Flint, America, and environmental racism

Editor’s Note: This older post, since unpublished, comes from my my radical friend, only calling himself Sir Moneypants. Still a good post, regardless. Put here as something for further discussion.

Flint, Michigan has been in the news due to the poisoning of the population by a toxic water supply. I haven’t followed this story as much as others, so I read a recent six-page article in Time magazine by Josh Sanburn (“The Toxic Tap: How A Disastrous Chain of Events Corroded Flint’s Water System–And The Public Trust”) with great interest. This post aims to analyze Sanburn’s article and provides a critical perspective about the recent events in Flint.

Sanburn’s article 

The article starts with the story of a 37-year-old mother, Melissa Mays, who was poisoned by toxic water, and that she wasn’t alone. Sanburn writes that since April 2014, when Flint began drawing its water from the local Flint River instead of from Lake Huron by buying it from Detroit, “residents in this ailing industrial city began complaining of burning skin, hand tremors, hair loss, [and] even seizures.” Despite this, the article notes that for almost 19 months, Flint River water corroded the city’s old pipes and leached lead into the water but Flint’s mayor and a spokesperson for the top environmental regulator said that people should relax about the water. If that wasn’t enough, the city’s unelected emergency manager who was appointed by the state’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, overruled a vote to return the city to Detroit’s supply of water (he later resigned from his position “as emergency manager of the Detroit Public Schools”). Since September 2015, when researchers in Flint reported the effects of lead contamination in the blood of children, officials began to acknowledge the scope of the crisis, presidential candidates from the Democratic and Republican parties have weighed in, along with President Obama, and “the wheels of government…creaked into action.” Sanburn also noted that despite the sudden spotlight on Flint has “done little to offset more than a year’s worth of neglect” and that the government failed in its job, in Sanburn’s view, for two reasons: (1) “a disastrous combination of bad policy, shortsighted decisions and bureaucratic malfeasance” and (2) in the view of local residents, their differing political views (mostly Democrat-voting), socioeconomic position (low-income), and race (mostly black), was why the governor and governor-appointed emergency managers didn’t care about them.

Sanburn’s short article goes on to make a number of other observations about Flint. He notes that the idea of the “American Dream” has disappeared in a once thriving city where General Motors (GM) and the United Auto Workers union started, with the latter jump-starting “the modern labor union in the U.S.” In Sanburn’s matter-of-factly reflection, “as automobile-manufacturing jobs moved overseas,” Flint began its decline with better-off families escaping for the suburbs and the tax base hollowed out (giving it $15 billion in debt), giving the governor the justification he needed to appoint emergency managers. The article also noted that after Detroit raised rates for municipalities using their water, Flint’s city council voted to build a pipeline directly to Lake Huron, but, in the mean time, the emergency manager proposed that the city use the local river as a interim source while the pipeline was being built. The decision of the emergency manager, Ed Kurtz, to sign a contract to make this interim source a reality, as Sanburn observed, was subject to “no public referendum or city council vote” but it was welcomed by many local leaders. This jubilee of saving money would be short-lived since the Flint River water wasn’t treated with an inhibitor for corrosion meaning that it picked up toxins from the city’s lead pipes. Even in August 2014, the city’s officials recommended that people boil the water before they use it and, in October, GM announced it wouldn’t use municipal water anymore because it was damaging engine parts.

Sanburn goes on to tell the story of certain people who spoke out about such toxic water. These include a Flint resident Lee-Anne Walters who asked the city to test her tap and went to state agencies, along with the EPA, and a EPA water specialist, Miguel Del Toral who warned that Flint’s water “contained toxic levels of lead because the state had failed to ensure it was properly treated for corrosion.” In response, Walters’s results were dismissed by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) because she used a filter and Toral was dismissed by the same agency as a “rogue employee.” While some officials realized that there were issues at play, even those in the highest levels of government, it was not until researchers found that lead poisoning in Flint neighborhoods had increased that action was taken, including Genesee County issuing a public-health emergency and asking residents to not drink the water.

The rest of the article talks about the results of this toxic poisoning. Sanburn writes that “for almost five years, Flint has been effectively run by a series of unelected officials appointed by the governor” while noting the official response of a task force appointed by the governor and that some think that the DEQ thought that it could run out the clock until Flint was directly connected to Lake Huron. Then there’s a quote from the state’s Governor where he acted like he didn’t know anything, claiming: “I knew there were water issues in Flint. But did I know there were unsafe blood levels? No.” Beyond this, Sanburn, almost sadly, says “earning back the trust of city residents may prove impossible” and that there is an unknown future for certain children, with some families moving to other states in order to minimize their risk. Still, Walters, currently living in Virginia, says in a powerful quote at the end of the article: “We still don’t drink the water. We still have a five-minute shower limit, even in Virginia. I will never again drink water from a water source because we’re told to. Never again.”

A reflection on Sanburn’s article and beyond

While the Time article was interesting and insightful, it easily aligned with a government-blaming approach common in our current neoliberal times. This meant that corporate elites, a.k.a. the capitalist class, weren’t on the hook for engaging in outsourcing of jobs and hollowing out of the American Midwest, such as Michigan, as they should have been. Still, it is evident that there was government malfeasance. However, the article NEVER construes the toxic poisoning of Flint to be environmental racism or environmental racial-classism, to be more exact, even though it notes, almost in passing, that the city is mostly poor and black. Even liberal filmmaker Michael Moore, who was born in Flint, says in a opinion piece, on the same page as the last page of Sanburn’s article, that this is “a racial crime. If it were happening in another country, we’d call it ethnic cleansing.” Moore also argues that the city, after 1980, when General Motors decided to move of its jobs from Flint, to the non-unionized American South and overseas, this began “a three-decade economic and social assault” on Flint.

Celebrity Left personality and famed writer Shaun King has written a number of articles on this subject. In an article written three days ago, he declared that what people are finding on the ground of Flint should “be treated as a national emergency” and that the simple consumer-grade filters on their faucets to reduce lead in the water “are not working.” King also declared that while some are “pledging thousands or even millions of dollars…what we are looking at is a multi-billion dollar problem…[people] are going to need 360-degree support to find their way through this crisis and it seems like they are getting pamphlets and trinkets instead.” King also said that “it could be that the entire water system in Flint is damaged beyond repair,” that people need industrial-grade filters, and that “a new crime is happening every single time someone turns on a faucet. This feels like genocide.” Those are strong words, even for King. However, it seems he is hesitating in calling the poisoning of Flint residents a genocide almost with the tone of “this can’t happen in America!” Article II of the Genocide Convention of 1948 defines genocide as the following:

“…genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article III then says that the following acts shall be punishable:

(a) Genocide;

(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;

(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;

(d) Attempt to commit genocide;

(e) Complicity in genocide.

There is no doubt that the poisoning of the water caused “serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group,” in this case Flint residents, and killed at minimum ten individuals. In a legalistic sense, it could be hard to find the smoking gun and prove that officials committed these acts “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part” the black community of Flint. [1] Still, I’d say these actions are still a form of racial genocide, environmental racial-classism, and criminal behavior.

This brings us to another article by Shaun King in which he declared that a water crisis like this would never happen in a white and wealthy community. King wrote that, according to health experts, exposure to the poisoned water “is likely to cause brain, liver and kidney damage across the population” and that people in Flint are “extremely frustrated” along with being “emblematic of an economic, leadership and public health crisis being faced by the entire state of Michigan.” King then noted that undocumented immigrants in Flint are struggling to get fliers and bottled water that is being handed out and he declared that “this type of prolonged environmental and humanitarian crisis would never happen in the few wealthy white communities left in Michigan.” He also declared that this is “the worst case scenario of what happens when race, class and politics meet the essential public works” and that Michigan residents being denied clean water “isn’t simply an error, it’s criminal.” While this is arguably true, it can’t be seen as “the worst case scenario” as this implies that the events in Flint are the worst scenario for an environmental crisis in the United States that negatively impacts humans and/or non-human animals. A number of environment crises and disasters show King’s conclusion to be incorrect. These crises and disasters, in the United States, other than Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon, include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. The 2008 Kingston Fossil Plant coal fly ash slurry spill: “an ash dike ruptured at an 84-acre (0.34 km2) solid waste containment area at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant inRoane County, Tennessee, USA. 1.1 billion US gallons (4,200,000 m3) of coal fly ashslurry was released…Although the land surrounding the power plant is largely rural rather than residential, the spill caused a mudflow wave of water and ash that covered 12 homes, pushing one entirely off its foundation, rendering three uninhabitable, and caused some damage to 42 residential properties. It also washed out a road, ruptured a major gas line, obstructed a rail line, downed trees, broke a water main, and destroyed power lines…In response to a video that showed dead fish on the Clinch River, which had received runoff from the spill, he [a TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) spokesperson] stated “in terms of toxicity, until an analysis comes in, you can’t call it toxic.”
  2. The 2000 Martin County coal slurry spill: “…the bottom of a coal slurry impoundment owned by Massey Energy in Martin County, Kentucky, USA, broke into an abandoned underground mine below. The slurry came out of the mine openings, sending an estimated 306,000,000 US gallons (1.16×109 l; 255,000,000 imp gal) of slurry down two tributaries of the Tug Fork River. By morning, Wolf Creek was oozing with the black waste; on Coldwater Fork, a 10-foot (3.0 m) wide stream became a 100-yard (91 m) expanse of thick slurry. The spill was over five feet deep in places and covered nearby residents’ yards. The spill polluted hundreds of miles (300 – 500 km) of the Big Sandy River and its tributaries and the Ohio River. The water supply for over 27,000 residents was contaminated, and all aquatic life in Coldwater Fork and Wolf Creek was killed.”
  3. The 1948 Donora smog: “a historic air inversion resulting in a wall of smog that killed 20 people and sickened 7,000 more in Donora, Pennsylvania, a mill town on the Monongahela River, 24 miles (39 km) southeast of Pittsburgh…Many of the illnesses and deaths were initially attributed to asthma. The smog continued until it rained on October 31, by which time 20 residents of Donora had died and approximately a third to one half of the town’s population of 14,000 residents had been sickened. Another 50 residents died of respiratory causes within a month after the incident. Hydrogen fluoride and sulfur dioxide emissions from U.S. Steel’s Donora Zinc Works and its American Steel & Wire plant were frequent occurrences in Donora.”
  4. EPA superfund sites: They “are the nation’s worst toxic waste sites: 1,305 are scheduled for cleanup on the National Priorities List (NPL). About 11 million people in the U.S., including 3-4 million children, live within 1 mile of a federal Superfund site and confront potential public health risks. Scorecard profiles the risks these sites pose to public health and the environment. Scorecard ranks sites by how high they scored in EPA’s Hazard Ranking System, and states and counties by number of Superfund sites.”
  5. Hanford site: “The weapons production reactors were decommissioned at the end of the Cold War, and decades of manufacturing left behind 53 million US gallons (200,000 m3) of high-level radioactive waste stored within 177 storage tanks, an additional 25 million cubic feet (710,000 m3) of solid radioactive waste, and 200 square miles (520 km2) of contaminated groundwater beneath the site… Intermittent discoveries of undocumented contamination have slowed the pace and raised the cost of cleanup. In 2007, the Hanford site represented two-thirds of the nation’s high-level radioactive waste by volume Hanford is currently the most contaminated nuclear site in the United States and is the focus of the nation’s largest environmental cleanup.”

There are a number of others I could mention here (like this, this, and this) but it should be evident that it is silly to say that what happened in Flint was “the worst.” That doesn’t even make sense as a value judgment as it downplays other environmental disasters have negatively effected Americans and the nonhuman world.

Shaun King isn’t the only one to comment on the Flint water poisoning. In the recent Democratic presidential debate, a moderate imperialist who is falsely cast as a socialist, Bernie Sanders, declared that “one wonders if this [Flint] were a white suburban community, what type of response there would have been.” While this is a valid point and is similar to what Killary Clinton mentioned not long ago, it does not take into account class as much as it should. Race and class are both realities that should be taken into consideration when thinking about Flint or any other “bombed-out city,” as some call it, which has been ravaged by the process of deindustrialization.

Reason magazine endorses water privatization

The most far-out response is from Reason magazine, which is published by the Reason Foundation with capitalists as trustees, including none other than David Koch of Koch Industries, and has a libertarian viewpoint by working to, in their own words, “advance a free society by developing, applying, and promoting libertarian principles, including individual liberty, free markets, and the rule of law.” The article in and of itself shouldn’t be a surprise considering that they publish an annual privatization report, which gloats about what parts of United States have been privatized in the past year. Before getting into the article itself, it is important to note that, according to information gathered by the liberal organization Media Matters, the Reason Foundation has received gobs of money from the Koch Foundation, Donors Trust, Dunn’s Foundation for the Advancement of Right Thinking, and the Searle Freedom Trust, among others.

This article, by the Vice President of Policy for the Reason Foundation, Adrian Moore, is titled almost triumphantly with the title “Here’s How to Fix Flint’s Water System: Privatize It” and claims in the subheading that a “privately-run water system is more accountable to the people.” [2] Moore argues that “maybe shame will at last lead state and local officials to look at how to fix the water utility…When things go wrong—as they did in Flint—bad political and management decision are to blame.” This claim highlights part of the reason why articles such as one in the Time magazine, that began this post, are problematic: they play into this narrative. The article claims that “it is clear that state and local officials papered over the crisis as long as they could…officials knowingly chose a more expensive approach widely predicted to experience delays…the utility managers who were supposed to ensure the water coming out of taps was safe, and the state regulators who oversaw them, botched the job.” Even though that is arguably correct, Moore makes the argument that “it is very unlikely any of this could have happened if Flint’s water utility had been private” and then claims that Walmart, Coca Cola, Pepsi, and other companies donating “massive amounts of bottled water to Flint residents” are doing so out of the goodness in their hearts.

If I’ve learned anything from the Simpsons, what Moore is saying is untrue. In one scene from the 2007 Simpsons movie, three people come to meet ruthless capitalist C. Montgomery Burns to use some of his electricity. Dr. Hibbert says that “the hospital’s generator is about to give out. Lives will be lost,” and chief of the police, Wiggum, “We got a convict we were gonna fry tomorrow, but now we can’t,” the latter which Mr. Burns finds “tempting.” Then, the convinence store owner, Apu tells Mr. Burns “look, all our reasons mean nothing. Just look into your heart and you’ll find the answer” which Smithers shows with his hand motions is the wrong answer. As a result, Mr. Burns releases the hounds, which chase them out of his mansion’s ground. You could say that this is a silly Hollywood movie, however, it makes the point that rich people, capitalists to be exact, aren’t going to be doing things out of the goodness of their hearts. There is always a profit motive available, even if Reason claims that the donations by multinational corporations bring up the question of “whether the private sector supplanting government functions is actually a bad thing” rather than companies promoting their product so that people will see them in a positive light and whitewash their exploitation, along with crimes that they have committed in the past.

Moore then goes on to claim in his article that almost 75 million people in the US get water from a private utility and that “most probably don’t even know it.” But I am sure that if those people did now it, they would be pissed. It is also possible that people do know and resist it but Moore doesn’t want this in his article. At one point hilariously Moore cites that Clinton’s Environmental Protection Agency was in favor of privatizing water, despite the fact that Clinton is seen as a nice, happy, liberal by some, and claims that the government’s rules led to a a number of communities privatizing “their water utilities in order to get them into compliance with EPA safe-drinking-water standards.” If that isn’t enough, Moore gives the supposedly successful example of privatized water in Milwaukee, Wisconsin starting in the 1990s. What the author fails to mention is that the water in Milwaukee is NOT privatized at the present despite a proposal by the mayor of the city, Tom Barrett, who ran against unionbuster Scott Walker in 2009, and numerous other forms of opposition (see here, here, and here) by the general population. You’ll never see an article in Reason about the private wastewater company, United Water, literally flushing untreated wastewater into Lake Michigan! Some wackos even think that this privatization isn’t enough and they should go further. Moore also doesn’t mention that after the events in Milwaukee there was a “strong contingent of citizen groups fighting for improved wastewater management.” I doubt any of these groups thought privatization was a great idea.

Even United Water was dropped as the manager of the city’s wastewater in 2007, but strangely the city’s water agency only said that “the District operates two water reclamation facilities through a private contract operator that serve 411 square miles and 1.1 million people in 28 communities” but does not say the name of this operator. A report by the the city’s water authority noted, in 2007, there was the expiration of the contract with United Water and there was a “second ten-year contract…with Veolia Water Milwaukee (VWM) effective March 1, 2008…[to] provide…the District with the lowest cost option to maintain, operate, and manage the District’s water reclamation facilities, collection, and conveyance system.” Another thing Reason won’t mention is that VWM received $320,000 in “three performance bonuses for 2015,” and that it was “paid an extra $1.4 million for services…that were outside the scope of the company’s 10-year contract with the district.” It is worthy to note that next year the city’s water service will decide if to continue this contract or to take charge of the system themselves. Reason will never mention that to their readers.

Moore’s article goes on to argue that the “key difference between public and private water utilities” is oversight, claiming that if Flint’s water utility was private “it would not have been allowed by state regulators to provide toxic water to citizens.” This is just absolutely mindless, a conclusion that no reasonable person could ever come to unless they had neoliberal logic implanted in their head. Who says that private utilities couldn’t do the same thing? With a private utility there is LESS accountability than with a public institution even if that institution is very bureaucratic in its overall nature. Moore then goes on to claim that private utilities “have every incentive to build them [water pipelines] fast and keep costs down” and for a municipal utility “it is a long and painful political process,” which is something that means that such an agency would not be accountable, at least in my view. Moore finally claims that “private utilities are also much more accountable to the customers,” that 90% of “100 communities that have privatized their water system” have kept their privatization, and that “these folks are obviously much happier with their private water utility right now than Flint citizens are with their government-run one.”

All in all, the article is ridiculous. There is NO mention of the city’s emergency manager in the article. Searching on Reason‘s website, there are a few articles that mention the term emergency manager but it is either mentioned in passing, defending the emergency manager from blame (also see herehere, and here) and so on. Now, let us consider what the public interest group, Public Citizen has to say. They note that “cost-cutting by United Water, the U.S. subsidiary of French conglomerate Suez, was blamed for system failure that allowed more than 100 million gallons of raw sewage into Milwaukee area waterways” and that “there are many forms of privatization, ranging from outright ownership of water, the pipes, pumps and other infrastructure to perhaps operating but a single component of a community’s water system under a contract,” the latter of which Reason would even agree with. The report also notes that “officials with Veolia subsidiaries or affiliates have also been convicted in connection with bribes and kickbacks elsewhere” and that “the private water companies have an infamous record of browbeating, undercutting and eliminating employees.” Readers can chuckle and judge the article by Moore itself.

Before finishing this section I think it is appropriate to consider what Moore has also written. These include a defense of for-profit private prisons, laughably calling a proposal to put high-speed rail in California “a little bit too much of a religious kind of project” (criticizing it elsewhere), saying that it makes no sense for transit union workers to go on strike in San Francisco and call for wage increases while implying they are greedy (the video along with this actually is pretty funny at how wacky the responses are), and anti-union statements such as this. There are a number of other articles he’s written, so this is just a sampling, but I mention these articles because it challenges the reader of Moore’s original article to adopt a more critical approach.

A honest conclusion

I could propose a solution to Flint’s water poisoning which was (and is) an act of racial genocide, classist discrimination, and criminal behavior. It is important to reject the politics of neoliberalism which would further ravage Flint, Michigan from its status as a town that was harshly deindustrialized, starting in the 1980s, with measures taken by capitalists of GM and elsewhere who only cared about short-term gains and not the people living in the town itself. People such as Moore in Reason magazine can call for water privatization and others can use articles like the one in Time to call out government bureaucracy, saying that private business will do what the government cannot. Lest us not forget on that neoliberalism in our current world and age has already won. There have been victories against privatization and other neoliberal measures for sure. However, the project as a whole, which began in the 1970s based of the ideas of Fredrich Hayek and numerous others, has been a success despite opposition from the general population. Still, there is room to resist such neoliberalism by rejecting the TPP-TISA-TAFTA nexis, efforts to make water a commodity, patenting of non-human lifeforms such as GMOs, and so on. There is still hope in world that seems at times without hope, dark, and depressing. There is room to fight back.

Putting this into a broader context is important. In terms of responsibility for the poisoning, the government of Flint is less responsible than the Michigan state government which appointed an emergency manager (also see here and here), or little local dictators as they should be called, like in other cities, as part of a Republican initiative .There are even some, such as the staff editor of reason.com, Robby Soave, in an article which calls for “large swaths of the city” of Detroit to be privatized, who disgustingly shrug off the reign of these little dictators by literally saying the following:

“Okay, democracy has been suspended. Meh?…I look forward to the day when neither the state nor the local government has much say over how city affairs are conducted…left-leaning critics of the emergency financial manager law…aren’t too concerned leaving Detroit to rot under the corrupt tutelage of [Detroit’s elected officials who he calls “crime lords”]…as long as precious democracy is maintained (in this case, at least).”

Still, it is not worthy to play the blame game with Michigan Republicans blaming the Obama administration, Bernie and Killary calling for federal rescue measures and possibly having a presidential debate in the city, and Democrats blaming Republicans for the mess. Others say that the EPA is even at fault. There is something deeper. The capitalist class shares some the blame as well as they have let Flint stay its current state, after GM mostly left the town in the 1980s, with measures such as the downgrading of city’s credit rating. There is also the presence of racism and classism in place in Flint with a number of commentators and presidential candidates only noting the latter, but not the former, forgetting that race and class are closely intertwined and inseparable. This is undoubtedly the case with other areas of the country with water poisoning such as towns in New Jersey, south Florida, and Ohio. At the same time, in Flint, there has not been a “crisis of democracy,” a term that some use when social movements are too strong, but there has been a crisis of a lack of democracy. If there is one thing that Flint can do to improve its well-being it is the expansion of democracy in the city with efforts for community control and other actions so people don’t become utterly hopeless. This hopeless nature is likely alleviated more by plumbers installing water filters for free in Flint homes than one measly Red Cross volunteer going to the city. [3] In the end, let us remember what African nationalist and anti-capitalist Kwame Nkrumah wrote in his his book, Neo-Colonialism, The Last Stage of Imperialism, “history furnishes innumerable proofs of one of its own major laws; that the budding future is always stronger than the withering past.”


[1] A recent set of articles revealed that officials knew of the risk that the water would poison residents but they didn’t do anything about it. The Associated Press reported in an article by David Eggert and Ed White (“APNewsBreak:Officials warned of water, Legionnaires’ link”) the following:

“…high-ranking officials in Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration were aware of a surge in Legionnaires’ disease potentially linked to Flint’s water long before the governor reported the increase to the public last month…emails obtained by the liberal group Progress Michigan…show Snyder’s own office was aware of the outbreak since last March…The outbreak was also well known within state agencies, according to emails obtained separately by the AP and other news organizations. Together, the emails offer more evidence that some state officials were dismissive of county health authorities who raised concerns about the safety of the community’s drinking water…Legionnaires’ disease is a pneumonia caused by bacteria in the lungs. People get sick if they inhale mist or vapor from contaminated water systems, hot tubs or cooling systems. There were at least 87 cases across Genesee County during a 17-month period, including nine deaths, but the public was never told about the increase…The back and forth behind the scenes occurred while residents were complaining about poor water quality…The emails reveal tension between the county health department…and the city and state about how to investigate the disease. The emails also show some angst in the Snyder administration over the controversy…Janet Stout is a Pittsburgh microbiologist and expert on Legionnaires’ disease who has researched links between Legionella bacteria and public water supplies. She believes the Flint River caused an increase in Genesee County Legionnaires’ cases…The state said it cannot conclude that the Legionnaires’ surge is related to the water switch, nor can it rule it out, in part because of too few case specimens from patients.”

This was followed up by an article in Reuters the same day by Mary Wisniewski and Ben Klayman (“Michigan emails show officials knew of Flint water disease risk”), noting the following:

“Emails between high-ranking Michigan state officials show they knew about an uptick in Legionnaires’ disease and it could be linked to problems with Flint water long before Governor Rick Snyder said he got information on the outbreak…Emails obtained by the group show Snyder’s principal aide, Harvey Hollins, was made aware of the outbreak and a possible link to the use of Flint River water last March…State officials on Jan. 13 announced the spike in the disease resulting in 10 deaths possibly linked to the water crisis…Flint, a city near Detroit, was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager when it switched the source of its tap water from Detroit’s system to the Flint River in April 2014. The city switched back last October after tests found high levels of lead in children’s blood samples. The more corrosive water from the river leached more lead from the city pipes than Detroit water did.”

These articles seem to indicate that there was intent in giving the water to residents, hence making it a form of racial genocide. Still, even if it turns out that such intent did not exist, there is no doubt that this poisoning is a racist and classist crime.

[2] In a recent Democracy Now! show, one of the hosts, Juan Gonzalez noted that in terms of policy “…talk about the privatization efforts that have been occurring,” so countering this push for privatization is vital.

[3] The article about the Red Cross notes that “the local chapter of the American Red Cross is deploying a volunteer for ONLY two weeks to help local residents in Flint, Michigan who have been dealing with a water crisis,” a volunteer who will “join a team of volunteers from the American Red Cross to help distribute fresh water and other supplies at various resource sites with government partners,” the same sites where the government was asking people for IDs with water which is not surprisingly making undocumented immigrants afraid to ask for water. Nice move, Red Cross. Not. Even if one thought this was fine, the fact he is only staying for two weeks makes him almost like Deray since 2013, never staying in one place, going from one flashpoint of action to another on his magical money, apparently his own, from who knows where. Beyond this, the fact the town has over 99,000 people according to Census estimates and the American Red Cross only sends ONE volunteer shows how their organization is a load of crap. Seriously, they can only send one person. Gosh, that’s just utterly pathetic and sad.


In response to this post, some say I was “spitting fire,” and VNGiapaganda gave the best praise, saying “great left critique of media perspectives on Flint’s racist,murderous water crisis, esp if u haven’t been keeping up.” The best challenge was a tweet from B. A. Drugge (@bdrugge) about the toxic poisoning in Flint, saying “it’s actually more #environmentalclassism than the former,” with the former referring to environmental racism. I admitted that I hadn’t “heard that term before” but that “maybe its just best to say there’s environmental racism and environmental classism.” @bdrugge replied that “that was implied in my comment. Great write-up. Thanks for keeping on top of this,” a comment which I appreciate. As this hashtag shows, there are people who have used the term environmental classism. In a broad global sense this could definitely be used since it sometimes requires more digging if one id not familiar with the ins and outs of a culture to know what the “races” are. Still, in the US context it may be best to call it environmental racial-classism or just ethnic classism for short. That way it is clear that race and class are intertwined in the way that the term is used automatically. Or perhaps one could use the term “racial caste” which has been used by Michelle Alexander in The New Jim Crow, by Peter Levy in Civil War on Race Street, which is disliked by some, but is overall a term used by many authors. Due to this, I have changed the phrase “environmental racism” to “environmental racial-classism” or qualified it in the two times it is used in this article. However, I don’t intend to change the title of this article to reflect that as it is a fine title as it is.


The issue of black identity

Editor’s Note: This post comes from my my radical friend, only calling himself Sir Moneypants. Still a good post, regardless.

Throughout John T. McCartney’s academic book, Black Power Ideologies: An essay in African-American thought, there is one major issue to stem from this writing, but this issue isn’t always out front, but imbedded in the arguments. That issue is the question of black identity: are they Americans, Africans, Christians, Muslims,  neither of these or multiple types of these identity? The debate over this question continues throughout the whole book and seems to perplex others.

The issue of black identity and how blacks identify others is one that is important in terms of American identity and the rich cultural history of struggle in America. Also, since blacks have “have a greater abhorrence of injustice than any other people” according to a centuries old account by Islamic philosopher Ibn Battuta, this phenonmenon interests me. What further fascinated me was the diversity of thoughts. The colonization movement of the 17th and 18th century put forward the idea of having a seperate black nation in Africa, saying blacks should identify more with Africa and America, because of the future that god destined for them, to escape slavery, to bring “Christian Civilization” to the continent, to regenerate Africa and avoid economic depression in the United States. Abolitionists on the other hand believed in legal and political equality for blacks. Legalists on the other hand, including Frederick Douglass, said that blacks are legally citizens of the United States and are entitled to all rights and privileges of such citizens. Moralists believed that blacks shared common traits with other races, not being inferior or brutish as Social Darwinists suggest. Douglass, belonging to both schools, preached the assimilation of blacks into American life, and that race was only as secondary element of racial identity. Later, Marcus Garvey looked at the second-class status, blacks had under Jim Crow laws in the South, but he bucked the general belief of most blacks, that America was their homeland by saying Africa was their homeland, while creating their own nation. At the same time, black nationalist Noble Drew Ali wanted blacks to become Muslim and seperate themselves from whites. This was different from Martin Luther King who use enlightenment principles and said people had god-given rights, and that blacks should lift up themselves from poverty nonviolently. As for black power as a whole, there were a number of different approaches to black identity, depending on their views of society. People like Stokely Carmichael would think blacks have “the right to create our own terms…to define ourselves.” Another group, led by Huey Newton, say that blacks needed to be “liberated” from capitalism and create the stage for a more humane America through black communities. On another side, Shirley Chisolm said that the black minority has failed to gain full citizenship despite the Civil Rights Movement. Charles Hamilton on the other hand argues for integration of blacks balance power with whites, or the whole of society will be ruined. These views differ from Elijah Muhammad who believes blacks are a member of the Shabazz tribe, a part of the “original” black nation. In light of the colonization, abolitionist, Civil Rights and black power movements, it seems black identity is entering a new stage. Between debate about wjay to call themselves, based on the influence of cultural norms and skin color, the question of where black identity goes from here is interesting enough.

Since sociology is simply the study of society, the concept expressed in this book of black identity is key to that. Blacks are key aspect of American society through different jobs, their position in the political system and the presidency is key. Since blacks are struggling to maintain their voting rights and some survive in tough economic times, their identity affects the country as a whole. In a time when they are still a “minority,” this affects their outlook to overall society and how they act in a given area overall.

There are many strengths and weaknesses of this book. The author does a good job at presenting the differing views on black identity. However, the book seems to just have his views rather than the views of other writers. This book seems to value the opinions of blacks more than those of whites, mainly radical white activists, who may share views with those that are radical black activists. In other words, what I’m saying is, since he wrote the book, the lack of differing authors for every chapter makes it less interesting and interactive for the reader.

If I could ask the author a question, it wold be tough to think of one. But there is one thing that irks me: how did our views and background affect the book you wrote? This would be important to gain some context. This question would also help to understand the opinions behind the book overall. Overall, I would say the idea of black identity was adequately addressed in the book.

Teach for America and neoliberalism in education

A very telling quote from the book by religious scholar Sarah Sentilles, Breaking Up With God (see particularly pages 78-9).

Editor’s Note: This post comes from my my radical friend, only calling himself Sir Moneypants. Still a good post, regardless.

Teach for America. I keep hearing about Teach for America, which is described by the Knight Foundation (which gave it $6 million in grant money) as supposedly helping “close the achievement gap in the county’s highest-need schools” and described by the Walton Family Foundation as “developing the education leader of tomorrow” while it is defended against “untrue” criticism. [1] I researched into Teach for America (TFA) to find out the reality behind this organization and to answer one main question: is the TFA really supporting/pushing for a neoliberal and corporatist form of education in the United States?

I start with what religious scholar Sarah Sentilles, abeit a person who seems to hold a centre left viewpoint, said about her experience working for the TFA in Los Angeles. [2] She writes that she applied to work for TFA because she wanted to do something that made a difference but that she encountered one teacher who told her that TFA

“undermines teaching as a profession and turns what should be a right–access to an excellent education–into a charity project, sending do-good, well-intentioned, untrained teachers into classrooms that need the best, most well-trained teachers.”

At the time, Sentilles ignored this argument, getting professors from elsewhere to give her recommendations. Later, Sentilles explains how she designed lesson plans for her “imaginary students,” which she turned in with little comment, how she was worried people would judge her in Compton because she was white, that she had to take drug tests to work in a Compton school, and that she was picked as “the bilingual teacher,” even though she could speak barely any Spanish. Finally she explains how she and follow other “TFA corps members” were angry and anxious about TFA, knowing it was “fucked up,” that their students “were being screwed, and that we were part of that screwing,” all while she felt ashamed that she felt fat because she knew some of her students “never had enough to eat.” It seems clear that Sentilles felt, looking back, that her “savior complex” and racial privilege, white privilege to be exact, was reinforced by working as a part of TFA, not chipped away by it. Later Sentilles openly admits this, writing that she was “becoming aware of my complicity in oppression, realizing I had benefited from the very system that was harming my students in Compton.”

Building on this, I think it is important to use two other stories by people who formerly worked at TFA. One of these stories, published in The Atlantic in 2013, is by Olivia Blanchard. Blanchard writes that one of the cornerstones of TFA’s philosophy is the idea of “closing the achievement gap” and she says that while closing this gap, in an effort to fight “America’s educational inequality,” is a laudable goal, there is a unspoken logic that “current, non-TFA teachers and schools are failing at the task of closing the achievement gap, through some combination of apathy or incompetence.” She continues by noting that in TFA seminars, part of the short five week training of future teachers, there is a subtext that “only you can fix what others have screwed up.” She also says that while she “appreciated TFA’s apparent confidence in me as a leader,” she assumed she would “learn the concrete steps I needed to achieve this transformation” but she instead was “immersed in a sea of jargon, buzzwords, and touchy-feely exercises.” She continued by saying that the “TFA had created a system that caused a rift between corps members and traditional teachers,” that she wasn’t “alone in my trouble with student behavior,” and that TFA teachers were actually very alone in terms of support for their teaching plans. She also explained that TFA training at the “Institute” is inadequate, that TFA encourages “its teachers to base their classes’ “big goals” around standardized-test scores,” and that there is  “pressure within TFA to produce proof of student gains without much oversight or guidance.”

There was another story by Matt Barnum, who formerly worked with the TFA, who called for it close its doors. Barnum wrote that while “TFA has had a huge…impact on education since it started more than two decades ago” it has, in his mind, run its course. He explains that TFA’s original missions are to “help understaffed school districts fill teaching positions with talented, energized college graduates, and…to create a broader education advocacy and awareness movement” but that TFA’s  “impact is fading.” He explains that this is because TFA corps members in some areas are replacing “veteran teachers,” that “many schools have become overly reliant on TFA as a teacher pipeline,” and that TFA had expenses of over $220 million in 2011, with big amounts of money going to “recruiting and selecting corps members…management and general…[and] alumni support,” meaning that “$33 million is spent to doing a poor job teaching corps members to teach.” He also argues that TFA has reached “a critical mass on this point” and that while “TFA has changed the education world for the better,” in his view, “TFA has had a good run, but today…it is time to retire.”

I could go on and mention other personal stories from former TFA corps members, but I think that is enough for now. Instead, it is better to dig a little deeper on TFA since it is evident there are strong criticisms of the organization itself rather than just personal experiences, which are undoubtedly important. [3] In an article in the Huffington VerizonPost, one writer notes that they are “not interested in TFA” because the TFA “drastically underprepares its recruits for the reality of teaching” and it is, in their view, “working to destroy the American public education system” since it, in a fundamental way, “undermines the American public education system from the very foundation by urging the replacement of experienced career teachers with a neoliberal model of interchangeable educators and standardized testing.” The writer also argues that “TFA is working directly against the interests of teachers, students, and communities alike,” participating neoliberal school reform, and that current TFA corps members should “reconsider their decision to be part of this program.” The most interesting aspect of TFA was not the description by Forbes of it taking in $318 million dollars a year, but it was a recent article in Bloomberg News noting that more than 87 percent of “TFA teachers say they don’t plan on remaining teachers throughout their careers” which compares with “26.3 percent of non-TFA teachers working in the same subjects, grades, and schools,” which shows “attrition issues that…seem to be hitting TFA teachers” hard. [4] For me, this is very telling as indicates to me that there there is a fundamental problem with TFA itself.

This fundamental problem is not much of a surprise since TFA is allied with the corporate sector in more ways than one. Only earlier this year, Gary Cohn, the president of Goldman Sachs, which is the “largest non-academic hirer of Teach for America alumni in New York City,” praised TFA “for the nonprofit’s work in the American public-school system.” If that isn’t troubling, consider that their financial backers, other than numerous foundations, include big banks such as Wells Fargo and Bank of America, and numerous other corporate entities including, but not limited to Visa, FedEx, Coca-Cola, ExxonMobil, Kaplan, Comcast/NBC Universal, and AT&T. Even a Reuters article on this subject points out such corporate support, noting that TFA not only sends “a third of its recruits to privately run charter schools, but that in its early years, TFA got grants from numerous corporations and foundations while one of its biggest funders was “the Walton family, heirs to the Walmart fortune,” and that Wendy Kopp who funded TFA “earns $375,000 a year, [and] supervises 1,800 employees — including a small army of recruiters.” [5] The article also said that critics “find TFA’s embrace of charters troubling” and that “when these charter students ring up good test scores, nearby public schools look increasingly bad by comparison” which can cause such public schools to either be privatized or shut down. To me, the specifics explained in the Reuters article and the financial backers of the TFA, is deeply troubling for a “nonprofit” which has grown from 400 “corps members” in the 1990s to over 11,000 “corps members,” at the present, with these members teaching over a million students by their own numbers.

It gets even worse. And I’m not talking about the people who try to sway potential or existing TFA corps members, a.k.a future or existing teachers, working under the TFA umbrella, into leaving the program as argued here and here. Rather, as S.E Smith wrote in The Daily Dot, TFA “recruits graduates of elite universities for a two-year commitment teaching in schools serving primarily underprivileged communities,” and while their arguments speak to issues within “the American education system” which has a “corporatist culture based on performance metrics rules, and individualized education appeals,” but that “providing student teachers with an unrealistic training setting in no way prepares them for the stress of actual classroom conditions, and it doesn’t help when when it comes to serving their students effectively.” Smith continues by noting that TFA corps members “struggled with rigid, sometimes militaristic school environments and issues like school violence” which they hadn’t been prepared for, and that “many TFA Corps members are white men coming from privileged backgrounds” which gives the TFA “a whiff of the White Savior.” The article also notes that the TFA is “also used as a springboard by many alums for getting into…other fields, serving as little more than a resume-builder,” and that TFA’s marketing “undermines traditionally-trained educators and the education system.” At the same time, after the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), TFA fell in line, especially following “its reliance on standardized testing” and it is also part of the efforts to further privatize education which includes promoting charter schools, being anti-union, and so on.

I could go on and on, writing and citing all the articles I found about TFA. [6] But I won’t. It seems clear that the Teach for America “nonprofit” is just part of the neoliberal effort to privatize education, not only by supporting charter schools, but also by making schools dependent on the TFA as a way for teachers to come to their schools, and making teachers interchangeable like gears in a machine rather than living, breathing human beings. [7] This doesn’t mean everyone in the TFA is a horrible person but rather that those in whatever level of the TFA, the “corps members,” those sitting on the board of directors, top management, recruiters, and so on, are part of an oppressive system that generally hurts people of color and benefits those with white skin. There is no doubt that even though there are corps members who are people of color, the TFA is not only as an institution pushing policies which support a racist and white supremacist system, but it is part of the institutionally racist school system in the US. As Bruce Dixon put it once, “Teach For America is part of an elite bipartisan scam to privatize public education, starting, and perhaps ending with the inner city.” [8] While this article is only a start for further criticisms of TFA, hopefully it encourages people to look further and challenges their perceived notions about the TFA.


[1] Defenses of Teach for America are wide-ranging. Wendy Kopp, the founder and chairman of Teach for America, wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post, in which she said that TFA “has enlisted more than 47,000 individuals to commit two years to teaching in some of America’s neediest schools” since 1991, when TFA was founded, that it is connected to “a global network called Teach for All,” that TFA is purportedly “tackling the complex problem of educational inequity” and that some of the criticisms “is based on misrepresentation and toxic rhetoric” while TFA is often, in her mind, “condemned without consideration of the facts.” Kopp also claimed that TFA is “working hard to support our teachers to provide students with the world-class educations they will need to fulfill their true potential” and that “the impact of Teach for America is clear” in communities of “marginalized kids.” Kopp finally claimed that  “this country [America] is failing our kids…it isn’t changing kids’ lives or giving them the best chance to fulfill their potential.” Beyond this, Conor P. Williams of the neoliberal New America Foundation claimed that “everything about Teach for America is being subjected to internal debate, from the length of the five-week training and two-year placements to the very language it uses to describe its mission and impact” which he claimed was not “entirely fair.” Williams also wrote that “TFA has long been an organization on the move” and supposedly “neither a lever for dramatically improving or ruining U.S. public education” (not true at all). Williams wrote another article on a site run by the New America Foundation where he also defended TFA again. Finally, the horrid National Review claimed that “Teach for America…produces better outcomes than the comparable teachers students would otherwise get…[and that it] helps students, especially in math achievement,” among other claims. At the same time, Fast Company in a 2008 profile (written presumably by TFA), which filed TFA under the category of “social capitalists,” claimed that TFA had a mission “to eliminate educational inequity by enlisting our nation’s most promising future leaders in the effort” and is supposedly an effort to “expand educational equity,” and so on.

[2] For this paragraph, pages 67-9, 72-4, 76-8, and 85-6 of Sentilles’s book, Breaking Up With God: A Love Story are used as a source.

[3] In a 2013 article in The Guardian, it is noted that TFA is criticized as destabilizing “schools and communities,” that TFA’s “seven-week training program is insufficient,” and that it “disenfranchises communities.” The article also argues that “the organization [TFA] has long used data to defend criticisms, though many feel the reports are skewed and a fair study comparing a TFA teacher to a traditionally trained teacher doesn’t yet exist.” In an article in The Atlantic‘s ‘The Wire’ on the same conference, it is noted that critics of TFA are interesting either in “overthrowing—or at least overhauling—the non-profit organization’s dominant role in educational reform,” which is in line with “public pushback against the organization,” and that many “who join Teach for America don’t actually want to be teachers in the first place, instead using the program as a prestigious stepping stone.”

[4] See the article in Bloomberg News titled “Most Teach For America Instructors Plan to Flee Teaching,” March 9, 2015.

[5] See article in Reuters titled “Has Teach for America betrayed its mission?,” August 16, 2012.

[6] For other articles, see “Why I Stopped Writing Recommendation Letters for Teach for America,” “This Is What Happens When You Criticize Teach for America,” “Testing Support for TFA and KIPP: Whose Children Matter?,” “Teach for America: The Hidden Curriculum of Liberal Do-Gooders,” “No pay from TFA (Teach for America),” “Has Teach for America reached its Waterloo?,” “Why Teach For America Is Not Welcome in My Classroom,” “Alternatives to Teach for America,” “Wendy Kopp’s Lesson Plan for America” (for a perspective from Wendy Kopp), and “Students to Teach for America CEOs: You Are ‘Complicit’ in Attacks on Public Education.”

[7] One could also say that to some degree the TFA-model of education is corporatist since it “accepts the ongoing trend toward increased reliance on public corporation.” But it is evident that getting the TFA involved in the educational process is fulfilling the definition of privatization, which is, in terms of education, turning over a public service “to the interests of a particular person, group or corporation,” in this case the TFA to be exact. It might not necessarily be total privatization, if its not a charter school, but it is no doubt partial privatization.

[8] The right-wing and neoliberal American Enterprise Institute noted that TFA had “increasing presence on Capitol Hill” by the 2000s and that “it was primarily luck that TFA was able to escape the NCLB process unscathed.” They also note in their report, which is not surprisingly pro-TFA, written by Alexander Russo, that “dramatic increases in the alternative certification sector raise questions about TFA’s outsized role in teacher quality policymaking decisions,” that the American Federation of Teachers came to TFA’s aid in 2001 along with politicans such as Hillary Clinton, Chris Van Hollen, Lamar Alexander and Mike Castle spearheaded “the effort to gain support for TFA’s funding initiatives” in the 2000s, and supported by the Obama administration.

What Chelsea Manning has told us

 “[Chelsea Manning] did break the law by sharing private government knowledge with Wikileaks about what she observed while she was over in the Middle East. But there has been no proof that by leaking this information she risked our lives. By leaking this information we know about critical events in our countries actions while over in the Middle East.”- Lucas McCahill of the LGBTQ Humanist Council of Baltimore

With trans* whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s new op-ed in the New York Times about the U.S. military and media freedom there are those who will say that Manning got what she deserved, that she is a traitor, yadda yadda. Yet, none of this is true. Chelsea Manning leaked thousands of documents to the anti-secrecy and transparency organization, Wikileaks (which is also a legitimate journalistic outfit) which have improved the public discourse. These documents and files included the Afghanistan war logs, the Iraq war logs, the Guantanamo files,over 250,000 US diplomatic cables (which Wikileaks called ‘Cablegate'[1]), and the Collateral Murder video [2] This article highlights some of what was leaked, and shows that Manning was just following the montra of the current national security state: ‘if you see something, say something,’ by leaking dirty deeds of the US government, war crimes and much more.

Here are some specifics of what we know now because of Chelsea Manning:

1. “According to WikiLeaks cache of U.S. embassy cables, there is number of different discoveries about Iran. For one, the United States has been involved in Iran in some way since that time and people are tired of reforms,” secondly the US has been working to foment revolution in Iran and it is, “right for Iran to be angry at the United States due to current actions there covertly and actions in the past” as noted in an article I wrote for Interesting Blogger (on blogspot) back in December 2011 [3]

2. As noted in The Guardian, “Chevron negotiated with Tehran about developing an Iraq-Iran cross-border oilfield in spite of tight US sanctions…[and] a US state department source said that after a first round of bids in June 2009, there were news stories that Iraq’s government was in talks with Chevron to develop the Majnoon oilfield. It is one of the richest in the world, near Basra and the Iranian border.” [4]

3. As the founding director of Global Voices Advocacy has said, “what we call the Arab Spring was the result of many seemingly small things, butterfly effects. One of them was a courageous woman named Chelsea Manning. If the U.S. will take 35 years from Chelsea Manning’s life, may it console her that she has given us, Arabs, the secret gift that helped expose and topple 50 years of dictatorships.”

4. As noted by Greg Mitchell in an article in The Nation, he writes that there were a number of things that came out from the ‘Cablegate’ leaks:

  • “[the] Yemeni president lied to his own people, claiming his military carried out air strikes on militants actually done by the US. All part of giving US full rein in country against terrorists”
  • “[the] US tried to get Spain to curb its probes of Gitmo torture and rendition”
  • “Egyptian torturers [were] trained by FBI…allegedly to teach the human rights issues”
  • “[a] State Dept. memo [said that the] US-backed 2009 coup in Honduras was “illegal and unconstitutional””
  • cables on Tunisia which “appear to [have] help[ed] spark revolt in that country [show that] the country’s ruling elite described as “The Family,” with Mafia-like skimming throughout the economy. The country’s first lady may have made massive profits off a private school”
  • “[the] US knew all about massive corruption in Tunisia back in 2006 but went on supporting the government anyway, making it the pillar of its North Africa policy”
  • “[the] cables showed the UK promised in 2009 to protect US interests in the official Chilcot inquiry on the start of the Iraq war”
  • “[the] oil giant Shell claims to have “inserted staff” and fully infiltrated Nigeria’s government”
  • “[the] US pressured the European Union to accept GM[Os]”
  • “Washington was misled by our own diplomats on Russia-Georgia showdown”
  • “[an] extremely important historical document [was] finally released in full: Ambassador April Glaspie’s cable from Iraq in 1990 on meeting with Saddam Hussein before Kuwait invasion”
  • “the UK sidestepped a ban on housing cluster bombs…[there were] shocking levels of US spying at the United Nations…and intense use of diplomats abroad in intelligence-gathering roles”
  • “[a] potential environmental disaster kept secret by the US when a large consignment of highly enriched uranium in Libya came close to cracking open and leaking radioactive material into the atmosphere”
  • “[the] US used threats, spying, and more to try to get its way at last year’s crucial climate conference in Copenhagen”
  • “American and British diplomats fear Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program — with poor security — could lead to fissile material falling into the hands of terrorists or a devastating nuclear exchange with India”
  • “Hundreds of cables detail US use of diplomats as “sales” agents, more than previously thought, centering on jet rivalry of Boeing vs. Airbus”
  • “Millions in US military aid for fighting Pakistani insurgents went to other gov’t uses (or stolen) instead”
  • “Israel wanted to bring Gaza to the ”brink of collapse.””
  • “The US secret services [sic] used Turkey as a base to transport terrorism suspects as part of its extraordinary rendition program”
  • “as protests spread in Egypt, cables revealed that strong man Suleiman was at center of government’s torture programs, causing severe backlash for Mubarak after he named Suleiman vice president during the revolt. Other cables revealed or confirmed widespread Mubarak regime corruption, police abuses and torture, and claims of massive Mubarak family fortune, significantly influencing media coverage and US response.”

5. As noted on the site of the Chelsea Manning Support Network, Chelsea Manning revealed that (of things which haven’t been mentioned before)

  • “thousands of reports of prisoner abuse and torture had been filed against the Iraqi Security Forces” but the US government did nothing
  • “U.S. officials were told to cover up evidence of child abuse by contractors in Afghanistan”
  • the prison at Guantanamo “has held mostly innocent people and low-level operatives
  • “there is an official tally of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan”
  • “The State Department backed corporate opposition to a Haitian minimum wage law.”
  • “The State Department authorized the theft of the UN Secretary General’s DNA.”
  • “The Japanese and U.S. Governments had been warned about the seismic threat at Fukushima.”
  • “The Obama Administration allowed Yemen’s President to cover up a secret U.S. drone bombing campaign.”

6. As noted by Ryan Gallagher in an article in Slate magazine, Manning revealed that:

  • “Coalition troops’ [had an] alleged role in killing at least 195 civilians in unreported incidents, one reportedly involving U.S. service members machine-gunning a bus, wounding or killing 15 passengers.”
  • “U.S. special operations forces were conducting offensive operations inside Pakistan despite sustained public denials and statements to the contrary by U.S. officials.”
  • “A leaked diplomatic cable provided evidence that during an incident in 2006, U.S. troops in Iraq executed at least 10 Iraqi civilians, including a woman in her 70s and a 5-month-old, then called in an airstrike to destroy the evidence. The disclosure of this cable was later a significant factor in the Iraqi government’s refusal to grant U.S. troops immunity from prosecution beyond 2011, which led to U.S. troops withdrawing from the country.”
  • “A NATO coalition in Afghanistan was using an undisclosed “black” unit of special operations forces to hunt down targets for death or detention without trial. The unit was revealed to have had a kill-or-capture list featuring details of more than 2,000 senior figures from the Taliban and al-Qaida, but it had in some cases mistakenly killed men, women, children, and Afghan police officers.”
  • “The U.S. threatened the Italian government in an attempt to influence a court case involving the indictment of CIA agents over the kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric. Separately, U.S. officials were revealed to have pressured Spanish prosecutors to dissuade them from investigating U.S. torture allegations, secret “extraordinary rendition” flights, and the killing of a Spanish journalist by U.S. troops in Iraq.”

7. As noted by Rania Khalek on Alternet, Manning revealed that:

  • “US officials work as salespeople for Boeing.  The merger of state and corporate power is striking in a  slew of cables  detailing US State Department officials acting as marketing agents on behalf of one lucky corporation. Earlier this year the  New York Times  revealed details about how US diplomats have actively promoted the sale of commercial jets built by the US company Boeing. Hundreds of cables from WikiLeaks show that Boeing had a sales force of US diplomats that went up to the highest levels of government, even going as far as sabotaging sales for Boeing’s European rival Airbus. Enticing deals for the jetliners were offered to heads of state and airline executives in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Turkey and other countries. The WikiLeaks documents also suggest that demands for bribes and payment to suspicious intermediaries still take place.”
  • “Public Citizen has discovered a cable from October 2009, when Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa issued a decree to “improve access to medicines and support public health programs through a protocol that would reduce drug costs. Cables from US embassy personnel in Ecuador to the U.S. Department of State show “the United States, multinational pharmaceutical companies, and three ministers within the government shared information and worked to undermine Ecuador’s emerging policy.””
  • “From Bolivia to Venezuela to Peru, American diplomats are obsessed with securing the profits of multinational mining corporations at the cost of indigenous rights and the environment. At least that is the impression given by WikiLeaks cables that detail the eruption of anti-mining protests near the Ecuador border against the mining firm Minera Majaz.”
  • “A more recent US embassy cable dated March 17, 2008, reveals that US diplomats spied on indigenous activists and their supporters who were organizing anti-summit protests against the European Union-Latin American Heads of State summit that was scheduled in Lima that year.”

8. As noted in a November 2010 Reuters article purportedly about the ‘main revelations’ of the Wikileaks cables, Manning revealed:

  • “King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program and is reported to have advised Washington to “cut off the head of the snake” while there was still time.”
  • “The Bahraini king told U.S. diplomats that Iran’s nuclear program should be halted by any means, and the crown prince of the emirate of Abu Dhabi saw “the logic of war dominating” when it comes to dealing with the Iranian threat.”
  • “Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia offered to promote energy ties with China if Beijing backed sanctions against Iran, U.S. diplomatic cables said.”
  • “The top diplomatic adviser to French President Nicolas Sarkozy told a senior U.S. diplomat last year that Iran was a “fascist” state and the time had come to decide further steps.”
  • “A non-Iranian businessman traveling often to Tehran told U.S. diplomats last year one of his contacts had been told by former President Ali Akbar Rafsanjani that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had terminal leukemia and could die in a few months.”
  • “Iran has obtained sophisticated missiles from North Korea capable of hitting western Europe, and the United States is concerned Iran is using those rockets as “building blocks” to build longer-range missiles.”
  • “China’s Politburo directed the intrusion into Google’s computer systems in that country, a Chinese contact told the U.S. Embassy in January, as part of a computer sabotage campaign carried out by government operatives, private experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government. They have broken into U.S. government computers and those of Western allies, the Dalai Lama and American businesses since 2002, cables said.”
  • “Some Chinese officials do not regard North Korea as a useful ally and would not intervene if the reclusive state collapsed, a South Korean official told the U.S. ambassador to Seoul citing conversations with high-level officials in Beijing.”
  • “In April 2009, He Yafei, then China’s vice foreign minister, told a U.S. diplomat in Beijing that North Korea acted like a “spoiled child” to attract U.S. attention through steps such as firing a three-stage rocket over Japan.”
  • “U.S. and South Korean officials discussed the prospects for a unified Korea should the North’s economic troubles and political transition lead the state to implode.”
  • “The South Koreans considered commercial inducements to China to “help salve” Chinese concerns about living with a reunified Korea that is in a “benign alliance” with Washington, according to the American ambassador to Seoul.”
  • “Russian Prime Minister Russia’s Vladimir Putin is an “alpha-dog” ruler of a deeply corrupt state dominated by its security forces, U.S. diplomatic documents said. By contrast, President Dmitry Medvedev “plays Robin to Putin’s Batman.””
  • “U.S. diplomats described Afghan President Hamid Karzai as “an extremely weak man who did not listen to facts,” but was easily swayed by conspiracy theories. They said his brother was widely believed to be corrupt and a drug trafficker.”
  • “Since 2007, the United States has mounted a secret and so far unsuccessful effort to remove highly enriched uranium from a Pakistani research reactor out of fear it could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device.”
  • “Saudi donors remain the chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like al Qaeda, and the tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar was the “worst in the region” in counterterrorism efforts, according to a State Department cable last December.”
  • “American diplomats have bargained with other countries to help empty the Guantanamo Bay prison by resettling detainees. Slovenia was told to take a prisoner if it wanted to meet with President Barack Obama, and Kiribati was offered incentives worth millions of dollars to take in Chinese Muslim detainees. In another case, accepting more prisoners was described as “a low-cost way for Belgium to attain prominence in Europe,” a cable said.”
  • “U.S. diplomats cast doubts on the reliability of NATO ally Turkey, portraying its leadership as divided and permeated by Islamists and said advisers to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan had “little understanding of politics beyond Ankara.”
  • “Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is “feckless, vain and ineffective” and his “frequent late nights and penchant for partying hard mean he does not get sufficient rest,” a U.S. diplomat said.”
  • “The United States has failed to prevent Syria supplying arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has amassed a huge stockpile since its 2006 war with Israel, the cables said.”
  • “U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton questioned the mental health of Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez, asking U.S. diplomats to investigate whether she was on medication.”

9. According to The Week magazine Manning revealed:

  • “Afghan soldiers are killing each other in drug-fueled, fratricidal skirmishes”
  • “The leaks contain “intriguing evidence” that the U.S. military is “paying local media outlets to run friendly stories,””
  • “A February 2009 report ominously suggests that the Taliban could have developed chemical weapons”
  • “The incident reports are full of stories of the U.S. chasing down and killing Taliban fighters with unmanned Reaper aerial drones, flown by joystick-wielding pilots in a Nevada bunker.”
  • “Among the “range of sensational plots” allegedly hatched by colluding Taliban and Pakistani intelligence agents was one to poison the beer headed to Western troops,”

10. As noted in a CBS News story, Manning showed:

  • “The Obama administration worked with Republicans during his first few months in office to protect Bush administration officials facing a criminal investigation overseas for their involvement in establishing policies that some considered torture…[and] leaned on Spain to derail this potential prosecution.”
  • “Secret State Department cables show a South Korean official quoted as saying that North Korea’s collapse is likely to happen “two to three years” after the death of the current dictator, Kim Jong Il”
  • North Korea is secretly helping the military dictatorship in Myanmar build nuclear and missile sites in its jungles, according to a leaked diplomatic cable.”
  • “Secret U.S. diplomatic cables reveal that BP suffered a blowout after a gas leak in the Caucasus country of Azerbaijan in September 2008, a year and a half before another BP blowout killed 11 workers and started a leak that gushed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.”
  • Saudi Arabia is one of the largest origin points for funds supporting international terrorism, according to a leaked diplomatic cable.”
  • “Mexican President Felipe Calderon told a U.S. official last year that Latin America “needs a visible U.S. presence” to counter Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s growing influence in the region”
  • “A newly released confidential U.S. diplomatic cable predicts Cuba’s economic situation could become “fatal” within two to three years
  • “McDonald’s tried to delay the US government’s implementation of a free-trade agreement in order to put pressure on El Salvador to appoint neutral judges in a $24m lawsuit it was fighting in the country”

11. According to an article in The Daily Beast, Manning revealed:

  1. “As tensions on the peninsula escalate, American and South Korean officials have already discussed plans to unite the two Koreas should the North ultimately collapse.”
  2. “[the US] State Department Gives Low Marks to Germany’s Merkel”

There is likely much more, but I think this is sufficient for now.[4] If there is something else that someone finds, please share it.


[1] This does not include the Kissinger Cables or the Carter Cables. The Kissinger Cables, as noted by Wikipedia, revealed that “Yasser Arafat, President of the Palestinian National Authority, was a key asset to the U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East…Kissinger and State Department were doubtful of Margaret Thatcher’s prospects of becoming the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom because of her “immaculate grooming” and “imperious manner”…The Vatican dismissed reports of massacres by the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet as “propaganda”…George Fernandes, chairman of the Socialist Party of India, who had faced prosecution for conspiracy against the government of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, sought to obtain funding from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the French government in order to organize underground sabotage activities.”

[2] This video shows, according to Wikileaks, “the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad” including two journalists from Reuters. I remember watching the whole thing sometime ago and its deeply disturbing and sickening what extent they go to so that these people are killed.

[3] For the specific cables used in that article, see: 09RPODUBAI316, 09RPODUBAI327, 01DUBAI1141, 97ABUDHABI3777, and 96ABUDHABI7350

[4] There has been some happiness from the right-wing after Wired wrote this article about the WMD hunt in Iraq, yet none of the times does it say that chemical weapons were found but only presumed to be…which is not conclusive evidence of WMDs…and once again says that there really weren’t WMDs in the country. Case closed.

Drones seep into entertainment

There have been a number of articles recently about the seeping of drones into popular culture and the resistance to that by concerned citizens, activists and others. And YES, call them drones. This is likely to increase since Hollywood already requested from the FAA to use drones for making movies (also see here , here, here, here, here, and here). Note that this article is not meant to promote drones, but rather show how much they have spread into movies, and are becoming more and more a part of action films in the US, specifically. Also see this interesting comic and this parody. If there any films that I missed, then please mention them in the comments below. This post shows through pictures and video (if possible) how drones have come into entertainment (tv and movies) after already going into science fiction.

24 (a TV show) (2014)

The neoconservative show on Fox News features drones heavily in its limited season since May as one can see from the episode summaries on Wikipedia alone.  Without getting into too much of the specifics, Mother Jones notes that the show which “came on the air just two months after 9/11…[and] got a reputation for right-wing Bush-era messaging…but also featured oilmen, shady business interests, and Republican politicians at the center of terrorist conspiracies,” has political framing “adjusted accordingly with the times.” The article further quotes the words of the executive producer Howard Gordon saying that  “We have analogues for the Snowden affair and the drone issue is a backdrop.” The Hollywood Reporter notes  that there is some elements of the show that mirror Wikileaks, and that debate about drones, as Jack, the ‘good guy’ “requests false credentials so he can get close to the President and hand over proof that the U.S. drone that killed British and American soldiers had been hacked.” TV.com adds that the show interjects “contemporary politics” in the form of “the power and danger of drones.” Still, the show is not very accurate to what real intelligence work is, as noted in a comment in The Guardian.

Ian Crouch has some of the most interesting comment on the show, writing in The New Yorker that:

President Heller is the target of the drone-wielding terrorist, and his death “on foreign soil,” we’re told a few times, would lead inexorably to a world war. Sounds plausible. Wait, war between whom exactly? Who cares, there’s no time!…24” premièred on Fox on November 6, 2001, not quite two months after 9/11. In its first episode, a terrorist blew up a plane. It’s easy now to forget how significant that first season was, both from a technical perspective—with its use of simulated real time and split-screen action—and in the way the show both reflected and provoked a mood of fear and a desire for retribution…Bauer routinely used torture to get information, and it was generally shown to be effective. Bauer was also regularly tortured himself, as if to even the odds, though he seemed to bear up better under the pressure than his victims did. Torture wasn’t glorified as pleasant or inconsequential but, rather…as grimly necessary…The show’s animating spirit during its first six seasons was the co-creator and executive producer Joel Surnow, a rare Republican in Hollywood…He defended the show’s use of torture in practical, personal terms…Surnow told Mayer that “24” had a lot of fans in the Bush White House…This season, there has been urgent mention of metadata, and, this being London, liberal use of CCTV. Most significant, there are drones. Jack is thrown in with a cell of anti-surveillance hackers, led by a Julian Assange type whom Jack must beg for assistance in preventing an attack. “It wouldn’t be an issue if your country hadn’t decided to fill the skies with unmanned heavy-armed aircraft, would it?” the hacker says. Bauer responds, as is his wont, with stony silence…The new “24” is making a more nuanced argument: now the United States’ vulnerability stems from its very obsession with security. This season’s terrorist ring is led by Margot Al-Harazi, a convert to Islam who is, among other things, surely—we’ll see—out to avenge the death of her husband, who was killed by an American drone. She leads a transnational family—a kind of Benetton version of Muslim extremism, radicalized by America’s military adventurism. In this way, these episodes offer a fitting coda for a show that has tracked the country’s mood from the neocons to Snowden.

Top Gun 2 (2014?)

As noted by The Verge, the remake of a 1980s movie, Top Gun, will feature drones:

“The long-rumored Top Gun 2 is almost certainly happening, at least according to producer Jerry Bruckheimer. In an interview with The Huffington Post last week, Bruckheimer expressed how determined he is to make a follow-up to the 1986 classic, and hinted at what themes the movie will explore. In the sequel, Tom Cruise will reprise his role as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, and face off against drones to prove just how essential volleyball-loving airmen are. During the interview on HuffPost Live, Bruckheimer said he thinks “we’re getting closer and closer” to making the sequel a reality. Talk about the movie has been bubbling for years, especially after Paramount tapped Bruckheimer and director Tony Scott to return for another outing in 2010. The Pirates of the Caribbean producer said that Scott had figured out a way to tell the story right (in what sounds like an action movie take on the John Henry tall tale) but his suicide in 2012 almost scuttled the project. “The concept is, basically, are the pilots obsolete because of drones,” said Bruckheimer. “Cruise is going to show them that they’re not obsolete. They’re here to stay.” Neither Cruise nor a director have signed on for the film, so there’s no telling when it will be made. However, an announcement of production kicking off seems like the logical next step, however far-off it may be.”

Modern Family episode (2014)

An episode of the TV sitcom had a show in February of this year incorporating drones, with two of the characyers sending a “drone to spy on Luke and Manny as they hang out with friends” as noted by Textually.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

This political thriller, as the directors put it, tried to criticize drone kill list of Obama, etc…** Its hard to get any pictures of this directly, so maybe what Abby Martin has to say will make it all clear:

“[Marvel] said they wanted to make a political thriller…So we said if you want to make a political thriller, all the great political thrillers have very current issues in them that reflect the anxiety of the audience…That gives it an immediacy, it makes it relevant. So [Anthony] and I just looked at the issues that were causing anxiety for us, because we read a lot and are politically inclined. And a lot of that stuff had to do with civil liberties issues, drone strikes, the president’s kill list, preemptive technology…The question is where do you stop?” Joe says. “If there are 100 people we can kill to make us safer, do we do it? What if we find out there’s 1,000? What if we find out there’s 10,000? What if it’s a million? At what point do you stop?”- Joe Russo, director as noted by Mother Jones. Also see the NY Times (alludes to it)

Here’s some pictures of the ‘drones’ in the movie

Robocop (2014)

(The trailer)

of Time Magazine writes: “the wish fulfillment factor taken out of the equation, RoboCop becomes less a work of aspirational coolness and more a piece of political satire — and not necessarily a bad one. In the opening sequence, a conservative news pundit (Samuel L. Jackson’s Pat Novak) makes a case that the Dreyfus Act, a law which prohibits robots in American police forces, should be repealed by sending a reporter abroad to watch robot cops in action. After an obligatory shot of an ominous drone flying above robot policemen, things go disastrously wrong. Suicide bombers attack, and a child who grabs a knife to defend his suicide bomber father is killed by one of the robots. The station feed clicks off.”

The director of the film aims to use the film to criticize drones:

He told The Hollywood Reporter that “We are more and more in a country where Robocop is relevant. You will see robots in wars. The first film saw it way back then. Now we have more knowledge and we know it’s coming true. First we are going to use machines abroad, then we are going to use machines at home.”

Elsewhere he said: “The movie’s about drones. If you look at a movie like ‘Full Metal Jacket,’ you see the training of the soldiers so they kill without criticizing what they’re doing. Today, [some want] to get the soldiers out of the way for machines. And I thought that idea, which was fictional in 1987, ain’t fictional anymore. We’ve got drones.”

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

As an article in The Daily Beast notes “the footage is ominous. They come from the sky—unmanned aircraft equipped with deadly robotic weapons. They scan the horizon for their targets. They lock in. And then they deploy, plummeting to earth to kill a bunch of people who may or may not deserve it.” In the first part of this preview, it shows this:

Whether this is directly related to drones is debatable…

 Iron Man 3, Man Of Steel, Pacific Rim, and Star Trek Into Darkness (all movies in 2013)

As noted by Alyssa Rosenberg on rogerebert.com,

“But “Star Trek Into Darkness” isn’t alone: The use of drones, and robots like them for war or for surveillance has turned up as a subject in a surprisingly large number of summer’s biggest blockbusters, including “Iron Man 3,” “Man Of Steel,” and now “Pacific Rim.”…These arguments take different forms in each movies. In “Star Trek Into Darkness,” the use of drone-like missiles is presented as primarily an ethical question…”Iron Man 3″ makes a rather different argument. Rather than suggesting we have to pick between men and machines, and arguing that we should pick men for reasons of both morality and excitement, the movie offers up a fantasy combination. Iron Man technology gives America the ability to strike enemy combatants quickly and directly without putting American troops at risk, while also adding human judgement and the ability to reverse a strike to avoid killing innocent civilians. As Iron Patriot, Col. James Rhodes..frequently finds himself doing the most good when he’s sent out to hunt for a terrorist called the Mandarin…by not pulling the trigger…Even Superman’s gotten in on the action. In a coda to the main action of “Man Of Steel,” he hauls down a surveillance drone and throws it at the feet of General Swanwick…and Major Carrie Farris…”It’s one of your surveillance drones,” he tells the flabbergasted military officials. “I know you’re trying to figure out where I hang my cape. You won’t.””

Drones (2013)

Hollywood Reporter describes this “topical thriller” as follows:

“A topical thriller about the ethics of remote-control warfare, Drones began life as a stage play, which helps explain its cramped and confined setting. The screenplay by Matt Witten, a former writer for TV shows including House and Homicide, explores the moral disconnect between USAF drone pilots playing high-tech video-games in Nevada and their defenseless human targets thousands of miles away in Afghanistan or Pakistan. The action mostly unfolds in real time, offering audiences a fraught hands-on snapshot of the War on Terror…Sue prepares a missile attack, but then agonizes about collateral damage. Even a so-called “surgical” strike on Khalil means also killing his parents, friends and young children. With her mission time limit approaching fast, she challenges the shady ethics of military assassination to Jack, who merely warns her against “thinking too much.” She then protests to her commanding officer and finally to her father, a decorated general and Vietnam veteran.Witten’s script strikes an uneasy balance between hawkish and antiwar positions, with Jack epitomizing the trigger-happy pragmatist (“maybe there’s no heroism, but there’s no shame either”) and Sue the tormented humanitarian incensed when innocent bystanders are cynically rebranded as “unidentified terrorist suspects”…Drones is not exactly subtle, but it is a commendable attempt to dramatize a hot contemporary issue without resorting to clumsy didacticism or obvious political bias. The final scene should prove unsettling for liberals and conservatives alike.”

Oblivion (2013 film)

In this 2013 science fiction film, there are numerous scenes of small flying drones with laser cannons that try to attack people and kill them:

The Wikipedia entry on the movie notes this, talking about drones brought on by certain people, activating disabled drones, and drones attacking humans. Totalfilm.com expands on this, noting:

Clad in a white jumpsuit and living the lonely life of a post-apocalyptic drone repairmen, Jack Harper (Cruise) spends his days tending to the tech that’s targeting the alien threat responsible for all but wiping out life on Earth. On one of his visits to the planet’s surface (most survivors are based in satellite dwellings), Harper happens across a drone assault on humans. To make matters worse, the person under attack is the enigmatic beauty who has been haunting his dreams (Olga Kurylenko). Naturally, he suspects a conspiracy, and goes rogue.

Mashable adds to this, noting:

Fiction: The most obvious cinematic predecessor of the rogue military drones in Oblivion are the lethal Skynet machines of the Terminator films. Oblivion also has several scenes reminiscent of the underrated 1987 freakout RoboCop. Oblivion and its disobedient artillery drones are really just a variation on the robot uprising stories that have fascinated science fiction writers through the years, most notably Isaac Asimov in his Robot novels.

Science: The U.S. and several other countries have unmanned military drones deployed around the world.

Finally there’s ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) with an article about the movie, noting:

“Tom Cruise’s new film, Oblivion, presents a future where warfare is conducted using cold, merciless drones. This striking dystopia shows us how the seeds of future conflicts are already present in our current military engagement with terrorist groups in the Middle East…The drone, as a symbol of remote-control aggression, is key. You just have to look at the growing dissent in America over Obama’s plans to introduce them into civilian airspace to understand their power as lightening rods of techno-anxiety. There’s something cold and terrible in the idea of them, especially as killing machines without pilots; perhaps it’s the notion there is no possibility of mercy. Their sinister aura is integral to Oblivion. There’s something not right with this world, and something not right with Jack…Is the War on Terror over? I’m not sure what the official line is on that. Oblivion seems to suggest that if you look hard enough in any post-war period you will find the seeds of the next conflict. It’s a fascinating metaphor for our anxieties in this very difficult, uncertain peace.”

The Bourne Legacy (2012)

The runaway spy, Aaron Cross, played by Jeremy Remmer, shoots down the drone sent to kill him. Richard Corliss of Time Magazine writes: “Cross finds himself the target of a U.S. drone attack. Wait a minute: the guys in Bethesda at their video consoles are supposed to eliminate the odd Taliban rebel and Afghani civilian, not their most resourceful agent. In these scenes, Legacy connects with the real crime of modern warfare, where the shooters at Mission Control can isolate a human target 10,000 miles away, and kill him without risking anything but their honor.”

Homeland (a drama show) (2012-2014)

As noted by the Daily Beast: “And then there’s Homeland. On Showtime’s hit spy drama, the original sin—the trauma that transformed Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) into an al Qaeda sleeper agent—was a drone strike that accidentally killed an 8-year-old boy he’d befriended in captivity.” Also Leslie Savan wrote in The Nation that

“…when a drone strike, secretly ordered by Walden, kills Issa and eighty-two other young students in his madrassa, Brody “turns.” At Nazir’s behest, Brody returns to the US to win Walden’s trust in order to destroy him and undermine America. In the name of Issa…If he’d say that to Brody, the show suggests, just think what he’d tell the survivors of drone-attack…“I can only imagine what he must be thinking when he watches a show like ours that explicitly deals with the collateral damage of drone strikes,” Damian Lewis told The Atlantic in late September. The “overtly political” show, he said, goes “straight to the heart of the drone argument. We have a left-center or liberal president, and yet we seem to be sending in more drones than ever before. That’s a decision that the current president has made—though obviously none of these decisions are easy to make”…Perhaps to avoid too direct a criticism of Obama, the show has thus far not shown us its POTUS. Furthermore, Homeland never says never drone.”

Specifically, Lewis told The Atlantic:

“The show has always been overtly political. It went straight to the heart of the drone argument. We have a left-center or liberal president, and yet we seem to be sending in more drones than ever before. That’s a decision that the current president has made—though obviously none of these decisions are easy to make. And then we heard that President Obama watches the show, and that it’s his favorite show. I can only imagine what he must be thinking when he watches a show like ours that explicitly deals with the collateral damage of drone strikes.”

Skyline (2010)

In a film about alien invasion of Earth, the US Air Force sends drones to counter the alien ships. This one scene shows that:

Stealth (2007 film)

In this science fiction action film, a drone is developed by the US Navy as noted in the Wikipedia entry on the film:

Cummings hires Dr. Keith Orbit (Richard Roxburgh) to develop an artificial intelligence (AI), the “EDI,” which will fly an unmanned combat air vehicle. The autonomous fighter jet is placed on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Philippine Sea to learn combat maneuvers from the pilots. This sparks a debate. On the one hand, human pilots possess both creativity and moral judgment, while a machine cannot fully appreciate the ugliness of war; additionally, if robots fought the battles and soldiers never died in war, then war would no longer be terrible and might become like sport. In contrast, a machine pilot is not subject to the physical limitations of a human pilot, can calculate alternative ways to achieve objectives faster and more accurately, and is not subject to ego. The team are training EDI in air combat maneuvers when they are unexpectedly reassigned to take out the heads of three terrorist cells at a summit in downtown Rangoon. EDI calculates that mission success can only be achieved through a vertical strike, which could cause the pilot to black out and result in collateral damage. Command orders EDI to take the shot, but Gannon ignores the order and attacks in his own plane, successfully carrying out the strike. As the team returns to the Lincoln, EDI is hit by lightning. Aboard ship, the already-sophisticated AI is discovered to be learning exponentially, developing a rudimentary ethical code and an ego. However, Cummings refuses to take it offline. During the next strike, to neutralize several stolen nuclear warheads in Tajikistan, Wade realizes that the nuclear debris will cause serious civilian casualties. The human pilots decide to abort, but EDI disobeys orders and fires missiles at the nuclear warheads, causing the predicted radioactive fallout.

Syriana (2005)

A geopolitical thriller, in the words of Wikipedia that focuses on “on petroleum politics and the global influence of the oil industry, whose political, economic, legal, and social effects are experienced by a Central Intelligence Agency operative…an energy analyst….a Washington, D.C., attorney…and a young unemployed Pakistani migrant worker…in an Arab state in the Persian Gulf.” This article on WIkipedia also says:  “Barnes eventually learns why he was portrayed as a rogue agent and approaches Prince Nasir’s convoy to warn him of the assassination plan. As he arrives, a guided bomb from a circling Predator drone strikes the automobile of Nasir and his family, killing them and Barnes instantly. Woodman, having earlier offered his seat to Nasir’s family, survives the blast and makes his way home to his wife and son.” I couldn’t find the video for the scene for where George Clooney’s character is killed by a drone, but here are some screencaps of it:



Dark Angel (TV show in the early 2000s)

As noted by Aaron Kearney in the Chicago Monitor,

“Growing up I was a big fan of Jessica Alba’s initial claim to fame: the futuristic sci-fi TV show that only ran two seasons in the early 2000s, Dark Angel. I specifically remember being infatuated with the creepiness of the Seattle police having a fleet of flying, unmanned aircraft that always seemed to be “watching” and waiting on everyday civilians. Most menacing was that each of these aircrafts also had guns attached to them so that they could carry out fast, swift assaults in a matter of seconds. The fear of such aircraft as a reality lay dormant in my childhood imagination until this past week when I read that the manhunt for fugitive Christopher Dorner had compelled the Los Angeles Police Department to release a thermal tracking Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle (UAV, or “drone”) into the California wilderness…I would like to avoid the chilling futures that are depicted in post-apocalyptic sci-fi TV shows; I would like to avoid the death of hundreds of innocent civilians abroad; And I would like to protect my rights under the Constitution of the United States. However, as long as our government stays steadfast in its love for UAV’s, my simple likings may soon be deemed irrelevant to those who hold the utmost power in our government.”

Also see here about hover drones and here.

Silent Running (1972)

As noted by the director Douglas Trumbull,

“Part of Silent Running is the relationship between Bruce Dern and his drones. It’s not 2001 – machinery isn’t malevolent. They’re simply tools. Look, here you have this guy who’s a murderer (Lowell traps his crewmates in a dome they’ve set to blow and sets them adrift). He’s alone on a vessel that’s as isolated from the rest of the population as possible. he’s beginning to crack, to feel his conscience. So he creates companions by reprogramming the drones.”

Star Wars

Numerous drones have popped up in Star Wars (in cartoon series mostly) every so often:

and those Imperial probe droids in the Empire Strikes Back (1980):

Possibly the Terminator movies talk about drones through the Skynet program but this questionable.

A few indie films coming this year also feature these evil killing machines:

A recovery for the one percent

Going forward, Democrats will continue to tout the magical ‘recovery’ brought on by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (also called the ‘Recovery act’ or ‘the stimulus’) and other measures. It is important to challenge this idea head on and tell the truth about the ‘recovery’ itself. This article is not a full analysis of every single article out there, but it hopes to explain to some degree how the recovery has benefited the one percent

In April 2012, Ezra Klein wrote about the ‘recovery.’ He said that while early in the “recession, there was some talk that the economic crisis would, among other things, slow or even reverse the run-up in inequality,” it in fact did the opposite: “the recovery, such as it is, has made inequality worse.” Klein went on to write that “financial markets and corporate profits…have recovered far faster than the labor market or the housing sector” but that the “middle-class American family that owns your home” has not really felt a recovery. Over one year later, another article about the recovery was published in the Washington Post, using data from inequality researchers showed that [1]:

while only 49 percent of the decline in incomes during the recession was born by the top 1 percent (whose income share fell to 18.1 percent due to the recession), 95 percent of income gains since the recovery started have gone to them. This is a big change from past recessions and recoveries.

As Paul Taylor and Richard Fry of the Pew Research Center told the Washington Post, “It has been a very good recovery for those at the upper end of the wealth distribution. But there has been no recovery for the lower 93, which is nearly everybody.”Now this should be no surprise since Obama admitted himself in his horrid liberal rhetoric here , here and here:

we’ve seen a two-decade to three-decade-long trend where increases in profitability, expansions of markets, increases in corporate profits, rises in the stock market don’t translate into higher incomes and higher wages for the ordinary person — at the same time that their costs for sending their kids to college have skyrocketed.

Corporate profits have skyrocketed to all-time highs—but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged.

We know that despite economic growth and close to record corporate profits, despite the fact that folks at the very top are doing better than ever, that there are too many families all across the country who are still struggling to get by, who work hard every day but have trouble making ends meet at the end of the month.

Yet Obama says this but he has never pushed any policies that try to seriously tackle what he calls a ‘trend’ or to stop the hurt  and suffering of the working and middle classes.

Beyond this, some may still have their substantive claims about the ‘recovery’ that has too place. I looked into some articles in alternative publications to see if I could find something substantive and as it turned out, there was a good body of criticism. Zoltan Zigedy in the publication Against the Current wrote that the Jack Rasmus’s book, Obama’s Economy: Recovery for the Few demonstrates that:

“Obama — the candidate — drew his financial support from Wall Street, surrounded himself with corporate-friendly, free-market-oriented advisers, and preferred caution and compromise to any bold, new vision…once Obama had all but sewn up the nomination, he began an even further rightward shift…Beyond Rasmus’ account and well before the presidential candidacy, Obama’s career was marked by sycophancy to power and wealth and by opportunism…As Rasmus demonstrates, Obama’s economic course was largely predictable from his campaign promises…Rasmus sifts through the seeming chaos and improvisations of the last four years to find three distinct Obama recovery programs implemented in 2009, 2010, and 2011. In addition, he identifies “two and a half” Federal Reserve actions (Quantitative Easings) meant to revive the slumping economy. It is his considered opinion that all these efforts failed to restore the economy to anything like a sustainable vitality…After reading Rasmus’ new book, one will find little to justify praise for the Obama administration. While the three trillion dollars of recovery programs (as tabulated by Rasmus) from March of 2008 until September of 2011 — more than two-thirds of these federal dollars allocated on Obama’s watch — may have staved off an even deeper downturn, they have done little to revive the economy. Certainly from the perspective of capital and a wealthy and powerful tiny minority of our citizens, the recovery has been satisfactory, if not a rousing success…But for the vast majority wages are stagnant or dropping, benefits shaved or eliminated, living costs rising, home ownership in jeopardy, and employment tenuous; most of us are still looking for the recovery. And the economic data promise little improvement.”

In another review of the same book in CounterFire, Henry Parkyn-Smith writes that the book is “framed [in] terms of who the downturn is damaging and what the recovery is supporting” and it: “focuses on the lack of recovery, how deep the crisis is, as well as how and why there seem to be few signs of the crisis abating…[how the] recovery there has been is unequal, and how Obama’s regime has acted to support the rich at the expense of the majority of working Americans.” In Smith’s opinion, Obama, “Within the Democratic Party…in fact one of the most conservative figures: not only were his pre-election promises neo-liberal and pro-business, the policies he actually implemented during his first term could be seen as being even more so.”

Without going through book reviews all day, there are a number of articles written during and after the ‘recovery’ was beginning to be implemented. Writer Alan Farago said in January 2009 that if the fiscal stimulus, as he called it, is

“not applied to rebuilding our nation’s productive capacity, it is money down a black hole. For certain, it is important to provide some floor under this free-fall. But government spending on infrastructure serves a temporary purpose. a limited purpose. Fiscal stimulus that fails to provide for new productive capacity—jobs making products that people need—will bleed out the economy like a slow suicide.”

Farago in this article said that “the Obama administration should consider preemptive measures to nationalize sectors of the economy.” What Farago said did not exactly happen, instead there was what Forbes, The New York Times, Pew Research Center, the Washington Post, and many others called a “jobless recovery” since 2009, when jobs have not really grown but there has been an economic ‘recovery.’ The International Labor Organization even had a report released in January of this year about “the risk of jobless recovery” on a global scale. After all, the Recovery Act itself was not as effective as it seems, in the view of Doug Henwood:

“What we got was a bill that did some good things – extending unemployment benefits, picking up health insurance costs for the laid-off, etc. – but one that also was too loaded with tax breaks and other indirect mechanisms that are supposed to create jobs. If you divide the amount of cash spent, according to Recovery.gov, by the administration’s estimate of jobs “created or saved” – whatever that means exactly – by the StimPak [Stimulus package], you find that the cost per job is something around $250,000…Yes, and if you allow for multiplier effects – someone whose job is saved spends more money than someone on the dole, which saves other jobs that would have otherwise evaporate – then it’s maybe $150,000-175,000 per job. That’s still preposterously inefficient, however…The Obama people like The Market, and want to nudge it into creating more private sector jobs…And there’s a bias among neoliberals, like Obama & Co., that sees public sector jobs as phony and private sector jobs as real…they’re going to emphasize tax breaks and other minimalist strategies. They won’t do much to create jobs.”

An article I almost forget to include was published this May in the New York Times about the “Obama-Bernanke financial rescue.” In the article, Binyamin Appelbaum writes that

Atif Mian and Amir Sufi [in a new book titled House of Debt] are convinced that the Great Recession could have been just another ordinary, lowercase recession if the federal government had acted more aggressively to help homeowners by reducing mortgage debts…Mr. Geithner wrote in his book that the administration had tried to help homeowners — and that doing more wouldn’t have changed the trajectory of the recession…The Obama administration considered several ways to reduce mortgage debts during the heart of the crisis. It promised to pursue a few, too, including empowering bankruptcy courts to forgive debts, paying lenders and buying up loans. But ultimately, the administration adopted a limited aid program and gambled that an economic recovery would take care of the problem. Mr. Mian and Mr. Sufi are not particular about which method of reducing debt would have been best; their point is simply that the government, by failing to do more, inhibited the recovery.

In a blog on their website, the writers of the book clarified what their book was talking about, and their objections to what they called the ‘Geithner view of the world’:

“In some of the early reviews of our book, our argument is caricatured as saying we should have let the banks fail and we should have saved homeowners. We do not make such an extreme claim. In fact, we commend both Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner for some of their policies that were directed at stopping dangerous runs in the banking system. We agree that bank runs threaten the payment system and the entire economy, and policies should be undertaken to prevent such runs. The problem we have with the Geithner view of the world is that it is far too extreme — it is a “save the banks, save the economy” view which has been thoroughly discredited in both the United States and Europe. The fact that Geithner still adheres to this view despite all the evidence to the contrary is truly remarkable. The problem with the economy in 2008 and 2009 is not that banks are not lending enough. It’s absurd to argue that we need more bank lending when demand is collapsing throughout the economy.”

Rather than going through every article on the subject, its better to shift the focus to who the recovery has benefited. As quoted in an opinion piece published on Reuters by Chrystia Freeland, Emanuel Saez said,

“The evidence suggests that top income earners today are not ‘rentiers’ deriving their incomes from past wealth, but rather are ‘working rich,’ highly paid employees or new entrepreneurs who have not yet accumulated fortunes comparable to those accumulated during the Gilded Age.”

There is more. In an article in CounterPunch criticizing the Federal Reserve’s ‘stimulus,’ Mark Vorpahl writes that

“the Federal Reserve is keeping interest rates ultra-low in order to encourage businesses to borrow money and expand their operations. The Fed’s alleged desired outcome is to encourage banks to make more loans to the private sector, thereby encouraging economic growth and job creation. To reach this goal, however, these policies have to be set out on the right path. Currently, they are not. On the contrary, today’s policies are guided by supply side, trickle down theories which essentially claim that the problem with the economy is that the rich aren’t rich enough…There has been a weak upturn in job creation, falling far short of what is needed to return to the employment rate prior to the crash of 2008. In addition, the stimulus has been too weak to counter the accumulating impacts, including layoffs, of sequestration as it starts to gather steam. What’s more, it is a very dubious proposition that this slight and temporary job upturn has anything to do with Bernanke’s extraordinary measures at all.”

The New Statesman noted the same is happening in the UK, with the top one percent having their income rise and the bottom 90 percent having their income decline. Even the housing recovery itself seems to be a joke. As Forbes contributor Richard Green notes,”the housing market at the top is doing much better than the housing market at the bottom (it is doing better than the middle, too).” None of this should be of any surprise since the real size of the bailout was not the reported $700 billion given to the big banks, but was tabulated to over $14 trillion as noted by Naomi Prins (Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department) and $29 trillion from the Fed alone as explained by L. Randall Wray in the Huffington Post. Lest us not forget that Ben Bernanke defended the bailout of the banks. Such measures explain even more why Americans doubt the benefits a stimulus from the Fed.

As noted in an article in the The New Republic, Timothy Noah writes that “the U.S. economy’s current ability to expandno matter who is presidentwithout benefiting the 99 percent is something new. Perhaps we should do something to change that.” While he is right about making sure the 99 percent benefit, the best way to do so is to not choose solutions coming out the two establishment parties, but rather to look for robust alternatives.

[1] Later, even Joe Scarborough reflected this sentiment on MSNBC, the channel which cheers Democrats all day long, saying that “since Barack Obama became president of the United States, 95 percent of economic gains have been made by the richest 1 percent.”

Corporate phonies: the “progressive” policy institute

Editor’s Note: This post comes from my my radical friend, only calling himself Sir Moneypants. Still a good post, regardless.

Before you get fooled by these clever assholes, one needs a refresher on who these people really are. According to Wikipedia and likely noted elsewhere, the “Democratic Leadership Council (DLC)…[which] argued [that] the United States Democratic Party should shift away from the leftward turn it took in the late 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s…hailed President Bill Clinton…[and created an] affiliated think tank [named] the Progressive Policy Institute.” This article will go a little in depth into what this group actually stands for. Burkely and his snide commentary starts NOW!

What they stand for?

The status quo. They describe themselves as having “a long legacy of promoting break-the-mold ideas aimed at economic growth, national security and modern, performance-based government” and a “unique mix of political realism and policy innovation continues to make it a leading source of pragmatic and creative ideas.” What’s the policy initiatives they want? More nationalism! Advancing “progressive, market-friendly ideas that promote American innovation, economic growth and wider opportunity.” I’m not sure what ‘progressive’ means to them but it sure of hell doesn’t mean what Americans or people in the whole world think progressive means. Yay they want to remove “governmental barriers to innovation, including antitrust, and regulatory reform; tax policy; trade; education and workforce development; infrastructure and telecom.” More deregulation! Oh wait. Wasn’t one of the conclusions of the very mild Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission that didn’t hold anyone accountable that “widespread failures in financial regulation and supervision proved devastating to the stability of the nation’s financial markets”? Yes it was. They support what they call ‘energy realism’ but what I call energy (un)realism. They want Obama’s a lot of dirty energy and little renewable all-of-the-above strategy it seems:we focus on natural gas, nuclear and renewables as keys to greater energy independence and new jobs.” So, they must love fracking, the unregulated nature of nuclear power. They want “medical innovation, ” believing in “more innovation…[to raise] raising productivity growth in health care and bringing down costs.” Like that will actually lower costs. Utter bullshit. “We promote FDA regulatory reform and seek to change the debate around innovation’s role in controlling costs.” Same thing as before. Bullshit. They want a “robust housing market and a healthy balance between government and private capital.” This just reminds me of the time Obama said “private capital should take a bigger role in the mortgage market. I know that sounds confusing to folks who call me a socialist — I think I saw some posters there on the way in…But I actually believe in the free market.” Yeah. That ridiculousness. “our work focuses on housing and homeownership..” Sure it does. In screwing over the homeowner. “Fannie and Freddie reform, financial services regulation and retirement security.” Oh, so more deregulation and austerity. That isn’t the answer AT ALL.

Who sits on their staff?

WILL MARSHALL, the president and founder of the Progressive Policy Institute.

We’ll let his bio speak for itself: “Marshall is an honorary Vice-President of Policy Network, an international think tank launched by Tony Blair to promote progressive policy ideas throughout the democratic world.” Yay a league with a war criminal! (as noted here, here , here, and by this guy). “Marshall currently serves on the board of directors for the National Endowment for Democracy.” Oh yeah, supporting imperialism worldwide, imposing corporate-friendly governments! Woohoo! Read more here.

LINDSAY MARK LEWIS, executive director of the Progressive Policy Institute.

The bio speaks for itself: “Prior to joining PPI, Lewis was vice president of the 21st Century Democrats. From 2005-2006, he was the National Finance Director for Democratic National Committee, where he founded the Democracy Bonds program. Lewis worked for Minority Leader Rep. Richard A. Gephardt from 1992-1999. He has also worked for Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), [corporatist] Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Gray Davis for Governor of California, the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts, Tom Harkin for President, and Democracy for America [a Democratic Party front group].”

MICHAEL MANDEL, the chief economic strategist at the Progressive Policy Institute.

Let the bio speak for itself:

“Dr. Michael Mandel is chief economic strategist at the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington, where he supervises PPI’s research and policy work across a wide range of topics, including the data-driven economy, the impact of regulation on innovation, and policies to improve production, investment and job growth…Mandel recently testified before Congress on impact of regulation on innovation. Mandel also holds an appointment as senior fellow at Wharton’s Mack Institute for Innovation Management at the University of Pennsylvania, and serves as president and founder of South Mountain Economics LLC, which provides expertise on emerging occupations and emerging industries…Mandel received a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University and formerly served as chief economist at BusinessWeek, where he directed the magazine’s coverage of the domestic and global economies.”

STEVEN CHLAPECKA, the director of public affairs for the Progressive Policy Institute.

Let the bio speak for itself:

“Steven K. Chlapecka…served as a communication intern at the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth and was a research assistant at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where he worked with a visiting scholar researching the future of Ukraine and Russia’s Euro-Atlantic integration and interest in accession into NATO and the European Union. Previously, he also served as an intern for Wesley Clark and Associates, Rep. Vic Snyder (D-AR) and the International Rescue Committee of Dallas.”

DIANA G. CAREW, an economist at the Progressive Policy Institute.

Read part of her bio:

“…At PPI, she works on issues related to innovation and growth in the U.S. economy, including investment, technology policy, and regulatory reform. Carew also leads PPI’s work on the economic obstacles affecting young Americans, covering topics such as student debt, workforce preparedness, and financial security. Prior to joining PPI, Carew was with the Export-Import Bank of the United States….Previously, Carew was with the Bureau of Labor Statistics…She also serves on the Advisory Board for Bucknell’s Institute of Public Policy.”

JASON GOLD, the director of the Progressive Policy Institute’s “Rethinking U.S. Housing Policy Project” and senior fellow for financial services policy.

Read his bio:

“…His areas of expertise include housing, banking, financial services and capital markets. He has been involved in banking and federal policy for over eighteen years….In 2010 he advised the Congressional Oversight Panel in producing the November 2010 oversight report on the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)….Gold is a frequent industry speaker and regular contributor to US News and World Report.”

Also, these bastards:

    Jim Arkedis is a senior fellow at PPI.
    Roger Ballentine is a PPI senior fellow and founder and president of Green Strategies, Inc.
    Joel Berg is executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. He is also the author of All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America?
    Roger Cooper is currently the principal of Cleveland Park Policy Consulting.
    Anne Kim is a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute and Senior Strategist at the Corporation for Enterprise Development in Washington, D.C.
    Ed Kilgore is a PPI senior fellow, as well as managing editor of The Democratic Strategist, an online forum.
    Andrew C. Klein is a Professor of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics at Oregon State University.
    David Osborne is a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute.
    PPI Fellow Mark Reutter is the former editor of Railroad History and author of Making Steel: Sparrows Point and the Rise and Ruin of American Industrial Might (2005, rev. ed.).
    Raymond A. Smith, a PPI Senior Fellow, is an adjunct assistant professor of political science at Columbia University and New York University and an investigator in the Division of Gender, Sexuality, and Health at the Columbia University Medical Center.
    Dane Stangler is research manager at the Kauffman Foundation.
    Sylvester J. Schieber is the former chair of the Social Security Advisory Board.
    Paul Weinstein Jr. is an eight-year veteran of the Clinton Administration and served as senior advisor to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. He is currently a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, an adviser to the Bowles-Simpson Moment of Truth project, and lectures at the Johns Hopkins University.

I could go on an on, listing their contributors and more. But this is enough.