To Beat Trump, Mock Him

New York Times – Opinion

The lesson from pro-democracy fighters abroad: Humor deflates authoritarian rulers.

By Nicholas Kristof , Opinion Columnist               September 26, 2020

Credit…Andrew Aitchison/In Pictures, via Getty Images

 

Can critics of President Trump learn something from pro-democracy movements in other countries?

Most Americans don’t have much experience confronting authoritarian rulers, but people around the globe are veterans of such struggles. And the most important lesson arguably is “laughtivism”: the power of mockery.

Denouncing dictators has its place, but sly wit sometimes deflates them more effectively. Shaking one’s fist at a leader doesn’t win people over as much as making that leader a laughingstock.

“Every joke is a tiny revolution,” George Orwell wrote in 1945.

American progressives have learned by now that frontal attacks aren’t always effective against Trump. Impeaching Trump seemed to elevate him in the polls. A majority of Americans agree in a Quinnipiac poll that Trump is a racist, yet he still may win re-election. Journalists count Trump’s deceptions (more than 20,000 since he assumed the presidency) and chronicle accusations of sexual misconduct against him (26 so far), yet he seems coated with Teflon: Nothing sticks.

America has had “Baby Trump” balloons, “Saturday Night Live” skits and streams of Trump memes and jokes. But all in all, Trump opponents tend to score higher on volume than on wit. So, having covered pro-democracy campaigns in many other countries, I suggest that Americans aghast at Trump absorb a lesson from abroad: Authoritarians are pompous creatures with monstrous egos and so tend to be particularly vulnerable to humor. They look mighty but are often balloons in need of a sharp pin.

Even before it collapsed, the moral authority of the Soviet Union had been hollowed out by endless jokes. In one, a secret policeman asks another, “What do you think of the regime?” Nervously, the second policeman replies, “The same as you, comrade.” At that point the first one pulls out handcuffs and says, “In that case, it is my duty to arrest you.”

Are the stakes too serious to laugh? Does cracking jokes devalue a democracy struggle? I don’t think so. One of the most successful examples of laughtivism came two decades ago when university students took on the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia. Milosevic committed genocide and isn’t an obvious target of humor — but the students’ wit helped topple him.

A typical stunt: They taped a picture of Milosevic on the side of a barrel and invited passers-by to take a swing at it with a baseball bat. The resulting photos of the police “arresting” the barrel and hauling it away were widely publicized and made Milosevic seem less mighty and more ridiculous. In 2000, Milosevic was ousted and handed over to an international tribunal to be tried for war crimes.

Here in the United States, we’ve also seen the power of wit. One of the most effective critics of “Boss Tweed” and Tammany Hall in the 19th century was Thomas Nast, the cartoonist. And Senator Joseph McCarthy’s nemesis, and the man who coined the term “McCarthyism,” was the cartoonist Herblock.

(Don’t tell my editors, but cartoonists, now an endangered species, are often more incisive social and political critics than columnists.)

In South Africa, the cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro skewered President Jacob Zuma so deftly and often that he was arguably one reason Zuma was forced to resign in 2018. Zuma sued Shapiro, whose response was a cartoon in which Zuma rages that he will sue for “damage to my reputation.” Shapiro coolly responds, “Would that be your reputation as a disgraced chauvinist demagogue who can’t control his sexual urges and who thinks a shower prevents AIDS?”

In Malaysia, Prime Minister Najib Razak was toppled the same year in part because of the work of another cartoonist, Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, who persevered despite prosecutions and physical attacks.

That’s one gauge of the power of humor: Dictators fear mockery. The Committee to Protect Journalists says it has intervened this year alone to defend seven cartoonists around the world who were arrested, threatened with prosecution or threatened with death.

In Russia, the dissident Aleksei Navalny uses withering sarcasm in his efforts to bring democracy to Russia. Navalny, now recovering in Germany from what apparently was an attempt by Russian officials to murder him with Novichok nerve gas, responded to Russian suggestions that he had poisoned himself:

“I boiled Novichok in the kitchen, quietly took a sip of it in the plane and fell into a coma,” he wrote on Instagram. “Ending up in an Omsk morgue where the cause of death would be listed as ‘lived long enough’ was the ultimate goal of my cunning plan. But Putin outplayed me.”

Leaders like Trump who pose as religious are particularly easy to skewer, as Iranians have shown in their use of humor to highlight the hypocrisy of their own mullahs. Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi is still nicknamed “Crocodile” because of a cartoon many years ago by Nik Kowsar, who now lives in exile in America because hard-liners arrested him and threatened to murder him.

No, I won’t be drawing cartoons or trying stand-up. I know my limitations. But I’m frustrated by the lack of traction that earnest critiques of Trump get, and I think it’s useful to learn lessons about how people abroad challenged authoritarians and pointed out their hypocrisy with the simple precision of mockery.

I’m also frustrated that some forceful criticisms of Trump sometimes come across to undecided voters as strident or over the top. People like me are accused of suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome, and our arguments are dismissed precisely because they are so fervent

Something similar happens in many countries. Citizens who aren’t political are often wary of pro-democracy leaders who are perceived as radical, as irreligious or as over-educated elitists. But those ordinary citizens appreciate a joke, so humor becomes a way to win them over.

“The grins of the people are the nightmares of the dictators,” wrote Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 while in prison. He is best-known for his eloquent essays calling for democracy, but he argued that humor is also essential in undermining authoritarian rulers.

Liu generously added — and this may be relevant to a polarized country like the United States — that satirizing an authoritarian is good for the nation because it makes the eventual downfall and transition softer and less violent.

“A clown needs less revenge than a monster does,” he observed.

NICHOLAS KRISTOF’S NEWSLETTER: Get a behind-the-scenes look at Nick’s gritty journalism as he travels around the United States and the world.

Thank you, Justice Ginsburg.

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Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer at Facebook.
“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.”
When Ruth Bader Ginsburg graduated from Columbia Law School in 1959, she was first in her class – and she couldn’t find a job. So she did what brilliant, ambitious women have done throughout history when the doors of power slammed in their faces: she found another way.
Thousands of state and federal laws treated women like second-class citizens. Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, I will change that, even if I have to do it one case at a time.
She argued and won FIVE landmark gender equality cases before the Supreme Court. So many women have been able to pursue our dreams and exercise our rights as equal citizens because of her.
As a Supreme Court justice, she went even further. LGBTQ equality. Voting rights. The rights and dignity of immigrants. Access to healthcare. Protecting the environment. She was principled, passionate – and she fought to the end.
I don’t know what my life would look like without Ruth Bader Ginsburg fighting for me and all women. More than anything else, tonight, I am grateful.
Thank you, Justice Ginsburg.
Democrat’s  War Room
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Bruce Lindner
When the announcement came that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away yesterday, my iPad went berserk. Over a hundred Facebook friends sent me private messages within the first few minutes. They ran the gamut from “We’re so screwed now,” to “It’s all over for America,” to “It was nice while it lasted.” I read the first few and decided that I needed a few hours of space, lest I lose a few friends. So I played some music. I still haven’t even read most of them, and probably won’t for a few days. I have little appetite for negativity.
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Ruth Bader Ginsburg led a life of constantly swimming upstream. Everything from institutionalized sexism, misogyny, ignorance, bigotry, anti-Semitism, and for her final curtain, five bouts with various types of cancer. FIVE.
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Throughout it all, never did she throw up her hands and say; “That’s it, I’m so screwed.” or “My life was nice while it lasted.” To the contrary, she never, EVER complained. Instead, she fought. Because she knew the ultimate beneficiaries of her battles weren’t just herself. They were us.
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I realize these are depressing times, and I confess that I get depressed too. But I have ZERO tolerance for defeatism. Do *NOT* message me to tell me how bleak your world is. What makes you think I want to hear it?
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If RBG showed us anything, it’s that defeatism is for the meek. And the meek are the lambs that conservatives eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
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Don’t be meek. Be like RBG. Be STRONG. She was all of 5’1” tall, and maybe 110 pounds soaking wet. Yet never in her eighty-seven years did she say to herself or anybody else; “It’s pointless to fight on.”
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Now is the time for Democrats to assume the role of the wolf. No more lambs. And Goddamnit, don’t you DARE message me with your “woe is me” attitude.
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Be like Ruth. If for no one else’s sake, do it for our daughters.
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Samuel L. Jackson Hits Donald Trump’s Supporters With A Damning Question

HuffPost – Politics

Samuel L. Jackson Hits Donald Trump’s Supporters With A Damning Question

Lee Moran                         

 

Samuel L. Jackson— never shy about slamming Donald Trump— asked a damning question about the president’s supporters on Friday’s episode of “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”

The actor, who was standing in for comedian Jimmy Kimmel as guest host, listed just some of the scandals that Trump has caused in only the last week.

He then asked: “Who can still be voting for this guy after all the stuff that has gone down on his watch?”

“The fact of the matter is that Donald Trump is dangerous for our country,” Jackson later added, cutting to a spoof Trump campaign ad detailing the possible side effects of voting for the president.

Michael Moore: President Obama’s convention speech a work of art.

Michael Moore
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‪With grace & a generous dose stinging ridicule, served up on a gold platter, Obama laid waste to the Trump presidency w/ a “WTF IS this?” and a “who the eff are YOU?” He summed up the simple essence of Trump: Lazy, stupid, dangerous, cruel, incompetent, a true threat to democracy, devoid of imagination, sociopath, psychopath, a cipher, a baby-man. In so many words. Wow‬. C’mon. Tonight. You gotta love Obama.

USA Today

Barack Obama gives scathing DNC speech: ‘Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t’

John Fritze and Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY              August 20, 2020
Pres. Obama criticizes Pres. Trump, calls on Americans to vote in DNC remarks

https://youtu.be/bps3m4eFTuE

 

Former President Barack Obama offered some of his most pointed criticism of President Donald Trump at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday, arguing that his successor turned the presidency into “one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”

“What we do these next 76 days will echo through generations to come,” Obama said in one of the most closely watched addresses on the convention’s third night.

“I never expected that my successor would embrace my vision or continue my policies,” Obama said. “I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously, that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care.

“But he never did,” he said.

Read USA TODAY’s live coverage: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Kamala Harris speak on the third night of the DNC

Though Obama has criticized Trump’s policies before, his remarks Wednesday were far more pointed – and personal. Obama rarely mentions the president by name – even as Trump has slammed his administration on a near-daily basis – but did so twice in his 19-minute speech.

“He has shown no interest in putting in the work, no interest in finding common ground, no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends,” Obama said in the live address delivered from Philadelphia.

“Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t,” Obama said. “And the consequences of that failure are severe.”

Trump wasted no time firing back. Responding to excerpts of Obama’s remarks earlier in the day, Trump described Obama as “so ineffective, so terrible” as he offered an extended criticism of the Iran agreement intended to slow Tehran’s path to a nuclear weapons program.

“The reason I’m here is because of President Obama and Joe Biden,” he said.

Obama accused Trump of using the military as “political props” during Black Lives Matter protests in Washington.

Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, “understand that in this democracy, the commander in chief doesn’t use the men and women of our military, who are willing to risk everything to protect our nation, as political props to deploy against peaceful protesters on our own soil,” Obama said.

“They understand that political opponents aren’t ‘un-American’ just because they disagree with you, that a free press isn’t the ‘enemy’ but the way we hold officials accountable,” he said.

In June, Trump told governors to quell protests or he would deploy the military. Then he strolled through a park near the White House that had been forcefully cleared of protesters minutes earlier and brandished a Bible in a photo op in front of a church that had been damaged by protesters. The incident drew criticism from Democrats and Republicans and became a turning point in the way Trump characterized the Black Lives Matter protesters.

Obama, who burst into national politics with a memorable convention speech in 2004, hopes to rally the coalition of Black and young voters who twice propelled him to the Oval Office – many of whom stayed at home during the 2016 election.

The former president spoke fondly of his relationship with Biden while they were in office together, and his remarks were preceded by a video of Obama surprising Biden with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a display intended to underscore their friendship.

“Twelve years ago, when I began my search for vice president, I didn’t know I’d end up finding a brother,” he said.

“Joe is a man who learned early on to treat every person he meets with respect and dignity. … That empathy, that decency, the belief that everybody counts, that’s who Joe is,” Obama said.

Obama said Biden’s advice helped propel many of his policies.

“For eight years, Joe was the last one in the room whenever I faced a big decision. He made me a better president – and he’s got the character and the experience to make us a better country,” Obama said.

Democrats hoped Obama would highlight Biden’s efforts on passing the 2009 health care law as well as overseeing the economic stimulus that helped the U.S. climb out of the Great Recession.

“Along with the experience needed to get things done, Joe and Kamala have concrete policies that will turn their vision of a better, fairer, stronger country into reality,” Obama said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Barack Obama says President Trump can’t do the job in fiery DNC speech

Brittany: How Can I Love God & Vote for Biden?

How Can I Love God & Vote for Biden?

By Brittany                 August 16th, 2020
Sharing is caring, babe!
Right. I don’t know how to gracefully do this, so let’s just get into it.

I see so many memes about how you can’t possibly be a Christian and support Joe Biden. That you can’t be a Catholic and vote Democrat. That it’s Trump who is the leader who espouses the faith we should be voting for.

I read them and I think… what the actual hell? 

It is my faith that leads me to vote Democrat. It is growing up in the teachings of Jesuit Priests that have filled me with compassion for the displaced and fleeing, welcoming them to my country as my neighbor.

It’s my faith that taught me that every person, no matter the background or bank account, deserves food, shelter, and safety.

My faith has filled me with the belief that it’s not the tax breaks that will get me into heaven, but truly giving a shit about someone else, through every stage of their lives.

I remember  sitting in Mass as a child and listening to a homily about how we should approach every person we meet wearing a blindfold, offering love and compassion first, sight unseen. We are not entitled to their story. We are not owed justification or explanation of their choices.  We just love and accept them. And it empowered my soul.

Every human has value. Every human is equal. No person is illegal. Love is not a sin.

It feels weird talking about this. Christian blogging isn’t really my style, and if you asked me to draw a line representing my brand of religion, it’d admittedly be a giant scribble.

I’m not Mother Teresa but if you need me to define my level of religious zealous, I’d say I’m an “Are You There God It’s Me Margaret” Catholic. I was raised in Catholic school, I go to Mass when I can, but me and God talk daily.

But, my religion is not my faith. My soul has room for both science and my belief in God, and I do not struggle to house both.

Listen. Churches are filled with a whole mess of “isms.” The history of harm there is deep, and it’s not a stranger to cloaking itself in Jesus stickers to hide its bouts of hate.

I see it on a global scale, playing out in acts of war and oppression. But more importantly, I see it in my own life.

The people sitting in the first pew of my church, nodding their heads with the priest asking them to love one another- without reservation- who then going home and post violence and hate on their walls. I see them with their Pray to End Abortion signs in their yards, as they vote against policies that would feed and care for the very “lives” they scream to protect.

We are taught to give someone the shirt from our back, yet bemoan the burden of the undocumented.

We are taught to love thy neighbor, yet our rose garden is used to list and threaten our enemies.

We are taught to wash the feet of the poor, yet vote to cut those in need off at the knee.

And abortion. The cornerstone of every political and religious argument. How do I rectify that with my vote? A few ways.

First, I believe in the quote that I will now butcher: your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.  Meaning I use my personal faith to guide me, not legislate you.

Second, my strong belief in science and viability aside, the truth is, I too, pray to end abortion.

I pray that we are provided with the means and education to make safe decisions. I pray that men no longer rape or commit sexual violence against women. I pray that women never feel they have to make a decision about their bodies based on fear or financial means. I pray that a woman’s value is not tied to being a vessel.  And I pray that no matter what decisions they make with their doctors, that they are met with the respect and compassion we have been taught to give, blindfold on.

Abortion has been the dangling carrot coaxing the faithful into the voting booth while hunger, poverty, and oppression is sold to us as self-created issues we are not responsible for shouldering.

I see all this, and it’s easy to think, maybe I’m not made for religion. That I’m too pissed and weary to fight to keep both my faith and my convictions.

But then I remember that I can because I’m able. And just because my comfort in that pew is cyclical, my faith is not.

Empathy. Inclusion. Justice. Kindness.

You ask me how can I believe in God and vote Biden, and I say to you, how could I not?

The Country Lady, Mary McLeod Bethune, Bethune – Cookman School

The Country Lady

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She started a school for African-American girls with $1.50. The school bordered the town dump. Make-shift desks and chairs were made from discarded crates and boxes. There were five students at the time, and the students made ink for pens from elderberry juice and pencils from burned wood.
When the the local Ku Klux Klan heard about the school, they threatened to burn it down. There were reports that they waited outside the school, but she stood in the doorway, unwilling to back down or leave her school. Other stories say that she and her students started singing spirituals. The Ku Klux Klan eventually left.
Mary McLeod Bethune was born on July 10, 1875 in a log cabin on a cotton farm in South Carolina, the 15th of 17 children of former slaves. Most of her brothers and sisters were born into slavery; she was the first child born free. She started working in the fields by the age of 5.
One day, she accompanied her mother, delivering “white people’s” wash. When she was given permission to enter the white children’s nursery, she saw a book, which fascinated her. A white girl would quickly snatch the book from her hands, telling her she didn’t know how to read. That’s when Mary realized the only difference between white and black folk was the ability to read and write.
When she got the opportunity, McLeod attended a one-room black schoolhouse, walking five miles to and from the school. When she got home, she would teach her parents and siblings what she learned. She then got an opportunity to attend the Moody Bible Institute in 1895, becoming the first African American student to graduate from the school.
She decided then she would become a missionary, sharing what she learned. But, she would be informed that no one wanted or needed a black missionary.
Rather than give up her dreams, she decided more than ever that she would eventually teach.
Flash forward to 1904, when after moving to Florida, she started the Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls, which initially had five girls aged six to twelve. With limited resources, she was determined to make the school a success, even when the Ku Klux Klan threatened her. But, eventually she received donations and support from the community, and the school grew to 30 girls by the end of the year.
Booker T. Washington would tell her of the importance of white benefactors to fund her school, so she started traveling and fundraising, receiving donations from John D. Rockefeller and establishing contacts with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Her little school would become even more successful after it merged with a private institute for African-American boys and became known as the Bethune-Cookman School. She was president of the college from 1923 to 1942, and 1946 to 1947, becoming one of the few women in the world to serve as a college president at that time.
After she found that one of her students needing medical care was denied the care she needed and was placed on an outside porch of the local white hospital instead of a room with a bed, she used her funding sources and connections to open the first black hospital in Daytona, Florida.
According to the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial Association, McLeod became “one of the 20th century’s most powerful and celebrated advocates for civil rights and suffrage”, holding “prominent roles, including president, in the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). She also served as president of the Florida Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, where she fought against school segregation and sought healthcare for black children. Under her leadership, the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) was founded as a unifying voice for African American women’s organizations.”
As chapter president of the Florida chapter of the National Association of Colored Women, she would become so well known for her work registering black voters that once again she received threats from the Ku Klux Klan. And, like before, she did not back down.
With her friendship with the Roosevelts, she would become appointed as a national adviser to president Roosevelt, becoming part of what was known as his Black Cabinet and advising him on concerns of black people and would be called the “First Lady of the Struggle”.
When she passed away on May 18, 1955, she was recognized across the country. One newspaper suggested “the story of her life should be taught to every school child for generations to come” and The New York Times noted she was, “one of the most potent factors in the growth of interracial goodwill in America.”
In her own words before she died, she wrote:
“I leave you love. I leave you hope. I leave you the challenge of developing confidence in one another. I leave you a thirst for education. I leave you a respect for the use of power. I leave you faith. I leave you racial dignity. I leave you a desire to live harmoniously with your fellow men. I leave you a responsibility to our young people.”
“If I have a legacy to leave my people, it is my philosophy of living and serving. I think I have spent my life well. I pray now that my philosophy may be helpful to those who share my vision of a world of Peace, Progress, Brotherhood, and Love.”

“What to the Slave is 4th of July” James Earl Jones

Open Culture

Every year on this day, Frederick Douglass’s fiery, uncompromising 1852 speech, “The Meaning of July 4th for the Negro,” gets a new hearing, and takes on added resonance in the context of contemporary politics. It has never ceased to speak directly to those for whom the celebrations can seem like a hollow mockery of freedom and independence. The American holiday commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence—next to the Constitution, the U.S.A.’s most cherished founding document, and a text, for all its rhetorical elegance, which cannot escape the irony that it was written by a slaveholder for an emerging slave nation.

Slavery had always been a contentious subject among the colonists. And yet the American Revolution was a war waged for the full freedom and enfranchisement of only a very few white men of property. Not only were black people excluded from the nation’s freedoms, but so too were conquered Native American nations, and in great part, poor white men and women who could not vote—though they were not chained in perpetual servitude as human chattel, with little hope of liberty for themselves or their descendants.

Douglass gave the speech in Rochester, NY, seventy-six years after the first July 4th and at a time when the country was riven with irreconcilable tensions between abolitionists, free-soilers, and the slaveholding South. The Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act—at least, in hindsight—made the impending Civil War all but inevitable. The speech reveals the celebration as a sham for those who were or had been enslaved, and who could not consider themselves American citizens regardless of their status (as Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney would affirm five years later.)

Just above, you can hear a powerful reading of Douglass’s speech by James Earl Jones, delivered as part of Howard Zinn’s Voices of a People’s History of the United States. Read an excerpt of the speech below.

What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes that would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.

Douglass’s speech condemned the “scorching irony” of American independence even after the Civil War, as racist terrorism and Jim Crow destroyed the promise of Reconstruction. In our present time, writes Pulitzer Prize-winning author and professor Isabel Wilkerson, amidst the rash of high profile police killings and an ensuing lack of justice, events “have forced us to confront our place in a country where we were enslaved for far longer than we have been free. Forced us to face the dispiriting erosion that we have witnessed in recent years—from the birther assaults on a sitting black president to the gutting of the Voting Rights Act that we had believed was carved in granite.” We might add to this list the resumption of the failed “War on Drugs” and the federal government’s announcements that it would do little to safeguard civil rights nor to investigate and prosecute the surge of white supremacist violence.

And yet the “self evident” mythology of American freedom and equality—and of American innocence—remains potent and seductive to many people in the country. As the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute put it a few days ago, “The birth of the United States was unique because it was a nation founded not on blood or ethnicity, but on ideas.” To this ahistorical fiction, which manages to erase the founders’ own statements on race, the colonization of indigenous lands, and even the bloody Revolutionary War in its strangely desperate zeal to sweep the past away, Douglass would reply: “The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and the crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.”

This gay guy’s hilarious rant about small town Trump supporters is absolute perfection

Five Minutes of Hot Tea

This gay guy’s hilarious rant about small town Trump supporters is absolute perfection

By Daniel Villarreal          June 10, 2020

 

How billionaires’ short-term greed could upend America and destroy their own wealth

Raw Story

How billionaires’ short-term greed could upend America and destroy their own wealth

By Thom Hartmann, Independent Media Institute       April 17, 2020

 

 

The coronovirus crisis is highlighting how dysfunctional states run by Republicans are. This is a feature of GOP rule, not a bug.

For the past 40-plus years, a group of “conservative” billionaires have been working as hard as they can to reshape our federal government from one that provides education, health care, housing, food and other necessities into one that does nothing more than run the military and fight wars.

It’s time to give them what they’ve worked so hard to get.

In the process, “blue states” can continue to flower and prosper, while “red states” go back to their pre-Civil War poverty and local oligarchies. All it’ll take is a small tweak to our federal system, something that the billionaires have been pushing for since the 1970’s.

First, end the federal income tax, as David Koch called for when he ran for vice president in 1980. Most billionaires don’t pay much (if anything) into it anyway; as economists have documented and the New York Times (among others) reported, in 2019 billionaires paid a lower federal tax rate than anybody—including the working poor, the bottom 50 percent of American households.The federal income tax has become a massive annual transfer of wealth from blue states to red states. Just let it go, so the states can raise their own taxes to take care of their citizens without having to subsidize other states.

“Taker” Mississippi, for example, gets about 40 percent of its total budget in federal funds taken from “maker” blue states, with fully 24 percent of its residents being fed via the federal food stamp program (compared to 10 percent of Californians). If they’re so gung-ho about “states’ rights” when it comes to denying citizens the right to vote or to get a safe abortion, or putting limits on carrying assault weapons, why not give them the “right” to pay for their own social programs?

Education, housing, food stamps, health care, and pretty much every other program funded by the income tax (Social Security has its own separate tax and fund) can be picked up by the states. Ending the federal income tax (and leaving the federal government with tariffs and fees to pay for the military, as we did from the founding of the republic up until World War I) would give the states lots of elbow room.

Take away the 30 percent or 40 percent (for the top income brackets; or, before Reagan, even 91 percent to 70 percent on a progressive sliding scale) federal tax rate, and the states can then raise their state income taxes to those levels. Blue states, no longer having to subsidize red states via the federal government, can easily pick up all the social safety net costs and have enough money left over to build a multi-state world-class coronavirus-resistant nonprofit hospital system.

To make things easier, the blue states need to enter into a compact like several New England and Mid-Atlantic states did to control greenhouse gases, a move emulated by California, Oregon and Washington.

For a project this large, though (particularly if it includes a single-payer health care system), it’ll take all of the blue states: an interstate compact including the New England and Mid-Atlantic states, the West Coast states, and the few remaining blue states in the Midwest like Illinois and Minnesota. And with their “pact” to decide when and how to open their states after the coronavirus crisis ends, numerous blue states have already laid the foundation for exactly this.

America’s wealthiest billionaires, including Walmart’s Walton family, the Kochs, and Jeff Bezos, have famously worked to gut the right of workers to form unions; fine, let them have their federal “right to work for less” law. But don’t forbid the blue states from enforcing union rights; they’re the key to the prosperous middle class America had between the 1940’s and Reagan’s election in 1980, and blue states are all about prosperity.

When the red states start to collapse or see a mass exodus of their people to blue states, let them join the compact but, as with the European Union, only if they agree to the terms of the Blue State Compact: higher taxes and fully funded health, education and welfare programs, as well as high-functioning infrastructure to support modern business activity.

Pick your metric:  Livability, family-friendliness, quality of health care, quality and availability of education, “personal freedom,” economic strength, job growth, business climate, worker rights… in nearly every case, blue states outrank red states, and often by a huge margin.

While the variation in GDP growth between the world’s top 20 economies averages around 1.75 percent, America’s blue states have grown 3.5 percent more than red states since the Great Recession. Blue states can definitely take care of themselves.

As part of their interstate compact, blue states could even define their own regulatory programs to keep their air and water clean and their food and drugs safe, as California has done for years with auto emissions. Without their taxes being sucked away to red states, the Compact can afford to create its own versions of the FDA, EPA, USDA and OSHA.

Ending the federal income tax (or dialing it back to functional meaninglessness) and creating an interstate compact like this would require a few steps, but they’ve been followed numerous times in American history.

The federal income tax, authorized in 1913 by the 16th Amendment, has been raised and lowered repeatedly in the more than 100 years since its inception. It’s been as low as a single-digit percent and as high as 91 percent. Given that the GOP has been begging for years to cut it as much as possible, if the Democrats in Congress were to offer to cut it to 1 percent or whatever minimum would, along with tariffs and fees, provide for the core functions of government (Army, Congress, SCOTUS, White House, etc.), it’s hard to imagine that the Republicans could say no.

Similarly, although Section 10 of Article I of the Constitution says, “No state shall, without the consent of Congress, … enter into any agreement or compact with another state,” that consent hasn’t been routinely withheld when interstate compacts were formed to do everything from controlling pollution to disposing of nuclear waste. This should be a viable idea.

Speaking to a group of 450 billionaires and multimillionaires, Charles Koch, in 2015, compared their struggle to that, according to the Washington Post, of “Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.” Not to mention George Washington.

“Look at the American revolution,” Koch said, “the anti-slavery movement, the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement. All of these struck a moral chord with the American people. They all sought to overcome an injustice. And we, too, are seeking to right injustices that are holding our country back.”

A staple argument among America’s conservative uber-rich, going all the way back to their reaction to Brown v. Board of Education in the 1950s, has been that the federal government needs to stop interfering with states, and that federal regulations and subsidies are distorting markets and holding back “the magic of the free market.”

They tried their experiments with Chile and Russia, “libertarianizing” those nations’ economies, and the results were less than spectacular. Perhaps they can do better with the states they already control (via Charles Koch’s ALEC, for example) once those states are unencumbered by federal taxes, regulations or the “stifling” effect of federal welfare and subsidy programs.

The right-wing billionaire definition of “freedom” includes the right to poverty, the right to die without health care, the right to be uneducated and illiterate, and the right to be hungry and homeless. Red states seem to like this, since they repeatedly vote for it; we should let them have it.

Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and the author of The Hidden History of the War on Voting and more than 30 other books in print. His most recent project is a science podcast called The Science Revolution. He is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Growing a Vegetable Garden Might Be Just What You Need During the Coronavirus Crisis

Architectural Digest

Growing a Vegetable Garden Might Be Just What You Need During the Coronavirus Crisis

Stefanie Wal       April 3, 2020

It’s been a few weeks since the COVID-19 pandemic halted the world, forcing us to retreat into our homes and forgo physical social contact—and it doesn’t look like we’ll be freed any time soon. Though grocery stores are open for business, authorities from governors to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have asked that we minimize our outings into the public world, which got us thinking: what better time to plant your own vegetable garden? Not only could this help you skip the trip to the store once the produce comes in, but it also could provide some much-needed stress relief. We asked some gardening experts for tips and tricks to design a garden and grow produce in your backyard or patio.

Designing a Garden

Before you dive in with your trowel and seeds, you’ll want to spend some time designing your garden’s layout. Start by observing how much sunlight is in your yard or patio. “Consider where the vegetable garden is going. It should go in the sunniest spot, as most vegetables require lots of direct sun,” says landscape designer Kathryn Herman. But don’t fret if you have a little bit of shade. “Some vegetables, like salad greens, can take a small amount of shade,” says landscape designer Deborah Nevins.

When it comes to designing a layout, keep in mind that gardens take work. You’ll need to be out there watering, weeding, and harvesting, so you’ll want to leave areas between your beds where you can tread safely. “We like making the garden beds easy to access, so a three-foot-wide by eight-foot-long bed with space on either side allows circulation to get to both sides,” says Herman. “The space on either side of the bed can be lawn, or it can be gravel, or it can be a paved surface.”

And if you don’t have a full yard, don’t worry—there are plenty of ways to make do with a small space like a patio, a window box, or even a section of your driveway. “Plant in containers or a small raised bed,” says Tara Nolan, author of Gardening Your Front Yard and co-owner of Savvy Gardening. “You just need to make sure the space gets at least six to eight hours of sunlight a day. There are many compact plant varieties that are perfect for small spaces. Look for words like mini, dwarf, or patio on seed packets.”

Close up of basket of fresh vegetables on garden soil. Cool weather crops include carrots and other root veggies. Photo: Getty Images/Aleksander Rubtsov

Choosing What to Plant

There’s quite a variety of produce to choose from for your vegetable garden, and the good news for beginners is that it’s relatively easy to grow the vast majority of them. “Plants are really simple, especially vegetable plants,” says Shelby DeVore, founder of homesteading website Farminence. “There are two main types of vegetable plants that are suitable for first-time gardeners: fruit crops like tomatoes and cucumbers, and vegetative crops that are grown for their leaves, like spinach and lettuce.”

To help you narrow down your selection, consider the size of your garden—and the colors you want to see. “There is a large variety of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and lettuces that come in many forms and colors, which can add another level of interest to the garden,” says Herman. “These vegetables are suitable for a smaller bed, while vegetables like squash, cucumbers, and melons require more space to spread out.”

Something else to think about: Some plants grow better during different times of year. “Cool-weather crops like peas; root veggies like beets and carrots; and members of the Brassica genus, like cabbage, kale, and brussels sprouts, can be sown in early spring, while the heat-lovers like tomatoes, melons, and cucumbers are planted after all threat of frost has passed,” says Nolan. “Google your region and the area’s frost-free date, which will help you know when to plant.”

And, of course, grow what you want to eat! “Red Russian kale is one of my personal favorites,” says designer Christopher Spitzmiller. “It’s easy to grow and has nearly flat leaves that are easy to roll up and cut into small coleslaw-like pieces that make a great salad all summer and into the early winter.”

Plants Growing At Vegetable Garden. Make sure to research your region to know when to plant certain seeds. Photo: Getty Images/Ivana Drozdov

Gardening Tips

Follow these tips from our experts and you’ll be on your way to self-grown fresh produce in no time!

1. Consider starting your garden indoors if it’s still cold out

Although it’s just about the right time of year to get outdoors, you can start your garden inside if you’re in a colder climate. “We have lots of seeds started under grow lights in our garage,” says Spitzmiller. “We’ve started all sorts of lettuces, cabbages, and arugula.”

2. Make sure you’re using good soil

When it comes to gardening, it’s crucial to have healthy soil for robust growth. “You have to determine the quality of your soil regarding nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, and you need to see if the soil drains well,” says Nevins. And don’t forget fertilizer! “Composted manure can be worked in to help add organic matter into the soil,” says Herman.

3. Check on them daily

Pay attention to your plants, as their physical appearance can alert you to any issues they might have. “Plants that aren’t getting enough water will be droopy, but most people know that,” says DeVore. “They’ll also let you know if they have a disease or nutritional issue. Check the leaves for yellow or brown spots. Wilted, yellow, purple, or curled leaves can be a sign that something is wrong.”

4. Don’t get discouraged

“First-timers should know that even the most experienced gardeners can have issues, and not to be discouraged,” says Nolan. “Sometimes issues like pests, or even excessive rain, can affect crops. The key is to figure out what went wrong and how you can mitigate those circumstances next time.”

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest