The success of America’s first-ever plant-based burger joint is no accident, say its founders. When Matthew and Cierra de Gruyter opened Next Level Burger (NLB) in 2014 neither had ever run a restaurant before. But five additional restaurants later, with plans to open many more, they're willing to give a lot of credit where they think it's due: their decision to go with burgers. We chose the burger to promote plant-based food because it "is approachable to everyone," Cierra told Nil Zacharias on #EatforthePlanet.
When the first burger joint opened, "people just freaked out," says Matt. Customers lined up to try the burger patties made with sustainably sourced umami mushrooms and quinoa, a long list of soy and coconut-based shakes, and more. Investors also took note. One of them, Alex Payne, an original founder of Twitter, played a key role in opening NLB's second site in Portland, Oregon, which drew an even bigger crowd of followers.
Next Level Burger opened in 2014 flaunting a completely plant-based menu of burger joint classics, like the Animal Burger, pictured here. Now on its way to national expansion, the company joins a growing number of meat-free burger ventures working to change the way Americans eat. (photo from Next Level Burger)
"It was lines out the door for days and days and days," says Matt. Only a couple of weeks later Whole Foods invited the business to become a member of its 365 concept, which connects shoppers to "innovative food and lifestyle brands."
Serving Up Burgers for a Better World
Matt and Cierra chose a good time to begin their plant-based venture. Some 38 percent of Americans are now renouncing meat at least one day a week, says the Institute of Food Technology. People are increasingly open to alternatives, thanks to the negative environmental impact of meat, concerns about farm animal welfare, and health worries—eating meat has been linked to high rates of cancer, diabetes and obesity, among other problems.
The Impossible Burger uses 75 percent less water, generates 87 percent less greenhouse gases, requires 95 percent less land and 100 percent fewer cows to produce. It relies on a plant-derived heme protein found in the roots of legumes, where it helps them extract nitrogen from the air to enrich the soil. (photo from Impossible Foods)
Matt and Cierra, who adopted the slogan "Burgers for a Better World," join a growing number of entrepreneurs working to replace the standard climate-unfriendly burger with something much better. At startups like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, this new breed of producer is looking to replicate "the full consumer experience of conventional meat products," explains Liz Specht, a scientist at the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that supports plant-based ventures.
So Beyond Meat, which is backed by investments from Bill Gates and Leonardo DiCaprio, invented a burger that bleeds beet juice. At Impossible Foods, the secret to a sizzling plant-based burger is an oxygen-carrying compound called heme, which is uniquely abundant in meat and deeply satisfying to the human palate.
Another sign the market for meat is changing is the increasing interest in alternatives from meat producers themselves. Beyond Meat and Memphis Meats are backed in part by Tyson Foods, for instance, which produces about one in five pounds of chicken, beef and pork in the U.S., according to Fortune. Though it may seem counterintuitive, the company claims its meat-free investment is just another way to see that people “feel good about the protein they’re eating."
Enticing Americans to leave behind the traditional burger could have huge benefits for the world. Removing beef alone from our diet could slash our carbon footprint and enable us to achieve between 46 and 74 percent of the reductions needed to meet the 2020 carbon emission goals pledged by President Obama. It would also save vast amounts of water since producing a pound of beef uses more than 1,800 gallons per pound. And it would free up 42 percent of the cropland now used to feed cattle.
Get Ready for the Impossible Slider
As NLB looks to build some 1,000 new restaurants across the country, other burger joints, even those with cultural legacies, are following suit. Recently, White Castle announced that the newest version of its famous slider would feature an Impossible Burger Patty. David Lee, chief operations officer of Impossible Foods, says the partnership is "an indication that we’re becoming as accessible, affordable and available as our customers demand."
With many Americans increasingly making the choice to eat out, places like NLB have the chance to introduce plant-based options that are hand-crafted, classically comforting, and easy to customize, like "The Signature Burger." The bestseller is made from scratch with a clean list of ingredients, including umami mushrooms and quinoa, and topped with sliced avocado and roasted garlic thyme mayo.
"There are people across this country that need Next Level Burger," Matt says. And he, along with other alternative burger fans, believe the planet needs them, too.
Takeaway: NLB is expanding rapidly and might just crop up in a city near you. Or you can search for the Impossible Burger. The startup is experiencing rapid growth and moving into gourmet restaurants as well as into classic mainstays like White Castle. The Impossible Slider is now available in 140 White Castle locations throughout New York, New Jersey and Chicago. If it proves to be a success, the chain plans to expand the offering to all 380 of its locations. Want to cook up one these new options? Try the Beyond Burger, and make sure to serve it with your favorite toppings.
This article is reprinted with permission from Stone Pier Press.
President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may end up meeting on June 12 in Singapore after all, despite Trump's dramatic cancellation of the summit on Thursday. On Friday, Trump reversed course from his cancellation the day before, saying that the meeting may still take place at the same time and place as had previously been scheduled.
On CNN, the New York Times' Maggie Haberman explained why Trump is so desperate to make a deal happen, and how it led to the bizarre flip-flopping and confused messaging witnessed over the last few weeks.
"He does want this summit to happen," she said Friday evening. "My understanding from a couple of people is he did indeed cancel because he was afraid he would get canceled on, and he wanted to set the terms of the debate."
She continued: "And then he started anew. This morning, he was telling several people that he believed the North Koreans would give in, ultimately, and that this meeting would still happen. He still sees this as an obtainable goal, and in his mind, as the ultimate deal. in contrast to Middeast peace, which I think he has begun to realize is less likely."
One more important point is this: "It's something that will make his critics crazy, which at the end of the day is the validation he's seeking."
Haberman also argued that, despite the appearance of a lot of activity, not much has really changed throughout this week.
"This meeting may still happen, and it may not," she said. This is just the way Trump goes about trying to make deals: a lot of tumult, little substance.
Watch the clip below:
A new report from Yahoo News finds the FBI has records of a conversation involving a Russian official who went on to meet with President Donald Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to a Spanish prosecutor. The prosecutor, José Grinda, said of the evidence that Trump Jr. "should be concerned," according to the report.
Yahoo News reports that the revealtion emerged during a talk at the conservative think tank Hudson Institute. Grinda said that the FBI requested the records of the Spanish police's wiretaps of Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of Russia's central bank, who spoke with the Russian criminal Alexander Romanov. According to the report, this conversation, of which the bureau now has a transcrpt, led to a meeting between Trump Jr. and Torshin in May 2016 at an National Rifle Association meeting.
Torshin is reportedly an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The article describes the meeting between Trump Jr. and Torshin as a brief, private dinner. No further details are provided of the meeting or the transcripts, and neither special counsel Robert Mueller's office not Donald Trump Jr.'s attorney provided comment for the article.
Laura St. John, legal director of the immigrant support organization The Florence Group, shared Friday night the horrifying details of the U.S. government's policy of taking immigrant children away from their families to MSNBC's Chris Hayes.
"What's happeneing right now is really unprecedented," she explained. "What we've seen here in Arizona is actually, since January, over 200 cases of parents being separated from their children. And some of these children are extremely young, as you mentioed. We've actually seen children who are 2 years old, regularly, and just last week we saw a 53-week-old infant in court without a parent."
Hayes paused and gulped, betraying his inner emotions as he continued: "I'm sorry, I'm having a really hard time thinking about this."
He went on: "At some point, someone from the governemnt in a uniform comes and physically takes a 53-week-old baby away from the mother?"
"That's correct, yeah," she said. "What happens oftentimes at the border is that the parents are separated and taken into separate custody, and the children are brought into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, and brought into shelters run by the government."
Watch the clip below:
MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace said a recent report about President Donald Trump's racist comments at a meeting in the White House was "appalling," a feeling echoed by her guest Bret Stephens, a columnist for the New York Times.
The report, published by the Washington Post, found that Trump had made the remarks at an Oval Office meeting discussing immigration. He mentioned how his comments about immigration fired up crowds at his campaign rallies. Trump then made up a list of Hispanic-sounding names and fictional crimes they supposedly committed. like rape and murder.
The report said White House aide Stephen Miller and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner laughed at the racist antics.
Stephens pointed out that the report, though appalling, can't be much of a surprise coming from a man who began his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers.
"It's another reminder of why he is utterly unfit to be the president of the United States," he said. "It goes to the heart of his demagogic appeal to a nativist base and a form of xenophobic politics."
Watch the clip below:
"It's another reminder of why he is utterly unfit to be the President of the United States ... it goes to the heart of his demagogic appeal to a nativist base and a form of xenophobic politics" - @BretStephensNYT w/ @NicolleDWallace pic.twitter.com/qM2l6wRXvB— Deadline White House (@DeadlineWH) May 25, 2018
President Donald Trump endorsed the demands of Chicago police officers in their conflict with the city's mayor in a tweet Friday night, saying they have "have every right to legally protest" — a sentiment seeming to conflict with his push to punish black athletes in the NFL who protest silently during the national anthem.
"Chicago Police have every right to legally protest against the mayor and an administration that just won’t let them do their job," Trump wrote. "The killings are at a record pace and tough police work, which Chicago will not allow, would bring things back to order fast...the killings must stop!"
In addition to revealing his hypocrisy of Trump's view on the right to protest, the tweet was factually wrong. As Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale noted: "Trump's claim that Chicago homicide is at a record pace is wildly wrong. In fact, it is down 22% from last year. Shootings are down 27%. Police say gun violence has been down year-over-year for 14 consecutive months."
Just the day before, Trump had attacked the practice of protest, at least as engaged in certain ways and by certain people.
“You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing,” Trump said in the interview with Fox News about NFL player's protests on Thursday. “You shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”
Trump has long opposed the protests of players like Colin Kaepernick, who brought attention to police brutality against black Americans by kneeling during the national anthem. This week, the NFL announced that players could be fined for engaging in these protests, a move Trump cheered.
But when Chicago cops protest Mayor Rahm Emmanuel over contract disputes, Trump apparently has no problem with these protests.
While some might see a contradiction here, Trump is actually consistent in his own way. He sees cops as the legitimate protectors of Americans against racial minorities. So while the former's protests are praiseworthy, the latter's are condemnable.
As MSNBC's Chris Hayes put it in a recent op-ed about Trump's view of law and order:
The president’s moral framework springs from an American tradition of cultivating fear and contempt among its white citizens against immigrants, indigenous people and people of color, who are placed on the other side of “the law.” ... And this is what “law and order” means: the preservation of a certain social order, not the rule of law.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen, who willingly went to work for Donald Trump’s fact-free administration, is suddenly very concerned about the facts. One alleged interaction reported by The Washington Post included some head-butting with the White House’s No. 2 white supremacist, adviser Stephen Miller, over some anti-immigrant lies he wanted to spread:
When Trump’s advisers were writing a report on terrorism earlier this year, Miller had a suggestion. Language saying that children of foreign-born nationals were more likely than non-foreign-born nationals to commit acts of terrorism should be inserted into the report and the accompanying press materials, according to three people with knowledge of his wishes.
But Miller’s move was opposed by Nielsen and her top aides, these people said. They said such language was not substantiated in fact and that a report would not go out from her agency claiming such.
How truly noble of Nielsen to stand up for “the children of foreign-born nationals,” and clearly, if the administration proposed other reprehensible policies, like tearing children from the arms of “foreign-born nationals” before criminally prosecuting them, Nielsen would surely oppose that as well. Oh, wait:
The Trump administration announced Monday that it is dramatically stepping up prosecutions of those who illegally cross the Southwest border, ramping up a “zero tolerance” policy intended to deter new migrants with the threat of jail sentences and separating immigrant children from their parents.
America’s Voice reported that Nielsen has defended the administration’s shameful policy, and she has also had zero answers about the federal government losing track of 1,500 migrant kids it placed with U.S. sponsors. And now, a semi-sympathetic piece on her has turned up, just as her job could be up in the air. Gimme a break. The only thing Nielsen does seem concerned about is losing her job.
MIchael Caputo is developing a major business venture with many Russian associates. He has personally entertained Russian President Vladimir Putin. He worked on President Donald Trump's campaign. And he has been intensely interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller.
And yet, Caputo insists he's done nothing wrong in a new interview with Wired, and he dismisses any suggestion otherwise as pure bias.
To be clear, there doesn't appear to be any conclusive public evidence that Caputo has broken any laws or major norms with regard to American elections or politics, even as other campaign aides have been indicted. In the '90s, he worked under the Clinton administration at the US Agency for International Development in Russia, and he left the country after Putin came into power.
“I plead guilty to living an interesting life—lock me up," he told Wired. "But at the end of the day, I’ve told the truth and I’ve done nothing wrong.”
Caputo by himself may not have raised any red flags if he had been a part of any other campaign in 2016. But his extensive connections to Russia have raised questions — and deep suspicions — given Russia's support for Trump in the election and the extensive ties, some of which have been tied to criminal activity, between Trump staffers and the Kremlin.
Caputo has a long history with Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, both of whom appear to be central figures in the Russia investigation, as well.
Mueller's evident interest in Caputo is also noteworthy, though it is certainly not evidence of guilt on its own. Caputo describes being interviewed by the special counsel as a "colonoscopy."
As far as his ties to Putin go, Caputo describes them as no more than a lark: “I no more worked for Vladimir Putin than I did Rocky Balboa.”
And as Trump's defenders will point out, it's always possible that the ever-growing number of Trump staffers with ties to Russia is merely one giant coincidence. But that is getting harder and harder to believe.
On Thursday, Republican Rep. Tom Garrett gave a strange and rambling press conference to tell everyone that he was indeed planning on running for a second term in Virginia’s 5th district. The press conference came after Politico had reported Garrett was considering retiring. On Friday, Politico added another piece of the puzzle to the last few days of strangeness and speculations.
Freshman Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) and his wife turned the congressman’s staff into personal servants, multiple former aides told POLITICO — assigning them tasks from grocery shopping to fetching the congressman’s clothes to caring for their pet dog, all during work hours.
POLITICO has spoken with four former staffers who detailed a deeply dysfunctional office, where the congressman and his wife, Flanna, often demanded that staff run personal errands outside their typical congressional duties. The couple called on staff to pick up groceries, chauffeur Garrett’s daughters to and from his Virginia district, and fetch clothes that the congressman forgot at his Washington apartment. They were even expected to watch and clean up after Sophie, their Jack Russell-Pomeranian mix, the aides said.
The aides seem to say that Rep. Garrett’s wife, Flanna, is a fixture in Rep. Garrett’s office. Aides told Politico they weren’t sure who they were working for; and feared losing their station if they didn’t accommodate even the least professional of requests. According to Politico’s sources, the servitude to the Garretts began slowly: shopping for groceries here and there, picking up clean clothes forgotten at home, those sorts of things. They then graduated to more important political tasks, like taking care of the Garrett’s dog as well as playing uber-drivers to Garrett’s children.
Aides also grew acquainted with the couple’s dog, Sophie, who often came to the office with Garrett and Flanna. Staffers were expected to watch the dog during office hours, and one aide did so over a weekend. Several aides said the couple would sometimes seem to forget the dog was in the office. When that happened, at the end of the day, aides were responsible for transporting it back to Garrett’s Washington apartment.
One source said the dog occasionally defecated on the floor and aides had to clean up the mess.
And while Garrett’s office has said that the accusations are baseless; of course the turnover rate in Garrett’s congressional office is alarming. According to the report Garrett’s employee turnover was around 60 percent last year, when the average turnover rate in congressional offices is about 25 percent. Those numbers are saying something.
Ronald Mortensen, President Donald Trump's pick to lead an office of the State Department overseeing refugees, has alarmed many Democratic lawmakers and activists for his connections to a hate group and a history of anti-immigrant comments, Politico reported on Friday.
Mortensen has worked with the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that works to restrict immigration and has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC notes that the group has a pattern of promoting white supremacist writers, has defended colonialism, and has promoted of racist ideas.
Politico points to one particularly troubling statement made by Mortensen in reference to Dreamers, who are undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children. Mortensen was concerned that Dreamers couldn't be eligible for deportation unless they were found guilty of a crime.
“This means that Dreamer gang-bangers, Dreamer identity thieves, Dreamer sexual predators, Dreamers who haven't paid income taxes, and Dreamers committing a wide range of other crimes all qualify for DACA status as long as they haven't been convicted of their crimes,” he wrote. Of course, no one can or should be punished for a crime they haven't been found guilty of, and studies repeatedly show that immigrants have lower rates of crime than the rest of the population.
Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, said Mortensen "is simply unsuited to head a bureau whose charge it is to provide protection to refugees around the world escaping persecution.”
The White House lauded Mortensen by pointing to his history of award-winning work in humanitarianism in a statement, but it did not address his troubling history with anti-immigrant ideas.
It doesn't look like Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) can count on a warm welcome home from Washington, D.C.
On Friday, local paper the Fresno Bee from his district published a letter to the editor offering a searing criticism of Nunes's work in Congress and called for him to resign.
Writer Patrick MacMillian of Fresno called the lawmaker "President [Donald] Trump’s chief errand boy" and blasted him for aiding in apparent efforts to derail special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump campaign. Nunes, as chair of the House Intelligence Committee, has been critcized for downplaying the significance of Russia's interference in the 2016 election and for cooking up fake scandals about the investigations surrounding the president.
"Nunes is attempting to undermine the rule of law in this country," MacMillan wrote. "Mr. Nunes would rather serve a carnival con man whose ignorance and corruption surpasses the Harding Administration and Teapot Dome Scandal of the 1920s."
Meanwhile, the letter accuses Nunes of avoiding the real problems of his constituents in the 22 district: "I see patients every day that need Mr. Nunes to fight for their health care."
He continued: "Mr. Nunes is the swamp. He epitomizes everything that Americans dislike about our government and its corrupted ways."
The letter ends with a clear way for the lawmaker to address these critcisms: "Mr. Nunes, please resign."
They're harsh words for a member of Congress who has served in government since 2003 without creating much of a stir until now. But by alligning himself so closely with Trump, Nunes has put himself at the center of a storm.
California is on track to generate $1.9 billion in legal marijuana sales this year, according tonew data from a financial analysis firm tracking the market. That’s a lot of weed, but it’s only half the amount the same firm earlier estimated the state would rake in.
The estimates are from New Frontier Data, which crunches cannabis industry numbers, and are based on tax revenues from pot sales, which so far have fallen dramatically short of projections. According to New Frontier, the state collected $33.6 million in pot taxes between January 1 and March 31, which makes it extremely unlikely that tax revenues will meet original expectations of hitting $175 million in the first half of the year.
New Frontier had earlier estimated that the state would see $3.8 billion in marijuana sales this year, and this latest estimate slashes that number by a whopping 50 percent. The company also slashed its projections for the size of the legal industry by 2025. Instead of the $6.7 billion in sales it earlier estimated, it now says it thinks sales will only hit $4.7 billion, a hefty one-third reduction.
That’s bad news not only for state tax revenues, but also for an industry that is supposed to be coming in out of the cold. What happened? New Frontier has an idea.
“It is quite clear that the new adult use regulations have made it more difficult than anticipated for the legal market to get established and for consumers to transition to from the illicit market. Given the number of local government bans on cannabis businesses, we are not seeing the same kind of conversion rates that we have seen in other legal markets,” said Giadha Aguirre De Carcer, New Frontier Data founder and CEO.
State and local licensing fees for marijuana businesses can range from$5,000 to $120,000 per year, depending on the type and scope of the business. And complying with regulatory mandates, such as those around zoning, water usage, and lab testing, costs even more.
It’s not just onerous—and expensive—regulation for those who want state licenses to grow, distribute, and sell marijuana that is the problem. There’s also a serious lack of buy-in by a good portion of the state’s cities and counties, and that means that a big hunk of the state has no access to local legal marijuana.
“If there’s (no governmental support) locally, then there’s no option for a state license, and that’s why most people are being shut out at this point in time,” California Cannabis Industry Association executive directorLindsay Robinson told the Marijuana Business Daily. “The process gave local authorities an option to kind of sit on their hands, and that’s the biggest barrier that we’re seeing.”
According to CCIA spokeswoman Amy Jenkins, only about a third of the state’s 540 local governmental entities have approved commercial marijuana activity. Lack of legal access is “forcing consumers to turn to the illicit market,”she told the Los Angeles Times this week.
Or return to it. Or stay in it, if they never left. Humboldt State University economics professor Erick Eschkerpegged the size of the state’s pot market—legal and illegal—at about $7.8 billion. Of that, about $2.3 billion came from the medical marijuana market, leaving about $5.5 billion for legal, gray market, and black market pot sales. If the legal market is only accounting for $1.9 billion in sales, that suggests that gray and black market sales are still about twice the size of legal sales. These consumers don’t get hit with stiff sales and excise taxes, and if they can still get it from the guy down the street, why pay those high, state-legal prices?
If California wants to eliminate the black market in marijuana, it’s got a whole lot of work to do. And no matter what steps the state takes to deal with its internal black market, there’s still the export black market to the non-legal states in the rest of the U.S. Ultimately, the only way to end the black market is to legalize it nationwide, but we’re not quite there yet. In the meantime, California’s transition to a legal marijuana regime is facing some unhappy realities.
When Robert Mueller began his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump proclaimed on Twitter, "This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!" That phrase -- "Witch Hunt!" -- has been his go-to war cry ever since, bolstered only by his near-meaningless "No collusion!" claim, even as Mueller has racked up indictments, guilty pleas and cooperating witnesses.
Trump's defense is working, to some extent, given that a recent poll found that 59 percent of respondents didn't believe Mueller has uncovered any crimes so far, notwithstanding all those guilty pleas. Such is the power of a relentlessly repeated narrative over mere facts.
Now we're about to see what a real witch hunt looks like, as Trump tries to force the Department of Justice to investigate the investigators, looking for imaginary wrongdoing or "infiltration" in what was an entirely normal, non-intrusive FBI method of information-gathering.
This is a classic example of Trump gaslighting, à la "Hillary Clinton started birtherism and I ended it," trying to convince us that up is down and we're crazy for thinking otherwise. Only now it's not just Trump. Increasingly, it's more and more of the Republican leadership.
It’s not the first such effort, by a long shot, as David Corn recently tweeted.
With the midterms fast approaching, congressional Republicans seriously falling in line, and the DOJ starting to buckle under pressure, this effort looks much more serious.
It's fitting that Trump should choose this path, since his mentor, the infamous Roy Cohn, was Sen. Joseph McCarthy's lead investigator during his witch hunts, which also began based on absolutely nothing — a supposed “list” of 57 “communists” that McCarthy waved in the air, but that actually didn’t exist, as explained by University of Washington professor Joe Janes in an episode of his “Documents that Changed the World” podcast series:
It was on Feb. 9, 1950, that McCarthy — who had dubbed himself “Tailgunner Joe” for acts of World War II bravery he did not in fact commit — told a crowd of 275 at the Ohio County Republican Women’s Club that the U.S. State Department was “thoroughly infested with communists” and brandished papers he claimed were a list of 57 such subversives.
“My primary interest here was as an example of a document that didn’t actually exist, and which still had great impact,” Janes said when discussing the podcast. “So far as we can tell, for all McCarthy’s bluster, his ‘list(s)’ were mainly numbers either taken from other sources or misremembered or just made up. Yet people believed them, and acted as a result of what he said he had."
McCarthy was a fake war hero, and Donald Trump may well be a fake billionaire (and is definitely a fake business genius). Both presented themselves as persecuted by vast conspiracies, and both excel at smelling blood, and getting others to follow. McCarthy didn’t start the post-World War II red scare that made him famous, he just dialed up the paranoia to 11, much as Trump did with birth-certificate mania during Barack Obama’s first term.
Even though there was no there there, most of the Republican Party went along with McCarthy's massive commie-hunt. A handful of internal dissenters quickly melted away. So it's hardly surprising that it's happening again. Four months after McCarthy’s speech, on June 1, 1950, Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, R-Maine, gave the most memorable speech of her career, denouncing McCarthy’s tactics — but not naming him — and introducing a "Declaration of Conscience," signed by herself and six other GOP senators.
But when the Korean War broke out later that same month, any chance of them prevailing over McCarthy vanished. Only one — Sen. Wayne Morse of Oregon —remained thoroughly outraged, eventually leaving the Republican Party to become an independent in 1952, and then a Democrat in 1955. Later, Morse would cast one of only two votes against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, which greatly expanded the U.S. military role in Vietnam. There were no one else like him at the time -- and there certainly isn't now.
For the rest of the Republican Party, supporting McCarthy made sense in the short run: The GOP gained a Senate majority in the 1952 election for the first time in 20 years, though it was a short-lived and unstable triumph. Democrats regained their majority two years later — the year McCarthy was finally censured — and won 12 Republican-held seats in the wave election of 1958, beginning another two decades of legislative hegemony. Today's Republicans are clearly taking a similar political risk by going all-in on Donald Trump. But will they take the whole country down with them?
Connecting Trump to McCarthy is the figure of Roy Cohn. As summarized by Politico last year, their connection was forged in 1973, when Cohn defended the 27-year-old Donald Trump and his father against a federal racial discrimination lawsuit: “Cohn filed a $100-million countersuit against the federal government, deriding the charges as ‘irresponsible’ and ‘baseless.’” In later filings, “Cohn accused the DOJ and the assisting FBI of ‘Gestapo-like tactics.’ He labeled their investigators ‘undercover agents’ and ‘storm troopers.’” Does any of this sound familiar?
There’s more. At one point Cohn reportedly called a senior figure at the DOJ in Washington “and attempted to get him to censure one of the lead staffers” on the Trump investigation. It's almost uncanny: There’s virtually no move Trump has tried against Robert Mueller that wasn’t prefigured in Cohn’s first outing defending Trump. And Trump got some pretty good licks in himself.
Of course the Trumps finally settled that lawsuit — just as the Justice Department had originally offered. But the younger Trump bristled at any admission of guilt, and was bitter about the advertisements he was forced to place, “including those targeted specifically to minority communities — saying they were an ‘equal housing opportunity’ company.” Then, foreshadowing Trump's future campaign pledges that “Mexico will pay for the wall,” came this petulant tidbit:
At one point, flouting the formality of the court, Trump addressed one of the opposing attorneys by her first name: “Will you pay for the expense, Donna?”
Not much has changed in more than 40 years. But what about the term “witch hunt,” itself? Last year, the New York Times sketched out a history of its recent usage, noting: “The central paradox of modern witch hunts is that those who claim to be the victims, like Nixon, are often the ones most enthusiastic about carrying them out.”
That’s not actually a paradox at all. It’s a natural consequence of choosing to fight dark feelings—projecting them onto others—rather than facing hard facts. As this overview of the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s reveals, there were a multitude of complex social and political threats facing the Massachusetts colonists. Salem’s residents were overwhelmed by their situation — against which they were ultimately powerless, since the English crown was ultimately pulling the strings. But they were also overwhelmed by their feelings, and those they could do something about: They could hunt witches, and pour all their fears and frustrations onto the most vulnerable members of their small and isolated society.
Modern America is not like Salem. We may be overwhelmed by both circumstances and feelings, but we are not powerless at all. The choice is ours: We can confront difficult facts and deal with them, or we can retreat into dark emotions, projecting them outwards onto others and tweeting “Witch Hunt!” to the world.
Lauren Hogg, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were shot and killed earlier this year, slammed Mike Pence on Friday after the vice president offered his prayers for the victims in Friday's shooting in Indiana.
Pence, the former Indiana governor, sent the message after a student opened fire at Noblesville West Middle School, injuring two people. An eyewitness told CBS 4 a science teacher “swatted [the] gun away from the gunman’s hand, saving everyone else in the room.”
“Karen [Pence] and I are praying for the victims of the terrible shooting in Indiana,” Pence wrote on Twitter. “To everyone in the Noblesville community – you are on our hearts and in our prayers. Thanks for the swift response by Hoosier law enforcement and first responders.”
Hogg, the sister of Parkland activist David Hogg, replied to Pence’s tweet, imploring the vice president to “take action” instead of offering empty thoughts and prayers.
“How about instead of only praying this time you take action?” Hogg asked on Twitter. “Perhaps you don’t realize that the reason people pray after school shootings occur is in hopes that people like you who have the power to stop these things from happening take action.”
Hey @VP how about instead of only praying this time you take action?— Lauren Hogg (@lauren_hoggs) May 25, 2018
Perhaps you don’t realize that the reason people pray after school shootings occur is in hopes that people like you who have the power to stop these things from happening take action. https://t.co/SBot8d3uz0
According to USA Today, the incident in Indiana is at least the 21st school shooting in 2018. In Santa Fe, Texas, 10 students were killed last week when a 17-year-old used his father’s shotgun and .38-caliber revolver to shoot up an art class.
A student has corroborated the claim that the Noblesville West Middle School shooter in Indiana was stopped in his tracks by a science teacher, according to CBS 4.
The science teacher reportedly tackled the shooter and "bravely swatted that gun away from the gunman’s hand, saving everyone else in that room.”
One child and one adult were injured during the incident. It remains unclear if the injured adult is the teacher, as names were not released at press time.
Both individuals are alive, but their condition is unknown. The suspect is in custody.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Friday dismissed a core facet of Donald Trump’s ever-changing anti-FBI conspiracy, telling the Washington Post that despite the president’s claims, “a confidential informant is not a spy.”
In recent weeks, Trump has ramped up his attacks against the ongoing special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and collusion with the Trump campaign, claiming the FBI placed a “spy” in his campaign (a scandal he, and only he, calls “Spygate”).
Friday, the president once again resurfaced that claim, tweeting (in rapid succession) that a “spy” was “paid a fortune” to infiltrate his campaign “for the sole purpose of political advantage and gain.”
“The Democrats are now alluding to the concept that having an Informant placed in an opposing party’s campaign is different than having a Spy,” Trump wrote.
But it’s not just Democrats. Graham, an occasional Trump ally, undercut Trump’s key accusation and suggested the president should “probably not” use the term “Spygate.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to @hughhewitt: "A confidential informant is not a spy."— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) May 25, 2018
HEWITT: "Should the president use the term Spygate?"— Aaron Blake (@AaronBlake) May 25, 2018
GRAHAM: "I don’t know. Probably not, but I don’t know. I didn’t go to the meeting."
Graham’s disavowal of Trump’s anti-FBI conspiracy, however tepid it may be, is a markedly different approach than that of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) and other House Republicans. Thursday, Nunes and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) met with officials from the Department of Justice and FBI for documents related to the confidential informant.
McConnell, who attended a separate classified DOJ/FBI briefing with the Gang of Eight, told NPR he backs special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, even after reviewing documents on the confidential informant.
You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.
I felt a wonderful dialog was building up between you and me, and ultimately it is only that dialog that matters.
While this may read like an excerpt from Fifty Shades of Orange, Trump still informed Kim that the planned negotiations were “inappropriate” at this time. Which, despite Republican efforts to make both accepting and rejecting a meeting with Kim “the right decision” did leave those promoting Trump’s Nobel Prize in the lurch.
But not for long. Because apparently all Donald Trump was looking for was one signal from Kim that that what was “building up between” them was still here. As reflected in today’s White House pool report:
Trump: We’ll see what happens. It could even be the 12th. We’re talking to them now. They very much want to do it. We’d like to do it. We’re going to see what happens.
Reporter: Is North Korea just playing games?
Trump: Everybody plays games.
True to form, Donald Trump seems to be negotiating over nuclear weapons with the same care, and the same tactics, he used to stiff contractors for plumbing.
The June 12 was the scheduled date for the Singapore get together that Trump canceled on Thursday, and now Trump is leaving open the possibility of hitting that date after all … which is either going to really please, or terribly disappoint, the people who bought all those coins.
Trump’s statements came after what he called “a very statement,” from North Korea. Which was apparently in reference to North Korean Foreign Ministry official Kim Kye Gwan. Though that statement, in which the official complained that Trump’s decision to suspend the meeting was "not consistent with the desire of humankind for peace and stability" did not include any sort of apology for either threats of a “nuclear to nuclear showdown” or remarks in which Mike Pence was referred to as a “political dummy.”
The Republican Party nominee for Illinois’ 17th congressional district is a conspiracy theorist who thinks the 9/11 terror attack was an “inside job” and that singer Beyonce Knowles has ties to a secret society known as the “Illuminati.”
CNN reports that GOP nominee Bill Fawell, who ran unopposed in the Republican primary for the congressional seat in Illinois’ 17th district, espoused these conspiracy theories both in his personal blog posts and in his 2012 book, “New American Revolution.”
“Go to YouTube and punch in ‘Building #7’ It’s the third building that went down with the twin towers on 9/11,” Fawell wrote in his book. “Nothing hit this building, not a thing, and it fell entirely upon its own. If it looks like a standard commercial implosion demolition, it’s because that is exactly what it is.”
Additionally, a 2013 blog post written by Fawell asserts that rapper Jay-Z “has a long history of serving up the godless Illuminati” before he shares a video that, in CNN’s words, “speculated that Beyonce’s upcoming halftime performance at the Super Bowl would have Illuminati symbolism.”Fawell also accused singer Madonna — whom he described as a “narcissist skank with the crooked teeth” — of doing the Illuminati’s bidding during her own halftime show.
If you are not afraid by now, you should be.
Donald Trump is a racist. This is not a random accusation but an inference drawn from ample evidence. He has demonstrated those traits and behaviors throughout his time in public life.
Donald Trump is now the leader of the Republican Party, even if some Republicans remain uncomfortable with that fact. That party is the country's largest white identity organization, and torchbearer for a political value system where conservatism and racism are now effectively one and the same.
Donald Trump is an authoritarian. He holds democratic norms, culture, laws, and institutions in contempt and is doing everything in his power to become America's first dictator.
In total, these are the attributes of a racial authoritarian. Disaster seems inevitable: such a person cannot be a fair and just leader of a cosmopolitan and diverse United States.
This week Donald Trump has once again signaled his ominous dedication to protecting and strengthening a backward-looking conception of American life and society in which nonwhites are treated as second-class citizens.
In response to the NFL's decision to fine players who kneel in protest during the national anthem next season, Donald Trump used the bully pulpit of the presidency to gloat and threaten. "Well, I think that's good," Trump said during a Fox News interview. "I don't think people should be staying in locker rooms, but still I think it's good. You have to stand — proudly — for the national anthem or you shouldn't be playing, you shouldn't be there, maybe you shouldn't be in the country."
This is another example of how nonwhites -- especially African-Americans -- are special targets of Trump's rage and disrespect. Beyond the petulant scorn designed to titillate his right-wing base, Trump's latest comments offer more evidence of his authoritarian agenda.
Patriotism is compulsory. Freedom of speech is undermined if not wholly overturned -- especially for those who dare to criticize or otherwise oppose Donald Trump, his allies or his public. In a version of "blood and soil" racism, those who protest or otherwise dissent are to be expelled from the country -- especially if they happen not to be white.
Again, Trump's scorn is selective. He did not threaten the neo-Nazis and other white supremacists who rampaged and committed murder in Charlottesville with deportation. Instead, he suggested that some of them were "very fine people."
Nor has Trump ever said that the white men and boys who have committed mass murder in America's schools, or have engaged in violent (and often lethal) hate crimes against Muslims, Jews, nonwhites and immigrants should be removed from the country.
Donald Trump's newest threats against black NFL players and others who kneel in protest against racism are anti-democratic in other ways as well. His words are a reminder that in America the full and equal citizenship of black people has almost always been precarious and contingent. American democracy has historically, through both laws and cultural norms, been circumscribed in such a way that nonwhites are perpetual outsiders while white people are defined as "real Americans."
Because of that fact, both the idea and practice of black people and other nonwhites being forced into submission and compliance does potent work in white America's political imagination.
In the Village Voice, Talia Levin sums this up:
There is no point at which dissent becomes acceptable to authoritarians. They are the boot that will stamp your face to mush, all the time demanding you apologize for the unceasing offense that is your desire to be free.
There has never been an American idyll of polite discourse; our democracy has always been too fractious for that. (Ask Charles Sumner, beaten to within an inch of his life in the Senate chamber for opposing slavery. Ask the slain protesters at Kent State. Ask Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner.) In the context of our present dismal moment, a push for propriety in political disagreement is nothing more than a demand for decorum among the powerful, and a careful skirting of the barbarities regularly inflicted against the powerless. ...
It is high time to cease cringing and apologizing to those for whom our humanity — feminist, gay, queer, Latino, Black, immigrant, free — is in and of itself an offense. They will demand our deference because our demands for justice are an affront. They will seek our submission because our silence is what they crave. It is time to recognize that the right to criticize the powerful is sacrosanct.
The political dividends of these efforts to humiliate and force compliance across the color line are directly related to the profile and visibility of the black and brown body which is made to suffer.
Black athletes, black soldiers and veterans and yes, even America's first black president, Barack Obama, have been victims of this onslaught of white rage fueled by racial insecurity, existential angst and imagined vulnerability.
Across the American South and elsewhere black veterans were special targets for lynchings and other types of white mob violence.
Black athletes such as the 1968 Olympic champions Tommie Smith and John Carlos, boxing legend Muhammad Ali, and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick were threatened with physical violence. Their livelihoods were taken away; they became human pillories for white rage.
As Jackie Robinson, the American hero who broke the color line in professional baseball reflected years later:
Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first World Series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama [Branch Rickey, then owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers] and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world. In 1972, in 1947, at my birth in 1919, I know that I never had it made.
Obama and his family were smeared by the racist conspiracy theory known as "birtherism," which Donald Trump played a central role in advancing. Obama's presidency also inspired an increase in white supremacist and other far-right organizations. The Republican Party and its voters have become more partisan, more polarized, and more hostile to the very idea of participating in a government and society where a black man was president.
Indeed, the American right became so hostile to the Obama administration that it was willing to betray American democracy by aligning with the demagogue Donald Trump and his proto-fascist authoritarian movement.
Donald Trump is not the drunk at the end of the bar or a millionaire version of the TV character Archie Bunker made real. He is the president of the United States. Yes, Trump's presidency is in many respects illegitimate. Yes, Trump has failed every test of moral character and leadership put before him. That has done nothing to diminish his power. In many ways Trump's crudeness, boorishness and contempt for civility and human decency may have actually expanded his power.
Ultimately, we should heed Masha Gessen's warning, written just after Trump's election in November 2016, that authoritarians and demagogues should be taken at their word.
Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization. This will happen often: humans seem to have evolved to practice denial when confronted publicly with the unacceptable. Back in the 1930s, The New York Times assured its readers that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was all posture. More recently, the same newspaper made a telling choice between two statements made by Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov following a police crackdown on protesters in Moscow: “The police acted mildly — I would have liked them to act more harshly” rather than those protesters’ “liver should have been spread all over the pavement.” Perhaps the journalists could not believe their ears. But they should — both in the Russian case, and in the American one. For all the admiration Trump has expressed for Putin, the two men are very different; if anything, there is even more reason to listen to everything Trump has said. He has no political establishment into which to fold himself following the campaign, and therefore no reason to shed his campaign rhetoric. On the contrary: it is now the establishment that is rushing to accommodate him — from the president, who met with him at the White House on Thursday, to the leaders of the Republican Party, who are discarding their long-held scruples to embrace his radical positions.
In the year and a half since Trump's election, Gessen's warnings have been shown to be remarkably prescient.
Nevertheless, too many among the chattering class continue to dismiss Donald Trump as ineffective, a pitiable joke of a man who is all bluster and no teeth. These same voices counsel that Donald Trump is no real threat to America's democracy institutions and that the country will somehow "muddle through," relatively "unharmed" and perhaps even "improved." These are cowardly dreams of the worst sort: empty fantasies summoned by weak centrists who are too afraid to admit to the scope of the cultural and political crisis that is taking place in America, under their feet and before their eyes.
Donald Trump and the current Republican Party's threat to American democracy is real and immediate. Black athletes and other nonwhites are an easy first target. But as with all authoritarians and demagogues the circle of Donald Trump's enemies will keep expanding, ultimately to include those who thought the birthright of their color or their gender or the language they speak would save them. It will not. You have been warned.
File this one under "only in the Trump era": One of the president's long-time lawyers explained Thursday night why another of the president's lawyer is likely to flip on the president.
The bizarre remarks came from Jay Goldberg, who served as President Donald Trump's lawyer through his divorces, in an appearance with Erin Burnett on CNN's "OutFront." They discussed Trump's fixer and lawyer Michael Cohen, who is under federal investigation and many believe may face pressure to become a cooperating witness against the president.
"Cohen will be toast," Goldberg said. "He'll cooperate as quickly as the door shuts to the cell."
Goldberg went on to explain that he believes Cohen will be compelled to cooperate as soon as it appears he'll face the reality of a prison sentence, possibly for over a decade. The prospect of facing so many years behind bars, and the effect it would have on his family, would induce him to flip, Goldberg said.
Similar reasoning could apply to George Papadopoulos, Goldberg said, who has already pleaded guilty in the Mueller probe.
"There are certain people who are of the view that they don't belong in jail," Goldberg said.
Watch the clip below:
"Cohen will be toast ... he'll cooperate as quickly as the door shuts to the cell" Jay Goldberg, Donald Trump's longtime attorney, tells @ErinBurnett he's worried Michael Cohen, George Papadopoulos, and General Michael Flynn could all turn on the President https://t.co/ULuyQG4ho6 pic.twitter.com/9L59JBhNiv— OutFrontCNN (@OutFrontCNN) May 25, 2018
After a day discussing the fallout of President Donald Trump's abrupt decision to pull out of talks with North Korea, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow noted Thursday night something about the move that most accounts missed: It appears to have put American lives in real jeopardy.
"When the president sent that letter this morning, with those foreign journalists, including American journalists, still on the ground in North Korea, completely under control of the North Korean government, that put those journalists in danger, in wanton danger," she said.
"The president said American forces today were 'ready if necessary,'" she said. "Ready if necessary in case North Korean leader decided to do something 'foolish' after he decided to tank these nuclear talks."
She added: "Bet that was a long train ride back to the airport for those reporters in that moment."
Watch the clip below:
When Trump decided to suddenly pull the plug on talks with North Korea, he exposed the journalists still in country, including Americans, to wanton danger. pic.twitter.com/FrMeQ8Mclb— Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) May 25, 2018
Special counsel Robert Mueller's recent court filing seems to contain a very clear message to President Donald Trump and his allies: This investigation is bigger and goes far deeper than you think.
That was MSNBC's Chris Hayes' takeaway, as he discussed in Thursday's episode of "All In."
Hayes argued that despite people like Rudy Giuliani and Vice President Mike Pence suggesting that Mueller should wrap up his investigation into Trump's campaign and Russia's interference in the 2016 election, the new document, filed in response to media outlets' request for documents, suggests the investigation is nowhere close to done.
"The Special Counsel's investigation is not a closed matter, but an ongoing criminal investigation with multiple lines of non-public inquiry," the filing says, indicating that there are many facets of the probe that are not well-understood by the public. "Many aspects of the investigation are factually and legally interconnected: they involve overlapping courses of conduct, relationships, and events and rely on similar sources, methods, and techniques."
This suggests that, despite the fact that many of presidents defenders have repeatedly pointed out that none of the public indictments made public so far by the investigation directly allege "collusion" between the Trump campaign and Russia, Mueller may still be keeping these aspects of the inquiry under wraps for now.
Another section suggests that even those implicated in public indictments may be involved in other matters of interest.
It continues: "Here, the government's warrant applications and related materials, including those that relate to people who have already been charged or pleaded guilty, are part of the Special Counsel's ongoing investigation. Disclosure of those materials could reveal sources, methods, factual and legal theories, and lines of investigation extending beyond the charged conduct."
Watch the clip below:
Internal government documents dating back to 2009 and obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago School of Law, detail horror stories of child abuse, physical and sexual assault, verbal abuse and medical negligence at the hands of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents. The details should be a national security concern, because border agents were already “monstrous” under Barack Obama, and under Donald Trump they have been unleashed and stand to endanger untold numbers:
In one complaint we obtained, a Border Patrol agent grabbed a girl he claimed was running away, handcuffed her to someone else and dragged them together along the ground, causing “two bruises on her neck, scratches to her shoulders and arms, and thorns in her head.” A 16-year-old recounted that a Border Patrol agent threw him down before he used his boot to smash his head into the ground.
Other children allege that agents assaulted them with their feet, fists, flashlights, and Tasers. In one case, an agent ran over a 17-year-old with a patrol vehicle and then got out and punched the child in the head and body. Often, children noted that other agents witnessed the abuse or saw the injuries but refused them medical attention. In one case, agents accused a pregnant minor of lying about the pain — which turned out to be labor contractions preceding a stillbirth.
The records, from the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, a DHS oversight agency, “show that the leadership at Customs and Border Protection were well aware of the allegations of unlawful child abuse—including people still now directing the agency—yet there is no indication that any individual official was ever held accountable for abuse,” the ACLU continues. Yet, this could be just a sliver of the abuse at the hands of government officials—the ACLU has yet to issue a report on the rest of the 30,000 documents spreading over three other agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Border Patrol—called the most “corrupt” federal law enforcement agency in the country—has, along with ICE, been a danger to the public, engaging in extortion, purposefully destroying jugs of water left for migrants in the desert, violating international agreements, and even killing. Those are the incidents we actually know about. The new trove of documents are revealing further reprehensible—and criminal—acts, including sexual abuse of children:
The abuse was also sexual. During an arrest in the desert in Phoenix, Arizona, an agent grabbed a child’s buttocks and only stopped when she screamed and another agent approached. In another incident, a 16-year-old girl reported that a Border Patrol agent forcefully spread her legs and touched her genitals so hard she screamed in pain.
The documents come as the federal government has made tearing babies and young children from the arms of immigrant parents at the U.S./Mexico border official policy, and has floated turning military bases into internment camps for detained migrant children. Just hours ago, a Border Patrol agent shot and killed an unarmed woman. It’s federal immigration agents, not immigrants, who are the danger to public safety.
“The federal government has failed to provide adequate safeguards and humane detention conditions for children in CBP custody,” the report said. “It has further failed to institute effective accountability mechanisms for government officers who abuse the vulnerable children entrusted to their care. These failures have allowed a culture of impunity to flourish within CBP, subjecting immigrant children to conditions that are too often neglectful at best and sadistic at worst.”
“President Trump vowed to ‘unleash the agents to do their jobs,’” the ACLU tweeted. “Imagine the horror that entails.”
MSNBC's Ari Melber argued Thursday that the attendance of President Donald Trump's lawyer Emmet Flood at an intelligence briefing about the investigation into the Trump campaign was unequivocally a major violation.
"As a matter of law and precedent," Melber said, "what we saw in that meeting today was improper and it was unprecedented."
Not only is it improper for a defendants' lawyer to go to a meeting where the government's case against a client is being discussed — Melber noted that anyone other than the president has no chance of making this happen — it's clear that the White House tried to cover it up. He pointed out that the Justice Department put out a list of who was supposed to attend the meeting the night before, and Flood wasn't listed.
"Today, the Trump administration was busted!" Melber. "And that makes the list untrue, because it's missing the one person who has no business being at this internal, classified Gang of Eight meeting but who was spotted entering the meeting."
Melber continued: "We note sometimes that a subject may seem guilty but is presumed guilty... This is not one of those nights."
Watch the clip below:
Tonight: White House under fire for sending Trump Russia lawyer to crash DOJ meeting about Trump conspiracy theory— TheBeat w/Ari Melber (@TheBeatWithAri) May 24, 2018
"As a matter of law and precedent... what we saw in that meeting today was improper and it was unprecedented" - @AriMelber pic.twitter.com/KYrGsjstWg
Over the past year, I've been reading and reviewing Ayn Rand's massive paean to capitalism, Atlas Shrugged. If you're not familiar with the novel, it depicts a world where corporate CEOs and one-percenters are the selfless heroes upon which our society depends, and basically everyone else — journalists, legislators, government employees, the poor — are the villains trying to drag the rich down out of spite, when we should be kissing their rings in gratitude that they allow us to exist.
This story first ran on AlterNet in 2014.
Rand's protagonists are Dagny Taggart, heir to a transcontinental railroad empire, and Hank Rearden, the head of a steel company who's invented a revolutionary new alloy which he's modestly named Rearden Metal. Together, they battle against evil government bureaucrats and parasitic socialists to hold civilization together, while all the while powerful industrialists are mysteriously disappearing, leaving behind only the cryptic phrase "Who is John Galt?"
Atlas Shrugged is a work of fiction, but as far as many prominent conservatives are concerned, it's sacred scripture. Alan Greenspan was a member of Rand's inner circle, and opposed regulation of financial markets because he believed her dictum that the greed of businessmen was always the public's best protection. Paul Ryan said that he required his campaign staffers to read the book, while Glenn Beck has announced grandiose plans to build his own real-life "Galt's Gulch," the hidden refuge where the book's capitalist heroes go to watch civilization collapse without them.
Reading Atlas Shrugged is like entering into a strange mirror universe where everything we thought we knew about economics and morality is turned upside down. I've already learned some valuable lessons from it.
1. All evil people are unattractive; all good and trustworthy people are handsome.
The first and most important we learn from Atlas Shrugged is that you can tell good and bad people apart at a glance. All the villains — the "looters," in Rand's terminology — are rotund, fleshy and sweaty, with receding hairlines, sagging jowls and floppy limbs, while her millionaire industrialist heroes are portraits of steely determination, with sharp chins and angular features like people in a Cubist painting. Nearly all of them are conspicuously Aryan. Here's a typical example, the steel magnate Hank Rearden:
The glare cut a moment's wedge across his eyes, which had the color and quality of pale blue ice — then across the black web of the metal column and the ash-blond strands of his hair — then across the belt of his trenchcoat and the pockets where he held his hands. His body was tall and gaunt; he had always been too tall for those around him. His face was cut by prominent cheekbones and by a few sharp lines; they were not the lines of age, he had always had them; this had made him look old at twenty, and young now, at forty-five.
2. The mark of a great businessman is that he sneers at the idea of public safety.
When we meet Dagny Taggart, Rand's heroic railroad baron, she's traveling on a cross-country train which gets stuck at a stoplight that may or may not be broken. When the crew frets that they should wait until they're sure it's safe, Dagny pulls rank and orders them to drive through the red light. This, in Rand's world, is the mark of a heroic and decisive capitalist, rather than the kind of person who in the real world would soon be the subject of headlines like "22 Dead in Train Collision Caused by Executive Who Didn't Want to Be Late For Meeting."
Dagny makes the decision to rebuild a critical line of the railroad using a new alloy, the aforementioned Rearden Metal, which has never been used in a major industrial project. You might think that before committing to build hundreds of miles of track through mountainous terrain, you'd want to have, say, pilot projects, or feasibility studies. But Dagny brushes those concerns aside; she just knows Rearden Metal is good because she feels it in her gut: "When I see things," she explains, "I see them."
And once that line is rebuilt, Dagny's plan for its maiden voyage involves driving the train at dangerously high speed through towns and populated areas:
"The first train will... run non-stop to Wyatt Junction, Colorado, traveling at an average speed of one hundred miles per hour." ...
"But shouldn't you cut the speed below normal rather than ... Miss Taggart, don't you have any consideration whatever for public opinion?"
"But I do. If it weren't for public opinion, an average speed of sixty-five miles per hour would have been quite sufficient."
The book points out that mayors and safety regulators have to be bribed or threatened to allow this, which is perfectly OK in Rand's morality. When a reporter asks Dagny what protection people will have if the line is no good, she snaps: "Don't ride on it." (Ask the people of Lac-Megantic how much good that did them.)
3. Bad guys get their way through democracy; good guys get their way through violence.
The way the villains of Atlas Shrugged accomplish their evil plan is ... voting for it. One of the major plot elements of part I is a law called the Equalization of Opportunity Bill, which forces large companies to break themselves up, similarly to the way AT&T was split into the Baby Bells. It's passed by a majority of Congress, and Rand never implies that there's anything improper in the vote or that any dirty tricks were pulled. But because it forces her wealthy capitalist heroes to spin off some of their businesses, it's self-evident that this is the worst thing in the world and could only have been conceived of by evil socialists who hate success.
Compare this to another of Rand's protagonists, Dagny Taggart's heroic ancestor Nathaniel Taggart. We're told that he built a transcontinental railroad system almost single-handedly, which is why Dagny all but venerates him. We're also told that he murdered a state legislator who was going to pass a law that would have stopped him from completing his track, and threw a government official down three flights of stairs for offering him a loan. In the world of Atlas Shrugged, these are noble and heroic acts.
Then there's another of Rand's heroes, the oil baron Ellis Wyatt. When the government passes new regulations on rail shipping that will harm his business, Wyatt retaliates by spitefully blowing up his oil fields, much like Saddam Hussein's retreating army did to Kuwait in the first Gulf War. In real life, that act of sabotage smothered much of the Middle East beneath clouds of choking, toxic black smoke for months, poisoning the air and water. But as far as Rand sees it, no vengeance is too harsh for people who commit the terrible crime of interfering with the right of the rich to make more money.
4. The government has never invented anything or done any good for anyone.
In Rand's world, all good things come from private industry. Everyone who works for the government or takes government money is either a bumbling incompetent or a leech who steals credit for the work of others. At one point, the villainous bureaucrats of the "State Science Institute" try to sabotage Rand's hero Hank Rearden by spreading malicious rumors about his new alloy:
"If you consider that for thirteen years this Institute has had a department of metallurgical research, which has cost over twenty million dollars and has produced nothing but a new silver polish and a new anti-corrosive preparation, which, I believe, is not so good as the old ones — you can imagine what the public reaction will be if some private individual comes out with a product that revolutionizes the entire science of metallurgy and proves to be sensationally successful!"
Of course, in the real world, only minor trifles, like radar, space flight, nuclear power, GPS, computers, and the Internet were brought about by government research.
5. Violent jealousy and degradation are signs of true love.
Dagny's first lover, the mining heir Francisco d'Anconia, treats her like a possession: he drags her around by an arm, and once, when she makes a joke he doesn't like, he slaps her so hard it bloodies her lip. The first time they have sex, he doesn't ask for consent, but throws her down and does what he wants: "She knew that fear was useless, that he would do what he wished, that the decision was his."
Later on, Dagny has an affair with Hank Rearden (who's married to someone else at the time, but this is the sort of minor consideration that doesn't hold back Randian supermen). The first time they sleep together, it leaves Dagny bruised and bloody, and the morning after, Hank rants at her that he holds her in contempt and thinks of her as no better than a whore. Almost as soon as their relationship begins, he demands to know how many other men she's slept with and who they were. When she won't answer, he seizes her and twists her arm, trying to hurt her enough to force her to tell him.
Believe it or not, none of this is meant to make us judge these characters negatively, because in Rand's world, violent jealousy is romantic and abuse is sexy. She believed that women were meant to be subservient to men — in fact, she says that "the most feminine of all aspects" is "the look of being chained" — and that a woman being the dominant partner in a relationship was "metaphysically inappropriate" and would warp and destroy her fragile lady-mind.
6. All natural resources are limitless.
If you pay close attention to Atlas Shrugged, you'll learn that there will always be more land to homestead, more trees to cut, more coal to mine, more fossil fuels to drill. There's never a need for conservation, recycling, or that dreaded word, "sustainability." All environmental laws, just like all safety regulations, are invented by government bureaucrats explicitly for the purpose of punishing and destroying successful businessmen.
One of the heroes of part I is the tycoon Ellis Wyatt, who's invented an unspecified new technology that allows him to reopen oil wells thought to be tapped out, unlocking what Rand calls an "unlimited supply" of oil. Obviously, accepting that natural resources are finite would force Rand's followers to confront hard questions about equitable distribution, which is why she waves the problem away with a sweep of her hand.
This trend reaches its climax near the end of part I, when Dagny and Hank find, in the ruins of an abandoned factory, the prototype of a new kind of motor that runs on "atmospheric static electricity" and can produce limitless energy for free. Rand sees nothing implausible about this, because in her philosophy, human ingenuity can overcome any problem, up to and including the laws of thermodynamics, if only the government would get out of the way and let them do it.
7. Pollution and advertisements are beautiful; pristine wilderness is ugly and useless.
Rand is enamored of fossil fuels, and at one point, she describes New York City as cradled in "sacred fires" from the smokestacks and heavy industrial plants that surround it. It never seems to occur to her that soot and smog cause anything other than pretty sunsets, and no one in Atlas Shrugged gets asthma, much less lung cancer.
By contrast, Rand informs us that pristine natural habitat is worthless unless it's plastered with ads, as we see in a scene where Hank and Dagny go on a road trip together:
Uncoiling from among the curves of Wisconsin's hills, the highway was the only evidence of human labor, a precarious bridge stretched across a sea of brush, weeds and trees. The sea rolled softly, in sprays of yellow and orange, with a few red jets shooting up on the hillsides, with pools of remnant green in the hollows, under a pure blue sky.
... "What I'd like to see," said Rearden, "is a billboard."
8. Crime doesn't exist, even in areas of extreme poverty.
In the world of Atlas Shrugged, the only kind of violence that anyone ever worries about is government thugs stealing the wealth of the heroic capitalists at gunpoint to redistribute it to the undeserving masses. There's no burglary, no muggings, no bread riots, no street crime of any kind. This is true even though the world is spiraling down a vortex of poverty and economic depression. And even though the wealthy, productive elite are mysteriously disappearing one by one, none of Rand's protagonists ever worry about their personal safety.
Apparently, in Rand's view, poor people will peacefully sit and starve when they lose their jobs. And that's a good thing for her, because accepting that crime exists might lead to dangerous, heretical ideas — like that maybe the government should pay for education and job training, because this might be cheaper and more beneficial in the long run than spending ever more money on police and prisons.
9. The only thing that matters in life is how good you are at making money.
In a scene from part I, the copper baron Francisco d'Anconia explains to Dagny why rich people are more valuable than poor people:
"Dagny, there's nothing of any importance in life — except how well you do your work. Nothing. Only that. Whatever else you are, will come from that. It's the only measure of human value. All the codes of ethics they'll try to ram down your throat are just so much paper money put out by swindlers to fleece people of their virtues. The code of competence is the only system of morality that's on a gold standard."
You'll note that this speech makes no exceptions for work whose product is actively harmful to others. If you burn coal that chokes neighboring cities in toxic smog, if you sell unhealthful food that increases obesity and diabetes, if you sell guns and fight every attempt to pass laws that would restrict who could buy them, if you paint houses with lead and insulate pipes in asbestos — relax, you're off the hook! None of this matters in the slightest in Rand's eyes. Are you good at your job? Do you make money from it? That's the only thing anyone should ever care about.
10. Smoking is good for you.
Almost all of Rand's heroes smoke, and not just for pleasure. In one minor scene, a cigarette vendor tells Dagny that smoking is heroic, even rationally obligatory:
"I like cigarettes, Miss Taggart. I like to think of fire held in a man's hand. Fire, a dangerous force, tamed at his fingertips ... When a man thinks, there is a spot of fire alive in his mind — and it is proper that he should have the burning point of a cigarette as his one expression."
It's no coincidence that Atlas Shrugged expresses these views. Ayn Rand herself was a heavy smoker, and she often asserted that she was the most rational person alive; therefore, she believed, her preferences were the correct preferences which everyone else should emulate. Beginning from this premise, she worked backward to explain why everything she did was an inevitable consequence of her philosophy. As part of this, she decided that she smoked tobacco not because she'd become addicted to it, but because it's right for rational people to smoke while they think.
In case you were wondering, Rand did indeed contract lung cancer later in life, and had an operation to remove one lung. But even though she eventually came to accept the danger of smoking, she never communicated this to her followers or recanted her earlier support of it. As in other things, her attitude was that people deserve whatever they get.