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The Trump Administration Is a Government of Billionaires and Their Sycophants

March 15, 2018 in Blogs

By Thom Hartmann, AlterNet

The GOP lackeys are eager to do the bidding of whichever oligarch will give them the most money.


A few years back, former President Jimmy Carter told me that, because of Citizens United and its predecessors (like the Buckley decision in 1976), we’re no longer a democracy, but instead, “an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery.”

For proof that Carter was right, one need look no further than Mike Pompeo taking Rex Tillerson’s job, stepping into Thomas Jefferson’s shoes as Secretary of State.

While Pompeo has an impressive resume on paper, something endlessly mentioned on cable news and other corporate media, the one skill-set that has truly enabled his rise to power, first in Congress and now in the Executive Branch, is his fine-tuned ability to suck up to #MorbidlyRich billionaires.

Prior to Trump arriving, Pompeo was one of Congress’s single largest beneficiaries of money from the Koch brothers and groups associated with them. Forget Pompeo’s army service and Harvard law degree; you don’t get to be the favorite son of the morbidly rich if you don’t know how to suck up to them. 

Billionaire Trump, like so many others of America’s billionaire oligarchs, doesn’t take kindly to people who have their own minds. He wants fealty and sycophancy, not brilliance or competence.

For example, Rex Tillerson, actually looking at facts and political realities, made the mistake of pointing out to Trump that tearing up the Iran no-nukes deal at the same time you’re trying to negotiate a brand-new no-nukes deal with North Korea was contradictory messaging. What country, after all, would want to cut a deal with a partner who kills agreements unilaterally without contractual justification?

Tillerson, of course, was right. But he wasn’t sucking up to Trump in the way the oligarch wanted (and apparently, needed). Tillerson even occasionally put our nation’s security ahead of his subservience to Trump. Big mistake.

Many members of today’s billionaire class think of themselves as “self-made,” and so have a sneering disregard for the working people of America who “merely” aspire to the American Dream of …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Billy Graham and the Gospel of American Nationalistic Christianity

March 15, 2018 in Blogs

By Anthea Butler, Religion Dispatches

It's time to reconsider his racist legacy.


Billy Graham’s death on the same day as the anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X is an interesting postscript to the life of America’s premier evangelist of Americanism. It would take an outsider to deftly articulate Graham’s mission. In his speech, Message to the Grassroots, Malcolm X said: “I have watched how Billy Graham comes into a city, spreading what he calls the gospel of Christ, which is only white nationalism. That’s what he is. Billy Graham is a white nationalist; I’m a black nationalist….”

I’m sure that Billy Graham did not like being called a white nationalist back then, and many evangelicals will bristle at this quote even now. With Graham’s death, it’s time to reconsider how his promotion of a nationalistic version of Americanized Christianity has influenced evangelicals today. Graham’s proximity to the office of the presidency and government since the Eisenhower administration is part of why we see scenes of eager evangelicals embracing President Trump. It’s also responsible for a large cohort of evangelicals who are actively supporting Islamophobia, isolationism, and America first policies.

Billy Graham may have been “puffed up” by William Randolph Hearst newspaper reporters in his first crusade in Los Angeles, but the more important event in Graham’s ministry was his Washington, D.C. crusade in 1952. It was there that he would begin what was part of his lifelong work: fusing Christianity and Americanism together to create a potent cocktail of Evangelical Christian Nationalism. Graham was allowed to lead an Evangelistic Service from The Capital Steps and Plaza on February 3, 1952. Graham’s permission to preach from the capital at the time had to be given by three different governmental officials: Vice President Barkley, Speaker of the House Rayburn, and David Lynn, Capital Architect. That service was reported in the AP newswire as follows:

Evangelist Billy Graham Reports “Hunger For God in Washington” (AP)~Evangelist Billy Graham told a crowd from the steps of the United States Capitol yesterday: “If I would run for President of the United States today, on a platform of calling the people back to God, …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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The New York Times and National Geographic Are Reckoning With Their Sexist and Racist Pasts in Very Different Ways

March 15, 2018 in Blogs

By Mehreen Kasana, AlterNet

NatGeo admits its flaws, while the Times dodges.


In the past few weeks, legacy media groups have started engaging in introspective conversations on the complicated—and at times conflicted—nature of their own dispatches. Both the New York Times and National Geographic magazine have issued editorials grappling with their problematic pasts. In the case of the Times, the issue centered on its failure to write obituaries for women and its focus on white men. With National Geographic, race took center stage. But if you juxtapose both statements—that is, National Geographic on race and the New York Times on gender—it is clear that NatGeo is much more willing to admit its flaws than the Times.

The statements have launched a cultural conversation. Social media users instantly noticed the glaring difference in tone and honesty between the publications and shared their thoughts on the matter. Wikimedia executive director Katherine Maher compared New York Times obituary editor William McDonald's thoughts with National Geographic editor-in-chief's Susan Goldberg's words on the magazine's racially prejudiced past, and tweeted, “Striking difference in tone as two journalistic institutions examine their history. The @nytimes’s recent excluded [obituary] project gets an editorial shruggie: 'Bias? Maybe!' versus @NatGeo, which does the work and concludes, 'Yes, we were pretty racist.'”

In his editorial, “From the Death Desk: Why Most Obituaries Are Still of White Men,” McDonald attempts to explain the context behind sparse obituary coverage of women in the newspaper, especially women of color. Not once does he use the word “sexist” or “racist” to explain the absence of coverage. Instead, McDonald said, “Conscious or unconscious bias? Could be. Perhaps my predecessors and I were never informed of the deaths. Maybe those who knew the deceased did not think we’d be interested. Maybe an editor passed for lack of interest, or maybe considered an obit but did not have a reporter available to write it. (A practical reality that bedevils us today.)”

NatGeo's Goldberg, on the other hand, minced no words in criticizing her magazine's institutional failure to write about race with nuance and complexity, particularly while covering conflicts and nations in Africa, Asia …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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'A Living History Lesson': Teachers Reflect on the Massive West Virginia Strike

March 15, 2018 in Blogs

By Yawana Wolfe, In These Times

Teachers are not backing down.


Charleston, W. Va.—The teachers’ strike in West Virginia ended Tuesday after the Republican-controlled West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates voted to pass a 5 percent pay raise bill for public employees that Republican Gov. Jim Justice later signed into law.

The strike, which began on February 22 and continued for nine days across the state, left nearly 277,000 children out of classrooms with their parents scrambling for babysitters. Meanwhile, more than 20,000 red-shirted teachers took to picket lines across all 55 counties and created a massive presence in Charleston, the state capitol. Many teachers wore red bandannas in commemoration of the Battle of Blair Mountain—the largest labor uprising in U.S. history which took place in West Virginia in 1921.

On Monday, the capitol was briefly shut down due to overcrowding by striking teachers and supporters. By 11 a.m., the capitol, which was built to accommodate 3,700, had amassed over 5,000, with the line snaking into the building stretching for at least half a mile.

Teachers were on strike demanding a pay raise and a fix for the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) which provides healthcare coverage for state workers. Rising premiums and benefit cuts in recent years have led to frustration for many public employees, and West Virginia teachers rank among the lowest paid in the nation.

During the talks with Senate leadership and Gov. Justice, strikers rallied outside the Senate and House chambers chanting, “55 United” and “You work for us, we’ll work for you!”

After days of negotiations, with some strikers traveling hours to get to the capitol each day, many teachers were ecstatic when the vote of 34-0 in the Senate was announced. Chants of “55 United” gave way to hand holding and the singing of John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads.” Tears were shed and a feeling of pride and accomplishment settled over the crowd.

Brandon Tinney, a union leader with the American Federation of Teachers said he was happy with the progress the strikers made. “We have been 48th in pay for the past several years so any raise in pay is helpful,” he said. “Five percent won’t get …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Jim Hightower: Everybody Does Better When Everybody Does Better

March 15, 2018 in Blogs

By Jim Hightower, AlterNet

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How to build a Democratic Party for the future.


My father, W.F. “High” Hightower, was a populist. Only, he didn't know it; didn't know the word, much less the history or anything about populism's rich democratic ethos.

But he knew about bankers who regularly squeezed small-business families like ours with usurious interest rates. He knew how rough it was for a local business to fight off deep-pocketed chain stores that use predatory pricing and sledgehammer advertising budgets to seize local markets. And he saw with his very own eyes that the governor and legislature in faraway Austin operated as subsidiaries of Big Oil, the utility monopolies, and the other giants that were allowed to profit by picking the pockets of the general public.

He and my mother, Lillie, knew one other thing, too: There was once a Democratic Party that stood up for regular folks and actively promoted the ethic of the common good. Having been raised on hard-scrabble Texas farms and come of age in the Depression, they didn't see the New Deal through ideological glasses, but simply as the help they and the rest of America needed—a path out of both depression and the Depression.

That path eventually allowed my parents to scramble into America's lower middle class. Moreover, the New Deal's outreach gave my father, who was not at all philosophical, a phrase that he used occasionally to express the gist of his political beliefs: “Everybody does better when everybody does better.”

That is Populism. Neither right nor left, Republican or Democrat; it is not based on ideology, but on two gut-level fundamentals: our people's historic aspiration for a society and nation of fairness, justice and equal opportunity for all; and the actual life experience of people who see those values routinely trampled by domineering elites.

Populism …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Julius Caesar’s Forgotten Assassin

March 15, 2018 in History

By Barry Strauss

Brutus and other conspirators after killing Julius Caesar. (Credit: Fototeca Gilardi/Getty Images)

On March 15, 44 B.C. a group of Roman senators murdered Julius Caesar as he sat on the podium at a senate meeting. The dictator fell bleeding to his death from 23 stab wounds before the horrified eyes of the rest of the house. It was a little after noon on the Ides of March, as the Romans called the mid-day of the month. The spectators didn’t know it yet but they were witnessing the last hours of the Roman Republic. But who was to blame?

As readers of Shakespeare know, a dying Caesar turned to one of the assassins and condemned him with his last breath. It was Caesar’s friend, Marcus Junius Brutus.

“Et tu, Brute?” – “You too, Brutus?” is what Shakespeare has Caesar say in the Tragedy of Julius Caesar. Except, Caesar never said these words. And Brutus was neither his closest friend nor his biggest betrayer, not by a long shot.

The worst traitor was another man: Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus. Decimus was a distant cousin of Marcus Brutus. Because Shakespeare all but leaves him out of the story, Decimus is the forgotten assassin. In fact, he was essential.

Shakespeare puts two men in charge of the plot to kill Caesar, Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus (he of the famous “lean and hungry look”). Shakespeare mentions Decimus but misspells his name as Decius and downplays his role. But often-overlooked ancient sources make clear that Decimus was a leader of the conspiracy.

Brutus and other conspirators after killing Julius Caesar. (Credit: Fototeca Gilardi/Getty Images)

Decimus was closer to Caesar than either Brutus or Cassius was. In fact, they opposed Caesar during his bloody rise to power in a civil war. Only when he started winning the war did they defect to his cause. Caesar pardoned Brutus and Cassius and rewarded them with political office but he didn’t trust them. Decimus was different. He always fought for Caesar, never against him, and so he held a place in Caesar’s inner circle.

Decimus belonged to the Roman nobility, the narrow elite that ruled both Rome and an empire of tens of millions of people. His grandfather extended Rome’s rule to the Atlantic, in Spain. But Decimus’s father had a mediocre career and his mother dabbled in revolution. Then Caesar came along and offered Decimus the chance to restore his house’s name.

Decimus was a …read more

Source: HISTORY

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Arizona Needs Legalized Needle Exchanges

March 15, 2018 in Economics

By Jeffrey A. Singer

Jeffrey A. Singer

Needle exchange programs have a more than 30-year track record
of reducing the spread of deadly diseases associated with IV drug
use while helping addicts get needed treatment. Arizona needs them,
as does the rest of the country.

Recently the House of Representatives unanimously approved a
bill to legalize needle exchange programs in the state. It is now
in the Senate for debate.

Needle exchange programs
have a more than 30-year track record of reducing the spread of
deadly diseases associated with IV drug use while helping addicts
get needed treatment.

Even though there are seven functioning needle exchange programs
in Arizona, they technically are illegal because of laws that
expressly prohibit the sale or distribution of drug paraphernalia.
So they operate under the radar. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Thomas
Rivera, R-Peoria, would add Arizona to the 30 states that
explicitly permit needle exchange programs, and five states that
have no laws prohibiting them.

Needle exchange programs have existed since the 1980s.
Originally developed in the Netherlands in the 1970s, they operate
throughout the developed world. The oldest continuing program in
the U.S. started in Tacoma, Wash., in 1988. As of 2012, needle
exchange programs were operating in at least 35 states.

The idea behind them is to prevent the spread of HIV and
hepatitis that often results from the sharing of dirty needles.
Seven federally funded studies between 1991 and 1997 showed these
programs reduce the spread of HIV. A 2013 systematic review by the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a drop in HIV and
hepatitis C infections associated with the exchange programs, which
was further supported by a 2014 meta-analysis.

Needle exchange programs are endorsed by both the CDC and the
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which
supports needle exchange programs for their “efficacy and
facilitating entry into treatment for intravenous drug users and
thereby reducing illicit drug use.

Law enforcement officers often get stuck with dirty needles, and
many believe needle exchange programs will reduce the risk of
exposure to disease.

Many needle exchange programs have personnel who counsel addicts
and get them help for their disease by referring them to therapy
programs. Some even offer testing for HIV and hepatitis, and
several also provide male and female condoms, as well as bleach and
alcohol (to clean paraphernalia).

Opponents of needle exchange programs fear they send the wrong
message. State Sen. Jay Lawrence, R-Fountain Hills, believes
replacing needles and syringes on a regular basis “merely
encourages” drug abusers to use illegal drugs.

But nearly 100 years since the total ban of heroin, and a
half-century since President Richard Nixon declared a “war on
drugs,” heroin …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Jail Time for Martin Shkreli Won't Fix Drug Prices. Globalization Will

March 15, 2018 in Economics

By David A. Hyman, Charles Silver

David A. Hyman and Charles Silver

Before sentencing notorious pharmaceutical executive Martin
Shkreli to seven years in prison, the federal judge presiding over
his criminal trial ordered him to turn over “Once Upon a Time in
Shaolin,” the Wu-Tang Clan album of which only a single copy
exists. Shkreli paid $2 million for the album, an extravagance he
could afford after making a fortune by jacking up the prices of
prescription medications.

Seizing the album and other assets worth a total of $7.4 million
may seem like karma, but it will do nothing to tame drug costs.
Indeed, it is entirely legal to raise generic drug prices (which
explains why Shkreli was convicted of securities fraud, not
healthcare fraud). The problem is that government has made it far
too easy for pharma companies to gain a national monopoly on the
supply of drugs that no longer are patent-protected. Rather than
make an example of Shkreli, the solution to outrageous drug prices
is to embrace globalization.

Competition doesn’t
always bring drug prices down as much as one might hope, but it is
still the best remedy for price gouging.

Shkreli first used this supply-control tactic at a company
called Retrophin,where he raised the price of Thiola,
a drug used to treat kidney stones, from $1.50 per pill to $30. He
did it again at Turing Pharmaceuticals, where he increased the
price of Daraprim, a 62-year-old treatment for a parasitic
infection, from $13.50 a pill to $750.

Economic theory says that such behavior should attract
competitors to the market, which would keep prices in check. But in
practice, that’s not what’s going on. According to a 2016
report by the Government Accountability Office that studied 1,441
established generic drugs during 2010-15,
315 saw price hikes
of 100% or more, and some had price hikes of 500% or more.

Collusion between drug companies explains some of these price
increases. In these cases, it’s up to the U.S. antitrust
authorities to protect consumers. But leaving collusion aside,
Shkreli and his “pharma bro” ilk avoid competitors in part because
of the costly and time-consuming process of obtaining approval from
the FDA to manufacture and distribute generic drugs. If the market
is small enough, potential competitors may not think it worth the
effort.

To fix this problem, Congress should allow companies that have
been approved to sell drugs or medical devices in other developed
countries to export those same drugs to the U.S. Many first-world
countries have strong regulatory structures and are devoted to
protecting their citizens from harmful products; the FDA should
grant automatic approvals to companies that satisfy the …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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A Ground-Breaking Opportunity: Mining Critical Minerals in America

March 15, 2018 in Economics

By Ned Mamula, Stephen Moore

Ned Mamula and Stephen Moore

Energy, minerals, and metals are indispensable for our American
standard of living. But unlike the case with energy, the U.S. is
chronically import-reliant on other nations for the minerals and
metals that are needed for our country’s economy,
infrastructure, and military. Mineral imports have steadily
increased for at least the past two decades because draconian
permitting requirements and environmental opposition have made it
hard to supply those needs from sources within the U.S. Now there
is not enough domestic mining to meet robust manufacturing
demand.

However, the real problem is that more and more mineral imports
are coming from China, Russia, and third-world dictatorships. The
nation’s vulnerability to a mineral embargo has become
sufficiently serious that President Trump issued an Executive Order (EO) on December 20, 2017, to
ensure secure and reliable supplies of critical minerals for the
nation.

For the first time, a presidential EO puts forth an official
government definition of what a “critical mineral” is,
along with its role in the economy: “a non-fuel mineral
material essential to the economic and national security of the
U.S.; the supply chain of which is vulnerable to disruption; and
that serves an essential function in the manufacturing of a
product, the absence of which would have significant consequences
for our economy or our national security.”

This new definition enables federal agencies and others to focus
on how serious the issue of critical mineral imports has become
from an economic, geological, technological, and manufacturing
standpoint.

Domestic mining could
supply most of our mineral needs, if only environmentalists would
allow it.

In response to the president’s EO, the U.S. Geological
Survey (USGS) last week published a list of 35 “critical minerals” that
are important for American economic health and military readiness.
The draft list includes aluminum, platinum, rare-earth elements,
tin, titanium, and over two dozen other critical minerals and
metals. These are the minerals that will be required to sustain our
standard of living and begin rebuilding the American
infrastructure, as proposed by the president.

According to the USGS, as of 2017, the U.S. is importing an
alarming 64 minerals and metals in quantities above 25
percent. Of those 64, approximately 35 are imported in various
quantities from China, and 10 from Russia. Put another way, we are
importing approximately two-thirds of these 64 key minerals from
adversaries.

Worse, the U.S. is 100 percent dependent on imports for 21
minerals and metals now listed as “critical minerals”
by the USGS, with more than half of those imported from China. If
the 15 rare earths were counted as individual metals, the number of
minerals and metals imported at …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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A Short Strange Trip to the South by Southwest Festival

March 15, 2018 in Economics

By Ilya Shapiro

Ilya Shapiro

Austin, Texas — I went to South by Southwest for the first
time since 2002. My how times have changed.

Back then, I was a law student on spring break, looking for a
good time and finding it at this quaint little music festival that
had just started gaining national acclaim. Sixteen years later, as
a grizzled policy wonk with a newborn and a toddler at home, I was
looking for sleep more than diversion. This was a business trip
— I was there to speak at a First Amendment event organized
by the Newseum Foundation — and any entertainment was mere
happenstance.

Luckily, SXSW delivered again, with a disorienting mix of trendy
tech panels and sweaty queues to nowhere. The music festival
didn’t even start till after I returned to the real
world.

Luckily, the festival
delivered again, with a disorienting mix of trendy tech panels and
sweaty queues to nowhere.

But apparently I wasn’t the target demographic. It’s
not that “South by” doesn’t necessarily cater to
40-year-olds specializing in constitutional law and dad jokes, but
that it’s a “safe space for the resistance.” Indeed,
there was even an avant-garde music/art program incorporating yarn
and wires into something called “Conductors and
Resistance.” (Get it?)

In other words, I had somehow stumbled into Davos for the
hipster set.

“Artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, and the
ever-more-fraught relationship between platform and publisher felt
like some of the other themes du jour, but,” that Vanity Fair write-up described in an
on-the-nose summary, “much of the buzz revolved around Donald
Trump.” And not just the president himself, but an alternate
universe where trust-fund babies compete with would-be Keith
Olbermann go-fers for a place on Al Gore’s latest
cross-platform startup.

Just look at some of the presentations on offer: Let’s
Tech the Borders Down, Return on Inclusion: Investing in Diverse
Startups, The Authoritarian Playbook, Diversity and Inclusion in
the Sports Industry, RompHims and Boyfriend Jeans: Ungendering
Fashion, Why Ethereum Is Goint to Change the World, and of course
Jake Tapper’s interview of Bernie Sanders. (Not to be
confused with the Bernie Sanders impersonator — not Larry
David — who conducted a town hall.) And that’s just the
first day!

I actually attended the CNN opening-night party referenced in
the aforelinked piece. It was crowded and the apple old fashioneds
were too sweet. I missed Dan Rather and David Axelrod — at
least Brian Stelter attended my panel — but you’ll
excuse me for skipping a return visit to that venue for Axe’s
interview of Jon Lovett the next morning in order to work out.

By the time I got to the New York Times party, …read more

Source: OP-EDS