Canadian Politics (Federal), Opinion, Published Articles, U.S. Politics

Beware of those who cry ‘fake news’

Originally published in the Whitecourt Star

Since last year’s U.S. Election, the term ‘fake news’ has entered our political discourse like a ton of bricks.

Although intended to signal an actual phenomenon — web articles that appear to be actual news but are entirely fabricated to serve a political agenda — the term has taken on a life of its own.

It seems that those who are most quick to label reporting they dislike “fake news” are its truest purveyors.

As George Orwell wrote in his masterful 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” “The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies something not desirable.” What he said then of the ‘fascist’ label could be said of the ‘fake news’ epithet today.

The most prominent practitioner of calling undesirable news fake is, of course, U.S. President Donald Trump, who refused to allow CNN reporter Jim Acosta to ask a question at one of his first presidential press briefings, because, “You’re fake news.”

The question of whether fake news — like an article that baselessly claimed that Pope Francis had endorsed The Donald — helped propel Trump to victory in the U.S. Electoral College is entirely debatable.

That Trump himself used blatant falsehoods to stir up emotion amongst his supporters, however, both on the campaign trail and in office, is beyond dispute.

Some of his most egregious claims, for those in need of a refresher, include the allegation that three million people voted illegally in the election where he lost the popular vote by three million, that he personally witnessed thousands of Muslims celebrating on the streets of New Jersey after the September 11 terrorist attacks and, my personal favourite, his insinuation that “Lyin’” Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the JFK assassination.

Clearly, when Trump cries “fake news,” he’s projecting his insecurities onto the American news media, which although not without its flaws and frailties, is largely in the business of reporting facts.

This psychological projection is by no means exclusive to the pro-Trump crowd, or even the U.S.

Here in Canada, there are those who criticize “the media” for its apparent coziness with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, citing the soft news surrounding our media savvy prime minister, such as his Star Wars socks that inexplicably got international media coverage.

It’s rather disingenuous to claim that the Canadian media hasn’t covered Trudeau’s ethical lapses, such as his cash-for-access fundraisers that are increasingly being outlawed provincially.

Sure, the media as a whole could do better reporting hard news rather than fluff, but this has little to do with ideological bent.

It’s more about how revenues are generated in the digital world. Traditional newspapers and news media outlets need content that generates clicks, which generate advertising revenue, which allows them to chase important stories.

There is no such singular entity as the media — different media organizations have distinct ideological bents, and that’s as it should be.

With that said, there’s certainly a credibility gap in news reporting.

The New York Times, which in many ways is the gold standard of news reporting, has yet to fully recover its credibility after it presented allegations of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, based on the claims of anonymous sources within the Bush administration, as objective fact.

This significantly weakens the paper’s clout when it goes after fake news sources, whether it’s the president of the United States or Russian bots.

Skeptics can point to its role in the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion and ask how the Times is any different.

This is a misguided criticism, as most newspapers, though they all have an ideological slant, don’t generally fabricate news for ideological purposes.

When we lump the news media, for all its flaws, together with the malicious intentions of fake news, we do a disservice to the journalists who put all they’ve got into holding the powerful to account, regardless of where they sit on the political spectrum.

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Canadian Politics (Federal), Environment, Published Articles, U.S. Politics

A reprieve for Dakota land defenders, a warning for Canada

Jeremy Appel
Originally published in the Monitor (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives)

While many Canadians “checked in” on Facebook to Standing Rock Reservation near Cannonball, North Dakota, to express solidarity with the Great Sioux’s protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline, some of their compatriots went down to join the anti-pipeline struggle in what has become its epicentre.

The battle pits the Sioux band, who have set up a protest camp, and its supporters against a militarized Morton County sheriff’s department and the National Guard. The latter have used mass arrests and force in an effort to crush the movement fighting Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners’ planned $3.8-billion, 1,900-km pipeline that snakes across four states from western North Dakota to Illinois, threatening Indigenous heritage sites and the drinking water below.

On December 4, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied the company approval to drill under the Missouri River, forcing it to find another route, but the decision is subject to appeal and can be reversed by the incoming Trump administration.

“We’ve been able to greatly rattle the inevitability narrative that big oil continues to weave into the minds of the public,” Clayton Thomas-Muller, the environmental justice group 350.org’s Keep It in the Ground campaigner, told the Monitor from Standing Rock in the wake of the U.S. army’s announcement.

In response to the potentially historic decision, Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II issued a statement expressing special gratitude to “all of the other tribal nations and jurisdictions who stood in solidarity with us,” promising to return the favour “if and when your people are in need.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s late-November approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which will pump Alberta tarsands oil to the coastal town of Burnaby, B.C., for shipping to Asia, and Enbridge’s Line 3 from Alberta to Wisconsin, means the Standing Rock Sioux will soon have the opportunity to reciprocate in Western Canada.

“Justin Trudeau needs to understand that we’ve faced tougher foes than him and we have removed them from power,” Thomas-Muller, a member of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, said. “His administration will bend to the will of the Indigenous rights and climate justice social movements. I guarantee it.”

If it gets built, the Trans Mountain expansion will increase an existing pipeline’s capacity to 890,000 barrels from 300,000, casting doubt over the government’s climate change commitments and vows to improve relations with First Nations.

“Even though it’s down in the United States, our struggle as First Nations is the same everywhere,” said Snookie Catholique of the Dene Nation. The former CBC journalist and Northwest Territories language commissioner had just returned from her second trip to Standing Rock in mid-November when she spoke to the Monitor. “We’re all fighting to protect Mother Earth and for a better, cleaner environment, so that my grandchildren will have the experience I had as a child.”

Thomas-Muller said stewardship of the environment is an essential component of the Indigenous rights movement. “Our livelihoods, our cosmology and our worldview are fundamentally tied to the relationship that we have with the sacredness of place,” he said. “Environmentalism is, for us, a human rights issue.”

***

Kevin Settee, president of the University of Winnipeg Student Association and a member of Fisher River Cree Nation, also made the trip down to Standing Rock with two comrades in late August. He said part of the reason he went was to send a message to people back home “not to let the United States border divide them and stop them from going south [to support social movements].” Thomas-Muller concurred, calling it a “false border.”

Settee said he sought to learn organization tactics from the demonstrators that he could apply to environmentalist and Indigenous movements back home. “Why is what they’re doing so powerful?” he pondered.

Settee and his allies were some of the first people from Winnipeg to make it down to the protest. When crossing the border, at around 2 a.m., they told the guards they were going to a powwow, fearing that if they told them they were going to Standing Rock they would get turned away.

“Some people said they dealt with border guards who were supportive, giving them thumbs up,” he said, noting that he doesn’t know anyone who was turned back, but many were searched extensively.

At Standing Rock, Settee said he witnessed police intimidation—erecting cement barricades and checkpoints, for example—but also the use of psychological tactics meant to demoralize the demonstrators. “It’s the most peaceful place you’ll ever be in your life…but the Morton Country sheriffs issued a press release saying that we had guns and pipe bombs and that there were shots fired,” a claim Settee emphatically denied.

Protestors faced both state troopers and private DAPL security, Catholique told me, and it was often difficult to distinguish one from another. She said “a few bullets were fired” at a demonstration she attended on her initial trip over the Labour Day weekend, which she suspects came from both the police and security.

Catholique vouched for the peaceful nature of the protests, but said the tension emerged as the standoff wore on. On her first trip, the Lakota Sioux were in charge. “They were the ones who were really putting it out there that this was a peaceful protest. We do not want to lose any lives. We do not want to get into any kind of conflict that is going to linger after everybody leaves.”

She continued, “This time around, the Red Warrior camp tried to take control. They were the ones who were really being aggressive and that was not the original goal.”

Catholique attributed the movement’s prominence, particularly compared with other anti-pipeline struggles, to social media. “It’s at the forefront of media now, but it wasn’t when I was there in September. Our airwaves were being scrambled.” When demonstrators “got online for their livefeeds from camp, then it really took off.”

***

In late October, two University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) medical students, Nicole Schafenacker and Katriona Auerbach, were arrested at the demonstration, according to the CBC, which prompted UNBC President Daniel Weeks to issue a statement defending their right “to take a position, to exercise their rights to free speech, to peacefully assemble, and to develop and foster informed opinions across a wide range of subject areas.”

The students were charged with conspiracy to endanger by fire or explosion, engaging in a riot and maintaining a public nuisance, as were dozens of other protestors who were arrested after a police barricade was set on fire. As of November 3 they were back home in Prince George, B.C., but will have to return to North Dakota unless the charges are dropped.

U.S. Green Party leader Jill Stein and Democracy Now host Amy Goodman were also arrested for protesting the DAPL on separate occasions. The rioting charges against Goodman were dropped, while the criminal trespass and criminal mischief charges against Stein had yet to be resolved when the Monitor went to print.

The Sioux had gone to court in September to block the pipeline’s construction, represented by the environmentalist law firm Earthjustice. Their request was rejected on October 11, although the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged that their ruling “is not the final word.”

Outgoing U.S. president Barack Obama had been mildly critical of the project, saying it ought to be built along a different route, “to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans.” Senator and recent Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders had written an open letter to the president the week before, calling on Obama to reject the project, as he had done with the Keystone XL pipeline.

But the surprise election of race-baiting climate change denier Donald Trump, who now wants to proceed with Keystone XL and is able to reverse the decision to reroute the DAPL, underscores the anti-pipeline movement’s urgency, said Settee. “The government is going to be pushing these pipelines through as fast as possible.”

Trump until recently owned between $15,000 and $50,000 in stock with Energy Transfer Partners and between $100,000 and $250,000 in Phillips 66, which owns a quarter of the DAPL. A spokesperson for the new U.S. president told the media in early December that Trump had sold his entire stake in the former company, but would not comment on the latter.

“The more people that we have that organized, that are trained, that are on the frontlines,” Settee said, “the better chance we have for a sustainable future.”

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Environment, Global Affairs, U.S. Politics

Last thoughts on Election 2016

It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.

The political neophyte businessman Donald Trump, who kicked off his campaign by descending from a golden escalator at one of his luxury hotels to call illegal Mexican immigrants “rapists” and criminals has defeated former secretary of state, New York senator and first lady Hillary Clinton to become the 45th U.S. president.

Though Clinton won the popular vote 60,828,358 to 60,261,924, which comes to half a percentage point, it was not spread evenly enough amongst the states to give her an advantage in the Electoral College, which Trump won handily with 290 votes to Clinton’s 232. 

Clinton had a compelling narrative set up for her victory: the first female president who set herself apart from her ex-president husband, who she stood behind through all his sex scandals, by starting her own career in politics. But it was all for naught.

What the hell happened?

As has been written many times by now, Trump successfully tapped into the anger and resentment of the rural white working class who felt the benefits of the economic globalization championed by Hillary’s husband during his presidency had passed them by.

Trump gave outlet to their frustrations, blaming their woes not only on unfair trade deals, which is quite reasonable, but fear of the Other – illegal immigrants, Muslims, the Chinese and a “global economic elite” that often sounded like a metonym for “Jews.”

By contrast, Clinton didn’t inspire enough enthusiasm to motivate the Latinos and African-Americans who voted in droves for Obama to come out for her on Election Day. Their lot hadn’t improved significantly under the first black president, so, many of them reasoned, what would another Clinton do for them?

In swings states that Trump won– Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, for example – Clinton won drastically in the cities but was shellacked, or “shlonged” as Trump would say, in rural areas.

It’s worth noting that Trump actually increased his share of the black and Latino vote about two percentage points each compared to Mitt Romney in 2012.

Trump won outright amongst white men and women. The latter is considerably shocking, given the multiple allegations of sexual harassment against him and the “grab ’em by the pussy” recording that came out prior to them.

Like Rob Ford in Toronto’s 2010 election and the Brexiters in this year’s referendum in the U.K., Trump seized upon the chasm that opened between a core of city-dwelling “elites” and the peripheral rest of the country, motivating many disenchanted people to go out and vote for a brash outsider who promised to improve their lot, defying pollsters in the process.

Clinton came to embody everything that Trump said he opposed – a corrupt elite so entrenched in its own sense of entitlement that it was blind to the plight of the country’s downtrodden, those left behind by the closure of factories and mines.

In this regard, it didn’t matter that Trump is an elite by any measurement. After all, he started his business career with a “small loan of a million dollars” from his millionaire father.

While Clinton spoke of specific policy proposals tailor-made to appeal to a large cross section of the educated public, Trump spoke in platitudes that appealed to rural America, who were dismissed by Clinton as a “basket of deplorables.”

True, few if any Trump supporters would have voted for her in any event, but it’s generally a bad idea to insult your opponent’s supporters, as Romney learned in 2012.

When faced with a choice between the status quo that Clinton represented and “making America great again,” many Americans opted for the latter. One can strongly disagree with this decision, as I do, but it’s perfectly understandable, especially for those who feel excluded from the modern political economy.

Wikileaks and the FBI

At times, it seemed like Wikileaks and its leader Julian Assange was in the tank for Trump, leaking speeches, documents and private e-mails that cast the Democratic nominee and her inner circle in a negative light. Assange strongly denies that this was intended to help Trump, insisting that he simply publishes whatever secret documents are given to him in the name of radical transparency.

Perhaps the most damaging release was a paid speech Clinton gave to the National Multi-Housing Council where she admitted to having a “private” and “public” positions on issues like trade. For instance, Clinton told an audience of Italian bankers that she was fully in favour of “open trade and open borders,” despite her publicly stated opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership she helped negotiate as secretary of state, putting the sincerity of her other token progressive positions – $15 minimum wage, opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and increasing taxes on the wealthy, to name a few – into question.

To blame Wikileaks, or the Russians for allegedly hacking the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) server and passing the information on to Assange is to shoot the messenger.

These leaks, whatever their source, fueled Clinton’s image as a manipulative member of the ruling class concerned with nothing but her own advancement.

And the e-mails she sent from a private account as secretary of state – those “damn e-mails” as Bernie Sanders foolishly dismissed them in a Democratic primary debate – came back to haunt her in the campaign’s latter days, as FBI Director James Comey, a Republican Obama appointee, announced they were being re-investigated and then a week later said nothing noteworthy was found.

Still, the damage was done. The Clintons were correctly viewed as part of a crooked aristocracy to whom the rules need not apply.

Interestingly, the FBI, who formally accused Wikileaks of hacking the DNC and interfering in the election, was also involved in leveling the playing field for Trump.

Would Bernie have fared better?

Hypotheticals are always difficult, but it’s quite clear that Sanders tapped into the same populist rage as Trump. This is why he was able to give Clinton a far tougher primary challenge than anticipated.

Whereas Trump channeled this mass angst towards immigrants and minorities, Sanders’s focus was primarily economic, with a little bit of racial justice thrown into the mix under pressure from Black Lives Matter activists.

As we know thanks to Wikileaks, the DNC conspired against Sanders from day one. He was regarded, particularly by former chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, as a mere obstacle on Clinton’s inevitable path to the presidency and not a serious challenge. Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign her position as a result of the revelation, being replaced by yet another Clinton surrogate, Donna Brazile.

Had Sanders been the nominee, I suspect Trump would have gone into full red-baiting mode. It’s doubtful that the white rural voters who voted overwhelmingly for the KKK’s candidate of choice would vote for a Jewish socialist senator from Vermont.

It seems, unfortunately, that it was Trump’s time.

What will a Trump presidency actually look like? 

Anyone’s guess is as good as mine, but Trump released a list of policy proposals for his first 100 days in office that is mostly frightening.

It does not bode well that that the Republicans now have control of the White House, both Houses of Congress and soon the judiciary. They’re already intent upon working with Trump to roll back Obama’s modest environmental, health care and taxation regulations.

His reported cabinet choices reads like a rogue’s gallery of right-wing ideologues: former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Breitbart’s Steve Bannon, George W. Bush’s UN ambassador John Bolton, Mr. 9/11 Rudy Guiliani and Sarah Palin, whose stupidity needs no introduction, are just a few.

I suspect and hope that some of Trump’s more outrageous proposals – banning Muslims, deporting 11 million illegal immigrants, prosecuting Clinton and bringing back “a hell of a lot worse than water boarding” – were just to get the rural masses riled up and set him apart from the other candidates.

If true, Trump will govern like any other modern Republican president, which is bad but could conceivably be worse.

He’s already toned down his rhetoric considerably, giving an uncharacteristically gracious acceptance speech and mysteriously removing his proposed Muslim ban from his website before restoring it.

One of his signature proposals, building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, seems particularly unlikely, given his repeated insistence that Mexico will pay for it. That appears to be a trap door – if the wall doesn’t get built he can blame it on the Mexicans and move on.

And as a businessman, he must be aware of the economic havoc his plan to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, many of whom work low-wage jobs U.S. citizens won’t do, would wreak.

Still, his environmental policies – scrapping the Paris climate agreement, building pipelines and categorically rejecting any form of carbon pricing – are cause for immense concern, because they’re entirely plausible from an economistic standpoint.

An erratic foreign policy

In terms of foreign relations, the big question is whether he will make good on his promise to thaw out relations with Russia, one issue where he ran as an unambiguous dove.

Intimately connected is the fate of NATO, whose other members Trump has insisted must pay up to continue as part of the alliance that was founded to counter Russian foreign policy. NATO requests that its members spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence. Canada, for instance, spends half that.

The former, mending ties with Russia, seems much more doable than the latter and could assist in solving the Syria’s bloody civil war, where Russia and Iran support the government and the U.S. and its allies back rebel forces.

Of course, Trump’s vow to renege on Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, a promise likely made under the pressure of the powerful right-wing pro-Israel lobby, would have the opposite effect on Syria.

Combined with his dismissal of man-made climate change, it’s especially scary that the incoming U.S. commander-in-chief, with control over a vast nuclear arsenal, has such a contradictory array of global policies.

The Democrats: What’s next?

This election, as horrible a result it was for Democrats, was a vindication of the party’s progressive wing.

Notably, there’s currently a push to make Rep. Keith Ellison (Minn.), the first Muslim congressman and a key Sanders supporter, the new DNC chair.

But for much of the party establishment and its apologists, blame falls on everything and everyone but themselves for the electoral upset: racism, sexism, the media, Wikileaks, the Russians, the FBI and Green leader Jill Stein for having the temerity to run to the left of the anointed one.

To New York Times columnist and economist Paul Krugman, a Clinton devotee who did all he could to sandbag Sanders during the primaries, it’s inconceivable that Clinton lost because she was a weak candidate who ran a poor campaign.

“The Democratic Party has mastered lying to itself and its core constituencies,” wrote New York Daily News columnist Shaun King. He added:

It claims a progressive identity, but is as moderate and lukewarm as it has ever been on so many issues that matter to everyday people. It claims to be tough on Wall Street, financial corruption and white collar crime, but is awash in donations from lobbyists and executives in the industry. Democrats claim to be the party of working people, but so often seem to be deeply out of touch with their problems and needs.

This is precisely the form of elite corruption and hypocrisy that Sanders and Trump railed against.

Sanders will likely be too old to run again in 2020, but someone will undoubtedly take up the mantle of democratic socialism in the Democratic Party. It’s just a matter of whether the current DNC establishment and its allies will allow them to win.

The Democrats elected some young progressive women of colour to the Senate: Kamala Harris (Calif.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.) and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii). Any of them, and others like popular Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, could become the first female president.

If the Democrats can take back the Senate in 2018, there’s the potential for even more young progressives to get elected and stand up to Trump.

But the mass movement that propelled Sanders in the primary needs to continue causing trouble for the establishment and exerting pressure on progressive members of Congress to ensure they stay on the right track.

Yes, Trump’s presidency does have the possibility to be a catastrophe of historical proportions, but it also serves as an opportunity for progressives to unite and offer meaningful, fundamental change of the sort Clinton didn’t offer.

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Book Review, Crime, U.S. Politics

Marc Lamont Hill’s case for intersectionality

Marc Lamont Hill
Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond
Toronto: Atria Books, 2016
250 pp. $35
9 781501 124945

Trayvon Martin. Tamir Rice. Alton Sterling. Michael Brown. Philando Castile. Eric Garner. Walter Scott. Sandra Bland. Freddie Gray.

These names, and far too many others, should be instantly recognizable as those of young African-Americans whose lives were taken by law enforcement authorities or vigilantes in the years since the U.S. elected its first black president.

Some were armed and others were not. Some had committed crimes while others hadn’t. Some of their assailants were white and others were black. But they would all likely be with us today had they not been born black and poor.

As Ta Nehisi Coates wrote, addressing his son, in his masterful Between the World and Me,

And you know now, if you did not before, that the police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body. It does not matter if that destruction is the result of an unfortuante reaction. It does not matter if it originates in a misunderstanding. It does not matter if the destruction springs from a foolish policy … All of this is common to black people. And all of this is old for black people. No one is held responsible.

Morehouse College political scientist, CNN commentator and VH1 host Marc Lamont Hill takes a somewhat broader approach in his latest work, Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond. Yes, the aforementioned individuals were victims of their own blackness in a country plagued by deep-seated prejudice against African-Americans, but there are also cultural, socioeconomic and, of course, political factors at play. They weren’t simply targeted for being black, but because they were “nobody,” to borrow the book’s title.

“To be Nobody is to be vulnerable,” writes Hill at the beginning of the book.

In the most basic sense, all of us are vulnerable; to be human is to be susceptible to misfortune, violence, illness and death. The role of government, however, is to offer forms of protection that enhance our lives and shield our bodies from foreseeable and preventable dangers. Unfortunately, for many citizens – particularly those marked as poor, Black, Brown, immigrant, queer, or trans – State power has only increased their vulnerability, making their lives more rather than less unsafe.

In other words, Hill is making the case for intersectionality. In doing so, he lambasts state violence against the vulnerable, but also examines the factors that got us to where we are now – from the white flight that made Ferguson, Mo., a majority black suburb of St. Louis with a mostly white police force to the austerity measures that lead to the emergency management system that tainted the Flint, Mich., water supply with lead.

The author writes with the eloquence and passion he’s become known for as a public intellectual. Take this fiery speech as an example:

 

Michael Brown’s corpse was left in the street for four hours because he was Nobody, a member of “a disposable class for which one of the strongest correlates is being Black.” But it wasn’t only his blackness – “his death was only made more certain because he was young, male, urban, poor, and subject to the kinds of legal and social definitions that devalue life and compromise justice.”

Perhaps the most novel aspect of Hill’s book is when he deals with the gendered angle of police brutality, using the death of Sandra Bland as a case study. Bland, who was pulled over for a routine traffic stop and ended up committing suicide in her jail cell, was forced out of her car and arrested because the officer didn’t like her attitude. This was a case not only of state-sanctioned racism but of male dominance.

He quotes the black feminist scholar Brittney Cooper, who observed that the officer, Brian Encinia, “expected that she wouldn’t question him. He wanted her submission. Her deference. Her fear.”  But nobody put it better than Bland herself when she told Encinia, as per his car’s dashboard camera, “Don’t it make you feel good, Officer Encinia? You’re a real man now (emphasis Hill’s).”

In jail, Bland’s story becomes a symbol of Hill’s entire argument. After being arrested for being a strong black female who stood up for herself, Bland is unable to pay her bail. Suffering from mental health issues, she takes her own life. This is a powerful indictment of America’s war on the poor, black, female and mentally ill. She lived and died as Nobody.

In the book’s section on mass incarceration, appropriately titled “Caged,” Hill critiques Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. He shares much of her “trenchant analysis,” but objects to her narrow focus on the African-American experience. As Hill writes, “The trend toward incarcerating more African-Americans is matched by the trend toward incarcerating more Latinos, the trend toward incarcerating more women … and the trend toward incarcerating more new immigrants.”

With characteristic wit, he says, “If there is a ‘new Jim Crow,’ it is joined by a new ‘Jane Crow,’ a new ‘Diego Crow,’ and a new ‘Jim Crow Jr.'” True, and this is an important part of Hill’s analysis, but many would see Alexander’s narrow focus as an asset rather than a weakness. In any case, Hill’s work is more of an extension of Alexander’s analysis than a rebuttal.

However, because Hill casts such a wide net, dealing with America’s war on the vulnerable as a whole, his book occasionally seems a bit unfocused. This broad approach is a double-edged sword – it provides valuable context for America’s war on the vulnerable, taking his argument beyond racism, but with that, the reader’s expectations are raised.

Since the vast majority of the examples he draws from concern African-Americans, his argument for intersectionality sometimes comes up short. It would have served his argument to address the plight of Native Americans, for instance.

Still, Hill’s book is undoubtedly worth reading for anyone concerned with the present state of affairs in the U.S. And it’s analysis can easily be applied to the current standoff in North Dakota between the Standing Rock protesters and a militarized police force over the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Though it may lack the poetic vigour of Coates or Alexander’s laser-like focus, Hill has nonetheless provided a very valuable addition to the canon of non-fiction regarding the African-American experience in the 21st century.

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Global Affairs, U.S. Politics

Clinton, Trump spar in bizarre second debate

The absurdity of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s town hall-style debate Sunday is difficult to do justice.

Coming off the heels of embarrassing leaks for both candidates – Trump boasting of his sexual improprieties and long-awaited transcripts from some of Clinton’s paid speeches to banks – and considering how belligerent the campaign’s tone has already been, it was clear this was not going to be a serious, policy-focused exchange.

The day of the debate Trump held a press conference with Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones, three of the many women who have accused President Clinton of sexual assault, and Kathy Shelton, a woman whose alleged rapist was defended pro-bono by Hillary Clinton. The four of them were also brought to the debate by the Trump campaign. Clearly, this had a triple purpose – to throw his opponent off balance, deflect from Trump’s own history of sexual aggression and make him appear compassionate.

There was no ritual handshake at the beginning, which although repeated ad naseum on social media, was another harbinger of the debate’s tone.

The first question, as most viewers probably anticipated, asked how each candidate would serve as a role model for Americans, a clear allusion to the Trump tape. The Republican nominee reiterated his apology immediately before dismissing his recorded remarks as mere “locker room talk” that provides no evidence he engaged in sexual assault. He then added a non-sequiter (there were a lot of those) about the need to keep the nation safe from ISIS.

Clinton was put on the defensive herself when co-moderator Martha Radatz asked about the recent Wikileak of a paid speech to a bank where she distinguished between her “public and private positions on certain issues,” which the presidential candidate called “principled and strategic.” Clinton said she had just seen Spielberg’s Lincoln and was inspired by his “great display of presidential leadership” in using different arguments in front of different crowds.

She then switched gear to blaming Russia for the leak, insisting they’re attempt to embarrass her and make Trump president because he would go easier on them, to which Trump responded, “I know nothing about Russia,” which is eerily similar to what he said last year after receiving former KKK grand wizard David Duke’s endorsement.

On foreign policy, Trump and Clinton alternated as hawks and doves, with Clinton coming off the slightly more hawkish candidate on some issues and Trump on others. Clinton defended the merits of Obama’s Iran nuclear deal she helped negotiate, which Trump called the “dumbest deal perhaps I’ve seen in the history of deal-making.”

On Russia and Syria, the roles were reversed, as Trump disagreed with running mate Mike Pence and Clinton on the need for a more forceful intervention against the Assad regime. “I don’t like Assad at all but Assad is killing ISIS, Russia is killing ISIS and Iran is killing ISIS,” he said shortly after denouncing the Iran deal.

“Russia hasn’t paid any attention to ISIS,” argued Clinton. “They’re interested in keeping Assad in power, so when I was secretary of state advocated, as I do today, a no-fly-zone.” She proceeded to link the Assad regime’s brutality to the “ambitions and aggressiveness of Russia,” who have gone “all-in in Syria.” Yet she said she was willing to co-operate with Russia on issues of common interest, like nuclear disarmament.

Trump reiterated his demand that Clinton refer explicitly to “radical Islamic terror,” as if further alienating and stigmatizing Muslims were a step in the right direction. “Before you solve it, you have to say the name,” said Trump.

Clinton seized the opportunity to present herself as the inclusive candidate, pointing out that there have always been Muslim-Americans, “from the time of George Washington” to Muhammad Ali. These comforting words stand in stark contrast to her record – as senator she voted for the Iraq War and agitated as secretary of state for attacking Libya and Syria.

“The Muslim ban has somehow morphed into extreme vetting,” said Trump in defence of his policy of banning Muslims form the United States, which was deservedly subject to much ridicule on social media.

Much fuss was made by the punditry of Trump’s quip that if he were president, Clinton “would be in jail,” but it wasn’t at all surprising hearing that from the man whose supporters have been chanting “lock her up” for months.

Towards the town hall’s conclusion, Trump called Clinton evil for her remark calling half of his supporters a “basket of deplorables,” for which she had previously apologized.

Shortly afterwards, they finally shook hands.

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Entertainment, U.S. Politics

Donald Trump’s woman-hating is old news

We’ve seen this act before.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump says something outrageous, GOP leaders rush to condemn and distance themselves from him and then nothing happens.

This time, a private 2005 conversation Trump had with television host Billy Bush was leaked where he essentially boasted of his proclivity for sexual harassment.

“You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women] – I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait,” he said in the leaked audio. “And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.

“Grab them by the pussy,” was one such example.

Some pretty awful remarks, certainly, but is it really any worse than other comments Trump’s made about women, including his own daughter, in the past?

As Jeffrey St. Clair, editor of Counterpunch, observed, what Trump said in his conversation with Bush is probably no worse than private discussions had by Presidents Kennedy and Clinton, two other notorious objectifiers of women. They were just never recorded.

According to Politico, unnamed Republican National Committee lawyers are looking for ways to deny Trump the party’s nomination – one month before the election. It’s not going happen, as “the lawyers have concluded that Trump would have to cooperate in any attempt to replace him,” the article noted, based on another anonymous GOP insider.

The hopelessness of their cause aside, the reaction from the party establishment – the very leaders who Trump won the nomination by attacking – was swift.

Here are some tweets:

Trump endorsed Romney in 2012 and after the former Massachusetts governor refused to turn the favour this year, was dubbed “irrelevant” and a “choke artist.”

Rubio was the scion of the party establishment before his campaign collapsed and was trounced by Trump in his own state, Florida.

I’m not sure whether Mitt Romney, “Little” Marco Rubio or “Low Energy” Jeb Bush’s denunciations will hurt so much as help Trump’s campaign, as they feed into the narrative that the establishment is out to get The Donald.

But when your own running mate denounces you, after spending an entire debate denying your more controversial positions, you’re in trouble.

Mike Pence went so far as to issue a formal statement, expressing his remorse at Trump’s comments, which he emphasized are from 11 years ago.

Trump’s non-apology

The Donald was naturally on the defensive when he released a video statement last night, which looks like it was filmed on the set of a late night television show.

“I said it. I was wrong and I apologize,” he said shortly before implying that it’s not too big a deal. “This is nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we’re facing today,” citing job losses, government corruption and national security.

He then almost immediately pivots to Bill Clinton’s own history of misogyny, which is certainly deplorable in its own right.

“I’ve said some foolish things, but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people. Bill Clinton has actually abused women and Hillary has attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims,” said Trump.

Trump, too, has been accused of sexual assault on at least three separate occasions, including once by his ex-wife, Ivana.

“See you at the debate on Sunday,” he concludes. Looks like it’s going to be a nasty one.

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Global Affairs, U.S. Politics

VP Debate: Kaine, Pence argue over whose running mate is more belligerent

Tonight’s vice presidential debate between Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine (D) and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) was fairly drab for the most part.

Besides the usual partisan shots about which “charitable” foundation is shadier, Clinton’s or Trump’s, Clinton’s private e-mail server and Trump’s never-ending string of insults, the debate’s portion on foreign policy stood out.

This was because of Pence’s repeated disavowal and denial of Trump’s positions and, more importantly, the candidates’ shared support for ramping up war in the Middle East and confrontation with Russia.

Pence’s denials

Here are just a few of the Trump positions Pence claimed were distortions by his political opponent:

  • His remark that Putin was a “stronger leader” than President Obama, a claim which was Pence defended less than a month ago.
  • Pence thought Kaine’s assertion that Trump belittled NATO was laughable, but this is a position Trump has taken repeatedly .
  • Pence supports a no-fly-zone over Syria, which the Washington Post says “goes far, far beyond Trump,” who has been generally coy about his strategies for the region.
  • He called for the “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” which strongly contrasts with Trump’s entertaining the nuclearization of Japan and South Korea to counter North Korea.
  • Near the debate’s beginning, Trump’s running mate called the Clinton-Kaine campaign an “avalanche of insults.” Trump has referred to his opponents as “Crooked Hillary,” “Lyin’ Ted,” and “Little Marco” against countless other petty insults.

A consensus of hawkishness, at home and abroad

When Pence called for the aforementioned no-fly-zone against Syria to demonstrate “American strength” against Russia, Kaine couldn’t agree more, demanding a “safe zone” from which the U.S. could bomb Assad and the Russian army with presumed impunity.

Kaine also boasted of Clinton going “toe-to-toe with Russia” as Secretary of State, in an apparent attempt to paint her as promoting a more aggressive foreign policy than Trump-Pence.

“Everyone wants war. So many choices,” observed independent journalist Rania Khalek on Twitter.

In terms of domestic policy, both candidates agreed on the necessity of “community policing,” which as Alice Speri of The Intercept observed, has a nice ring but is a completely vacuous term that does nothing to change the fundamental relationship between cops and communities of colour.

“True community policing is one that puts the community first, and not just in the occasional town hall meeting: giving civilians oversight over their police departments, including a say over legislation regulating law enforcement and access to serious accountability processes,” writes Speri. It goes without saying that this was not on the table during the debate.

There was an awkward moment when the debate’s penultimate question was regarding abortion. Pence is passionately opposed to female reproductive rights. Kaine is too, but believes women should be convinced not to get abortions, rather than compelled by law.

Like all Veep debates, this one is unlikely to change anyone’s minds. Trump supporters will think Pence won and Clinton supporters will believe Kaine was victorious. I’d say it was a draw, but I doubt anyone cares.

Stay tuned for the next presidential debate, which will be the second of three, on Sunday at 9 p.m.

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