Archive | July 20th, 2020

Cuban Asylum Seeker Describes Vicious Pepper Spray Attack on Hunger Strikers at ICE Detention Facility

More than 2,000 migrants and refugees in U.S. detention facilities have contracted Covid-19 as advocates demand their release.

by: Julia Conley,

Protesters holding a banner reading, “U.S. Immigration Policy Is A Crime” at a silent protest in January 2020. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A Cuban asylum-seeker on Thursday described a “shocking” pepper spray attack he and about two dozen other people on hunger strike faced in May at a private prison where ICE is holding immigrants in New Mexico.

On May 14, the migrants were several days into a hunger strike over poor treatment, including “terrible food” served at Torrance County Detention Facility near Albuquerque. The men were protesting unhealthy prison conditions which they feared made them more vulnerable to contracting Covid-19. 

An official at the prison, which is run by private contractor CoreCivic, entered the room where the men were striking and warned them the situation was “going to get ugly” unless they ended the protest. 

“The officer sprayed me directly on my face and on my body, and I ran. I felt like I was going to drown.”
—Yandy Bacallao, Cuban refugee

Moments later, guards clad in riot gear and gas masks came in with pepper spray canisters, corralled the men into a group and sprayed them with the chemical. 

“You could just hear everyone screaming for help,” Yandy Bacallao, who arrived in the U.S. last November from Cuba seeking political asylum, like many of the men who were attacked.

A CoreCivic spokesperson acknowledged that the pepper spraying had happened and said it was in response to a protest that “became disruptive” as the migrants refused to follow verbal orders.

But the men who spoke to The Guardian and the independent news organization Searchlight New Mexico suggested the orders they were refusing to follow pertained to eating the facility’s food.

“The officer sprayed me directly on my face and on my body, and I ran,” Bacallao said of the attack. “I felt like I was going to drown.”

According to The Guardian, immigrants in detention centers in Massachusetts, California, and Texas have also been pepper sprayed in response to protests since the coronavirus pandemic began. 

Public health experts in recent weeks have raised alarm over the use of pepper spray and tear gas by police at racial justice protests taking place outside; both chemical sprays can cause people to cough, making the transmission of Covid-19 more likely.

According to the New Mexico Department of Health, at least 32 people in Torrance County Detention Facility have contracted the virus so far.

The hunger strike was one of many direct actions since the pandemic began demanding migrants in detention facilities be released to stem the spread of the virus. As of June 16, according to the Center for Migration Studies, at least 2,059 immigrants and refugees have contracted Covid-19 in U.S. detention facilities.

Last week, a federal judge ordered the administration to release children from the country’s three family detention centers, in light of the pandemic.   

Although Bacallao reported experiencing temporary blindness and being in pain for at least an hour after being pepper sprayed, medical staff at the facility determined that “no injuries occurred” during the attack.

An official for Torrance County, which received more than $90,000 in payments from CoreCivic’s facility last year, also denied Bacallao’s version of events. 

Bacallao told Searchlight New Mexico that he fled Cuba as a refugee seeking a better life, but has been treated terribly since arriving in the United States.

“When I come here to the United States, to the freest country in the world, the first thing they do is imprison me,” Bacallao said. 

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As Pandemic Soars in US and Brazil, Red Cross Federation Chief Slams Trump and Bolsonaro for Anti-Science Responses

The remarks from International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies president Francesco Rocca for lawmakers to heed science came as Trump said the coronavirus is “going to sort of just disappear.”

by: Andrea Germanos,

The President of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent, Francesco Rocca, speaks during a press conference on Greece-Turkey border near Kastanies, on the Greek side on March 5, 2020.

The President of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent, Francesco Rocca, speaks during a press conference on Greece-Turkey border near Kastanies, on the Greek side on March 5, 2020. (Photo: Sakis Mitrolidis/ AFP via Getty Images)

The head of the Red Cross federation on Wednesday expressed grave concern about the continuing spread of the coronavirus in the Americas and criticized Brazil and U.S. government leaders for their disastrous science-rejecting responses to the pandemic thus far.

Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), made the remarks at a virtual press conference in Geneva where he warned that “we haven’t yet reached the peak of this outbreak.”

Rocca said the effects of partisan rhetoric and policies out-of-line with science on the pandemic were clear.

“America as a continent is paying the highest price for this kind of division or not following the advice coming from the scientific community,” he said. President Donald Trump in the U.S. and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro have faced sustained criticism over their handling of the coronavirus. Bolsonaro, who notably dismissed it as a “little flu,” has, like Trump, refused to wear a face mask in public gatherings.

The two countries lead the world in coronavirus cases. As of press time, the Johns Hopkins tracker showed the U.S. with the highest number of confirmed cases—over 2.6 million. Brazil is a distant second with over 1.4 million confirmed cases. The countries also have the highest number of Covid-19 related deaths; the U.S. has had over 128,000 such deaths and Brazil over 60,000.

According to Rocca, Bolsonaro “underestimated the consequences of Covid, and his country is living the consequences.”

“If the scientific community is saying that it is important to avoid to shake hands, and to wear masks, I think that the leaders should follow and listen,” Rocca said when asked about Trump’s mask refusal.

Rocca added that other world leaders too “have been irresponsible” in their response to the coronavirus pandemic and said politicians must “start learning to follow the advice coming from the scientific community.”

Rocca’s remarks came the same day Trump said the virus would “disappear.”

“I think we’re gonna be very good with the coronavirus,” Trump told Fox Business. “I think that at some point that’s going to sort of just disappear, I hope.”

The U.S. is on a string of record-setting single-day totals for the coronavirus, hitting a fourth record on Tuesday with over 48,000 new cases and over 50,000 cases on Wednesday.

According to the nation’s top infectious disease expert, the daily figure could go even higher.

Speaking before a Senate committee hearing Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said he “would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around.”

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150+ Civil Society Groups Issue Global Call for ‘New—and Improved—Normal’ for Post-Pandemic World

“Now is the moment to reflect on the world as it is and consider a better alternative for the future,” the groups say in the letter.

by: Andrea Germanos,

gill in face mask

“Together we can reshape the security landscape for the future and help create a new—and improved—’normal,'” over 150 groups say in a new open letter. (Photo: Aulia Erlangga/Flickr/cc)

Over 150 groups on Thursday called for a “new normal” post-pandemic in which the human and economic costs of military spending are slashed, mulitlateralism is boosted, and inequality is uprooted in order to center true human security.

The call comes in an open letter whose original endorsers include the International Campaign to Ban Landmines  and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, both Nobel-winning groups.

As of this writing, the letter has been signed by 156 organizations representing a wide range of issues. Global backers include the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, the Cluster Munitions Coalition, and Mayors for Peace. U.S.-based groups including CodePink and Peace Action have signed, as have the West African Action Network on Small Arms and the Arab Human Security Network.

“Now is the moment to reflect on the world as it is and consider a better alternative for the future,” the groups say in the letter.

The organizations are calling for civil society and world leaders to take and broaden an approach known as “humanitarian disarmament,” which has its roots (pdf) in the origin of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. Humanitarian disarmament, the groups explain, “seeks to prevent and remediate arms-inflicted human suffering and environmental damage through the establishment and implementation of norms.”

Taking that approach forward post-coronavirus means national budget priorities have to change. The letter says “governments and industry should stop investing in unacceptable weapons as well as strengthen the protection of civilians from the use of weapons and ensure arms transfers comply with international law.”

Those funds should instead be directed towards “humanitarian purposes, such as healthcare or social spending,” and, in line with remediation, “governments should redirect money to programs that assist victims, restore infrastructure, clear explosive ordnance, and clean up conflict-related pollution.”

The pandemic has “exposed and exacerbated” existing inequalities, the letter adds, including access to healthcare. That issue must be addressed in part through promoting “more sensitive programs than existed before” and including a broader range of voices in decision-making.

When Covid-19 subsides and when in-person meetings can safely resume, “the international community could increase inclusivity and accessibility by permitting meaningful online participation at multilateral meetings” and bring in voices from people, “including survivors and other persons with disabilities, who are unable to travel due to lack of funding,” the letter says.

Further, “international cooperation should become a standard way to address global issues,” the groups say.

An improved world, the letter says, is possible.

“The international community should prioritize human security, reallocate military spending to humanitarian causes, work to eliminate inequalities, ensure multilateral fora incorporate diverse voices, and bring a cooperative mindset to problems of practice and policy,” the groups urge. “Together we can reshape the security landscape for the future and help create a new—and improved—’normal.'”

The “Open Letter on Covid-19 and Humanitarian Disarmament” echoes the kind of thinking found in a number of calls to leave behind business-as-usual and instead “build back better” post-pandemic, with individuals and organizations worldwide demanding various forms of a People’s BailoutJust RecoveryHealthy RecoveryGreen RecoveryGreen Stimulus, and Global Green New Deal.

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‘A Scandal’: Contracts Show Trump Giving Big Pharma Free Rein to Price Gouge Taxpayer-Funded Coronavirus Drugs

“The amount of money the government is throwing at companies is unprecedented. Normally when you write bigger checks, you should have more leverage, not less leverage.”

by: Jake Johnson,

Bottles of a trial Covid-19 vaccine on a table in a lab in Brussels on June 18, 2020. (Photo: Vincent Kalut/Photonews via Getty Images)

Government contracts obtained by consumer advocacy group Knowledge Ecology International show that the Trump administration is giving pharmaceutical companies a green light to charge exorbitant prices for potential coronavirus treatments developed with taxpayer money by refusing to exercise federal authority to constrain costs.

“The government has limited its ability to intervene if the pharmaceutical companies… charge unreasonable prices for the resulting Covid-19 vaccines or treatments.”
—Knowledge Ecology International

Through the Freedom of Information Act, Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) last week got hold of a number of heavily redacted agreements between the Trump administration and major pharmaceutical companies like Johnson & Johnson, Regeneron, and Genentech.

Five of the seven documents reviewed by KEI are classified as “other transaction agreements,” which allow federal agencies to loosen regulations designed to protect the public in order to help companies streamline the product development process.

In the case of four contracts for potential Covid-19 treatments or vaccines with Johnson & Johnson, Genentech, Regeneron, and Roche issued by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and the Pentagon, the Trump administration omitted a standard condition requiring that products developed with taxpayer money be made available to the public “on reasonable terms.”

“This means that the government has limited its ability to intervene if the pharmaceutical companies (which are party to the agreements and are receiving hundreds of millions of dollars to conduct the research) charge unreasonable prices for the resulting Covid-19 vaccines or treatments,” KEI noted in a press release.

KEI also found that federal contracts with Genentech and Regeneron for coronavirus treatments contain passages restricting the government’s ability to “have generic manufacturers make and distribute through pharmacies and other commercial outlets an effective diagnostic test, drug, or vaccine for Covid-19.”

Dean Baker@DeanBaker13much worse, the Trump administration is making them unaffordable by giving out patent monopolies, otherwise they would be cheap generics

Jon Schwarz@schwarzThe Trump administration is waiving the public’s right to affordable coronavirus treatments by @fastlerner

The details of the contracts come just days after the Trump administration faced backlash from consumer groups for refusing to require Gilead to charge a reasonable price for its Covid-19 treatment remdesivir. On Monday, as Common Dreams reported, Gilead announced it will charge U.S. hospitals around $3,120 per privately insured patient for a treatment course of remdesivir, which was developed with the help of at least $70.5 million in taxpayer funding.

“Allowing Gilead to set the terms during a pandemic represents a colossal failure of leadership by the Trump administration,” Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines Program, said in a statement Monday. “The U.S. government has authority and a responsibility to steward the technology it helped develop.”

Chris Morten@cmorten2A scandal: BARDA & DOD have used contract law to WEAKEN the already-too-weak, & weakly enforced, patent & other rights that the US government holds over vaccines, drugs, & other COVID-19 technologies they fund w/ our public dollars. More here from @KEI_DC:

James Love@jamie_loveTrump administration makes it easier for drugmakers to profit from publicly funded coronavirus drugs, advocates say. By @PostRowland, on “Other Transaction Authority” contracts. Includes comments from HHS, Genentech, and KEI.

As the Washington Post reported Wednesday, “[Johnson & Johnson] has a $456 million contract with BARDA to develop a coronavirus vaccine and a $152 million contract to conduct screening of drug compounds that could be Covid-19 treatments.”

“Regeneron has contracts worth up to $130 million to develop two therapies for the disease,” the Post noted. “Roche’s Genentech subsidiary has contracts worth $47 million to develop a pair of therapies.”

James Love, the director of KEI, told the Post that “the amount of money the government is throwing at companies is unprecedented.”

“Normally when you write bigger checks,” Love said, “you should have more leverage, not less leverage.”

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Trump’s Record on Foreign Policy: Lost Wars, New Conflicts and Broken Promises

By Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J. S. Davies

On June 13, President Donald Trump told the graduating class at West Point, “We are ending the era of endless wars.” That is what Trump has promised since 2016, but the “endless” wars have not ended. Trump has dropped more bombs and missiles than George W. Bush or Barack Obama did in their first terms, and there are still roughly as many US bases and troops overseas as when he was elected.

Trump routinely talks up both sides of every issue, and the corporate media still judge him more by what he says (and tweets) than by his actual policies. So it isn’t surprising that he is still trying to confuse the public about his aggressive war policy. But Trump has been in office for nearly three and a half years, and he now has a record on war and peace that we can examine.

Such an examination makes one thing very clear: Trump has come closer to starting new wars with North Korea, Venezuela, and Iran than to ending any of the wars he inherited from Obama. His first-term record shows Trump to be just another warmonger in chief.

A Bloody Inheritance

First, let’s look at what Trump inherited. At the end of the Cold War, US political leaders promised Americans a “peace dividend,” and the Senate Budget Committee embraced a proposal to cut the US military budget by 50 percent over the next ten years. Ten years later, only 22 percent in savings were realized, and the George W. Bush administration used the terrorist crimes of September 11 to justify illegal wars, systematic war crimes, and an extraordinary one-sided arms race in which the United States accounted for 45 percent of global military spending from 2003 to 2011. Only half this $2 trillion spending surge (in 2010 dollars) was related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while the US Navy and Air Force quietly cashed in a trillion-dollar wish list of new warships, warplanes, and high-tech weapons.

President Barack Obama entered the White House with a pledge to bring home US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and to shrink the US military footprint, but his presidency was a triumph of symbolism over substance. He won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize based on a few speeches, a lot of wishful thinking, and the world’s desperate hopes for peace and progress. But by the time Obama stepped down in 2017, he had dropped more bombs and missiles on more countries than Bush did, and had spent even more than Bush on weapons and war.

The major shift in US war policy under Obama was to reduce politically sensitive US troop casualties by transitioning from large-scale military occupations to mass bombing, shelling, and covert and proxy wars. While Republicans derisively dubbed Obama’s doctrine “leading from behind,” this was a transition that was already underway in Bush’s second term, when he committed the United States to completely withdrawing its occupation troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.

Obama’s defenders, like Trump’s today, were always ready to absolve him of responsibility for war crimes, even as he killed thousands of civilians in air strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria and drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, including the gratuitous assassination of an American teenager in Yemen. Obama launched a new war to destroy Libya, and the United States’ covert role in the war in Syria was similar to its role in Nicaragua in the 1980s, for which, despite its covert nature, the International Court of Justice convicted the United States of aggression and ordered it to pay reparations.

Many senior US military and civilian officials deserve a share of the guilt for America’s systematic crimes of aggression and other war crimes since 2001, but the principle of command responsibility, recognized from the Nuremberg principles to the US Uniform Code of Military Justice, means that the commander in chief of the US armed forces, the president of the United States, bears the heaviest criminal responsibility for these crimes under US and international law.

Is Trump Different?

In January 2017, as Donald Trump prepared to take office, US forces in Iraq conducted their heaviest month of aerial bombardment since the “shock and awe” bombing during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. This time, the enemy was the Islamic State (IS), a group spawned by the US invasion of Iraq and Obama’s covert support for Al Qaeda–linked groups in Syria. Iraqi forces captured East Mosul from the Islamic State on January 24, and in February, they began their assault on West Mosul, bombing and shelling it even more heavily until they captured the ruined city in July. A Kurdish Iraqi intelligence report recorded that more than forty thousand civilians were killed in the US-led destruction of Mosul.

Trump famously summed up his policy as “bomb the shit out of” the Islamic State. He appeared to give a green light to the military to murder women and children, saying, “When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families.” Iraqi troops described explicit orders to do exactly that in Mosul. Middle East Eye (MEE) reported that Iraqi forces massacred all the survivors in Mosul’s Old City.

“We killed them all,” an Iraqi soldier said. “Daesh (IS), men, women, children. We killed everyone.” An Iraqi major told MEE,After liberation was announced, the order was given to kill anything or anyone that moved . . . It was not the right thing to do . . . They gave themselves up and we just killed them . . . There is no law here now. Every day, I see that we are doing the same thing as Daesh. People went down to the river to get water because they were dying of thirst and we killed them.\Can the World’s “Second Superpower” (Public Opinion) Rise from the Ashes of Twenty Years of War?

By October 2017, Raqqa in Syria was even more totally destroyed than Mosul in Iraq. Under Obama and Trump, the United States and its allies have dropped more than 118,000 bombs and missiles on Iraq and Syria in their campaign against the Islamic State, while US HIMARS rockets and US, French, and Iraqi heavy artillery killed even more indiscriminately.

The wholesale destruction of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and other major cities in Iraq and Syria cannot be legally justified under the Hague and Geneva Conventions, any more than the destruction of entire cities in past wars, like Hiroshima or Dresden. Despite the total lack of accountability, it is clear that American bombs, rockets, and shells killed thousands of civilians in each city and town captured. Obama and Trump share responsibility for these terrible crimes, but they are an escalation of the systematic war crimes the United States has committed since 2001 under three presidents.

In Afghanistan, as the Taliban gradually takes control of more of the country, Trump has resisted the temptation to send in tens of thousands more US troops, as Obama did, but he instead approved a major escalation in US bombing that made 2018 and 2019 the heaviest and deadliest years of US bombing in Afghanistan since 2001.

Trump has shrouded his war-making in even greater secrecy than Obama. The US military has not published a monthly Airpower Summary since February 2020, nor official troop deployment numbers for Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria for nearly three years. But the United States has dropped at least twenty thousand bombs on Afghanistan since Trump came to power, and there is no evidence of a reduction in bombing under the peace agreement the administration signed with the Taliban in February. Some US troops have been withdrawn under that agreement, but the remaining 8,600 are still being replaced as their tours end, keeping US troop strength at about the same level as when Obama left office.

Trump made a great show of repositioning US troops in Syria in October 2019, leaving the United States’ Kurdish allies in Rojava to confront the Turkish invasion alone. But there are still at least 500 US troops in Syria, and Trump deployed 14,000 more US troops to the Middle East in 2019, including to a new base in Saudi Arabia.

Trump has vetoed every bill passed by Congress to disengage US forces from the Saudi war in Yemen and to halt the sales of US-made warplanes and bombs, which the Saudis use to systematically kill Yemeni civilians. He created a new conflict with Iran by pulling out of the nuclear deal, and in January 2020, he capriciously flirted with a full-scale war on Iran by ordering the assassination of Iran’s General Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi military commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in Iraq.

Trump’s bizarre decision to move the US Embassy in Israel to a plot of land that is only partly within Israel’s internationally recognized borders — and partly on Palestinian territory that Israel is illegally occupying — quite literally took US international relations into uncharted territory. Then Trump unveiled a so-called peace plan based on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ambition to annex the rest of Palestine into a “Greater Israel” with vastly expanded — but still unrecognized and illegal — international borders.

Trump has also backed a coup in Bolivia, staged several failed ones in Venezuela, and targeted even the United States’ closest allies with sanctions to try to prevent them from trading with US enemies. Trump’s brutal sanctions on Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Cuba are not a peaceful alternative to war, but a form of economic warfare just as deadly as bombs, especially during a pandemic and its accompanying economic meltdown.

A Boon to the Merchants of Death

Once the large-scale US military occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan ended under Obama, the US military budget fell to $621 billion by 2015. But since then, military spending for procurement, research and development (R&D), and base construction has risen by 39 percent. This has been a huge windfall for the Big Five US weapons makers — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics — whose arms sales revenues rose 30 percent between 2015 and 2019.

The 49 percent increase to more than $100 billion for R&D on new weapons systems in 2020, part of the enormous $718 billion Pentagon budget, is a down payment on trillions of dollars in future revenue for the merchants of death unless these programs are stopped.

The pretext for Trump’s huge investment in big-ticket, high-tech weapons, including a new Space Force with a $15 billion price tag for 2021, is the New Cold War with Russia and China that he officially unveiled in the 2018 National Defense Strategy. Obama was already trying to shift away from the United States’ lost counterinsurgency wars in the greater Middle East through his “Pivot to Asia,” the US-backed coup in Ukraine, and the expansion of US land and naval forces encircling Russia and China.

But Trump has the same problem as Obama as he tries to wriggle out of the “forever wars”: how to bring US troops home without making it obvious to the whole world that this chronically weak imperial power and its extravagant multitrillion-dollar war machine has been defeated everywhere. Even the most expensive weapons still only kill people and break things. Establishing peace and stability require other kinds of power and legitimacy, which the United States does not possess and which cannot be bought.

Before President Dwight D. Eisenhower left office in 1961, he remarked, “God help this country when someone sits in this chair who doesn’t know the military as well as I do.” Trump is obviously as dazzled by chests full of medals and whizz-bang technology as every other president since Eisenhower, so he will keep giving the Pentagon everything it wants to keep spreading violence and chaos around the world.

Just as Obama co-opted and muted liberal opposition to Bush’s wars and record arms spending, Trump has co-opted and muted conservative opposition to Obama’s wars. Now, with the outpouring of protests against domestic police repression and calls for defunding the police, there is a growing chorus to also defund the military. That is certainly not a call Trump would listen to, but would Joe Biden be more receptive to public calls for peace and disarmament than Obama and Trump?

Probably not, based on his long record in the Senate, his roles in authorizing war on Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, his close ties to Israel, and his failure to rein in US war-making as vice president, despite personally opposing Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan. Biden is also trying to outdo Trump in his opposition to China. Like Obama and Trump, Biden would be mainly a new manager and salesman in chief to sell the military-industrial complex’s latest strategy for war and global military occupation to the corporate media and the American public.

We will not rescue our country from the iron grip of the military-industrial complex by picking the lesser evil and hoping for the best. That has not worked for sixty years, since Eisenhower defined the problem so clearly in his farewell address.

On the other hand, a civil society coalition, led by the Poor People’s Campaign and including CODEPINK, is calling for a $350 billion cut in the military budget to fund human needs and public services, and representatives Barbara Lee, Pramila Jayapal, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have introduced a resolution in Congress to do just that.

At the margins, this campaign could have more impact on Biden than on Trump, but not if people sweep up the bunting on election night and think their job is done, as liberals did with Obama and anti-war conservatives did with Trump. Unless and until the American public applies overwhelming pressure to dismantle the US war machine and its futile bid for “full spectrum” global dominance, the US military will keep losing wars on its own terms, bleeding us dry (metaphorically), and bleeding our neighbors overseas dry (literally), until it loses a major war with mass US casualties or destroys us all in a nuclear war.

The US peace movement has always had huge passive public support, but it will take mass collective action, not just passive support, to secure a peaceful future for our children and grandchildren. Public outrage and activism are starting to take away the license to kill black and brown people with impunity from the militarized RoboCops on our streets. The same kind of collective political action can defund and disarm the US military and take away its license to kill black and brown people everywhere.

Building a new anti-war movement that is connected to the domestic anti-police struggle is the only thing that can rein in US militarism. Because reelecting a president with as much blood on his hands as Trump — or simply transferring the command of the war machine to Joe Biden — certainly won’t.

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It’s Not Just Meat: All Farm and Food Workers Are in Peril


Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

COVID-19 outbreaks are now reaching far beyond the meatpacking industry. Migrant farmworkers in fruit orchards and vegetable fields, long the targets of intense exploitation, are seeing their health put in even greater jeopardy as they’re pushed to feed an increasingly voracious supply chain in pandemic-time.

With the pandemic rolling on unchecked, the fragility of the entire U.S. food system and the vulnerability of its workforce is coming into stark relief. Eliminating that fragility—a result of the industry’s single-minded pursuit of profit—will require shifting the priority to the lives of the people who produce our food, the landscapes where they live and work, and, ultimately, to resolving the global ecological emergency.

Southern New Jersey, for example, has seen hundreds of migrant farmworkers become infected with the virus. According to WHYY radio in Philadelphia, many of the twenty to twenty-five thousand seasonal workers who arrive in South Jersey each year to harvest fruits and vegetables sleep in cramped dormitories and eat in crowded cafeterias. Yet state guidelines allow farm managers, if they find their operations shorthanded, to keep infected workers on the job; they can forget paid sick leave.

As in meatpacking, confined workplaces of all kinds are being hit hard. A complex of hydroponic greenhouses in upstate New York was an early focus of coronavirus spread. A single Southern California city, Vernon, has seen outbreaks in nine food facilities processing coffee, tea, frozen foods, deli meats, seaweed, baked goods, and other products.

Yakima County, Washington, has the highest per capita coronavirus infection rate on the entire West Coast. Fifty percent of the county’s people are Latinx, many of them working in agriculture and food and getting hit hardest by the virus. Seven hundred fruit-packing workers throughout the county started walking out on strike in May over lack of health safeguards. They reach settlements in June, with employers agreeing to provide personal protective equipment and follow the CDC’s COVID-19 guidelines.

Workers also went out on strike at a large pistachio farm in California’s Central Valley in late June after the farm’s management hid from them the fact that dozens of their coworkers had tested positive for the virus while at the same time failing to provide them with masks and gloves. The workers had learned of the outbreak only through the media

The town of Immokalee in southwest Florida, which is at the center of a large, intensive vegetable growing area, now has the highest COVID-19 case numbers of any zip code in the pandemic-wracked state. State officials say that’s largely because of increased testing. But medical researchers beg to differ. They see fertile ground for the coronavirus to flourish in the densely packed buses and vans that take workers to the fields, as well as in worker housing, which consists mostly of mobile homes, each with numerous occupants.

Gerardo Chavez, speaking for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which has long pushed for the rights of the area’s migrant labor force, told a local TV station, “This is not something that happened just because. It happened because people there are poor, they live overcrowded. They travel to work under not very safe conditions many times, and that makes them the perfect place for COVID-19 to spread.”

The “farm worker paradox”

The current public-health crisis in food production and processing has grown directly out of the drive for profit. In recent decades, the overriding goal of the agriculture and food industry—a sector whose pace and production were once strictly dictated by the seasons and the weather—has been to turbocharge profits by maximizing output per hour per worker.

It doesn’t have to be like that. In a system motivated by nutritional goals rather than profit, a much more widely dispersed workforce producing at non-exploitative rates of output could easily produce enough food to meet this country’s needs.

Instead, under the protection awarded to businesses producing essential goods, the industry is loosening the screws of exploitation only slightly, further threatening the health and lives of workers and their families.

This treatment of an essential workforce is in keeping with what the economist Michael Perelman has called the “farm worker paradox” in which he asks, “why those whose work is most necessary typically earn the least” (in pandemic-time, we can add, “…and are most compelled to risk their lives and their families’ lives.”)

The paradox exists, observes Perelman, because of the circular logic of capitalism. Economists argue that farmworkers earn low wages because they are not highly “productive”; that is, collectively, they generate low profit per worker. But that’s because everyday food sells cheap, and it’s cheap largely because many of those who produce it earn near-starvation wages.

Now workers are forced to risk infection by a debilitating, often deadly, virus in order to keep production costs down and profits up.

In contrast, coronavirus infection rates remained low for months among the older, largely white independent farmers who produce staple foods like wheat, oats, rice, and dry beans in sparsely populated areas of the country. That isolation resulted from the decline of small family farms and the consolidation of land into fewer and fewer hands over the past four decades.

Such rural areas—where depopulation of the countryside and small towns has meant a withering of local economies, culture, and health care—have been rendered highly vulnerable to a pandemic that is now coming for them.

Reversing the destruction

The changes needed to reduce the vulnerability of the food system and its workers to infectious disease have already been needed for decades on humanitarian and environmental grounds. Addressing the climate emergency in particular requires such deep changes. The imperatives are clear:

Abolish feedlots and other confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Convert the tens of millions of acres now being used to grow dent corn and soybeans (for feeding confined cattle) to pasture and hay production, and eventually, perennial food-grain/pasture crops. Then cattle can eat what they were born to eat: grasses and forage legumes.

Break up the meat-industry behemoths and ban foreign ownership. Decentralize meat production and processing and regulate much more strictly for health and safety.

Such measures would result in better but smaller national supplies of meat and poultry. No problem. Deep reductions in consumption of animal products—especially feedlot- and CAFO-raised meats—have long been needed for nutritional and ecological concerns, most prominently their heavy climatic impact.

For fruits and vegetables, reduce the velocity of production in fields and factories to a humane, ecologically supportable pace that can meet the highest standards for workers’ rights, safety, and economic security. Grow those crops close to the populations who will be eating them—as much as possible in backyard or community gardens and greenhouses.

Done right, localizing vegetable production would not reduce the total output. Vegetables currently occupy only 3 percent of national cropland, so they could easily be dispersed among myriad small plots of land in every state, every community.

What we’ll no longer have, however, is access to every type of fresh vegetable and fruit any day of the year. Eating what’s in season will make a comeback.

Adaptation will be necessary. In northerly regions, vegetables can be grown in simple, inexpensive, unheated greenhouses almost year-round (a practical alternative to the fanciful idea of urban “vertical farming,” which envisions raising crop plants indoors without soil, under artificial light—that is, in botanical intensive care units).

In summer and fall, home and community canning operations could make locally grown produce available all year, as they did in the war years of the 1940s. That would diversify the northerly vegetable diet in winter and spring.

Supplies of staple grain and bean crops, in contrast, come to us from hundreds of millions of acres across vast swaths of rural America. Only a tiny fraction of that production could be localized, but that’s not a problem. Those crops (and products like flour that are made from them) are dry, have long shelf lives, and can be efficiently shipped to every part of the country by rail.

More near-term policies could come through federal legislation. It has been proposed that farm workers’ right to organize should be guaranteed, and a path to citizenship should be available for all essential workers who need one; there should be opportunities for farm workers to becomes independent farmers; and rural transportation and communication systems need improvement.

Now is the time to build a new, more humane, more robust food system on the ruins of the one that has failed us. This nation can have an ample, nutritious food supply without exploiting and endangering the people who produce and process it.

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We Won’t Have a Truly Global Economy Until People Start Taxing It That Way


Image Source: Jpatokal – CC BY-SA 3.0

Major talks between the United States and the European Union to establish a shared tax framework for multinational companies broke down on the issue of seeking to secure an agreement on digital taxation. Big tech, which is heavily a U.S. creation, has long been in the sights of European economies, as their profits and revenues have soared and they have increasingly become major components of the 21st-century economy.

Taxation is one of those areas that exposes the contradictions at the heart of globalization. Globalization of goods has proceeded quickly, as has the harmonization of industrial standards across countries.

Harmonization of taxation? Not so easy.

The power to tax is the ultimate national prerogative, one that very few sovereign nations would ever seriously contemplate surrendering to a multinational global entity, even in limited degrees, as has been done in trade (e.g., the World Trade Organization), or global security (e.g., the United Nations). It therefore seems ironic that the Trump administration, largely driven by an economic nationalist agenda, would contemplate, even on an interim basis, changes to global taxation law that would affect leading U.S. big tech companies.

Yet in spite of Trump’s America First rhetoric, he did authorize Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to attempt to get the EU and the U.S. on the same page on a global digital tax framework, in part as a means of curbing the practice of global tax arbitrage. It would make sense for all concerned to agree on a framework that provides some degree of tax uniformity.

In theory, that is; as with agriculture or oil, the tech business is a multinational one, but curiously the U.S. Treasury remains loath to expose big tech to the same kinds of global tax pressures that Monsanto or Exxon regularly deal with today. Perhaps this is because these Silicon Valley behemoths are now among the most economically dominant and profitable U.S. companies, as well as increasingly large sources of political funding for the parties (although more so Democrat than Republican at this juncture). That would explain why the Trump administration wants to keep as much of that revenue pie for itself.

But since so much of the future will be increasingly digitalized, something has to give. Indeed, in the new internet-based economy, there is much to be said for an approach to taxation that recognizes that revenues can be earned via online activities, irrespective of whether or not the company generating the profits concerned actually has a brick-and-mortar presence in that particular country. In India, for example, this is the rationale behind the imposition of “a 2 percent tax in April on online sales of goods and services to people in India by large foreign firms,” as the New York Times reports. This move by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in turn has encouraged the “European Union… [to revive] its push for a similar tax as a way to help fund response measures to the coronavirus.”

The United States is certainly going to go for every advantage to protect its tech industry, but Washington must recognize that the EU (and likely the rest of the world) will move ahead with plans to tax these tech giants, with or without agreement from the United States. But absent a buy-in from Washington, a failure to produce any kind of agreement will simply perpetuate the kind of destructive global tax arbitrage that was the rationale for the talks in the first place. It also has the potential to expand the global economy’s growing list of trade disputes.

By virtue of the odd institutional arrangements of the eurozone (where state money has been divorced from the control of the national governments since the establishment of the euro), raising revenues from taxation to fund economic activities is a matter of ensuring national solvency for these countries.

There are also geopolitical considerations at work: if the EU is prevented from generating additional revenues for its tax base, it will dangerously push the United States and Europe even further apart, making the disagreement over relative defense budget contributions among NATO members seem puny by comparison.

This drive for a digital taxation framework represents a cry for help from all across Europe—the UKFrance, and Germany all want in. After all, Google, Apple, Facebook, et al, all derive significant revenues from their European operations. It’s not unreasonable for the EU to want a piece of that pie. It is widely expected that there will be some form of agreement, probably in stages, over the coming years. But it is also inevitable that tech companies will find new ways of avoiding taxes, and that overall multinationals and their coterie of investors will continue to find ways to keep the tax haven game going.

The negotiations could take some years—and until we get to the point where both sides can agree on a workable digital tax framework, there are other ideas worth considering. Taxing inescapable assets, such as land, and reconsidering our treatment of intellectual property are two ideas that should be considered.

In regard to the former, a national property tax is one possibility. The United States had one in 1798 in the quasi-war with France and again in the War of 1812. The 19th-century economist Henry George was one of the first to promote a land tax on the grounds that such “taxes could fall on… [unproductive] income without increasing costs to the rest of the economy… [such as] labor and industry,” Michael Hudson writes in “Henry George’s Political Critics.” As economist Bill Mitchell, who cites Hudson, writes, George’s idea was also consistent with the views expressed by John Stuart Mill in his 1848 book Principles of Political Economy that:

“The ordinary progress of a society which increases in wealth, is at all times tending to augment the incomes of landlords; to give them both a greater amount and a greater proportion of the wealth of the community, independently of any trouble or outlay incurred by themselves. They grow richer, as it were in their sleep, without working, risking, or economizing. What claim have they, on the general principle of social justice, to this accession of riches? In what would they have been wronged if society had, from the beginning, reserved the right of taxing the spontaneous increase of rent, to the highest amount required by financial exigencies?”

A land tax could also help to prevent housing bubbles, thereby mitigating the significant affordability gap now prevalent in many of America’s largest cities. And it also addresses the issue of tax avoidance, as land is an asset that can’t be parked into an offshore bank account.

A second approach would address taxing intellectual property (IP) rights that are attributed to Bermuda or the Cayman Islands.

Here, the economist Dean Baker is right:

“[G]overnment-granted patent and copyright monopolies have been made longer and stronger over the last four decades. Many items that were not even patentable 40 years ago, such as life forms and business methods, now bring in tens or hundreds of billions of dollars to their owners.”

Instead of letting rentiers accumulate vast fortunes from a single innovation and then playing whack-a-mole trying to tax them, Baker is correct to suggest limiting patent and copyright terms, or force firms to share their IP, or have the government buy out their IP and publicize it for free to stimulate innovation. As Thomas Jefferson said when he set up the patent office, IP is a necessary evil that should be minimized in the public interest.

The alternative is an approach suggested by the economist Mariana Mazzucato, whereby the government secures a perpetual royalty stream from tech companies for the IP, on the grounds that massive public investment laid the groundwork for these companies’ considerable profits. As Mazzucato notes, “Without the massive amount of public investment behind the computer and internet revolutions, such attributes might have led only to the invention of a new toy.”

Overall, the tax system in the United States is making things worse. In their most recent work on inequality, The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay, economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman illustrate, as economist Michael Roberts writes, how the “American tax system, … far from reducing the rising inequality of income and wealth in the U.S., actually drives it higher.” Roberts cites the authors’ work in support of the proposition that the U.S. tax system is in fact highly regressive and entrenches existing wealth inequality:

“Contrary to widely held view, [the] U.S. tax system is not progressive. The effective rate of tax takes into account all forms of taxation on the individual (income taxes, corporate tax, capital income taxes[,] etc[.]). On that measure for the top 400 income holders (billionaires) the effective tax rate is 23% while it is 25-30% for working and middle classes. America’s tax system is now technically ‘regressive’ and is ‘a new engine for increasing inequality.’”

A large part of the problem is that the U.S. tax system taxes labor far more harshly than “property and financial assets,” which receive disproportionately favorable taxation treatment. Additionally, as I’ve written before, the U.S. corporate tax is low and has been lowered even further, thanks to Trump’s recent tax reform package.

Some figures, notably former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, have proposed national consumption taxes. Consumption taxes do capture spending that occurs within a country, but they are problematic in the sense that they are regressive (as Roberts notes). On the other hand, this is the Swedish model. In the 1970s, Sweden’s high income tax created capital flight and induced the emigration of the wealthy. In response, the Swedish government capped income taxes and raised revenue for big government from the VAT and payroll taxes. These are regressive in incidence, but as a quid pro quo, if spending is progressive then the overall tax system itself can become progressive and largely retain its political legitimacy, as it does in Sweden.

How does this play into national industrial redevelopment? If the goal is also to redomicile manufacturing, taxation measures can be reinforced via local content requirements, as I have suggested before. Forget incentives; coercion works even better.

Do these things, and many of the problems associated with global tax arbitrage, offshore accounts, or outright tax evasion go away. In the meantime, the breakdown in these digital tax talks between the U.S. and EU is likely to mean more tariff impositions by the Trump administration, followed by retaliation from the EU (and the rest of the world). A renewed trade war is hardly what a highly depressed global economy needs at this time.

Lost in this crossfire is the fact that the rest of us would certainly benefit from finally facing down those with vested interests, who will no doubt mobilize strongly against viable tax reforms, and continue to undermine global cooperation. That means governments continuing a futile attempt to police increasingly creative tax and accounting dodges.

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A Call for Radical Humanism: the Left Needs to Return to Class Analyses of Power


How do white people live with themselves? This is the presumed ethical position emanating from liberal corners in the aftermath of the recent protests around the US. While a seemingly thought-provoking question nudging white folks to contemplate “their racism,” the problem with this question is the question itself. Indeed the minute we individualize what are structural problems of police violence and focus upon rooting out “wrong thought” as if a new global war on terror, we necessarily default to witch hunts of individuals through McCarthyesque callouts instead of understanding racism as a byproduct of structural inequalities.

It has been troubling for me to witness how the liberal soft left has almost entirely capitulated to combating racism as a a moral problem in recent years. If George W. Bush’s war against “terrorism” hadn’t already taught those throughout the political spectrum that you can’t bomb a country into “peace”, certainly George Floyd’s death and the ensuing protests ought to have taught us all that racism is not an evil that inhabits the souls of individuals or that can be disappeared through consciousness-raising sessions led by upper-class white folks. Certainly, there are those who are willing and able to lead the prayer group in this new plateau of wokery such as the recent call to repent by Chick-fil-A CEO, Dan Cathy. Where prayer sessions, kneeling and public calls for atonement become the go-to instead of political dialogue and action, the left is deeply in trouble.

In tackling police violence and other social inequities rampant throughout the world today, we must address the underlying problems and not give overdue focus to the symptoms of the problems. For instance, we already know that class and not race is what determines who is affected most by institutional injustices, from the police murders of George Floyd to Tony Timpa to the the mass incarceration rates of the poor. Nathaniel Lewis demonstrates that after controlling for class, race is not “statistically significant” and that “class appears to be a larger factor than usually reported when studying racial disparities.” And from this query, other questions must necessarily emerge to include our involvement in having asked certain questions and not others and in having kowtowed to what Adolph Reed calls “race reductionism” at the heart of this issue. In short, why is the left seemingly unable to move towards a material analysis of how racism is one of many arms of oppression produced by capitalism?

Instead of approaching this topic of police violence we are told that “systemic racism is enabled when white people do not speak out” and “academia isn’t a safe haven for conversations about racism.” But both expressions are neoliberal sleights of hand for not addressing the structural issues and where attacking a “bad ideology” is believed to be had at the end of myriad callouts and rituals to shame specific individuals who need their thoughts corrected. As for academia not being a safe haven for discussing racism, academic discourse has vastly enabled the ways in which we don’t discuss the structural problems that have brought about racism and sexism. It is in capitalism’s interest that we are all standing about the public square screaming about statues we don’t like rather than clamor for real reform of our governments. Indeed, much of the theory emanating from American higher education of the last thirty years has obtusely avoided discussing class while instead addressing representation, not participation. Just as the left has abandoned discussing class in favor of focussing upon symbolism and representation, political action of recent years has centered on the most superficial changes from language to public imagery. The actual stuff of inequality which engages people’s ability to pay bills, to eat, and to pay rent, has been unsurprisingly absent from both academia and the recent calls to get white people to atone for their sins.

For instance, why is the liberal soft-left not demanding answers from politicians such as Joe Biden who signed onto the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 leading to the mass-incarceration of mostly black men, and putting them in prison for longer? Or why the criminal justice system in the US is locking up so many poor women? Why are American liberals getting behind a presidential candidate who tells African Americans that they aren’t “black” if they don’t vote for him while not seeing how such positive racism still amounts to racism as usual?

One example of how race reductionism is hurting black Americans is taken up by Adolph Reed who analyzes how Joe Biden is not only seriously out of touch with the issues that actually affect most African Americans, paradoxically Biden is billed as the candidate who serves the best interests of the “African American community” because he has not supported universal healthcare. Worse, the Affordable Care Act maintains that “the lower official premiums are in one’s area for that second-cheapest silver plan, the more low-income people actually have to pay for health care.” This is one of many ways that class-consciousness would address the very issues that result in poverty and police violence that affect a whole range of poor Americans to include black, Latino, and white Americans.

While Jesse Jackson has written about class bias and the excessive use of force by the police in reference, the need to focus upon historical material readings of current events is still not hitting home for many. Sam Mitrani notes that the police were created to “protect the new form of wage-labor capitalism that emerged in the mid to late nineteenth century from the threat posed by that system’s offspring, the working class.” Even as we know how police violence functions and who is in its crosshairs, many angry protestors are demanding us to repeat the incantation, “Black lives matter” with literally no class analysis in sight.

A large part of the reason why class analysis has taken a backseat to focussing upon racism is the dire lack of understanding that systemic racism is born from systemic economic oppression, as are socially embedded norms of misogyny, for instance. But it is easier for Americans to address their troubling history with racism because we haven’t had to develop the language to address capitalism because we have a better language: en masse pop-psychology. This is best seen through Robin DiAngelo’s 2018 book, White Fragility, which has recently resurfaced in media reports as many white Americans are using this book to signal their understanding of racism and their participation in it. Yet DiAngelo is part of the liberal racist management class and representative of the kind of sophistry of this movement that holds individuals accountable to their racism based on their skin color. Hers is a rehashing of Rousseau’s “noble savage”, racism but with a positive spin, which was the hallmark of 18th-century Enlightenment. Where Rousseau believed that the “savage” was free from sin and morality, DiAngelo similarly espouses a similarly bizarre and racist concept of black Americans in the drive to cleanse the souls of white Americans.

DiAngelo is a white woman who has made a killing telling largely middle and upper-middle class white Americans that racism is everywhere. They are told, much like Haley Joel Osment’s character in The Sixth Sense, to “see racism everywhere.” Simply contest DiAngelo’s hypothesis or question if race reductionism might be a huge side-circus issue to keep us from addressing the largely issues of poverty, student loan debt, and the US involvement in the mass surveillance of Muslims both inside and outside its borders, and you run the risk yourself of being called a racist. Just ask UK Labour MP, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Kier Stammer’s shadow education secretary who was fired from her position on Thursday for tweeting in support of British actor, Maxine Peake, who pointed out that US police officers had learned the technique of neck kneeling from Israeli secret services.

Indeed, what is passing as “racist” today has even come down to who can get the largest mob to act in the name of acts that at times are not even racist. Take for instance the recent Twitter event orchestrated by Karlos Dillard who followed a woman home and filmed her in attempting to replicate the Central Park incident last month when Chris Cooper filmed Amy Cooper’s attempt to weaponise racism against him. The problem here is that there was absolutely no evidence of racism. Still Dillard was able to create a social media mob scene to effectively exploit a woman he was stalking as he later posted the video on Twitter which doxxed this woman on Twitter to include filming her license plate and home address. Since then, several people have pointed out that this was staged encounter which is apparently one in a series of Dillard’s harassment of women in making “false Karen statements” to local media and on social media. As Meghan Murphy points out, Dillard uses these harassment videos of women as part of a marketing ploy to draw people towards his website where he sells “Karen” t-shirts. Dillard recycles his exploitation videos of women by conflating their reactions with the police murders of black Americans. Like many others on social media who have employed the “Karen” memes in recent weeks, Dillard has successfully turned the blame of racism onto white women as he equates their having “flipped [him] off” as racist. Despite the pushback by some on social media, class issues are at the heart of who has the power to stalk and harass white women calling this “racist” and those who are at the other end of a police killing.

This dilation of what racism means has been taken to the streets in Toronto where posters are hung in public spaces of a nondescript white woman named “Becky” who “may be armed with financial privilege, white feminism, false victimhood…and a smartphone.” And while many might wish to be alert to what is nothing other than a public relations ploy to weaponize now white women as the problem where Twitter posts and Instagram views might lead to our somehow solving racism, all of this is a huge distraction from the class-based issues that create racism. If only blaming police violence and poverty on white women would solve everything we could all move along after a quick Hail Mary citing white feminists as the problem.

The neoliberal urge to call out racism assigning it to individuals is not new and from where I am sitting, much of the outrage has been largely manufactured. This is not to say that individuals are not racists. As someone who has written extensively about this subject first-hand after an attack, I know quite well how racism and xenophobia function. But I would be derelict to describe reality were I to make out that racism is limited to the era of colonialism, the slave trade, or even Cesare Lombroso’s measurements of cranial size of certain ethnicities to include southern Italians formed part of his theory of the “median occipital fossa” being linked to a criminality etiology. Indeed, we would be making a huge mistake to believe that callouts of racism actually engage in anti-racism any more than they potentially engage in a new form of racist act.

Indeed, what we witnessed with the Coopers—Amy and Chris—last month, two antagonists who paradoxically share the same last name, is that callouts serve to highlight shitty individuals where little to nothing is actually done to change the fact of racism. Where one calls Amy Cooper a racist, another notes that the real “Karen” in this situation is Chris Cooper who took it upon himself to enforce park rules. The problem we now face as a society is not whether Amy is or is not a racist, but the fact that this judgment call is being left up to everyone from mobs on Twitter and her former-employer such that as it stands the right to eat and have a home depends on passing a moral purity test, even if what Amy Cooper did is morally reprehensible.

For the liberal class pushing for such callouts none of these judgments of the “Who Is Racist” blacklist impact our society positively. To be certain, the “knowledge” that yet another racist has been labelled does absolutely nothing to improve the fact of racism, nor of how we might be misreading racism. And herein lies the problem: that liberal solutions to racism are in fact reproducing racist tenets by highlighting that because of one’s whiteness, one is either already a racist or in denial of one’s racism (which begs the question of the former). This kind of liberal game of “fighting racism” reaches back to a language that many will recognize from pop psychology of the 1980s and 1990s where if only we can understand our own participation in the dynamic then all will be solved.

DiAngelo’s White Fragility serves as the postmodern Bible to liberals who seek to right a historical wrong, even if well-intended. A central tenet to DiAngelo’s book is that white people are socialized into a “deeply internalized sense of superiority that we either are unaware of or can never admit to ourselves, we become highly fragile in conversations about race.” Another tenet of her book is that “all white people are invested in and collude with racism” (emphasis mine). Together, these two ideas present what I call a philosophical Möbius strip where there is no way out of the puzzle—you are either guilty of racism because you accept this tenet and you are even more guilty of racism if you do not. But then much of Christianity is based on a similar entrapment. DiAngelo’s hodgepodge syncretism of pop-psychology, Christianity and liberalism leads the reader to believe that confession is not only good for the soul, but it will solve all our problems through the fantastic public confession, where words magically make everything better. Yet, we have well over 150 years of documented psychoanalysis to show that no such confessions or re-invention of language will do anything other than kick this issue into the long grass.

Moreso, DiAngelo proves that addressing racism only centers the white subject all over again. DiAngelo takes the focus off of black lives redirecting a narrative of racism that isn’t a structural result of material and political inequality. Instead, DiAngelo rather successfully makes racism all about white people. Or, as DiAngelo says, it’s about white people speaking too much or too little and it’s about white people being unable to feel discomfort or their feeling discomfort because they are racists. It’s almost a phenomenon that DiAngelo’s book is sold at all given that it is incoherent from its definition of “racism” which depends on the subject having structural power (which would of course, exclude poor or disabled white people) to its feel-good core which depends upon a Christian-esque confession for the “guilty” white reader to pass to the next level (one can only presume).

So let’s look to the facts about what would amount to systemic racism. According to the Pew Research Center the black imprisonment rate in the U.S. fell by a third since 2006, bringing a significant change in the decarceration of African Americans. While not perfect, this is a significant and important change to note when discussing systemic racism. As for economic equality, we are seeing that African American households are not even at the 60 percent income mark as white American households according to The Economist and black unemployment is double that of white unemployment. But then what these studies do not discuss are the median incomes that are far above those of white Americans: Asian households whose real median income falls between $83,376 to $87,194. Still many progressive white Americans believe that addressing these facts necessitates apocalyptic terms where ideas like “white racism” and “white supremacy” is going to result in racism being “solved” as opposed to addressing issues that have direct and realizable responses, such as the widespread poverty in the US.

Here’s an interesting fact about the Department of Justice’s report into the killing of Michael Brown by a member of the Ferguson Police Department: not only does the report underscore that 25% of the City’s population lives below the federal poverty level, but the entire justice system in Ferguson is skewed working against the accused due to their poverty from the first instance: “Court staff and staff from other municipal courts have informed us that defendants in poverty are more likely not to receive such a letter from court because they frequently change residence.” The report also notes, “In particular, Ferguson’s practice of automatically treating a missed payment as a failure to appear—thus triggering an arrest warrant and possible incarceration—is directly at odds with well-established law that prohibits ‘punishing a person for his poverty.’ Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660, 671 (1983).” There is a danger that by not referencing the enormous poverty that is at the cross-section of most acts of police violence, that we are entering into a dangerous tautology whereby race always and uniquely matters.

Not surprisingly, DiAngelo’s book doesn’t really care about black lives as anything more than pawns in her angling to increase her business which is as an anti-racist corporate trainer. Black Americans end up becoming these caricatures and white people are, antithetically, deeply complex subjects. There is no deeper understanding of racism after reading DiAngelo’s book any more than one gains an understanding of what a terrorist is after reading the Patriot Act in full (I have). DiAngelo’s “success” in waging a fake war against racism is simply to have given Americans an immensely racialized charge of what “white people” or “black people” are, say or think. If we follow DiAngelo’s training to its full end, we would thusly be living in an incredibly racist (and sexist) world where one can finish such a “training” only to become hyper-racialized subjects.

So, the answer to my original question is a rephrasing of my original question: how can those of us on the left live with ourselves creating more divisions in fighting racism by manipulating what are fundamentally class issues of poverty and class empowerment? The minute we think that “white people” are like this and “black people” like that we have lost the plot. And it is no surprise that Black Lives Matter has similarly pitched a corporate message to Americans and to funders such as George Soros, Rob McKay, and other Democracy Alliance donors have given millions to groups associated with the movement (now over $133 million). These people have successfully enacted a cult whereby cheap one-off confessions and checks written out to BLM is the penitence one pays for the crimes of the father. Black Lives Matter has become a capitalist free-for-all with other companies known for unethical labor practices like Reebok which has recently virtue signaled whilst calling out CrossFit for not having sympathized deeply enough with BLM. This in addition to the organization’s founders having cashed in to the tune of $100 million from the Ford Foundation in 2017 along with most all of BLM’s co-founders having developed very close ties to various corporations, foundations, academic institutions and government-sponsored agencies. In 2016, Opal Tometi even spoke at the Aspen Institute which has strong ties to the military. So much for defunding the police if you are down with supporting the military.

What social theaters like DiAngelo’s book and Black Lives Matter prove is that race relations in the US have now become part of a managerial class of elites who can just as easily control the media message as well as any other corporate-sponsored speaker. Just spin a message, package it within a Christian orthodoxy, give talks at think tanks closely aligned with the Department of Defense, and the world is yours. Who cares about addressing the causes of racism or even mentioning the increasing poverty in the US when the politics of race reductionism has created a new job specialty, loads of new funding sources, and the inspiration for five-minute spots on CNN about this new and improved “war on racism.” Yet there is no way to win a “war” which is poised upon ideological purity whereby only the self can battle bigotry. In the end, the racism being fought by both DiAngelo and BLM is precisely a narcissistic and neoliberal form of whitewashing structural inequalities through the name-and-blame game whereby the more woke points scored, the least racist the subject is. Hence this is the best game in town for corporations and politicians looking to win over hearts and minds where the white subject controls all. Just look at how many percentage points black salaries have moved in the past month.

As protestors topple statues of Civil War generals and abolitionists alike, this might be a good moment for us to pause and think that perhaps the first problem in naming racism might begin with reflecting upon our embrace of “race” as a signifying real. Moreover, we need to deeply ponder if race might just be the side-show which is keeping us from addressing what are primarily class issues. As troubling as our country’s legacy is having been built on slavery, the decimation of the country’s indigenous population, and unbridled capitalism, the one common factor of the repression of humans in these situations was not decided by their “race” but was most definitely decided between those who held the money, the guns, and the power and those who didn’t.

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Trump’s Contagion Road Show Heads West


It’s like a Stephen King horror novel where a nation is swept by a deadly and uncontrollable disease, sickening millions and killing over 100,000 citizens. Ignoring the advice of top infectious disease specialists who say, “Don’t go to large-scale gatherings,” a crazed president insists on holding rallies for the sole purpose of boosting his rapidly sinking chances of reelection. While recklessly ignoring precautions and exhorting his followers to do the same, he leaves not hope, but contagion and death in his path. Only it’s not a novel, it’s our reality — and now Trump’s traveling horror show heads west.

The level of dysfunction of this president and his benighted administration now borders on insanity. After an illusory “victory” over the rapid spread of the deadly coronavirus, Trump announced there was nothing left but “embers” — only to have infection rates skyrocket across the nation, hitting hard in southern and western states that ignored initial precautionary measures or decided to “reopen” prematurely.

The last thing any thinking person would do when faced with this crisis is take steps to make it worse. Yet, that’s just what’s happening as Trump seeks to halt federal funds for testing when the medical professionals are advising just the opposite, with more testing, tracking, and isolation of infected individuals. Our “extremely stable genius” in the Oval Office, however, says the more you test the more infections you find, which makes his “numbers look bad.”

When the Centers for Disease Control and Infection say the actual number of infected individuals is likely 10 times greater than estimated, what does this most historically incapable president do? He urges the Supreme Court to nullify Obamacare, denying 23 million citizens health coverage during a pandemic after millions more have already lost their employer-provided insurance. Regardless of one’s opinion on the benefits, drawbacks, or efficacy of the nation’s feeble attempt at universal health care, to destroy it completely during an uncontrollable pandemic is not leadership, it’s sheer malignant lunacy.

They say cornered animals are the most dangerous and, after a disastrous rally in Tulsa that only filled one-third of the available seats despite bragging of having issued a million tickets, now a desperate and dangerous Trump responds by taking his contagion road show to Mount Rushmore after forcing the National Park Service to allow a massive fireworks display.

Fireworks have been banned at Mt. Rushmore for 10 years due to their wildfire danger and pollution of scarce local water supplies by perchlorate — which causes endocrine and reproductive problems and is classified as a “likely human carcinogen” by the EPA. Illustrating the depth of his ignorance, Trump said “What can burn? It’s stone,” totally ignoring the surrounding dry Ponderosa pine forests that readily burn.

In the meantime, Trump’s “flying monkeys” — Kellyanne Conway, Don Jr. and industry lobbyist-turned-Interior Secretary Bernhardt — are coming to Montana to fundraise, shoot, and fish. Someone ought to tell great white hunter Don Jr. that Montanans don’t embrace unethical hunters who illegally shoot endangered species with laser night scopes as he did last year to kill a rare argali ram in Mongolia on a “hunt” that cost U.S. taxpayers $77,000.

Were this a Stephen King novel we could have some hope that, in the end, the good guys might prevail. But the horror we’re living right now is not a novel. Tragically, we have a desperate and delusional president trailing disease and death in this wake saying “I don’t take responsibility at all.” Given his actions, that seems a firm grasp of the obvious — and more’s the pity.

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Fear of Falling: Can Making Black Lives Matter Rescue a Failing State?


You know that feeling when you trip on the street and instantly sense that you’re about to crash hard and there’s no way to prevent it? As gravity has its way with you, all you can do is watch yourself going down. Yeah, that feeling.

I had it the other day on my way to a Black Lives Matter demonstration when I caught my toe on a curb and pitched forward. As time slowed down, I saw not my past, but my future, pass before my eyes — a future that would at worst include months of rehabbing a broken hip and at best a few weeks hobbling around on crutches. I was lucky. Nothing was broken and I’ll probably be off the crutches by the time you read this.

But that feeling of falling and knowing it’s too late to stop it has stayed with me. I suspect it reflects a sensation many people in the United States might be having right now, a sense that time is moving slowly while we watch a flailing country in a slow-motion free fall. It has taken decades of government dereliction to get us to this point and a few years of Trumpian sabotage to show us just where we really are. To have any hope of pulling back from the brink, however, will take the determination of organizations like the Movement for Black Lives.

That national descent, when it came, proved remarkably swift. In less than six months, we’ve seen more than 2.5 million confirmed Covid-19 infections and more than 125,000 deaths. And it’s not slowing down. June 24th, in fact, sawthe biggest single-day total in new U.S. infections (more than 38,000) since April and that number may well have been superseded by the time this piece comes out. During this pandemic, we’ve gone from an economy of almost full employment — even if at starvation levels for those earning a minimum wage — to one with the worst unemployment since the Great Depression (even as billionaires have once again made a rather literal killing). The government’s response to these twin catastrophes has been feckless at best and criminal at worst. While this country may not yet be a failed state, it’s certainly in a free fall all its own.

What Is a Failed State?

People use this expression to indicate a political entity whose government has ceased to perform most or all of its basic functions. Such a condition can result from civil war, untrammeled corruption, natural disaster, or some combination of those and more. The Fund for Peace, which has been working on such issues for more than 70 years, lists four criteria to identify such a country:

+ “Loss of control of its territory, or of the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force therein

+ Erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions

+ Inability to provide public services

+ Inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community”

I’ve always thought of such fallen lands (sometimes given a fatal shove by my own government) as far-away places. Countries like Libya. The Fund for Peace identifies that beleaguered and now fractured nation, where rival armed forces compete for primacy, as the one in which government fragility has increased most over the last decade. The present chaos began when the United States and its NATO allies stepped in militarily, precipitating the overthrow of autocrat Muammar Qaddafi, with no particular plan for the day after.

Then there’s Yemen, where Washington’s support for the intervention of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates only exacerbated an ongoing civil war, whose civilian victims have been left to confront famine, cholera, and most recently, with a shattered healthcare system, the coronavirus. And before Libya and Yemen, don’t forget the Bush administration’s disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq, which damaged that country’s physical and political infrastructure in ways it is now, 17 years later, starting to dig out of.

So, yes, I’d known about failed states, but it wasn’t until I read “We Are Living in a Failed State” by George Packer in the June 2020 Atlantic magazine that I began to seriously entertain the idea that my country was bouncing down the same flight of stairs. As that article’s subtitle put it: “The coronavirus didn’t break America. It revealed what was already broken.”

The Monopoly of the Legitimate Use of Force

In his 1919 lecture “Politics as a Vocation,” German sociologist Max Weber observed that “a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” In other words, a state is a given territory whose inhabitants recognize that only one institution, the government, has the capacity — and therefore the right — to authorize the use of violence against members of the community.

Weber described three main ways that the use of violence acquires legitimacy: through long tradition, through the charisma of individual leaders, or in the case of many modern states, through the rule of law. In a way, Donald Trump’s administration can be viewed as one long attempt to roll back the legitimacy derived from the rule of law and replace it with the power of one man’s personal charisma. The president’s often-bumbling attempts to rule by fiat have reminded many fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation of a hapless imitation of Captain Jean-Luc Picard repeatedly calling out from the bridge of the Enterprise, “Make it so!”

Recently, however, Trump has used his presidential authority to directly threaten his own citizens with military force. On June 1st, he said at a Rose Garden press conference, “If a city or a state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.” Minutes later, he showed just how it could be done, when protesters in Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square were attacked by a combined force of National Guard, federal Park Police, and Secret Service agents. That last group Trump chose to congratulate for the job they did in a celebratory tweet, addressing them as the “S.S.,” an evocation — one hopes unintentional — of the Schutzstaffel (a Nazi paramilitary force of the previous century.) The world saw, as the Washington Post reported, “federal officers shoving protesters with shields and firing pepper balls, chemical grenades, and smoke bombs at retreating crowds” — all so the president could have a photo op with his buddy, the Bible, in front of a church down the street from the White House.

Max Weber was hardly suggesting that, in a functional state, only the government uses force to achieve its ends. Residents would still, for instance, experience criminal violence. When a state begins to fail, however, it either can’t or won’t prevent other forces from threatening or using violence — a growing trend in Donald Trump’s America. He has even, for instance, encouraged attendees at his rallies to “knock the crap out of” hecklers and offered to pay their legal fees afterward. We’ve watched him congratulate a Republican congressman for physically attacking a reporter and noted his approval of some “very fine people” at the 2017 Unite the Right march in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a white nationalist murdered a woman by driving his car into a crowd of counterdemonstrators.

Recently, the president’s support for extralegal violence has taken a far more sinister turn. Now, he’s given his imprimatur not just to his individual supporters, but to armed militias opposing their states’ efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. He’s urged them to “LIBERATE!” places like Michigan and Virginia, approved of armed vigilantes physically menacinglegislators deliberating about Michigan’s stay-at-home policies, and had no objection to their parading in front of the office of Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer with signs bearing slogans like “Tyrants get the rope!” His encouragement of armed resistance to state authority so alarmed Washington Governor Jay Inslee that he accused the president of “fomenting domestic rebellion.”

What do you call a nation in which armed militias can threaten officials without fear of penalty? Whether it’s Libya or the U.S., I’d call it a state on the way to failing.

Eroding the Legitimacy of Collective Decision Making

The United States is a republic. Those who can vote elect representatives who make the laws that govern us. That’s how federal and state constitutions, city charters, and town bylaws have set out the major process for collective decision-making in this country. (Of course, sometimes we also participate more directly, as when we speak or write about public affairs, demonstrate our concerns in marches with banners and chants, or organize ourselves as communities, workers, or other groups of people sharing common interests.)

Recognizing that this country is still officially a republic doesn’t mean that everyone legally entitled to vote is actually able to vote. I wish that were so. In many parts of this country, however, the Republicans have been working assiduously to make voting by some of us either illegal or impossible.

In my lifetime, African Americans (and some white allies) died to secure the vote, an effort that culminated in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In 2013, however, under George W. Bush-appointed Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court essentially gutted the act. Ever since, we’ve seen an acceleration of efforts to reduce access to the polls for African Americans and other marginalized groups. These include onerous voter identification procedures and restrictions on early voting or access to vote-by-mail options. The Brennan Center for Justice reports that, in the past decade, 25 states have imposed new restrictions on voting.

To the extent that Americans recognize elections as a means of collective decision-making, it’s because a sufficient number of us have confidence in the basic integrity of the system. In less functional societies, the results of elections are frequently, sometimes violently, contested by the losing side. So it’s one thing — and bad enough — for local jurisdictions to make it difficult or impossible for particular groups of people to vote. It’s quite another when a country’s leader acts to undermine public confidence in the entire electoral process.

That, of course, is exactly what Donald Trump has been doing from the moment of his 2016 electoral victory when he began blaming his failure to win the popular vote on millions of ballots supposedly cast illegally by undocumented immigrants. He even set up a presidential commission to investigate such a massive fraud, which later disbanded without finding any evidence to support his contention.

Nonetheless, the president revisited the theme of voter fraud in a 2019 address to young conservatives, this time throwing in a few made-up details for verisimilitude:

“…and then those illegals get out and vote, because they vote anyway. Don’t kid yourself. Those numbers in California and numerous other states, they’re rigged. They’ve got people voting that shouldn’t be voting. They vote many times, not just twice, not just three times. It’s like a circle. They come back, they put a new hat on. They come back, they put a new shirt on. And in many cases, they don’t even do that. You know what’s going on. It’s a rigged deal.”

In the context of an ongoing pandemic, the most sensible way to hold the November 2020 election is largely by mail. Oregon has held successful all-mail elections for two decades. In fact, mail-in voting turns out both to be efficient and to substantially boost participation. (Oregon’s turnout was a whopping 63% in the 2018 midterm election.) Greater turnout, however, often favors Democratic candidates, which may be why Trump has launched a campaign against mail-in elections, claiming they are fraught with fraud, making his own wild claims in the process. In May, for instance, he tweeted:

“There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed.”


Undermining public confidence in electoral integrity is a vicious strategy. In a country armed to the teeth like this one, when Trump encourages his supporters to believe that only massive fraud will explain his losing the 2020 election, he’s playing a dangerous game indeed. You know that you’re in a new world when opinion writers in the mainstream media find themselves asking if Trump will actually relinquish the White House, should he lose the election. (And if he is losing and vote-by-mail slows the counting process in some states, he’ll use any delay after November 3rd to create further “rigged-election” chaos.)

Inability to Provide Public Services

There’s no need to rehearse here the hideous details of the Trump administration’s abject failure to confront the spread of Covid-19 and to acknowledge the people it’s killed. Suffice it to say that a combination of disinterest and incompetence at the federal level has thrown responsibility on individual states and counties, which have found themselves in competition for life-saving equipment and have even been reduced to begging the federal government for support. As thousands were dying, corrupt procurement processes led to absurdities like the purchase of millions of miniature (and unusable) soda bottles instead of the glass tubes needed for virus testing.

As a result, by June 20, 2020, the U.S., with 4.25% of the world’s population, accounted for more than 26% of its 8.9 million verified coronavirus cases and about the same proportion of Covid-19 deaths. However, even if the administration’s response had been well-prepared and brilliantly executed, the pandemic would still have revealed this country’s longstanding inability to provide basic healthcare to large numbers of its citizens, especially in communities of color and among the poor.

As Covid-19 spreads in jails and prisons, a grim new aspect of decades of unnecessary and cruel mass incarceration has been revealed. As it ravagesencampments of unhoused people, the virus continues to reveal to anyone who hadn’t already noticed the nation’s decades-long inability to house its citizens. The pandemic has also illuminated the devastation wrought by the most profound level of economic inequality since the Gilded Age — the inevitable result of combining staggering tax cuts for the rich with the systematic dismantling of one public service after another, from public education to infrastructure maintenance to emergency food support.

The country that, until recently, had the world’s greatest economy can’t even guarantee clean drinking water for 63 million Americans. The lead-contaminated water of Flint, Michigan, is only the best-known example of this.

Recently, the Ford Foundation, with other big nonprofit funders, made an extraordinary announcement. In the face of the government’s inability to respond adequately to the present crisis, they plan to make at least a billion dollars in new grants. Foundations giving away money is, of course, nothing new. What’s different is how they plan to fund this operation: by issuing“social bonds” — investment instruments for sale alongside U.S. Treasury bills and municipal bonds.

What does it say about a country when private foundations find themselves driven to borrow money in the bond market to provide public services that ought to come from the government?

Inability to Act as a Full Member of the International Community

Here, too, the Trump administration has pushed the United States towards failure. Though this country had, in the past, routinely acted less like a member of the international community than its hegemon, with this president there is no longer even a semblance of international cooperation on global issues. He’s withdrawn us from a previously successful treaty to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, as well as from successful Cold War treaties to control them. He’s repeatedly threatened to pull the U.S. out of NATO and placed sanctions on individuals working with the International Criminal Court investigating possible American war crimes in Afghanistan. In the midst of this global pandemic, he’s even pulling out of the World Health Organization.

Perhaps most disastrous of all, he’s reneged on our obligations under the Paris climate accord, thereby undermining humanity’s best hope of staving off an ecological catastrophe.

Under Donald Trump, in other words, the United States has demonstrated that even if it is not unable to take its place among the community of nations, it is certainly unwilling to do so.

Can Black Lives Matter Break the Fall?

My thinking about our nation’s rapid fall into failure began with my personal tumble on the way to a Black Lives Matter demonstration. In a way, that couldn’t be more fitting, because African Americans, particularly through their presence on the streets and in the media, are leading the present effort to pull this country back from the brink and toward legitimacy, more collective decision-making, the genuine provision of people’s needs, and participation in the community of nations.

The platform of the Movement for Black Lives represents an excellent place to start when it comes to preventing this country from becoming a failed state. The document itself is the result of an extended process of collective discussion and decision-making. Its goals include ending police violence and mass incarceration; investing in community needs; supporting the rights of women, LGBTQ communities, and immigrants; creating economic justice; and increasing black political power.

The Black Lives Matter movement began in response to this country’s long history of state-sanctioned violence against African Americans, whether in the form of lynching, cultural erasure, forced labor, or predatory lending. More than a century of violent, indeed murderous, policing of black and other marginalized communities has made this country’s use of state violence profoundly illegitimate. The present wave of resistance has forced the rest of the country, and the world, to look at it squarely.

If the U.S. is to break its headlong rush into failed statehood, it must begin by addressing the legitimate demands of the people this country has failed from its very inception. Through that process we might also begin to restore our nation’s collective decision-making, improve the genuine provision of public services, and make a new and better place for ourselves in the community of nations. Without it, there is no hope of doing so.

We shouldn’t fool ourselves, though. In Donald Trump’s — or even Joe Biden’s — United States, it’s going to be a long, hard haul. But better that than a steep fall.

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