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Knarfs Knewz / As suicides rise, Army brass reassessing outreach
« Last post by knarf on Today at 07:39:16 AM »

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) — If there were any signs that Staff Sgt. Jason Lowe was struggling, the soldiers he served alongside didn’t see them.

The 27-year-old paratrooper was a top performer. He was on the Commandant’s List and had just finished second in his class in the Army’s Advanced Leader Course, setting him up for a promotion within the storied 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg.

Yet, five days after graduation, after Lowe left texts and calls unreturned, Staff Sgt. Ryan Graves drove to Lowe’s apartment in Fayetteville, North Carolina, with a bad feeling.

“On the way there I think it set in that maybe there’s something a lot worse going on,” Graves said.

Graves opened Lowe’s unlocked apartment door to discover his friend had taken his own life. Weeks later, the why remains unanswered.

“Everything they teach you, that you’re supposed to look for, doesn’t exist in this situation,” Graves told The Associated Press. “No financial trouble, no relationship trouble.”
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Lowe’s was the tenth suicide the 82nd Airborne Division has endured so far this year, a number that stood at four last year. In 2018, six division paratroopers took their own lives; four did so in 2017.

While the driving factors of the suicides remain unknown, Maj. Gen. Christopher Donahue, who assumed command of the division in July, believes that the forced periods of isolation and other stressors the coronavirus pandemic have imposed on his troops and their families have been a major factor. The increase has pushed Donahue to make suicide prevention a priority and frequent topic of conversation within his ranks.

“There is absolutely a stigma that’s out there,” Donahue said. “And if we don’t acknowledge that, we’re lying.”

2020 has been an unprecedented year for the 82nd Airborne Division. In January, for the first time in three decades, the Division’s Immediate Response Force was activated amid rising tensions with Iran. Within hours, thousands of paratroopers went from ringing in the new year with family to boarding military transport planes bound for the Middle East.

At the same time, Lowe’s unit was finishing up a nine-month rotation in Afghanistan, America’s longest-running war.

By the time soldiers in both brigades returned to Fort Bragg in the spring, the COVID-19 pandemic was well underway as it threatened to overwhelm the U.S. public health system. Patriotic welcome home ceremonies were replaced with a mandatory two-week quarantine and restrictions preventing paratroopers from going on leave to visit family out of state. Gyms and dining facilities on post closed down and unit meetings were held via Zoom.

While those measures were necessary, Donahue believes it’s the primary fuel igniting the suicide increase.

“COVID has made us a division of strangers and we’re doing everything in our power to bring us back together,” he said.

While suicide has long been a problem in the U.S. military, numbers have risen this year by as much as 20% as service members struggle with isolation and other impacts of COVID-19, added to the pressures of deploying to war zones and responding to national disasters and civil unrest. Incidents of violent behavior also have spiked.

The numbers vary by service. Suicide is particularly taking it’s toll in the Army, where senior leaders told The Associated Press they’ve seen a 30% jump in active-duty suicides so far this year compared to last year. They’re looking at ways to shorten combat deployments and put more focus on soldier well-being and less on combat readiness and weapons modernization in response to the rising numbers.

Uncertainty is a given for soldiers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. In June, the Immediate Response Force was called upon again, as paratroopers were sent to Washington, D.C., to quell protests after the death of George Floyd in police custody.

Some had just returned home from their first sudden deployment of 2020 and had been out of quarantine for less than a week when they climbed onto buses bound for D.C.

Living life on standby puts an obvious strain on relationships, which is another common thread the division is seeing in its suicides.

Peer support groups have been implemented for soldiers struggling with relationship issues and a sober living initiative has been launched to house paratroopers struggling with substance abuse in a separate, alcohol and drug-free barracks.

But those who knew Lowe can’t pinpoint any of those factors in his sudden and tragic death.

Graves tosses around the idea of the pressure Lowe put on himself. But even that is speculation.

“He wanted to be the best. He probably was one of the best,” Graves said.

Instead of delivering the news of Lowe’s passing to his battalion in a mass formation, the notification came over Zoom. Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Christopher Walsh and Command Sgt. Maj. Anthony Gregerson had practice after another soldier took his life earlier this year.

The loss weighs heavily on them.

“You consider every decision you make and the impact it has on 630 heart beats,” Walsh said.

Days after Lowe’s death, his artillery battery went into the field for a three-week training exercise. Brigade chaplains visited their remote camp site to offer counseling or simply an ear to listen.

Their services are often rejected by hardened soldiers refusing to ask for help. Couple that with the stigma surrounding mental health and the longstanding belief running deep through the military that seeking counseling could negatively affect a soldier’s career.

But since Lowe’s death, the men and women of the 1-319th Field Artillery Regiment are opening up and chaplains have seen an increase in soldiers wanting to talk.

Soldiers are prepared to accept casualties when they’re deployed. The 82nd’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team lost five paratroopers during their recent stint in Afghanistan.

When a soldier is killed in action, Gregerson has watched the mission of the ones left behind, strengthen. They can focus on the enemy in front of them in combat; the objective is clear.

But at home, the fight changes. The demons haunting soldiers become more elusive.

“How do you get after this invisible enemy that you don’t know people are going through?” he asked.
Knarfs Knewz / Church says Cardinal Pell returning to Vatican in crisis
« Last post by knarf on Today at 07:33:20 AM »

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis’ former finance minister, will soon return to the Vatican during an extraordinary economic scandal for the first time since he was cleared of child abuse allegations in Australia five months ago, a church agency said Monday.

Pell will fly back to Rome on Tuesday, CathNews, an information agency of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said, citing “sources close to” Pell.

Pell’s return follows Francis last week firing one of the cardinal’s most powerful opponents, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, over a financial scandal.

Pell was regarded as the third highest-ranking Vatican official and was attempting to wrestle the Holy See’s opaque finances into order when he returned to his native Australia in 2017 to clear himself of decades-old allegations of child sex abuse.

Instead, Pell became the most senior Catholic to be convicted of child sex abuse crimes. He served 13 months in prison before Australia’s High Court acquitted him in April of molesting two choir boys in the late 1990s when he was archbishop of Melbourne.

In his first television interview after his release, Pell linked his fight against Vatican corruption with his prosecution in Australia.

The interview was conducted in April by Herald-Sun newspaper columnist Andrew Bolt, a vocal champion of the cardinal who reported the news early Monday of his return to the Vatican. The Sydney Archdiocese did not respond to a request for comment on Pell’s travel plans, and a woman who answered the phone at the Sydney seminary where Pell lives told The Associated Press: “We have no comment.”

In the interview, Pell said he did not have evidence of a link. But he suspected that a man who swore he had been sexually abused by Pell as a 13-year-old choirboy had been “used.”

Pell again seemed to hint at a link in a statement last week in which he “thanked and congratulated” Francis for firing Becciu.

“I hope the cleaning of the stables continues in both the Vatican and Victoria,” Pell said, referring to his home state of Victoria where he was convicted.

Pell, 79, said in April he planned to return to Rome when the coronavirus pandemic allowed him to pack up his apartment. But he intended to make Sydney his home.

Becciu said he was fired after Francis told him that documents from the Italian financial police alleged the 72-year-old cardinal had embezzled 100,000 euros ($116,200). Becciu, the former No. 2 in the Vatican’s secretariat of state, denied any wrongdoing.

Becciu’s name had previously been caught up in a whirlwind financial scandal involving the Holy See’s investment in a London real estate venture.

But Becciu said that investment wasn’t raised in his conversation on Thursday with Francis.
Only a month past my Birthday!


<a href="" target="_blank" class="new_win"></a>

In Travis County 1895 people in my age group have been diagnosed with COVID....and of those, 90 died......which is nearly 5%. I expect the death rates are dropping, but that's high enough to make you want to stay virus free if you can.

I think both the two earliest vaccines are based on affecting the spike protein, which is a dubious strategy.....

It will be interesting to see how the winter infections are still reasonably real surge here...some slight increase since schools partially opened.
Questions have long swirled about the state of President Trump's finances.

The New York Times appears to have answered at least some of them with a revelatory report over the weekend that says, among other things, that the president paid just $750 in federal income tax in 2016 and 2017.

The president leaned on a familiar refrain on Sunday to dismiss the Times' investigation, calling it "fake news." Trump has long sought to keep his finances secret and even broke with decades of precedent by refusing to release his tax returns during the 2016 campaign.

That has helped make his financial records a target for congressional and criminal investigators alike. The president is waging multiple court battles to shield his finances from scrutiny, including two cases involving subpoenas issued to his personal accounting firm, Mazars USA LLP.

House Oversight subpoena

The House Oversight Committee issued a subpoena to Mazars in April 2019 for eight years of financial documents related to Trump and his businesses. The panel says it needs the materials to consider possible legislative changes regarding disclosure and conflict-of-interest laws.

Trump sued Mazars to try to prevent it from handing over the materials. The president's attorneys argued that the Democratic-led House committee didn't have a legitimate legislative need for the documents.

The case made it to the Supreme Court after Trump appealed losses at the district court and appeals court levels. In July, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower courts with instructions to reconsider the matter, including separation of powers issues.

The case currently resides with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.

Manhattan DA subpoena

The second case relates to a grand jury subpoena issued by the Manhattan district attorney, Cy Vance, as part of a criminal investigation.

From statements made in court papers, Vance's office appears to be investigating possible insurance or financial fraud by Trump and his businesses. The DA also appears to be looking into hush-money payments made to two women, adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, who say they had affairs with Trump several years ago.

Trump's attorneys fought this subpoena as well, arguing that as the sitting president he is immune from criminal investigation.

This case, too, wound its way through the lower courts all the way to the Supreme Court. It ruled this summer against the president, rejecting his claims to be absolutely immune from a criminal subpoena issued to a third party, in this instance his accounting firm.

But the justices returned the matter to the lower courts to allow the president to raise other objections. Trump issued new challenges to the subpoena, calling it overbroad and in bad faith. A district court ruled against him, but he appealed and the matter now sits with the federal appeals court in New York.

A three-judge panel held a hearing in the case last week, and the court appeared skeptical of Trump's arguments.

What happens next?

Both of these cases currently sit before federal appeals courts in Washington, D.C., and New York. Legal experts say the Times' reporting is unlikely to have a major impact on either case, but it doesn't mean it can't factor in in some way.

"It would not surprise me if the Vance team files some sort of notice asking to take a look at it," said Stuart Gerson, who led the Justice Department's Criminal Division during the George H.W. Bush administration and briefly served as acting attorney general. "He could file something with the court, and it certainly would be of a piece of what's set forth in their brief."

Gerson noted that Vance has cited a number of media reports detailing potential crimes and other alleged misconduct by Trump or his businesses, and the latest report could be added to that list.

One thing appears clear: Neither case is likely to be resolved before the election. The losing side is likely to appeal to the Supreme Court.

"Do I think that there will be continued and protracted appeals in this case? Absolutely," Gerson said. "That's the Trump strategy."

He also notes that the Vance investigation goes on and "looms big and bold in the future for Donald Trump, whenever his term ends."
Medicine & Health / 🦠 COVID-19: Global Death Count now tops 1M corpses
« Last post by RE on Today at 06:39:12 AM »
Only a month past my Birthday!


<a href="" target="_blank" class="new_win"></a>

I always knew that was why he was hiding the returns.......I said so in 2016 if you recall..........I doubt it matters now, the country is so damned polarized....hopefully he gets voted out without it being any kind of close call. There is not much telling about that.....Biden is leading but there is plenty of time for him to self-destruct. And I don't trust Nate Silver after the way he blew it last time.

I don't think there are any Diners who didn't think Trumpovetsky was a Tax Fraud, except maybe GO.

For El Trumpo, this is a source of Pride for him.  His "Base" WISHES they could succeed at Tax Fraud as well as their Hero.

Geopolitics / Re: 🤡 President Trump under fire after bombshell report on tax returns
« Last post by Eddie on September 28, 2020, 06:02:46 PM »
<a href="" target="_blank" class="new_win"></a>

I always knew that was why he was hiding the returns.......I said so in 2016 if you recall..........I doubt it matters now, the country is so damned polarized....hopefully he gets voted out without it being any kind of close call. There is not much telling about that.....Biden is leading but there is plenty of time for him to self-destruct. And I don't trust Nate Silver after the way he blew it last time.
Knarfs Knewz / Building a Global Economy That Was Bound to Fail
« Last post by knarf on September 28, 2020, 04:13:42 PM »

A former economic hit man describes his part in setting up what he calls a “Death Economy.”

John Perkins was a highly paid economist pushing corporate interests in the developing world, a role he revealed in his bestseller, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. In his new book, Touching the Jaguar, he writes about breaking away to a life of transformative action. In this excerpt, he begins with a job interview and goes on to describe his work for an international consulting firm, Chas T. Main, or MAIN. The firm worked for the U.S. and other governments, and for organizations like USAID and the World Bank. It was a job Perkins describes as working for the “Death Economy.”

I met with the company’s president and its chairman of the board and had dinner with several vice presidents. They impressed upon me that MAIN’s work helped poor people around the world rise out of poverty and improve their standards of living. They showed me economic studies indicating that when lots of money is invested in infrastructure, a country’s economy grows. All this was very consistent with what I’d learned in business school; it convinced me that MAIN’s projects were extremely beneficial. After a couple of days of being treated like a star athlete who is wooed by professional teams, I was offered a salary that was beyond my imagination, more than three times what my dad made as a teacher. In January 1971, the month I turned 26, the age when the Vietnam draft no longer wanted me, I became an economist at MAIN.

Deeply motivated by what I saw as the company’s commitment to helping the poor, I worked very hard to apply myself to this new job. It took me to assignments in Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. In less than two years, I replaced the chief economist who was fired because he could not handle the challenges of working in these countries. As the new chief economist, I proceeded to build a staff of more than three dozen highly qualified experts and was made the youngest partner in the firm’s 100-year history. It took me several more years to see through the veneer of “doing good.” However, eventually I realized that what I was really doing was using fancy economic studies to convince leaders of countries around the globe with resources US corporations wanted, like oil, to accept huge loans from the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, or one of their sister organizations. The funds would be used to hire US engineering companies to build infrastructure projects. The loans would leave the countries wallowing in debt. To pay them off, the country would be forced to sell its oil or other resources cheap to our corporations or meet other “conditionalities” that served the interests of what was becoming an American empire. I and others with similar jobs began to joke among ourselves about being “economic hit men,” EHMs.

Our job involved offering country leaders huge “rewards” for cooperating. A president’s son-in-law who owned a company that leased construction equipment would receive an extremely lucrative contract (e.g., millions of dollars for equipment worth half that amount). A sister’s catering service would provide all the food to construction crews at greatly inflated prices. The children of the country’s leaders and their friends would be admitted to US colleges with full scholarships and promises of good jobs during school vacations and following graduation. These and many other perks were outright bribes and yet totally legal.

If the leaders balked at our deals, we reminded them of those who had previously refused and were overthrown in coups or were assassinated: Iran’s Premier Mossadegh, Chile’s President Allende, Guatemala’s President Arbenz, the Congo’s President Lumumba, Vietnam’s President Diem, and a long list of ministers of state, judges, and lower-level officials. We EHMs made sure that country leaders knew that people we called “jackals”—highly skilled hit men and women with talents very different from ours who often worked as CIA contractors—were right behind us. We didn’t pack guns, but they did. Once the leaders were convinced, their nations became our pawns. A country assumed the debt, but it never saw a penny of the money. Those funds were used to hire US engineering companies, like Bechtel, Halliburton, Stone and Webster, and MAIN, to build electric power systems, highways, ports, industrial parks, and other infrastructure projects in the countries. The funds were transferred from a bank in Washington, DC, to the company’s bank in Houston, San Francisco, New York, or Boston. Although some of the people in the top executive offices of the World Bank and its sisters, as well as those in the engineering companies, understood that it was a shell game, most of their subordinates—engineers, economists, and others—did not. They were simply doing the jobs they’d been educated and trained to do.

The big winners were the US corporations that built the projects and those that benefited from the improved infrastructure—ones that drilled for oil, mined for gold and other minerals, or employed cheap labor in sweatshops—both types profited handsomely. The second tier of winners were the wealthy and powerful local families; their businesses also flourished due to the improved infrastructure. However, the majority of the country’s people suffered because funds were diverted from education, health care, and other social services to make interest payments on the loans.

    Over time I began to see that the econometric models and statistics were skewed in favor of the rich.

In the end, the countries were never able to pay off the principle. This was an integral part of the EHM strategy. Teaming up with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), we forced the countries to restructure the loans and sell their oil and other resources cheap to our corporations without environmental or social regulations. We convinced them to privatize their utilities, prisons, schools, and other public-sector businesses and turn them over to US investors. In some cases, we coerced them into voting with Washington against Cuba or another country in the UN, or into allowing the Pentagon to build military bases on their soil.

During the early years at my job, I had found it easy to convince myself that I was doing the right thing.

South Vietnam had fallen to the Communist north, and now, I told myself, all of us were threatened by the Soviet Union and China. Indonesia would go next, then the “red tide” of communism would sweep across Asia, Latin America, Africa, and Europe and into the US. I was told that I was on the forefront of defending the entire globe against a menace worse than Hitler.

I’d been taught in business school that improved infrastructure stimulates economic growth and that prosperity would persuade nations everywhere to choose the US form of capitalism and democracy over communism. Our sophisticated econometric models showed that a country’s economy would mushroom—and everyone would be better off—as a result of our projects. Statistics indicated that more and more people were being connected to electricity and water and sewerage and buying TVs and other consumer goods.

Then, over time I began to see that the econometric models and statistics were skewed in favor of the rich. In the countries where I worked (and most of the world), a few families owned 70–95% of the recorded assets; their financial interests composed most, if not all, of the GDP. The rest of the population was part of a sub-economy that never made the statistics. The rich were getting richer while the poor were staying the same or becoming poorer and many in the middle class were becoming impoverished. Statistically, the economy was growing, yet that growth only benefited an extremely small percentage of the population. The gap between rich and poor was widening drastically.

Even as I came to understand the biases in the models, it never occurred to me at the time that this inequality would eventually generate deep unrest, disillusionment, and violence. Ultimately it would lead to such desperation that millions of people would become homeless migrants or turn to drugs, suicide, or acts of violence that would be classified as terrorism by their victims and patriotism by their supporters.

It also never occurred to me that this whole system was ultimately self-destructive. The big corporations were sucking resources from countries around the planet at an unsustainable rate. The driving goal of the corporations was to maximize short-term profits. CEOs were intent on increasing short-term stock prices, market share, or both without regard for the future. It was a system that was bound to fail, to kill itself—what economists would later define as a Death Economy. At the time, we were unaware that fossil fuel and other emissions, along with chemical fertilizers and insecticides, were polluting our atmosphere, poisoning our waters, and destroying our soils. It was a social-governmental-economic system that was totally irrational—truly a Death Economy.

This excerpt from Touching the Jaguar by John Perkins (Berrett-Koehler, 2020) appears by permission of the author and publisher.
Knarfs Knewz / COVID-19 Daily Cases On The Rise In Nearly Half Of U.S. States
« Last post by knarf on September 28, 2020, 08:48:09 AM »
The number of new daily coronavirus infections in the U.S. continued to rise this past week, driven by upward trends in nearly half the states that have pushed total cases in the country past 7 million. At the same time, a recent study suggests the vast majority of Americans haven't been exposed, far below what's required to quell the virus's spread through "herd immunity."

Daily cases were largely on a downward trend through August and early September from highs in July, but are now going up again.

According to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Tracker, the U.S. reported more than 55,000 new cases on Friday. In total, the U.S. has more than 7,074,000 infections with 204,000 dead as a result of COVID-19.

Overall, about two-dozen states and territories reported an upward trend in new infections, with some states setting and breaking records in days.

In Wisconsin, the state's Department of Health said it had identified 2,817 new infections on Saturday — its highest daily total since the pandemic begin. It broke the record of 2,533 new infections from Sept. 18.

Earlier in the week, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers declared a new public health emergency. In issuing his executive order Tuesday, Evers noted that an increase in infections among young people, particular on campuses, was helping to drive the surge.

Later in the week, Evers announced he was allocating $8.3 million for testing at colleges and universities.

"Wisconsin is now experiencing unprecedented, near-exponential growth of the number of COVID-19 cases in our state," Evers said in a video posted to social media this week.

Elsewhere in the Midwest, South Dakota continued to see a surge in cases. The state's department of health reported 579 new cases on its website Saturday — its highest daily total since the pandemic began, according to data from Johns Hopkins.

In August, a motorcycle rally drew a nearly half million participants to Sturgis, S.D. The rally was linked to hundreds of cases in South Dakota and other states.

Other states reporting record surges this week include Utah, which reported 1,411 new cases Friday. Montana also broke its daily record on Saturday with 346 new cases.

But other states continued to see declines. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that he was lifting all of the state's coronavirus restrictions on businesses and gatherings.

Cases in that state peaked in July, edging past 12,000 daily infections. Since that summer surge, however, Florida has seen a decline in daily cases.

Far from "herd immunity"

Even as cases rise in much of the U.S., recent data published in the medical journal the Lancet suggests the vast majority of the country's population hasn't been exposed to the coronavirus.

Researchers tested blood samples gathered from tens of thousands of dialysis patients for antibodies. According to their results, just 9% of Americans may have been exposed to the coronavirus. Experts say that rate is far too low achieve "herd immunity" — where exposure to the virus and/or a vaccine drastically reduces the spread of a virus.

Shots - Health News
President Trump's New COVID-19 Adviser Is Making Public Health Experts Nervous

Those figures echo the initial findings of an ongoing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study mentioned by director Robert Redfield in congressional testimony earlier this week.

Redfield told lawmakers on Wednesday that "preliminary results in the first round" showed that more than 90% of the Americans were still susceptible to COVID-19.
Knarfs Knewz / ‘They Put the Blame of Waste on Individuals as Opposed to Companies’
« Last post by knarf on September 28, 2020, 07:32:37 AM »
CounterSpin interview with Sharon Lerner on plastics and PR

Image from Keep America Beautiful ad, 1971

You may have heard that big oil companies are lobbying the US to put pressure on Kenya to weaken its stance against plastic waste. While publicly claiming to strive for a world free of plastic waste, usual suspects like Shell and Exxon are seeking to use trade negotiations to circumvent rules limiting the so-called waste trade, which environmentalists say will mean turning Kenya, and eventually other places in Sub-Saharan Africa, into dumping grounds. It’s just the latest machination from a plastics industry that is almost as vigorous in their PR as in their despoiling of the planet.

JJ: I have to start with the “Crying Indian,” not just because I’m a child of the ’70s, but I didn’t realize how emblematic it was of what’s been a continued strategy of plastic industries around the question of waste. I wonder if you could tell us a bit about the backstory on that ad, and the context in which it appeared?

SL: So that ad ran in 1971, and it was put out by Keep America Beautiful and the Ad Council. Keep America Beautiful is the group we think of as sort of a do-gooder group. Their mission, what they talk about, is keeping our public spaces clean and free of litter. But it turns out that the group itself was begun by the beverage industry, several soda companies, National Soft Drink Association, and it came at a time when there was the beginning of an awareness of the plastic pollution crisis on the part of the public. And it should be noted that the big plastics producers and users were actually aware of the fact that plastic was already accumulating in the ocean, and was quite an ecological hazard.

So that growing awareness helped spawn some protests in 1970 on the first Earth Day, and the folks who were concerned about growing waste—it wasn’t quite so much plastic at that time, it was mostly cans that were being used—but the whole idea of using disposable packaging, that you could have one drink of soda and then just throw out the thing that it came in, was really new. And already activists were becoming aware that, Wow, this crisis is going to affect us deeply. And they had a protest on the Coca-Cola Company, and staged “ecology treks,” they called it, when they went to Coca-Cola’s headquarters with these non-returnable bottles, some of which were plastic, I think, and some, again, cans.

So here’s this growing awareness of this problem, and in 1971, that comes out and really flips the whole frame, right. So what they do with that ad, and others before and after that really hit the same note, is they really squarely put the blame of waste on individuals, as opposed to the companies who produce the waste and profit from the products, and, not coincidentally, the same companies that are funding Keep America Beautiful, and funding the ads that are doing the shaming.

JJ:  Yeah, it’s interesting, because, first of all, it shows that there’s been an awareness of the problem of plastic waste since there’s been plastics; it’s not something that snuck up on the industry—which I found kind of interesting. And then the idea that this ad, that I think many people thought of as, Golly, here’s the industry proactively engaging one of the downsides, potentially, of what they do, and the idea that it was in fact a very targeted intervention, was news, to me at least.

SL: But beyond that, I would say that most people had no idea that it was coming from industry at all.

JJ: Right.

SL: That message gives you this sense that, Oh, we’re just concerned citizens who really care about stopping trash. Well, in fact, it was coming from the companies that made that trash, and nobody had any idea, there was no reason to suspect, that it came from them at all. It very effectively makes people upset about the fact that we are littering and destroying our Earth. But what it does is leave the viewer thinking, I feel terrible about my role in that.

What it doesn’t do—and what was going on in the background, at the same time, the beverage industry was actively fighting these proposals: one, to ban the production of single-use containers back then, but also bottle bills, which was basically this effort to put some of the responsibility for recycling the containers back on to the companies that make them. And, generally speaking, these companies don’t want that responsibility, both because of the expense of it and because of the hassle of it.

So very consistently, over the decades, they have fought these bottle bills, and very successfully. And  right around this 1971 ad, the lobbyists for the industry had effectively swatted down national legislation, or a proposal that would have banned, again, disposable containers, and would have put forward a bottle bill on a federal level.

JJ: Yeah, I almost skip over the fact that, of course, it was “Keep America Beautiful,” which no one was thinking of, really, as a front group, or thinking about front groups at all, for industries. We saw it as just kind of consumers and concerned citizens, taking up the effort.

Well, we think of recycling as local, in some ways. I feel like that’s the association, when in fact it’s a big business, which is of course international. And some of the realities that you and others have reported on, about the business of recycling, which is being presented to us as the answer—but the realities of the business of plastics recycling are heartbreaking, like the Indonesian islands where Coca-Cola has pushed their products, and they now are littering the ground. And then villagers burn that waste, literally poisoning themselves and the food chain, right?

SL: Right. Yeah, and another very upsetting point here is that in many cases, especially when you’re talking about Coca-Cola in these remote islands, it is sometimes Coke itself, but it’s also sometimes bottled water. And many places don’t have potable water, and thus are literally forced to survive on this bottled water, which, in many cases, we’re talking about bottles that they very successfully get to these remote places, but then don’t successfully remove from these places. And then there’s also a lot of really good reporting on the fact that these companies actually drain aquifers, and then sell what ought to be a very public human resource back to people in plastic bottles, at expense, and sometimes expense that they can’t afford.

JJ: It’s very dystopian, and I wanted to say, there’s no hyperbole here: You wrote, “Plastic waste is now widely understood to be a cause of species extinction, ecological devastation and human health problems.” And given that it’s virtually all from oil and natural gas and coal, it also contributes to climate change, and it’s in that context that we’re talking about industry PR to convince people that recycling is sufficient.

SL: I agree.

JJ: One of many things that I found upsetting in your piece from July was the way that the plastics industry is “gearing up for,” as you put it, “the fight of its life.” And, in fact, you were at an association conference in which the keynote came from an expert in actual warfare. What is that telling us?

SL: Yes, I thought that was an interesting choice. No one explicitly explained why they made this choice. I mean, this was someone who had been the captain of a boat that was under attack. And he told the details of this brutal attack, about the USS Cole,and then talked about, basically, his success despite the adversity that he faced. He talked about, in the end, piloting his ship away, with the national anthem blaring, and going on to victory—basically a “hard-fought victory,” is the way he described it.

And I think that the plastic industry very much does feel under assault right now. Really, there’s a growing awareness of how immense and terrible this problem is we’re all facing. And as you just laid out, it’s a health problem, it’s an environmental problem, it’s a racial justice problem at this point, because of the way it’s distributed throughout the country and the world.
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