There’s nothing new about fast food corporations unleashing environmental chaos to maximize their profits. But the recent explosion of palm oil usage is a new threat. Burger King is at the front of the pack of corporations abusing human rights and the environment to satisfy its ever-growing appetite for the oil.
Burger King has always been a corporation defined by its competition. But now it is in danger of becoming the leader in a competition nobody should want to win: fueling the development of rapacious oil palm plantations. Burger King is one of a number of food and drink corporations that rely on palm oil for everything from fry oil to puddings. The recent increase in its use has been exponential: 485 percent in the last decade alone.
A brief review of the human and environmental impacts of palm oil production makes it no surprise that Burger King—like other corporations—has gone to some lengths to avoid disclosing the ways in which it sources its ingredients. Burger King certainly isn’t concealing anything of which it can be proud, and indeed has more to hide than many of its competitors.
Take the human consequences of palm oil production, experienced most acutely in countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia where palm oil production is highest. An Amnesty International report has found children as young as eight working in the palm oil industry, and uncovered horrifying stories of forced labor. Other communities report land-grabbing and grossly unfair wages. Farmers responsible for producing palm oil have reporting “bullying” practices from the corporations that buy the oil they produce.
The impacts on children and communities are only the tip of a very large iceberg when it comes to the effects of the current approach to palm oil production.
In 2010, palm oil accounted for 10 percent of the world’s permanent cropland, and the industry is rapidly expanding. This pressure to increase production frequently creates an incentive for rapid deforestation on breathtaking scale, leading to destruction of the rainforests so essential in the fight to slow dangerous climate change.
Alongside the human and climate implications, current palm oil production also has conservationists seriously concerned. Oil palm plantations destroy thousands of miles of rainforests, and by threatening the habitats they rely on to thrive, puts animals on the endangered species list every year. The World Wildlife Fund explains that of all the agricultural commodities it campaigns upon, “palm oil poses the most significant threat to the widest range of endangered megafauna”—big animals like tigers, elephants, rhinos and orangutans.
But that’s not where the conservation threat ends. Current farming practices reduce the areas over which animals can breed, diminishing the genetic diversity of animal populations. As a final insult, wild animals near plantations also die when they consume poison intended to target the rats that might threaten the palm oil crop.
Palm oil consumers in Europe and North America might seem far removed from the problems palm oil creates in countries where it is produced. But they won’t remain unmoved by the simple truth that human rights abuses anywhere are an attack on human rights everywhere. Also impossible to ignore will be the very real consequences of climate change that current palm oil production helps to accelerate: rising sea levels, extreme weather or disruption to domestic food supplies as farmers struggle to adjust to volatile temperature shifts.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that members of leading environmental and corporate accountability groups like Rainforest Action Network, Mighty Earth, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and my organization, SumOfUs, have challenged current palm oil consumption practices. These activists know what big corporations frequently choose to ignore: it simply isn’t that hard to avoid the worst human and environmental consequences of palm oil production. It might put a small dent in their profits, but sustainable sourcing practices around palm oil are well understood—and corporations the size of Burger King have the market power to force them to become the industry standard.
Recently, SumOfUs members have challenged some of the world’s largest food and drink corporations to commit to responsible palm oil sourcing. Our members have contacted major corporations like Starbucks, PepsiCo and McDonald’s, sharing brand-jamming videos that expose the connections between the everyday household products made by these major multinationals and the trail of destruction their palm oil habit leaves behind.
Now we're turning our attention to Burger King. By stepping up to the plate on palm oil sourcing, Burger King has a real opportunity to lead. If it chooses to do so, it will not only change the lives of the children and families currently suffering abuse in the name of palm oil today, but also protect wildlife and safeguard essential natural resources for generations to come.
Sign the petition urging Burger King to end palm oil deforestation in its supply chain.
This story originally appeared on GreenBiz.
As a woman who has chronicled the technology business for close to three decades (ahem), I’m used to being at briefings where the gender demographics are way out of balance and I am decidedly in the minority.
So I must admit feeling an unusual kinship with the mostly female audience at the inaugural Women4Climate conference in snowy New York City earlier this month—although the event’s rallying cry about the need to protect vulnerable communities from the effects of climate change is one that people of all genders, ages and ethnicities really should hear.
Women4Climate conference, New York City (credit: Scout Tufankijan/C40)
"As women, we know all too well that the powerful often seek to silence our voices when we speak out to protect the most vulnerable in our communities," Anne Hidalgo, the first mayor of Paris and chairwoman of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, said in a statement prepared for the gathering at Columbia University. "We are here today to show that we refuse to be silenced. All around the world, in city halls, corporate boardrooms and on the streets of our cities, women are demanding action to protect the planet from the threat of climate change."
As she commanded the podium to open the conference, Hidalgo, apologizing for her heavily accented English, was far more candid and far less formal. "Be confident on this, American women, we will stand by your side," she declared during her opening remarks, referring to the steps that President Donald Trump is already taking to step back the country’s federal commitment to reducing carbon dioxide emissions and other decades-old environment protection measures. "Climate change and women’s rights are not questionable."
Anne Hidalgo (credit: Scout Tufankijan/C40)
Data shows that women and children are the ones who feel the effects of global warming most acutely, although that’s not exactly common knowledge, she reminded the attendees. But she also believes women are "strongest when it comes to collectively changing the world... We have always needed to work 10 times harder."
In 2014, there were just four women mayors in the C40 network, a forum created to address the threat that climate change poses to cities around the world. Now there are 15, representing more than 100 million urban citizens and more than $4 trillion in gross domestic product. Among those who trekked to New York last week with Mayor Hidalgo were Patricia de Lille and Zandile Gumede, the mayors of Cape Town and Durban in South Africa; and Helen Fernandez, mayor of Caracas, Venezuela.
The former mayor of New York, Mike Bloomberg, president of the C40 board and a special United Nations envoy on cities and climate change, also lent his voice to the discussion.
Bloomberg drew a direct connection between climate health and human health. "Women leaders are speeding our progress," he told the gathering. "Cities are committed to these goals. No matter what happens in Washington, I really am confident that the U.S. will deliver on its Paris commitments."
In just one example of how this could play out, dozens of U.S. cities last week revealed an initiative under which they collectively could place about $10 billion in orders for electric vehicles. The participants, which include New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, could buy up to 114,000 vehicles, which represents 72 percent of all the EVs bought in 2016, reports Bloomberg. "Now matter what President Trump does or what happens in Washington, cities will continue leading the way on tackling climate change," the chief sustainability officer for Los Angeles, told the news service in an email.
Here, in alphabetical order, are nine public-sector and NGO women likely to be up-front-and-center in the cities movement, all around the world, both at the civic and grassroots level. Seven of them spoke during the Women4Climate conference.
1. Muriel Bowser (Mayor, Washington, D.C.).
In office since 2015, she last week announced plans to set aside $7 million for the District’s first Green Bank to support building improvements that will reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The program would emulate statewide initiatives in places such as Connecticut and New York. In a statement, Bowser positioned it as the nation’s first city-level effort, one meant to support her interest in "inclusive prosperity" across the 660,000-person city. (The D.C. region is home to nearly 6 million people.) She added: "As the nation’s capital, we need to lead the way when it comes to protecting and preserving the environment."
2. Margaret Chan (Director-General, World Health Organization).
In early March, WHO published a new report linking environment risks such as indoor and outdoor air pollution, and unsafe water to the deaths of more than 1.4 million children younger than 5 annually. Chan’s rule is one of credible advocacy. "A polluted environment is a deadly one — particularly for young children," she observed in a press release about the research. "Their developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways, make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water."
3. Patricia de Lille (Mayor, Cape Town).
Intimately involved with the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris, de Lille is leading the charge for Cape Town to procure between 10 percent and 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. A big part of this is an initiative encouraging home owners and businesses to install rooftop solar photovoltaic panels. The city, home to 3.7 million people, leads the C40 Municipal Building Efficiency Network, which is identifying and defining best practices for energy contracting and management. It also has spearheaded a 30 percent reduction in water consumption over the past 15 years. "Every single decision and every single department is overlaid with climate considerations," de Lille said at the Women4Climate conference. "This needs to be worked into everyday decisions."
4. Helen Fernandez (Mayor, Caracas).
Since rising to power in 2015 after the arrest of her predecessor, the leader of Venezuela’s capital city has become an outspoken advocate of gender equality, which for her goes hand with the climate movement. Speaking through a translator at the conference, Fernandez said she views every policy through that lenses and decries the "jargon" that sometimes can cloud the real impact of climate change, and the ability of advocates to win support. The commitment of this 5.3 million-citizen city is pretty nascent, a side effect of the nation’s political turmoil. But she sees women becoming protagonists in the emerging climate movement there. "We can and should simplify this strategically," Fernandez said.
5. Zandile Gumede (Mayor, Durban).
This South African seaside city of around 600,000 is facing the reality of fiercer droughts and more frequent floods with a wide array of ecosystems projects aimed at making it more resilient. Among them: green rooftop gardens; reforestation efforts; riverbed restoration; and bioswales, to name a few. Gumede, a vice chairperson of C40 Cities (the governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, is her co-chair), views addressing climate change as unprecedented opportunity to help women become entrepreneurs. "As women fighting for change, we must make sure that we don’t lose hope, we keep pushing," Gumede said.
6. Anne Hidalgo (Mayor, Paris and C40 Cities Chair).
Elected in 2016 to head the C40 Climate Leadership Group, Hidalgo’s top priority is to ensure that the world’s biggest cities are firmly committed to the Paris Agreement. That will include encouraging new financing approaches, helping mayors get a better handle on their energy consumption and clean up their power sources, and setting pathways for inclusive and sustainable growth. "This will take political courage and concrete action," she said during last week’s conference.
7. Mary Anne Hitt (Director, Beyond Coal, Sierra Club).
It’s no accident that the woman beyond the NGO’s enormously successful Beyond Coal Campaign comes from one of biggest coal-producing regions, West Virginia. The original goal was to advocate for the retirement of half the coal-fired power plants in the United States by 2020. It already had exceeded that target, with more than 248 facilities closed or intending to do so, and a lot of the action that inspired this progress happened at the local level. "In this grassroots movement, many of the leaders are women," Hitt observed. "Because it’s women who are often on the front lines of family emergencies that are tied to coal pollution."
8. Naoko Ishii (CEO, Global Environment Facility).
Her organization’s trust fund, established 25 years ago, is one of the oldest financing mechanisms for funding development projects meant to mitigate the negative effects of global warming. One example is a public-private initiative launched in mid-March to strengthen support and awareness for "green chemistry" and safer alternatives to hazardous substances. GEF describes itself as the world’s largest funder of environmental projects. Ishii, previously the deputy vice minister of finance for Japan, was promoted to her post five years ago. Her job: transform GEF from a "silent partner" in the movement to one that will work more closely, and vocally, with a global coalition of partners. We cannot afford to be "gender-ignorant" in these discussions, Ishii said at last week's conference, noting: "We have missed opportunities by not paying attention to this."
9. Amina J. Mohammed (Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations).
The former minister of climate for Nigeria, who is also an advisor to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was named to her United Nations post in December. In her previous role, she was instrumental in convincing West Africa’s biggest economy to approve a series of green bonds intended to support climate-resilient infrastructure projects, such as renewable energy development or electric vehicles for commuters. The first bonds worth $63 million were issued this quarter.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly vowed that Mexico would pay for his proposed border wall — but he never mentioned anything about building it on seized Mexican land.
E&E News reports that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke talked about the logistics of building a border wall while speaking at an event held by the Public Lands Council this week, and he said the Trump administration didn’t want to build the wall on American soil because it would mean ceding the entire Rio Grande river to Mexico.
“The border is complicated, as far as building a physical wall,” Zinke said. “The Rio Grande, what side of the river are you going to put the wall? We’re not going to put it on our side and cede the river to Mexico. And we’re probably not going to put it in the middle of the river.”
Zinke didn’t elaborate on how the wall would get built if it wasn’t located on America’s side of the Rio Grande or in the middle of the river, which implies that it would be built on the Mexican side of the border.
Elsewhere in his talk, E&E News reports Zinke said the Trump administration will seek a waiver to the Endangered Species Act so it can build the wall in jaguar habitats that are for now protected from “destruction or adverse modification.”
Sanders, who had urged Trump to think of his children and grandchildren, called the president's obvious disregard for the planet "pathetic."
"How crazy could it be that the largest oil company in this country understands more [about climate change] than the president of the United States?" he pointed out.
According to the Financial Times, "ExxonMobil actually is calling on Trump to stick with the Paris Climate Accord," which President Trump has threatened to exit.
Sanders also noted that corporate investments in solar energy are rising nationally. General Motors, Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon and Whole Foods have all committed to reaching a 100 percent renewable energy power plan.
Sanders' message to Trump was simple.
"Hey, Mr. President," Sanders said. "Listen to the scientists, climate change is real; it is already causing devastating problems in our country and around the world and if we don't transform our energy system away from fossil fuel coal, oil, gas, into energy efficiency and sustainable energy, I worry very much about the planet that future generations will inherit."
"What [Trump] is doing is really an international embarrassment," Sanders added.
There was nothing atypical or unusual about the displays of arrogance, condescension and disrespect from Bill O’Reilly and Sean Spicer on Tuesday toward two well-established, highly visible black women. This was definitely not the first time Congresswoman Maxine Waters or reporter April Ryan has confronted such attitudes; African-American women experience "misogynoir"—misogyny targeting black women—with regularity in their work lives, regardless of their level of success or demonstrated capability.
What was unique about the incidents is that they were documented on broadcast footage, elevating the issue and offering a chance for commentary.
And the response came quickly. CNN’s Angela Rye took to social media to address Bill O’Reilly, who mocked footage of Congresswoman Maxine Waters as she spoke, and then took a racist shot at her appearance, saying he had been distracted by her “James Brown wig.” The comment wasn’t out of character for O’Reilly, a man who has previously been accused of sexual harassment multiple times—including as recently as last year—as well as domestic violence, reportedly “choking” his ex-wife and “drag[ing] her down some stairs" in front of their children. Those remarks not only reflect his honest feelings, but they’ve also helped him build a huge fanbase at Fox News. The comment got a big laugh from the hosts of "Fox & Friends" (did I mention the network is being sued for racial harassment by two black women?), but fared less well among people who don’t find racism and misogyny funny.
“Go straight to hell, @oreillyfactor,” Rye wrote in a short and sweet message on Twitter. “Straight to hell!”
Hillary Clinton, speaking at the Professional Women's Conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday, addressed the O’Reilly comment as well as remarks Sean Spicer made to reporter April Ryan during a media briefing on Tuesday. During an exchange, the White House Press Secretary instructed Ryan, a veteran reporter, to “stop shaking [her] head” and repeatedly interrupted her as she attempted to ask a question. (Ryan is the same reporter Donald Trump recently treated like "the help," asking her to set up a meeting for him.) The remark comes just a few days after Spicer labeled another female reporter, Politico’s Tara Palmeri, “an idiot with no real sources.”
"Just look at all that has happened in the last few days to women who were simply doing their jobs," Clinton told the audience. "April Ryan, a respected journalist with unrivaled integrity, was doing her job just this afternoon in the White House press room, when she was patronized and cut off trying to ask a question. One of your own California congresswomen, Maxine Waters, was taunted with a racist joke about her hair. Too many women, especially women of color, have had a lifetime of practice taking precisely these kinds of indignities in stride.”
The responses from white male Republicans were predictable. Former GOP Congressman Jack Kingston, who has been making a mint as a Trump-defending talking head in his second career, compared the racialized attack on Waters to jokes about Donald Trump’s off-color tan. “What I don’t like is the left always runs and clutches, ‘Oh, I’m a woman, don’t say anything bad about me’ or ‘I belong to a certain race,'” Kingston said Tuesday night on CNN, cynically pretending not to understand how centuries-old racism works. “It seems it is always that card that is played. It is okay to call the president of the United States ‘orange’ and ‘red head,’ and all kinds of derogatory things, and make fun of his wife right and left.”
Similarly, conservative Ben Ferguson defended Spicer, essentially labeling Ryan an angry black woman who, after covering the executive office for two decades, should be happy Spicer sorta does what taxpayers pay him for.
“Her viewpoint has been, since January the 20th, very antagonistic, and not covering this White House in a decent way,” Ferguson said. “You should be glad that you have a White House that is willing to have a back and forth with people that disagree with them.”
Maxine Waters, who has become a national treasure for her outspoken opposition to Donald Trump and everything he stands for, also had a few words for O'Reilly and women all over the country.
"I'm a strong black woman, and I cannot be intimidated," Waters said to MSNBC host Chris Hayes. "I cannot be undermined. I cannot be thought to be afraid of Bill O’Reilly or anybody. And I’d like to say to women out there everywhere: Don’t allow these right-wing talking heads, these dishonorable people, to intimidate you or scare you. Be who you are. Do what you do. And let us get on with discussing the real issues of this country.”
Familiar with the workplace indignities endured by Waters and Ryan, African-American women on Twitter told stories of the kinds of ridiculous insults and slights they face daily in their own workplaces. Using the #BlackWomenAtWork hashtag launched by activist Brittany Packnett, the stories poured in from black women who have repeatedly been underestimated, labeled “difficult” and generally negatively stereotyped, again and again.
“I’m surrounded every day by brilliant, confident, incredible, black professional women who get demeaned despite their prowess. Today, I was over it,” Packnett said in an interview with the Huffington Post. “I have a deep abiding respect for Congresswoman Waters and Ms. Ryan who are both trailblazers in their fields. They are to be respected, just like every other black woman who rises each day to contribute to this society in ways that are all too often taken for granted.”
Shortly before last week’s House Intelligence Committee hearing with FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers, a senior White House official tipped off Ryan Lizza, the New Yorker’s Washington correspondent, about the line of questioning he was going to hear from Republicans on the committee, led by chair Rep. Devin Nunes.
“It’s backdoor surveillance where it’s not just incidental, it’s systematic,” the White House official told Lizza. “Watch Nunes today.”
Two days after the hearing, in which Nunes peppered Comey and Rogers with obscure questions on unmasking and incidental collection, the Californian congressman and former Trump transition team official disclosed in a press briefing that he saw evidence of possible surveillance of then-President-elect Trump and his associates. A few days later, CNN learned that Nunes in fact slipped into the White House the night before his revelatory press briefing to review sensitive information involving possible surveillance.
Nunes said Tuesday that he will “never reveal” his sources.
Since then, leading Democrats have called on Nunes to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
Lizza is of the belief that Nunes and Trump had been coordinating this strategy for a while:
A few days before the hearing, Trump seemed to offer a preview of it. In an interview on Fox News, the President said that he “will be submitting things” to Nunes’s committee “very soon,” and “perhaps speaking about this next week,” adding that “you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.”
Even Republican politicians are beginning to recognize the harm Nunes has done to any impartial investigation. North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones told the Hill Tuesday that Nunes “absolutely” had to recuse himself.
“How can you be chairman of a major committee and do all these things behind the scenes and keep your credibility? You can’t keep your credibility!” Jones said.
Other Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham and John McCain, have expressed growing skepticism that Nunes is the right man to lead the Russia investigation.
The exorbitant cost of keeping Melania and Barron Trump in their gold-plated penthouse in New York City has inspired thousands to sign a petition asking that they be forced to leave town. The viral Change.org request, titled "Make Melania Trump Stay in the White House or Pay for the Expenses Herself," already has more than 175,000 signatures. The petition is a response to the drain on city dollars brought on by the stunning security costs—up to $146,000 a day—of keeping Melania and Barron in Trump Tower, according to New York City Police estimates given to the New York Times.
The Trump press team announced late last year that Trump’s wife and son had no plans to move to the White House, remaining in New York City “to keep disruption to a minimum.” The Times report found that the NYPD spends $50 million a year to “to protect the first lady and her son” in their Midtown apartment. That figure would shoot up another $10 million if the president were to start coming home on weekends, which he hasn’t done since entering office.
“The U.S. taxpayer is paying an exorbitant amount of money to protect the first lady in Trump Tower, located in New York City,” the letter accompanying the petition notes. “As to help relieve the national debt, this expense yields no positive results for the nation and should be cut from being funded.”
The Trump presidency has cost taxpayers an unprecedented amount. The Washington Post reported earlier this month that the Secret Service has asked for an additional $60 million to be added to its budget to protect the first family in the coming fiscal year. Almost half of those funds, $28.6 million, would be allotted to cover the hefty bill for keeping Melania and Barron in the city.
Trump—who said during the campaign that he “would not be a president who took vacations”—has spent a staggering amount of his time in office playing golf and chillin’ at his Mar-A-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida. Each trip costs taxpayers $3 million. Those visits are so expensive for locals that Lois Frankel, the politician who represents the district, recently asked Trump either to pay all the costs he’s incurred, or stop showing up and dining and dashing, so to speak.
WATCH: Trump last year: If I'm POTUS I don't think I'd see any of my golf courses again, I just want to stay in WH and "work in my ass off" pic.twitter.com/4nOtG7BavO— Yashar (@yashar) March 27, 2017
“While we want the fullest protection for your visits, we hope you would be responsive to the losses of small businesses and residents of Palm Beach County,” Frankel wrote in a statement. “If compensation is not assured of being forthcoming, we respectfully ask that you curtail your visits until such time as that matter is resolved favorably to our area.”
According to the New York Times, the city of New York has only been able to recoup $7 million of its Trump-related expenditures. Back in December, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted that he had sent “letters to the White House and Congress to request reimbursement for the NYPD’s role in protecting Trump Tower.”
A recent viral social media post erroneously claimed that the annual security costs for Melania outpace the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts, which the president would like to scrap. Though Artnet does note that if “Melania’s NYC security costs $127,000 to $146,000 a day, that is more than the NEA gave out to any arts organization in the United States last year.” The site goes on to point out that “most annual grants are between $10,000 and $100,000, weighted towards the lower end.”
Hillary Clinton came out of the woods and flew to Los Angeles to speak at the Professional Women's Conference, where she weighed in on the recent sexist attacks of Sean Spicer and Bill O'Reilly.
"If I were to think about everything we have to do to resist and stand up to what we see attempting to be done in so many areas that we know are wrong, we know aren't in the best interests of our country, we know will hurt people, we know are largely based on ideology and denial... We can't lose sight of how we treat individuals and how we treat people in the moment we have with them," said the former Secretary of State.
Clinton also addressed inequality in the form of "how we see one another" and how we can tackle "everyday sexism."
"Just look at all that has happened in the last few days to women who were simply doing their jobs," Clinton said, referencing Spicer and O'Reilly's incendiary remarks to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and veteran White House journalist April Ryan.
"April Ryan, a respected journalist with unrivaled integrity, was doing her job just this afternoon in the White House press room, when she was patronized and cut off trying to ask a question. One of your own California congresswomen, Maxine Waters, was taunted with a racist joke about her hair," Clinton pointed out.
After having faced decades of attacks from the right, Clinton sees the Trump era's misogyny as a major wakeup call.
"Too many women, especially women of color, have had a lifetime of practice taking precisely these kinds of indignities in stride," Clinton noted. "But why should we have to?"
That said, Clinton added, "Any woman who thinks this couldn't be directed at her is living in a dream world."
On Tuesday, Donald Trump signed an executive order effectively dismantling the Obama administration's climate protections and policies, specifically its Clean Power Plan targeting carbon emissions from major power plants. Environmental groups warn that the United States would cede leadership on global climate change initiatives and that the damage inflicted by the order could prove irreversible.
For Noam Chomsky, this is but one of the ways in which Trump's presidency poses an existential threat to human civilization. In a wide-ranging interview with Truthout, the renowned political scientist expounds on everything from the radicalism of the Republican Party to our troubling brinkmanship with Russia to the accelerated decline of American empire. Here are a few of the highlights.
On America's rising fascism
The policies being formulated and enacted are drawn from the playbook of the most reactionary fringe of the Republican establishment. The abject service to private wealth and power is accompanied with an authoritarian and fundamentalist program to transform US society. The project is driven by the Bannon-Sessions vision of a society devoted to Judeo-Christian roots and white supremacy, eliminating such pernicious and threatening nonsense as arts and humanities, upholding the Betsy DeVos doctrine that public education has to be dismantled, while if science conflicts with religion, then too bad for science. Meanwhile, we are to wave a mailed fist at the world while cowering behind walls and rebuilding the "depleted military" that is the most powerful force in human history, dwarfing any collection of competitors. All of this resonates with at least parts of a society that has long been the safest and most terrified in the world.
On 'Pax Americana,' such as it is
Trump's position on nuclear weapons is unclear, but many of his comments have been worrisome, in particular his dismissal of the New START treaty on mutual Russia-US reduction of nuclear weapons as a bad deal for the US, in a phone call with Putin. The treaty is a good deal not only for the US but for the world, even though partial. And it would be bad news indeed if Trump chooses not to renew it. In general, on nuclear programs he seems to have kept so far to Obama's dangerous modernization program. And being "on top of the pack" on nuclear weapons means little, since even a small number would be enough to destroy everything. ... As for Pax Americana, it has hardly been much of a Pax. It is not coming to an end, but it is continuing to decline, just as American power has declined since its peak at the end of World War II.
On Bernie Sanders and the possibility of a brighter future
The success of the Sanders campaign was quite remarkable, a sharp break from political history. For over a century, elections in the US have been mostly bought. But here was someone who was scarcely known, who had virtually no support from the wealthy or corporate sector and was dismissed by the media, and even used the scare word "socialism." He would very likely have won the Democratic nomination had it not been for the shenanigans of the Obama-Clinton clique that dominates the party -- and that has almost ruined it at local and state levels in recent years. And he might very well have become president. ... It's easy to succumb to a sense of futility and despair, but objective circumstances provide no justification for that stance. There have been many gains over past years thanks to struggles undertaken under far harsher conditions than those of today. These gains provide us with a legacy that offers a great many opportunities to avoid the worst, and to move on to a much better future.
Read the interview at Truthout.
Trump's presidency has been "far worse" than "Morning Joe" co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski ever anticipated.
“It’s almost at the point of no return,” Brzezinski told Seth Meyers late Tuesday, when the two appeared on his show.
Scarborough added that he and Brzezinski have both known Trump for "10, 11, 12 years."
"We never expected it to be quite this bad," he told Meyers.
The "Late Night" host pointed out that Trump's record-low approval rating may cause more Republicans to bail on the president.
"Do you think we'll see more people like [John McCain and Lindsey Graham] if his approval rating stays at 36% as it is now...does that give the Republicans who maybe haven't been prone to standing up to him a little bit more courage?" Meyers asked his guests.
“Honestly, the fact that Republicans are still sucking up to him at this point is kind of pathetic,” Brzezinski said. “The whole thing has turned into lies and misinformation, calling the news 'fake news,' undermining the judiciary, undermining every branch of government. I don’t care if you’re a Republican or Democrat, there’s right and there’s wrong, and this guy’s wrong.”
The crowd roared. Scarborough also slammed chief strategist Steve Bannon's influence and the GOP's health plan fiasco, after Trump had repeatedly called to repeal and replace Obamacare on day one.
President Trump's push for "clean coal" almost makes sense, explained Stephen Colbert.
“I know clean coal sounds like an oxymoron, but so does President Trump," the "Late Show" host noted.
"There's really clean coal," insisted Colbert. "Back in high school, I had a girlfriend in Canada who was a clean coal miner."
Apparently this ex-girlfriend told the host that Canadians "mine the clean coal and put it on that silver-bullet train and then they send it to Narnia where the Keebler Elves use it to power the pump on the fountain of youth. And when you burn clean coal it actually makes the air cleaner. So clean you can just see right through the air, like you can see through [Trump’s] lie.”
Colbert then pointed out how this aspect of the plan takes America's climate policy back decades, through an updated version of the iconic “Woodsy the Owl.”
"Woodsy," famous for his "Give a hoot—don't pollute!" motto, is a national public service icon dating back to 1971.
Except today, Woodsy's message would be "Go Pollute! F*ck the Planet!"
The first attack on U.S. soil for which ISIS claimed responsibility—a 2015 shooting in Garland, Texas—was instigated by the FBI, according to an investigation by CBS' "60 Minutes" and government documents obtained by an attorney involved in the case.
In a macabre twist, an undercover FBI agent who encouraged one of the shooters to "tear up Texas" was also physically present at the scene of the crime, mere feet away from the shooters.
Prior to that, a separate informant was paid $132,000 by the FBI to pretend for three years to be friends with the future shooter. When the man found out his supposed friend had taped more than 1,500 hours of their conversations on behalf of the intelligence agency, he withdrew from his religious community and eventually fell into online religious extremism.
An FBI trainer suggested in an interview with "60 Minutes" that, had the attack been bigger, the agency's numerous ties to the shooter would have led to a congressional investigation.
As lurid as this sounds, it fits with the findings of human rights organizations, which have noted the FBI has a long history of pushing Muslim Americans into alleged terror plots they might not have otherwise been engaged in or connected to.
On May 3, 2015, two Islamist extremist gunmen opened fire at an exhibit for cartoons of the Islamic prophet Muhammad in Garland, Texas. The contest featured key figures in the Islamophobia industry, including anti-Muslim demagogue Pamela Geller and extreme-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders.
The intentionally provocative exhibit was swarming with security, including dozens of police officers, snipers and a SWAT team. The heavily armed attackers injured a security guard outside the building before they were themselves promptly shot by snipers and killed.
ISIS soon after took credit for the shooting. There is no evidence that ISIS organized the attack, but the shooters had been independently radicalized and were inspired by the genocidal extremist group.
In the two years since, the Garland shooting has been used to justify a vast array of anti-Muslim policies and measures.
A new investigation by the investigation team at "60 Minutes," nevertheless, shows that the FBI was deeply implicated in the attack.
"In looking into what happened in Garland, we were surprised to discover just how close the FBI was to one of the terrorists," "60 Minutes" said in its March 26 broadcast, titled "Attack in Garland." "Not only had the FBI been monitoring him for years, there was an undercover agent right behind him when the first shots were fired."
The two extremists behind the Garland shooting were identified as 31-year-old Elton Simpson and 34-year-old Nadir Soofi. A third man, a 43-year-old friend by the name of Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for helping facilitate the attack, although he denied involvement.
Simpson had been monitored by the FBI for years before the attack. He was in touch with an ISIS recruiter, and had extensive communications with an undercover FBI agent.
Abdul Kareem's attorney, Dan Maynard, obtained substantial evidence detailing the FBI's role. After the trial, Maynard was given 60 pages of declassified messages between an undercover FBI agent and one of the shooters, Elton Simpson. These documents showed that, less than three weeks before the attack, the FBI agent had told Simpson to "Tear up Texas."
This "to me was an encouragement to Simpson," the attorney told "60 Minutes." The government denied that the text constituted incitement, but the FBI's involvement did not end there.
"60 Minutes" reported that the U.S. government admitted in an affidavit that the undercover FBI agent also physically "traveled to Garland, Texas, and was present ... at the event."
"I was shocked," Maynard told the news program. "I was shocked that the government hadn't turned this over. I wanted to know when did he get there, why was he there?"
Documents the government gave to the attorney showed that the FBI agent had in fact been in a car behind the two shooters at the time of the attack.
The undercover FBI agent even used his cell phone, several feet away, to film the building's security guard seconds before he was shot by the Islamist extremists.
"It's stunning," Maynard told "60 Minutes." "The idea that he's right there 30 seconds before the attack happens is just incredible to me."
The news program asked the FBI several questions, but it did not answer them. All the agency said was deny that it had "advance knowledge of a plot to attack the cartoon drawing contest in Garland, Texas."
The undercover FBI agent fled the scene of the crime before being stopped at gunpoint and detained by Garland police.
"I can't tell you whether the FBI knew the attack was gonna occur," Maynard said. "I don't like to think that they let it occur. But it is shocking to me that an undercover agent sees fellas jumping out of a car and he drives on. I find that shocking."
"He didn't try to stop 'em. Or he didn't do something," the attorney added.
On "60 Minutes," Anderson Cooper asked Seamus Hughes, an expert who tracks ISIS' online activity and trains FBI agents, "If this attack had gone a different way, and lots of people had been killed, would the fact that an undercover FBI agent was on the scene have become essentially a scandal?"
"It would've been a bigger story. I think you would have seen congressional investigations and things like that," Hughes replied. "Lucky for the FBI and for the participants in the event you know, here in Texas, you know, everyone’s a good shot there."
More FBI Links
The unnamed undercover agent who was at the scene of the crime was not the only FBI link to the Garland attack.
Elton Simpson had also previously been monitored for years by an informant who was paid $132,000 by the FBI.
Dabla Deng, the informant, pretended to be Simpson's friend for three years, "60 Minutes" reported. Deng taped more than 1,500 hours of their conversations.
When Simpson "found out that this guy was spying on him, and taping him and then finding out that the government was doing that, I think something clicked in him," recalled Usama Shami, president of the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix. "And the mosque, we couldn't do anything."
"He felt that the mosque had abandoned him?" Anderson Cooper asked.
"Yes. And he felt that a lot of people had abandoned him. And that's why he stopped coming to the mosque," Shami said.
After this, Simpson moved in with his friend Nadir Soofi, who "60 Minutes" noted "had just had a bitter break-up and the pizza parlor he owned was going out of business."
The two alienated men drifted into extremist religious communities online, and were attracted by ISIS recruiters.
A Larger Trend of Entrapment
Many foiled alleged Islamist extremist attacks in the U.S. involve undercover police agents, and in some cases even entrapment. Suspects in the cases often suffer from mental illness.
A 2014 report by Human Rights Watch, titled "Terrorism Prosecutions Often an Illusion," documented the FBI's use of "overly aggressive sting operations" against Muslim Americans.
"In some cases, the FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by suggesting the idea of taking terrorist action or encouraging the target to act," the leading human rights organizations reported.
Close to half of federal counterterrorism convictions from September 11, 2001, until 2014 involved informants, and nearly one-third were sting operations with active involvement by the informant.
"Americans have been told that their government is keeping them safe by preventing and prosecuting terrorism inside the U.S.," explained Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch and a co-author of the report. "But take a closer look and you realize that many of these people would never have committed a crime if not for law enforcement encouraging, pressuring, and sometimes paying them to commit terrorist acts."
The Intercept has noted "a now-familiar FBI pattern whereby the agency does not disrupt planned domestic terror attacks but rather creates them, then publicly praises itself for stopping its own plots."
Former FBI assistant director Thomas Fuentes has openly acknowledged that, in order to justify the continuation of the so-called War on Terror and maintain a large budget, law enforcement and intelligence agencies must "keep fear alive."
As war flares in Yemen, the civilian victims are among the first to feel the difference between President Obama’s Middle East war policy and Donald Trump’s. In Sana'a, the capital, thousands of people marched in protest this week calling for an end to the Saudi airstrikes that have been supported by the U.S. military for the past two years. Saudi Arabia is seeking to oust a government dominated by the Houthi tribe, who are mostly Shia and more loyal to Iran than to Saudi Arabia.
At least 4,125 civilians have been killed and 7,207 injured in the Saudi offensive, according to the United Nations. With just under half of the population under the age of 18, children have constituted a third of all civilian deaths.
"Words cannot capture the extent of the suffering of the Yemeni people,” said Red Cross Middle East director Robert Mardini. “Their resilience has reached a breaking point.” Medea Benjamin reports that "Twenty people are dying every day, many of curable diseases because only 45 percent of the health facilities are functioning.”
While President Obama put certain limits on U.S. intervention in Yemen, Trump has removed them. In his first 45 days in office, Trump approved at least 36 drone strikes or raids—one every 1.25 days, most of them in Yemen.
According to Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations, Trump’s war has included three drone strikes in Yemen on January 20, 21 and 22; the botched January 28 Navy SEAL raid in Yemen; more than 30 strikes on March 2 and 3; and at least one more on March 6.
The Pentagon says the most recent strikes targeted al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP): “fighters, heavy weapons systems, equipment infrastructure and the group’s fighting positions.” Residents say at least one strike hit civilian homes in the southern Shabwah province, killing an unknown number of civilians.
The Trump administration is also reportedly stepping up military assistance to Saudi Arabia. The State Department recently approved a proposed sale of precision-guided munitions to Riyadh worth about $390 million, according to Foreign Policy. These are sure to be used in Yemen, where they are likely to kill more civilians.
The battle for Yemen, an impoverished desert country of little strategic importance besides the presence of AQAP fighters, is not just a counterterrorism fight; it is a proxy war fought between two rival Islamic powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Trump's escalation is just the opening phase of what Saudi Arabia (and Israel) hopes will be a regional offensive against Iran. The Saudis, whose dominant faith is the austere doctrine of Wahhabism favored by al-Qaeda, are contemptuous of the Iranians and their Shia faith. With a restive Shia minority, Saudi Arabia also fears Iran's political influence.
The Saudis are disturbed that Iran backed President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war, helping him turn back a fundamentalist insurgency, which has been covertly funded by Wahhabists in the Persian Gulf oil emirates.
Saudi Arabia’s most dynamic leader, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, recently visited the White House to encourage the Trump administration to take the fight to Iran. The Saudis are pleased that their country has been spared from Trump’s Muslim travel ban, and more pleased that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has asked the White House to lift Obama-era restrictions on U.S. military support.
In a recent memo to national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Mattis reportedly said that “limited support" for Yemen operations being conducted by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—including a planned offensive to retake a key Red Sea port—would help combat a “common threat"—namely, Iran.
Mattis and McMaster are sometimes lauded as the "adults" of the Trump administration, and it is true they are not completely inexperienced nor visibly incompetent like the foreign policy advisers in Steve Bannon's secretive Strategic Initiatives Group. Whether or not Mattis and McMaster have more wisdom than their undistinguished colleagues is less clear.
After meeting with Trump at the White House, Saudi Gen. Ahmad Asiri, spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, told the Washington Post, "What we heard was that they would increase cooperation in all the dimensions” of military support and provide new weapons.
Like the little kid on the playground who picks a fight and then hides behind his big brother, Saudi Arabia is coaxing Washington into a fight of its own making.
“Saudi Arabia is prepared to work with the United States and its allies to restrain Iranian conduct, just as we have helped to stabilize the Arabian Gulf and its energy supplies since World War II,” Asiri wrote in a piece for Fox News.
Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu also supports the idea of a regional coalition against Iran, which makes escalation in Yemen even more palatable for the Trump administration.
The U.S Interest
While the Saudis and the Israelis stand to benefit from a U.S. confrontation with Iran, the United States does not.
According to the administration’s ideologists, the United States has to stand up to Iran to stem “radical Islamic terrorism." But what the Trump administration doesn't say is that the terrorist threat facing the United States comes almost exclusively from Wahhabist militants, financed and supported by governments and individuals in the Persian Gulf. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 came from Saudi Arabia. By contrast, virtually no terror attacks on Americans since September 11 have been traced to the Islamic Republic. Indeed, Iran is the sworn enemy of al-Qaeda and ISIS.
The emerging Trump strategy—confronting Iran while vowing to “bomb the sh*t” out of ISIS and promising not to deploy more U.S. ground troops in the region—is more of a fantasy than a plausible policy. Yet that is what the U.S. national security apparatus is now recommending.
Once again, the U.S. government is misreading the realities of the region. In the past 15 years, U.S. war fighters have failed to achieve U.S. policy goals with expensive and bloody expeditions into Afghanistan and Iraq. For the Trump administration now to embark on a policy of renewed confrontation with Iran, the region’s most populous nation (whose people are the most culturally pro-American in the Middle East) is not only folly; it is a sign of systemic failure in Washington that cannot exclusively be blamed on the new president.
As Zenko notes:
U.S. counterterrorism ideology is virulent and extremist, characterized by tough-sounding clichés and wholly implausible objectives. There has never been any serious indication among elected politicians or appointed national security officials of any strategic learning or policy adjustments.
President Obama modulated U.S. doctrine without changing its essential and extremist mission of military domination. Obama renounced torture while expanding the drone war and resisting calls for U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria. Obama’s one significant change to U.S. strategy—and it was significant—was to coerce Iran into accepting an international inspections regime to delay its nuclear weapons program by at least a decade.
Trump is pursuing Obama’s policy without restraint, and without engaging Iran. That makes him the third post-9/11 commander in chief to pursue a set of militarized U.S. policies that have fostered failing states in Afghanistan and Iraq, killed thousands of civilians, failed to reduce the number of fighters flocking to al-Qaeda and ISIS, and actually increased the jihadists’ appeal to self-radicalized supporters willing to mount attacks from San Bernardino to Orlando to London.
The fact that Trump’s newly aggressive policy toward Iran is supported by the best minds of the Pentagon and the National Security Council demonstrates that when it comes to losing wars in the Muslim world, Washington has forgotten nothing, and learned nothing.
The following is an adapted excerpt from the new book The Witching Herbs: 13 Essential Plants and Herbs for Your Magical Garden by Harold Roth (Weiser Books, an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, March 2017):
British herbalist John Gerard (1545–1612) grew mandrakes in his garden for treating insomnia and infertility. He noted that, no matter how many he dug up, he never saw any that looked like the amulets sold for luck. Predictably, mandrakes were used to treat barrenness in Jewish traditional medicine. Sephardic women in Jerusalem either ate them or tied them around their bodies; Samaritan women of the 17th century put them under their beds. In his book Theatrum Botanicum (1640), herbalist John Parkinson says that women who want children should carry a mandrake fruit close to their person, which implies that it was not ingested but merely carried around. Mandrake fruits have been noted for their scent since ancient times. Carrying mandrake fruit in your pocket reminds me of the Tudor habit of carrying pocket melons for their scent. Perhaps that practice was originally based on carrying around mandrake fruits for fertility.
Mandrake and Aphrodite
Mandrake is also considered an aphrodisiac. The name in Hebrew, dudaim, is a combination of daled-vav-daled (which means “love,” “carnal love,” or “passion”) and ayim (aleph-yod-mem, which means “terror”). According to the Song of Solomon 7:13(14), mandrake smells good, but once again, it’s probably the fruits being described:
The mandrakes give forth fragrance;
And at our doors are all manner of precious fruits,
New and old,
Which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.
The major chemical component in mandrake-fruit scent is esters, especially light ones, which also occur in apples and other fruits. The scent of mandrake fruit is often described as similar to an apple with a touch of clean sweat. Other mandrake scent constituents occur in guava, feijoa, papaya, mango, and passionfruit, but it also has sulphurous notes similar to onion, garlic, and cabbage just to add a little funk.
Renaissance Jewish physician Ovadia Sforno says that the mandrake fruit’s apple-like scent excites men’s passion, although this is not said of ordinary apples. So there has to be something more to the scent of mandrakes. Perhaps it excites the spirit rather than the body—the Talmud says that scent affects not the body but the soul (Berachot 43:2). And we now know that so much of sexual desire has to do with the mind.
If the scent of mandrake fruit is enticing, or at least exciting, the root of the plant has quite the opposite kind of scent. The freshly dug root is described in Saxon leechdom and sorcery as having a “powerful narcotic odor.” I’ve smelled these roots quite often when digging them up, and they do have a very rootlike, earthy scent, with some pungency similar to horseradish.
In conjunction with mandrake’s aphrodisiac aspect, some consider this plant to be the personification of Aphrodite. Alternatively, perhaps the connection between mandrake and Aphrodite exists precisely because of its use as an aphrodisiac. The word, in fact, derives from the name of this goddess.
Aphrodite, who is often depicted holding an apple, may actually be holding a mandrake fruit, especially in one image where she has a poppy in one hand and a small round mandrake-like fruit in the other. This makes sense, since, like poppy, mandrake can bring sleep. But it would make just as much sense if it were an apple, since then Aphrodite would be holding a Moon symbol in one hand and a sun symbol in the other.
Mandrake is associated with deities and spirits in various cultures. For instance, although the present-day Arabic name for mandrake may be translated as “apples of djinn” or “testicles of djinn,” an ancient Arabic name for it is abu’lruh, which means “master of the breath of life” or “lord of the spirit.” This name implies that mandrakes were connected to a pre-Islamic deity, although who that might have been is now unknown.
Mandrake and Hekate
It’s common in contemporary occulture to ascribe the mandrake to Hekate, but no ancient sources seem to back this up. This association may have arisen from the black dog once sacrificed in the harvesting of mandrakes. According to medieval reports, the mandrake made a deathly scream when it was pulled out of the ground, so it was harvested by tying a dog (often described or painted as a black one) to the root and enticing the dog to run off, pulling the root out of the ground. This killed the dog instead of the root-hunter and the dog acted as a sacrifice to the root.
I have never been sure how someone could entice a dog to pull the rope without ending up hearing the deadly mandrake scream. Also, yanking a mandrake root out of the ground with a rope would cause the root to snap, because it’s very brittle. In fact, that’s the primary way it reproduces itself. It’s true, however, that root-diggers of the ancient world may have used dogs to help them find roots, especially when the plants were dormant (i.e., seeming to be dead). And this may be how a dog was introduced into the stories about harvesting this plant. In that case, these dogs were not sacrifices, but work partners. In fact, at least one illustration shows a woman presenting dioscorides with a mandrake root while she gives a treat to a dog she has on a leash.
Still, the black dog that dies as a kind of sacrifice to the mandrake is reminiscent of the black puppies that were the traditional sacrifice to Hekate in ancient Greece. Moreover, Hekate is often depicted in the company of dogs. So perhaps, in this story, we have a mangled version of an older story about sacrifice to Hekate.
The opposite may be true as well. It is possible that the mandrake was attributed to Hekate because it became associated with witchcraft. Hekate, of course, was the goddess of witchcraft and was associated with black dogs. Still, it is interesting, especially considering Datura’s association with black dogs. Curiously, the Romans called mandrake fruits mala canina (dog apples).
Mandrake didn’t become strongly connected with witchcraft and flying ointments until between 1500 and 1700, the era when witches came to be identified as having made pacts with the devil. At this point, it pretty much lost most of its medicinal uses. This is also the time when the idea of witches’ flight became a major part of the authorities’ accusations of witchcraft. We have to wonder whether, prior to that time, mandrake was much used in witchcraft.
Mandrake and the Hanged Man
Some say that the root of a mandrake is no more like a human being than that of a parsnip, but I disagree. They are often curiously fascinating in shape. Around the same time that mandrake became associated with flying (the 1500s), little amulets called mandrakes or alraunes became popular. These were dressed and fed, and kept in a container. Even Joan of Arc was accused of having one. The image of a gibbet often appeared on the container’s cover. And that brings us to the hanged man.
The belief that mandrakes grew from the urine and semen of a hanged man first became prevalent in the 16th century, coinciding with the era in which accusations of witches flying and making satanic pacts also rose to prominence. Jakob Grimm records a legend of mandrake growing from the urine or semen of a hanged man, especially a thief.
To me, the story of mandrake springing from the semen or urine of a hanged man seems very reminiscent of the story of the crucifixion of Jesus and the myths of his blood. However, the concept of the mandrake springing up beneath the gibbet may derive from Greek mythology. The ancient witch Medea dug up a plant, perhaps mandrake, which had been fed with the ichor (divine blood) of the wrongly chained and punished Prometheus, the thief who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans. Here we have a sort of forerunner of the hanged man/mandrake connection. Even in the story of the dog harvesting the mandrake, a noose is involved. The grimoireLe Petit Albert (1706) describes the making of the talismanic Hand of Glory (see chapter 8). In the traditional formula, the hand is taken from a hanged man. However, it seems very much more likely to have been crafted from a mandrake root. “Hand of Glory” in French is main de gloire, which so closely resembles the French word for mandrake (mandragore).
Mandrake is also associated with the biblical fruit of the tree of knowledge of Good and evil. In Genesis, the fruit eaten by Adam and eve gives them knowledge, but gets them kicked out of the Garden of Eden. They become mortal on the one hand and start having children on the other. The mandrake seems to partake of this very same binary split between life and death. It can increase life through fertility, or decrease it by causing death or being associated with death (the hanged man). In the same way, the hanged man of the mandrake origin legend produces life as he is executed. Often in mandrake folklore, the hanged man is someone wrongly executed, so his mandrake-producing semen is a kind of talking back to the authorities who execute him.
Urine is a fertilizer and semen, of course, is related to fertility. By the time the use of the mandrake fertility amulet became popular, women who wished to conceive were rubbing themselves with a hanged man’s hand. This may have been because of the belief that, since a man ejaculates when hanged, he must be in an especially fertile state—and this state may be contagious.
Even when the mandrake/hanged man story comes down through the centuries and is moved to another continent, we can still see its outline and the mandrake’s connection to both death and life. For instance, a Pennsylvania folk belief related to odd sounds heard in the woods described this noise as coming from an American mandrake being uprooted. These were said to grow from the skeletons of Indians or black panthers.
A possible key to the importance of mandrake to European witchcraft and magic is the fact that the root resembles a human being and can therefore be used as a substitute in a sacrifice. This may be connected to the black dog sacrificed for the mandrake harvest and may be an echo of earlier sacrifices of black dogs to Hekate. Apparently, in ancient Cyprus, sacrifices to the goddess Aphrodite included a person wrapped in the fleece of a sheep. If mandrake is Aphrodite’s plant, then human sacrifice may be tied to it. Perhaps the roots evolved into a substitute for a human being. We see this in the way the roots are dressed, for instance—often in white, as a shroud or a fleece—and kept in a little coffin. This does connect the root up to the hanged man, but it also reflects what happened in a human sacrifice.
The word “mannekin” fits with the concept of a figure that stands for a real human being. So again we have a connection between mandrake and hanging, thieves, death, sex, fertility, dogs, and sacrifice. In addition to the dog story, various ways of ritually harvesting mandrakes have been described, as is the case with other herbs important in magic, like vervain. Theophrastus (371–287 BCE) instructs us to dig up mandrake root with a sword while saying “as many things as possible about the mysteries of love,” which is a neat combination of life (sex) and death (sword).
Pliny (23–79 Ce) advised us to keep windward of mandrake and use a sword to trace three circles around it while facing west. Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) was far more wary of this plant, and her attitude indicates that mandrake may already have had associations with witchcraft. She advised that the mandrake root be put into a spring for a day and a night as soon as it was harvested, because it has the devil in it and will be a good tool for dark magic if left unwashed for too long after harvesting.
The first mention of wrapping a harvested mandrake root is found in 1429 in Godefroy’s Journal d’un bourgeois de Paris, which recommended swathing it in silk or linen. Jakob Grimm (1785–1863) described how mandrake roots were washed in red wine, dressed in red and white silk, and placed in a small chest if they were to be kept as amulets. This mannekin was then fed every Friday and given a new white shirt every new Moon. Both of these directions indicate that this folk practice came from the Jewish tradition, as they wear new clothes on the Sabbath, which starts on Friday night. And the new Moon is the beginning of the month in the Jewish calendar. In return, these mandrake amulets brought luck and money and answered questions.
Mandrake serves as a hinge, in the same manner as belladonna and henbane. Here, however, the hinge turns between life (fertility, aphrodisia) and death (the hanged man, the sacrificed dog or human). This coincides with the concept of the Crooked Path and with the ambiguity of witches, who now heal and now curse. This is part of why mandrake has become the witchcraft herb par excellence. It is the ultimate combination of two very different states.
I also think that there is some vestigial memory of human sacrifice associated with mandrake that peeks out through the folklore associated with it. It is the ultimate herbal code, in the manner of those masks mentioned as far back as the Greek Magical Papyri, in which an animal part in a spell formula is revealed to be a plant part instead. In this case, rather than a human being wrapped in a fleece, we have the mandrake root wrapped in silk. I believe that this substitution makes witchcraft all the more powerful—and all the more occult, hidden, and mysterious.
Adapted, and reprinted with permission from Weiser Books, an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, THE WITCHING HERBS by Harold Roth is available wherever books and ebooks are sold or directly from the publisher at www.redwheelweiser.com or 800-423-7087.
An attorney for President Donald Trump believes he’s found the silver bullet to stop a woman from suing the president for allegedly defaming her after she came forward with claims of his past sexual misconduct.
Per the Hollywood Reporter, Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz is arguing that Trump is immune from such litigation thanks to the Supremacy Clause in the United States Constitution.
The clause establishes the Constitution — as well as laws passed and treaties signed by the federal government — as the “supreme law of the land.”
Kasowitz argues that this clause means that “the ‘singular importance of the President’s duties’ warrants a stay where civil actions, such as this one, ‘frequently could distract a President from his public duties, to the detriment of not only the President and his office but also the Nation that the President was designed to serve.'”
However, the Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that the Constitution did not prohibit the president from facing civil suits from private citizens, although the court’s decision did not specifically address this particular interpretation of the Supremacy Clause in its ruling.
Because of this, Kasowitz argues that courts should toss out a defamation lawsuit that was filed by former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos, who accused the president of falsely disparaging her after she made sexual assault allegations against him.
Last year in the heat of the presidential campaign, Zervos came forward to accuse Trump of groping and kissing her without her permission, and of at one point thrusting his genitals at her and becoming angry after she refused sex with him.
Gary, Indiana, is dying. It’s a city built around a manufacturing industry mostly gone. The death isn’t complete; there are still a few factories and a few neighborhoods with nice, small homes. Other parts are only slightly scarred, with boarded-up or burned-down houses sandwiched tightly between well-kept homes. Some parts are just dead: overgrown streets lined by empty lots and broken buildings.
Gary, population 77,156, has been stigmatized for decades as a city of crime and drugs, although there are few outward signs of either. No clusters of kids on corners selling drugs, no visible piles of discarded needles. The city carries a heavy burden, but there is also a calmness and a functionality to it, despite its economic collapse.
Although Gary is only 40 miles from Chicago, it has the feel of an isolated town. Walking the emptier parts, I see only a few solitary signs of life: the rush of a passing police car, a grandmother walking her grandchild to a corner store. As I photograph the rubble of a collapsed building, I am entirely alone until a Drug Enforcement Administration agent rolls up in a huge SUV. We chat for a bit.
He grew up in Gary, left for the military and then stayed away for work but is now back to care for his mother. He tells me unprompted not to be worried about my safety, that the residents of Gary get a bad rap but that they are hard-working, polite and smart, despite what the town might look like. I agree, not out of politeness but because it is my fourth day in Gary and I have seen the same.
He explains before leaving: “We used to be the murder capital of the US, but there is hardly anybody left to kill. We used to be the drug capital of the US, but for that you need money, and there aren’t jobs or things to steal here.”
Gary’s decline from a peak in the 1960s has brought a destruction and despair that I have seen in many de-industrialized towns across the US. Those towns voted heavily for Donald Trump for president, but Gary is different. More than 84% of Gary is African American, and although Gary has experienced more decline than most places, a strong majority voted for Hillary Clinton.
I find George Young, 88, drinking in the Chops Lounge with a group of longtime Gary residents – all of whom are vocally anti-Trump. George’s story is not uncommon in this town: at 21, he moved to Gary from Louisiana in 1951 “because of jobs. Simple as that. This town was filled with them. I left Louisiana on December 10th, got here the 11th, got a job at the Sheet and Tool company on the 12th, started working on the 13th, and spent the next 42 years and two months here.”
Although George doesn’t overlook Trump’s policies on race and immigration (“Is Trump a racist? Of course he is”), he also differs from many Trump voters in his assessment of the country’s problems.
“Trump can’t bring jobs back because the jobs are gone to automation. We used to have 10 men doing cleanup in my job. Now one man operates a machine. We used to have 10 men running the furnaces. Now robots run them.”
That view is a marked difference from what you hear from people in working-class white towns that voted for Trump, who are quick to assign blame to immigration and jobs moving overseas.
Perhaps the tendency of workers in Gary to blame automation reflects a hesitation against scapegoating immigrants, since many know all too well the ugliness that comes from racial politics. Or perhaps it comes from listening to Democratic politicians, who have long talked of how technology has changed work.
Alphonso Washington, 72, makes it clear he came to his views himself, not from politicians. “I don’t deal much in politics or listen to them much. I spent my life working, and then I retired.”
He points to a large vegetable garden next to his home, one of only a handful of empty plots on an otherwise filled block. “When the house next door burned down, I cleaned it up and made it into a garden.”
Alphonso was born in Gary, quit school in 11th grade, and walked straight into the steel mill. “Oh Lordy! Jobs was everywhere. I worked 34 years as a union crane man.”
Despite not following politics, he did vote for Clinton, because “I am a Democrat.” When I ask him about Trump’s promise to bring back factory jobs, he looks at me like I am crazy. “He ain’t going to bring the jobs back – the factories mostly run themselves now. They have robot cranes, so they don’t need crane men like me. It is because of that word. What is it? Automation?”
When I ask him about the few abandoned buildings that scar his block, he stops and thinks, and then says: “Gary just went down. Used to be a beautiful place, once in a time, then it just wasn’t.”
Not far away, Maria Garcia, 74, is more opinionated and blunt about the ugly changes in Gary. She lives on a block that looks as if her home alone survived a tornado untouched. It is only one of a few that isn’t boarded up, burned down, or covered by weeds and graffiti. Her yard has a garden and decorative flourishes, an individual act of resistance against the surrounding decay.
She moved to Gary in 1961 to live closer to her brother who worked in the steel mill. She got a job working for the city and later married a steel worker.
When I ask her about the changes in Gary, and on her block, she points to the broken homes: “This street used to be filled with good neighbors. Mostly whites. Some were Europeans from Spain, Poland, and Germany, and some from Puerto Rico like myself. Then in 1981, people started moving out. They started seeing black people coming in, and they said they would bring drugs and crime, so they left. I stayed because I don’t judge by color.”
I question her again to make sure I understand her correctly, and this time she is even more blunt: “Racism killed Gary. The whites left Gary, and the blacks couldn’t. Simple as that. Print that because it is true.”
At the McDonald’s, Walter Bell, 78, agrees with Maria. He grew up in Gary and worked in the steel mill – “38 years, six weeks, and three days”, he says. “I don’t remember the exact seconds.”
He talks about how wonderful Gary once was, how it was a destination for everyone in the surrounding county, and how he walked right out of high school into a job in the steel mill (“I ended up an electrician, but started off as labor – hot jobs, dirty jobs, greasy jobs – we blacks had to start out with those”).
He pivots into a frustration about Gary now, about the emptiness, the factories closed, and the shops boarded up.
“Segregation did this to Gary. When the jobs left, the whites could move, and they did. But we blacks didn’t have a choice. They wouldn’t let us into their new neighborhoods with the good jobs, or if they let us, we sure as hell couldn’t afford it. Then to make it worse, when we looked at the nice houses they left behind, we couldn’t buy them because the banks wouldn’t lend us money.”
When I ask him about solutions to Gary’s problems, he shoots back: “It sure as hell isn’t Trump. He keeps saying he is going to bring jobs back. Sure, and I am gonna win the lottery. Those jobs are not coming back.”
Sitting next to Walter is a childhood friend, Ruben Roy, 85, who joins him daily for coffee and a chat. Ruben listens and nods yes, and then adds: “I started off working with a shovel and pick, shoveling and picking at things, but those jobs are gone. They got machines to shovel and pick now. The world has changed. Back in my day you needed a strong back and a weak mind to get a job. Now you need a weak back and a strong mind.”
As for those growing up in Gary now, “I would tell the kids to leave. Go get an education and go to where the jobs and opportunities are. They are not here in Gary any more. That is just the truth.”
So much of our national dialogue is telling people living in towns like Gary to get the best education and then move. But that is hard in places like Gary, where educational opportunities can be far away or limited. Getting into one of the few elite schools is almost impossible.
Full-time dedication to an elite education is a luxury most don’t have. The more common and realistic educational path weaves through community colleges and smaller state schools, and is accompanied by additional challenges from family and financial obligations.
La Jazanay Turner, 20, works at Chuck E Cheese and attends Ivy Tech, the community college that serves Gary and the surrounding region. She was raised here by parents who were unable to finish a college education.
When I ask her about her community college experience, she explains it is a stepping stone: “I wasn’t very good at school, so I am going here to get back into it and then go to a bigger college.”
When I ask her about leaving Gary, she is conflicted. “This is my hometown, I love it, I just wish it was better. I wish people would stop killing each other. I know I might have to leave to get a better job, but if getting a better job means losing yourself, then it is not what I want to do. Family is too important to me.”
Moving is also far easier said than done. For some, it means having to give up on a place and family that is all you know and all that values you. In Gary, the conflict between wanting and needing to stay, and understanding you might have to leave, is especially strong.
Walking around Gary – seeing one crumbled home after another –it is hard to imagine anyone would want to stay here. But some have little choice, confined by a lack of opportunity, unequal access to education, and racism. More importantly, many have made the best of their situations and turned the city into their home, despite its outward problems.
Imani Powell, 23, sits in the McDonald’s reading on her day off from the Buffalo Wild Wings. She briefly left Gary to attend college in Arizona but came back to be with her mother. When I ask her why she returned, she responds, “My mother and sister and I are close. I missed them. We have been through a lot together.”
Me: “What about your dad?”
Imani: “My dad is not in my life. We don’t pay much attention to him. He is in and out of jail.”
I ask her if she is going to try and leave again.
“I really would like to move someplace more beautiful, where you don’t have to worry about abandoned buildings. There are just so many here. It scares me to walk by them; I don’t want to end up a body lost in one of them. It is complicated for people who live in Gary. They don’t want to move because this is what they are used to. Do you want to go and do your own thing, or be with your family? They say places are what you make of them, but is hard to make something beautiful when it is shit.”
Republicans in Congress passed a bill to repeal a set of Alaska’s wildlife regulations to favor a specific group of citizens: sport and trophy hunters. Republicans have allowed for shooting of hibernating bears with cubs; using airplanes to scout and shoot grizzly bears; and baiting and trapping bears with steel-jawed, leghold traps on federally owned land in Alaska.
Another regulatory power grab from the Obama Administration is getting rolled back. This one reverses a harmful U.S. Fish and Wildlife rule. pic.twitter.com/ivjzhO5Kdo— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) March 27, 2017
Both of the Republican-controlled chambers of Congress recently passed a repeal of an Obama-era rule that had largely had banned hunting of Alaska’s most iconic predators on more than 76 million federal acres. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s rule also prohibited some controversial hunting practices on the state’s 16 national wildlife refuges.
Republicans reversed federal regulations and restored policies adopted by Alaska’s Board of Game to increase the number of animals such as moose and caribou — prized by hunters — by making it easier to kill the animals that prey on them. The Senate’s approval of the bill to overturn the hunting limits last week means the measure now only needs President Donald Trump’s signature to become a law.
The state game board and the federal agencies have clashed over how to manage predators, which affects the amount of available game for subsistence as well as trophy hunters, as well as authority over managing the lands. More than 560 wildlife refuges across the country have been set aside, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service explained, “for wildlife first.” The federal government has argued that the goal on refuges and in parks should be biodiversity.
But as NPR noted, Alaska game officials argued that wildlife refuges are meant to ensure the “maximum sustained populations” of commonly hunted prey species, and thus seek to curb the populations of their predators — namely wolves, coyotes and bears.
The Obama-era rule, however, specifically prohibits hunting for predator control. Proponents of this rule claim it prohibits inhumane hunting practices like shooting hibernating wolves and bears from planes. The Los Angeles Times noted that Alaska “state policies allow the killing of bear cubs and sows, killing wolves and their cubs in their dens, baiting grizzly bears, shooting bears from aircraft, shooting bears in baiting areas on the same day a hunter flies into a hunting area, and capturing bears with traps and snares.”
But Alaska’s three Republican lawmakers argued that the Obama-era rule had to be repealed out of a concern for state’s rights. Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan argued on the Senate floor that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife rule “undercuts meaningful public participation in refuge management decisions [and] utterly disregards the legal protections and rights given to the state in the Alaska Statehood Act.”
“We have to recognize this is not about the little polar bears, the little grizzly bears or wolves on television, this is about the state’s right to manage — not allowing the federal government to do so,” Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who sponsored the bill, said last month.
Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski argued that the Obama-era rule is not about “a specific hunting practice,” but an attack on the state’s right to oversee its refuge lands. Alaska and every other state, she said, has “primary authority to manage its fish and wildlife, including on federal refuge lands. So let’s not get confused here and think that because you have federal lands that somehow or another states do not have.”
While trophy hunters seldom receive an exemption from the banned practices under the Obama-era rule, Murkowski failed to mention that daily permits are indeed given out for someone to be an “aerial shooter” of game. (She also forgot to mention that it’s the state Department of Fish and Game often uses gas on wolf and bear pups in their dens as a means of controlling predators of elk and moose.)
“This joint resolution puts an end to the Obama administration’s last-minute attack on outdoorsmen,” wrote Chris W. Cox, executive director of NRA, in a statement praising Republicans in Congress. “Preserving the right of Alaska to manage its wildlife is a victory for outdoorsmen in all 50 states.”
The Senate approved Young’s bill last week, in a 52 to 47 vote, with the support of all 51 GOP senators as well as Sen. Angus King, an independent who represents Maine. Republican lawmakers turned to the rarely used Congressional Review Act, a measure that allows Congress to cancel regulations issued in the final days of an outgoing administration, to allow the Senate to proceed with a simple majority — thus enabling GOP senators to avoid a filibuster by Democrats.
For its part, the House last month approved the bill, in 225-to-193 vote that mostly fell along party lines.
“This is another Obama-era regulation that upends the balance of federalism and hurts an American pastime,” a statement from House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office read. “That’s not acceptable for Speaker Ryan, who is an avid hunter.”
For their part, Democrats in Congress made impassioned yet surely futile floor speeches against the measure. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., stood next to a photo of a mother bear and her cubs and argued that the regulation is “not a state or parochial issue,” since 85 percent of the nation’s federal wildlife refuges happen to be in Alaska.
Favoring one species over another is not allowed, argued Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., in a speech opposing the bill.
For a few days last week the scuttlebutt held that President Donald Trump’s most trusted adviser might be on the outs with the boss because he decided to take the family skiing in Aspen, Colorado, just as the White House entered its first big legislative fight, which of course it ignominiously lost. I’m speaking of Jared Kushner, the boyish 36-year-old husband of favorite offspring Ivanka and, by all accounts, the man who is the last person Trump talks to before he makes a decision.
The pictures of Jared and Ivanka posing for Instagrams like a bunch of Kardashians hawking designer ski gear while the embattled president called up wavering Republican congressmen and prattled on about “his damn election” didn’t exactly show a serious, hardworking image to the nation. And we know how Trump feels about that, right?
You hear that Trump didn't hoodwink voters (they knew what they were getting!) and then find clips like this. Just breathtaking hypocrisy. pic.twitter.com/LDnb3Xr7oF— Matt McDermott (@mattmfm) March 18, 2017
As it turns out Trump’s actually a yuuuge believer in taking vacations. He has been to his Florida resort seven times already (at taxpayer expense) and last weekend the White House tried to pretend the president was having meetings at his Virginia golf club. It was later revealed that he was hitting the links again.
So it’s not surprising that Trump was quick to forgive his favorite daughter and son-in-law for their little getaway. Not only did he forgive Jared; on Monday he put him in charge of a bold new initiative to run the country like a business with what the Washington Post described as a “SWAT team of strategic consultants” that “will be staffed by former business executives.” If the first couple of months of the Trump administration are any indication of what that might look like, we’re in for a bumpy ride. As Salon’s Simon Maloy observed:
Innovation! What a concept. And who better to head up a team of business innovators and power brokers than Jared Kushner, a child of privilege who inherited his father’s real estate business and fell ass backward into a position of authority? Kushner will take the lessons he learned from being born rich and marrying the right person and use them to disrupt the American government.
And this tired old GOP mantra about running government like a business is like saying that you should build boats like you wash dishes. They are completely different tasks. And Kushner is a particularly poor choice, even if you buy the argument. As Maloy pointed out, Kushner is a lot like his father-in-law in that he inherited his father’s New Jersey real estate business and, well, that’s about it.
Actually, after Chris Christie put Kushner’s father in jail for corruption (it’s a long story), Jared took the reins of the business and jumped into Manhattan real estate where he is known for one very big deal. Unfortunately, also like his father-in-law, it turns out Kushner is not very good at what he does. Kushner sold his stake in that project to his family recently, ostensibly to avoid a conflict of interest. It was actually a smart business decision because the building’s finances are in big trouble at the moment. The Kushners may receive a bailout from a powerful Chinese insurance company. So it’s a good thing that we’ve decided that Republicans enriching their immediate family while in office isn’t corruption — or that might look bad.
Kushner’s new job is just an addition to his already bulging portfolio. Recall that a while back he was given the special task of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue. One might assume he’s even less qualified for that job than he is for heading up a “SWAT team” of business leaders, but apparently being an observant Jew is all that’s required. It’s surprising that nobody ever thought of that before.
On Monday we found out from White House press secretary Sean Spicer that “throughout the campaign and the transition, Jared served as the official primary point of contact with foreign governments and officials until we had State Department officials up.” That’s correct: This 36-year-old with no experience in government or foreign affairs served as the new president’s primary contact with foreign governments. Apparently, no one who knew what he (or she) was doing was available.
This important task seems to have landed young Kushner into a spot of trouble, however. We also learned on Monday that the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating possible Russian ties to the Trump campaign, has asked to speak to Kushner about his meeting during the transition with the Russian ambassador. Apparently there was more than one, including a meeting previously unacknowledged by the Trump administration with a Russian banker named Sergey N. Gorkov, head of the state-owned development bank Vnesheconombank, which just happens to be one of the Russian banks facing U.S. sanctions. (Gorkov is reportedly close to Vladimir Putin and graduated from what was formerly the KGB academy.)
At the time of those meetings, Kushner had not sold his interest in the Manhattan building to his family and The New York Times reported that the committee wants to know whether Kushner spoke to Gorkov about potentially helping him with his financial problems. According to Reuters, Kushner met with representatives of the bank earlier in 2016 as well, which raises still more questions. Whatever the substance of the conversations, the whole thing carries the stench of a conflict of interest.
That Kushner wouldn’t understand this and would hold such meetings after numerous news reports and government acknowledgments about Russian intervention in the election campaign shows such astonishingly poor judgment that it makes one shudder to think what he may have said and done in his role in the transition and now in the administration.
I cannot help but be reminded of a comment from a State Department employee:
They think Jared can do everything. It’s reminiscent of the developing countries where I’ve served. The family rules everything, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs knows nothing.
The United States is not a developing country. It is supposedly the world’s only superpower. Can’t we do better than this?
Big Pharma Co. Lobbies Against Legal Weed – So It Could Market Its Own Synthetic Version
Last year, backers of an Arizona initiative to legalize recreational marijuana ran into stiff resistance from a large pharmaceutical company. Opponents of Proposition 205 got a huge boost from drug company Insys Therapeutics in the form of a $500,000 donation. At the time, an Insys spokesperson said the company was opposing legalization because "it fails to…
Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez was just a few blocks away from his daughter's school when he was pulled over, cuffed and detained by immigration officials while his family was left sobbing in the backseat. His 13-year-old daughter shot a dramatic video capturing the incident in Highland Park, a Latino majority neighborhood in Los Angeles, nearly a month ago.
On Tuesday, March 28, 13-year-old Fatima Avelica delivered a heart-wrenching speech at Sen. Chuck Schumer's (D-NY) U.S.-Mexico border press conference. She spoke about her father's influence in her life and what's happened since his arrest.
"I finished the LA marathon with the help of my dad," she said. "He was always on my weekend practices with the bike right beside me, making sure I didn't give up."
"My dad was detained right in front of me on my way to school," she continued. "It was the hardest thing to watch, but I still went to school because my father showed me the importance of education. I knew I'd have someone to support me there."
Avelica-Gonzalez, an undocumented 48-year-old father of four, is a native of Nayarit, Mexico. He has lived in the U.S. for over two decades and works as a food preparer at a Los Angeles Mexican restaurant. His children are all U.S. citizens.
Fatima saw her dad a few days ago.
"He lost weight," she noted. "I'm scared that over time he will change more."
Fatima aims to finish school and become an immigration lawyer.
"That's like a new marathon for me, but I need my coach there, I need my dad," she said. "He's always been right beside me in any struggles I had."
Back in August, the Obama administration issued a memo that many hoped signaled an end to the government's use of for-profit prison corporations. That memo, issued by then Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, stated that the Justice Department would stop contracting with CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) to run 13 federal prisons. This directive was a symbolic win for many of us who opposed these contracts, and we were thrilled when stocks in CoreCivic and GEO Group, another for-profit prison corporation, plummeted as a result.
But the election of Donald Trump dashed a lot of those hopes. Acting on his campaign promise to be "tough on crime," Trump quickly issued more than 13 executive orders in his first month in office, including:
It's no surprise that CoreCivic and GEO stocks surged with the announcement of the potential detention and deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants as well as a resurgence of a federal crackdown on marijuana. These corporations could now expect even more bodies to fill their facilities.
Even more good news for corporations came when Congress confirmed Trump's nominee for attorney general, Jeff Sessions. As one of his first acts in his new position, Sessions issued a memorandum rescinding the Obama administration’s August 2016 directive on private prisons. In a one-paragraph memo, Sessions directed the Bureau of Prisons "to return to its previous approach."
The 2016 memo under President Obama cited several reasons for the federal government's decision to move away from private prison management corporations, stating that these companies "compare poorly to our own Bureau facilities… do not provide the same level of services, programs and resources; do not save substantially on costs; and do not maintain the same level of safety and security."
If all the facts point to the critical failures and dangerous conditions of private prison management companies, why would the Trump's Department of Justice rescind the original directive? The Sessions memo clearly states the reason: "[the previous policy] impaired the Bureau’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system."
Future needs? Statistics show that crime is down and fewer immigrants are entering the country than ever before. So what kind of future needs is the Trump administration anticipating? More incarceration for nonviolent crimes? Detaining an unprecedented number of immigrants? I would say the answers are yes and yes.
Here's why. Currently, ICE incarcerates over 40,000 people a day in immigration detention centers—a figure driven in part by an inhumane federal policy known as the "detention quota." This quota was designed to line the pockets of for-profit prison corporations like CoreCivic and GEO that are contracted to run most of the country’s largest detention centers.
In January, the White House issued a memo to Homeland Security officials calling for ICE to double the number of people it incarcerates daily to 80,000 nationwide.
In the budget Trump sent to Congress on March 16, he called for an additional $1.5 billion for detention and deportation, which would allow for an additional 17,000 immigrants to be detained each day.
Any dramatic increase would require creating more detention centers, which would most likely be built and managed by for-profit corporations. The more people are locked up, the more money private prison corporations make. Incarcerating thousands more immigrants a day means more profits for CoreCivic and GEO shareholders—all thanks to our government's commodification of human beings.
These policies under Trump are a collective problem that we must take on as a society. Mass incarceration is not just a criminal justice issue. It is about immigrant rights, education and racial justice. We are at a point where intersectionality of our movements is crucial.
We must recognize that cries of "No more immigration raids" and "Black Lives Matter" are essentially denouncing the same root problem—the criminalization, often of marginalized communities, and the abuse of power.
It is no longer enough to say, "No to mass incarceration" and "We need alternatives to detention." These alternatives have also become hijacked by the private prison industry—things like ankle monitoring, halfway houses and other community-based programs are now contracted out to the same for-profit companies that run the detention centers.
As horrifying as the Trump administration's recent steps backward are, they provide us with a critical opportunity. The blatant pandering to special interests inherent in these actions is a perfect lens through which to critique the fundamental fallacy of our justice system. These policies are clearly not about safety or justice. They are about social control and profiteering.
We must unite to stop this expansion through a collective effort in order to bring awareness to our communities, and defend and protect our neighbors and friends from the ensnaring practices of privatization.
This essay is adapted from “Measuring Violence,” the first chapter of John Dower’s new book, The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War Two.
On February 17, 1941, almost 10 months before Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Life magazine carried a lengthy essay by its publisher, Henry Luce, entitled “The American Century.” The son of Presbyterian missionaries, born in China in 1898 and raised there until the age of 15, Luce essentially transposed the certainty of religious dogma into the certainty of a nationalistic mission couched in the name of internationalism.
Luce acknowledged that the United States could not police the whole world or attempt to impose democratic institutions on all of mankind. Nonetheless, “the world of the 20th Century,” he wrote, “if it is to come to life in any nobility of health and vigor, must be to a significant degree an American Century.” The essay called on all Americans “to accept wholeheartedly our duty and our opportunity as the most powerful and vital nation in the world and in consequence to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such measures as we see fit.”
Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor propelled the United States wholeheartedly onto the international stage Luce believed it was destined to dominate, and the ringing title of his cri de coeur became a staple of patriotic Cold War and post-Cold War rhetoric. Central to this appeal was the affirmation of a virtuous calling. Luce’s essay singled out almost every professed ideal that would become a staple of wartime and Cold War propaganda: freedom, democracy, equality of opportunity, self-reliance and independence, cooperation, justice, charity—all coupled with a vision of economic abundance inspired by “our magnificent industrial products, our technical skills.” In present-day patriotic incantations, this is referred to as “American exceptionalism.”
The other, harder side of America’s manifest destiny was, of course, muscularity. Power. Possessing absolute and never-ending superiority in developing and deploying the world’s most advanced and destructive arsenal of war. Luce did not dwell on this dimension of “internationalism” in his famous essay, but once the world war had been entered and won, he became its fervent apostle—an outspoken advocate of “liberating” China from its new communist rulers, taking over from the beleaguered French colonial military in Vietnam, turning both the Korean and Vietnam conflicts from “limited wars” into opportunities for a wider virtuous war against and in China, and pursuing the rollback of the Iron Curtain with “tactical atomic weapons.” As Luce’s incisive biographer Alan Brinkley documents, at one point Luce even mulled the possibility of “plastering Russia with 500 (or 1,000) A bombs”—a terrifying scenario, but one that the keepers of the U.S. nuclear arsenal actually mapped out in expansive and appalling detail in the 1950s and 1960s, before Luce’s death in 1967.
The “American Century” catchphrase is hyperbole, the slogan never more than a myth, a fantasy, a delusion. Military victory in any traditional sense was largely a chimera after World War II. The so-called Pax Americana itself was riddled with conflict and oppression and egregious betrayals of the professed catechism of American values. At the same time, postwar U.S. hegemony obviously never extended to more than a portion of the globe. Much that took place in the world, including disorder and mayhem, was beyond America’s control.
Yet, not unreasonably, Luce’s catchphrase persists. The twenty-first-century world may be chaotic, with violence erupting from innumerable sources and causes, but the United States does remain the planet’s “sole superpower.” The myth of exceptionalism still holds most Americans in its thrall. U.S. hegemony, however frayed at the edges, continues to be taken for granted in ruling circles, and not only in Washington. And Pentagon planners still emphatically define their mission as “full-spectrum dominance” globally.
Washington’s commitment to modernizing its nuclear arsenal rather than focusing on achieving the thoroughgoing abolition of nuclear weapons has proven unshakable. So has the country’s almost religious devotion to leading the way in developing and deploying ever more “smart” and sophisticated conventional weapons of mass destruction.
Welcome to Henry Luce’s—and America’s—violent century, even if thus far it’s lasted only 75 years. The question is just what to make of it these days.
Counting the Dead
We live in times of bewildering violence. In 2013, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told a Senate committee that the world is “more dangerous than it has ever been.” Statisticians, however, tell a different story: that war and lethal conflict have declined steadily, significantly, even precipitously since World War II.
Much mainstream scholarship now endorses the declinists. In his influential 2011 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker adopted the labels “the Long Peace” for the four-plus decades of the Cold War (1945-1991), and “the New Peace” for the post-Cold War years to the present. In that book, as well as in post-publication articles, postings, and interviews, he has taken the doomsayers to task. The statistics suggest, he declares, that “today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’s existence.”
Clearly, the number and deadliness of global conflicts have indeed declined since World War II. This so-called postwar peace was, and still is, however, saturated in blood and wracked with suffering.
It is reasonable to argue that total war-related fatalities during the Cold War decades were lower than in the six years of World War II (1939–1945) and certainly far less than the toll for the twentieth century’s two world wars combined. It is also undeniable that overall death tolls have declined further since then. The five most devastating intrastate or interstate conflicts of the postwar decades—in China, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and between Iran and Iraq—took place during the Cold War. So did a majority of the most deadly politicides, or political mass killings, and genocides: in the Soviet Union, China (again), Yugoslavia, North Korea, North Vietnam, Sudan, Nigeria, Indonesia, Pakistan/Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique, and Cambodia, among other countries. The end of the Cold War certainly did not signal the end of such atrocities (as witness Rwanda, the Congo, and the implosion of Syria). As with major wars, however, the trajectory has been downward.
Unsurprisingly, the declinist argument celebrates the Cold War as less violent than the global conflicts that preceded it, and the decades that followed as statistically less violent than the Cold War. But what motivates the sanitizing of these years, now amounting to three-quarters of a century, with the label “peace”? The answer lies largely in a fixation on major powers. The great Cold War antagonists, the United States and the Soviet Union, bristling with their nuclear arsenals, never came to blows. Indeed, wars between major powers or developed states have become (in Pinker’s words) “all but obsolete.” There has been no World War III, nor is there likely to be.
Such upbeat quantification invites complacent forms of self-congratulation. (How comparatively virtuous we mortals have become!) In the United States, where we-won-the-Cold-War sentiment still runs strong, the relative decline in global violence after 1945 is commonly attributed to the wisdom, virtue, and firepower of U.S. “peacekeeping.” In hawkish circles, nuclear deterrence—the Cold War’s MAD (mutually assured destruction) doctrine that was described early on as a “delicate balance of terror”—is still canonized as an enlightened policy that prevented catastrophic global conflict.
What Doesn’t Get Counted
Branding the long postwar era as an epoch of relative peace is disingenuous, and not just because it deflects attention from the significant death and agony that actually did occur and still does. It also obscures the degree to which the United States bears responsibility for contributing to, rather than impeding, militarization and mayhem after 1945. Ceaseless U.S.-led transformations of the instruments of mass destruction—and the provocative global impact of this technological obsession—are by and large ignored.
Continuities in American-style “warfighting” (a popular Pentagon word) such as heavy reliance on airpower and other forms of brute force are downplayed. So is U.S. support for repressive foreign regimes, as well as the destabilizing impact of many of the nation’s overt and covert overseas interventions. The more subtle and insidious dimension of postwar U.S. militarization—namely, the violence done to civil society by funneling resources into a gargantuan, intrusive, and ever-expanding national security state—goes largely unaddressed in arguments fixated on numerical declines in violence since World War II.
Beyond this, trying to quantify war, conflict, and devastation poses daunting methodological challenges. Data advanced in support of the decline-of-violence argument is dense and often compelling, and derives from a range of respectable sources. Still, it must be kept in mind that the precise quantification of death and violence is almost always impossible. When a source offers fairly exact estimates of something like “war-related excess deaths,” you usually are dealing with investigators deficient in humility and imagination.
Take, for example, World War II, about which countless tens of thousands of studies have been written. Estimates of total “war-related” deaths from that global conflict range from roughly 50 million to more than 80 million. One explanation for such variation is the sheer chaos of armed violence. Another is what the counters choose to count and how they count it. Battle deaths of uniformed combatants are easiest to determine, especially on the winning side. Military bureaucrats can be relied upon to keep careful records of their own killed-in-action—but not, of course, of the enemy they kill. War-related civilian fatalities are even more difficult to assess, although—as in World War II—they commonly are far greater than deaths in combat.
Does the data source go beyond so-called battle-related collateral damage to include deaths caused by war-related famine and disease? Does it take into account deaths that may have occurred long after the conflict itself was over (as from radiation poisoning after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or from the U.S. use of Agent Orange in the Vietnam War)? The difficulty of assessing the toll of civil, tribal, ethnic, and religious conflicts with any exactitude is obvious.
Concentrating on fatalities and their averred downward trajectory also draws attention away from broader humanitarian catastrophes. In mid-2015, for instance, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that the number of individuals “forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations” had surpassed 60 million and was the highest level recorded since World War II and its immediate aftermath. Roughly two-thirds of these men, women, and children were displaced inside their own countries. The remainder were refugees, and over half of these refugees were children.
Here, then, is a trend line intimately connected to global violence that is not heading downward. In 1996, the U.N.’s estimate was that there were 37.3 million forcibly displaced individuals on the planet. Twenty years later, as 2015 ended, this had risen to 65.3 million—a 75% increase over the last two post-Cold War decades that the declinist literature refers to as the “new peace.”
Other disasters inflicted on civilians are less visible than uprooted populations. Harsh conflict-related economic sanctions, which often cripple hygiene and health-care systems and may precipitate a sharp spike in infant mortality, usually do not find a place in itemizations of military violence. U.S.-led U.N. sanctions imposed against Iraq for 13 years beginning in 1990 in conjunction with the first Gulf War are a stark example of this. An account published in the New York Times Magazine in July 2003 accepted the fact that “at least several hundred thousand children who could reasonably have been expected to live died before their fifth birthday.” And after all-out wars, who counts the maimed, or the orphans and widows, or those the Japanese in the wake of World War II referred to as the “elderly orphaned”—parents bereft of their children?
Figures and tables, moreover, can only hint at the psychological and social violence suffered by combatants and noncombatants alike. It has been suggested, for instance, that one in six people in areas afflicted by war may suffer from mental disorder (as opposed to one in ten in normal times). Even where American military personnel are concerned, trauma did not become a serious focus of concern until 1980, seven years after the U.S. retreat from Vietnam, when post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was officially recognized as a mental-health issue.
In 2008, a massive sampling study of 1.64 million U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq between October 2001 and October 2007 estimated “that approximately 300,000 individuals currently suffer from PTSD or major depression and that 320,000 individuals experienced a probable TBI [traumatic brain injury] during deployment.” As these wars dragged on, the numbers naturally increased. To extend the ramifications of such data to wider circles of family and community—or, indeed, to populations traumatized by violence worldwide—defies statistical enumeration.
Terror Counts and Terror Fears
Largely unmeasurable, too, is violence in a different register: the damage that war, conflict, militarization, and plain existential fear inflict upon civil society and democratic practice. This is true everywhere but has been especially conspicuous in the United States since Washington launched its “global war on terror” in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Here, numbers are perversely provocative, for the lives claimed in twenty-first-century terrorist incidents can be interpreted as confirming the decline-in-violence argument. From 2000 through 2014, according to the widely cited Global Terrorism Index, “more than 61,000 incidents of terrorism claiming over 140,000 lives have been recorded.” Including September 11th, countries in the West experienced less than 5% of these incidents and 3% of the deaths. The Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism, another minutely documented tabulation based on combing global media reports in many languages, puts the number of suicide bombings from 2000 through 2015 at 4,787 attacks in more than 40 countries, resulting in 47,274 deaths.
These atrocities are incontestably horrendous and alarming. Grim as they are, however, the numbers themselves are comparatively low when set against earlier conflicts. For specialists in World War II, the “140,000 lives” estimate carries an almost eerie resonance, since this is the rough figure usually accepted for the death toll from a single act of terror bombing, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The tally is also low compared to contemporary deaths from other causes. Globally, for example, more than 400,000 people are murdered annually. In the United States, the danger of being killed by falling objects or lightning is at least as great as the threat from Islamist militants.
This leaves us with a perplexing question: If the overall incidence of violence, including twenty-first-century terrorism, is relatively low compared to earlier global threats and conflicts, why has the United States responded by becoming an increasingly militarized, secretive, unaccountable, and intrusive “national security state”? Is it really possible that a patchwork of non-state adversaries that do not possess massive firepower or follow traditional rules of engagement has, as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff declared in 2013, made the world more threatening than ever?
For those who do not believe this to be the case, possible explanations for the accelerating militarization of the United States come from many directions. Paranoia may be part of the American DNA—or, indeed, hardwired into the human species. Or perhaps the anticommunist hysteria of the Cold War simply metastasized into a post-9/11 pathological fear of terrorism. Machiavellian fear-mongering certainly enters the picture, led by conservative and neoconservative civilian and military officials of the national security state, along with opportunistic politicians and war profiteers of the usual sort. Cultural critics predictably point an accusing finger as well at the mass media’s addiction to sensationalism and catastrophe, now intensified by the proliferation of digital social media.
To all this must be added the peculiar psychological burden of being a “superpower” and, from the 1990s on, the planet’s “sole superpower”—a situation in which “credibility” is measured mainly in terms of massive cutting-edge military might. It might be argued that this mindset helped “contain Communism” during the Cold War and provides a sense of security to U.S. allies. What it has not done is ensure victory in actual war, although not for want of trying. With some exceptions (Grenada, Panama, the brief 1991 Gulf War, and the Balkans), the U.S. military has not tasted victory since World War II—Korea, Vietnam, and recent and current conflicts in the Greater Middle East being boldface examples of this failure. This, however, has had no impact on the hubris attached to superpower status. Brute force remains the ultimate measure of credibility.
The traditional American way of war has tended to emphasize the “three Ds” (defeat, destroy, devastate). Since 1996, the Pentagon’s proclaimed mission is to maintain “full-spectrum dominance” in every domain (land, sea, air, space, and information) and, in practice, in every accessible part of the world. The Air Force Global Strike Command, activated in 2009 and responsible for managing two-thirds of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, typically publicizes its readiness for “Global Strike... Any Target, Any Time.”
In 2015, the Department of Defense acknowledged maintaining 4,855 physical “sites”—meaning bases ranging in size from huge contained communities to tiny installations—of which 587 were located overseas in 42 foreign countries. An unofficial investigation that includes small and sometimes impermanent facilities puts the number at around 800 in 80 countries. Over the course of 2015, to cite yet another example of the overwhelming nature of America’s global presence, elite U.S. special operations forces were deployed to around 150 countries, and Washington provided assistance in arming and training security forces in an even larger number of nations.
America’s overseas bases reflect, in part, an enduring inheritance from World War II and the Korean War. The majority of these sites are located in Germany (181), Japan (122), and South Korea (83) and were retained after their original mission of containing communism disappeared with the end of the Cold War. Deployment of elite special operations forces is also a Cold War legacy (exemplified most famously by the Army’s “Green Berets” in Vietnam) that expanded after the demise of the Soviet Union. Dispatching covert missions to three-quarters of the world’s nations, however, is largely a product of the war on terror.
Many of these present-day undertakings require maintaining overseas “lily pad” facilities that are small, temporary, and unpublicized. And many, moreover, are integrated with covert CIA “black operations.” Combating terror involves practicing terror—including, since 2002, an expanding campaign of targeted assassinations by unmanned drones. For the moment, this latest mode of killing remains dominated by the CIA and the U.S. military (with the United Kingdom and Israel following some distance behind).
The “delicate balance of terror” that characterized nuclear strategy during the Cold War has not disappeared. Rather, it has been reconfigured. The U.S. and Soviet arsenals that reached a peak of insanity in the 1980s have been reduced by about two-thirds—a praiseworthy accomplishment but one that still leaves the world with around 15,400 nuclear weapons as of January 2016, 93% of them in U.S. and Russian hands. Close to two thousand of the latter on each side are still actively deployed on missiles or at bases with operational forces.
This downsizing, in other words, has not removed the wherewithal to destroy the Earth as we know it many times over. Such destruction could come about indirectly as well as directly, with even a relatively “modest” nuclear exchange between, say, India and Pakistan triggering a cataclysmic climate shift—a “nuclear winter”—that could result in massive global starvation and death. Nor does the fact that seven additional nations now possess nuclear weapons (and more than 40 others are deemed “nuclear weapons capable”) mean that “deterrence” has been enhanced. The future use of nuclear weapons, whether by deliberate decision or by accident, remains an ominous possibility. That threat is intensified by the possibility that nonstate terrorists may somehow obtain and use nuclear devices.
What is striking at this moment in history is that paranoia couched as strategic realism continues to guide U.S. nuclear policy and, following America’s lead, that of the other nuclear powers. As announced by the Obama administration in 2014, the potential for nuclear violence is to be “modernized.” In concrete terms, this translates as a 30-year project that will cost the United States an estimated $1 trillion (not including the usual future cost overruns for producing such weapons), perfect a new arsenal of “smart” and smaller nuclear weapons, and extensively refurbish the existing delivery “triad” of long-range manned bombers, nuclear-armed submarines, and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads.
Nuclear modernization, of course, is but a small portion of the full spectrum of American might—a military machine so massive that it inspired President Obama to speak with unusual emphasis in his State of the Union address in January 2016. “The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth,” he declared. “Period. Period. It’s not even close. It’s not even close. It’s not even close. We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.”
Official budgetary expenditures and projections provide a snapshot of this enormous military machine, but here again numbers can be misleading. Thus, the “base budget” for defense announced in early 2016 for fiscal year 2017 amounts to roughly $600 billion, but this falls far short of what the actual outlay will be. When all other discretionary military- and defense-related costs are taken into account—nuclear maintenance and modernization, the “war budget” that pays for so-called overseas contingency operations like military engagements in the Greater Middle East, “black budgets” that fund intelligence operations by agencies including the CIA and the National Security Agency, appropriations for secret high-tech military activities, “veterans affairs” costs (including disability payments), military aid to other countries, huge interest costs on the military-related part of the national debt, and so on—the actual total annual expenditure is close to $1 trillion.
Such stratospheric numbers defy easy comprehension, but one does not need training in statistics to bring them closer to home. Simple arithmetic suffices. The projected bill for just the 30-year nuclear modernization agenda comes to over $90 million a day, or almost $4 million an hour. The $1 trillion price tag for maintaining the nation’s status as “the most powerful nation on Earth” for a single year amounts to roughly $2.74 billion a day, over $114 million an hour.
Creating a capacity for violence greater than the world has ever seen is costly—and remunerative.
So an era of a “new peace”? Think again. We’re only three quarters of the way through America’s violent century and there’s more to come.
As Attorney General Jeff Sessions doubles down on President Donald Trump’s threats to crack down on sanctuary cities, evidence is mounting that the administration has already made them the target of retaliatory immigration raids as part of a backdoor effort to force compliance.
The term “sanctuary city” refers to the hundreds of jurisdictions across the United States that, to one degree or another, limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
CNN reported on March 25 that an unnamed “senior U.S. immigration official with direct knowledge of ongoing ICE actions” testified that federal authorities have descended upon sanctuary cities to pressure them to cooperate. Journalist Maria Santana wrote, “High-ranking ICE officials have discussed in internal meetings carrying out more raids on those locations [sanctuary cities]."
While Santana’s source did not reveal his or her identity, a federal judge proclaimed in open court on March 20 that he was told firsthand by federal agents that aggressive immigration raids in Austin this February were orchestrated in direct retaliation for sanctuary policies adopted by a local sheriff. U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin’s assertion was first reported by Tony Plohetski of the Austin American-Statesman.
In early February, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) carried out aggressive sweeps throughout Austin, arresting at least 51 people, as part of coordinated raids across the country. “They were pulling people over on the side of the road, apprehending them at their homes, knocking on doors and profiling people,” Cristina Parker, an organizer with Grassroots Leadership, told AlterNet.
On January 20, the same day Donald Trump was inaugurated, Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez announced a plan to reduce voluntary compliance with federal immigration detainer requests at the county jail. The initiative constituted a direct response to years of Austin-area grassroots organizing led by immigrant communities, which mobilized sustained resistance to a surge in deportations stemming from the implementation of a Secure Communities program in 2009.
While Hernandez’s plan, which went into effect February 1, was cheered by immigrant justice groups as a “step forward,” it falls short of organizations’ calls for a complete end to collaboration between local law enforcement and ICE, as it allows for continued cooperation for individuals charged with certain crimes.
Nonetheless, Judge Austin said he has firsthand information that the raids were conducted in direct retaliation against Hernandez’s policy.
Addressing ICE agent Laron Bryant during a hearing, Austin noted that he, along with another federal magistrate, was briefed in late January that “we could expect a big operation, agents coming in from out of town, that it was going to be a specific operation...It was related to us in that meeting that it was the result of the sheriff’s new policy that this was going to happen.”
“My understanding is,” Austin continued, “one of the reasons that happened was because the meetings that occurred with the field office director and the sheriff didn’t go very well.”
This assertion directly conflicts with claims made by Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Gillian Christensen that sweeps across the country—including Atlanta, Chicago, New York, the Los Angeles area, North Carolina and South Carolina—were “routine” enforcement actions.
“This retaliation was a vengeful tactic by ICE for all the progress the immigrant community has gained in this county in the last four years,” said the Travis County campaign, ICE Out of Austin. “This is as much an attack on the local democratic process, the immigrant community and their leadership as it is on our sheriff's policy. We fought too hard and too long to let ICE intimidate us back into accepting our deportations. We will continue to struggle and fight to end deportations.”
Roksana Mun, director of strategy and training for the New York-based group, Desis Rising Up and Moving, told AlterNet, “We've seen a pattern of the administration targeting sanctuary cities and cities that have sanctuary policies without using that word.”
But some grassroots organizers emphasize that escalation is occurring across the board, and every jurisdiction faces increased threat.
Tania Unzueta, an organizer with the Chicago-based organization Organized Communities Against Deportation (OCAD) and the national group Mijente, told AlterNet, “We've been seeing more raids all over the country, whether the city is sanctuary or not. We’re seeing felony charges where people are getting picked up in raids and hit with felony reentry charges. The number of raids and the punishments are more severe. We’re seeing more shameless stuff, like picking up someone at domestic violence court, going after people doing community service, going to probation officers and street raids.”
“Things are getting more intense, and there is no accountability,” Unzueta continued, noting: “I think the political messaging of the Trump administration is to undermine sanctuary cities and punish the cities politically.”
This messaging was in full effect at a White House briefing on March 27, where Attorney General Jeff Sessions echoed Trump’s prior threats to withhold up to $4.1 billion in federal grants from so-called sanctuary cities, proclaiming: “Such policies cannot continue.”
Sessions statements repeated threats issued in a January 25 executive order, offering no new policy prescriptions. They came just one week after DHS released its first ever report on jurisdictions that do not comply with federal requests to detain individuals so that they can be placed in immigration and potential deportation proceedings (the list was riddled with errors).
Sessions’ threats to withhold funding were immediately assailed by legal experts, who say the Trump administration lacks the authority to take such action. “Despite the Trump administration’s bluster and threats, the federal government cannot coerce local police into becoming deportation agents, and should not try to scare local authorities into taking illegal actions that undermine public safety and subject them to liability,” Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement.
The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability argued in December that the Trump administration may not have the authority to strip such funds without the consent of Congress.
Whether or not the Trump administration has the authority to punish sanctuary cities financially, organizers say now is an important time to defend—and expand—local sanctuary policies. The Movement for Black Lives is teaming up with Mijente to advance sanctuary campaigns across the United States that defend protections from criminalization at the hands of police and immigration authorities.
“ICE has been behaving so badly,” said Unzueta. “It’s the reason there needs to be protections for people.”
On February 22, Adam Purinton was at Austin’s Bar and Grill when he began to argue with two Indian men.
“Get out of my country,” Purinton said to the two men, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, and Alok Madasani, 32, both tech workers at the multinational technology firm Garmin. Purinton began to yell racist slurs at the men, got out his gun and began to shoot. A bystander, Ian Grillot, tried to intervene and was shot through his chest and hand.
Kuchibhotla died, while Madasani survived his wounds. Grillot also survived. “I was just doing what anyone should have done for another human being,” he said from his hospital bed, where he was recovering from a vertebral fracture.
A week later, on March 2, Harnish Patel was shot and killed just outside his home in the quiet town of Lancaster, South Carolina. Patel, 43, ran a Speed Mart convenience store and was known as a popular employer as well as a kind man. While the FBI has decided to investigate the Kuchibhotla killing as a hate crime, Lancaster County Sheriff Barry Faile said, “I don’t have any reason to believe that this [the killing of Patel] was racially motivated.”
The next day, Deep Rai was working on his car in his driveway in the East Hill neighborhood of the Seattle suburb of Kent, Washington. A white man wearing a mask confronted Rai, a Sikh who wears a turban, and said, “Go back to your own country.” Then he shot Rai in the arm. Rai survived the attack. Kent Police Chief Ken Thomas said his department was taking the attack very seriously.
The theme “get out of my country” or “go back to your own country” is central to these attacks. A new website by Asian Americans Advancing Justice asks people to report hate crimes. The impetus for this website was the attacks on East Asian Americans as a consequence of Donald Trump’s anti-China rhetoric, Karin Wang of AAAJ said. “It is reminiscent of the 1980s when Japan was portrayed as the economic enemy,” Karin Wang noted. At the time, Japan was seen as a threat to the United States' auto industry. Now China is depicted as a thief of U.S. jobs.
Anti-China rhetoric does not drive the attacks on Indian Americans. What motivates them is a combination of seeing Indians as terrorists and as usurpers of high-tech jobs. Kuchibhotla, Patel and Rai are not the first to be assaulted in this way, nor will they be the last. After 9/11, many Sikhs were shot or beaten because the turban they wore was confused with the turban worn by Osama bin Laden. In 2012, Wade Michael Page went into a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, where he shot and killed six people and wounded four others. He came to start a “racial holy war."
The sewer of white supremacy that produced Page and Purinton does not distinguish between Iranians and Indians, Sikhs and Muslims. It reeks of resentment and hatred, bilious political anger of the most dangerous kind.
Who is a terrorist?
Adam Purinton thought he had killed two Iranians or “Middle Easterners.” There is no point saying that Indian Americans are neither Iranians nor "Middle Easterners." For Purinton, it was enough that he believed the men were Iranian.
Hollywood has made it a habit to hire South Asians to play “terrorists.” The role Aasif Mandvi (born in Mumbai) played in The Siege (1998) defined the terrorist as South Asian-looking. Last year, Riz Ahmed, the British-born child of Pakistani parents, wrote a powerful essay on his experience as an actor. Called “Typecast as a Terrorist,” the essay lays out Ahmed’s struggle to find roles outside the stereotype and his experiences at the U.S. immigration counter. “As a minority, no sooner do you learn to polish and cherish one chip on your shoulder than it’s taken off you and swapped for another,” he wrote. “The jewelry of your struggles is forever on loan, like the Koh-i-Noor diamond in the crown jewels. You are intermittently handed a necklace of labels to hang around your neck, neither of your choosing nor making, both constricting and decorative.”
The point is never whether one is or is not an “Arab” or a “terrorist” but that one resembles an Arab or a terrorist in the imagination of a racist. Stereotypes become reality; hatred short-circuits rationality. It is infantile to yell, “I am not an Arab” or “I am not a racist!” People like Purinton and Page do not care about such denials. They see what they want to see. The litmus test for them is the brown skin, which broadcasts the word “terrorist."
President Donald Trump’s special adviser Steve Bannon has long disparaged South Asian high-tech workers such as Kuchibhotla and Madasani. In 2015, Bannon interviewed candidate Trump on the Breitbart News Daily radio show. Bannon suggested that there were far too many Asians in the high-tech industry in the U.S. and that perhaps there should be barriers placed on their entry. The H-1B visa, which allows high-tech workers to enter the U.S., is a particular target of Bannon’s.
Trump expressed doubts about Bannon’s extreme views: “We have to be careful of that, Steve,” Trump said. “You know,” he continued, “we have to keep our talented people in this country.” Bannon would have none of it. “When two-thirds or three-quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia, I think,” he said, then hesitated. “A country is more than an economy,” Bannon said. “We’re a civic society.”
By “civic society,” Bannon meant that the first priority of the U.S. should be to its own “native” citizens. In other words, white Americans need to be first in the queue for the benefits of the country. In March 2016, Trump absorbed Bannon’s position. “The H-1B program,” Trump said, “is neither high-skilled nor immigration: these are temporary foreign workers, imported from abroad, for the explicit purpose of substituting for American workers at lower pay. I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first.” When the term “American workers” is used, people like Purinton and Page hear “white workers.” It is what they signal when they yell, “Go back to your country.”
In another radio show, in April 2016, Bannon said that migrants to the U.S. “are not Jeffersonian Democrats.” “These are not people with thousands of years of democracy in their DNA coming here,” he said. The idea of democracy in the DNA could only imply that certain “races” have democracy under their skin and that Asians are not in that company.
An idiosyncratic group in Ohio, Save American Information Technology Jobs, hounds Indian Americans in public places to document their lives. The group produced a document on “Indian guest workers in the Great Midwest,” which shows Indians in parks and outside their homes. The author is flabbergasted by the increase in the number of Indians in the area. “Displacement of Americans has occurred,” notes the report, “and Indians with various visa documents in hand have become part of the landscape.” The report drips with resentment and anger. The hand that holds the iPhone camera to produce this report shares the same motivation of the men with the guns who shot the Indian Americans. Both are not far from the opinions of Trump’s adviser Bannon.
Srinivas Kuchibhotla’s widow, Sunayana Dumala, wrote a moving Facebook post on February 28. At the end of her note, she asked: “The question that is in every immigrant’s mind—do we belong here? Is this the same country we dreamed of and is it still secure to raise our families and children here?” She leaves the question unanswered. For Sunayana Dumala, there is no answer.
There is no disputing that the Bharatiya Janata Party’ (BJP) decisive, even spectacular, victory in the politically-significant state of Uttar Pradesh signals not just that much of Narendra Modi’s personal popularity remains, but also that his party, grounded with the huge organizational muscle of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has mastered the fix required to win. This space dealt with the use of money and muscle, as well as the carefully-spun anti-minority rhetoric of Modi and his men, as the seven-phase polls in Uttar Pradesh wound down to the last day on March 8. The utter disregard for the Muslim minority vote or their concerns has laced the BJP’s policy framework and campaign, especially since Modi captured the national leadership in the run-up for the last general election in May 2014.
The high-decibel superlatives on Indian television channels were cheekily described by one of India’s sane television watchers, the veteran Shailaja Bajpai, when she wrote of a “Dear Modi from Trump” column on March 16. Bajpai describes the terms used by India’s television anchors: “’Look how they described your brilliant victory in the polls: “‘Modi Tsunami Sweeps,’ ‘Tsunamo,’ ‘Modi juggernaut,’ ‘Modiwave,’ ‘NaMoStar,’ ‘NaMoStan,’ ‘NaMoIsDominant,’ ‘NaMoForNewIndia,’ ‘Modi, Modi, Modi’” and goes on in Trump mode to bemoan the American New York Times and BBC as ‘losers’ in comparison! What makes Indian television so grovel fear a brazen corporate connect?
While there is no denying at all that the ‘Modi phenomenon’ needs serious, focused and rigorous political tackling, there is no gainsaying the fact either that the BJP’s saffron chariot may have been convincingly halted in Uttar Pradesh just as dramatically as it was in Bihar just a year and a quarter back in November 2015, had the ‘secular’ opponents to what we in India dub as a proto-fascist force like the RSS tied up in a grand alliance.
Narendra Modi's party finally ended up with an impressive 312 seats in a House of 403, polling 39.7 percent of the state's votes, while the Samajwadi-Congress alliance won just 54 seats. Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party finished third with 19 seats. The BJP's two allies, the Apna Dal and the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, together won 13 seats, with the Apna Dal's 9 seats outdoing the Congress's 7.
But what about the vote share? While there is no disputing that the defeat of all ‘secular’ forces in the politically-significant state of Uttar Pradesh has been ignominious, and the victory of the BJP under Modi decisive, the disparity between vote share and seats won tells a story. Details of the constituency wise wins are still to come in. But have a look at what is already up on the Election Commission of India Website.
A whopper of 312 seats won by the saffron BJP was a result achieved with a decisive 39.7 voter share, itself a significant feat. What is not so explicable however—until one dissects both India’s first past the post system, voter distribution and share over vast regions and constituencies—is the fact that second in vote share is the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) that even in the state assembly seats of 2017 got the second highest vote share at 22.9 per cent. The Samajwadi Party (SP) at a close number 3 with 21.8 per cent of the vote share won 47 seats and the Congreess with barely 6.2 per cent of the vote share got 7 seats!
A careful analysis of the final tally clearly shows that the BJP's votes in 183 of the seats it has won are less than the combined votes of the Samajwadi-Congress alliance and Mayawati's party, which outgoing chief minister Akhilesh Yadav had tried courting on the eve of the results.
Had the leaders of the three parties that opposed the RSS-BJP and ensured that it was a triangular contest (Akhilesh Yadav of the SP, Rahul Gandhi of the Congress and Mayawati of the BSP) struck a successfully functioning pre-poll alliance, the BJP would have won just 129 seats. The BJP's allies, too, would have lost seven of the seats they won, and the coalition would have bagged 135 seats in all.
The Opposition alliance would have racked up a tally of 263, a clear majority. Not as dramatic as what the BJP clocked in, but a clear majority nevertheless. And Uttar Pradesh would have been saved the current brand of rabid majoritarianism. In the other significant state of Bihar—the second state defeating the ‘charismatic prime minister’ after Delhi state in January 2015—it was the Congress that had helped forge such a coalition between hardened rivals Nitish Kumar (Janata Dal United) and Lalu Prasad (Rashtriya Janata Dal) in Bihar in the autumn of 2015 at a time the BJP was nationally on a political high.
In that election, too, the BJP had received more votes than any other party—24.4 percent of those polled in the state overall. But the "grand alliance" of the JDU (16.85 percent of the vote), RJD (18.35 percent) and the Congress (6.66 percent) swept the election with a combined vote share of 41.86 per cent, winning 178 seats in a House of 243. The BJP won just 53 seats. The die has however now been metamorphically cast.
Have a quick look at only some of these 183 seats where the tally of the SP-INC and BSP’s votes is higher than that of the winning candidates, from the BJP. In the rural seat of Ajgara, that falls within the parliamentary seat of the prime minister (Varanasi), the number-two candidate, Lalji Sonkar (SP), polled a significant 62,429 votes, and the number three from the BSP polled 52,480. Together, this amounts to 114,909 votes—a decisively higher number than that polled by the winner from the BJP’s alliance partner, the Sukhdev Bharatiya Samaj Party, Kailash Nath Sonkar, who got 83,778 votes.
Similarly, in another constituency located within the Varanasi segment, Pindra, also a rural segment, the combined votes of the number-two candidate from the BSP and the number 3 from the Congress were 10,1954 votes, higher than what the winner from the BJP got which was 90,614 votes. Two of the eight assembly segments could have thus been wrested from the BJP in the Varanasi segment, and, in another three—Varanasi North, Shivpur and Sevapuri—a more decisive fight ensured if such a grand alliance had been in place. Similarly, look at the Aurai seat where the BJP candidate won with 83,325 votes. The SP candidate at number 2 with 63,546 votes and the BSP at number 3 with 49,059 votes together got 11,2605 votes.
Or check out the Aonia seat where the SP and BSP at number two and three respectively polled 11,3811 votes and the BJP won with just 63,165 significantly lower than the combined tally. In Allahabad North constituency, again, the BJP won with 85,518 votes when the number two, sassy student leader Richa Singh from the SP, obtained 60,182 votes and the number 3 from the BSP polled in 40,499 (totalling 100,681 votes).
The list is long and a similar trend can be seen in 183 of Uttar Pradesh’s state assembly seats. Aliganj, Aligarh and Alapur tell a similar story. In Aliganj, the combined votes of the secular opposition are 121,119 votes, and the BJP candidate won with 88,695 votes. In Aligarh, where the BJP won with 11,3752 votes, the number two and three—SP and BSP—respectively polled 98,312 and 25,704 votes totalling 12,4016 votes. Similarly, in Alapur where the BJP won getting 72,366 votes, the combined opposition vote is far higher at 118,444.
So what was it about narrow, competitive politics that did not ensure a sagacious and rational alliance that could have stopped the majoritarian and supremacist BJP in its track? Will India be able to recover from this historical miscalculation and political short-sightedness? Amethi in Uttar Pradesh is a particularly crucial constituency for the Congress, given the fact that the Gandhi scion, Rahul Gandhi wins his parliamentary seat from here. Even here, in this crucial assembly segment, the ‘secular opposition’ was not able to bury their personality driven differences.
Here is what the poll results show: The SP candidate polled 59,161 (quite close to the winner from the BJP who acquired 64,226 votes), while the BSP at number 3 polled 30,175 votes. Worse, the Congress also polled a separate candidate (belying the alliance logic) and got 20,241 votes. Add up the three opposition parties and you have a figure of 10,9577 votes decisively higher than what the BJP candidate won. But win they did.
The Muslim Vote
This writer has argued consistently that the BJP has, over the past two elections, successfully marginalized the Muslim vote in Uttar Pradesh. Muslim votes make up about 19 percent of the electorate. The BJP's resounding victory, even in Muslim concentration areas, has led to speculation that either the Muslim vote got divided between SP and BSP letting BJP win easily, or that Muslims voted for BJP. Both appear to be erroneous theories.
The SP (29 percent) and BSP (18 percent) together got 47 percent of the vote in the 59 constituencies in Uttar Pradesh where more than a quarter of the voters are Muslim. This is virtually unchanged since 2012 elections, although it went down to 43 percent in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. So, the Muslim support for the two parties is intact.
The difference this time was that the BJP mopped up most of the other votes—getting 39 percent of total votes. This was less than their 43 percent in 2014 Lok Sabha elections but still so far ahead of the rivals that they won 39 seats while SP won 17 and BSP ended up with none. SP's 29 percent vote share in these seats shows that its Muslim support base was largely intact. The Dalit Vote there was a much-hyped battle between the BJP and BSP to win the Dalit votes, especially non-Jatav dalits. Dalits make up about 21 percent of the population in UP. Since the BSP lost badly in the elections ending up with just 19 seats, there was a view that the Dalits voted en masse for the BJP.
Actually, the BSP has received 24 percent of votes, down from its 27 percent in 2012 but up from 23 percent in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Among the 85 reserved seats in the state, the BJP outflanked all other parties by getting 40 percent of the votes with the BSP a distant second at 24 percent. Again, the BJP's appeal was across all castes and may have included some Dalit communities too, but BSP's vote share indicates that it is just about retaining its Dalit base while the BJP surged ahead.
Much is now being written and said about the need to match Modi’s social media engineering, the BJP’s troll expertise and the Modi magic with the electorate. None of these are insignificant observations. Senior analyst and former Indian bureaucrat, SP Shukla, has called for the need for a more transformative agenda that appeals to the small peasantry and youth, but also which rises above the simple arithmetic of identity-based politics. The language of that mobilization will be crucial in coming months and a real challenge to the Indian political class. Are they up to the task?
The explosive potential of the peasantry in crisis cannot be overstated. Nor that of the burgeoning legions of youth seeking jobs with dignity. Today they could be won over by the slogans of cultural nationalism and the tactics of social engineering. But it would not be long before the hollowness of the strategy is exposed spreading massive discontent and unforeseen, anarchic upheavals.
No nation-state can survive long, let alone prosper, with a huge population of 18 crores of its people sulking as second-class citizens and feeling insecure. No amount of ‘nationalist’ sloganeering can eradicate that fact. No amount of force can alter that fact. The only viable politics for India is that based on the inclusive and modern values of Equality, Liberty, Fraternity and Justice. We need to reinvigorate these fundamentals enshrined in our constitution and reconstruct the narrative of nation-building.
This is a challenge that has been long in the making.