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American Brainwash: Guess what, Ma, capitalism is not Americanness!
November 21, 2017

Patrice Greanville
Iterations: March 18, 2017, August 1982)

(Photo: Mary Crandall, Flickr)

Virtually unchallenged to this day, corporate media are accustomed to using a number of misleading “cultural equations” to hide the existence of undemocratic institutions at the core of the American system. Thus, capitalism, a “hierarchic tyranny” as Chomsky calls it, is usually identified by its euphemisms: “Free Enterprise,” “market system,” “private enterprise.” “the American Way,” etc. Academia also cheerfully participates in this deliberate cosmetisation of what otherwise many people would begin to recognize as something unhealthy and malodorous in their midst. But of all these quaint labels and false equations the most outrageous and cynically deceptive is that which makes “Americanness”—the very national identity of the United States— identical with capitalism, both concepts one and inseparable.

Consistent with this practice, overt and pervasive partisanship in support of capitalism is not regarded by the American media as an ideological bias negating their vaunted professional “objectivity” but rather something akin to the serene acceptance of natural law.

Yet, despite its currency, the idea that capitalism is synonymous with “Americanness” is as spurious as the equally widespread delusion that capitalism equals human nature, another fraud, we should hasten to point, bandied about by pretty much the same crowd of conservatives and free marketers.

It is surely anticlimactic to state it, but these myths have been deliberately injected into the American political consciousness by the system’s mind managers.  Alex Carey, Herbert Schiller, Noam Chomsky, Ed Herman, Bob McChesney, and Michael Parenti, among other leading political scientists, have amply documented that such notions do not materialize out of thin air, that they are deliberately manufactured, and that a huge apparatus of propaganda is used to keep them in circulation.

Cui bono?

Great political benefits can be reaped from this kind of sleazy political legerdemain. For by successfully equating loyalty to capitalism with loyalty to the motherland (a ruse that reminds us uncomfortably of another system that continually elevated loyalty to the motherland and its underlying supremacist system as sacred), the ruling orders can more easily whip up support and legitimacy for policies which chiefly safeguard their interests.

    Did the French revolution deny the French some of their precious “Frenchiness”?

Besides invading the notion of “American nationhood,” like a giant, Alien-like parasite, US capitalism has also embedded itself behind “freedom”. One of its most popular deceiving masques, “the Free Enterprise System” exudes unconditional love for freedom. But is this so? The record again hardly supports such claims. For if “free enterprise” is so respectful of individual liberty and human rights, why does it thrive under Nazism?
The ploy has been particularly effective in the area of foreign policy, where the global interests of American business and the native plutocracy have long been sold to the public as those of the nation. As anyone can easily infer, this has often served to silence and isolate critics, who have been thus conveniently smeared with the brush of disloyalty, suspicion, nuttiness or even treason. An informational ghetto has been created in America, partly to maintain the illusion that free speech still matters. In extreme cases, home dissidents have been carted away under charges of “sedition,” ingrates “intent on subverting the hallowed political system of the United States,” and similarly dubious statutes and charges.

Given the success of these grand manipulations, there is little doubt that the American ruling class has carried the art of mass deception to truly unprecedented heights. No other western nation would have the audacity of requiring loyalty to capitalism–however camouflaged–as a prerequisite for good citizenship. Only in a nation where political illiteracy is high, and kept artificially that way  by the powers that be, can such a fraud be propagated without too much challenge or any challenge at all. Indeed, why should a historically transient system such as capitalism, one frequently suspect and deservedly despised by large numbers of people, be equated with the more enduring essence of the nation, itself an extraordinarily elusive and historically ephemeral concept?

The fact that in the 21st century a cancerous capitalism is essentially eating away the very substance of the nation, a concept it finds narrow, inconvenient and outmoded to its compulsion for transnational depredation, does not reduce the need to dismantle this noxious myth, as it is still American capitalism, and its monstrous military muscle, that remains the linchpin in the imperialist global effort. It is capitalism’s dynamic that feeds Washington’s mad push for global supremacy at any cost, and it is capitalism again which stands to gain by imposing fascism on a semiconscious world.

Since no one ever bothers to point the obvious, that capitalism and Americanness—whatever that is—are not the same thing,  and that such notion is a raging fraud, we should stress for the record that the concept does not have the remotest iota of validity. And that even sixth-grade logic can prove it. In fact, here’s a simple set of questions for capitalist propagandists:

Will Americans be less “American” it they choose for themselves another social system?
For that matter, were the Russians certifiably less“Russian” after their October Revolution?
Did the French revolution deny the French some of their precious “Frenchiness”?
Are the millions of Italian communists less quintessentially Italian because they cherish Marx instead of Adam Smith?
Are pro-Castro Cubans demonstrably “less” Cuban than those living in exile?

The answers should be clear to anyone with a modicum of common sense.
A pioneer in the field of political media analysis, Patrice Greanville is TGP’s editor in chief. The above is an edited excerpt from the author’s First Catalog of Media Biases / Whitewashing the Face of Capitalism (Cyrano’s Journal, Premiere Issue, Fall 1982).

MAIN IMAGE: The American Way, by Margaret Bourke.

Whose Private-Sector Debt Will Implode Next: US, Canada, China, Eurozone, Japan?


Whose Private-Sector Debt Will Implode Next: US, Canada, China, Eurozone, Japan?

Canadians, fasten your seat-belt. Here are the charts.

The Financial Crisis in the US was a consequence of too much debt and too much risk, among numerous other factors, and the whole house of cards came down. Now, after eight years of experimental monetary policies and huge amounts of deficit spending by governments around the globe, public debt has ballooned. Gross national debt in the US just hit $20.5 trillion, or 105% of GDP. But that can’t hold a candle to Japan’s national debt, now at 250% of GDP.

And private-sector debt, which includes household and business debts — how has it fared in the era of easy money?

In the US, total debt to the private non-financial sector has ballooned to $28.5 trillion. That’s up 14% from the $25 trillion at the crazy peak of the Financial Crisis and up 63% from 2004.

In relationship to the economy, private sector debt soared from 147% of GDP in 2004 to 170% of GDP in the first quarter of 2008. Then it all fell apart. Some of this debt blew up and was written off. For a little while consumers and businesses deleveraged just a tiny little bit, before starting to add to their debts once again.

But the economy began growing again too, and private-sector debt as a percent of GDP fell to a low of 148% in Q1 2015. It has since picked up steam, growing once again faster than the economy, and now is at 151.7% of GDP, back where it was in 2005. This chart shows US private sector debt to the non-financial sector, in trillion dollars (blue line, left scale) and as a percent of GDP (red line, right scale):

In the Eurozone, the pattern looks similar before the Financial Crisis, with total debt growing sharply both in euros and as a percent of GDP. But after the Financial Crisis, private-sector debt continued to grow in euro terms. As a percent of GDP, it largely leveled off, and as the economy picked up steam over the past two years, this debt declined to 163% of GDP:

These charts are based on data from the Bank for International Settlements and the St. Louis Fed.

In Japan, private-sector debt declined over much of the period but over the last three years picked up a little. Debt as percent of GDP has zigzagged lower, though it recently bounced to 160% — higher than in the US but lower than in the Eurozone.

Japan occupies a unique place in the developed world. The private sector experienced a phenomenal credit bubble in the 1980s, with debt peaking at 219.5% of GDP in Q3 of 1993. This private-sector credit bubble then imploded in a more or less orderly fashion over the next decades:

But as Japan’s private-sector debt bubble deflated, the government went on a gigantic no-holds-barred deficit-spending spree. As a consequence, the national debt skyrocketed from 55% of GDP in 1981 to 250% of GDP in 2017, by far the highest in the world. The Bank of Japan has been monetizing much of this debt under the guise of QE to keep it under control:

China is now where Japan was before its credit bubble blew up in the early 1990s. China’s private-sector debt – the part that has been officially acknowledged – surged from 20% of GDP in 2008 to 211% of GDP in 2017. This is the danger Zone where Japan got in trouble. It also assumes that China’s GDP numbers are not inflated. If GDP numbers are inflated, as many observers suspect, China’s private-sector debt as percent of GDP would be much higher:

But wait, Canada rules! Private sector debt in Canada has more than doubled, from C$2.2 trillion in 2006 to C$4.5 trillion, and private sector debt as percent of GDP has soared to 217%, within a hair of where Japan was in Q3 1993, before the credit bubble imploded. Also note how eerily similar the charts for China’s debt and Canada’s debt are:

So Canada and China stand out in this group of debtor economies. The chart below shows private-sector debt as a percent of GDP with China (red) and Canada (black) up in their own universe, competing with each other to see whose debt will implode first. By comparison, the US, the Eurozone, and Japan look practically tame. Note how in 2008 Canada was right in their neighborhood:

Within this group of economies, when it comes to the next private-sector-debt bubble implosion, there are really two places to look: Canada and China. In Canada households are on the hook, being among the most indebted in the world. In China, the debt binge has spread across businesses and households alike.

In the US, the yield spread of Treasury securities has collapsed to lowest level since 2007, and even the Fed is fretting about it. Read…  The US Treasury Market Smells a Rat

Geopolitics / Extremists hit mosque in N. Egypt
« Last post by RE on Today at 12:17:29 AM »

Extremists hit mosque in N. Egypt
Bob McGovern Saturday, November 25, 2017

Abdallah Abdel Nasser, 14, receives medical treatment at Suez Canal University hospital in Ismailia, Egypt, Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, after he was in injured during an attack on a mosque. Militants attacked a crowded mosque during Friday prayers in the Sinai Peninsula, setting off explosives, spraying worshippers with gunfire and killing more than 200 people in the deadliest ever attack by Islamic extremists in Egypt. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Credit: Associated Press

RUSH TO HELP: An attack on an Egyptian mosque killed at least 235 worshippers. Victims were carried away from the scene following the bombing and shooting.
WRECKAGE: A damaged car at the site of the Egypt Sinai mosque bombing yesterday.
RUSH TO HELP: An attack on an Egyptian mosque killed at least 235 worshippers. Victims were carried away from the scene following the bombing and shooting.
AL ARISH, EGYPT - NOVEMBER 24: People gather at the site of the Egypt Sinai mosque bombing in Al-Arish, Egypt on November 24, 2017. The death toll from a bomb that went off outside a mosque in the city of Al-Arish in the northern Sinai Peninsula following Friday prayers has climbed to a whopping 235, according to official sources. At least 109 others were injured in the blast, which occurred in the citys Al-Rawda neighborhood. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Sheikh Sulieman Ghanem, 75, receives medical treatment at Suez Canal University hospital in Ismailia, Egypt, Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, after he was injured during an attack on a mosque. Militants attacked a crowded mosque during Friday prayers in the Sinai Peninsula, setting off explosives, spraying worshippers with gunfire and killing more than 200 people in the deadliest ever attack by Islamic extremists in Egypt. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Relatives of Sheikh Sulieman Ghanem, 75, center, surround him as he receives medical treatment at Suez Canal University hospital in Ismailia, Egypt, Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, after he was injured during an attack on a mosque. Militants attacked a crowded mosque during Friday prayers in the Sinai Peninsula, setting off explosives, spraying worshippers with gunfire and killing more than 200 people in the deadliest ever attack by Islamic extremists in Egypt. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Militants armed with guns, rockets and grenades carried out the deadliest-ever attack in Egypt yesterday by Islamic extremists, slaughtering dozens of people at a mosque in a savage assault that an expert says will likely prompt a massive government crackdown.

“There is already a widespread counterinsurgency going on in the region, and there is no doubt that will be ramped up,” said Peter Krause, an international security professor at Boston College. “There could also be more repressive measures against other Islamic parties. Suffice to say, there will likely be a massive military crackdown.”

The attack occurred in a dangerous portion of the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula. The militants targeted a mosque frequented by Sufis, members of a mystic movement within Islam that are considered heretics by some Islamic militant groups.

“The hardcore jihadis don’t consider them to even be Muslims,” Krause said. “One of the reasons they attack a group like this is that they consider them to be nonbelievers.”

The attack in the town of Bir al-Abd left at least 235 people dead and more than 100 wounded, according to the state news agency.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi vowed that the attack “will not go unpunished” and that Egypt would persevere with its war on terrorism. But he did not specify what new steps might be taken.

President Trump took to Twitter to condemn the attacks.

“Horrible and cowardly terrorist attack on innocent and defenseless worshipers in Egypt,” he wrote. “The world cannot tolerate terrorism, we must defeat them militarily and discredit the extremist ideology that forms the basis of their existence!”
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The Egyptian military and security forces have already been waging a tough campaign against militants in the towns, villages and desert mountains of Sinai, and Egypt has been in a state of emergency for months.

In yesterday’s assault, the militants descended on the al-Rawdah mosque in four off-road vehicles as hundreds worshipped inside. Officials cited by the state news agency MENA said the attackers blocked off escape routes with burning cars before firing rocket-propelled grenades at the house of worship.

The news agency said the attackers then shot attendees as they tried to run from the building.
Agelbert NOTE: Cornel West tells it like it IS!

"WHY YOU GOTTA DEFEND A LIAR, MAN?!" Philosopher Cornel West DESTROYS Trump Lackey Paris Dennard

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Dose of Dissonance

Published on Aug 15, 2017

During a CNN panel debate on "Anderson Cooper 360," philosopher Cornel West brilliantly destroys Trump lackey & former Bush staffer Paris Dennard for defending Donald Trump's lies!
Agelbert Newz / Scientist Kevin Anderson: Our Socio-Economic Paradigm ensures FAILURE
« Last post by agelbert on November 24, 2017, 04:55:08 PM »

Scientist Kevin Anderson: Our Socio-Economic Paradigm Is Incompatible With Climate Change Objectives

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Democracy Now!

Published on Nov 16, 2017 - Broadcasting from the United Nations Climate Summit in Bonn, Germany, we continue our conversation with Kevin Anderson, one of the world’s leading climate scientists. Anderson is deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester in Britain. The report is entitled “Can the Climate Afford Europe’s Gas Addiction?”

Democracy Now! is an independent global news hour that airs weekdays on nearly 1,400 TV and radio stations Monday through Friday. Watch our livestream 8-9AM ET:

Please consider supporting independent media by making a donation to Democracy Now! today:


Kevin Anderson & Hugh Hunt - Quit the loose talk on climate change and let's get serious!
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UPFSI .org

Published on Nov 17, 2017

In this Climate Matters show live from COP-23 in Bonn, Kevin Anderson of Britain's Tyndall Center and Hugh Hunt of Cambridge University, go at it in a lively discussion of all the loose talk happening about climate change and the lack of meaningful action. A lively and light conversation for a very serious and weighty subject.

Category: Education

License: Standard YouTube License

Knarfs Knewz / How the village feast paved the way to empires and economics
« Last post by knarf on November 24, 2017, 04:22:02 PM »

Feasts helped to transform egalitarian hunters and gatherers into the kinds of societies that laid the foundations for early states and even industrial empires. They created hierarchies and inequalities, the advantaged and the disadvantaged. Feasts might well have been the catalyst for the agricultural revolution, some 10,000 years ago. But just how did feasts bring about such dramatic transformations in cultures? In the ethnographic research that my students and I conducted among traditional tribal and chiefdom societies, feasts turned out to be very different kinds of events than your average turkey and cranberry Thanksgiving.

The most lavish traditional feast that I participated in during my research was a Torajan funeral feast in Sulawesi, Indonesia. It took more than five years to amass the assets and resources required. During this time, the deceased man was not buried but stayed wrapped up in a cocoon of fabrics in the corner of his house where he eventually dried out, and was still considered part of the family until he was buried. A small army of workers and organisers was formed to build an enclosed courtyard of temporary verandas around the house of the deceased, replete with sleeping and eating quarters, even kitchens. Invitations were sent to far-flung kin and allied families. Hundreds of guests attended.

When the time came for the funeral ceremonies, groups of allied lineages entered the courtyard in formal processions dressed in their finest, all bringing baskets of rice and other gifts as demonstrations of their support. Over the following three days, dozens of water buffaloes and pigs were sacrificed in the centre of the funeral area. The slaughtered animals were destined for huge feasts of meat and rice and palm wine – feasts that could last for weeks.

Each contribution, especially of animals, was duly recorded because all such contributions were seen as debts that had to be repaid by the kin or allies of the surviving family. The person who contributed the most to the funeral inherited the valuable rice paddies of the deceased upon which wealth and power were ultimately based. Political power, then, was partly based upon debts incurred through feasts.

Feasts tend to be competitive because the underlying motive for feasting is to secure advantageous relationships via debts (for marriage, defence or economic endeavours). This competitiveness pressures organisers to produce or acquire enormous amounts of foods, especially meat, starches and alcohol. In fact, given the competition based on gifts (that is, debts) of food and prestige items, there could never be enough food since someone was always trying to produce more in order to out-compete his rivals. It is these competitive feasting pressures that, I argue, resulted in the domestication of plants and animals.

Feasts are often very expensive events, sometimes requiring up to 10 years of work and saving. Those who are paying for them expect to obtain some benefit from all their efforts and expenditures. And this is the important part about traditional feasts: those who are invited, and who often receive gifts, are considered obligated to reciprocate the invitation and gifts within a reasonable amount of time. By accepting invitations to feasts, individuals enter into relationships of alliance with the host. Each of them supports the other in political or social conflicts as well as in economic matters. Such support is critical because social and political conflicts are rife in tribal villages, with many accusations of infidelity, theft, sorcery, inheritance irregularities, unpaid bills, ritual transgressions and crop damage from other people’s domestic animals. In order to defend oneself from such accusations and threats of punishment, individuals need strong allies within the community. Feasts are a way to get them.

Moreover, in times of famine, it is essential to have a network of support in order to borrow food. Famine can occur for many reasons: adults might be unable to work the fields due to accident or illness, crops might fail as a result of flooding or drought or plague. Feasting is the way that people created and maintained reliable social support networks – and they are effective in this because of the reciprocal debts they entailed. Once embroiled in the debt system, it is almost impossible to extricate oneself, and failing to reciprocate feasts and gifts often meant murder and warfare.

The networks and debts that feasting systems created gave great political power to certain individuals. This is how traditional feasting created the first economically based (ie, surplus-based) hierarchies. Ambitious individuals profited from the feasting system by involving others in reciprocal debts. The use of feasts in this fashion is, of course, tied to the ability of hosts to produce food surpluses, and then to convert these surpluses into advantages. This kind of energy-conversion adaptation probably emerged only in the Upper Paleolithic of Europe among the more complex hunter/gatherers, around 30,000 years ago. Feasting became common elsewhere only about 15,000 years ago during the Mesolithic or Epipaleolithic.

In the Near East, where wheat, lentils, goats and cattle were first domesticated, feasting and socioeconomic inequalities appeared in the Natufian culture (12,500-14,500 years ago), just before any domesticates appeared during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic (12,500-10,000 years ago). Similar sequences occurred in the Far East with rice and pigs, and in the New World. Even today, it is remarkable that domestic animals in the tribal villages are almost never used for normal meals: they are universally reserved for sacrifice and consumption at feasts. Such a strong ethnographic pattern seems to imply that this was the original purpose for keeping and domesticating animals. Hill-tribe villages in Southeast Asia explicitly view the raising of domestic animals as similar to putting money in the bank. People use surpluses to raise animals that will profit them in the future through feasting benefits.

The reliance on feasting to convert surpluses into power continued after the domestication of plants and animals into the Neolithic, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. Feasting was also integral to the early Sumerian city states as well as to Classical Roman elite culture and politics. It virtually ran the Incan Empire in South America. Far different from the gustatory and social entertainment of modern feasting, traditional feasts were entertainment with ulterior motives and binding debts that have produced the kind of surplus-based industrial society with all its inequalities that much of the world lives in today. Where would we be without feasts? I believe we would still be hunters and gatherers.
Knarfs Knewz / US Workers Competing With $4.70 a Day Mexican Workers
« Last post by knarf on November 24, 2017, 04:19:04 PM »
Which is One of the Reasons Why US Wealth and Income Inequalities Are At Historic Levels

CNN reports that “Nearly 25 million Mexicans are getting a pay raise next week. From $4.25 to $4.70 — a day. Mexican government and business leaders agreed on Tuesday to raise the country’s minimum wage starting on December 1 to 88.36 pesos from 80.04 pesos. The 10% raise is good news for 24.7 million Mexicans who work either one or two minimum wage jobs. But it also resurfaces a key complaint by American workers who voted for President Trump, in part because of his pledge to renegotiate NAFTA, the trade pact between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Trump blames NAFTA for the loss of many American jobs. Cheap labor has attracted American companies to Mexico for decades.”

Trump, of course, is correct. Millions of US jobs have been exported to Mexico since before Nafta, and millions more have been created there by US corporations rather than here because the terms of Nafta paved the legal road to do so. Generally, the numbers have been egregiously understated by researchers because the methodology they use limits

What Trump doesn’t want US citizens to know, which is also what the billionaires who run the Republican Party and the billionaires who run the Democratic Party don’t want you to know, is that worldwide and US income and wealth inequalities have been fueled by Nafta, and the stock markets have been booming since Nafta, precisely because Nafta has allowed US corporations to export millions of US jobs to Mexico. The difference between the old higher US wages and benefits and the new lower Mexican wages with no benefits goes straight into the already super-sized and ultra-fat wallets of the uber-rich via higher corporate profits, surging share prices and rising dividends.

Do you ever wonder how Warren Buffett, Phil Knight, the Koch Brothers, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and others ever got so much richer than they should be? These wonder boys are all big-time supporters of cheap Mexican and cheaper Chinese and cheaper Vietnamese wages and even cheaper Bangladesh wages with no benefits and fewer worker safety and relaxed or nonexistent environmental controls. They also have prospered because of these things.

So these rich folks owe quite a debt to the record income and wealth inequality they have created to Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, Paul Ryan, and Wall Street Senator Ron Wyden. The rest of us pay the price of the massive political corruption they have created.
Near the town of Lacolle, Quebec, just across the border in upstate New York, a cluster of blue-trimmed beige trailers has just arrived to provide temporary shelter for the unending wave of refugees, many of them from Haiti, who walk up on foot from Trump’s America. Inside the new heated trailers are beds and showers, ready to warm up frozen hands and feet, while processing and security checks take place.

Last winter, after Donald Trump’s inauguration, there was a sharp increase in “irregular border crossings” all across the Canada-U.S. border: people sidestepping official ports of entry and trying to reach safety by walking through the woods, across clearings, or over ditches. Since January 2017, Canadian authorities intercepted nearly 17,000 migrants from the U.S. (and others crossed without detection). The applications for asylum begin once migrants are safely in Canada, rather than at border crossings, where they would likely be turned back under a controversial cross-border agreement between the two countries.

The risks of the irregular crossings are especially great in winter, and this one looks to be a cold one. Last year, during the coldest months, there were wrenching reports of frostbitten toes and fingers having to be amputated on arrival in Canada. Two men from Ghana lost all their fingers after they walked across to Manitoba — one told reporters he felt lucky that he had managed to keep one of his thumbs.

Despite these hazards, there is every reason to believe the flow of migrants making their way to those trailers near Lacolle will continue even as the temperature drops. Indeed, the luggage-laden foot traffic may well speed up in the coming weeks and months.

That’s because on Monday, November 20, the Trump administration made good on its threats to remove more than 50,000 Haitians from a program that currently allows them to live and work legally in the United States. In 20 months, they will be stripped of all protection and subjected to deportation. The administration has already announced it will be kicking Nicaraguans out of the same program and has suggested it may do the same to Hondurans next year. In September, Sudanese people got word that they’re getting the boot as well. Salvadorans are expected to be next.

The program, called Temporary Protected Status, gives special legal status to people from select countries that have been hard-hit by wars and natural disasters while their homelands recover (they need to be in the United States when the disaster strikes). After its devastating 2010 earthquake, the Obama administration added Haiti to the TPS list.

In the years since, thousands of Haitians gained status under the program, allowing them the freedom to build lives in the U.S. — to go to college, work in health care, construction and hotels, pay taxes, and have children who are U.S. citizens. A total of more than 300,000 people — from Sudan, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Somalia, and more — are similarly covered by TPS. The program was originally designed as a way of “throwing a bone to a country that has had a disaster until that country is back on its feet,” as Sarah Pierce at the Migration Policy Institute puts it. Yet in some cases, as with war-torn Somalia, the designation has been renewed so many times that it has been in place for 26 years, turning it into a kind of unstable, de facto refugee program (albeit one that is no help to Somalis fleeing current violence or persecution, only those who have been in the United States for decades).

During his presidential campaign, Trump dropped strong hints that he supported the program, at least when it came to Haitians. Courting the vote in Miami’s Little Haiti, he told a crowd that, “Whether you vote for me or don’t vote for me, I really want to be your greatest champion, and I will be your champion.”

All that changed quickly. As part of its broader anti-immigrant crusade, the Trump administration soon began casting TPS as a scam, a backdoor way for foreigners to stay in the U.S. indefinitely (never mind that many of the countries covered remain ravaged by war and disaster and rely heavily on money sent home by workers covered by TPS for whatever slow reconstruction is underway).

It started just a few months into the Trump administration. First, James McCament, then-acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, urged that Haiti’s inclusion under the program be “terminated.” Then a memo from the Department of Homeland Security suggested that Haitians “prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States.” And in May, John Kelly, then-DHS secretary, said Haitian TPS recipients “need to start thinking about returning” to Haiti.

Overnight, tens of thousands of people were forced to choose from an array of high-risk options: Stay and hope for the best? Join the underground economy? Return to Haiti, where life is far from safe, and the cholera epidemic still claims hundreds of lives each year? Or walk across the border to Canada, where the country’s young prime minister had been making bold proclamations about welcoming refugees?

Since June, that last option is the one a great many Haitians have chosen, as many as 250 of them a day during the summer months. They packed what they could carry, boarded a plane or a bus to Plattsburgh, New York, transferred to a taxi for the 30-minute ride to the end of Roxham Road, near Lacolle, then got out and walked across the ditch that divides Trump’s America and Justin Trudeau’s Canada.

Breathing Different Air

“The minute I arrived here, I felt as if was breathing different air. I used to have this sharp pain in my shoulder and suddenly it was gone. I asked myself ‘What happened?’ I realized that it was a product of the stress.”

Agathe St. Preux, a middle-aged woman wearing a modest, shin-length skirt and a black blazer, tells me how it felt to finally arrive in Canada after 12 years of trying and failing to get permanent legal status in the United States.

It was mid-October and we were gathered in a packed room in Montreal’s Maison d’Haïti, a hub for the city’s deep-rooted Haitian community. Dozens of people who made “irregular” border crossings since the anti-TPS threats began had agreed to come and share their migration stories.

The experiences were hugely varied, and several people asked to remain anonymous. There was a mother of three who had been working legally at JFK Airport and decided that her family could only stay intact if she left it all and walked across the border at Lacolle.

There was a man who ran a successful campaign for mayor of a small Haitian city but was “attacked by three thugs” from a rival political faction. “It was a miracle that he survived,” observed a woman who herself had spent three years working in the U.S. but fled when she heard news of friends — fellow Haitians — already being deported under Trump.

A man in his late 20s told the room that he had been in the U.S. for 15 years, went to college, then worked for seven years. “I was part of the economy. I paid taxes.” But with Trump, “the stress was enough to kill me. So I flew to Plattsburgh, took a cab, and walked across.”

Here too was a mother of six who lived for eight years in Miami, studied to become a nurse while working night shifts, and slept at bus stops until the sun rose — all so that she could finally get a job caring for sick Americans and pay taxes to the U.S. government. “We work like animals,” Manie Yanica Quetant told me, through a Creole interpreter. “And then he says, ‘Get out.’”

“He,” of course, is Trump — or “Chomp,” as his name is consistently pronounced here.

For the vast majority of Haitians gathered at the Maison, the route they took to the United States was not the relatively direct one from Haiti to Florida by boat, a passage that has been heavily patrolled for decades by the U.S. Coast Guard. Seeking jobs and more welcoming immigration policies, their journeys were far more circuitous: from Haiti to other Caribbean islands, then to Brazil, where jobs were promised in the lead-up to the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Then, as those opportunities fizzled, travels continued up through South and Central America until finally reaching California.

Several people in the room had crossed 10 or 11 countries before reaching their destination. Years spent running and hiding, hunted by authorities, preyed upon by thieves.

Rosemen François, a young woman with spiral curls streaked with purple, told me that what happened in Panama still haunts her. “I was crossing a river and I fell three times in the water, and at one point I couldn’t feel my feet because the skin was coming off. That feeling has marked me.”

Responding to François’s testimony, a man who had been quiet up until then put his hand up. “When we were in Panama, we had to sleep in the forests. … We saw people die. We saw women get raped. We spent six days in the forest in Panama without eating, sleeping outside, in the rain.” With harrowing echoes of the Underground Railroad, he said they heard sounds and “thought there were wild animals and we ran, we lost our belongings, our luggage, everything.”

“But we still had faith and we still had the United States in our minds. We thought that when we arrived, there would be paradise for us.” After all, ever since the earthquake, there had been a special program in place — TPS — that recognized their country’s suffering and allowed them to live and work out of the shadows.

But for many, it didn’t work out that way. As François recalled: “When I arrived in California [three years ago], I thought that would be the end of my journey. Instead I got arrested and put in a detention center, and I couldn’t see daylight or make out the difference between days and night. I was there for seven days. No shower. The food was not edible.” Convinced she had been forgotten in a black hole, “I started screaming … and that’s how I got out.”

For a few years, things started to normalize. She got a work permit. She studied. But then last summer, “my friends got deported and sent back to Haiti, and that’s when I decided to come to Canada.”

Asked why this was happening, her answer is simple: “It was Mr. Trump. Chomp … Chomp took my dream and turned it upside down.”

Quetant, the nurse from Miami, describes her shock at the news that Haitians, who had come to feel a measure of security thanks to TPS, were suddenly being hunted once again. “You turn on the radio and the news is ‘Hey, they are catching the Haitians.’” And so “you have to start running, and you are out of breath, and where are you going to run to?”

The stress, she said, was unbearable. “You don’t know why they are coming to catch you and when you look around, you don’t know how people are seeing you or what to do. You want to stop running.”
Trump Refugees

For those who arrived in the U.S. after Trump was elected, the experience was even more extreme. Dieuliphète Derphin, a young man who made the journey up through Brazil, arrived just before inauguration. “I was astonished to get arrested and spend six days in a detention center. I was asking myself, ‘How come they’re treating black people in an inhuman way? How come you’re not giving me a toothbrush? How come I don’t have access to water? Why are they doing this to us? Is it because we are black?”

“After that, I didn’t want to stay in the States. Not even for a second. That’s why I got the idea of coming to Canada.” He crossed the border in August, after just eight months in the U.S.

Many in the room echoed Agathe St. Preux’s description of “breathing different air” upon arrival in Quebec. The room broke out in applause when Quetant said of Trump, “I hope he never comes here because the Canadian land is a blessed land.”

And yet it soon became clear that despite a brief surge of relief that came with escaping Trump’s crackdown, the search for safely and stability is far from over. Many Haitians came to Canada because they heard that Justin Trudeau’s government would welcome them with open arms. They knew about Trudeau’s famous tweet, sent on the same day protests against Trump’s first Muslim travel ban kicked off across the country. “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.”

One man spoke of that and similar messages broadcasting from the north as “a divine sign that God was showing the way, saying, ‘Come to Canada.’”

What they discovered, however, is that the situation was far more complex. In recent months, Canadian officials have been frantically discouraging immigrants in the U.S., Haitians in particular, from attempting the crossing, pointing out that warm-and-fuzzy tweets notwithstanding, Canada’s immigration policies are restrictive, and hundreds of Haitians have been deported since January. Marjorie Villefranche, director of the Maison d’Haïti, says that about 60 Haitians are still crossing the border every day; she estimates that 50 percent will get refugee status and another quarter will get some other kind of status. The others may well be deported.

Moreover, Canada and the U.S. are part of the Safe Third Country agreement, which states that asylum-seekers “are required to request refugee protection in the first safe country they arrive in.” Since the United States is classified as “safe” under the accord, if Haitians currently based in the States go to a Canadian border crossing and say they want to make a refugee claim, they will most likely be turned back.

If, however, they magically appear in Canada, their claims can be processed. This is the primary reason that Haitians, as well as thousands of other immigrants fleeing rising anti-immigrant sentiment and policies in the U.S., have crossed the border by foot, which carries both physical risks and legal ones. As Quetant put it, to have a chance of getting legal status in Canada, “you have to break the law. You don’t want to do it, it’s not your first choice, but you have to.”

Only one woman in the room was willing to say that before crossing on foot, she attempted to enter Canada at an official port of entry. She was officially denied, a fact that is now on her record. This puts her in the weakest legal position of the group. “I can’t get a working permit because I was deported,” she says. Another woman shakes her head. “This is what everyone here is trying to avoid.”

Canada has not exactly been an antiracist utopia for this wave of black migrants either. White supremacists have held rallies at the Lacolle border crossings and unfurled an anti-immigrant banner outside Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, which has been converted into a temporary shelter for Trump refugees. And so far, Haitians have not been greeted with the same flood of grassroots generosity as Syrian refugees to Canada famously experienced.

But many Montrealers have been moved to help the Haitian arrivals, and there have been expressions of incredible warmth. “We want it to feel like home,” Villefranche said of the building where we were gathered, the Maison d’Haïti. The center first opened in 1972, amid an earlier surge of Haitian immigration during the brutal years of the Duvalier dictatorships. Last year, after decades at the heart of the city’s Haitian life, they celebrated a move to a modern, sun-filled new building in Montreal’s Saint-Michel neighbourhood. Floor-to-ceiling windows face the street, community members chat in a cafe, and vibrant Haitian art hangs on every available patch of wall.

The new space arrived just in time to cope with Hurricane Trump. As with the immediate aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, teams of volunteers now help the new arrivals fill out forms for temporary work permits. Staff members work to make sure children register for school, setting them up with uniforms and cheerful notebooks. There are French classes for adults and ongoing drives to collect clothing, furniture, and other supplies.

Most importantly, there are other Haitians, many who have been in Montreal for decades and have built stable and thriving lives. “They tell us, ‘Don’t be afraid. Just as the sun is shining on us today, it will be shining on you one day in the future,’” explained one recent Trump refugee. Philogene Gerda, a young mother of three who spent 15 days at the Olympic Stadium, said that the Maison “felt like home, especially the women’s space every Friday night, when you can bring your kids.”

There is also political work being done within the broader immigrant rights movement to push the Trudeau government to live up to its pro-refugee marketing. Heated trailers on the border help, but they are not enough. Thousands of Canadians have written letters calling for an end to the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States. Other campaigns are calling for significant new resources to speed up the processing of asylum claims, so migrants aren’t left in legal limbo for years.

At the Maison d’Haïti, the overwhelming feeling is one of resolve. Having traversed the length of the Americas to arrive at this pocket of calm, there is, quite literally, nowhere left to run, no further north to flee. As Derphin put it to me, “This is it, the end of the road. … Our life should be here. And to be protected here. That’s it. I don’t want to go through all this turmoil again.”

For Villefranche, this is all the more crucial in light of the DHS announcement that 50,000 Haitians in the U.S. are now living on borrowed time. “We are expecting a lot of people to come,” she told me this week. But she hopes that anyone planning to attempt a foot crossing will take advantage of the 20-month delay to avoid the winter, with all of its risks. “Crossing in winter is not a good idea. It’s very hard, but we are ready to welcome them. The trailers are there. And at the Maison d’Haïti, we are here.”

Of course, not all the Haitians facing the loss of their protected status will choose the Canadian option. There had been fears that this week’s announcement would cut people off as soon as January, as Kelly had threatened in May. By adding 18 months to that, hopes have been raised that before the clock runs out, one of the efforts to win permanent legal residency could gain traction, including proposed bipartisan legislation that would provide TPS recipients who have been in the country for five years or more with a path to permanent residency.

The most likely outcome, however, is that tens of thousands of Haitians currently living and working legally in the U.S. will stay put and slip through the cracks. As Patricia ?Elizée, a Miami lawyer with Haitian clients, points out, Haitians “will not all get on a boat and go home. They will go on the black market.” Many will still be able to work — but now, if they complain about mistreatment, they will face deportation and incarceration, a business opportunity for private immigration prisons with parent companies rejoiced at Trump’s election.

For many, going back to Haiti seems the hardest option of all. It’s true, as DHS officials point out, that the earthquake in Haiti was seven years ago, and TPS is supposed to be temporary. But the earthquake was hardly the end (or the beginning) of the country’s overlapping crises. Corrupt and inept foreign-sponsored reconstruction from the quake set the stage for the cholera outbreak, and Haiti was pounded by Hurricane Matthew last year. When Hurricane Irma looked poised to douse the island with heavy rains this year (it did), some islanders expressed a kind of disaster fatigue that may well become the norm in a near future when shocks and crises are so frequent they take on a kind of macabre normalcy.

“I guess we are worried,” one Port-au-Prince resident pointedly told a journalist, “but we are already living in another hurricane, Hurricane Misery. … So, they say I should board up my house? With what? Wood? Who’s going to pay? With what money will I buy it? Ha! I don’t even have a tin roof. If the winds come, I can’t do anything but hope to live.”

The Climate Connection

On one level, Trump’s attacks on TPS are politically baffling. There was no great outcry demanding the deportation of Haitians and Central Americans. And many employers are frustrated to lose reliable workers (according to the union Unite Here, Disney World alone employs approximately 500 Haitian TPS workers).

Moreover, for Republicans, all of this carries significant political risks: Haitian TPS recipients can’t vote, but many of their friends and family members can. And given that many live in Florida, a swing state that is also experiencing an influx of Puerto Ricans who are not at all pleased with how they have been treated by Republicans (and who can vote once they establish residency), this latest anti-immigrant move could well backfire at the ballot box.

But perhaps there is a bigger picture to be seen here, one that has less to do with Haiti or Honduras and more to do with our warming world. Because TPS — which singles out “environmental disaster” as one of the key reasons a country would receive this designation — is currently the most significant policy tool available to the U.S. government to bring a modicum of relief to the countless people worldwide who are already being displaced as a result of climate change-related crises, with many more on the way. Little wonder, then, that Trump officials are rushing to slam this policy door shut.

Of the 10 countries currently covered by TPS, environmental disasters are cited as the primary reason or a major contributing factor in seven of them.

The program was not created as a response to climate change — it began as a way to respond to displacement from civil war. And yet as the world has warmed, it has evolved into a primary means by which the United States has granted limited rights to many thousands of people when their countries are hit by natural disasters. Indeed, one of the only things governments can currently do when a superstorm or drought devastates their country is lobby to get their citizens in the U.S. covered under TPS (or equivalent programs in other wealthy nations).

Jane McAdam, director of the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at University of New South Wales, told me that problematic as it is, “TPS is the strongest, or even the only, existing mechanism” for climate change migrants under U.S. law. “It does at least provide some kind of temporary protection.” Which is why several scholars have suggested that TPS’s importance will grow as climate change accelerates.

Of course, not all the disasters that have triggered a TPS designation have been linked to climate change (the earthquakes in Haiti and Nepal are unconnected). But other disasters that have been cited in TPS designations — hurricanes, mega-floods, droughts — are precisely the kind of extreme weather events that are becoming more frequent and severe as the world warms.

Honduras and Nicaragua, both targeted by the Trump administration, first received TPS coverage after Hurricane Mitch. Somalia was originally included under TPS because of armed conflict, but when its status was extended under Obama, one of the reasons given was “extensive flooding and severe drought” impacting food and water security. Yemen, similarly, was originally designated for armed conflict, but its most recent renewal adds cyclones and heavy rains that “caused loss of life; injuries; flooding; mudslides; damage to infrastructure; and shortages of food, water, medical supplies, and fuel.”

Granting the right to live and work in the United States to some migrants from these countries has been an acknowledgement that people in lands rocked by sudden environmental crises have the human right to seek safety.

As a humanitarian tool able to cope with our era of serial disasters, TPS is terribly limited. Even for the relatively small number of people who meet its stringent requirements, it’s still only a recipe for perpetual insecurity. Beneficiaries need to renew their status every six to 18 months, paying approximately $500 each time, and TPS is temporary by definition.

It’s also arbitrary: Many countries hit by mega-disasters have been denied the designation. Perhaps most important, the program is only designed to deal with sudden, large-scale disaster events; slow-motion climate impacts like desertification, sea-level rise, and land erosion are a more awkward fit. And there’s another hitch: As Koko Warner, an expert on environmental migration at United Nations University, put it, with TPS, “It is always assumed that people will be able to return to their place of origin” once the disaster passes. That’s a distinctly unrealistic assumption in our age of drowning island nations and vanishing coastlines.

The reason Trump’s attacks on TPS are still relevant despite all these caveats is simple: Besides discretionary measures, for climate change migrants stranded in the U.S., there is nothing else. The 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees does not include environmental disasters or climate change as grounds on which to grant refugee status. There has to be the risk of persecution.

This gaping hole in international law comes up every time governments gather to tackle the intersecting challenges of climate disruption, most recently at the U.N. climate summit in Bonn, Germany, that ended last week. Many have argued that the convention should be amended, but the solution may not be that simple. At a moment when the governments of so many wealthy nations are fortressing their borders, opening up the refugee convention to try to include climate migrants could not only fail, it could result in markedly weaker agreement than we have currently.

So TPS is what is left. Which is why the Trump administration’s rapid-fire round of attacks on the program — for Central Americans, Haitians, Sudanese, and maybe more  — means that even this weak tool is in jeopardy as well. It’s a move that should be seen in the context of a pattern of actions that is simultaneously deepening the climate crisis (by granting the fossil fuel industry its wildest wish list), while eliminating programs designed to cope with the impacts of warming.

In short, this isn’t only about Trump’s antipathy toward non-white immigrants (though it’s about that too); we may also be witnessing a particularly brutal form of climate change adaptation.

The logic is simple enough: Trump officials know that in the years to come, there are going to be many more people with a powerful claim to protection under TPS — just look at this summer of record-breaking disasters, from flooding in Southeast Asia and Nigeria, to Barbuda’s total evacuation, to the exodus from Puerto Rico. Whether they publicly deny the science or not, the generals surrounding Trump are well aware that the future is going to see many more people on the move. If compassion is extended for one natural disaster (like Haiti’s monster earthquake or the hurricanes that followed), why not another? And another? From the Trump administration’s “America First” perspective, TPS is simply too dangerous a precedent.

As the only U.S. immigration program that grants legal rights to migrants in response to environmental disasters, the fate of the program should be seen as a de facto test case for how the world’s wealthiest country, and its largest historical emitter of greenhouse gases, is going treat the coming waves of climate refugees.

So far, the message is clear: Go back to a hell of our making.
Knarfs Knewz / Amazon Merchants Continue to Find Ways to Cheat
« Last post by knarf on November 24, 2017, 04:10:01 PM »
Mike Molson Hart, who sells toys on Inc.’s marketplace, realized earlier this month something was amiss. His company’s popular disc-shaped plastic building set, called Brain Flakes, had dropped precipitously in the ranks of Amazon’s best-selling toys as the critical gift-giving season approached.

He visited the product page on and suspected he was the victim of "sniping," when one merchant sabotages another by hiring people to leave critical reviews of their goods and then voting those reviews as being helpful, making them the most prominent feedback seen by shoppers. Freelancers in China and Bangladesh willing to do this for $10 an hour are easily found online. Even though the toy has a 4.8 star rating out of 5 based on more than 1,100 reviews, shoppers first see a string of critical one-star reviews and many may get scared away.

Maintaining order on Amazon -- where 2 million merchants compete to win billions of dollars in business from 300 million shoppers -- has become a running problem for the online giant and it only heats up during the busy holiday season. Some merchants engage in black-hat tactics with precise timing, trying to maximize their own sales when shoppers spend most before their tricks are detected. When Amazon clamps down on one exploit, they regroup and find a new one.

"This stuff has been going on nonstop since we started selling on Amazon," said Hart, president of VIAHART in New York City. "It’s still the Wild West. There are tons of scams and they constantly evolve to keep gaming the system."

Amazon said it “does not tolerate fraud or abuse of our policies.” In a statement, the company said it’s “constantly working to improve the ways we detect and prevent abuse from impacting customers.” Amazon said it suspends or blocks “bad actors” suspected of illegal behavior or infringing on others’ intellectual property rights.

The trickery escalates during the holidays when the stakes are highest. U.S. online spending in November and December will top $107 billion this year, with the five-day period between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday the busiest, according to Adobe Systems Inc. Merchants who are targets of sniping stand to lose the most. If shoppers are dissuaded by fake reviews or ratings, they’ll just move on to another product and Amazon still gets its commission on the sale. The targeted vendors have few other options since Amazon is the world’s biggest online retailer.

Manipulation of reviews has been increasing the past several months and Amazon doesn’t appear to be fixing the problem, said Chris McCabe, a former employee who now runs a consulting business to help Amazon merchants. The gamesmanship on the site is so bad he has created new teams to help merchants fight review manipulation, he said.

"It’s a massive problem and until it’s more publicly known I don’t think they’ll do anything about it," McCabe said. "There’s blood in the water and everyone knows they can get away with it, so it’s a free-for-all."

The threat to Amazon is faith in its customer reviews, which it has used to boost confidence of shoppers buying something online they may not have touched or seen first-hand.

Two years ago, Amazon filed lawsuits against more than 1,000 people it alleged were writing fake product reviews for money through the online marketplace for small tasks, saying they were diminishing consumers’ trust. Last year, Amazon filed lawsuits against merchants it accused of selling counterfeit products, acknowledging it couldn’t police the problem on its own.

The Seattle-based company also clamped down on "incentivized" reviews written by people who received free or discounted products. Amazon initially saw such posts as a way to help new products get discovered and required those receiving free and discounted items to make disclosures. It has since realized the practice of offering freebies for reviews was being abused.

The lawsuits and crackdowns are proving to be little more than speed bumps to those looking to game the system, who keep finding new tactics. Fake product reviews are now offered on the classified website Craigslist, with posters offering $10 through PayPal for each 5-star review. Finding a freelancer in Bangladesh to write fake reviews or up vote the negative reviews on a competitors page is as simple as visiting the online marketplace Upwork and searching "Amazon up vote."

Product review forums on Facebook are a common place merchants can search for accomplices, sending them Amazon gift cards so they can get a free item in exchange for a positive review, while eluding detection from Amazon.

Some merchants seeking to game the system also take advantage of Amazon’s heightened sensitivity toward counterfeits. Cheaters can file a false trademark infringement claim against a competing merchant, getting a legitimate business suspended in Amazon’s guilty-until-proven-innocent vetting system. Even if the target of the false complaint gets its selling privileges reinstated, the process can take days or weeks, giving the competitor valuable time to win sales.

Another scam is to relentlessly click on the Amazon advertisements of a competitor’s product without buying anything, which drains their advertising account. Amazon issued refunds to multiple merchants this year after discovering "invalid" advertising clicks, which merchants suspect was gamesmanship by rivals.

Hart said he’s frustrated with Amazon’s response to his complaints about his products’ reviews getting manipulated. He said he fears retribution for speaking publicly, but the stakes are high as he estimates he could lose $1 million in sales this season. Hart has been going back and forth with the company via e-mail and phone calls since Monday. Amazon has said they’re examining his concerns. Meanwhile, Hart has dropped his prices and sales are still sluggish.

"Amazon knows about this problem and it has become their policy to not do anything about it," he said.
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