Is this graphic really all we need to know about American or Alabama politics?

Like many of you, I initially despaired when reading exit poll results from the Alabama senate election. It seemed unbelievable that over 63% of white women would vote for a man who was credibly accused of molesting young girls. My first reaction was, “we won this by a hair-breadth, but we have a lot of work to do”.

Then I realized that this not the whole story:

So white non-evangelical women went for Jones by 53%, that is a landslide. It suggests that Moore’s base (and Trump’s) is actually much narrower than some would have you believe.

I do want to note that the racial breakdown of the exit polls has been misread by many to suggest Democrats do not need white voters, or should ignore them. Far from it, there is no way we can be successful without white voters. Whatever you think the demographic destiny of this country might be, we cannot win elections solely as the party of minorities. Here’s why:

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Over 73% of the 2016 electorate identified as “white, non-Hispanic”. Let’s set aside, for a moment, the fact that many Hispanic citizens would consider themselves to be white. What Donald Trump recognized and capitalized on, early and often, is the fact that it didn’t matter if he lost 3% of the non-white vote, all he needed was to improve turnout among white voters by 1% to make up for that loss.

I am going to stop here, because I’ve been doing something I actually hate, which is discussing “race” as if it were a real, rather than an imagined construct. But that is the world we live in.

Also noteworthy in the census figure is the fact that the share of white voters hardly moved from 2012 (73.7%) to 2016 (73.3%). This is partly down to Obama not being on the ticket. Whatever our demographic destiny may be, like all demographic changes, it will take a while to get there. So no, we cannot win purely as a party for racial minorities, and anyone who tells you that is being foolish.

I would go even further, and say we should not win elections if we are not run as as a broad based party that seeks to represent all Americas. If we do not stand for equality and equal representation, then we’ve betrayed our principles.

Obama recognized these facts, which is why he went to significant pains to emphasize his universal message (remember “there is no red or blue America…”).

Every part of our coalition is important, and that includes white people. And in fact, white non-evangelicals, even in Alabama, voted for Doug Jones, by enormous margins.

The same is true for the 2016 election. When you look at the exit poll results by race, Donald Trump won white voters 58-37:

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But his margin was enormous among white evangelicals, who were estimated to be 26% of the overall electorate in the exit polls.

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If you take out white evangelicals, Hillary Clinton won white voters by 5% (49.5-44.4).

It is important to recognize this fact, first because some have begun to doubt whether the left has a universal appeal. But also because it’s not smart politics to ignore the fact that we are winning  majorities among most white people (evangelicals are 36% of the white vote).

But here’s the really positive new, there are some signs of hope for us, even among the group that you may think Trump/Moore have an absolute lock on.

Many evangelicals recognize the madness among their congregations that Trump and now Moore have exposed. In an important article about the role the evangelical movement played in Roy Moore’s campaign, WaPo reported that younger evangelicals turned away from Moore somewhat, as they did from Trump.

Many evangelicals recognize the madness among their congregations that Trump and now Moore have exposed. In an important article about the role the evangelical movement played in Roy Moore’s campaign, WaPo reported that younger evangelicals turned away from Moore, as they had from Trump.

Some evangelicals fear the high support for Moore and Trump among white evangelicals exposes something deeper about the religious group that seems to vote predictably with the GOP. Political partisanship and a disdain for outsiders have become unifying driving factors for white evangelicals instead of the gospel of Jesus Christ, said Birmingham-based Collin Hansen, editorial director for the Gospel Coalition, a network popular among conservative evangelicals.

“You could preach almost any Trinitarian heresy and not one person is going to notice it,” Hansen said. “If you touch on the political things on things they care about like gun control or racism, they’ll have your head.”

Recent political changes, Hansen said, have exposed “the moral and theological rot” in the evangelical church. “There will not be a coherent evangelical movement to emerge from this political season,” Hansen said.

www.washingtonpost.com/…

So there are some signs of hope, even among the group that you may think Trump/Moore/Republicans have an absolute lock on.

The New York Times also covered the growing angst among evangelical leaders over the politicians so many evangelical Christians have chosen to tie themselves to:

“It grieves me,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, a prominent evangelical school in Illinois. “I don’t want ‘evangelical’ to mean people who supported candidates with significant and credible accusations against them. If evangelical means that, it has serious ramifications for the work of Christians and churches.” […]

Jemar Tisby, president of “The Witness, a black Christian collective,” a faith-based media company that provides commentary on race, religion and culture, said in an interview that while Mr. Trump was running, “we were saying, this man is promoting bigotry, white supremacists find an ally in him and this is going to be bad for us. And not only did they vote for him, they voted for him in slightly higher numbers than they did for Mitt Romney. It was a sense of betrayal.” […]

“We’ve let evil overtake the entire reputation of Evangelicalism,” one prominent evangelical author, Beth Moore, wrote on Twitter the day before the election. “The lust for power is nauseating. Racism, appalling. The arrogance, terrifying. The misogyny so far from Christlikeness, it can’t be Christianity.”

— www.nytimes.com/…

The editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, Mark Galli, did not mince words about the impact Trump and Moore have had on the reputation of evangelicals:

No matter the outcome of today’s special election in Alabama for a coveted US Senate seat, there is already one loser: Christian faith. When it comes to either matters of life and death or personal commitments of the human heart, no one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation. Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished. […]

As recently as 2011, PRRI found that only 30 percent of white evangelicals believed “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.” But by late 2016, when Donald Trump was running for president, that number had risen sharply to 72 percent—the biggest shift of any US religious group. […]

Apparently yes. This is precisely why, when serious and substantial allegations of sexual abuse of minors were made against Roy Moore, many doubled down on their support for him. Within days of this news story in The Washington Post, polls indicated that not only would 57 percent of evangelicals continue to support him, another 37 percent said they were now more likely to vote for him. […]

What events of the last year and a half have shown once again is that when Christians immerse themselves in politics as Christians, for what they determine are Christian causes, touting their version of biblical morality in the public square—they will sooner or later (and often sooner) begin to compromise the very principles they champion and do so to such a degree that it blemishes the very faith they are most anxious to promote. […] No wonder few believe much of anything we say anymore.  — www.christianitytoday.com/…

Perhaps what is most important in Galli’s editorial is this line:

The gap between rich and poor, the number of abortions and fatherless children, the steady rise of drug addiction, the increasing sympathy with euthanasia—these are but a few indicators that something is deeply wrong.

There are a number of things we will disagree with, but we could conceivably make common cause on the one Galli places first, “the gap between rich and poor”.  We may not be able to persuade all evangelicals, but we may persuade some.

And before you jump up and say that’s not worth doing, remember this:

“[Moore] lost because so many evangelicals didn’t show up,” Mohler told CNN anchor Don Lemon. “That’s the big story … what didn’t happen. You didn’t have any major pastors or evangelical leaders [in Alabama], not a single one, willing to support Roy Moore.

“Given the percentage of evangelicals in Alabama, it’s inconceivable that a candidate supported by them could lose,” the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary continued. “They would not and could not vote for a pro-abortion candidate, and they would not and could not vote for Roy Moore.” (The Post examined why.) […]

While the exit polls don’t publicly release breakouts for blacks by religious affiliation or church attendance, LifeWay Research recently found that black Americans are almost three times more likely than white Americans to hold evangelical beliefs (30% vs. 13%), and twice as likely to self-identify as “born again” (49% vs. 27%). (At Ed Stetzer’s CT blog, the managing director of the Billy Graham Center makes the case for “how black women saved evangelicalism.”) — www.christianitytoday.com/…

— @subirgrewal | Cross-posted at NotMeUs.org and TheProgressiveWing.com

False claim that 3 million voted illegally was funded by Oxycontin drug kingpin Sackler’s foundation

You can find the Sackler family’s name on numerous museums and universities, they’ve bought naming rights to several. They also donate to conservative organizations.

Richard’s political contributions have gone mostly to Republicans—including Strom Thurmond and Herman Cain—though at times he has also given to Democrats. (His ex-wife, Beth Sackler, has given almost exclusively to Democrats.) In 2008, he wrote a letter to the editor of The Wall Street Journal denouncing Muslim support for suicide bombing, a concern that seems to persist: Since 2014, his charitable organization, the Richard and Beth Sackler Foundation, has donated to several anti-Muslim groups, including three organizations classified as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. (The family spokesperson said, “It was never Richard Sackler’s intention to donate to an anti-Muslim or hate group.”) The foundation has also donated to True the Vote, the “voter-fraud watchdog” that was the original source for Donald Trump’s inaccurate claim that three million illegal immigrants voted in the 2016 election. — www.esquire.com/…

But the family goes to great lengths to hide the source of their $15 billion dollar fortune. That’s because virtually all of it comes from duping doctors into prescribing opiods, and deluding patients into thinking they’re safe to consume. Their privately held company is called Purdue Pharma (the Los Pollos Hermanos of the legal drug world).

Andrew Kolodny, the co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative, at Brandeis University, has worked with hundreds of patients addicted to opioids. He told me that, though many fatal overdoses have resulted from opioids other than OxyContin, the crisis was initially precipitated by a shift in the culture of prescribing—a shift carefully engineered by Purdue. “If you look at the prescribing trends for all the different opioids, it’s in 1996 that prescribing really takes off,” Kolodny said. “It’s not a coincidence. That was the year Purdue launched a multifaceted campaign that misinformed the medical community about the risks.” When I asked Kolodny how much of the blame Purdue bears for the current public-health crisis, he responded, “The lion’s share.” — www.newyorker.com/…

The Sackler brothers discovered that they could best market drugs by targeting physicians directly. They made hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to FDA personnel and created revolving door jobs for others in return for favorable rulings. They created a system to pay doctors for delivering speeches. They took doctors on all expense paid golfing trips. They bought a medical journal, hired renowned doctors to promote their drugs. And in return, they received a steady stream of new “patients” addicted to their drugs. Including newborns.

Opioid withdrawal, which causes aches, vomiting, and restless anxiety, is a gruesome process to experience as an adult. It’s considerably worse for the twenty thousand or so American babies who emerge each year from opioid-soaked wombs. These infants, suddenly cut off from their supply, cry uncontrollably. Their skin is mottled. They cannot fall asleep. Their bodies are shaken by tremors and, in the worst cases, seizures. Bottles of milk leave them distraught, because they cannot maneuver their lips with enough precision to create suction. Treatment comes in the form of drops of morphine pushed from a syringe into the babies’ mouths. Weaning sometimes takes a week but can last as long as twelve. It’s a heartrending, expensive process, typically carried out in the neonatal ICU, where newborns have limited access to their mothers. — www.esquire.com/…

In 2007, the company plead guilty to a felony, admitting it had lied to doctors about Oxycontin’s addictive quality. Though the company paid hundreds of millions in fines, senior executives only had to return some pay and perform community service. Their team of lawyers managed to protect the Sacklers themselves from any charges, though Richard Sackler led the company for much of this period.

While Richard Sackler continued to scrub his family’s name by plastering it across museums and universities, thousands of infants continued to be born addicted to his drugs. And Sackler knew exactly what he was doing. He refined his methods of deception and persuasion by marketing Valium, then transferred the same methods to an even more addictive drug.

What is it with conservative donors, have they all made their fortunes from pain and suffering? The DeVos/Prince family operate a war-profiteering mercenary machine. The Kochs are actively engaged in destroying the environment. Trump’s family traces it’s fortune to brothels.

The Sacklers are now taking their pill-pushing operation global:

As OxyContin spread outside the U.S., the pattern of dysfunction repeated itself: to map the geographic distribution of the drug was also to map a rash of addiction, abuse, and death. But the Sackler family has only increased its efforts abroad, and is now pushing the drug, through a Purdue-related company called Mundipharma, into Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Part of Purdue’s strategy from the beginning has been to create a market for OxyContin—to instill a perceived need by making bold claims about the existence of large numbers of people suffering from untreated chronic pain. As Purdue moves into countries like China and Brazil, where opioids may still retain the kind of stigma that the company so assiduously broke down in the United States, its marketing approach has not changed. According to a Los Angeles Times report from 2016—well after the Sacklers’ playbook for OxyContin had been repudiated by the medical establishment as possibly the main driver of the opioid epidemic—Mundipharma commissioned studies showing that millions of people in these countries suffered from chronic pain. The company has organized junkets, and paid doctors to give presentations extolling OxyContin’s virtues. In fact, certain doctors who are currently flogging OxyContin abroad—“pain ambassadors,” they are called—used to be on Purdue’s payroll as advocates for the drug in the U.S. — www.newyorker.com/…

The Sacklers have paid no price for destroying the lives of millions. Just like the serial sexual abusers finally being brought to task, the Sacklers have relied on well-placed lobbyists and an army of lawyers to ensure the cost of their deceptive business is a 10-15% fine.

The descendants who inherited this enormous fortune built on destroyed lives have not chosen to help remedy the wrongs caused by their family’s company. Instead, they continue to try to burnish their name by giving to high-profile arts and education institutions. Shamefully, these institutions continue to accept the money. A Yale spokesperson told a journalist “Yale does not vet donors for controversies that may or may not arise.”

Now they’re directly attacking our democracy with their false claims about illegal voting. A claim President Trump has actively promoted.

— @subirgrewal | Cross-posted at NotMeUs.org & TheProgressiveWing.com

Did Jared just secure his family’s real-estate empire by facilitating a palace coup in Saudi Arabia?

I’ve written previously about the Kushner family’s attempts to shore up their precarious finances by extorting fees from low-income tenants and selling green-cards to Chinese investors. As Bloomberg reported in August, the Kushners are desperately seeking cash to save their heavily-mortgaged Manhattan skyscraper as balloon payments come due over the next two years.

Last week, Kushner took an unannounced trip to KSA:

President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner returned home Saturday from an unannounced visit to Saudi Arabia — his third trip to the country this year.

Kushner left Washington, D.C., via commercial airline on Wednesday for the trip, which was not announced to the public, a White House official told POLITICO. He traveled separately from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who led a delegation to Riyadh last week to focus on combating terrorist financing. […]

The White House official would not say who Kushner met with in Saudi Arabia. But he has cultivated a relationship with the crown prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, who, like Kushner, is in his 30s. — www.politico.com/…

Saudi Arabia has, for the past two years, been waging a brutal bombing campaign against Yemen which has caused thousands of civilian deaths. This war is widely believed to be Mohammed Bin Salman’s [MBS] project, though the war is broadly supported in Saudi Arabia across factions. For example, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal promised to reward Saudi air force pilots with Bentleys when they returned from bombing raids.

Sadly, our government has actively supported the Saudi war in Yemen, providing weapons (including cluster bombs) and operational support. Hundreds of children have been killed by these weapons, thousands have lost limbs. Many of you saw the heart-rending pictures of a young toddler who had lost four of her fingers, staring at the intact hand on her doll.

Then yesterday, the crown prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, engineered a palace coup, arresting dozens of his own uncles and cousins.

midnight blitz of arrests ordered by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia over the weekend has ensnared dozens of its most influential figures, including 11 of his royal cousins, in what by Sunday appeared to be the most sweeping transformation in the kingdom’s governance for more than eight decades.

The arrests, ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman without formal charges or any legal process, were presented as a crackdown on corruption. They caught both the kingdom’s richest investor, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, and the most potent remaining rival to the crown prince’s power: Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, a favored son of the late King Abdullah. — www.nytimes.com/…

Another prince died along with several officials as his helicopter crashed near the Yemeni border.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal had sparred with Trump during and after the election. His Kingdom Holding Company is a major investor in Twitter and Apple. He was one of the people arrested.

“The king and crown prince’s recent public statements regarding the need to build a moderate, peaceful and tolerant region are essential to ensuring a hopeful future for the Saudi people, to curtailing terrorist funding, and to defeating radical ideology — once and for all — so the world can be safe from its evil,” the White House said in the statement.

The White House statement made no mention of the scores of arrests, including that of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire investor who has held stakes in an array of Western companies, including the News Corporation, Citigroup and Twitter. Prince Mohammed, who has already sidelined rivals to the throne, is viewed as the mastermind behind the crackdown.

Prince Alwaleed sparred with Mr. Trump on Twitter during the presidential election, referring to him as a “disgrace not only to the GOP but to all America.” Mr. Trump fired back, also on Twitter, that he was a “dopey prince” trying to “control our U.S. politicians with daddy’s money.” — www.nytimes.com/…

If Kushner was in Saudi Arabia to bless the impending palace coup by MBS, then the Trumps and Kushners can expect rich rewards in the years to come. If MBS can ascend to the throne and diminish the competition, he will control a state-owned oil company that is valued at $2 Trillion and about to go public this year. Yes, that’s Trillion with a T.

Even without the money raised from an IPO, Saudi Aramco produced almost 4 billion barrels of crude oil in 2016. At $50 a barrel, that’s $200 billion in sales each year, the vast majority of it profit. Those numbers are staggering. Saudi Aramco’s annual profits exceed the total net worth of the richest person in the world.

Let’s just say that becoming the King of Saudi Arabia makes you an extremely wealthy person. It makes you even wealthier if you can imprison some of your relatives and confiscate their assets in a “anti-corruption drive”.

And when you have consolidated all this power and wealth, you aren’t going to forget the friends who helped you make it happen will you? Friends with last names like Kushner and Trump? What’s a $5 billion loan or a $10 billion construction contract among friends?

So what can you do as the Trump/Kushner kleptocracy tries to milk every dollar it can out of its days in elected office? You can get out and vote. And you can help get out the vote. I’ve been doing that every day this week and have multiple people tell me they are thankful for the reminder because they didn’t know there was an election on Tuesday, November 7.

Ivanka and Jr. were being investigated for felony fraud. Then daddy’s lawyer stepped in with the DA.

In 2008/9, the Trumps found themselves trying to sell condo-hotel units in the Trump Soho. They suffered from impeccably bad timing, the global financial crisis had just hit and no one wanted to buy US real-estate. Ivanka and Jr. were in charge of sales and were struggling to sell units. Caught in a bind, they resorted to making stuff up to entice buyers.

New York prosecutors were preparing a case. Then the D.A. overruled his staff after a visit from a top donor: Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz.

In one email, according to four people who have seen it, the Trumps discussed how to coordinate false information they had given to prospective buyers. In another, according to a person who read the emails, they worried that a reporter might be onto them. In yet another, Donald Jr. spoke reassuringly to a broker who was concerned about the false statements, saying that nobody would ever find out, because only people on the email chain or in the Trump Organization knew about the deception, according to a person who saw the email.

— www.propublica.org/…

The New Yorker also has the story, this was a joint investigation with ProPublica.

From the story, it looks like the Major Economic Crimes unit had a good case. Then three things happened:

  • The Trump organization settled the civil suit with buyers and imposed a gag order as part of the settlement.
  • Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz went to see the Manhattan D.A., Cyrus Vance. Kasowitz had contributed to Vance’s campaign and would contribute again months later.
  • Vance instructed the Major Crimes Unit not to prosecute.

There’s a side-bar. Vance returned Kasowitz’s original contribution before killing the case. Conflict of interest you see. Except, a few months later, Kasowitz hosted a fundraiser that netted far more in contributions. Vance is now saying (five years later), that he will return all the contributions from Kasowitz. This is, of course, after being outed in the press.

I have three observations about this saga:

  1. The Trumps are con-artists. But we already knew that, this is why no one in NYC will do business with them. They need a steady supply of marks from the provinces, overseas.*
  2. Trump actively undermines the rule of law. He bays for punitive action against those he dislikes. He demands impunity for friends and family. This was problematic when he was a run-of-the-mill NYC billionaire since impunity for the powerful undermines our legal and political system. It is a critical threat with him as president.
  3. ProPublica does amazing investigative reporting. You should follow them.

*  People in NYC have a lot of information on Trump. We’ve seen him do business and operate for decades. 90% refused to vote for him, though he’s a native New Yorker. Simply by virtue of being in NYC, the Trumps have access to a steady stream of people who do not have any experience with them. It’s a target rich environment. Paradoxically, higher interconnectedness may exacerbate scams and cons. Immediate access to lots of information can create an illusory sense of confidence. A lot of breadth, but not enough depth to make informed decisions. This is an environment in which people like Trump can thrive despite repeated failures and mis-adventures. As long as they can maintain a thin veneer of success the new guy on the block will continue to fall for their cons.

— @subirgrewal | Cross-posted at NotMeUs.org

The most dangerous and violent narcotics cartel the world has ever seen.

President Trump, addressing African representatives at the UN:

“I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich, I congratulate you.”

To many observers, this remark sounded a whole lot like neo-colonialism. Colonialism was not kind to colonized peoples, and there’s no reason to believe neo-colonialism will be. Especially when leaders of major military powers have “friends” trying to make money in far away lands. Here’s an example from another century.

The British East India company was one of the first joint-stock companies in the world. Interestingly, its charter permitted it to wage war. It maintained a mercenary army and engaged in equal parts trade and conquest. In 1757, the company’s mercenary army defeated the nawab of Bengal, gaining control over the region. Bengal was attractive to the company since it was the primary source of opium, which the company traded to great profit. In a sense, you could say the East India company was a narco-cartel that took over an entire state, Bengal, with a population of 30 million people. Of course, it helped that there were backed by the military might of the nascent British empire. This is what Betsy Devos’ brother Erik Prince thinks should happen in Afghanistan, with Blackwater/Academi playing the role of the East India Company. Except it’s already been done, with predictably terrible results.

In 1770, the east Indian regions of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa suffered a terrible famine, while the company controlled the region. 10 million people starved to death, though some some studies indicate the death toll may have been as high as 15 million. Death rates in some towns were over 60%, and for the region as a whole, 33-50%. In comparison, the better known Great Famine of the 1840s (in another British colony, Ireland) merely caused 1.5 million deaths. Reports of the Bengal famine of 1770 reached Britain swiftly. The company and its agents were severely criticized in several quarters. Among others, Adam Smith wrote about the company’s policies in Bengal:

The great fortunes so suddenly and so easily acquired in Bengal and the other British settlements in the East Indies, may satisfy us that, as the wages of labour are very low, so the profits of stock are very high in those ruined countries. The interest of money is proportionably so. In Bengal, money is frequently lent to the farmers at forty, fifty, and sixty per cent, and the succeeding crop is mortgaged for the payment. As the profits which can afford such an interest must eat up almost the whole rent of the landlord, so such enormous usury must in its turn eat up the greater part of those profits. (In their transactions with the inhabitants of India, the British substituted violence for trade; and the price at which they bought or sold was often very different, therefore, from the value of the market. They took what they wanted at their own price, and it was by this violence that they drained the country of its wealth.) — Adam Smith: Wealth of Nations

Yet, almost two hundred years later, during WW-2, another British government would stoke another famine in Bengal, killing 2 or 3 million people.

The great famine of 1770 was triggered by a failed monsoon the prior autumn. A decade of predatory tax harvesting by the East India company had left rural Bengalis and Biharis with few monetary resources. The company had raised land taxes over the prior decade, sending the proceeds back to shareholders in London. When the monsoon failed in 1769, many now impoverished Bengali families had no way to buy food. The company’s officers had stolen their savings via extortionate “taxes”, often employing violence and torture. The company’s policy of replacing food crops with opium likely exacerbated the famine. Smallpox broke out among the starving survivors.

In a pattern familiar from the more extensively documented famines of the nineteenth century, peasants tried to sell their possessions, even the plows and bullocks they would need n teh future to till their fields. In desperation they ate their seed corn, then turned to eating grass, leaves, and bark. Children were sold to anyone who would buy them: some survived the famine only as slaved in European and Indian households. There were reports, as so often when the intensity of India’s famine passed beyond normal comprehension, of hungry people driven to the extremes even of cannibalism; “There were persons who fed on forbidden and abhorred animals, nay the child on its dead parent, the mother on her child.” Large numbers died of starvation or disease before they could find relief or because they were too worn out and malnourished to absorb the food they received. Mortality was greatest among agricultural laborers, poor peasants, and artisans (cotton and silk weavers, lime workers, and the like), with Bihar and western Bengal suffering most. Only toward the end of 1770 did the drought and famine abate. — David Arnold: Hunger in the garden of plenty

As it happens, killing a third of your labor force isn’t a good thing for any enterprise, even a narco-cartel with a side business in tax harvesting. Opium production fell after the famine, and the East India company came under immense financial stress. Since many members of parliament held East India company stock, it wasn’t difficult to convince them to pass laws to bolster the firm’s finances.

The Company created a powerful East India lobby in Parliament, a caucus of MPs who had either directly or indirectly profited from its business and who constituted, in Edmund Burke’s opinion, one of the most united and formidable forces in British politics. It also made regular gifts to the Court: “All who could help or hurt at Court,” wrote Lord Macaulay, “ministers, mistresses, priests, were kept in good humour by presents of shawls and silks, birds’ nests and attar of roses, bulses of diamonds and bags of guineas.” It also made timely gifts to the Treasury whenever the state faced bankruptcy. In short, it acted as what George Dempster, a stockholder, called a “great money engine of state”.

www.economist.com/…

By 1773, the company had successfully lobbied the British parliament to grant it a monopoly on opium production in Bengal. That would solidify the company’s position as the largest producer and dealer of hard drugs in the world.

The East India company used the land taxes extracted from peasants to buy opium. Since it had a monopoly, it could control prices. The opium was then sent to China, to be traded for Chinese tea. And this is where the opium trade intersects with American history.

Goaded by the directors, Parliament passed the Tea Act of 1773. This legislation was meant to further bolster the company’s finances by allowing it to export tea, under preferential terms, to the American colonies. If this is beginning to sound familiar, it should. The Tea Act led to the Boston Tea Party, the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution.

If 10 million Bengalis hadn’t been starved to death by an opium cartel owned by British lords, this country might not have thrown off the colonial yoke when it did.

Let’s talk about this tea which American revolutionaries gleefully dumped into Boston harbor. With their monopoly on opium production, the East India company had solved one of its biggest dilemmas. Thus far, British merchants had to scrounge up gold and silver to buy Chinese goods. But if they could get enough Chinese people hooked on opium, that would serve as currency. And since they controlled production and prices, let’s just say it was a good deal. Over the course of the 18th and early 19th century, the East India company increased its opium exports to China manyfold.

At the turn of the 19th century, the Chinese government moved to make the opium trade illegal. British merchant-pirates resorted to smuggling to continue the trade. The Chinese government’s efforts were largely ineffective. By the 1830s, a large portion of the population (perhaps as high as 20%) was using opium. The Chinese government sought to restrict the trade even further.

Faced with a direct threat to their lucrative opium-tea trade, British naval forces and the armies of the East India company joined together to wage China. British forces fighting alongside the East India company’s mercenary army won the First Opium War of 1840-42. Casualties on the Chinese side (both civilian and military) were in the tens of thousands. British forces engaged in extensive looting and destruction of art works. The Qing dynasty government was forced to sign the Treaty of Nanking. It granted British merchants free access to numerous Chinese ports, and ceded the island of Hong Kong to Britain. British merchants resumed distributing thousands of tons of opium to China every year. The loss and burden of making reparations to Britain weakened the Qing dynasty and helped spark the Taiping rebellion. That bloody civil war cost 20-30 million lives and the First Opium War continues to be viewed as a seminal event in Chinese history.

The government and the company were severely criticized by some in Britain for initiating this war. Famously, this included the future Prime Minister Gladstone, who had seen his sister turn into an opium addict. Opium was widely available in Britain and Europe at the time, most commonly sold as laudanum, a mixture of opium and alcohol. Those treating addiction among heir friends and family were appalled that their government would wage war on Chinese administrators trying to do the same. The criticism was laughably ineffective when there was so much money to be made via drug-dealing.

In 1856-60 the British government fought a second opium war, seeking to renegotiate the terms of the earlier treaty. A key demand was lifting all restrictions on  the opium trade. The British also sought to expand the coolie trade. This system of indentured servitude took Indian and Chinese laborers to Caribbean and South American plantations to grow commodity crops for . It has been called near-slavery. The “coolies” were often kidnapped from their homes or given false assurances. US traders participated in this human trafficking, most often by selling Chinese laborers to Cuban plantation owners. Lincoln eventually signed a law outlawing the coolie-trade.

Over a four year campaign, British and French forces defeated the Chinese army and navy. It’s worth noting that they were aided by the US armed forces. A naval vessel, the USS San Jacinto was actively engaged in the conflict. Can you imagine the response if the armies and navies of Columbia, Mexico and Afghanistan lay siege to the port of Los Angeles, demanding the unfettered right to sell heroin and cocaine to Americans? Yeah, that’s probably what most Chinese people thought about it.

There are dozens of interesting stories about these events. Tales of colonization and its impact on peoples across the world.  Stories of narco-privateers sailing under the British flag who enjoyed the protection of the world’s most powerful navy. There’s that one time the US navy fought alongside dealers and smugglers of hard drugs. The tragic history of a famine that killed ten million living, breathing human beings, just like you and me. There’s the story of Chinese and Indian leaders who sought to protect their people and countries from colonization.

Are you likely to see a mainstream movie about any of this? Not really. Hollywood is too busy rehabilitating Georgian and Victorian era aristocrats with period pieces that showcase their tastes in clothing and leisure activities.

We are treated to sympathetic movies about the madness of George III, Victoria and her Scottish servant, Victoria and her Indian servant, Victoria and her German consort-prince, Young Victoria, Old Victoria, Middle-Aged Victoria.

What should we learn from this? That the desire to absolve and gloss over runs deep? If so, it means thirty years from now, perhaps sooner, we’ll all be watching bio-pics about Trump’s lovable forgetfulness and his unlikely friendship with Ben Carson.

— @subirgrewal

 

Treasury’s doors are wide open to buy bombs, but we have no money to care for the sick.

The day before President Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea, the Senate passed a bill authorizing another $700bn for the Pentagon.

In a rare act of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill, the Senate passed a $700 billion defense policy bill on Monday that sets forth a muscular vision of America as a global power, with a Pentagon budget that far exceeds what President Trump has asked for.

Senators voted 89-9 to approve the measure, known as the National Defense Authorization Act; the House has already adopted a similar version. — www.nytimes.com/…

Yes, you read that right. The Senate voted to spend even more than the president who wants to “totally destroy” a country with 25 million people in it.

When it’s time to educate our children, or care for the sick, or shelter the homeless, we see no end of hand-wringing about “cost concerns”. But, when it’s time to buy a few bombs, or jets and ships to launch them from, bipartisanship breaks out like a rash in DC. In these trying, divided times, we can still count on both parties to come together and claim the common ground that bombing other (preferably poor and brown) countries is a good thing.

In the bill, lawmakers boosted funding for the F-35 fighter jet by $1.2 billion for 11 more aircraft for a total buy of 74; the F/A-18E/F fighter jet procurement by $979 million for 12 more aircraft. — www.defensenews.com/…

That’s just the acquisition cost. The total cost of the F-35 program is well north of a Trillion dollars. Governing is about choices. We can’t have nice things like free public college, health-care for all and affordable housing, because the military-industrial-complex wants F-35s. So instead of building housing for our own people, we blow up houses across the world. Instead of paying for health-care for our own people, we kill and maim others across the world. Instead of paying to educate our children, we drop bombs on children somewhere else. Last year alone, we dropped 26,000 bombs.

After all, our politicians know there is no cost to starting wars, even when they lie to the American population to start them. They can expect to be invited to the talk show circuit and cocktail parties just like George W. Bush is. They can count on the media, and documentary filmmakers, to whitewash their actions as “honest mistakes” made by “well-meaning” people.

There are eight senators who voted against the National Defense Authorization Act. Rand Paul (R-KY) voted No because he wants to revoke the AUMFs for the 15 and 16 year old wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Mike Lee (R-UT) is concerned about the cost of our war budget. Bob Corker (R-TN) voted No because he’s deeply concerned about spending levels, he released this statement:

“Unfortunately, this legislation not only blows the budget caps by nearly $83 billion but also exceeds the president’s funding request by more than $32 billion and continues the abuse of OCO as a budget gimmick. While I support investing the appropriate resources to ensure our troops have the tools they need, we cannot continue to do things the same way and deepen the fiscal crisis jeopardizing our national security.” — www.chattanoogan.com/…

Patrick Leahy (D-VT) objects to the process and to the bloated bill. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is concerned about waste in the DoD contracts and overall spending on war given other priorities. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has not released a statement but her objections are likely along the same lines. Gillibrand did propose an amendment to overturn Trump’s transgender ban (it was not included in the bill). Wyden (D-OR) and Merkley (D-OR) have voted No in prior years. Sen. Wyden issued this statement to explain his No vote:

“I can’t sign off on another bill that OKs massive increases in military spending, including unnecessary military hardware even the Trump administration didn’t ask for. All this, when Congress can’t figure out how to pay for new roads, bridges, schools and other priorities Americans desperately need to create jobs.”  — www.wyden.senate.gov/…

The House passed the bill back in July, the vote was 344-81.

We have been at war almost without exception, somewhere in the world, for the past 100 years. We’ve currently got special forces deployed in 70 countries.

Here’s then MP, Tony Benn’s speech in the House of Commons in 2003. He went on to chair the Stop the Wars coalition.

Sen. Heitkamp (D) will appear with Trump as he pitches lowering corporate taxes to 15%.

Somehow, reducing corporate tax rates always ends up being a “bipartisan issue”.

President Donald Trump is increasingly fixated on slashing the top corporate tax rate to 15 percent – a level that pretty much no one else working on the issue in the White House or Congress thinks is workable.In a White House meeting on Tuesday, Trump again expressed his strong desire to hit the 15 percent target, from today’s 35 percent. […]

On Wednesday, President Trump plans to travel to North Dakota – his second tax sales pitch in a week – to deliver a speech focused on the way tax reform it will boost the financial lives of the middle class and help businesses.

Accompanying him on Air Force One on the trip will be North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, one of 10 Democratic senators up for re-election in 2018 in states that Trump won. A key part of the administration’s strategy to push a tax package through Congress is to earn these members’ support.

— www.politico.com/…

Given all the focus and concern about corporate profits, you might think they were in really bad shape. That isn’t the case though, the share of GDP going to corporations is close to an 80 year high (red line in graph below). The share of national income going to workers (blue line), is close to it’s low over 80 years.

Screen_Shot_2017-09-05_at_9.41.02_PM.png

Of course, the “middle class” did quite well when corporate profits were lower and workers got higher wages. You’d think Democrats would be concerned about worker’s wages, but Sen. Heitkamp marches to the tune of a different drummer. Most Democrats in the Senate are co-sponsoring a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 over several years, Sen. Heitkamp isn’t among them. Though, to be fair, neither are the other red-state Democrats up for election in 2018, Joe Manchin (WV), Jon Tester (MT), Claire McCaskill (MO), Joe Donnelly (IN). It’s also worth noting that Sen. Heitkamp has opposed several of Trump’s priorities, though he won her state by a large margin.

Trump will be touting his tax plan at the Andeavor oil refinery in Heitkamp’s hometown of Mandan, just outside of Bismarck, the state capital.

The Democratic senator is expected to face a difficult challenge for reelection next year in a state Trump carried in 2016 by 36 percentage points, one of his biggest margins of victory. So Heitkamp may see a political advantage in being friendly with Trump and open to his ideas, even if she does not ultimately vote to pass his agenda.

In his speech Wednesday, Trump intends to pressure Heitkamp to support his tax-reform agenda — in part by reminding North Dakotans that the last time Congress passed meaningful tax reform, in 1986, during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, their Democratic senator voted yea.

— www.washingtonpost.com/…

Incidentally, Sen. Heitkamp’s hometown is named for the Mandan peoples who have lived in the area for a 1,000 years or more.

— @subirgrewal