Category Archives: Governance

A deep look at the flawed impeachment process


Watching the events of 6 January from start to finish and the current unfolding of the impeachment trial, it’s become clear that the American system is broken, leaving only the question of whether it can be repaired without the shedding of copious blood, or if the country is headed to a befuddled senescence that invariably accompanies the end of empires.

There can be no doubt in any reasonable person’s mind that Trump incited the violent insurrection, building on a foundation of five years of violent rhetoric and the repeated open declaration of his support for violent actions against those who challenge his lies and self-serving distortions.

With the Senate Republicans almost certain to block conviction, the specter of Donald Trump will endure long after his demise.

But how have we come to this pass? And what does the future hold?

Author, journalist, and Yale lecturer Jim Sleeper looks at the historical and behavioral roots of our dilemma in this powerful essay published in openDemocracy:

Trump’s impeachment trial already shows how far US democracy has been undermined

Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial is as confusing to many Americans as it is to others who are following it from abroad. The US Senate, which will try him, is not a criminal court, much less the International Court of Justice that some people wish it were on this occasion. Although Trump’s offenses are more egregious than those that were charged against him in the first, failed trial in 2020, he’s no more likely to be convicted now than before. That’s true even though the Senate chamber itself was part of the crime scene this year, as a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, and senators were among the targets and witnesses.

The present confusion has two fundamental causes, one constitutional and divisive by design, the other more opportunistic than malevolent.

The constitutional cause, which arises from the fact that the US is a federation of 50 semi-sovereign states, frequently leads to institutional obstruction in national politics. When a president is impeached, charges are brought by the House of Representatives, the lower house of Congress, but tried by the Senate, the upper body. Senators can remove the president for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” but only if two-thirds, 67 of them, agree. But unlike jurors elsewhere, senators are elected to their positions, and each represents a particular state. They tend to be bound less tightly by their individual consciences, by the evidence, or by deliberation with other senators than by the voters who elevated them to their six-year terms in office.

Can beleaguered Americans rejuvenate their civil society to curb the poisons that Trump has carried into their politics?

Rational deliberation is skewed also by the fact that senators’ votes count equally, even though they can represent vastly different numbers of people. California, whose 40 million residents tend to elect relatively liberal Democratic representatives, sends two senators to Washington. So does Wyoming, whose population of less than 600,000 tends to be heavily right-wing and Republican. Whatever that imbalance does for state sovereignty, it produces a polity in which roughly 70% of US citizens, who live in states such as California, New York, Texas, and Florida, are represented by only 50% of senators.

The present Senate, controlled narrowly by Democrats, will need to find 17 Republicans to achieve the two-thirds vote to convict Trump. It won’t find them in today’s bitterly polarized polity, no matter what evidence and arguments Trump’s prosecutors present.

The consequences were anticipated by Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat and a manager of Trump’s first impeachment trial in 2020, when he warned senators that if they don’t allow clear evidence and reason to determine what’s right, “it doesn’t matter how good the Constitution is. It doesn’t matter how brilliant the framers were. Doesn’t matter how good or bad our advocacy in this trial is … If the truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost.”

If the Constitution facilitates deep division, so does an even more powerful sower of confusion. Trump’s characterization of impeachment proceedings as “political theater” mirrors the performance that he himself has staged ever since his defeat in the 3 November election. He staged it most fatefully on 6 January, at the rally that preceded the assault on the Capitol, showing his swooning, raging devotees a chillingly powerful film (assessed as proto-fascist propaganda by the Yale philosopher and scholar of fascism Jason Stanley) just before they began their assault, many of them videotaping it, unintentionally providing their and Trump’s prosecutors with useful documentation.

It’s strongly reminiscent of Joseph Goebbels’ tactic of accusing anti-fascists relentlessly of offenses that Nazis were committing far more often and more brutally. It also highlights the danger in seemingly apolitical, anodyne commercial forces – such as the appropriation of personal data by internet platforms and the rampant financialization of workplaces and homes – that turn active citizens into cogs and pawns.

A steady evisceration

On Trump’s ascent to the presidency in 2017, I summarized Edward Gibbon’s account of the analogous rise of ancient Rome’s first emperor, Augustus, who eviscerated what was left of the Roman Republic’s principles and liberties. In Gibbon’s account, Augustus knew that “the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom. A feeble senate and enervated people cheerfully acquiesced in the pleasing illusion.”

Augustus “reformed” the Senate by blackmailing and brutalizing some of its members: he expelled those “whose vices or whose obstinacy required a public example” and persuaded others “to prevent the shame of an expulsion by a voluntary retreat”. This terrified the rest so that they surrendered to the tyrant. Trump similarly terrifies senators, threatening to depose any who defy him, directing his mobs to replace them with more servile Republicans in the party’s primary elections.

“The principles of a free constitution are irrevocably lost, when the legislative power is nominated by the executive,” Gibbon reflected. It was almost as if he anticipated a time when Americans, trapped like flies in a spider’s web of sticky-fingered but seductive surveillance machines, would ignore the insinuation of what he called “a slow and secret poison into the vitals of the empire”.

The more subtly impoverished and imprisoned people are by casino-like financing, predatory marketing, and media such as Rupert Murdoch’s that teach them to scapegoat others, the more they seek relief in pills, vials and empty spectacles that leave them too ill to bear their sicknesses or their cures, capable only of occasional eruptions and cries for a strongman. Trump is less the primary cause than the accelerant of a derangement of society that preceded and molded him.

“It is quite terrifying when rational exchange is totally blocked by steely-eyed, unlistening dogmatic assertion,” the president of Yale, Kingman Brewster Jr, told my class shortly before our graduation in 1969. He recalled that in 1937, before entering Yale, he’d traveled “through National Socialist Germany,” where he “was taken in hand by a stormtrooper deputized to be hospitable to unwary young foreign tourists. We sat at a café on Unter Den Linden. I, of course, began to argue about National Socialist policy … Suddenly I realized there could be no argument, not because of the censorship of fear but because of the dogmatic dictate which said … ‘it is so because the Fuhrer wills it so.’

“Dogmatism is the enemy of a moral society,” Brewster added, “for without the morality of reason it is hard to see how there can be any higher standard than passion and force. And if passion and authority respond to no checkrein of reason, then neither authority nor its victims can avoid a crude confrontation of naked power.”

Can beleaguered Americans rejuvenate their civil society and sustain new social movements to curb the poisons of malevolence and mindlessness that Trump has carried into their politics? That will require more than a trial or a pie in Murdoch’s face.

Nations target Big Tech bucks for legacy media


Two tech giants have captured most of the world’s advertising dollars, dealing a potential death blow to newspapers across the globe.

Here in the United States, the shift from print to online has crushed the nation’s already declining newspapers, already stricken by mergers, hedge fund takeovers, and a radical decline in working journalists.

A chart from the 20 January edition of Financial Times captures the dramatic extent of the shift:

Digital ad revenues favor the giants

Just how profitable are these new media money machines?

Some numbers from a 2 February report from Deadline:

Google/YouTube parent Alphabet saw revenue jump last quarter driven by YouTube and search as advertising recovered. The giant company’s total sales surged to $56.9 billion for the last three months of 2020 from $46 billion the year before, smashing expectations.

YouTube ad revenue jumped to $6.9 billion from $4.7 billion last year and $5 billion last quarter. Google search and other advertising revenue was $31.9 billion, up from $27.2 billion the year before.

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YouTube ad revenue jumped to $6.9 billion from $4.7 billion last year and $5 billion last quarter. Google search and other advertising revenue was $31.9 billion, up from $27.2 billion the year before.

The money comes from a de facto monopoly

In the case of Google, a small spend can capture as many eyes as a costly print ad, making the search engine an financially unbeatable medium for the businesses seeking consumers.

From WGBH public television in Boston:

Publishers can’t live with Google and can’t live without it. Years ago, before the Google-Facebook lockdown on ad revenue was even on the horizon, publishers would argue that Google should pay them. Google would counter that it was driving traffic to news sites, thus increasing the value of advertising on those sites. There was some logic to Google’s argument, though somehow it never worked out in favor of the publishers.

The problem in recent years is that Google acquired a number of advertising businesses and now controls not just search but also the advertising associated with search. Through the use of an automated auction system, the price of digital ads is being driven ever lower, making it all but worthless. As Nicco Mele, a former deputy publisher of the Los Angeles Times, explained several years ago, a full-page weekday ad in the paper that cost $50,000 had given way to Google ads on its website that brought in less than $20 to reach the same number of readers.

“To a large extent, Facebook and Google are sucking up revenue that publishers of content should be receiving,” Mele told an audience at Harvard.

It’s the ever-shrinking value of digital advertising that’s being targeted in the West Virginia lawsuit, brought by HD Media. The small chain owns seven newspapers, most notably the Charleston Gazette-Mail and The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington. Paul Farrell, the lawyer who represents the papers, told the trade magazine Editor & Publisher that Google is leveraging its control of two entirely different businesses in order to monopolize ad revenues and squeeze out anyone else.

“They have completely monetized and commercialized their search engine, and what they’ve also done is create an advertising marketplace in which they represent and profit from the buyers and the sellers, while also owning the exchange,” Farrell was quoted as saying. “Google is the broker for the buyer and gets a commission. Google is the broker for the seller and gets a commission. Google owns, operates and sets the rules for the ad exchange. And they are also in the market themselves.”

The Google war Down Under

As we’ve noted on other occasions, Google is fighting a war with the Australian government, which has enacted a law that the the company and the major online advertising giant, Facebook, must share some of their wealth with the newspapers whose content they exploit.

According to The Australian, Google captures 94% searches in the country, followed by Bing with 3.7%, and DuckDuckGo and Yahoo! with 0.7% each. And with the government demanding the digital giants share their largess with the publications cited in their searches, there’s lots at stake.

From Bloomberg, the reasoning:

Google’s dominance of digital advertising technology in Australia needs to be addressed, the country’s competition watchdog said, opening up another front in its battle with the US giant.

In some areas of the market, Google takes in 100% of the revenue or ads traded, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission. That degree of influence means Google “is likely to have the ability and the incentive” to use its own ad tech businesses and distort competition, the regulator said.

The interim report, part of the ACCC’s inquiry into digital advertising services, stokes tensions further between the company and Australian authorities. The Alphabet Inc threatened to disable its search engine in Australia if the government enacts legislation forcing the company to pay publishers for news.

“There is a real lack of competition, choice and transparency in this industry,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said in the statement. The ACCC said it’s seeking feedback on a number of ways to promote competition in advertising technology, including rules to manage conflicts of interest and prevent so-called self-preferencing in the supply of ad tech services.

As the ACCC’s report notes:

As consumers spend increasing amounts of time online, advertising expenditure in Australia has similarly shifted online. This has resulted in considerable growth in spending on digital advertising in Australia over the past decade.

Digital advertising expenditure reached $9.1billion in the 2019-20 financial year, despite the impact of COVID-19 on ad spend. In 2019, digital advertising comprised 53.2%of the $16.6 billion spent on advertising in Australia.

From their report, the dramatic capture of advertising by digital platforms Down Under:

Australia’s other target is Facebook, which, as the ACCC report concludes, has already captured the lion’s share of digital display ads:

Facebook is a significant supplier of owned-and-operated display advertising inventory and has a substantial share of the overall supply of display advertising in Australia. In 2019, Facebook had a 62%of display advertising revenue in Australia.

However, the owned-and-operated display advertising supplied by Facebook is only available to advertisers through its own ad tech services, which function as an end to end ad buying solution for advertisers looking to purchase Facebook’s ad inventory.

Another benefit for publishers

As both a newspaper reporter and an avid reader of the medium, I’ve notice through the years that many of the most important stories get relatively little readership. Despite those low numbers, the stories often exert outsize influence because of who those fewer readers are, people n positions of power exposed to an intelligent presentation of critical facts and ideas.

The new Australian rules offer a way to ensure that those stories won’t necessarily be driven into journalistic purgatory by sleaze, celebrity, and scandal.

The details from Australia’s Sunshine Coast Daily:

The news code also states that digital platforms should not discriminate against media outlets or their content based on the negotiations. For example, they should not stop showing news stories from an outlet because talks are not progressing well.

It also requires digital platforms give registered news outlets 14 days’ notice before changing its “algorithm or internal practice” in a way that would “significantly” affect the way news content is shown. That is defined as a change that would result in a “20 per cent or greater change in referral traffic”.

Digital platforms are also required to develop ways to recognise original news content.

Google makes a proactive move in the U.K.

As a major player in the Commonwealth of Nations [known in earlier times as the British Commonwealth], the country’s formal head of state is the the British monarch.

In what might amount to a move to preempt Ausralian-style state-mandated payments, Google has signed deals directly with publishers.

From the New York Post:

Google is rolling out a plan to pay for news to the UK.

The web search giant, which has been under pressure to share digital ad revenue with web content providers that drive traffic to its services, said it has signed deals to pay licensing fees to 120 British publications, including The Financial Times and Reuters, through its Google News Showcase.

The program, which Google CEO Sundar Pichai in October said would help the company pay $1 billion to publishers over the next three years, has reportedly signed 450 news partners worldwide from Germany to Brazil.

It’s the first time Google will pay for news in Britain.

“Google News Showcase, our new product experience and licensing program for news, will begin rolling out with local, national and independent publishers in the UK,” said Ronan Harris, vice president and managing director at Google UK and Ireland, who unveiled the latest rollout in a blog post on Wednesday.

In the U.S., a newspaper chain goes to court

In the U.S., where no such agreements or laws exist, one newspaper chain is taking Google to court.

From the Chandigarh, India, Tribune:

A US-based news organisation has filed a lawsuit against Facebook and Alphabet, the parent company of Google, alleging that the tech giants with their dominance over the digital advertising market adversely affected an important revenue source.

The lawsuit makes the argument the Google and Facebook represent a digital monopoly that should be broken up, The Verge reported on Monday.

“Google and Facebook have monopolised the digital advertising market thereby strangling a primary source of revenue for newspapers across the country,” according to the complaint filed by HD Media.

HD Media operates Charleston Gazette-Mail, The (Huntington) Herald-Dispatch and several other West Virginia newspapers.

The organisation filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.

And a Canadian move takes an Aussie approach

And it’s not about the money.

From CDOTrends, a Canadian news portal for chief data officers:

In recent days, the same issue has emerged in Canada. Here, an umbrella group of media organizations is calling on their legislators and regulators to copy the Australian example. 

Last week, News Media Canada started a campaign called Disappearing Headlines, leaving front pages of papers across the country to protest against tech giants not paying for news content.

An editorial in the Toronto Star said the news was “under attack” from Google and Facebook.

“Without reliable, trusted journalism that informs you and keeps our governments accountable, our democracy and the future of our children will suffer,” it read.

“It costs real money to report trusted, fact-based news. Unfortunately, global tech giants such as Google and Facebook refuse to pay a fair price for content created by Canadian news outlets. At the same time, these titans drain off more than 80% of all digital advertising revenue in Canada.”

While Europe is taking aim at profitable surveillance

Part of the reason Google, Facebook, YouTube, and all the other platforms are so profitable is their ability to target audiences with ads tuned to their personal preferences by stalking our every move on the web.

New rules under consideration by the European Union would bad targeted ads, as well as giving users much greater control over personal data in corporate hands..

From TechCrunch:

The European Union’s lead data protection supervisor has recommended that a ban on targeted advertising based on tracking internet users’ digital activity be included in a major reform of digital services rules which aims to increase operators’ accountability, among other key goals.

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), Wojciech Wiewiorówski, made the call for a ban on surveillance-based targeted ads in reference to the Commission’s Digital Services Act (DSA) — following a request for consultation from EU lawmakers.

The DSA legislative proposal was introduced in December, alongside the Digital Markets Act (DMA) — kicking off the EU’s (often lengthy) co-legislative process, which involves debate and negotiations in the European Parliament and Council on amendments before any final text can be agreed for approval. This means battle lines are being drawn to try to influence the final shape of the biggest overhaul to pan-EU digital rules for decades — with everything to play for.

The intervention by Europe’s lead data protection supervisor calling for a ban on targeted ads is a powerful pre-emptive push against attempts to water down legislative protections for consumer interests.

We love data protections, but we’re really excited about used Big Tech bucks to fund legacy media, the source of so much content on their their platforms.

Corporate capture of agriculture and its woes


As with ao much else in life, agriculture, perhaps most revolutionary force in the evolution of modern civilization, is now controlled by a handful of corporate giants.

And therein lies the rub.

From Farm Aid:

A handful of corporations control our food from farm to fork. Their unbridled power grants them increasing political influence over the rules that govern our food system and allows them to manipulate the marketplace – pushing down the prices paid to family farmers and driving them out of business. For eaters, extreme consolidation leaves fewer choices in the grocery aisle and higher prices, while corporate-written policies are sparking growing food safety concerns and less transparency in the marketplace. In sum, our corporate controlled food system damages rural communities, local economies, public health and the soil and water needed to sustain food production.

U.S. agriculture suffers from abnormally high levels of concentration, meaning just a handful of corporations control nearly all of our food production, processing, and distribution In a healthy economy, multiple firms can sell their goods to multiple buyers in an open, competitive market.

Most sectors of the U.S. economy have concentration ratios around 40%, meaning that the top four firms in the industry control 40% of the market. If the concentration ratio is above 40%, economists believe competition is threatened and market abuses are more likely to occur: the higher the number, the bigger the threat. Almost every sector in agriculture is well above these levels.

Unchecked corporate power distorts markets and leaves farmers and ranchers vulnerable to abuse and unfair practices. Because farmers rely on both buyers and sellers for their business, concentrated markets squeeze them at both ends.

Big Agra’s power destroys lives

For years, Monsanto was America’s premiere agricultural multinational, a creator a, among other things, Agent Orange, the carcinogenic, birth defect-inducing weed killers the U.S. military sprayed over Vietnam to deny ground cover to insurgents fighting the American-backed government of South Vietnam.

But the bulk of the profit came form creating crop genetically engineered to resist patented Monsanto herbicides that killed everything else to ensure weed-free fields.

Ignacio Chapela, photograph by esnl.

Research by UC Berkeley microbiologist [and friend of the blog] Ignacio Chapela [previously] and David Quist, established that genes inserted in corn seeds by profit-hungry corporations could spread to the native cultivars, the fountain from which all modern varieties of maize have sprung.

But publication of those findings resulted in a campaign of ad hominem attacks on Chapela and Quist backed by covert Monsanto funding led to an unprecedented retraction by Nature of their published findings, followed by the rejection of tenure for Chapela, despite the overwhelming endorsement of his fellow faculty.

After protests that we covered while reporting for the Berkeley Daily Planet and a subsequent lawsuit, Chapela gained tenure. And it is now widely accepted in plant biology that genes can jump from genetically engineered crops across species lines into other plants — a phenomenon resulting in rapid spread of so-called superweeds resistant to the same herbicides the GMO crops were designed to withstand.

Roundup, the Monsanto herbicide most of Monsanto’s genetically modified crops were designed to resist, was initially touted as safe, though it’s since been linked to some cancers, drawing fierce backlash in the U.S. and Europe as well as costly lawsuits.

Monsanto, one of America’s oldest companies, threw in the towel in 2018, selling itself to German giant Bayer for $63 in addition to an agreement to pay over $12 billion dollars in litigation damages incurred by suits over the controversial plant killer.

A deep look at corporate agricultural power

Early in life I learned there were three basic requisites of life in affition to the air we breather and the waterwe drink: Food, clothing, and shelter, always taught in that order.

Food is the stuff of life, and the earliest form of sacrifice to the gods.

Without it, we can live only a few weeks.

And while early humans ate from the bounty of nature, the discovery of agriculture changed the way we live, leading to the rise of villages, cities, states, and formal government.

But agriculture changed with the first the adoptiion of slavery, and later with the instruments and machines produced y the Industrial Revolution, enabling the creation of massive corporations devoted to both supplying the tools and seeds for farming and buying, processing, and marketing the crops farms produced.

Monsanto was just one example of the corporate Big Agra, a cartel comprising a handful of corporations controlling much of the world’s foods.

In an examination of Big Agra for the plain language, open access academic journal The Conversation, Philip H. Howard, Associate Professor of Community Sustainability at Michigan State University, and Mary Hendrickson, Associate Professor of Rural Sociology, University of Missouri-Columbia, loo at 21st Century corporate agriculture and its costs to us, we who live off its bounty:

Corporate concentration in the US food system makes food more expensive and less accessible for many Americans

Agribusiness executives and government policymakers often praise the U.S. food system for producing abundant and affordable food. In fact, however, food costs are rising, and shoppers in many parts of the U.S. have limited access to fresh, healthy products.

This isn’t just an academic argument. Even before the current pandemic, millions of people in the U.S. went hungry. In 2019 the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that over 35 million people were “food insecure,” meaning they did not have reliable access to affordable, nutritious food. Now food banks are struggling to feed people who have lost jobs and income thanks to COVID-19.

As rural sociologists, we study changes in food systems and sustainability. We’ve closely followed corporate consolidation of food production, processing and distribution in the U.S. over the past 40 years. In our view, this process is making food less available or affordable for many Americans.

Fewer, larger companies

Consolidation has placed key decisions about our nation’s food system in the hands of a few large companies, giving them outsized influence to lobby policymakers, direct food and industry research and influence media coverage. These corporations also have enormous power to make decisions about what food is produced how, where and by whom, and who gets to eat it. We’ve tracked this trend across the globe.

It began in the 1980s with mergers and acquisitions that left a few large firms dominating nearly every step of the food chain. Among the largest are retailer Walmart, food processor Nestlé and seed/chemical firm Bayer.

Between 1996 and 2013 Monsanto acquired more than 70 seed companies, before the firm was itself acquired by competing seed/chemical firm Bayer in 2018. Click on the image to enlarge.

Some corporate leaders have abused their power – for example, by allying with their few competitors to fix prices. In 2020 Christopher Lischewski, the former president and CEO of Bumblebee Foods, was convicted of conspiracy to fix prices of canned tuna. He was sentenced to 40 months in prison and fined US$100,000.

In the same year, chicken processor Pilgrim’s Pride pleaded guilty to price-fixing charges and was fined $110.5 million. Meatpacking company JBS settled a $24.5 million pork price-fixing lawsuit, and farmers won a class action settlement against peanut-shelling companies Olam and Birdsong.

Industry consolidation is hard to track. Many subsidiary firms often are controlled by one parent corporation and engage in “contract packing,” in which a single processing plant produces identical foods that are then sold under dozens of different brands – including labels that compete directly against each other.

Recalls ordered in response to food-borne disease outbreaks have revealed the broad scope of contracting relationships. Shutdowns at meatpacking plants due to COVID-19 infections among workers have shown how much of the U.S. food supply flows through a small number of facilities.

With consolidation, large supermarket chains have closed many urban and rural stores. This process has left numerous communities with limited food selections and high prices – especially neighborhoods with many low-income, Black or Latino households.

In 2006, the Community Grocery Store in the small town of Walsh, Colorado, avoided going out of business by selling stock to residents. The store is still in business in 2021.

Widespread hunger

As unemployment has risen during the pandemic, so has the number of hungry Americans. Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks, estimates that up to 50 million people – including 17 million children – may currently be experiencing food insecurity. Nationwide, demand at food banks grew by over 48% during the first half of 2020.

Simultaneously, disruptions in food supply chains forced farmers to dump milk down the drain, leave produce rotting in fields and euthanize livestock that could not be processed at slaughterhouses. We estimate that between March and May of 2020, farmers disposed of somewhere between 300,000 and 800,000 hogs and 2 million chickens – more than 30,000 tons of meat.

What role does concentration play in this situation? Research shows that retail concentration correlates with higher prices for consumers. It also shows that when food systems have fewer production and processing sites, disruptions can have major impacts on supply.

Consolidation makes it easier for any industry to maintain high prices. With few players, companies simply match each other’s price increases rather than competing with them. Concentration in the U.S. food system has raised the costs of everything from breakfast cereal and coffee to beer.

The combined share of sales for the top four firms (CR4) for selected U.S. commodities, food processing/manufacturing and distribution/retail channels. Family Farm Action Alliance, CC BY-ND

As the pandemic roiled the nation’s food system through 2020, consumer food costs rose by 3.4%, compared to 0.4% in 2018 and 0.9% in 2019. We expect retail prices to remain high because they are “sticky,” with a tendency to increase rapidly but to decline more slowly and only partially.

We also believe there could be further supply disruptions. A few months into the pandemic, meat shelves in some U.S. stores sat empty, while some of the nation’s largest processors were exporting record amounts of meat to China. U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., cited this imbalance as evidence of the need to crack down on what they called “monopolistic practices” by Tyson Foods, Cargill, JBS and Smithfield, which dominate the U.S. meatpacking industry.

Tyson Foods responded that a large portion of its exports were “cuts of meat or portions of the animal that are not desired by” Americans. Store shelves are no longer empty for most cuts of meat, but processing plants remain overbooked, with many scheduling well into 2021.

Toward a more equitable food system

In our view, a resilient food system that feeds everyone can be achieved only through a more equitable distribution of power. This in turn will require action in areas ranging from contract law and antitrust policy to workers’ rights and economic development. Farmers, workers, elected officials and communities will have to work together to fashion alternatives and change policies.

The goal should be to produce more locally sourced food with shorter and less-centralized supply chains. Detroit offers an example. Over the past 50 years, food producers there have established more than 1,900 urban farms and gardens. A planned community-owned food co-op will serve the city’s North End, whose residents are predominantly low- and moderate-income and African American.

The federal government can help by adapting farm support programs to target farms and businesses that serve local and regional markets. State and federal incentives can build community- or cooperative-owned farms and processing and distribution businesses. Ventures like these could provide economic development opportunities while making the food system more resilient.

In our view, the best solutions will come from listening to and working with the people most affected: sustainable farmers, farm and food service workers, entrepreneurs and cooperators – and ultimately, the people whom they feed.

Ann academic makes the case for impeachment


The second impeachment trial of Donald Trump rests on a single charge, the incitement of resurrection, conviction of which would forever bar Donald Trump from holding public office:

The Constitution provides that the House of Representatives “shall have the sole Power of Impeachment” and that the President “shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors”. Further, section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution prohibits any person who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against” the United States from “hold[ing] any office … under the United States”. In his conduct while President of the United States—and in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed—Donald John Trump engaged in high Crimes and Misdemeanors by inciting violence against the Government of the United States, in that:

Kurt Braddock, Assistant Professor of Public Communication of the American University School of Communication, makes the prosecution’s case in an essay for the open source, plain-language academic journal The Conversation:

Trump impeachment trial: Decades of research show language can incite violence

Senators, acting in the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, will soon have to decide whether to convict the former president for inciting a deadly, violent insurrection at the Capitol building on Jan. 6.

A majority of House members, including 10 Republicans, took the first step in the two-step impeachment process in January. They voted to impeach Trump, for “incitement of insurrection.” Their resolution states that he “willfully made statements that, in context, encourage – and foreseeably resulted in – lawless action at the Capitol, such as: ‘if you don’t fight like hell you’re not going to have a country anymore.’”

Impeachment proceedings that consider incitement to insurrection are rare in American history. Yet dozens of legislators – including some Republicans – say that Trump’s actions leading up to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol contributed to an attempted insurrection against American democracy itself.

Such claims against Trump are complicated. Rather than wage direct war against sitting U.S. representatives, Trump is accused of using language to motivate others to do so. Some have countered that the connection between President Trump’s words and the violence of Jan. 6 is too tenuous, too abstract, too indirect to be considered viable.

However, decades of research on social influence, persuasion and psychology show that the messages that people encounter heavily influence their decisions to engage in certain behaviors.

How it works

The research shows that the messages people consume affect their behaviors in three ways.

First, when a person encounters a message that advocates a behavior, that person is likely to believe that the behavior will have positive results. This is particularly true if the speaker of that message is liked or trusted by the target of the message.

Second, when these messages communicate positive beliefs or attitudes about a behavior – as when our friends told us that smoking was “cool” when we were teenagers – message targets come to believe that those they care about would approve of their engaging in the behavior or would engage in the behavior themselves.

Finally, when those messages contain language that highlights the target’s ability to perform a behavior, as when a president tells raucous supporters that they have the power to overturn an election, they develop the belief that they can actually carry out that behavior.

Consider something we have all encountered in a more lighthearted context – messages designed to motivate exercise. These messages often tell us one (or more) of three things. They tell us that exercise will lead to positive outcomes – “You will get physically fit!” They tell us that others exercise or would approve of our taking part in exercise – “Work out with a friend!” And they tell us that it is within our power to begin an exercise program – “Anybody can do it!”

In this context, these messages are likely to increase the message target’s likelihood of exercising.

Unfortunately, as we saw on Jan. 6, these principles of persuasion apply to less benign behaviors as well.

How Trump did it

Now let us return to what happened in Washington on Jan. 6.

Even in the weeks before the election, Trump’s rhetoric was belligerent. His campaign solicited supporters to “enlist” in the “Army for Trump” to help reelect him. Following the election and in the lead-up to the attack on the Capitol, President Trump made repeated false claims of election fraud, arguing that something needed to be done to remedy the alleged fraud. His language often took an aggressive tone, suggesting that his supporters must “fight” to preserve the integrity of the election.

By inundating his supporters with these lies, Trump made two key beliefs acceptable to his followers. First, that aggression against those accused of trying to undermine his “victory” is an acceptable and useful means of political action. Second, that aggressive, possibly violent attitudes against Trump’s political adversaries are common among all his supporters.

Words have consequences

In the weeks following the election, allies of President Trump, including Rudy Giuliani, Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, GOP Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley and others, only reinforced these beliefs among Trump supporters by perpetuating his lies.

With these beliefs and attitudes in place, Trump’s Jan. 6 speech outside the White House served as a key accelerant to the attack by sparking the raucous crowd to action.

In his pre-attack speech, Trump said that he and his followers should “fight like hell” against “bad people.” He said that they would “walk down Pennsylvania Avenue” to give Republican legislators the boldness they need to “take back the country.” He said that “this is a time for strength” and that the crowd was beholden to “very different rules” than would normally be called for.

Less than two hours after these words were spoken, violent insurrectionists and domestic terrorists breached the Capitol.

In the case of Donald Trump, the relationship between words and actions never seems clear. But make no mistake, there is a scientifically valid case for incitement.

Decades of research have demonstrated that language affects our behaviors – words have consequences. And when those words champion aggression, make violence acceptable and embolden audiences to action, incidents like the insurrection at the Capitol are the result.

Chart of the day II: Areas of epic dissatisfaction


From a new Gallup survey of American satisfaction with public policy sectors, some record lows of the 21st Century:

From the report:

Overall, majorities of Americans are satisfied with five of the societal and policy areas: the nation’s military strength and preparedness (74%), women’s position in the nation (62%), the acceptance of gays and lesbians (55%), security from terrorism (54%) and the quality of medical care (53%). These top-rated issues — particularly military strength — have typically ranked near the top each year since 2001. Acceptance of gays and lesbians has been a high-ranking issue since 2015.

At the other end of the spectrum, a record-low 18% of U.S. adults are satisfied with the nation’s efforts to deal with poverty and homelessness. The poverty and homelessness measure has consistently placed near the bottom of the list, along with campaign finance laws, which was not asked this year. Satisfaction with the state of race relations has been muted since 2015. Crime satisfaction generally has not ranked as low as it does this year.

In addition to efforts to deal with poverty and homelessness, several measures have reached their lowest satisfaction in Gallup’s history: the nation’s policies to reduce or control crime (27%), the position of Black Americans and other racial minorities in the nation (35%), and the quality of the environment (41%).

Native Americans hardest hit by COVID


In a nation stolen from it’s original inhabitants by self-righteous European misfits armed with imported diseases and death-dealing firearms, it should come as no surprise that peoples of those original Americans should be paying the deadliest price of the coronavirus pandemic.

From the Guardian:

Covid is killing Native Americans at a faster rate than any other community in the United States, shocking new figures reveal.

American Indians and Alaskan Natives are dying at almost twice the rate of white Americans, according to analysis by APM Research Lab shared exclusively with the Guardian.

Nationwide one in every 475 Native Americans has died from Covid since the start of the pandemic, compared with one in every 825 white Americans and one in every 645 Black Americans.

The true death toll is undoubtedly significantly higher as multiple states and cities provide patchy or no data on Native Americans lost to Covid. Of those that do, communities in Mississippi, New Mexico, Arizona, Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas have been the hardest hit.

The findings are part of the Lab’s Color of Coronavirus project, and provide the clearest evidence to date that Indian Country has suffered terribly and disproportionately during the first year of the deadly coronavirus pandemic. Native Americans have suffered 211 deaths per 100,000 people, compared with 121 white Americans per 100,000.

India farmer protest: Online crackdown, background


Since a massive protests against new agricultural “reform” laws began 9 August, moire than 100,000 farmers have left their lands to converge on the national capital in what is perhaps India’s longest continuous protest.

The Hindu nationalist regime of Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has been following the usual neoliberal tactics, handing over more and more of India’s economy to the ravages of multinational corporations.

Modi’s particularly agitated over Tweets supporting the farmers, and has taken action.

First up, threats to Twitter

Just as in the U.S., social media have been a major driver of protests, and the Indian government has struck back at Twitter, reports BuzzFeed:

India’s government has threatened to punish employees at Twitter with fines and jail terms of up to seven years for restoring hundreds of accounts it has ordered the company to block. Most accounts were critical of the country’s prime minister, Narendra Modi.

On Monday, Twitter complied with the government’s order and prevented people in India from viewing more than 250 accounts belonging to activists, political commentators, a movie star, and the Caravan, an investigative news magazine. Most accounts had criticized Modi, India’s Hindu nationalist prime minister, and his government. But the company restored the accounts approximately six hours later after a Twitter lawyer met with IT ministry officials, and argued that the tweets and accounts constituted free speech and were newsworthy.

India’s government disagreed. On Tuesday, the IT ministry sent a notice to Twitter, ordering it to block the accounts once again. It also threatened people who work at Twitter’s Indian arm with legal consequences, which could include a fine or a jail term of up to seven years.

“This is really problematic,” said Nikhil Pahwa, editor of MediaNama, a technology policy website, and an internet activist. “I don’t see why the government of India should wade into this territory of trying to censor tweets when they have much bigger problems to deal with.”

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment.

Celebrities add to Modi’s headache; action follows

The digital has deepened of late, with some pointed comments from international celebrities.

From the Los Angeles Times:

It took just one tweet from pop star Rihanna to anger the Indian government and supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party. “Why aren’t we talking about this?!” the singer wrote, with a link to a news story on the massive farmer protests that have gripped India for more than two months.

Now, senior Indian government ministers, celebrities and even the foreign ministry are urging people to come together and denounce outsiders who they say are trying to destabilize the country.

“It is unfortunate to see vested interest groups trying to enforce their agenda on these protests, and derail them,” India’s foreign ministry said in a rare statement Wednesday, without naming Rihanna and others who followed her example.

But it was another celebrity, a young Swede, who really got Modi’s blood boiling.

From Aljazeera:

The creators of an Indian farmers’ protest “toolkit” shared by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg will be investigated by police, authorities said, claiming it was designed to “encourage disaffection and ill-will” against the government.

<snip>

Police in the capital New Delhi, where a farmers’ tractor rally last week turned into a deadly rampage where one person died and hundreds of police officers were injured, said they had filed a complaint against the toolkit’s makers.

The complaint does not name Thunberg.

“Preliminary enquiry has revealed that the ‘toolkit’ in question appears to have been created by a pro-Khalistani Organisation ‘Poetic Justice Foundation’,” police said in a statement, citing Sikh separatists who want to create a homeland of Khalistan in India’s northern Punjab state.

Many of the protesting farmers hail from Punjab.

Police said the toolkit creators appeared to “create disharmony among various social, religious and cultural groups and encourage disaffection and ill-will against the (government) of India”.

More from Deutsche Welle:

Police in New Delhi on Thursday registered a case against the creators of a “toolkit” that was previously shared online by climate activist Greta Thunberg. The Swedish environmental crusader responded to the backlash by the police saying that despite the “hate”, she still supports the widespread farmers’ protest in India. She tweeted:

“No amount of hate, threats or violations of human rights will ever change that.”

The “toolkit” document shared by Thunberg encourages people to sign a petition which condemns the “state violence” against the protesters. It also urges the Indian government to listen to the protestors rather than mock them. The toolkit also mentions different hashtags to use on Twitter to support the farmers’ protests. Additionally, it asks for people worldwide to organize protests near Indian embassies or local government offices on the 13th and 14th February.

,snip>

Indian news channels initially reported that a police case has been filed against Greta Thunberg. News channel reported that the police complaint included charges of sedition, an overseas “conspiracy” and an attempt to “promote enmity between groups.” However, the police was later quoted as saying that its case does not name the climate activist. 

Why farmers are striking, and why it matters

Bhavani Shankar, Professorial Research Fellow in Food Systems and Health at University of Sheffield examines the roots of the massive protest in an article for The Conversation, an open source academic journal written in everyday English:

Why Indian farmers are so angry about the Modi government’s agricultural reforms

India’s farmers have been protesting since the autumn, with a growing intensity that culminated in a violent breaching of barriers in the Red Fort in Delhi during India’s Republic Day celebrations on January 26.

The protests were spurred by the passing of a set of agricultural reform bills in parliament in September 2020 that aimed to fundamentally transform the way in which farm produce is marketed in the country. India’s farming population of more than 100 million is comprised largely of small farmers who fear that the reforms will add considerable uncertainty to their already meagre livelihoods.

India has historically had a strongly regulated marketing system for agricultural produce, originally devised to enable farmers to sell to the market but at the same time to protect the small, often poor farmers from the vagaries of the open market.

Such regulation is a state-level responsibility in India’s federal governance structure. Accordingly, each state devised a system wherein the initial purchase and sale of agricultural products had to be conducted at state-regulated wholesale markets called mandis. These mandis had licensed middlemen and traders who could be regulated by the government to ensure that farmers were not exploited.

The broader legislative framework also acted to limit private sector storage of key food products (to prevent hoarding) and discourage direct contracting between private agribusiness and farmers. There were important variations in regulations across states, and legislation has changed over time, but the broad intention was to protect farmers by limiting the power of agribusiness.

However, the regulatory system did not always work as intended in practice, and deficiencies became apparent over time. Despite the idea of monitoring, traders and middlemen in wholesale markets were found to often collude to the disadvantage of the farmer. Pricing practices were opaque and farmers too often received a very low share of the price.

Variations in regulations across states also hindered interstate trade opportunities. As the Indian economy was liberalised, private enterprise and agribusiness was growing, but found itself shackled by the regulatory framework. Many commentators agreed that reform was needed.

The three bills

A set of three complementary bills was rushed through parliament by the Modi government in September 2020. The first seeks to erode the role of the regulated mandis in marketing farm produce by allowing parallel trade, including electronic trading, outside the mandi system within and across states.

The second loosens the restrictions on private sector storage and stocking of produce, allowing restrictions only in case of strong price spikes when hoarding becomes a strong concern.

The third bill sets up a framework for direct formal contracting between farmers and the agribusinesses that buy from them.

Taken together, these bills are a radical departure from the tightly regulated system for marketing agricultural produce that existed before. The bills would curb the regulatory power of states, allowing the central government to set the agenda more firmly.

The reforms provide a significant fillip to the operation of private enterprise, especially large agribusiness in India. The expectation of the government is that the strengthening of these parallel market channels will create competition for the farmers’ produce from both within and across states, leading to improved remuneration for farmers.

What are the farmers unhappy about?

Although the reforms are ostensibly about empowering farmers, there is deep concern that they will largely boost private agribusiness to the detriment of the livelihoods of small farmers. The bills propose new market channels that are largely unregulated, potentially leaving farmers at the mercy of powerful private sector players.

A related concern is that the emergence of these parallel channels will undermine the longstanding regulated mandi system that farmers understand and are used to operating in, despite its numerous flaws.

Contract farming, which would become more commonplace if the bills become law, theoretically offers farmers the option of cutting out middlemen and their fees to deal directly with a downstream buyer. But experience from India and around the world shows that large buyers often prefer to deal with larger farmers located in well-developed regions who can supply assured large volumes with minimal friction. Thus small farmers from less developed areas with poor infrastructure may find themselves frozen out of such channels.

These serious concerns have led protesting farmers to demand not just alterations to the new bills, but their complete repeal. The direction of travel of the bills – towards private sector entry and government withdrawal – has also left farmers worrying about the future of other government policies that have long supported their livelihoods, such as Minimum Support Prices (MSPs).

MSPs are minimum prices announced periodically by the government for certain essential farm products, and used when the government buys these crops from the farmers for distribution to poor consumers. The MSPs help provide a measure of stability and certainty to prices received by farmers, and the protesting farmers want MSPs to be legally guaranteed in the future. This and a set of other demands, ranging from the cancellation of penalties for crop residue burning that contributes to air pollution, to enhancements to energy subsidies, have now also been added to the farmers’ core demand to cancel reforms.

Brain-damaging metals found in baby foods


A new Congressional report has found alarming levels of heavy metal contamination in the nation’s most popular baby foods, a fact known to by suppressed by the Trump administration.

From Reuters:

U.S. congressional investigators found “dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals” in certain baby foods that could cause neurological damage, a House Oversight subcommittee said in a report released on Thursday.

The panel examined baby foods made by Nurture Inc, Hain Celestial Group Inc, Beech-Nut Nutrition and Gerber, it said, adding that it was “greatly concerned” that Walmart Inc, Campbell Soup Co and Sprout Organic Foods refused to cooperate with the investigation.

The report said internal company standards “permit dangerously high levels of toxic heavy metals, and documents revealed that the manufacturers have often sold foods that exceeded those levels.”

Campbell said in a statement on its website that its products are safe and cited the lack of a current FDA standard for heavy metals in baby food. The company said it thought it had been “full partners” in the study with congressional researchers.

The Washington Post added more:

“Exposure to these toxic heavy metals affects babies’ brain development and nervous system, it affects their behavior, permanently decreases their IQ and, if you want to boil it down to dollars, their lifetime earnings potential,” says Tom Neltner, chemicals policy director for the Environmental Defense Fund, which has worked on lead in food for 25 years.

The committee launched the investigation after learning of high levels of arsenic in some baby foods in a study by Healthy Babies Bright Futures, an alliance of nonprofit organizations aimed at measurably reducing babies’ exposure to toxic chemicals.

“What they did was take food off store shelves and test it. We said we should go straight to the companies and ask for their materials,” [subcommittee Chair Raja Krishnamoorthi D-Illinois] Krishnamoorthi said. “For the companies that didn’t participate, it raises the concern that they might possess information that indicates the toxic metals in their foods might be even higher than their competitors.”

Some alarming words from the report

Here’s the conclusion of Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury, the report from the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Reform:

The Subcommittee’s investigation proves that commercial baby foods contain dangerous levels of arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium. These toxic heavy metals pose serious health risks to babies and toddlers. Manufacturers knowingly sell these products to unsuspecting parents, in spite of internal company standards and test results, and without any warning labeling whatsoever.

Last year, the Trump administration ignored new information contained in a secret industry presentation to federal regulators about toxic heavy metals in baby foods. On August 1, 2019, FDA received a secret slide presentation from Hain, the maker of Earth’s Best Organic baby food, which revealed that finished baby food products contain even higher levels of toxic heavy metals than estimates based on individual ingredient test results. One heavy metal in particular, inorganic arsenic, was repeatedly found to be present at 28-93% higher levels than estimated.

The time is now for FDA to determine whether there is any safe exposure level for babies to inorganic arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury, to require manufacturers to meet those levels, and to inform consumers through labels.

Teresa Murray, U.S. PIRG Education Fund Consumer Watchdog, issued the following statement:

“This is unconscionable on two levels: First, companies that manufacture baby food should adhere to the highest of high standards. Second, we expect the federal government to adopt stricter standards to protect babies and the rest of us from food-borne dangers, and do a better job of alerting the public when there is a possible problem.

“The Food and Drug Administration knows from its own research these toxic metals are harmful to everyone, but especially babies and children. It’s time for the FDA to step up and set meaningful standards for heavy metals in baby food, and also require manufacturers to disclose on food labels how much toxic, heavy metals are in their baby food. Of course, baby food producers should ban toxic ingredients even before they’re forced to do so.”

Rice presents the greatest threat

The New York Times noted that the highest levels of heavy metal were found in rice products and added some advice:

Parents can protect babies by not feeding them infant rice cereal or other products like snacks made with rice flour. Healthy-sounding snacks like Nurture Happy Baby’s apple and broccoli puffs, or its strawberry and beet puffs, contained high levels of arsenic, according to the report.

Though rice cereal is often one of a baby’s first foods, both white and brown rice contain levels of inorganic arsenic that are up to six times higher than some other cereals made from grains like barley, oatmeal, organic quinoa, wheat or buckwheat, according to the nonprofit group Healthy Babies Bright Futures.

The group issued a report in 2019 on heavy metals in baby foods. It also recommends that parents not use teething biscuits that can contain heavy metals and cause tooth decay.

Parents should not give babies juice to drink, the group says, and should provide a variety of fruits and vegetables, so as to minimize exposure to carrots and sweet potatoes, which may be high in lead and cadmium.

We can’t help but wonder if a lot of anti-regulatory Republicans will change what they’re feeding the babies?

We suspect that, despite their ceaseless demonization of regulations, a smidgen of ommon sense remains when it comes to those nearest and dearest to them.

Confrontation awakened Canada to the Proud Boys


In an earlier report today we noted that the Proud Boys, those militant White nationalists who played a starring role in the 6 January U.S. Capitol insurrection, have been formally identified as a terrorist group by the Canadian government.

Just like their counterparts south of the border, Canadian Proud Boys have infiltrated the government and staged counter-protests when Canadian progressives challenged statutes of white historical figures who treated darker skinned people atrociously.

What that earlier post didn’t do was describe the 3 July 2017 event that originally alerted the government to the group’s existence under the maple leaf flag.

So here tis, starting with a report from the Toronto Globe and Mail:

The outgoing commander of Canada’s military says he first realized the Canadian Armed Forces had a real problem with hate and racism three years ago, when navy sailors identifying themselves as “Proud Boys” confronted Indigenous protesters in Halifax.

Captured on video, the confrontation in July 2017 propelled the right-wing group, which officials are considering adding to Canada’s list of terrorist organizations, into the public consciousness.

Gen. Jonathan Vance says it also embarrassed the military – and served as a wake-up call about the threat that hate and racism pose to the Armed Forces.

“Before that, I was quite confident that our stance on values was strong and well articulated,” Vance told The Canadian Press on Wednesday. “I did not see this as a dangerous phenomenon, but one that needed to be dealt with. Proud Boys, that got me.”

Vance was speaking during one of his last media interviews before handing command of the Canadian Armed Forces to Vice-Admiral Art McDonald on Thursday, more than five years after he first took over as Canada’s chief of the defence staff.

The incident he refers to happened in Halifax, Nova Scotia,when a posse of Proud Boys, clad in their distinctive polo shirts, crashed a 3 July 2017 tribal ceremonial, as the CBC News reported:

On Canada Day, dozens of people were gathered around the statue of Edward Cornwallis in downtown Halifax to mourn the atrocities committed against Indigenous people when the group of five men clad in black polo shirts approached.

Cornwallis, a governor of Nova Scotia, was a military officer credited by the British for founding Halifax in 1749. Later that year, he issued a bounty on the scalps of Mi’kmaq people. There has been ongoing debate over the use of his name on public parks, buildings and street signs. 

The off-duty members were carrying a Canadian Red Ensign flag and announced they were members of “The Proud Boys, Maritime chapter.” On Facebook, the group describes itself as “a fraternal organization of Western Chauvinists who will no longer apologize for creating the modern world.”

According to Global News, “Rebecca Moore, who organized the Indigenous ceremony, told the Canadian Press that dozens of people were gathered around the statue of Edward Cornwallis as Chief Grizzly Mamma, who is originally from British Columbia, shaved her head in an act of mourning.”

Following an investigation, the military closed the incident without arrests of any of the sailors, although they were placed under a monitoring program.

The alarmed general’s alleged alarming behavior

Today also marked a nadir in the departing general’s career, as the government opened an investigation in alleged improper sexual conduct, including a much verboten affair was a junior officer.

From CBC News:

The country’s former top military commander will be investigated following a published report of inappropriate behaviour involving female subordinates.

The allegations were levelled against former chief of the defence staff general Jonathan Vance in a Global News story, which was broadcast and published online on Tuesday.

Admiral Art McDonald, who replaced Vance only two weeks ago, issued an internal statement to personnel Wednesday morning saying trust and support of commanders must be sacrosanct, but also earned.

<snip>

As the country’s top military commander for five years, Vance was the architect of the effort to stamp out sexual misconduct in the ranks, known as Operation Honour.

Justice mulls using anti-Mafia law in insurrection


Uncle Sam is pondering using his most powerful anti-Mafia law to prosecute the Capitol insurrectionists, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, otherwise known as the RICO statute.

The powerful statue, used by former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York to punish Mafia families is now under consideration as a legal bludgeon to wield against the backers of Giuliani’s most famous private client, Donald John Trump.

Created by G. Robert Blakey, then an adviser to the United States Senate Government Operations Committee in the late 1960s, the law was designed to to exact justice on criminal conspiracies by ensuring that mob bosses could be charged with the crimes of their underlings.

The story, via Reuters:

The U.S. Justice Department is considering whether to charge members of far-right groups involved in the deadly Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol under a federal law usually used against organized crime, according to two law enforcement sources.

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO, enables prosecutors to combat certain ongoing racketeering crimes such as murder, kidnapping, bribery and money laundering. The 1970 statute provides for hefty criminal penalties including up to 20 years in prison and seizure of assets obtained illegally through a criminal enterprise.

The sources, a current law enforcement official and a former official who recently left the federal government, said using the RICO statute to charge people involved in the Capitol violence is being debated within the Justice Department, with no final decision made. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity.

The siege by supporters of former President Donald Trump left five dead including a police officer. It is not yet clear if cases arising from it meet “statutory elements” necessary for a RICO charge, the former federal official said.

<snip>

Obstructing an official government proceeding, the charge some Oath Keepers and Proud Boy members are currently facing, is considered a “racketeering activity.”

Prosecutors in a RICO case would need to show that the far-right groups qualify as a “criminal enterprise” and that members of the enterprise engaged in a pattern of two or more related crimes beyond the Capitol riots.

From our perspective, a RICO prosecution would be at its strongest if prosecutors could prove that the insurrections were acting at the instigation of powerful figures above them.

We’ll leave you to come up with some possible nominees. . .

Canada declares Proud Boys a terrorist group


Following up on our previous post about the Boogaloo Bois, one of the leading groups at the 6 January Capitol insurrection comes some bad news for another outfit integral the lethal violence at the national legislature.

Their colleagues in arms on Capitol Hill, the Proud Boys, have just been officially declared terrorists by the government of Canada.

From CBC News:

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced today that the federal government will designate 13 groups as terrorist entities, adding some white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups to a list already populated with militant Islamist organizations.

The federal government will now classify the Proud Boys (a neo-fascist organization with chapters in Canada and the U.S.), the Atomwaffen Division, AWD (a group that calls for acts of violence against racial, religious and ethnic groups), and the Base (another neo-Nazi organization that advocates for violence to incite a race war), as terrorist entities under the Criminal Code.

The government considers these three groups, along with another new addition, the Russian Imperial Movement (a Russian paramilitary group with ties to neo-Nazi groups worldwide), as “ideologically motivated violent extremists.”

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) defines the term as extremism driven by a range of grievances and ideas from across the traditional ideological spectrum.

<snip>

A security official, speaking on background, said the Proud Boys have been under review for some time and the Jan. 6 attack “wasn’t the only factor and it wasn’t the driving factor” in designating the group as a terrorist entity.

“It’s a group that we’ve been looking at as a community for a while,” the official said.

The official said the Commons motion, pushed by NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, was also not a motivating factor in designating the Proud Boys as terrorists. There was “no political motivation whatsoever,” the official said, adding Canada’s national security agencies alone determine which groups should be legally branded with this terrorist label.

COVID’s billionaire bonanza leaves the rest behind


We begin with a few words from our favorite senator about a billionaire hedge funder’s lament, via Twitter:

Billionaire fortunes bloat as COVID rages

While the pandemic has been a nightmare for most people, it’s an orgy of avarice for the plutocracy, and a new report from Inequality.org reveals the extent of their plunder:

Updates: Billionaire Wealth, U.S. Job Losses and Pandemic Profiteers

The collective wealth of all U.S. billionaires has increased over $1.1 trillion since mid-March 2020, a nearly 40% leap during the past 10 months of national emergency.

This wealth windfall could pay for all the relief for working families contained in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package proposed by President Biden, while leaving the nation’s richest households no worse off than they were before COVID-19 hit.

The combined fortune of the nation’s 660 billionaires as of Monday, January 18, 2021 was $4.1 trillion, up 38.6% from their collective net worth of just under $3 trillion on March 18, 2020, the rough start of the pandemic, based on Forbes data compiled in this report by the Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). There have been 46 newly minted billionaires since the beginning of the pandemic, when there were 614.

At $4.1 trillion, the total wealth of America’s 660 billionaires is two-thirds higher than the $2.4 trillion in total wealth held by the bottom half of the population, 165 million Americans.

March 18 is used as the unofficial beginning of the pandemic because by then most federal and state economic restrictions responding to the virus were in place. Moreover, March 18 was also the publication date of Forbes’ annual billionaires report in 2020. It provided a detailed baseline that ATF and IPS have been comparing periodically with real-time data from the Forbes website. This methodology has been favorably reviewed by PolitiFact.

The $1.1 trillion wealth gain by 660 U.S. billionaires since March 2020 could pay for:

All of the relief for working families contained in President Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion pandemic rescue package, which includes $1,400 in direct payments to individuals, $400-a-week supplements to unemployment benefits, and an expanded child tax credit. (See table below)

A stimulus check of more than $3,400 for every one of the roughly 331 million people in the United States. A family of four would receive over $13,000. Republicans in Congress resisted sending families stimulus checks most of last year, claiming we couldn’t afford them.

Ordinary Americans have not fared as well as billionaires during the pandemic:

● Over 25 million have fallen ill with the virus and more than 420,000 have died from it. [Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center]

● Collective work income of rank-and-file private-sector employees—all hours worked times the hourly wages of the entire bottom 82% of the workforce—declined by 1% in real terms from mid-March to mid-December, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

● Over 73 million lost work between Mar. 21 and Dec. 26, 2020. [S. Department of Labor]

● 16 million were collecting unemployment on Jan. 2, 2021. [S. Department of Labor]

● Nearly 100,000 businesses have permanently closed. [Yelp/CNBC]

● 12 million workers have likely lost employer-sponsored health insurance during the pandemic as of August 26, 2020. [Economic Policy Institute]

● Some 29 million adults reported between Dec. 9-21 that their household had not had enough food in the past week. From Nov. 25-Dec. 7, between 8 and 12 million children lived in a household where kids did not eat enough because the household could not afford to fully feed them. [Center on Budget & Policy Priorities (CBPP)]

● 14 million adults—1 in 5 renters—reported in December being behind in their rent. [CBPP]

Because of long-standing racial and gender disparities, low-wage workers, people of color and women have suffered disproportionately in the combined medical and economic crises of 2020. Latinos are more likely to become infected with Covid-19 and Blacks to die from the disease than are white people. Billionaires are overwhelmingly white men.

The stock market surge and lock-down economy have been a boon to tech monopolies and helped create multiple U.S. “centi-billionaires.” Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates were each worth more than $100 billion on Jan. 18. Prior to this year, Bezos had been the only U.S. centi-billionaire, reaching that peak in 2018. Bezos and other billionaires have seen particularly astonishing increases in wealth over the past 10 months:

Elon Musk’s wealth grew by over $154 billion, from $24.6 billion on March 18 to $179.2 billion on Jan. 18, a nearly eight-fold increase, boosted by his Tesla The boost in wealth of the SpaceX founder over the past 10 months is more than twice that of any other billionaire. That $154 billion growth in wealth is also about seven times NASA’s $22.6 billion budget in FY2020, the federal agency Musk has credited with saving his company with a big federal contract when the firm’s rockets were failing and it faced bankruptcy.

Jeff Bezos’s wealth grew from $113 billion on March 18 to $182 billion, an increase of 61%. Adding in his ex-wife MacKenzie Scott’s wealth of $55 billion on Jan. 18, the two had a combined wealth of almost a quarter of a trillion dollars thanks to their Amazon If Bezos’s $68.6 billion growth in wealth was distributed to all his 810,000 U.S. employees, each would get a windfall bonus of almost $85,000 and Bezos would not be any “poorer” than he was 10 months ago.

Mark Zuckerberg’s wealth grew from $54.7 billion on March 18 to $92 billion, an increase of over two-thirds fueled by his Facebook

Tax reform that ensures the wealthy pay their fair share—the principle the Biden tax plan is built on—would transform a good chunk of those huge billionaire gains into public revenue to help heal a hurting nation. But getting at that big boost in billionaire fortunes is not as simple as raising tax rates: tax rules let the rich delay, diminish and even ultimately avoid any tax on the growth in their wealth. What’s needed is structural change to how wealth is taxed.

The most direct approach is an annual wealth tax on the biggest fortunes, proposed by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, among others. Another option is the annual taxation of investment gains on stocks and other tradable assets, an idea advanced by the new Senate Finance Committee chair, Ron Wyden. Even under the current discounted tax rates for investment income, if Wyden’s plan had been in effect in 2020, America’s billionaires would be paying hundreds of billions of dollars in extra taxes this spring thanks to their gargantuan pandemic profits last year.

Enough is enough: Tax the rich, and do it now

The “great America” MAGAs want to recreate acknowledged that people who made obscene amounts gathered their wealth with the invaluable assistance of a massive infrastructure built with a strong system of progressive taxation and made real by labor, often unionized, most of whom learned the basics of their trade in public schools.

It was taxes on the system’s greatest beneficiaries that fueled the prosperous America invoked by MAGA’s minions; yet the candidates beloved by MAGA and its predecessors have done nothing more zealously than shifting that tax burden onto the middle class and the poor, creating a system in which the poor and middle classes now pay taxes at the same rate as the 400 richest Americans, exemplified in this graphic from the CBS News::

We remain convinced that destruction of local news media played a central role in the rise of the ability of public to grasp the implications of the policies they believe they’re supporting.

And by shifting the blame from the rich who select the candidates best suited to enact legislation to satisfy their bottomless greed to the people, people of color, members of non-Cristian faiths, and other easily demonized groups, the rich have tricked much of electorate to voting against their own interests.

Community newspapers once devoted considerable effort to showing how national policies imp[acted their specific locales, showing what those impacts would be for people and institutions they knew.

Delocalized political reporting easily ventures into the realm of the abstract, and nothing is more easily weaponized than an abstraction, spun into propaganda laden with thought-stopping emotionally arousing assertions.

Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Jewish space laser


The Jewish space laser, via Grace Friedman.

As a country. I fear we are well and truly screwed.

Although Democrat Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by 7,060,140 votes, most Republicans think Donald Trump was the actual winner, a delusion fostered by Trump a cabal of crazies, the craven, and the merely confused.

You know, the kind of folks who staged a lethal insurrection at the national legislature and those who led them on.

And of that lot, none is more dangerously delusional than Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Georgia Republican newly named to sit on the House of Representatives Labor and Education Committee.

As the Los Angeles Times reports:

She has promoted QAnon, the debunked conspiracy theory that imagines former President Trump is leading a fight against a government controlled by a global deep state cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles. On social media, YouTube videos and elsewhere, she has said Muslims don’t belong in government, suggested the 2018 Parkland, Fla., school shooting and others were staged, and repeatedly endorsed executing Democratic leaders.

<snip>

Greene was quick to back Trump’s false claims of election fraud and become a major promoter of “Stop the Steal.”

Greene has taken pains to distance herself from the mob that attacked Congress. But she has also pressed the subject of election fraud, railing against the “fake news” media and filing articles of impeachment against newly elected President Biden.

But it gets much, much crazier.

Marjorie and the Jewish Space lasers

The latest discovery is a now deleted Facebook post, as Media Matters for America reports, she blamed an unusual source for California’s disastrous 2018 Camp Fire, then the largest wildfire in California history [2020’s fires were even worse]:

She wrote a November 17, 2018, Facebook post — which is no longer available online — in which she said that she was speculating “because there are too many coincidences to ignore” regarding the fire, including that then-California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) wanted to build the high-speed rail project and “oddly there are all these people who have said they saw what looked like lasers or blue beams of light causing the fires.” She also speculated that a vice chairman at “Rothschild Inc, international investment banking firm” was somehow involved, and suggested the fire was caused by a beam from “space solar generators.” 

A report in Forbes added an ironic twist:

In her post, Taylor Greene suggested that the 2018 California wildfires may have not been due not to climate change leaving vegetation more combustible. No, instead she advanced the theory that, drum roll please, some kind of “space laser” had lit things on fire. Yes, you heard that correctly: a space laser. As they said in the movie Wayne’s World, exsqueeze me, baking powder?

Usually when the words “space” and “laser” are involved in an explanation, you are sort of reaching. Saying “honey, I didn’t call you after work because the space laser caused interference,” and “sorry, we couldn’t give you the raise because, you know, the space laser,” don’t tend to be very convincing.

And here’s the post in question:

As toofab reported, there were some problems with her hypothesis, problems pother than the sheer insanity of it all:

But, as Solaren — the company behind the supposed galactic weapon pointed out on Friday — the self-declared bibliophile clearly didn’t read everything about the project.

For one, Solaren hasn’t quite gotten to the launching satellites into space stage yet.

Secondly, the contract between Solaren and PG&E dissolved in 2015 — three years before the fires started — because they were never able to generate the financing for it.

Thirdly — as the article Greene referenced clearly stated — the theoretical satellites would convert the solar energy to radio waves before transmitting them to Earth… which are both harmless and invisible, thus making them the unlikely source of those blue laser beams, much less the cause of any fires.

Thanks to their newfound viral fame, the company was forced to explain that its satellites — which do not even exist yet — “cannot” be weaponized.

Her post got the handle “Jewish space lasers” because of the inclusion of Rothschild, Feinstein, and Blum, and the invariable inclusion of a Rothschild or two in almost every crazy uber-Right conspiracy theory.

Greene’s reaction to the furor? The Los Angeles Times has it:

Greene put out a statement Friday addressed to “the radical, left-wing Democrat mob and the Fake News media trying to take me out.”

“I will never back down,” she wrote. “I will never give up. … More MAGA reinforcements are on the way.”

The real problem with Greene

While many Democratic fellow legislators, especially those she’s threatened, as well as some fellow Republicans want Greene ousted and/or censured, the sad reality is that Greene truly is representative of a large segment of the Republican voters.

And like Trump, she knows almost any bad press, especially in the mainstream media, is good press, proof she’s upsetting the people her constituents like to see hot and bothered.

And as NPR notes:

Greene has also “liked” social media posts that called for executing “deep state” FBI agents, or that advocated removing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with “a bullet to the head.”

Many of her supporters were no doubt thrilled to see a candidate who hustled votes with a display like this, posted eight weeks before the election:

After all, 38 percent of adult Georgians owned guns, often many guns, in 2018, and many oi them, we suspect, are Republicans.

Which raises question representative democracies invariably confront in times of crisis: What happens when a significant and militant section of the population is opposed to the nature of the government itself and crosses over into violence, both rhetorical and physical?

Rich nations get vaccinated, poor lands suffer


Following a sad historic precedent, the world’s richest nations are hoarding COVID vaccines, while poor nations struggle with the ravages of a global pandemic.

A sobering report in Der Spiegel looks in depth at vaccine inequality, and the hypocrisy of their gestures to the suffering lands of the global South, finding two lessons in their research:

First: Wealthy nations like Canada are perfectly willing to share their vaccines, but on terms set by the rich. Second: Once again, it might not be the people who most urgently need a remedy who get it first, but rather those who are willing to pay the most for it.

The coronavirus isn’t the first recent pandemic that has exposed inequality between the rich and the poor. During the deadliest phase of the HIV pandemic in the mid-2000s, 2 million people were dying per year, most of them in southern Africa. It took many years for life-saving drugs to make their way to the continent. One of the reasons: The Western pharmaceutical companies that developed the medications are eager for profits, and those drugs frequently cost as much as 10,000 a year per patient 20 years ago.

H1N1 followed in 2009. A swine flu vaccine was available just seven months after the first outbreak. But rich countries bought up the drug. The pandemic had already ended by the time poorer countries got access to the vaccine.

Things were supposed to be fairer this time. The international community established Covax, a consortium of private and government funders to distribute the vaccine. Under the tutelage of WHO, the Gavi vaccine alliance and the research alliance Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Covax began its work in April 2020. The aim is to deliver 2 billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021. Almost every country on the planet has joined the initiative, with the United States as the most recent addition. “No one is safe, unless everyone is safe,” reads the initiative’s slogan.

But nine months later, there are few signs of solidarity. According to the Duke Global Health Institute, 16 percent of the world’s population has secured 60 percent of the available vaccines. Instead of relying solely on Covax, the European Union, Britain and Canada have ordered large quantities directly from manufacturers, thus blocking the market for now. Prices are rising. And now that the vaccination campaigns in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere are being met with setbacks, few are particularly concerned about sharing at the moment.

Brazil intentionally pushed spread of COVID


And President and Trump buddy Jair Bolsonaro’s government did it because they wanted to let the pandemic burn itself quickly so that the nation’s economy wouldn’t bet impacted, according to a new report by one of Latin America’s most prestigious NGOs.

The result of Bolsonaro’s strategy has been a national tragedy, with a massive body count.

From El País:

The grimmest timeline in the history of public health in Brazil emerges from an investigation of directives issued by the government of President Jair Messias Bolsonaro relating to the Covid-19 pandemic. In a common effort undertaken since March 2020, the Center for Research and Studies in Public Health Law (CEPEDISA) of the Public Health College (FSP) of the University of São Paulo (USP) and Conectas Direitos Humanos, one of the most respected justice organizations of Latin America, have collected and scrutinized federal and state regulations relating to the novel coronavirus, producing a brief titled Rights in the Pandemic – Mapping and Analysis of the Legal Rules in Response to Covid-19 in Brazil. On January 21, they put out a special edition making a strong statement: “Our research has revealed the existence of an institutional strategy to spread the virus, promoted by the Brazilian government under the leadership of the President of the Republic.”

Obtained exclusively by EL PAÍS, the analysis of the production of ordinances, provisional measures, resolutions, normative instructions, laws, decisions and decrees by the federal government, as well as a survey of the president’s public speeches, draws the map that has turned Brazil into one of the countries most affected by Covid-19 and that, contrary to other nations, still lacks a vaccination program with a reliable timetable. There is no way of telling how many of the more than 212,000 Covid deaths in Brazil might have been avoided if the government led by Bolsonaro had not executed a project with a view to spreading the virus. But it can reasonably be said that many people would still have their mothers, fathers, siblings or children alive today were it not for the existence of an institutional project by the Brazilian government to spread Covid-19.

There is an intention, a plan and a systematic course of action contained in the government rules and in Bolsonaro’s speeches, as the study shows. “The results dispel the persistent interpretation that there was incompetence and negligence from the federal government in the management of the pandemic. On the contrary, the systematization of data, although incomplete due to the lack of space for publishing so many events, reveals the government’s commitment and efficiency in favor of the widespread dissemination of the virus over the Brazilian territory, clearly stated as having the objective of restarting economic activity as soon as possible and at whatever cost,” says the publication’s newsletter. “We hope this timeline provides an overview of a process we are undergoing in a fragmented and frequently confusing fashion.”

<snip>

The timeline is composed of three axes presented in chronological order, from March 2020 to the first 16 days of January 2021. The first is regulatory acts of the Union, including regulations adopted by federal authorities and agencies and by presidential vetoes; the second, acts of obstruction to the state and municipal governments’ responses to the pandemic; and the third, propaganda against public health, describing it as “a political discourse that mobilizes economic, ideological and moral arguments, besides fake news and technical information lacking scientific proof, with the aim of discrediting public health authorities, weakening public adherence to health advice based on scientific evidence, and promoting political activism against the public health measures needed to contain the spread of Covid-19.”

It begins to sound like both Trump and Bolsonaro were playing the same game, sacrificing the people through a campaign of misinformation and lies in hopes of keeping in the good graces of their financial backers by, among other things, deploying social media to deepen and exploit rising political divisions in their respective nations.

In a sane world, both men would stand trial for criminally negligent mass homicide.

And do read the story, notable for its stunning detail.

Precarious jobs rose even before the pandemic


Back when we started working in the 1960s, most jobs were limited to eight hours of work perday, with overtime for paid for any additional hours, good health insurance, and company-paid pensions.

But these days, increasing numbers of jobs contain no guaranteed working hours, little or no overtime, no company pensions, and if there’s health insurance at all, much of the costs are borne by workers.

This new vision of work, while rewarding to employers, leaves workers in a state of precarity, with no assurances of a steady income and few, if any, benefits.

So-called precarious employment was once to the province of piece workers and low-end workers, but a new study reveals that precarity is now rising fastest among those once exempt from the angst that forms the constant undertone of lives of those whose hold on economic security is tenuous at bvest.

From the University of Illinois Chicago:

Study reveals precarious employment on the rise long before COVID-19

A study led by a University of Illinois Chicago researcher uses a new approach to measure precarious, or low-quality, employment in the United States. And, according to those findings, precarious employment has increased 9% between 1988 and 2016. 

Precarious employment, or P.E., is defined as low-quality employment, which is often characterized by low wages, job insecurity and irregular hours, making employment risky and stressful for the worker. 

In her study, Changes in precarious employment in the United States: A longitudinal analysis [open access], Vanessa Oddo, assistant professor in UIC’s School of Applied Health Sciences, sought to create a multidimensional and continuous measure of P.E. in the U.S. She also set out to describe changes in precarious employment over time, both overall and within subgroups. The paper is published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health. 

A better understanding of long-term trends is a critical first step for informing future policies aimed at improving P.E. and population health in the U.S., Oddo said. 

Previously, the focus for measuring P.E. was on wages, hours and union membership. For this longitudinal study, she expanded the measurement criteria to add P.E. indicators including: 

● Material rewards — the wage and non-wage benefits afforded by employment.  

● Working-time arrangements — the length and intensity of working hours, underemployment and schedule predictability. 

● Employment stability — employment continuity, contractual temporariness and/or organizational changes (e.g., downsizing). 

● Workers’ rights — describes welfare state provisions associated with employment, such as access to health insurance or pensions.  

● Collective organization — the possibilities (or lack thereof) for employee representation, most commonly measured through union representation. 

● Interpersonal relations — employees’ power relative to management (e.g., their ability to make decisions or control their schedule) and can include exposure to discrimination.  

● Training opportunities — opportunities for promotion or to enhance skills.  

Characterizing trends in P.E. using a multidimensional indicator is critical given that employment quality is increasingly recognized as a social determinant of health, according to Oddo.

P.E. can result in insufficient income, which compromises access to food and other necessities; greater exposure to adverse physical working conditions, such as toxic exposure, and limited control over both personal and professional lives, leading to stress. 

“Importantly, poor employment quality may be contributing to widening health inequities, as women, people with lower education levels, and minorities have a higher prevalence of P.E.,” Oddo said. 

The research revealed P.E. score was significantly higher among people of color, women, people with lower levels of education and people with lower income. Between 1988 and 2016, the overall P.E. scores significantly increased indicating worsening employment quality over time. 

However, the study showed the largest increases in P.E. among males, people with a college education, and higher-income individuals. 

“These results suggest long-term decreases in employment quality are widespread in the U.S., rather than just confined to marginalized segments of the labor market,” Oddo said. 

According to the study, the largest change over time in employment precarity among males and college-educated and higher-income individuals could be because their P.E. score was lower at the study’s beginning in 1988, leaving a greater opportunity for declines. Additionally, the large increase in P.E. among males may also be due to the declining rate of union membership in the U.S., as union membership is associated with better employment quality and, historically, was more common among males. 

Oddo said P.E. has been studied more broadly after the 2008 recession when employment quality worsened and there was a notable shift toward contract work and the emergence of the gig economy. She added that there is speculation as to how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect P.E., both during the pandemic and after when work from home measures are lifted. 

A holistic approach to studying P.E. is important in the future as data can inform employment policy decisions. For example, a better understanding of P.E. in the U.S. may be helpful for informing future policies around secure scheduling (i.e. advanced notice of schedules) or gig work, like California’s Assembly Bill 5, which changed the rules employers must use to determine whether workers are employees or independent. The distinction is important because independent contractors are not entitled to most of the protections and benefits that employees get, Oddo explained.  

Also, precarious employment could slow our ability to get back to work after COVID-19, as precariously employed individuals could face additional barriers to COVID-19 vaccination; for example, if they are undocumented workers or independent contractors. 

San Precario: A new patron saint for the American worker

Seventeen years ago, European temporary workers found themselves with a new saint, San Precario.

And as we’ve noted before, Marcel van der Linden, Senior Researcher of International Institute of Social History, described his/her origins in a March 2014 essay in the academic journal Labor Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas:

On February 29, 2004, the Chainworkers of Milan, an Italian anarcho-syndicalist collective seeking to subvert commercial advertising, chose a new saint: San Precario, the patron saint of casual, temporary, freelance, and intermittent workers. San Precario was initially envisaged as a man but has evolved into a rather androgynous being. He or she can appear anywhere and everywhere: on streets and squares, but also in McDonald’s outlets, supermarkets, and bookstores.

Prayers are directed to the new saint, such as:

Oh, Saint Precarious,
protector of us all, precarious of the earth
Give us paid maternity leave
Protect chain store workers, call center angels,
and all flexible employees, hanging by a thread
Give us paid leave, and pension contributions,
income and free services,
keep us from being red
Saint Precarious, defend us from the bottom of the network,
pray for us temporary and cognitive workers
Extend to all the others our humble supplication
Remember those souls whose contracts are coming to an end,
tortured by the pagan divinities:
the Free Market and Flexibility
those wandering uncertain, without futures or homes
with no pensions or dignity
Grant hope to undocumented workers
and bestow upon them joy and glory
Until the end of time

While the androgynous San Precario has largely faded into recesses of cultural history, the ersatz saint perfectly embodies the new American angst as corporations slash workers from their payrolls and reinvent them as “associates,” temps, and “independent contractors,” thereby freeing their corporate masters from costly pensions and health insurance, pesky unions, and labor regulations.

Headlines of the day: The malady lingers on


The Donald may have left but the stench of eau de Trump lingers on.

We begin our collection of today’s London Daily Mail headline stacks with this:

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tells House feuding GOP members to ‘cut that c**p out’ as QAnon follower Marjorie Taylor Greene clashes with Adam Kinzinger over revelation she backed killing top Democrats

  • House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told members of his caucus to ‘cut that c**p out’ with pro-Trump Republicans feuding with impeachment-backers 
  • McCarthy gave the warning on a Wednesday call, telling GOP lawmakers ‘no more attacks to one another,’ including on Twitter 
  • His message came after Rep. Adam Kinzinger went after Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene over a report that said she indicated support for executing Democrats 
  • ‘She is not a Republican. There are many who claim the title of Republican and have nothing in common with our core values,’ Kinzinger said 
  • Greene has pushed the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theory in the past and denies Trump supporters were responsible for the Capitol siege 
  • CNN reported that Greene liked Facebook comments, including one that said ‘a bullet to the head would be quicker’ to remove House Speaker Nancy Pelosi 
  • McCarthy’s office said that he ‘plans to have a conversation’ with Greene about the comments, with a spokesman calling them ‘deeply disturbing’ 

Followed by a riposte:

AOC claims Kevin McCarthy ‘answers to QAnon members of Congress and extremists’ – as Democrats prepare resolution calling for expulsion of believer Marjorie Taylor Greene

  • Taylor Greene, a Republican congresswoman from Georgia, is in the spotlight
  • CNN unearthed video of her chasing after a Parkland survivor in 2018
  • They found social media posts calling for the murder of prominent Democrats 
  • Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Leader, has said he will speak to her about it
  • AOC on Wednesday night said McCarthy’s response was wildly insufficient
  • She accused McCarthy of being in thrall to QAnon and their believers
  • On Wednesday Jimmy Gomez, a Democrat congressman for California, announced he will put forward a House resolution to call for Greene’s expulsion

And a doctor diagnoses:

Dr. Fauci claims ‘macho guy’ Trump thought masks diminished his ‘manhood’

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci described Trump as being a ‘pretty macho guy’ for his reasoning as to why the former president was hardly seen in a mask
  • ‘It’s almost like it diminishes one’s manhood to wear a mask. To him, a mask was a sign of weakness,’ he added 
  •  Fauci’s comments come as he shot back at sentiments he was moving the goalpost after he expressed that it was ‘common sense’ to wear two masks
  •  ‘Discussion is changing, not the goalposts,’ Fauci said to Fox News host Sandra Smith after she claimed the goalpost keeps moving’ in relation to masks
  • Just yesterday, Fauci said he was he’s ready to put his rocky relationship with Donald Trump ‘behind’ him 

Followed by some dirty tricks:

Trump supporter with 58K Twitter followers is charged with 2016 election interference for encouraging Hillary Clinton supporters to vote via text instead of a real ballot

  • Douglass Mackey, known as ‘Ricky Vaughn’ on social media was arrested and charged on Wednesday 
  • The 31-year-old is accused of spreading disinformation online to suppress votes for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election  
  • At the time, Mackey had 58,000 followers on Twitter and was considered an ‘important influencer’ in the election, prosecutors said 
  • Mackey and four accomplices allegedly sent memes and tweets encouraging people to cast their ballots by texting Clinton’s name to a fake text code
  • One tweet he sent showed a photo of a black woman with a campaign Clinton sign, encouraging people to ‘avoid the line’ and ‘vote from home’ 

And a name change:

Trump Plaza condo board in West Palm Beach votes to dump Trump name in the wake of the Capitol siege as Atlantic City auctions off opportunity to demolish Trump’s casino

  • The condo board of Trump Plaza voted on January 19 to change its name
  • The residents of the towers can now vote to select a new name for the complex
  • Meanwhile, Atlantic City announced an auction to offer people the chance to bid on the right to press the demolition button of the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino
  • In 2019, the last of the Trump Place buildings lining Manhattan’s West Side Highway decided to remove the former president’s name from its building
  • The condo snub comes as Palm Beach officials are conducting a ‘legal review’ of Donald Trump ‘s use of nearby Mar-a-Lago as a residence 

And some name-calling:

Sean Hannity rails against ‘weak Republicans without a backbone’ for not standing against Trump impeachment as he blasts trial as ‘psychotic rage’ of Democrats

  • Hannity implored Republicans to ‘focus on your job,’ not impeachment
  • The Fox News host claimed the results of the impeachment trial are predestined
  • He also said that Kamala Harris and Maxine Waters should be censured
  • Hannity is likely right about the impeachment trial after Republican senators largely supported a resolution declaring the trial unconstitutional 

Followed by pleas for help:

Nancy Pelosi calls armed Republican members of Congress ‘the enemy within’ and accuses them of threatening Democrats as lawmakers demand more cash for security

  • Pelosi blasted armed Republican members of Congress as ‘the enemy within’ 
  • ‘We will probably need a supplemental for more security for members when the enemy is within the House of Representatives,’ she said Thursday 
  • Asked to clarify who she meant, Pelosi: ‘It means that we have members of Congress who want to bring guns onto the floor’ 
  • GOP Rep. Andy Harris is being investigated for trying to bring gun onto House floor and GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert also wants to carry a firearm
  • Several members of Congress wrote to House leadership, asking permission to hire armed guards and upgrade security measures in their districts
  • They fear threats against them which continue after Jan. 6th MAGA riot 
  • ‘Members of Congress have reported receiving a significant uptick in threats of violence and even death,’ says letter obtained by DailyMail.com 
  • Lawmakers want flexibility to spend their tax payer funded office accounts to upgrade security in their homes and have personal guards 
  • They also want their home addresses to be kept a secret 

And concluding with hints of resurrections:

Mike Pompeo reveals new role at conservative Hudson Institute giving him platform to launch MAGA run in 2024

  • He will be a ‘distinguished fellow’ at the conservative think tank
  • Considered a potential presidential candidate in 2024 
  • On November 10, three days after Biden declared victory, he commented about ‘a smooth transition to a second Trump administration’
  • Trump himself could run again in 2024, although MAGA riots have scrambled Republican circles 

India farmers plan massive tractor protest


Republic Day, held annually on 26 January, is celebrated in the India’s capital with a major military parade marking the birth of the nation as a constitutional republic in 1950.

But this year, all eyes are on another Republic Day parade, a caravan of thousands of tractors, driven by farmers protesting agricultural “reform” laws [previously] passed by the government of Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

From BBC News:

Tens of thousands of farmers gathered on the outskirts of India’s capital New Delhi on Tuesday, ahead of a tractor procession aimed at protesting a controversial set of agricultural laws.

Growers, angry at what they see as laws that help large, private buyers at the expense of producers, have been camped outside Delhi for almost two months.

Thousands more, on tractors decorated with the flags of India and farm unions, have been streaming into the capital from neighbouring states for several days ahead of the rally that coincides with India’s Republic Day.

“We will follow the instructions of our leaders and conduct a peaceful march,” said Sukhjinder Singh, a 30-year-old protestor from Punjab at Singhu, one of the main protest sites.

Tens of thousands of tractors carrying groups of farmers travelled to the city in the past few days, in addition to thousands that have already been blocking several entrance points of the city for more than a month.

More from Reuters:

Police have allowed farmers to rally along pre-approved routes on the outskirts of Delhi on Tuesday.

But the tractor march threatens to overshadow the annual Republic Day military parade in the centre of the capital, held to mark the anniversary of the introduction of India’s Constitution in 1950.

“They (farmers) could have chosen any other day instead of January 26 but they have announced now,” India’s Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told local media on Monday.

“Conducting the rally peacefully without any accident would be the concern for farmers as well as police administration.”

While the protestors are deeply serious about their goals since launching their protest 26 November, that’s no not say that the protesters don’t enjoy some levity, as exemplified in this clip from midday India:

Farmers dance to tribal music at Azad Maidan during protest rally

Program notes:

Despite traveling for long hours, some of the farmers and their families danced to tribal music before calling it a night at Azad Maidan on 24th January. Using traditional musical instruments, men and women gathered in circles as they played songs and danced to the music. Watch this video to find out more.

Gov’t COVID aid benefits mainly stock speculators


While governments throw billions in aid money at corporations with the professed intent of restoring jobs and the economy, the jobs aren’t coming back but financial speculators are reaping the benefits, warns the U.N.

From Bloomberg:

Unprecedented fiscal and monetary support from governments to counter the coronavirus pandemic has failed to boost investment in things like factories and industrial equipment necessary to power job growth, the UN warned.

Instead, the United Nations said in its “World Economic Situation and Prospects” report on Monday, the biggest benefits are flowing to financial markets, pushing share prices higher.

“If you’re holding Amazon stock, of course you’re doing very well right now,” Hamid Rashid, the head of global economic monitoring at the UN, said in a briefing ahead of the report’s release. “But if you’re an average person thinking about what is your job prospect for the next three years, the next five years, they don’t look very good.”

“What we see is a massive increase of financial asset prices, and a growing disconnect between real economic performance and the financial sector performance,” Rashid added.

COVID: Rich recover, poor get decade-long losses


As a global pandemic rages and new, even deadlier strains of the coronavirus emerge, a new report from Oxfam reals that billionaires have gained wealth during the siege, while the world’s poor will take at least a decade to recover to their pre-pandemic levels.

Their survey, based on interview with the world’s leading economists, paints a picture of a world in which class divisions deepen and women bear the harshest effects of income losses.

From Oxfam [emphases added]:

Mega-rich recoup COVID-losses in record-time yet billions will live in poverty for at least a decade

The 1,000 richest people on the planet recouped their COVID-19 losses within just nine months, but it could take more than a decade for the world’s poorest to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic, reveals a new Oxfam report today. ‘The Inequality Virus’ [open access] is being published on the opening day of the World Economic Forum’s ‘Davos Agenda’.

The report shows that COVID-19 has the potential to increase economic inequality in almost every country at once, the first time this has happened since records began over a century ago. Rising inequality means it could take at least 14 times longer for the number of people living in poverty to return to pre-pandemic levels than it took for the fortunes of the top 1,000, mostly White male, billionaires to bounce back

A new global survey of 295 economists from 79 countries, commissioned by Oxfam, reveals that 87 percent of respondents, including Jeffrey Sachs, Jayati Ghosh and Gabriel Zucman, expect an ‘increase’ or a ‘major increase’ in income inequality in their country as a result of the pandemic.

Oxfam’s report shows how the rigged economic system is enabling a super-rich elite to amass wealth in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression while billions of people are struggling to make ends meet. It reveals how the pandemic is deepening long-standing economic, racial and gender divides.

The recession is over for the richest. The world’s ten richest men have seen their combined wealth increase by half a trillion dollars since the pandemic began —more than enough to pay for a COVID-19 vaccine for everyone and to ensure no one is pushed into poverty by the pandemic. At the same time, the pandemic has ushered in the worst job crisis in over 90 years with hundreds of millions of people now underemployed or out of work.

Women are hardest hit, yet again. Globally, women are overrepresented in the low-paid precarious professions that have been hardest hit by the pandemic. If women were represented at the same rate as men in these sectors, 112 million women would no longer be at high risk of losing their incomes or jobs. Women also make up roughly 70 percent of the global health and social care workforce − essential but often poorly paid jobs that put them at greater risk from COVID-19.

Inequality is costing lives. Afro-descendants in Brazil are 40 percent more likely to die of COVID-19 than White people, while nearly 22,000 Black and Hispanic people in the United States would still be alive if they experienced the same COVID-19 mortality rates as their White counterparts. Infection and mortality rates are higher in poorer areas of countries such as France, India, and Spain while England’s poorest regions experience mortality rates double that of the richest areas.

Fairer economies are the key to a rapid economic recovery from COVID-19. A temporary tax on excess profits made by the 32 global corporations that have gained the most during the pandemic could have raised $104 billion in 2020. This is enough to provide unemployment benefits for all workers and financial support for all children and elderly people in low- and middle-income countries.

Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International, said: “We stand to witness the greatest rise in inequality since records began. The deep divide between the rich and poor is proving as deadly as the virus.”

Rigged economies are funnelling wealth to a rich elite who are riding out the pandemic in luxury, while those on the frontline of the pandemic —shop assistants, healthcare workers, and market vendors— are struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table.

Women and marginalized racial and ethnic groups are bearing the brunt of this crisis. They are more likely to be pushed into poverty, more likely to go hungry, and more likely to be excluded from healthcare.”

Billionaires fortunes rebounded as stock markets recovered despite continued recession in the real economy. Their total wealth hit $11.95 trillion in December 2020, equivalent to G20 governments’ total COVID-19 recovery spending. The road to recovery will be much longer for people who were already struggling pre-COVID-19. When the virus struck over half of workers in poor countries were living in poverty, and three-quarters of workers globally had no access to social protections like sick pay or unemployment benefits.

“Extreme inequality is not inevitable, but a policy choice. Governments around the world must seize this opportunity to build more equal, more inclusive economies that end poverty and protect the planet,” added Bucher.

“The fight against inequality must be at the heart of economic rescue and recovery efforts. Governments must ensure everyone has access to a COVID-19 vaccine and financial support if they lose their job. They must invest in public services and low carbon sectors to create millions of new jobs and ensure everyone has access to a decent education, health, and social care, and they must ensure the richest individuals and corporations contribute their fair share of tax to pay for it.

“These measures must not be band-aid solutions for desperate times but a ‘new normal’ in economies that work for the benefit of all people, not just the privileged few.”