Study: Roundup Weed Killer Could Be Linked To Widespread Bee Deaths

Study: Roundup Weed Killer Could Be Linked To Widespread Bee Deaths

Source: (NPR)

The controversial herbicide Roundup has been accused of causing cancer in humans and now scientists in Texas argue that the world’s most popular weed killer could be partly responsible for killing off bee populations around the world.

A new study by scientists at the University of Texas at Austin posit that glyphosate — the active ingredient in the herbicide — destroys specialized gut bacteria in bees, leaving them more susceptible to infection and death from harmful bacteria.

Researchers Nancy Moran, Erick Motta and Kasie Raymann suggest their findings are evidence that glyphosate might be contributing to colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon that has been wreaking havoc on honey bees and native bees for more than a decade.

They hope their results will convince farmers, landscapers and homeowners to stop spraying glyphosate-based herbicides on flowering plants that are likely to be pollinated by bees.

“We need better guidelines for glyphosate use, especially regarding bee exposure, because right now the guidelines assume bees are not harmed by the herbicide,” Motta, the graduate student who led the research, said according to the university. “Our study shows that’s not true.”

The company that owns Roundup contests the findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.

“No large-scale study has ever found a link between glyphosate and honey bee health issues,” Bayer said in a statement, adding that the new study “does not change that.”

In June, German-based pharmaceutical giant Bayer bought the agriculture behemoth Monsanto, the company that developed Roundup.

Bayer noted the study relied on a small sample of individual bees and that it does not meet regulatory research criteria on pesticides stipulated by international guidelines developed by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development and other international organizations.

Additionally, the company suggested it is “questionable whether the concentrations of the substance tested could at all be absorbed by bee populations in the open over a relevant period of time.”

According to the report in the journal, the researchers focused on honey bees and used “hundreds of adult worker bees from a single hive” and treated them with varying levels of glyphosate.

“Native bumble bees have microbiomes similar to honey bees, so Moran said it’s likely that they would be affected by glyphosate in a similar way,” notes a release from the University of Texas at Austin.

Rice University Says Their Middle-Class And Low-Income Students Won’t Have To Pay Tuition

Rice University Says Middle-Class And Low-Income Students Won’t Have To Pay Tuition

Source: (NPR)

Rice University is “dramatically expanding” its financial aid offerings, promising full scholarships to undergrads whose families have incomes under $130,000. The school says it wants to reduce student debt — and make it easier for students from low-income families to attend.

“Talent deserves opportunity,” Rice President David Leebron said while announcing the plan on Tuesday.

The full scholarships are earmarked for students whose families have incomes between $65,000 and $130,000. Below that level, the university will not only cover tuition but also provide grants to cover students’ room and board, along with any other fees.

Another part of the program will help students whose family income surpasses the maximum: If their family’s income is between $130,000 and $200,000, they can still get grants covering at least half of their tuition.

The change reconnects Rice to a key part of its legacy, Leebron said. For decades after the school first opened in Houston in 1912, Rice didn’t charge tuition at all. It changed that policy in 1965.

Annual tuition at the university is currently set at $46,600. With room and board added in, the school puts the cost for undergraduates at $61,350 for the 2018-2019 school year — the first time that figure has topped $60,000.

The financial aid will be offered under a plan called the Rice Investment — which the school says is aimed at cutting the burdens of student debt. Under the new system, students who qualify “will no longer be required to take out loans as part of their need-based financial aid packages,” the school said.

The new program will take effect in the fall of 2019. At that point, all of the school’s undergraduate students will be able to seek the enhanced aid packages.

About 4,000 undergraduate students enrolled at Rice University in fall 2017, the school’s Office of the Registrar says.

Rice is announcing the changes to its aid plan two years after its finances — and particularly its large endowment of more than $5.5 billion — became headline news. The school was among a group of wealthy universities that drew scrutiny from federal lawmakers for announcing plans to raise tuition in 2016.

In response, Rice said it used the endowment to cover around 40 percent of its operating costs. Officials also said the fund “covers more than 90 percent of their financial aid program,” as Houston Chronicle reporter Benjamin Wermund told Houston Public Media.

Since then, the school’s endowment has continued to thrive — and Leebron cited the fund’s strong returns as one reason it is now able to make Rice more affordable to lower-income and middle-class families.

While Rice plans to phase out many loans under the plan, it adds, “Students will still be expected to contribute toward the cost of attendance through moderate earnings from summer and academic year jobs.”

Among four-year public universities in Texas, the average tuition in 2018 was $8,091. For private universities, the average price was $28,880, according to the Texas Higher Education Almanac.

Florida Democratic Congressional Candidate Dies Unexpectedly

Florida Democratic Congressional Candidate Dies Unexpectedly

Freeman, 54, had been running in the state’s 17th Congressional District

April Freeman, the Democratic candidate in Florida’s 17th Congressional District, died unexpectedly on Sunday, her husband announced on Facebook.

“It’s with great sadness that I feel I must inform all of you that my beloved wife April passed away suddenly last night,” David Freeman wrote on the social media site on Monday. “To all of her family and friends here on Facebook, my heart aches with you.”

He later told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that his 54-year-old wife had apparently suffered a heart attack. “That’s all I know right now,” he told the paper.

April Freeman, a film producer and graduate of the Women’s Campaign School at Yale, was running against Republican state Sen. Greg Steube for the 17th District seat being vacated by retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney.

President Donald Trump won the sprawling district, which touches portions of nine counties including Sarasota, Charlotte and Polk, by a margin of 27 percentage points in 2016.

In a Monday statement mourning Freeman’s death, Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Terrie Rizzo said the mother of two children had “put her heart and soul into her community ― and was dedicated to making a better future for all Floridians.”

“Just last night she was in the office, making calls and working to get out the vote,” Rizzo added. “Her work ethic and passion was an inspiration to all of us. It is a tremendous loss to the Democratic Party and to all who knew her.”

According to the Florida Department of State, Freeman’s name will remain on the November ballot, but the state’s Democratic Party “will have the opportunity to designate a nominee to fill the vacancy,” a department spokeswoman told CNN.

“The ballot’s already printed so essentially a vote for April Freeman will be for whoever the nominee ends up being,” Ron Turner, Sarasota County’s supervisor of elections, told the Herald-Tribune. – ( Huffpost )

Amnesty International wants Kavanaugh vetting process halted over alleged role in post-9/11 torture

The US branch of Amnesty International has dived into the heated debate on whether US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is morally fit for the office, calling for his role in the post-9/11 torture program to be highlighted. – Source: RT

In a letter to Senators penned on Monday, Amnesty argues that Kavanaugh’s vetting on the subject of human rights “has been insufficient and calls for the vote on his nomination for Supreme Court of the United States to be further postponed” unless the Trump administration promptly moves forward with disclosing all the data related to Kavanaugh’s role in the post-9/11 crackdown, namely, his alleged complicity in the CIA’s notorious torture program.

Explaining its foray into the hottest issue currently raging in US politics, Amnesty insists that it typically does not intervene into the appointment of government officials, except in cases when “they are reasonably suspected of crimes under international law and could use their appointment…to ether prevent accountability to these crimes or to continue perpetration.”

Kavanaugh served in the White House Counsel’s office under the Bush administration and, in the three years from 2003 to 2006, was Bush’s staff secretary. Democrats have lodged several requests to the National Archives to obtain documents relating to Kavanaugh’s work as staff secretary, all of which have been rebuffed.

In July, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) greenlighted the request for the documents from Kavanaugh’s time as counsel, but refused to allow disclosure of the documents from his time as staff secretary. Republicans argue that, while Kavanaugh’s tenure as a counsel might be relevant in terms of his judicial thought, his time as staff secretary is not, as he was tasked mainly with keeping workflow running and not with presenting his own legal opinion to the president.

In its letter, Amnesty cited one of the requests filed on August 16 by a group of Democratic lawmakers, seeking to declassify some of the documents. The letter, cited by Amnesty, claims that “at least two documents that are publicly available on the Bush Library website from Judge Kavanaugh’s time as Staff Secretary suggest that he was involved in issues related to torture and rendition after 9/11.”

The human rights group has also highlighted numerous other allegations against Kavanaugh, noting that it is “deeply concerned over Brett Kavanaugh’s record on a range of other human rights issues,” such as his stance on abortion, women’s rights, LGBTI rights, refugee rights and environmental issues.

Specifically mentioning the allegations of sexual misconduct, so far brought forward against Kavanaugh by two women, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez, Amnesty argued for a “thorough vetting.” 

Kavanaugh has vehemently denied all the accusations against him. In an interview with Fox News on Monday he said that he “never sexually assaulted anyone, not in high school, not ever,” when responding to the claims by Ford, who says that he attempted to rape her at a high school party in 1982.

It has not been the first time Amnesty has waded into big politics, seemingly on the side of Democrats, calling to obstruct US President Donald Trump’s nominees. Ahead of Gina Haspel’s confirmation as a CIA Director in May, Amnesty called on the Senate to vote her candidature down, citing her alleged role in the CIA’s program of torture and abuse of prisoners at the intelligence agency’s clandestine ‘black sites.’

However, the stern opposition did not prevent Haspel from being confirmed as the CIA’s first female director.

Trumpism Is Fueled by One Thing: Fear. 12,800 Kids Are Paying a Terrible Price

Trumpism Is Fueled by One Thing: Fear. 12,800 Kids Are Paying a Terrible Price

Source:Common Dreams

It seemed like a typical Tuesday morning last month when Juan Esquivel noticed a helicopter hovering over the East Texas trailer-parts factory where the Mexican native had worked for much of his 23 years in the United States — doing a hard manufacturing job that few Americans are lining up to do, paying taxes to the federal government and building a middle-class life for his wife and two kids in a quiet community called Honey Grove.

Esquivel’s wife was cooking tostados for that night when — as recounted recently by Emily Foxhall in the Houston Chronicle — she got the first text message from her husband at 10:27 a.m., in Spanish: “Immigration is here.”

The second text came at 12:20: “They have us.”

The Aug. 28 raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — ICE — against the Load Trail factory near Paris, Texas, was the largest workplace immigration raid by federal agents in the last decade, with Esquivel one of 159 workers ultimately detained that morning. Yet in Donald Trump’s America, where a holy war against undocumented immigration has become a fact of life, and where the latest assault has to compete for airtime against nonstop scandal and sordid tweets, the story wasn’t even a blip. But the echoes continue in a working-class community that locals describe as “quaint” but where many residents are now afraid to leave their house.

We’ve grown far too comfortably numb to the defining feature of Trump’s presidency, some 20 months in.

Fear itself.

If you have any doubt that America in 2018 is ruled by this one simple four-letter word, stop in your local bookstore (if you still have one) and pick up a copy of Bob Woodward’s new book, the fastest selling U.S. tome of the last several years. There were a lot of things that the famed Watergate journalist could have called his chronicle of chaos and dysfunction inside the White House — “Crazytown” is certainly a fitting contribution to our political discourse — but in the end he went simply with Fear, with the president bathed in a loud shade of fire engine red.

Maybe the reason that Trump’s presidency still seems so jarring after all these months is that — while,  for the most part, the 43 men (Cleveland twice) who came before him sought on one level or another to soothe and reassure the sometimes fragile American psyche — Trump and his worst minions like deportation-whisperer Stephen Miller wake up every day thinking up new ways to inflame what FDR famously described as “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Fear isn’t a bug in this presidency. It’s a feature.

Trumpism only works with fear as its lubricant, and it hits everybody in one way or the other. For the 60 percent who disapprove of Trump in the Oval Office — most of them strongly — there is fear for the future of American democracy, and of what a man who built his racist, xenophobic and misogynistic presidency on a bed of 5,000 lies might do tomorrow. That’s bad, but it’s nothing like the fear felt by those at Ground Zero of his hate-based policies — the hardworking, taxpaying moms and dads of communities like Honey Grove, Texas, terrified of a knock on the door or a chopper overhead.

But don’t forget the flip side of this grim equation: Trump can’t govern, stave off impeachment in 2019 or even dream of reelection in 2020 without whipping up fear among his own supporters — elevating a tiny platoon of rock-throwing Antifa into a large scary army, portraying any new progressive as the next Maduro, and, most importantly, keeping his angry base inflamed against The Other, whether that means blasting football players protesting police brutality or lying about crime rates among undocumented immigrants. After a year and eight months, fear is Trump’s only card.

Just this weekend, it was reported that Trump’s 2016 strategist, Steve Bannon, is back with a new documentary targeting midterm voters called Trump@War that “features scenes of the president’s supporters being punched, kicked, and clubbed by anti-Trump protesters” — which dovetails perfectly with both Trump and his surrogates at Fox News warning of “left-wing violence” if the GOP sustains heavy losses in November.

Why? Wrote Bloomberg Businessweek: “Bannon says the bloody images of Trump supporters being attacked are a necessary motivator because voters have responded to Republican efforts to tout their tax cut and raise alarm that Democrats could impeach the president with a yawn.”

It’s almost breathtaking to ponder what a change this style of “leadership” is for America. Not only did Franklin Roosevelt understand that convincing Americans not to be afraid was critical to beating back the Great Depression, but in 1941 — the last time that fascism was on the march worldwide — FDR made “freedom from fear” a pillar of his famous Four Freedoms speech. Future presidents would get this. Bill Clinton won two terms because — despite his many flaws — he felt your pain. Now Trump is here to inflict it.

And immigrant communities are where that rubber meets the road. Last week it came out that Trump’s Department of Homeland Security had, with little fanfare, used budgetary machinations to move about $200 million away from agencies that largely help people in moments of great need — like hurricane-responding FEMA ($9.8 million) and the Coast Guard ($29 million) — and over to ICE for its rapidly expanding project of creating an American gulag of detention centers. You can argue that $200 million is a drop in the bucket of our massive federal budget, but a budget is a statement of political priorities, and Trump’s priorities are less help and more terror.

Indeed, the list of the fearful keeps expanding — not just migrants who are here without documentation, but desperate refugees who are being turned away in record numbers, naturalized citizens who are being told their cases may be reopened, and — most recently — as many as 350,000 people who were once told their immigration cases were closed and now Team Trump suddenly wants to deport.

But the most unconscionable situation is the thousands of migrant youths that the U.S. government currently has locked up in its rapidly expanding archipelago of detention centers — tents rapidly erected in the arid desert or other substandard facilities rife with abuse. This was a big national story two months ago — kids in cages, some forcibly separated from their moms or dads at the southern border — but now the outrage had faded as new, outlandish acts by Team Trump pile up.

We need to remain outraged. We should be outraged that, failing miserably to comply with an order from a federal judge, the Trump administration has still not reunited parents with more than 200 detained kids — children who are likely to be traumatized for the rest of their lives. We should be outraged that Team Trump is fighting aggressively in court — even after all the bad publicity over family separations — for the ability to keep kids in cages and tents indefinitely. And now we should be outraged that the number of migrant children in custody has quintupled in one year under Trump.

Buried under the flood of other news, from Hurricane Florence to Hurricane Manafort, the New York Times reported last week that the number of youths that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is holding in custody soared from 2,400 in May 2017 to 12,800 kids a year later — trapped in an already flawed system that is now collapsing from the strain. That’s a shocking increase, and only some of it is fueled by stepped-up border enforcement, including separating families.

The biggest problem, the Times reported, is that immigrant families who’ve sponsored these kids — usually family members or others from their close-knit community — have stopped stepping forward to bring these kids into stable homes where they can go to school and live in a loving environment, without fear. And the reason sponsors aren’t coming forward is that they’e afraid of ICE looking into their immigration status, or at the status of their loved ones. Again, that’s a feature, not a bug. In June, the Trump administration began demanding fingerprints not just from sponsors but others in their household.

Team Trump would rather keep these kids in tent cities in the 100-plus-degree desert — the one in Tornillo, Texas, is being tripled in size — rather than place them in homes, and taxpayers like you and me are footing the bill. This is immoral. These children are pawns in a cynical political game to keep an authoritarian president in power, and they’re not the only victims living in fear. In American communities from Honey Grove to Philadelphia’s Hunting Park, law-abiding residents are afraid to turn in criminals. And women are afraid to report the men who are beating them. Is this reign of terror really the America we want to be?

This is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. With special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe closing in and with Democrats rising in the polls, Trump will keep turning up the dial on racism, xenophobia and unvarnished hate in desperation to hold his troops together and save his presidency. Will the rest of us have the courage to stand up to Trump’s unreasoned, unjustified fear?

Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9” Aims at Those Who Created the Conditions That Led to Trump

“Fahrenheit 11/9,” the title of Michael Moore’s new film that opens today in theaters, is an obvious play on the title of his wildly profitable Bush-era “Fahrenheit 9/11,” but also a reference to the date of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 election victory. Despite that, Trump himself is a secondary figure in Moore’s film, which is far more focused on the far more relevant and interesting questions of what – and, critically, who – created the climate in which someone like Trump could occupy the Oval Office.For that reason alone, Moore’s film is highly worthwhile regardless of where one falls on the political spectrum. The single most significant defect in U.S. political discourse is the monomaniacal focus on Trump himself, as though he is the cause – rather than the by-product and symptom – of decades-old systemic American pathologies.

Personalizing and isolating Trump as the principal, even singular, source of political evil is obfuscating and thus deceitful. By effect, if not design, it distracts the population’s attention away from the actual architects of their plight.

This now-dominant framework misleads people into the nationalistic myth – at once both frightening and comforting – that prior to 2016’s “Fahrenheit 11/9,” the U.S., though quite imperfect and saddled with “flaws,” was nonetheless a fundamentally kind, benevolent, equitable and healthy democracy, one which, by aspiration if not always in action, welcomed immigrants, embraced diversity, strove for greater economic equality, sought to defend human rights against assaults by the world’s tyrants, was governed by the sturdy rule of law rather than the arbitrary whims of rulers, elected fundamentally decent even if ideologically misguided men to the White House, and gradually expanded rather than sadistically abolished opportunity for the world’s neediest.

But suddenly, teaches this fairy tale as ominous music plays in the background, a villain unlike any we had previously known invaded our idyllic land, vandalized our sacred public spaces, degraded our admired halls of power, threatened our collective values. It was only upon Trump’s assumption of power that the nation’s noble aspirations were repudiated in favor of a far darker and more sinister vision, one wholly alien to “Who We Are”: a profoundly “un-American” tapestry of plutocracy, kleptocracy, autocracy, xenophobia, racism, elite lawlessness, indifference and even aggressive cruelty toward the most vulnerable and marginalized.

This myth is not just false but self-evidently so. Yet it persists, and thrives, because it serves so many powerful interests at once. Most importantly, it exonerates, empowers, and elevates the pre-Trump ruling class, now recast as heroic leaders of the #Resistance and nostalgic symbols of America’s pre-11/9 Goodness.

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Screenshot: The Intercept

The lie-fueled destruction of Vietnam and Iraq, the worldwide torture regime, the 2008 financial collapse and subsequent bailout and protection of those responsible for it, the foreign kidnapping and domestic rounding up of Muslims, the record-setting Obama-era deportations and whistleblower prosecutions, the obliteration of Yemen and Libya, the embrace of Mubarak, Sisi, and Saudi despots, the years of bipartisan subservience to Wall Street at everyone else’s expense, the full-scale immunity vested on all the elites responsible for all those crimes – it’s all blissfully washed away as we unite to commemorate the core decency of America as George Bush gently hands a piece of candy to Michelle Obama at the funeral of the American War Hero and Trump-opponent-in-words John S. McCain, or as hundreds of thousands of us re-tweet the latest bromide of Americana from the leaders of America’s most insidious security state, spy and police agencies.

Beyond nationalistic myth-building, there are substantial commercial, political and reputational benefits to this Trump-centered mythology. An obsessive fixation on Trump has single-handedly saved an entire partisan cable news network from extinction, converting its once ratings-starved, close-to-being-fired prime-time hosts into major celebrities with contracts so obscenely lucrative as to produce envy among most professional athletes or Hollywood stars.

Resistance grifters exploit fears of Trump to build massive social media followings that are easily converted into profit from well-meaning, manipulated dupes. One rickety, unhinged, rant-filled, speculation-driven Trump book after the next dominates the best-seller lists, enriching charlatans and publishing companies alike: the more conspiratorial, the better. Anti-Trump mania is big business, and – as the record-shattering first-week sales of Bob Woodward’s new Trump book demonstrates – there is no end in sight to this profiteering.

All of this is historical revisionism in its crudest and most malevolent form. It’s intended to heap most if not all blame for systemic, enduring, entrenched suffering across the country onto a single personality who wielded no political power until 18 months ago. In doing so, it averts everyone’s eyes away from the real culprits: the governors, both titled and untitled, of the establishment ruling class, who for decades have exercised largely unchecked power – immune even from election outcomes – and, in many senses, still do.

The message is as clear as the beneficial outcomes: Just look only at Trump. Keep your eyes fixated on him. Direct all your suffering, deprivations, fears, resentments, anger and energy to him and him alone. By doing so, you’ll forget about us – except that we’ll join you in your Trump-centered crusade, even lead you in it, and you will learn again to love us: the real authors of your misery.

The overriding value of “Fahrenheit 11/9″ is that it avoids – in fact, aggressively rejects – this ahistorical manipulation. Moore dutifully devotes a few minutes at the start of his film to Trump’s rise, and then asks the question that dominates the rest of it, the one the political and media establishment has steadfastly avoided examining except in the most superficial and self-protective ways: “how the fuck did this happen”?

Knowing that no political work can be commercially successful on a large-scale without affirming Resistance clichés, Moore dutifully complies, but only with the most cursory and fleeting gestures: literally 5 seconds in the film are devoted to assigning  blame for Hillary’s loss to Putin and Comey. With that duty discharged, he sets his sights on his real targets: the U.S. political establishment that is ensconced within both parties, along with the financial elites who own and control both of them for their own ends.

Moore quickly escapes the dreary and misleading “Democrat v. GOP” framework that dominates cable news by trumpeting “the largest political party in America”: those who refuse to vote. He uses this powerful graphic to tell that story:

It’s remarkable how little attention is paid to non-voters given that, as Moore rightly notes, they form America’s largest political faction. Part of why they’re ignored is moralism: those who don’t vote deserve no attention as they have only themselves to blame.

But the much most consequential factor is the danger for both parties from delving too deeply into this subject. After all, voter apathy arises when people conclude that their votes don’t change their lives, that election outcomes improve nothing, that the small amount of time spent waiting in line at a voting booth isn’t worth the effort because of how inconsequential it is. What greater indictment of the two political parties can one imagine than that?

One of the most illuminating pieces of reporting about the 2016 election is also, not coincidentally, one of the most ignored: interviews by the New York Times with white and African-American working-class voters in Milwaukee who refused to vote and – even knowing that Trump won Wisconsin, and thus the presidency, largely because of their decision – don’t regret it. “Milwaukee is tired. Both of them were terrible. They never do anything for us anyway,” the article quotes an African-American barber, justifying his decision not to vote in 2016 after voting twice for Obama.

Moore develops the same point, even more powerfully, about his home state of Michigan, which – like Wisconsin – Trump also won after Obama won it twice. In one of the most powerful and devastating passages from the film – indeed, of any political documentary seen in quite some time – “Fahrenheit 11/9″ takes us in real-time through the indescribably shameful water crisis of Flint, the criminal cover-up of it by GOP Governor Rick Snyder, and the physical and emotional suffering endured by its poor, voiceless, and overwhelmingly black residents.

After many months of abuse, of being lied to, of being poisoned, Flint residents, in May, 2016, finally had a cause for hope: President Obama announced that he would visit Flint to address the water crisis. As Air Force One majestically lands, Flint residents rejoice, believing that genuine concern, political salvation, and drinkable water had finally arrived.

Exactly the opposite happened. Obama delivered a speech in which he not only appeared to minimize, but to mock, concerns of Flint residents over the lead levels in their water, capped off by a grotesquely cynical political stunt where he flamboyantly insisted on having a glass of filtered tap water that he then pretended to drink, but in fact only used to wet his lips, ingesting none of it.

President Barack Obama drinks water as he speaks at Flint Northwestern High School in Flint, Mich., Wednesday, May 4, 2016, about the ongoing water crisis. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President Barack Obama appears to drink water as he speaks at Flint Northwestern High School in Flint, Mich., Wednesday, May 4, 2016, about the ongoing water crisis.

Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP

A friendly meeting with Gov. Snyder after that – during which Obama repeated the same water stunt – provided the GOP state administration in Michigan with ample Obama quotes to exploit to prove the problem was fixed, and for Flint residents, it was the final insult. “When President Obama came here,” an African-American community leader in Flint tells Moore, “he was my President. When he left, he wasn’t.”

Like the unregretful non-voters of Milwaukee, the collapsed hope Obama left in his wake as he departed Flint becomes a key metaphor in Moore’s hands for understanding Trump’s rise. Moore suggests to John Podesta, who seems to agree, that Hillary lost Michigan because, as in Wisconsin, voters, in part after seeing what Obama did in Flint, concluded it was no longer worth voting. As Moore narrates:

The autocrat, the strongman, only succeeds when the vast majority of the population decides they’ve seen enough, and give up. .  . . . The worst thing that President Obama did was pave the way for Donald Trump. Because Donald Trump did not just fall from the sky. The road to him was decades in the making.

The long, painful, extraordinarily compelling journey through Flint is accompanied by an equally illuminating immersion in West Virginia, one that brings into further vivid clarity the misery, deprivation, and repression that drove so many people – for good reason – away from the political establishment and into the arms of anyone promising to destroy it: from the 2008 version of Obama to Bernie Sanders to Jill Stein to Donald Trump to abstaining entirely from voting.

We meet the teachers who led the inspiring state-wide strike, some of whom are paid so little that they are on food stamps. We hear how their own union leaders tried (and failed) first to prevent the strike, then prematurely tried (and failed) to end it with trivial concessions.

We meet Richard Ojeda, an Iraq and Afghanistan War veteran, Democratic State Senator, and current Congressional candidate, who tells Moore: “Our town is dying. One out of every four homes is in a dilapidated state . . . . I can take you five minutes from here and show you where our kids have it worse than the kids I saw in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Needless to say, all of that began and took root long before Donald Trump descended the Trump Tower escalator in 2015.

To Moore’s credit, virtually no powerful U.S. factions escape indictment in “Fahrenheit 11/9.” The villains of Flint and West Virginia are two Republican governors. But their accomplices, every step of the way, are Democrats. This, Moore ultimately argues, is precisely why people had lost faith in the ability of elections generally, and the Democratic Party specifically, to improve their lives.

And in stark and impressive contrast to the endless intra-Democrat war over the primacy of race versus class, Moore adeptly demonstrates that the overwhelmingly African-American population of Flint and the largely white impoverished West Virginians have far more in common than they have differences: from the methods of their repression to those responsible for it. “Fahrenheit 11/9″ does not shy away from, but unflinchingly confronts, the questions of race and class in America and ultimately concludes – and proves – that they are inextricably intertwined, that a discussion of (and solution to) one is impossible without a discussion of (and solution to) the other.

No examination of voter apathy and the perceived irrelevance of elections would be complete without an ample study of the 2016 Democratic Party primary process that led to Hillary Clinton’s ultimately doomed nomination. And this is another area where Moore excels. Focusing on one little-known but amazing fact – that Bernie Sanders won all 55 counties over Clinton in the West Virginia primary, beating her by 16 points in a state where she crushed Obama in 2008, yet, at the Democratic Convention, somehow ended up with fewer delegates than she received – Moore interviews a Sanders supporter in West Virginia about the message this bizarre discrepancy sent.

Moore asks: “This just tells people to stay home?” The voter replies: “I think so.” Moore offers his own conclusion through narration: “When the people are continually told that their vote doesn’t count, that it doesn’t matter, and they end up believing that, the loss of faith in our democracy becomes our deathknell.”

With all of this harrowing and depressing evidence compiled, it becomes easier and easier to understand why Americans are either receptive to anyone vowing to dismantle rather than uphold the system they have rightly come to despise, or just abstain altogether. And it becomes even easier to understand why the guardians of that system view Trump as the most valuable weapon they could have ever imagined wielding: one that allows them to direct everyone’s attention away from the systemic damage they have wrought for decades.

Broadly speaking, there are three kinds of political films. There are those whose filmmaker fully shares your political outlook, mentality and ideology, and thus produces a film that, in each scene, validates and strengthens your views. There are those by filmmakers whose politics are so anathema to yours that you find no value in the film and are only repelled by it. Then there are those that do a combination of all those things, causing you to love parts, hate other parts, and feel unsure about the rest.

Without doubt, “Fahrenheit 11/9″ falls into the latter category. It’s literally impossible to imagine someone who would love, or hate, all of the scenes and messages of this film.

Indeed, for all the praise I just heaped on it, there were several parts I found banal, meandering, misguided and, in one case, downright loathsome: a lurid, pointless, reckless, and deeply offensive digression into the long-standing, adolescent #Resistance theme that Trump wants to have sex with, if he has not in fact already had sex with, his own daughter, Ivanka. What makes the inclusion of this trash all the more tragic is that it comes very near the beginning of the film, and thus will almost certainly repel – for good reasons – large numbers of people, including more reluctant and open-minded Trump supporters, who would be otherwise quite receptive to the important parts of the film that constitute its crux.

Then there is the last 20 minutes, devoted to a direct comparison between Trump and Hitler. I am not someone who opposes the use of Nazism as a window for understanding contemporary political developments. To the contrary, I’ve written previously about how anti-intellectual and dangerous is the now-standard internet decree (inaccurately referred to as Godwin’s Law) that Nazi comparisons are and should be off-limits.

As the Nuremberg prosecutors (one of whom appears in the film) themselves pointed out during the post-war trial of Nazis: those tribunals were not primarily about punishing war criminals but about establishing principles to prevent future occurrences. There are real and substantive lessons to be drawn from the rise of Hitler when it comes to understanding the ascension of contemporary global movements of authoritarianism, and this last part of “Fahrenheit 11/9″ features some of those in a reasonably responsible and informative manner.

Ultimately, though, this last part of the film is marred by cheap and manipulative stunts, the worst of which is combining video of a Hitler speech overlaid with audio of a Trump speech, with no real effort made to justify this equation. Comparing any political figure to someone who oversaw the genocide of millions of human beings requires great care, sensitivity, and intellectual sophistication, and there is sadly little of that in Moore’s invocation (which at times feels like exploitation) of Nazism.

There are, without doubt, people who will most love the exact parts of the film I most disliked. And those same people will likely hate many of the parts I found most compelling. But that’s precisely why Moore’s film is so worth your time no matter your ideology, so worth enduring even the parts that you will find disagreeable or even infuriating.

Because – in contrast to the endless armies of cable news hosts, Twitter pundits, #Resistance grifters, and party operatives, all of whom are vested due to self-interest in perpetuating the same deceitful, simple-minded and obfuscating narrative – Moore, for most of this film, is at least trying. And what he’s trying is of unparalleled importance: not to take the cheap route of exclusively denouncing Trump but to take the more complicated, challenging, and productive route of understanding who and what created the climate in which Trump could thrive.

Embedded in the instruction of those who want to you focus exclusively on Trump is an insidious and toxic message: namely, removing Trump will cure, or at least mitigate, the acute threats he poses. That is a fraud, and Moore knows it. Unless and until the roots of these pathologies are identified and addressed, we are certain to have more Trumps: in fact, more effective and more dangerous Trumps, along with more potent Dutertes, and more Brexits, and more Bolsonaros and more LePens.

Moore could have easily made a film that just channeled and fueled standard anti-Trump fears and animus and – like the others who are doing that – made lots of money, been widely hailed, and won lots of accolades. He chose instead to dig deeper, to be more honest, to take the harder route, and deserves real credit for that.

He did that, it seems clear, because he knows that the only way to move forward is not just to reject right-wing demagoguery but also the sham that masquerades as its #Resistance. As Moore himself put it: “sometimes it takes a Donald Trump to get us to realize that we have to get rid of the whole rotten system that gave us Trump.”

That’s exactly the truth that the guardians of that “whole rotten system” want most to conceal. Moore’s film is devoted, at its core, to unearthing it. That’s why, despite its flaws, some of them serious ones, the film deserves wide attention and discussion among everyone across the political spectrum.

 

Electronic Frontier Foundation sues Department of Justice Demanding Answers From National Security Agency

FISC Orders on Illegal Government Surveillance

Source: EFF

The FISA Amendments Act (FAA) of 2008 gave the NSA expansive power to spy on Americans’ international email and telephone calls. However, last month, a government lawyer publicly disclosed that the NSA’s surveillance had gone even further than what the law permits, with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) issuing at least one ruling calling the NSA’s actions unconstitutional. The government further disclosed that the FISC had determined the government’s surveillance violated the spirit of the law on at least one occasion, as well. EFF’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit seeks disclosure of any written opinions or orders from FISC discussing illegal government surveillance, as well as any briefings to Congress about those violations.