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On this week's grossly overbooked weekly Independent comics page: Red Meat tries to build a better mousetrap; Apoca Clips ponders Syria; Jen Sorenson looks at a double-standard regarding the treatment of children; The K Chronicles tells a story about how just one teacher can make a difference; and This Modern World examines life during wartime.

Published in Comics

Not far from the White House, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., Yayoi Kusama’s blockbuster retrospective show Infinity Mirrors has been attracting insanely large crowds of people who stand in line, eager for the 20-second stretches of disorientation inside Kusama’s infinity rooms.

The rooms use facing mirrors, hanging lights and polka dots to create vistas of infinite regress. As art, it is perhaps underwhelming—an empty spectacle with no real depth. But as I stood in “The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away,” I snapped a picture and realized it was far more compelling on my screen than in life—perfect art for the age of the selfie.

On my phone, I saw myself in a Blade Runner-like world of “attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion” as the lights created towering psychedelic spires surrounded by replicants of myself. It was impossible to tell which one was real—because none of them were. They were all reflections on the screen.

I felt a similar sense of vertigo a few days earlier at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing regarding Russian active measures—or propaganda—intended to use the refracting mirrors of the Internet to disrupt our election.

“What’s hard to distinguish sometimes is: Did the Russians put it out first, or did Trump say it and the Russians amplify it?” said Clint Watts, of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, to reporters after his testimony on Trump’s embrace of propaganda conspiracies. “He actually repeats propaganda put out by RT or Russian sources and, vice versa, they parrot him.”

Reflections reflecting reflections again and again so that nothing is true.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Russia’s propaganda strategy was designed and perfected by Vladislav Surkov, who brought postmodern theory to the Kremlin, creating and managing Russian political reality like performance art. When he was sanctioned by the United States for his role in the invasion of eastern Ukraine, which he largely orchestrated, he said he didn’t mind. “The only things that interest me in the U.S. are Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg, and Jackson Pollock. I don’t need a visa to access their work. I lose nothing.”

In Peter Pomerantsev’s Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia, he writes that “Surkov’s genius has been … to marry authoritarianism and modern art, to use the language of rights and representation to validate tyranny, to recut and paste democratic capitalism until it means the reverse of its original purpose.”

Pomerantsev says that Surkov turned Russian politics into a reality show.

Then, as if in a new kind of arms race, we elected a real reality-show star as president.


I wrote that just before I heard that Trump had ordered missile strikes against a Syrian airbase after pictures of gassed children in that country changed the president’s mind about intervention. He explained the strike to the nation in a statement recorded at his country club.

Our country is making one of the most serious decisions possible, and yet, locked in our mirror rooms of constant conspiracy, we have no way to know what is actually happening. We don’t know whether Trump is trying to show that he is independent of the Kremlin, or whether this is another one of Putin’s ploys as he manipulates Trump. Trump himself has told us not to trust the intelligence community, and no one has any reason to trust Trump.

In “Without Sky,” a pseudonymous short story generally attributed to Surkov and set after the “fifth world war,” he describes the “the first non-linear war,” a war “of all against all.”

“A few provinces would join one side,” he writes. “A few others a different one. One town or generation or gender would join yet another. Then they could switch sides, sometimes mid-battle. Their aims were quite different. Most understood the war to be part of a process. Not necessarily its most important part.”

This sounds precisely like the situation we are getting into—Assad, ISIS, Russia, American-backed rebels, Iran, and now Trump’s Tomahawks. All sides shifting. Regardless of the aims of this attack, the spectacle and confusion are good for Trump and Putin. And bad for the Syrian people who will continue to die. Those who escape will be denied entry into the U.S. as refugees.

“We see these beautiful pictures at night from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean,” NBC’s noted fabulist Brian Williams said. “I am tempted to quote the great Leonard Cohen: ‘I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.’”

Surkov couldn’t have scripted it better. It is so disorienting, but it all feels somehow familiar.

I was 18 the night we went into the Gulf War in 1991. Those missile launches were prompted in part by the PR firm Hill and Knowlton, which collaborated with one of the chairs of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus to present fabricated testimony to the caucus about atrocities committed by Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait. But we were all mesmerized by the night-vision green missiles flying through doors.

In 2003, we went back to Iraq on the basis of another massive PR campaign.

Perhaps the best way now to know if something is propaganda is when they say it is not. Marco Rubio—who is on the Senate Intelligence Committee, by the way—went on CNN to praise Trump and call the attack “an important decisive step ... not a message.”

But a step toward what? Do we want to take out Assad? At this moment, nobody knows. But people are lining up behind Trump. He will realize war, the ultimate image enhancer, is good for him.

“Trump became president of the United States (last night),” CNN’s Fareed Zakaria said the next morning.

It’s like we’re all trapped in one of Kusama’s infinity rooms, waiting for the missile to burst through the door. But we don’t know where the door is. We have lost all orientation.

Democracy in Crisis is a joint project of alternative newspapers around the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent. Baynard Woods is editor at large at the Baltimore City Paper. His work has also appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Vox, Salon, McSweeney’s, Virginia Quarterly Review and many other publications. Send tips to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter @demoincrisis. Podcast every Thursday at www.democracyincrisis.com.

Published in National/International

On this week's growing weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World checks in with Sean Spicer; Jen Sorenson examines Neil Gorsuch's record; The K Chronicles gets an odd Facebook friend suggestion; Red Meat welcomes some religious proselytizers; and Apoca Clips debuts with the president visiting the new barber shop.

Published in Comics

Dear Mexican: I know there’s beef between Mexicans and Trump right now because of the whole deportation thing, but can he really do any worse than Obama did when it comes to deportations?

Obama deported between 2 million and 3 million people—more than any other president. Is there something I’m missing here? Help me out.

Pocho in Plano

Dear Pocho: Why is it that it’s almost always male Tejanos who ask the above question? It’s not a bad one (save your flippant dismissal of “the whole deportation thing”—sounds like you’re the type of pocho whose last connection to the motherland was your grandmother’s tamale recipe that your sister fucks up every Christmas), but there’s a special level of false equivalency among Texan Chicanos regarding Trump that I just don’t see anywhere else.

Yes, Obama deported a chingo of our people, leading National Council on La Raza head Janet Murguia—not exactly the most radical activist out there, despite what the conservative media will have you believe—to label him the “Deporter in Chief.” But the Migration Policy Institute crunched the números to discover that, while the Obama administration’s total deportation figure was about 5.3 million people, it didn’t even come close to matching the figures under Dubya (10.3 million) and Clinton (12.3 million—as if you needed another reason to hate the Clintons, pinches PRIistas).

The 3 million figure frequently cited for Obama refers to the removal of immigrants from this country, and he did significantly beat 43 and Slick Willie in that category, but to treat BHO as somehow more of a Mexican-basher than any president in history is as context-free as saying some guy named Jose Alfredo Jiménez wrote songs.

Can Trump do any worse? When he has already promised a border wall, declared war on sanctuary cities, and brags about his love of “Hispanics” with a taco bowl, I’d say ahuevo. And, of course, #fucktrump.

Dear Mexican: I’m a security guard at an apartment complex. I get out and work hard. I write a lot of people up for rule infractions, much more than they are used to from previous guards—so much more so that many people think I must be targeting them. But the reality is, I write up anyone and everyone I see breaking a safety or courtesy rule. (People quietly drinking outside is not a problem to me; playing music too loud in a car is.)

According to office management, about 25 percent of the residents have accused me of targeting them. But the kicker is: All the complaints come from Mexican women. Not the blacks or whites of either gender, and not the Mexican men. What is the deal?

Parking Lot Policia

Dear Gabacho: NO ONE likes security guards at apartment complexes—y’all are the pendejos too dumb to become sheriff’s deputies or migra. Writing people up for playing music loud? Laughable.

That said, if it’s only Mexican women complaining, it’s because they’re the ones who have it harder than any other group if they’re living in an apartment complex. Let them blast their Romeo Santos—the last thing they need in their hardscrabble vidas is their choni-melter daydream getting them cited by some rent-a-cop.

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano!

Published in Ask a Mexican

On this week's potentially filibustered weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World takes a peek inside Donald Trump's diary; Jen Sorenson replaces "government" with "democracy"; The K Chronicles celebrates a life landmark; and Red Meat offers comfort to the children.

Published in Comics

A young lawyer for the Environmental Protection Agency had a heavy feeling as he headed to work one recent morning.

Like many EPA staffers, he’s been distraught over the steady stream of negative news about the Trump administration’s plans for his agency, and what it all means for his future. That morning the White House had released its budget proposal, calling on Congress to cut 31 percent of the EPA’s budget, more than 50 programs and 3,200 of the agency’s 15,000 employees.

The lawyer’s subway stop, the Federal Triangle Metro Station, dumps people out under a grand archway between two entrances to the EPA’s ornate limestone DC headquarters. As he went up the escalator, he encountered a small group of people standing in the cold wind, passing out fliers and holding signs that read: “Fight climate change; work for California.”

A man with a bushy gray mustache exclaimed: “I’m recruiting for California jobs!” and introduced himself to the EPA lawyer as Michael Picker, the president of California’s Public Utilities Commission, which regulates electric companies and other utilities.

Picker explained that he has 250 job openings—and more on the way. California’s Air Resources Board and Energy Commission also have opportunities for federal employees frustrated with the direction in which the Trump administration is headed.

“All the jobs will have impacts on climate change in some ways,” he said.

Picker’s recruitment drive is more than a publicity stunt: His agency is short-staffed already, and he’s steadily losing employees to retirement. He needs reinforcements to meet an enormous challenge in front of him. He needs to ensure that electric utilities make the investments necessary to generate enough clean energy to meet California’s ambitious climate change goals. (California is committed to getting 50 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2030.)

The EPA lawyer said his encounter with Picker last week lifted his spirits giving him a sense of “relief” and “hope.” He’d already considered seeking a job in California, where the state government has a strong commitment to environmental protection.

“There’s a pull and a push, especially with the budget coming out,” added the lawyer, who like other EPA staffers, didn’t want his name used for fear it would put his job in jeopardy.

This was just the kind of encounter that Picker hoped for when he decided to turn an already-planned trip to Washington, D.C., into a mini recruiting mission. His goal was to try to lure talented federal employees to California state government by promising them a chance to work someplace still committed to fighting climate change. He also spent a morning passing out fliers at the Energy Department. But he was especially happy with how things went outside EPA’s headquarters.

One EPA staffer ran inside and returned with a resume. An EPA engineer asked for extra fliers for his colleagues. Picker passed out business cards, offering to help the D.C. refugees navigate the cumbersome hiring process at California state agencies. “Thank you for offering to rescue us!” one EPA staffer bellowed as he walked past.

Picker’s challenge is bigger than getting companies to generate cleaner electricity. He also has to ensure they make investments to transform the electric grid to meet the challenges of all the additional renewable power that’s coming online.

The grid was designed as a centralized system where electricity was generated by relatively few large power plants. The grid now needs to get a lot smarter to manage many thousands of new sources of power, from large-scale solar and wind farms to solar panels on top of people’s homes. Cleaner electricity isn’t enough: California also wants to shift its vehicles to clean electricity: “That’s why we need people—to help build the infrastructure California needs to get greenhouse gases out of our economy. These tasks aren’t going to solve themselves.”

Despite all the rhetoric from the White House and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt about major plans to transform the agency and downplay climate change, there hasn’t yet been a big exodus. EPA employees are passionate about the mission of the agency, and so far, many staffers say they’re still doing their usual work.

“Because nothing drastic has changed yet at EPA, people don’t have immediate pressure to leave,” said another EPA staffer who spoke with Picker. “You saw people taking those fliers. So it’s not that people aren’t thinking about it.”

She said she thinks California is smart to try to lure away the EPA’s talented employees at a time when their current employer is making it clear their work isn’t valued. She will definitely consider moving to California for a job, she said.

Fundamental changes are on the way, given that Pruitt and President Donald Trump have vowed to undo the biggest efforts undertaken by the EPA during the Obama administration—regulations to slash greenhouse gas emissions from cars and power plants and protect wetlands and waterways. Trump took a big step today with an executive order undoing many Obama-era regulations. EPA staffers will now be charged with justifying the elimination of regulations that they or their colleagues spent years crafting.

None of the EPA staffers I spoke with were willing to have their names published.

“We’re all afraid now of retribution if we talk. It’s already started to happen,” said one staffer.

John O’Grady, president of a national council of EPA employee unions, said EPA employees are right to be cautious. “We all pretty much are aware we cannot speak out in the press; that would not be a very smart move on the part of an employee.”

As Picker was wrapping up for the morning, a bundled-up bike commuter rode up to ask about an application he’d already sent in. Picker promised to help and then took a photo with some volunteers who had showed up to help him pass out fliers. One was a corporate lawyer, another a former Energy Department official, and third a solar executive from Oregon who was in town for business.

“I’m disillusioned by Trump’s budget proposal,” said Tom Starrs, a vice president of SunPower Corporation. ”On the other hand, I’m inspired by California continuing to address climate change and by the support at every level of government in California. It’s a unified front on climate change. It’s wonderful to see.”

Correspondent Elizabeth Shogren writes for High Country News, where this story first appeared.

Published in Environment

On this week's under-FBI-investigation weekly Independent comics page: Red Meat enjoys some liquid nitrogen; Jen Sorenson examines Trump's budget; The K Chronicles shares an opinion about San Francisco; and This Modern World goes 'round and 'round with Trump news.

Published in Comics

It is snowing in Washington, D.C.—strange in early March after an insanely warm winter, but nothing compared to the cold many of the activists and tribal members gathered here endured in North Dakota while fighting against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Kristen Tuske, a 39-year-old woman from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, stands with several other women in front of the White House, her back to it, fist raised in the air. She has pink hair, sculpted arches for eyebrows and tattoos on the side of her face. She lived at the camp where thousands of “water protectors” gathered to fight the pipeline for seven months.

“The last couple weeks at the camp were sad, and everyone was a little angry,” she said. “A lot of feelings are hurt. ... That was our home, and we got kicked out.”

The last protesters left the camp on Feb. 23.

The struggle started last summer when the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes sued the Army Corps of Engineers to stop the construction of the oil pipeline, claiming it could contaminate their water supply and destroy significant archeological sites. That kicked off months of protests, often pitting camps of indigenous people—and the environmentalists and veterans that had come to fight with them—against an increasingly militarized police presence. President Obama twice ordered construction stopped, but, after taking office, Trump gave the go-ahead to the pipeline, insisting publicly that it must be constructed of American steel (a stance he quietly reversed this month).

The evacuation of the camp may be a defeat for Standing Rock, but, in the eyes of those gathered in front of the White House, it may also signal the beginning of something greater—the possibility of a real environmental movement in America.

“The reason I am here is to represent our future generations and be their voice, part of the resistance in decolonizing our minds,” said JoRee LaFrance, a member of the Crow tribe from Montana. “Protecting our waters should be our No. 1 priority, and that’s why we’re all here is to unite and protect tribal sovereignty and to protect indigenous people and their waters. People need to realize indigenous people are doing this for all people, not just indigenous people. We’re here to protect the water for all people.”

As I talk to people at the rally, I hear that sentiment again and again. It is not just about the water at Standing Rock. It is a symbolic battle, a turning point. Indigenous people are stepping forward to save the planet—and to save us from ourselves.

Little Thunder, an elder from South Dakota’s Rosebud Indian Reservation, is standing apart from the crowd in full ceremonial regalia: a feathered headdress, a circular feather shield, and some mirrored sunglasses. He came all the way to Washington to “let people know and let Trump know that this is not just a Standing Rock or a Washington, D.C., or a politics issue. This is for the whole Earth. We’re trying to save the water, because water is life.”

Little Thunder says he is a single father of six children, four of them living at Standing Rock. His voice is high and pinched; he’s almost singing as he speaks.

“Once he let (Standing Rock) go through, they think they can destroy the water, which is life every place else on this Earth, not just Standing Rock,” he says.

David Kenny, a member of the Seneca Nation, is standing with a sign that reads “Water Is Life.”

“It’s not just about Native Americans anymore. It’s about everyone,” he says. “Because if you keep poisoning the water, you’re going to start paying for it, and they’re going to shoot that price up. You’re going to be paying $20 for a bottle of it. It’s not just about the tribes anymore.”

He turns his attention toward the White House and the white man inside it. “Can you stop this pipeline, please?” he asks, his voice soft. “It’s not about business anymore. It’s not just us that’s going to fall—it’s you, too. Everybody is going to die if this continues. The Earth is dying.”

There is no indication that Trump or anyone else in the White House hears this, despite the fact that native nations have spent the last four days with teepees set up on the mall, raising awareness of indigenous and environmental issues. On March 9, the day before the gathering across from the White House, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said he would not agree that climate change caused by human activity is “a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

But as the Native Nations Rise rally went down, thousands more people were calling the EPA to complain about Pruitt’s disavowal of accepted science.

On the very same day as the rally, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a study reporting that carbon dioxide levels rose at a “record pace for second straight year.”

“The two-year, 6-ppm surge in the greenhouse gas between 2015 and 2017 is unprecedented in the observatory’s 59-year record,” the report read.

Trump’s budget proposal, released a week after the rally, slashed the EPA by more than 30 percent. NOAA is not included in the final proposal, but a leaked draft showed a 17 percent decrease in funding.

Back at the rally, the snow falls on the demonstrators, as well as the dancers and the speakers on the stage. Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas takes the stage. He is part Shoshone and organized the release of a song recorded by a collection of mostly native artists to bring attention to Native American issues.

It is a strange moment, watching the snow fall as this pop star in a floppy hat sings over a recording of his band’s song “I Gotta Feeling,” and people sway and dance and sing along, making it feel, for a moment, more like spring break than a deadly serious fight for the fate of the world.

Looking over at the White House, I have a feeling that tonight’s probably not gonna be a good night. But if we listen to the water protectors, we may still have some good nights left.

Democracy in Crisis is a joint project of alternative newspapers around the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent. Baynard Woods is editor at large at the Baltimore City Paper. His work has also appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Vox, Salon, McSweeney’s, Virginia Quarterly Review and many other publications. Send tips to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter @demoincrisis. Podcast every Thursday at www.democracyincrisis.com.

Published in Environment

On this week's spied-upon-via-microwave weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles engages in a bit of shameless self-promotion; This Modern World looks back at Donald Trump's campaign promises; Jen Sorenson compares Obamacare and Trumpcare; and Red Meat gets ready to embark on a new career.

Published in Comics

NEW YORK (Reuters)—Hate crimes in nine U.S. metropolitan areas rose more than 20 percent last year, fueled by inflamed passions during the presidential campaign and more willingness for victims to step forward, a leading hate crimes researcher said on Monday.

Bias crimes appeared to increase in some cities following the Nov. 8 election of President Donald Trump, a trend that has extended into this year with a wave of bomb threats and desecrations at synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, according to California researcher Brian Levin. 

The White House could not be reached immediately for comment on the research. 

Levin collected data as director of the nonpartisan Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, where he is a professor of criminal justice. The new numbers, collected from police departments, reverse a trend toward fewer hate crimes in many of the cities in recent years.

Among U.S. cities, New York reported the greatest number of hate crimes at 380, a 24 percent increase from 2015, while Washington, D.C., had the largest percentage rise at 62 percent, to 107 incidents.

Overall, there were 1,037 incidents, a 23.3 percent increase from the previous year in the nine areas researched: New York; Washington; Chicago; Philadelphia; Montgomery County, Md.; Columbus, Ohio; Seattle; Long Beach, Calif.; and Cincinnati.

Trump in recent weeks has more forcefully denounced the anti-Semitic and other racially motivated incidents, notably at the start of his address to Congress on Feb. 28. Trump has also expressed how he was personally affected, since his daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism and he has Jewish grandchildren.

After the most recent bomb threats last week, the Trump administration denounced them “in the strongest terms,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said, promising to search for ways to stop them. 

While some Jewish leaders have suspected the bomb threats may be linked to a higher profile for white nationalists animated by the Trump’s campaign, Levin did not draw that direct link.

In New York City alone, there were 55 anti-Semitic crimes reported from Jan. 1 to March 5 of this year, up 189 percent from 19 such incidents in the same period of 2016, the data showed.

“We might very well be at the start of a trend where anti-Semitic incidents are going up each year. We were seeing an over-decade decline in anti-Semitic incidents,” Levin said.

Bias crimes against Muslims and LGBT people accounted for much of the growth in hate crimes that were reported.

Experts say many hate crimes go unreported and caution against drawing conclusions from such data, which have small sample sizes.

Trump has proposed building a wall on the southern border with Mexico to stop illegal immigrants, and a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country, a proposal he later scaled back.

By highlighting issues such as race, religion and national origin, the presidential election campaign could have influenced both the number of incidents and frequency of reporting them to police, Levin said.

“That, coupled with significant coverage, might have encouraged two things to happen: Individuals who vary in motivation, from hardcore bigots to those just seeking a thrill, seeking something to do, as well as victims who felt that they should report this because they’re not alone,” Levin said.

Even so, Levin said: “I don’t think we can just explain away the increase with increased reporting.”

(Reporting by Grant Smith and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Michael Perry)

 

Published in National/International