Back Better social spending plan. That will motivate a broad array of voters and give citizens solid reasons to turn out and vote.

Beyond that we need to create what the British writer Paul Mason has called “an anti-fascist ethos”. We need an alliance of all people of whatever political stripe who oppose fascism and authoritarianism. Trump created a boogeyman mythology around Antifa that is totally misleading.

To be anti-fascist is to be part of an honorable tradition. In World War II, almost 300,000 Americans fought and died, opposing fascism. In 2021, we need to resurrect anti-fascism so democracy can survive.

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Daniel Hale and the ethics of drone assassination – posted 10/31/2021

October 31, 2021 2 comments

Since the Afghan War has ended, I have been surprised about how little reflection there has been about that war. There has been the usual blame game of the Republicans blaming Biden and the Democrats blaming Trump but there has been relatively little commentary about the war.

It was amazing to watch Afghanistan fall in like a week or two in spite of the huge investment made by the United States in dollars and lives over a period of 20 years. I would suggest that we need a more profound analysis of what went wrong if we are going to avoid repetition of this type of experience.

Americans were so far removed from the battlefield that we had little sense of the war. We heard about the use of drone technology but we have neglected grappling with the ethical issues around it. Drones were central to the War on Terror. They were our way of eliminating mortal risk on one side of the equation.

They allowed 24-hour surveillance of people-of-interest in combat zones including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. Supposedly it was a way we could keep track of bad guys and at the same time minimize American casualties. Back during the Obama presidency, we started hearing about the use of kill lists. Targeted killings by drones became normalized.

The United States has carried out thousands of these drone strikes. They typically happen in remote areas far away from any media camera.

Right at the time the United States forces were leaving Afghanistan we did hear about a Kabul drone strike where American officials claimed they destroyed a car packed with multiple suicide bombers who were members of the Islamic State. It turned out a hellfire missile killed ten members of a family including several children. One of the dead was a former Afghan military officer who had served as a contractor for the U.S. forces.

When the true circumstances were revealed, official denials turned into a suggestion of possible investigation followed by mouthing of regret. In the Kabul incident, the military said that no discipline would be taken against anyone who was part of the attack that killed the family of ten.

That is the norm. This is a killing program conducted under tight secrecy with virtually no transparency or accountability.

Investigative journalists have tried to piece together a picture of the drone casualties. The U.K.-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimated the total number of deaths from drone and other covert killing operations in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia as between 8,858 and 16,901 since drone strikes began in 2004. Of those killed, as many as 2,200 are believed to have been civilians.

Drone strikes have hit wedding parties, families traveling in cars, hospitals filled with patients and groups of farmers working in fields. The false promise was that drone strikes would demand absolute precision without harm to civilians.

The little-known case of Daniel Hale spotlights the use of assassination by drone. Hale served in the Air Force from 2009 to 2013 and he arrived in Afghanistan in 2012. From Bagram Air Force Base it was Hale’s job as a signals intelligence analyst to watch screens and direct drones to the location of a cell phone number in which the military had interest.

When Hale successfully located the number, he would adjust settings and lock on the target. Then he would communicate by chat to a co-worker who focused the camera. An imagery analyst in the U.S., in coordination with a drone pilot and camera operator would take over, using the information Hale provided.

Hale has written that partly this effort was about documenting the day-to-day life of suspected militants. Sometimes this could lead to an attempt at capture or other times, a decision to kill.

Watching and participating in the drone attacks proved traumatic and filled Hale with unease. He wrote:

“Not a day goes by that I don’t question the justification for my actions…how could it be considered honorable for me to continuously have laid in wait for the next opportunity to kill unsuspecting persons, who, more often than not, are posing no danger to me or any other person at the time.”

Months into his deployment in Afghanistan, Hale had a harrowing experience. He had been tracking the movements of a ring of car bomb manufacturers living around Jalalabad. One of the suspects took off, driving at a high rate of speed. Hale’s superiors thought he might be escaping to Pakistan. A drone strike was ordered though it was a cloudy and windy day and visibility was poor through the clouds.

It appeared the single payload MQ-1 barely failed to hit the target but the vehicle was damaged although still drivable. Surprisingly, the passenger in the front seat turned out to be a woman.

A few days later, Hale attended a briefing by his commanding officer. It provided more details. In the attacked car was the suspect’s wife with their two young daughters, ages 5 and 3. Afghan soldiers were sent to investigate where the car had been seen to stop. They found the two girls placed in a dumpster nearby. The eldest was found dead due to unspecified wounds caused by shrapnel that pierced her body. The younger sister was still alive but levelly dehydrated. About that experience, Hale wrote:

“..whenever I encounter an individual who thinks that drone warfare is justified and reliably keeps America safe, I remember that time and ask myself how could I possibly continue to believe that I am a good person, deserving of my life and the right to pursue happiness.”

After Hale left the Air Force in 2013, he went to work for a defense contractor where he retained a security clearance and access to top-secret information. Hale took classified information about the drone program and gave it to journalist Jeremy Scahill of the Intercept. Hale believed the public had a right to understand the process by which people were placed on kill lists and assassinated on orders from high up in the government.

The information Hale provided led to a series of articles in the Intercept on the drone program. The articles showed how often in Afghanistan those killed were not the intended target.

The Trump Administration ultimately prosecuted Hale under the Espionage Act, seeking a 14 year sentence. The Judge, Liam O’Grady, surprised many by sentencing Hale to 45 months. Hale had pled guilty to one count without any promise of a plea bargain. In his sentencing remarks Judge O’Grady noted that many people believed Hale was courageous as a whistleblower. He recommended that Hale be sent to a low security prison where he could get counseling for his post traumatic stress disorder and depression.

Instead the Bureau of Prisons sent Hale to the notorious Communications Management Unit at U.S. Penitentiary at Marion Illinois, a maximum security prison. Hale has been suicidal. He gets two showers per week and one phone call per month but only to his attorney. He is allowed to exercise two or three times a week. He is led into a six by ten foot outdoor cage where he can walk in circles for an hour.

You might think an Espionage Act would be about spies who steal information for hostile foreign governments. This is a situation where a whistleblower who suffered a crisis of conscience shared information of great public interest with the public. I think it is very much like Daniel Ellsberg’s situation with the Pentagon Papers.

The drone assassination program has been hidden from the public. Both Democratic and Republican administrations maintained the secrecy. Hiding the truth about drones is just part of the package of lies the American people have been told for 20 years about our wars. Reckless and mistaken killings by drones are one reason the American side was hated by masses of people in Afghanistan and contributed to the war’s outcome.

In a letter Hale wrote to Judge O’Grady he quoted U.S. Navy Admiral Gene LaRocque:

“We now kill people without ever seeing them. Now you push a button thousands of miles away…Since it’s all done by remote control, there’s no remorse…and then we come home in triumph.”

Drone assassinations are an example of runaway technology trumping ethics. It is a travesty that a person of conscience like Daniel Hale is behind bars.

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Selling snake oil on COVID-19 – posted 10/24/2021

October 24, 2021 3 comments

Here we are 20 months into the COVID-19 pandemic and I think we have some certainties and some mysteries.

Among the certainties: COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. They can keep you from getting and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. The vaccines were developed using science that has been around for decades. The vaccines are not experimental. They went through all the required stages of clinical trials.

If you do get sick from COVID-19, the vaccines will, generally speaking, keep you from getting severely ill. It also helps to protect people around you including people at high risk for severe illness. These include: older adults over 65, people with underlying medical conditions and pregnant people.

The Center for Disease Control has found unvaccinated people eleven times more likely to die of COVID-19 than fully vaccinated people and ten times more likely to be hospitalized. The overwhelming majority of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are in people who were not vaccinated. As of this writing, 736,000 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19.

Among the mysteries: why have so many people denied the science and refused the vaccine when it clearly offers protection? Why have right wing politicians latched onto the anti-vaccine bandwagon and promoted alternatives which can kill their own supporters? Why are so many Americans vulnerable to the COVID-19 misinformation?

The prevailing view among vaccine supporters is that anti-vaxxers have watched too much FOX, listened to too much Trump or bought into some warped notion of personal liberty. It is easy to see the anti-vaxxers as simply anti-intellectual or anti-science.

I would suggest this is the wrong way to look at the anti-vaccine phenomenon. Since early 2020, there have been small organized groups of doctors and influencers pushing unproven and potentially dangerous alternative treatments for COVID-19. These influencers are modern-day snake oil salesmen. They have hugely profited off of misinformation and they are primarily responsible for spreading most of the anti-vaccination content on social media.

They are selling online consultations for $90 a pop as well as selling ineffective COVID treatments like Hydroxychloroquine, used for malaria, and Ivermectin, used for treating parasitic worms in livestock.

The website, the Intercept, has obtained much information from hackers that shows the scam being played on the American public. What we have are con artists selling quack cures. If consumer protection was actually functioning in America, this would not be allowed. Selling misinformation and phony medications is not harmless.

The story goes back to the creation of a group of pro-Trump doctors in 2020 who took the name America’s Frontline Doctors. They have worked with a small network of health care companies to dupe thousands of consumers into seeking ineffective treatments.

Readers might remember the “White Coat Summit” in July 2020 when America’s Frontline Doctors went public. Ten physicians, dressed in white coats, with an embroidered America’s Frontline Doctors logo, appeared on the steps of the Supreme Court. The Tea Party Patriots, a right wing group funded by wealthy Republican donors, organized it.

Dr. Stella Immanuel, a pediatrician and a religious minister, made a splash at the White Coat Summit when her speech went viral. She stated she had successfully treated hundreds of patients with Hydoxychloroquine, a treatment Trump had promoted. She argued against face masks.

Dr. Immanuel had particularly grabbed attention because she also alleged alien DNA was being used in medical treatments. She claimed endometriosis was caused by people having sex in their dreams with demons and witches. She said the government was being run in part by “reptilians” and other aliens.

The leader of America’s Frontline Doctors, Dr, Simone Gold, an ER specialist, has been indicted for her role in the January 6 Capitol insurrection. She was charged with both violent entry and disorderly conduct. Gold opposes the vaccine, social distancing and mask use. She has hawked Hydroxychloroquine. She claims COVID-19 is not very deadly and she says the vaccine is more dangerous than the virus. She calls the vaccine an “experimental biological agent deceptively named a vaccine”.

The Intercept shows just how profitable the anti-vax consultations and phony medication sales have been. Thousands of consumers have paid into the millions of dollars although many customers have complained that they never received a call back after paying.

Beyond America’s Frontline Doctors, the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) released a report showing that what it calls the Disinformation Dozen generates two-thirds of the anti-vaccination content on Facebook and Twitter. It names twelve well-financed influencers who superspread misinformation. Joseph Mercola, who runs a supplement empire, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Ty and Charlene Bollinger are among the twelve.

CCDH reports that social media platforms have failed to act on 95% of the COVID and vaccine misinformation reported to them. It makes it very hard for the public to make informed decisions about their health when they are constantly inundated by misinformation.

The Bollingers have falsely claimed that COVID-19 vaccines edit a recipients’s genes. They call vaccination “this abominable COVID shot”. The Bollingers sell a video series called “The Truth about Vaccine 2020”, costing $199 to $499.

The anti-COVID-19 vaccine influencers fit into the American tradition of snake oil salesmen where con artists peddle products with little value. Snake oil literally meant medicinal snake oil. Con artists claimed snake oil could cure many problems including pain, toothaches, sore throats, animal bites and hair loss.

In the late nineteenth century, the most famous snake oil salesman was a charismatic man named Clark Stanley who was called the Rattlesnake King. He said he had lived with the Hopi Indian tribe and learned their secrets. He claimed he had been bitten by dozens of rattlesnakes.

Stanley invented a traveling medicine show which became extremely popular. At fairs, Stanley squeezed snakes to death and decapitated them in front of an audience and then he tossed the snake carcasses into a large pot of boiling water. When fat rose, he made it look like he used it to make his snake oil, Clark Stanley’s Snake Oil Liniment. Crowds saw Stanley skim from the top of the pot’s boiling water.

It turned out that Stanley was not actually using snake oil in his product. It was mostly mineral oil, animal fat, red pepper, and turpentine. This scam pushed Congress to pass the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 to prevent the spread of unsafe medication.

Stanley was not alone. He was joined by a wide array of hucksters with get-rich-quick schemes who sold potions, tonics, tinctures and oils. Back then, especially in rural America, doctors were not so accessible and scientific ignorance was widespread. There was a big market for medically needy people and miracle cures were very appealing.

In considering the 3 in 10 American adults who remain unvaccinated, I would emphasize the role of our current snake oil salesmen like America’s Frontline Doctors and the Disinformation Dozen. They are pushing magical thinking while lying to people in the middle of a pandemic, all to make a buck.

Certainly, prominent FOX personalities and our former President have also contributed to scientific illiteracy but it is the well-financed influencers who profit off of keeping the pandemic going who are primarily to blame.

Particularly insidious is that the hacked data obtained by the Intercept shows that people in their 50’s and 60’s are particularly targeted for the misinformation and they are more vulnerable to COVID-19. The influencers prey on wishful thinking, belief in New Age mumbo-jumbo, and naivete.

Too often, pro-vaccine people express exasperation with anti-vax individuals without pointing the finger of responsibility at the snake oil salesmen who are cashing in. Our American hyper-individualism conditions us to look more at the victims than the purveyors, Even at this late point, I am amazed how little attention the influencers have received.

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On the 12th anniversary of my sister Lisa’s death – posted 10/21/2021

October 21, 2021 2 comments

I wanted to post some poems that evoked Lisa to me.

By Emily Dickinson

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! They’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

For the grave of Li Po by Bertolt Brecht

When I was alive we sat in the hollow of the park
Talking of this and that, but mostly of you.
You took me by the hand and led me to the temple in the wood Where we made offerings, mostly for you.
In the evenings we sat by the fire
I fed you with plum cakes and you sang.
Later then we lay back, gazing at the moon
And I composed verses, mostly about you.
Came the first light of day and the cranes screeched
And on their long legs stepped out through the marshes.
We took tea under the cherry tree
Then the neighbors came, mostly to see you.
Now where I lie neither fire nor moon can reach me.
I cannot hear the cranes nor your singing anymore.
Do you not have a single rice cake you might bring me?

And in your country? By Bertolt Brecht

In our country, at the turn of the year
Or when a piece of work is done, or an anniversary of a birth We share our wishes for happiness and luck
For in this country the pure of heart
Need luck.

He who harms no one
In our country will end up in the gutter
And fortunes
Are only to be had by villainy.

To come by a meal at midday
Calls for the courage
On which elsewhere empires are founded.
No one, unless they’re prepared to look death in the face
Can succour those in misery.

He who speaks untruths is borne in triumph through the crowds Whereas he who speaks the truth
Needs a company of bodyguards
But will find none.

Brother, now’s the time…. By Bertolt Brecht

Brother, now’s the time
Brother, hold the line
Pass the invisible flag down through the ranks!
In dying no different from when you were living
You’ll not give in, comrade, there’s no forgiving.
Today you’re defeated, the others have won
But the war only ends when the last battle’s done
But the war only ends when the last battle’s done.
Brother, now’s the time
Brother, hold the line
Pass the invisible flag on through the ranks!
Oppression or justice, the balance is shifting
We’ll throw off our chains and the clouds will be lifting.
Today you’re defeated, the others have won
But the war only ends when the last battle’s done
But the war only ends when the last battle’s done.

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A roadmap for subverting democracy – posted 10/17/2021

October 17, 2021 3 comments

As a Jewish person, I am probably more paranoid than the average person about the threat of the advance of fascism and authoritarianism in America. My antenna are usually up. Still, I did not expect to see a “legal” roadmap to outline how to make it happen here.

The conservative law professor, John Eastman, part of the stable of Trump lawyers, laid it out on a silver platter. His plan, coordinated with Donald Trump, was to maintain our former President in the White House against the will of the voters.

Eastman wrote a memo, titled January 6 scenario, about how to legitimate a coup through six easy steps. Bob Woodward and Robert Costa surfaced the memo in their new book, Peril. The document was subsequently obtained by CNN.

Eastman’s memo proposed that on January 6, when certifying the vote tally, Vice-President Mike Pence should refuse to count votes in seven battleground states where fringe groups put forward an alternative slate of electors. Even though Trump lost those seven states, Eastman argued that Pence had the authority to reject electors from those states.

Eastman wrote that when Pence got to counting Arizona, he could announce that he had multiple slates of electors and he was deferring decision until he finished counting the other states. Eastman wanted Pence to do that in those seven states Biden won.

At the end, Pence would announce that pursuant to the 12th amendment, he would count the electors only in 43 states. Counting these states, Trump would have 232 votes and Biden would have 222, resulting in a Trump victory.

Since Eastman knew Democrats would howl and would say 270 electoral votes are required for election, he had a back-up plan. Under the 12th amendment, since no candidate hit 270, the matter would go to the House of Representatives with each state getting one vote. Republicans currently control 26 of the state delegations and Democrats control 24. This would also result in a Trump victory.

In his memo, Eastman wrote that Vice-President Pence was the ultimate arbiter of electors. In effect, he (Pence), rather than the voters, could determine who won the election. Eastman did not want Pence to ask Congress or the Supreme Court whether he could take these actions. He believed a stalemate could work to Republican advantage and would allow state legislatures to weigh in and support alternate electors.

Eastman is not an unconnected lawyer. He had clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas. Trump had seen him on FOX, arguing a very expansive view of presidential power and Trump liked what he heard. Eastman has professional credentials. He had been a law school dean and he was a leader in the Federalist Society.

He was well-known both for anti-LGBTQ views and for penning an article in Newsweek suggesting that Kamala Harris could not legally become Vice-President because both her parents were not born in the United States. Eastman believes Trump could use his executive authority to impose limits on birthright citizenship, the concept that anyone born in the U.S. is automatically a citizen.

Before the mob marched on the Capitol on January 6, Eastman appeared onstage next to Rudy Giuliani. At the rally, Eastman said “We know there was fraud” and “dead people voted” in the 2020 presidential election. He said voting machines contained a “secret folder of ballots”, challenging “the very essence of our republican from of government”. He told the crowd of angry Trump supporters that the election had been stolen.

Eastman asked Pence to delay the Electoral College certification vote to let state legislatures look further into the election.

Trump tried hard to persuade Pence to carry out Eastman’s scheme. He had told Pence:

“You can either go down in history as a patriot or you can go down in history as a pussy.”

Pence was conflicted. He famously called former Vice-President Dan Quayle, a fellow Hoosier, to seek advice. Quayle nixed the idea that Pence could exclude electoral votes.

The New Republic’s Matt Ford described Eastman’s memo as not simply unconstitutional but anti-constitutional. It is preposterous to believe that the Founders intended for vice-presidents to be able to overturn presidential elections, especially on false grounds. The American people overwhelmingly elected Joe Biden by over seven million votes in a free and fair election. Trump’s Big Lie of election fraud has been conclusively refuted by over 60 courts.

The Republican game plan moving forward appears to be voter suppression, installing Trump partisans in electoral positions in battleground states, threatening non-partisan election workers out of their jobs, more gerrymandering and continuous repeating of the Big Lie. They want to make it possible for only one political party to exercise political control. Eastman’s scheme fits into that agenda.

Many have said the January 6 insurrection was a dress rehearsal but I think Eastman’s memo points to something even more dangerous. He is promoting a supposedly legal means to subvert democracy. There is no need for a violent coup when you can make it look legal.

We were saved in 2020 because Republicans did not have control of Congress. Does anyone doubt that if they had the majority, the Republicans would not have gone along with Eastman’s scheme? This is a party defined by dishonesty and lust for power.

The 2024 election looms and Eastman’s memo points to how a coup could be successfully conducted even if Republicans lost another election. The Trump forces just need to place more loyalists in key electoral positions. If ruling Republican legislatures do not like how people in their state voted, they could invalidate those votes. While doing this, they will keep talking about voter fraud and election integrity.

The baseless claims of voter fraud have a very detrimental effect on democracy. They make more people lose faith in democratic elections, laying the foundation for autocracy.

It is hard not to think about the German example of how that nation transitioned to fascism. After an unsuccessful coup (the beer hall putsch), Adolf Hitler decided on a legal path to gaining power. Using the stab-in-the-back myth and the death of Horst Wessel, a fascist martyr, Hitler manipulated the masses. By 1932, the Nazis had become the largest political party. The conservative elite supported Hitler’s rise to power, wrongly thinking they could control him.

The events of January 6 are the equivalent of the beer hall putsch and Ashli Babbitt is our Horst Wessel. Our authoritarians intend to control the voting process so that one party has a huge edge. Just as happened with the conservative elite in Germany, the Republican Party establishment shamefully goes along with the anti-democratic agenda as they see Trump as necessary for their return to power.

A bi-partisan group of former judges, lawyers and officials called the States United Democracy Center has filed a complaint with the California Bar Association asking for an investigation of Eastman. When lawyers violate their ethical obligations by making false claims of election fraud, they have engaged in professional misconduct and should be subject to disciplinary proceedings.

Eastman’s argument that this is about his free speech rights rings hollow. What this is about is the undermining of free and fair elections and dismantling the underpinnings of constitutional government.

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Chevron justice tries to bury a human rights lawyer – posted 10/10/2021

October 10, 2021 Leave a comment

The saga of Attorney Steven Donziger continues and the news is not good. On October 1, New York Federal Judge Loretta Preska sentenced Donziger to six months in federal prison for a misdemeanor charge of criminal contempt. This was the maximum penalty allowed.

This is on top of the 787 days Donziger has already spent under house arrest while being forced to wear an ankle bracelet.

The Court has additionally imposed millions of dollars in fines and court costs against Donziger. The Court already let Chevron swoop into Donziger’s bank accounts and take his life savings to cover Chevron’s attorney fees. Chevron has another pending motion to make Donziger pay another $32 million in their attorney’s fees. The Court also allowed Chevron to place a lien on Donziger’s apartment in Manhattan where he lives with his family.

The original trial judge on the RICO case, Judge Kaplan, orchestrated Donziger’s disbarment as a lawyer without a hearing where he could present factual evidence. Donziger now has no means to earn income in his profession.

If there is anything else that Chevron and their favorite judges could do to torture Donziger, it is hard to imagine.

I previously wrote about Donziger and Chevron but just to refresh recollection: Donziger is a human rights and environmental lawyer. His crime is that he was too successful in suing oil companies. On behalf of the indigenous people of Ecuador, Donziger and his legal team won an epic multi-billion dollar judgment against Chevron for their extensive pollution of the rain forest.

Chevron (previously Texaco) had discharged 16 billion gallons of toxic waste into Ecuador’s rivers, groundwater and farmland. Now Chevron, rather than paying the court judgment, is making Donziger pay.

Just before Judge Preska sentenced Donziger, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the top human rights legal body in the world, issued a ruling in favor of Donziger. The U.N.’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called Donziger’s already over two year home detention “appalling” and said it violates international law. The U.N. opinion said the judges in this case displayed a “staggering lack of objectivity and impartiality” toward Donziger.

The opinion noted:

“The charges against and detention of Mr. Donziger appears to be retaliation for his work as a legal representative of indigenous communities as he refused to disclose confidential correspondence with his clients in a very high profile case against multi-national business enterprise.”

The U.N. Working Group found that Donziger was a “human rights defender” and that his treatment violated both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Taking into account all circumstances, the U.N. Working Group wrote that the “appropriate remedy would be to release Mr. Steven Donziger immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparation in accordance with international law”.

No lawyer has ever been charged with criminal contempt for seeking judicial review of a civil discovery order. For the level of offense, no lawyer in New York has ever served more than 90 days and that was in home confinement.

The Court has wanted Donziger to turn over all his electronic devices, compromising his clients’ privilege. It is worth going back to a lawyer’s ethical duties under the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, the gold standard for lawyers. Rule 1.6(a) states, in relevant part:

“A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent.”

It is not an exaggeration to say that release of confidential client information could be dangerous for Donziger’s clients. Killings of environmental activists resisting extractive industries has been on the global upswing. Donziger has made clear he would turn over his electronic devices once a protocol is worked out that protects privilege.

Stepping back from the case, some observations are required. In Donziger’s case, the Court has clearly lost its way. A pro-corporate bias has corrupted the proceedings. The penalties imposed against Donziger are wildly excessive and not commensurate with his actions representing indigenous Ecuadorans.

The maximum penalty is six months’ imprisonment. Donziger has already served the maximum penalty more than four times over. The Court is acting like the home confinement was nothing. Under international law, house arrest counts as detention. Donziger has no criminal record. He has a history of good deeds as a lawyer. The U.N. identifies him as a “human rights defender’.

When Judge Preska sentenced Donziger, she brushed over the U.N. opinion. She crassly said,

“It seems that only the proverbial two-by-four between the eyes will instill in him any respect for the law.”

Donziger has two weeks to appeal Judge Preska’s order that he be sent immediately to jail. He is appealing. Judge Preska denied Donziger bail claiming he posed a flight risk. Donziger told the journalist Chris Hedges:

“What Judge Preska is trying to do is force me to serve the entirety of my sentence before the appellate court can rule. If the appellate court rules in my favor, I will still have served my sentence, although I am innocent in the eyes of the law.”

In a perverse way, this case illustrates our underlying climate change reality. A multi-national fossil fuel company rapes the environment. When indigenous people who were victimized seek justice, a pro-corporate judiciary sides with the environmental rapist and brutally punishes the victims’ advocate.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made clear that climate change is here and it is caused by fossil fuels. Many young people suffer climate anxiety because humanity has failed to respond. Donziger’s case is a perfect example of why so many have lost faith in the system.

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Road to Fowlertown, NH – posted 10/10/2021

October 10, 2021 Leave a comment
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America’s debt to Haiti – posted 10/5/2021

October 5, 2021 Leave a comment

Has any country in the world suffered more than Haiti? It is the Job of nations. Earthquakes, tropical storms, gang violence, political assassinations, official corruption and extreme economic inequality are all part of the Haitian picture.

The 2010 7.0 magnitude earthquake alone killed 100,000 Haitians and left hundreds of thousands homeless. The international response exemplified what Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism”. The pursuit of profit by foreign contractors, greedy businesses, and NGOs’ took precedence over the survival needs of the Haitian people. Increasingly, Haiti is divided between a small elite class of the wealthy and impoverished masses.

Most recently we have observed the spectacle of horse-mounted Border Patrol agents wielding whips while rounding up Haitians who were crossing the border with Mexico to seek asylum in the United States. The Biden Administration is expelling and deporting many of these migrant families by flying them back to Haiti. Considering the arduous and dangerous journey, it must be a bitter pill to be returned to a place left because it was deemed impossible to stay.

I think it is fair to say that where Haitians are concerned, the image Americans typically get is one of desperation and absolute neediness. That image needs to be reconsidered by injecting a sense of historical perspective.

Americans owe a large and unacknowledged debt to the Haitian people. The Haitian revolution 1791-1804 played a critical role in early American history and in the abolition of slavery. It helped protect America from domination by both the French and the British who had imperial designs on our country. Both had expansionist empires.

The story is little known. The Haitian revolution followed on the heels of both the American and French revolutions, was inspired by both, and it stands as the only successful slave revolution in modern history. It was the largest slave revolt since Spartacus’ unsuccessful revolt against the Roman Republic 1900 years earlier.

The Haitian revolution shocked white supremacists and refuted notions of black inferiority. During the revolution, the Haitians defeated colonial militaries from Spain, Britain and France. The revolution was led by Toussaint Louverture, a former house servant, and Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Both were formidable military strategists.

Prior to the revolution, Haiti, known as Saint-Domingue, was a nation of 500,000 African slaves, 32,000 whites and 28,000 free Blacks. Saint-Domingue was the most profitable French colony and its wealth came primarily from sugar plantations worked by slaves. The French slavemasters were infamous for their extreme cruelty using whipping, castration, and burning to maintain iron discipline over the slaves.

The slaveholders worked slaves as hard as possible while providing a minimum of food and shelter. The life expectancy of slaves was very short. Fifty percent of the slaves in Haiti were dead within a year of arrival on the island. Many died from diseases like yellow fever. The slaves had no rights.

In 1802, when Napoleon sent his fleet to regain control of Haiti he wanted to re-establsih the French empire in the Caribbean. He ultimately desired to use Louisiana as a supply station for French colonies.

When the French were defeated by the Haitians, Napoleon had to give up his dream of empire. After losing a fortune in the conflict, Napoleon was desperate for money. Napoleon sold the Louisiana territory to the United States for 68 million francs, the equivalent today of $237 million. The Louisiana Purchase was a result of his defeat by the Haitians.

The Haitian revolution proved to be a roadblock to France, scuttling Napoleon’s expansionist dreams. The Haitians kept America free from French domination. Americans bought the right to contend with Native Americans in their pursuit of western expansion.

The Haitian revolution was also a major impetus for the abolition of slavery. In 1793, the Haitian revolutionary movement forced a decree abolishing slavery The decree was confirmed in Paris in 1794 by the National Convention which then ended slavery in the French empire. Thousands of white people fled Haiti for the U.S..

While it is difficult to attribute particular American slave revolts in the early nineteenth century to the Haitian revolution, there is no doubt that the revolution did act as inspiration for slaves. The Haitian revolution was widely reported. The ruling class in America saw Haiti as a dangerous example for U.S. slaves. Southern slaveholders actually worried that armed Haitians might land in the southern U.S. and launch attacks to free slaves.

The spectre of slave insurrections haunted the imagination of Southern slaveholders. And they had good reason to fear. Slave insurrections like the 1811 German Coast Uprising in Louisiana and Denmark Vesey’s aborted uprising in 1822 provoked Southern paranoia.

The British were also very concerned that the success of slave revolts would inspire insurrections in British Caribbean colonies.

As President, Thomas Jefferson, a Virginian and a slaveowner, refused diplomatic relations with Haiti’s new government and cut off trade with the country. He feared the Haitian revolution would spread to the United States. The United States did not extend diplomatic recognition to Haiti until 1862.

Before he died, Frederick Douglass described the Haitian revolution as “the original pioneer emancipator of the nineteenth century”. It posed a “threat to all slaveholders throughout the world” and “her very name was pronounced with a shudder”.

The Haitian revolution showed American abolitionists that a new world beyond slavery was possible. It was a tremendous shot in the arm for abolitionists everywhere. Part of the debt Americans owe Haiti is a moral one. Slavery is one of the two major stains on America’s conscience. Haiti showed by example that we did not have to live compromised by a moral atrocity.

When we see pictures of desperate Haitians now seeking asylum, maybe we should think about the history and what we owe the Haitian people. We should also consider that much of Haiti’s poverty was imposed by French colonialism. In 1825, the French forced Haiti to pay reparations (the equivalent of $21 billion) to the enslavers in exchange for recognition. The debt was crushing and contributed to long-term poverty for the Haitians.

We are still seeing the Haitian refugees through racist eyes. Rather than summary deportation, the Haitians deserve due process and a right to a hearing to make their asylum claim. Denying their right to seek asylum in the U.S. is in violation of both domestic and international law. Under the Refugee Act of 1980, those who arrive at the border are entitled to seek asylum if they can demonstrate a “well-founded fear of persecution” based on their race, religion, nationality political opinion or membership in a social group.

The Biden administration should not be following the Trump example. They have been expelling Haitians using Title 42, making the discredited claim Haitians are a threat to public health. This argument was crafted by Stephen Miller, who is a hatemonger and an anti-immigration kook.

Americans have been propagandized to hate and fear immigrants and refugees. Workers have every right to be angered about the degradation of their working and living conditions here but it is not immigrants who have caused that. Xenophobia and harsher restrictions on immigration are contrary to our needs as a nation.

Given our history, the Haitian refugees seeking asylum deserve so much better. America owes Haiti. Too many approach these extremely difficult circumstances with no historical perspective.

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New London NH Women’s March – posted 10/2/2021

October 2, 2021 Leave a comment
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