DWB=Death Sentence

The verdict in the Philando Castile case exonerating the cop that killed him while he was belted in the driver’s seat is still reverberating across the country. It’s hanging around in my consciousness daily, like a roiling dark cloud. I can’t even imagine what it’s meant for black Minnesotans, even though I’ve heard from some friends and have an inkling of the psychic damage and the emotional toll it’s taken. New web sites are springing up every day, “Policing the Police” is just the latest, featuring cell phone videos from across the country of cops pulling weapons on black kids playing basketball, terrorizing 12 year olds walking down the street, tackling, beating and cuffing a black man in California for jaywalking, just an endless catalogue of brutality and senseless violence being condoned or at least tolerated by a disinterested white majority culture. I think of the conversations I’ve had with friends and relatives who treat me as an overly sensitive guy who needs to focus his attention somewhere else—people in my life who I love and care for, but who have little interest in speaking out or acting on behalf of people they don’t know or don’t inhabit their world. Fellow Americans, sure, but so what? They don’t read anything by Tim Wise or Chauncey De Vega, they aren’t interested in talking about the problem of imminent death and public execution facing people of color—their fellow citizens—and would much prefer not to even have to hear about any of this. 

But I’d like to think–even though I’m well into my 70s– that talking about the problem and acknowledging the problem and facing the problem and voting people into office who are committed to solving the problem will, maybe even before I’m well into my 80s, eventually make racism just an uncomfortable historical teaching point. Like Germany and its facing up to the mass insanity that was Naziism. 

We are still a country that refuses to face up to the fact we were born into genocide (the Native American mass extinction), and developed economically as a nation through slavery. And those wounds will never heal until we address them honestly and openly. It can happen, but it won’t as long as we continue to focus our attention somewhere else.

So here’s Chauncey De Vega writing about Philando Castile. It’s a short read, and from the perspective of a black man in America, well worth your time. — Mark



The verdict in the Philando Castile case should in no way come as a surprise. But this fact makes the outcome no less outrageous.

In America, driving while black can be a death sentence.

Last summer Philando Castile was driving his car in the suburb of Falcon Heights, outside St. Paul, Minnesota, when he was stopped by a police officer over a broken taillight — and also because Castile’s big, black, wide nose made him “look like a suspect” in a felony case. Castile calmly and politely answered Officer Jeronimo Yanez’s questions and then volunteered, per the requirements of the law, that he was a registered gun owner and had the weapon in his possession.

Following Yanez’s directives, Castile then tried to show the officer his identification. At that moment, Yanez was apparently overcome by Negrophobia and shot Castile five times. Castile’s girlfriend and child were in the car when this happened. Diamond Reynolds recorded the killing of her boyfriend and father of their child in real time, transmitting the images of his violent death via Facebook Live so millions of people could bear witness to the de facto lynching of another innocent black man by American police. Reynolds was then handcuffed and put in the back of a police patrol car, along with her child.

Where was the National Rifle Association? It does not care if a black gun owner is killed by the police.

Where is the FBI and the Department of Justice? Under Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the police are encouraged and protected in their violence against black and brown people.

Where is the outrage from White America? There is none or at any rate not enough. The police are enforcers of the color line and in that role protect “good” white folks from “bad” black and brown people. If innocent black and brown people are killed in the process, such an outcome is merely an inconvenience. Given America’s bloody history along the color line, it would not be the first time that the suffering and death of black people has been used to pay the psychological and material wages of whiteness.

Where are the bloviators who shouted, “All Lives Matter!” Of course they are silent — if not actually celebrating the killing of Castile and the exoneration of Yanez. “All Lives Matter” was always just an updated and more polite version of saying “White power!” or perhaps “Sieg Heil!”

Where are the “white allies” who oppose racism? There are a few but not enough. As has been true from before the founding of the republic to the present, white people of conscience are rare in America.

Last week a jury found Yanez not guilty for his killing of Castile. Like so many other police officers, Yanez had mastered a simple phrase that almost always exonerates them for killing a person of color. All an officer ever has to say is some version of “I was afraid for my life,” and murder by cop becomes legal.

This grotesque system of American justice was shown to be even more twisted and wrong when a second video recording of Yanez’s encounter with Castile was released to the public on Tuesday. Here, the camera does not lie. Recorded from his police car, Yanez is shown to be a reckless coward who shoots Castile dead about 40 seconds after first speaking with him. In essence, Officer Yanez decided to play the role of the Grim Reaper. After revealing that he was a lawfully armed black man out in public, there was little if anything that Castile could do to avoid being shot dead.

In America, being a black person is an existential condition that provokes and legitimizes violence against you.

In America, a gun is as a magical totem and fetish object that is inseparable from white masculinity, white manhood, white citizenship and a near monopoly by whites on lawful violence, especially against nonwhites. Black Americans are excluded from that compact, virtually by definition.

In America, black people are the walking dead when they encounter a police officer. In his book “Slavery and Social Death,” the sociologist Orlando Patterson observed:

The condition of slavery did not absolve or erase the prospect of death. Slavery was not a pardon; it was, peculiarly, a conditional commutation. The execution was suspended only as long as the slave acquiesced in his powerlessness. The master was essentially a ransomer. What he bought or acquired was the slave’s life, and restraints on the master’s capacity wantonly to destroy his life did not undermine his claim on that life. Because the slave had no socially recognized existence outside of his master, he became a social nonperson.

These insights about “persons” and “nonpersons,” power, life and death apply to black people and their interactions with the police in post-civil rights era America as well.

The legal murders of Philando Castile, Sylville Smith, Charleena Lyles, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown and so many others by America’s police and their allies is why the slogan “Black Lives Matter!” is both a demand for justice as well as an affirmation of the value of black folks’ lives.

The stress of living in a country where police violence and other types of institutional white supremacy are daily threats to their collective well-being largely explains why black Americans die at such disproportionate rates from diseases like heart disease and strokes. Racial battle fatigue is lethal.

State-sponsored violence against Philando Castile and other black people is why NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick was correct to observe that America’s police can trace their origins to the slave patrols of the antebellum United States and too often act in the spirit of that lineage today.

Black Americans are not crazy, deranged, deluded, overly sensitive, lying or confused when they tell white people that the country’s police are racist and that the legal system is unjust and biased. For white Americans to believe otherwise, as recent public opinion surveys suggest they do, requires is willful denial, delusional thinking and cultivated ignorance. Even when confronted by the video and photographic evidence of police thuggery and violence against black and brown people, many millions of white Americans will convince themselves that cops are to be given the “benefit of the doubt.”

Ultimately, why is police thuggery and violence against black and brown Americans so common? On a basic level, this is the system working precisely as designed. White Americans, as a group, more or less go along with it. The verdict in the Philando Castile case should in no way come as a surprise. But this fact makes the outcome no less outrageous.

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

Yes, Virginia, Republicans ARE That Corrupt


Let’s take a look at the Criminal Track Record of the Republicans vs. Democrats. Just for fun, let’s say we go back to Lyndon Johnson’s Presidency and examine the last 53 years of the executive branch and how each administration did relative to the other party when their guy was President. Here’s how it shakes out over those 53 years:

INDICTMENTS: Republicans 120, Democrats 3

CONVICTIONS: Republicans 89, Democrats 1

PRISON SENTENCES: Republicans 34, Democrats 1

Really? Could it be that unbalanced? Are Republicans THAT corrupt? As Seth Myers might say, let’s take A CLOSER LOOK. Let’s break it down by President and the numbers for each.

Obama (D)-
8 years in office. Zero criminal indictments, zero convictions and zero prison sentences.

Bush, George W. (R)-
8 years in office. 16 criminal indictments. 16 convictions. 9 prison sentences.

Clinton (D)-
8 years in office. 2 criminal indictments. One conviction, one prison sentence.

Bush, George H. W. (R)-
4 years in office. One indictment. One conviction. One prison sentence.

Reagan (R)-
8 years in office. 26 criminal indictments, 16 convictions, 8 prison sentences.

Carter (D)-
4 years in office, one indictment, zero convictions and zero prison sentences.

Ford (R)-
2.4 years in office. One indictment and one conviction. One prison sentence.

Nixon (R)-
5.6 years in office. 76 criminal indictments. 55 convictions, 15 prison sentences.

Johnson (D)-
5 years in office. Zero indictments. Zero convictions. Zero prison sentences.

It’s pretty effing clear. These numbers are historical fact and a clear indictment of the governing actions and philosophy of Republican administrations dating back to the 60s. Republican administrations are, and have been for most of my adult life, the most criminally corrupt party to hold the office of the Presidency. It’s not even close. Granted, Nixon alone inflated these numbers yugely, but the rest of these repubs did a lot of damage themselves. What are the odds the current Orange Man Baby administration is going to improve these numbers for Republicans?

Thanks to Dean Seal for the stats on this little day brightener.

Smaller and smaller. And smaller.

This just crossed my desktop. Want to make some “sense” of the Philander Castile catastrophe? Want to see Minnesota through the eyes of a relatively well-known black person who lives here and “should” be exempt from the casual and pervasive daily racism of Minnesota Nice? This brief essay will help you understand—just a little— what it must be like to live in a state that demands that its POC stay small.

by Marlon James

There are some Minnesotans who want to rebrand this state as North. It’s become something of a movement, and I can’t help but think how apt that is. Because we are the most northern of the north, especially in the many fucked up ways the state views and acts on issues of race, and not just in asserting that second amendment rights were only meant for white people. But Minnesota’s call for “north” status reminds me of legendary comedian Dick Gregory’s take on American racism, still the most succinct and dead on analysis of race in American society I have ever read. He wrote in a 1971 issue of Ebony:

“Down South white folks don’t care how close I get as long as I don’t get too big. Up North white folks don’t care how big I get as long as I don’t get too close.”

Which for me always meant that in the south, white people can look back at their own personal cast of The Help, with genuine affection, but if Viola goes and opens a beauty salon for white people, we’re surely going to burn that motherfucker down. While in the North, Viola will get all sorts of grants to set up shop, just don’t set up in our neighbourhood and drive the property values down, and don’t be surprised when an officer beats down your husband because though we met him seven times already, he was still the threatening black guy lurking around the neighbourhood and not opening the door to his own fucking house.

But I should have known that a man as wise as Gregory meant so much more. And I did not realize until just now, that big can mean literally big, and close can mean 20 feet away, and how 10 years of living in Minnesota as a “big, black guy” has led me to a gradual though futile “reduction” of myself to get closer. I have a big global voice, but a small local one, because I don’t want to be a target, and resent that in 2017, that’s still the only choice I get to have. I have a rule of leaving the party, or social space as soon as I see five white people drunk, because the only person who will remember that moment when everybody got hella racist will be me. I have a self-imposed curfew of when to ride my bike home, when to leave the park. I would rather risk my life riding late at night on the empty and mostly dark greenway, than riding on the street with Police officers looking for whoever matches a description. I go out of my way to avoid police, because I don’t know how to physically act around them. Do I hold my hands in the air and get shot, Do I kneel and get shot? Do I reach for my ID and get shot? Do I say I’m an English teacher and get shot? Do I tell them everything I am about to do, and get shot? Do I assume than seven of them will still feel threatened by one of me, and get shot? Do I simply stand and be big black guy and get shot? Do I fold my arms and squeeze myself into smaller and get shot? Do I be a smartass and get shot? Do I leave my iPhone on a clip of me on Seth Meyers, so I can play it and say, see, that’s me. I’m one of the approved black guys. And still get shot?

And when I do get shot and killed, do black and brown people take it as a given that the cop will get off, tune out of the story from this point, and leave the outrage at the inevitable verdict to white people? Because white people still look at fear of black skin as one of their rights, and god help you if that skin moves. Because cops, the lethal arm of this society, along with neighborhood watchdogs, and white neighbors with phones, get the privilege to always act on any fear, no matter how ridiculous, and society always gives them the benefit of the doubt and the not guilty verdict. Because brewing fresh outrage every morning is not a privilege people of colour get to have. The situations that cause outrage never go away for us. It never stuns us, never comes out of the blue. We don’t get to be appalled because only people expecting better get appalled.

Because get big but don’t get close, also means don’t be “big, black guy,” and I remember one of the reasons I worked out to lose weight, was to not be big black guy. Get big but don’t get close, also means it doesn’t matter how famous I get in this city, because cops probably don’t read, don’t listen to liberal bullshit on MPR, so don’t get close to any of them. Get big, but don’t get close means never dating someone in law enforcement ever, ever, ever. Get big, but don’t get close means, that there are certain neighbourhoods I simply don’t get to walk through at night, because that first scene in Get Out has happened to EVERYBODY. At least don’t go walking without your white friend visa. Get big but don’t get close, means I still feel safer with a white person around, and usually a white woman since they are far more likely to challenge the cop on unconstitutional bullshit while it is happening, (another scene captured perfectly in Get Out) than the white guy, who will be the loudest shouter of how fucked up it all was, as soon as the cops are gone. Not that she is any more woke than white dude, but because the idea that her rights could be punched right back into her own face would never have even occurred to her. But if cops assume that you might be sleeping with her, things could get unspeakably worse.

Get big but don’t get close can mean that even a thin black man complying with the law can still be seen as a justifiable threat.

Get big but don’t get close can mean we’re hearing too much of you, so get your loud, angry voice out of my face, black lady. Get big but don’t get close can sometimes mean don’t get big the way we get big. Or it can literally mean NIMBY. So if it’s Minnesota you run a highway through the Harlem of the Midwest before it could ever have its renaissance, then wonder why if the state is doing so good, how come it’s black people are doing so bad. Get big but don’t get close means everybody is so proud of their liberal credentials, so proud that they don’t see colour, that they never see the absence of it. Because well to see that, one would have to get close.

Get big but don’t get close means that I’m more famous than most people of colour in Minnesota, and yet in ten years I have only four close friends who were born here. In ten years I have only seen the home of five people. And I like to think that I’m insulated by academic privilege, but Skip Gates was fucked with in the North, as was every person Claudia Rankine writes about in Citizen. I would bike to work in full academic regalia if not for police assuming that I probably stole it anyway, and of course, shooting me. I don’t trust law enforcement, even when I need to call on law enforcement, and every person of colour in this city has to deal with the very real possibility that to call for help can mean that you are the one who gets killed. So, white person, I’m sorry but I can’t be the guy who calls the cops when something is happening to you, because their first assumption will be that I’m the guy I called about.

I’ve been through Jamaica in the 70’s and 80’s so I know what it feels like to think the police are simply predisposed to think the worst of you. A friend of mine once bought fully into the idea of black men fed to him by a local cop (They “want” to be in jail, you see) until the night a cop dragged him out of his own home, threw him to the ground and stepped on him. One of the reasons why the word empathy pisses me off, is not that I think it’s impossible, it because I know most white people won’t do the work. You will never know how it feels to realize that it doesn’t matter how many magazines articles I get, or which state names a day after me. Tomorrow when I get on my bike, I am big black guy, who might be shot before the day ends, because my very size will make a cop feel threatened. Or if I’m a woman, my very mouth. And a jury of white people, and people of colour sold on white supremacy will acquit him. And even me hoping for hipster points on my fixed wheel bike, is countered by them thinking I probably stole the bike.

When Jamaican bus conductors want to pack an already full bus, they shout to the passengers to “small up yourself.” I don’t know what to do in this city to get smaller. But as I said in my third paragraph, that’s futile. It’s futile because I’m never the one with the measuring stick.


[Marlon James is a Jamaican writer. He has published three novels: John Crow’s Devil (2005), The Book of Night Women (2009), and A Brief History of Seven Killings (2014), winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize. Now living in Minneapolis, James teaches literature at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.]


Why Can’t I Own A Canadian?

On her radio show, Dr Laura Schlesinger said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance.

The following response is an open letter to Dr Laura, written by a US man, and posted on the Internet. It’s funny, as well as informative:

Dear Dr Laura,

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s Laws and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are from neighbouring nations.

A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of Menstrual uncleanliness. (Leviticus 15: 19-24) The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odour for the Lord. (Leviticus 1:9) The problem is my neighbours . They claim the odour is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Leviticus 11:10) it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there ‘degrees’ of abomination?

7. Leviticus 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Leviticus 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Leviticus 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Leviticus 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Leviticus 24:10-16) Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Leviticus 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I’m confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Your adoring fan,

James M. Kauffman, Ed.D. Professor Emeritus,
Dept. Of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education
University of Virginia

P.S. It would be a damn shame if we couldn’t own a Canadian.

Shooting Liberals: Some Opinions

What do Republicans say about shooting Liberals? Let’s check some recent history.

GOP House candidate Robert Lowry held a campaign event at a Florida gun range in October 2009, where he fired gunshots at a silhouette that had his opponent Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s printed on it.

“You know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies.” – Sharon Angle, Republican from Nevada

“If I could issue hunting permits, I would officially declare today opening day for liberals. The season would extend through November 2 and have no limits on how many taken as we desperately need to ‘thin’ the herd.”       -Brad Goerhing

“Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office,” read an advertisement for the event called “Shoot a fully automatic M16 With Jesse Kelly.”

“Don’t retreat, instead- RELOAD!” – Sarah Palin after circulating a map with crosshairs over lawmakers who supported the ACA

“You know but other than me going over there with a gun and holding it to their head and maybe killing a couple of them, I don’t think they’re going to listen unless they get beat.” – John Sullivan

“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.” – Donald Trump, popular vote loser, 2016 Presidential election

There’s more, but you get the drift. Hypocrisy, thy name is GOP.

Trump and the True Meaning of ‘Idiot’

Many of us who woke up November 9th to the reality of Trump as leader of the free world have used the word IDIOT a thousand times, without realizing how etymologically and historically accurate we were. This brief essay makes it all too clear what the nation has done, putting a classic IDIOT in the Oval Office.

By Eric Anthamatten, New York Times

In a recent Quinnipiac University poll, respondents were asked what word immediately came to mind when they thought of Donald Trump: The No. 1 response was “idiot.” This was followed by “incompetent,” “liar,” “leader,” “unqualified,” and finally, in sixth place, “president.” Superlatives like “great” and a few unprintable descriptives came further down on the list. But let us focus on the first.

Contemporary uses of the word “idiot” usually highlight a subject’s lack of intelligence, ignorance, foolishness or buffoonery. The word’s etymological roots, however, going back to ancient Greece, suggest that, in the case of the president, it may be even more apropos than it might first seem.

In ancient Greek society, an idiotes was a layperson who lacked professional skills. The idiot contributed nothing to public life or the common good. His existence depended on the skill and labor of others; he was a leech sucking the lifeblood from the social body. Related to this, idiocy (from the root idios, “one’s own”) was the state of a private or self-centered person. This contrasted with the status of the public citizen, or polites, such that to be an idiot was to be withdrawn, isolated and selfish, to not participate in the public, political life of the city-state. In Greek society, the condition of idiocy was seen as peculiar and strange (a meaning that is retained in the English word “idiosyncratic”); thus “idiot” was a term of reproach and disdain.

The education scholar Walter C. Parker sought to invoke this original meaning in his 2005 essay “Teaching Against Idiocy.” In it, he writes that “when a person’s behavior became idiotic — concerned myopically with private things and unmindful of common things — then the person was believed to be like a rudderless ship, without consequence save for the danger it posed to others.” The idiot, then, was a threat to the city-state, to public life, and to the bonds that make communication and community possible. Parker continues: “An idiot is suicidal in a certain way, definitely self-defeating, for the idiot does not know that privacy and individual autonomy are entirely dependent on the community.” Parker also notes that the idiot has not yet reached “puberty,” or the transition to public life.

The idiot, understood in this sense, undermines not only community but also communication. An “idiom” is a phrase peculiar to a specific language or place. The idiot speaks only in idioms, though these function for him not as colorful additions to a language or culture, but are understood by him alone. To members of the community, his utterances are the babblings of a baby or a madman, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Given all this, the idiot can be defined as such: a prepubescent, parasitic solipsist who talks only to himself.

In the mid-19th and early 20th centuries, the term began to take on the more familiar meaning, namely a person of low intelligence. This meaning is fraught with ableist history, as “idiot” was used as a diagnostic term indicating severe intellectual or developmental disability. Dr. Henry H. Goddard was the first to translate the French Binet-Simon intelligence test, a precursor to I.Q. tests, into English, and used the metric to classify “mental age”: An adult with a mental age less than 3 years old was labeled an “idiot”; between 3 and 7, an “imbecile”; and between 7 and 10, a “moron.” Originally, an I.Q. was determined by dividing mental age by actual age and multiplying by 100: An idiot was anyone with an I.Q. below 30. (Goddard, by the way, was an early advocate for special education but also favored eugenic practices and believed that the idiot should be removed from society by institutionalization or sterilization.)

Thankfully, such medical nomenclature has fallen out of favor. Yet, the term is still on the books in Kentucky, Mississippi, New Mexico and Ohio, which officially do not allow “idiots” to vote.

Humans evolved for the most part by putting community first and the individual second. Despite many of the political narratives that posit a mythological “state of nature,” in which selfish, violent, atomistic individuals must forgo their natural liberties and make compromises and contracts to secure their own existence, scientific evidence simply does not support this. For creatures like us, self-preservation was always also social preservation. The “I” is in its very existence also a “we.”

The idiot does not understand this, and thus does not understand how he came to be, how he is sustained and how he is part of a larger ecology. The idiot cares nothing about public life, much less public service. The idiot cares only about his own name. The idiot, by way of his actions, can destroy the social body. Eventually, the idiot destroys himself, but in so doing, potentially annihilates everyone along with him. He is a ticking time bomb in the middle of the public square.

Eric Anthamatten teaches philosophy, art and design at The New School, Fordham University and Pratt Institute.

We’re Not Broke: Trashing the Austerity Lies

by William Rivers Pitt

One thing you’ll hear anytime a conservative is asked why we need to cut back on any given program that might make life a little less difficult for people who need some help, is this: “We’re broke, the country is swimming in debt, we can’t afford it, there is no free lunch, it’s time for some painful choices.” And a dozen variations on that theme. Bullshit. William Rivers Pitt gives us just a glimpse into the vast sums of hidden and unreported and squirreled away cash that the world’s richest have been hiding for decades, amounts so large that even a small percentage of recovery by governments worldwide could fund virtually every need we have as a planet. This is an eye-opener, and it will piss you off.

To be very rich is to have the luxury of constructing a plausible theory of morality that allows you to hold on to everything you have. It is to believe that you can sit in the shoeshine booth and drive a $300,000 McLaren and raise money for Donald Trump and lobby for a zillion-dollar tax cut paid for on the backs of the poor and still be a good American. And to never have to think twice about it.           — Hamilton Nolan

Raise your hand if you remember the “Panama Papers” scandal. Don’t feel bad if the details don’t immediately leap to mind; this particular story, after it broke, was buried at record speed with no headstone to mark the grave. The reasons for that become manifestly clear pretty quickly. I first wrote about it more than a year ago:

It was recently revealed by way of a massive document leak that the wealthiest of the global wealthy have taken trillions of dollars and, through the services of a secretive Panamanian law firm, squirrelled that money away inside virtual coffee cans in tax havens all over the world. The “Panama Papers” scandal, as it has come to be called, has ensnared a large number of world leaders, and cost Iceland’s prime minister his job. Those 11 million pages contain the names of hundreds of Americans who also used the services of that Panamanian firm to hide their money.

The grim fact of the matter is that this nation’s billionaires — a few of whom own pretty much the entirety of the corporate “news” media — have absolutely no interest whatsoever having their dirty financial laundry aired. By the time the names of some Americans listed in the Panama Papers were released, the report had been put on Ignore by virtually every major news outlet in the country. Thus, not with a bang but a whimper, one of the most important stories of the era was quietly stuffed under the couch cushions with the potato chip crumbs and the lost dimes.

Well, the story is back, and as it turns out, it is bigger than anyone imagined a year ago. Researchers have combined what they know about the Panama Papers with what was discovered in 2007 after the release of what became known as the “Swiss Papers” — a document leak that described the hidden wealth of some 30,000 clients of HSBC Private Bank, a Swiss subsidiary of the British banking titan. The results, to date, are nothing short of astonishing and infuriating.

From a recent Washington Post report:

Researchers in Scandinavia and the United States use the Swiss and Panamanian leaks to show that global tax evasion is likely much more prevalent than previously thought. Their estimates indicate that the top 0.01 percent of the wealth distribution own about half of all offshore assets and may be hiding roughly a quarter of their wealth offshore. Their estimates show that the wealthiest people are getting away with paying far less than their fair share. If the top 0.01 percent have 30 percent more wealth than their tax returns indicate, that puts far more distance in the yawning wealth gap between the haves and have-nots. The findings imply that governments are missing out on a lot of revenue that is being hidden by the super wealthy.

Let that sink in nice and deep. The wealthiest of the wealthy using tax dodges and offshore safehouses to hide their money from the tax man is an international phenomenon, to be sure, but the issue takes on a decidedly unique slant here in the United States. It was confirmed in the original reporting on the Panama Papers last year that hundreds of the wealthiest US citizens enjoy the privileges of offshore cash havens, even as the new government in Washington pleads abject poverty while seeking to bleed the poorest among us for the benefit of the richest.

Look no further than President Trump’s own budget proposal, a truly monstrous document that would, among other things, strip $800 billion (that’s “billion” with a “b”) from Medicaid, and obliterate educational services, job training programs and nutritional assistance programs like school lunches for children and “Meals on Wheels.” The foolish border wall gets a couple billion dollars in this budget, and the Pentagon gets a 10 percent bump in its revenue. Natch.

Trump and congressional Republicans put their heads together a little while back and concocted what are essentially matching tax plans. These plans, if reconciled and passed, would represent a massive transfer of wealth to the richest people in the country, again. Remember the George W. Bush tax cuts of fifteen years ago? Like that, but strapped to a rocket pack and launched into space.

And then there is the American Health Care Act, the witless GOP answer to Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Beyond stripping more than 20 million Americans of their access to health insurance, the AHCA is also a stealth tax cut for the rich. The ACA is supported by various taxes, mostly on wealthier Americans who can presumably afford it. The AHCA would cut those taxes by around $765 billion, and a vast majority of that money would go to the top of the financial heap, again. “According to the Tax Policy Center,” reports NPR, “the top 20 percent of earners would receive 64 percent of the savings and the top 1 percent of earners (those making more than $772,000 in 2022) would receive 40 percent of the savings.”

An ancillary benefit to the GOP in all this is the fact that another victim of the AHCA would be, again, Medicaid. Through their plan, funding for Medicaid would be diminished significantly and control of the program itself would be taken out of federal hands and put under the purview of the states. In this, they get two entitlement birds with one stone: The end of the Affordable Care Act, and the end of Medicaid as we have known it.

Why in the name of all that is holy and good would any reasonable person wish to inflict such pain on ordinary, innocent people? Put the question to a conservative advocate of these ideas, and they’ll tell you lickety-split that it’s the responsible thing to do. We’re broke, see? Big debt, big deficit, we’re all out of cash, so we have to make some painful choices to right the ship.


These people are doing this because, for whatever reasons, they are driven by one sole purpose: fathomless greed. They are going for the loot, period. Whatever they have, they want more, and they don’t want to share even a little bit they wouldn’t notice was gone, so they hide it away in bank vaults spread across a global network of financial spider holes to avoid paying taxes, peeling off a few bills now and again to pay a politician to go on television and talk most earnestly about how broke we are.

Between the lost revenue to be found by taxing all that hidden money and one big audit of the Pentagon and the “defense” budget, we would have more than enough revenue on hand to solve problems we didn’t even know we had. Education reform, infrastructure repair, actual health care reform … the money for it is all there, stuffed inside bank vaults on islands you’ve never heard of. The next time you see one of these animated mouthpieces talking about the necessity of austerity on your television, know to the very well of your soul that you are looking at a liar, a peddler of poison, a wrecker and a thief-in-waiting.

We are not broke. Our national priorities are merely broken. If any of the plans outlined by Trump and the congressional Republicans are allowed to see the light of legal day, two things will happen at speed: 1) This country will descend into a bleakness that will make our current estate seem like The Good Old Days by comparison; and, 2) The money they steal — yes, steal — by way of any or all of these bills will also disappear overseas, never to be seen again. They are going for the loot. They always have, and they always will.

Stop Legitimizing ‘Conservatism’: It’s Not an Ideology – It’s a Goddamn Death Machine

by David Michael Green

(David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York)

“By treating conservatism and conservatives as reasonable and acceptable we not only legitimize the unspeakable, we massively enhance its likelihood of successfully killing us. Today’s ‘conservatism’ is not an ideology – it’s a goddam death machine.  And we should welcome it into our homes and communities every bit as much as we would the Black Plague.”

There’s no end to the maladies that ail American politics these days.  It would, indeed, be far easier and quicker to identify what’s working than to itemize the travails that bedevil our pathetic polity in 2017.  Altogether, if this country was a piece of art it would have to combine the orderliness of Pollock with the perceptual logic of Dali, all rooted in the joyful well-being of Hieronymous Bosch, in order to do justice to our times.

For those of you who for some reason always wanted to know what it looks like when an empire cracks apart, I’ve got some lovely news for you:  A certain North American specimen, not generally known for its generosity, is nevertheless happy to oblige you today.  Truly, the full catalog of America’s political woes could crash Amazon’s entire array of server farms, and most of us are struggling enough with chronic nausea these days such that revisiting all these horror stories again is way too depressing to contemplate.  So I won’t.  But there is one thing that inflames my tortured mind more than any of these items – perhaps because it is the one thing that explains them all.

Here it is:  I am sickened to live in a society that treats a malignant illness as just another legitimate point of view, when in fact it’s the very disease that is killing us.  We don’t treat a heroin epidemic as an innocuous choice that some may opt for and some may reject.  We don’t treat cholera as just another flavor of ice cream that some prefer while others go for strawberry.  And we don’t welcome Nazism as a legitimate belief system that deserves the same consideration as any other old model of race relations a society might adopt.  So why do we treat ‘conservatism’ like some harmless cup of tea that some choose over Earl Grey or Jasmine?

“That this movement is a threat to Western values is transparent.”

I’m dead serious.  And I mean like, literally, dead serious, because if we’re honest about it, that which goes by the name of conservatism today is not an ideology – it’s a death machine.

Maybe there was once a responsible, legitimate (if misguided and merely moderately deceitful) ideology by the name of conservatism – I don’t know.  Regardless, we’re not talking about Dwight Eisenhower or Gerry Ford here.  We’re talking about societal hemlock.  And it’s been that way for a generation or two, but of course now the threat from this monstrosity is no longer just a moral disaster, it’s a full-blown existential crisis, wrapped inside a suicide vest.

Death machine, huh?  Maybe you’re thinking, “Sure, those Trump idiots are completely bonkers, but calling them a willful agent of the apocalypse is little extreme.  I mean, artistic license is a good thing, but c’mon man…”  Sorry.  I’m not kidding.  I’m being quite literal.  This is a belief system which is bringing death to thousands-year-old traditions of Western values, to democracy, to the country, to people’s lives, to the truth, and to the planet.  Because of the threat this represents, we need to stop treating ‘conservatism’ as just another legitimate ideological choice.  It’s not.  It’s a murder weapon metastasized to global proportions.

That this movement is a threat to Western values is transparent.  Today’s so-called ‘conservatives’ are the enemy of equality, human rights and liberty (despite their protestations to the exact contrary).  They instead embody elitism, bigotry and repression.  They don’t stand for gay rights any more than they ever did for civil rights back in the day, or equal pay for equal work.  They worship power and its use to colonize others abroad while repressing dissent at home.  Five minutes at any given Trump rally last year would have made that clear enough.  But in case the message was somehow lost, one look at our fearless leader and his fawning relations with the likes of Putin, Erdogan and Duterte, combined with the shattering of the Western alliance with leaders like Angela Merkel and those of other (once-)allied democracies tells you all you need to know.

And no, it’s not just one buffoon we’re talking about here.  While a number of right-wing pundits have – to their partial credit – repudiated Trumpism, there are loads of problems with that alibi for their movement.  First, a whole lot of other folks have not disowned the walking crime scene that is the Trump White House.  Second, these are pundits – hardly a single Republican officeholder in Washington has found it ethically necessary to distance him or herself from the moral abyss DBA an orange-haired gorilla in a Brioni suit.  Most importantly, however, Trump is far less the historical aberration from the tendencies of the last four decades than he is the expression of its logical outcome.  The right has been trucking in racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, military aggression, environmental destruction and armed robbery of the 99 percent going back at least as far as William F. Buckley and Ronald (Jesus’ Kid Brother) Reagan.  Methinks the ladies of the conservative intelligentsia (pardon the oxymoron) doth protest too much when they seek to distance themselves from an administration whose only difference from its Republican predecessors is the grotesque overtness of its toxicity.  (Especially when it doesn’t take a Svengali to see that this administration is going to jail, and that its place in history will make Nixon look like Abraham Lincoln by comparison.  It ain’t too brave to want to make sure your name isn’t associated with that particular catastrophe.)

Speaking of the rest of the GOP, they are even more liable for the destruction of American democracy than is McDonalds Stump himself.  Democracies, of course, are built on such requisite features as constitutions, elections, fixed institutions with defined powers, and so on.  But underlying all of that is something of even greater importance, a political culture that forms the fabric and the foundation upon which any democracy must be built.  This foundation silently and implicitly stipulates the rules of the game and the boundaries of permissible behavior, and without it, there can be no functioning democracy.  It is defined by elements such as a shared national identity that supersedes partisanship, an understanding that certain principles must be protected – even at the cost of one’s own political fortunes – in order for the system to survive, and a basic level of trust such that one can hand over the keys of government to the other side without fearing that that new government will become a weapon used against the losers of an election, while at the same time believing that the next election will provide a genuine opportunity to return to power.  These are the least tangible aspects of what sustains a functioning democracy, but they are also the most crucial.  After all, you can have a formal written constitution or not, you can have a president or a prime minister, you can have two parties or many, you can have powerful states within a national government or not.  In all these profound ways the British system differs from the American one, but nobody would claim that the UK is therefore not a democracy.  What matters at the end of the day is the political culture of mutual respect and trust, the norms and the self-imposed restraints that form the fabric and foundation of a functioning democratic political culture.

And this is precisely what ‘conservatives’ have not been conserving for forty years now, but rather instead destroying.  The necessity of preserving this crucial political culture is why impeaching a president for lying about a personal sexual relationship matters.  It is why five conservative members of the Supreme Court breaking all their own internal rules and supposed principles in order to install their guy in the White House matters.  It’s why using the country’s racial divide to win elections matters.  It’s why relentlessly employing the filibuster to block every item on the agenda of a president from the other party – even those items that you supported yourself only yesterday – matters.  And why it matters when you then alter filibuster rule when it’s used in the same way against you.  This is why radical gerrymandering matters.  This is why targeted voter suppression of the other party’s base in order to prevail in elections you couldn’t otherwise win matters.  This is why refusing to act on a Supreme Court nomination for a year in order to get the nominee you want instead matters.  And its why falsely claiming elections are rigged matters.

I have nothing particularly nice to say about the feeble and ineffectual (on a good day) Democratic Party, and especially its last two presidents.  But all of the above examples of the undermining of American democracy in our time come from the Republican Party and the supposedly conservative folks who inhabit it.  For all the many failings of the Democrats, there is no equivalent to any one of these items on their side of the aisle, let alone an equivalent to all of them.  The upshot is that rather than conserving the Founders’ democratic system that conservatives are forever cynically clothing themselves in, they are in fact destroying it.  This is not death by a thousand cuts, but rather death by relentless saber slashes.

Conservatism is also death in a quite literal sense, as well.  Just ask the million or so Iraqis who perished because of the right’s war of choice justified by lies.  Er, oops, wait a second…  Turns out you can’t ask them, because they’re dead, killed by conservatives.  But you could ask the tens of thousands Americans who are alive today because of Obamacare – which conservatives have fought relentlessly – and who may be dead tomorrow if the GOP manages to kill what skimpy health care protections Americans now enjoy.  Or you can ask the workers who will be dying because the conservative movement is so determined to remove any sort of workplace safety regulations from providing them even modest protection.  Or those who whose lives will be sacrificed in order to destroy the (woefully) basic environmental standards that have been built up over the last half-century.  If you want to know what conservatism means for our environment and health, look no further than Flint, Michigan.  The story that nobody in the media bothers to tell about that insane catastrophe is why it happened.  The reason that ‘Flint’ has now become shorthand for environmental meltdown and lethal governmental buffoonery is that conservatives in Michigan’s government – who fervently ‘believe’ in local control, mind you – passed legislation allowing the state to simply take over control of municipalities whenever it saw fit, despite the electoral choices of voters in those communities.  That’s what the conservative Snyder administration then proceeded to do in Flint, and the rest is history.  By the way, their justification for doing so was that Flint was being mismanaged, so they – wait for it, now – had to come in and get it right.  You can’t make this shit up.  And if you did, you could never find anyone in Hollywood willing to make a movie out of it, on account of its absurdly ridiculous improbability.

But we’re not done yet.  Conservatism also means death to the truth.  Of course, when it comes to Herr Bloated Pumpkinhead and the current administration, the scale of dishonesty is absolutely epic.  It is literally no exaggeration to say that a consumer of any generic statement by this White House would be more likely to know the truth by simply assuming its opposite is the case, than he or she would by accepting any given tweet or Spicerism as fact.  No wonder Orwell is selling like hotcakes these days.  This is a true “2+2=5″ moment, Winston.

It’s hardly surprising that a career New York City real estate developer who has spent a lifetime doing little but shameless self-promotion and fabricating scams running the gamut from bottled water to bottled diplomas would be unable to speak truthfully about nearly anything.  And of course, when we say ‘anything’ here, we mean… anything.  What’s somewhat astonishing and most definitely disturbing, however, is the reaction that his compulsive tendency to lie produces among the roughly forty percent of Americans who form his political base.  What has gone so wrong in the lives of these ‘conservatives’ that they not only tolerate being lied to incessantly, but actually crave it?  This is not the place for an extended discussion of that question, but suffice it to say that conservatism’s appeal among the public – including many whom it harms the most – cannot be understood outside the realm of political psychology.  One might view these ‘comfortably numb-nuts’ as the rightful inheritors of America’s storied Know Nothing tradition, but in fact that’s too generous a label, since it turns out that it is actually possible in this world to know less than nothing if you’re willing to work hard enough at it.  When you believe that Iraq really had WMD, or that cutting taxes on billionaires will get you a sweet job, or that Donald Trump has your back, well then, graduating to the status of being a full-blown Know Nothing truly is something for which you are well-positioned to aspire.

This is where, alas, the Founders got it wrong, with their Enlightenment model of rationally calculating citizens.  A good hundred million plus Americans have literally lost their minds in our time and, in order to soothe the resentments torturing their savage souls, they are taking down the country around their heads as they descend into an emotionally satisfying madness.

Or, at least it used to be the country they are taking down.  Now it’s the world.  With the president’s destruction of the Paris climate change accord, American conservatism is now bringing it on a planetary scale.  Could this possibly be more jaw-dropping in its sheer stupidity?  We are talking here about a phenomenon that literally threatens life on this planet, and conservatives – who are otherwise so consumed with fear so much of the time – insist on rejecting slam-dunk scientific evidence and making sure that we perish instead.  Again, the pathological psychology of these folks is the only way to understand such a suicide mission, such an act of terrorism on a global scale.  The president’s speech was entirely laced with the rhetoric of bogus grievance – about how the United States is the laughing stock of the world because we’re being duped and cheated by smarter, tougher, more cynical countries, and blah, blah, freaking blah…  Apart from the sheer absurdity of this trope on the basis of any sort of actual logic or fact, there remains this outstanding question:  Even if it was all true, who the hell cares?  If the planet winds up being destroyed, does it really matter whether in the preceding years one country’s GDP grew a half-percent slower than that of some other countries?  What’s that old line about deck chairs…?  Could there be any other accurate term for a belief system that so jeopardizes an entire planet than ‘death machine’?

We need to stop fooling around with this shit.  Smallpox is not just another disease.  Totalitarianism is not just another political system.  Nuclear war is not just another form of conflict.  And what calls itself ‘conservatism’ today is not just another form of legitimate, maybe-they’re-right-maybe-they’re-wrong, ideology.

All of these are life-threatening pathologies of epic proportion.  It’s bad enough that we have to expend so much energy to keep them at bay.  But, by treating conservatism and conservatives as reasonable and acceptable we not only legitimize the unspeakable, we massively enhance its likelihood of successfully killing us.

Today’s ‘conservatism’ is not an ideology – it’s a goddam death machine.  And we should welcome it into our homes and communities every bit as much as we would the Black Plague.