Friday, February 07, 2020

Winter Round-Up

Can you believe it’s been over six years since I did a “round-up” post? Time sure flies.

So without further ado, here’s a “round-up” of recent (and not-so-recent) online articles and commentaries that I’ve found to be of particular interest. Perhaps you will too!


The first piece I highlight this evening, though four years old, sadly remains relevant today.

In it, Marlow Stern reviews the 2016 HBO documentary film, Meet the Donors: Does Money Talk?, which, writes Stern, “is a fairly non-partisan examination of the corrupting influence of money in politics, and how the American political system is no longer a democracy but rather a plutocracy.”

Elsewhere, Stern writes: “When you have an obscenely large amount of money required to run for President of the United States combined with the ruling of Citizens United, it’s given us this nightmare scenario where corporations and the uber-wealthy wield disproportionate power over elections, and by extension government as a whole.”

To read Stern’s full review of Meet the Donors, click here.

To view the trailer for this documentary, click here.


A more recent article on this same issue was published by The Guardian in July 2018. Written by David Callahan and entitled, “American Elections Are a Battle of Billionaires. We Are Merely Spectators,” this piece notes the following.

Ordinary citizens without big bank accounts . . . certainly play a role in the outcome [of elections]. We cast the votes, after all. But more and more, US politics – along with civic life broadly – often feels like a spectator sport, as a growing array of billionaire super citizens battle it out in the public square. . . . Depending on your politics, you may either cheer or fear the influence spending of specific top donors. In truth, we should be troubled about all such spending. Thanks to several factors, economic inequality seems to be translating into civic disparities at a faster pace and in ways that touch more parts of US society.

I particularly appreciate the closing words of Callahan's article:

There’s no easy way to counter the rising power of these super rich citizens. Campaign finance reform would help, but influence spending now extends far beyond elections, as philanthropy has been weaponized for policy combat.

Ultimately, the best solution to the new civic inequality lies in stronger social movements that convert Americans from spectators to activists. And one of the most reassuring trends of recent years is we’ve seen a lot of such people power, including the Tea Party, Occupy, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo.

Now we need more of the same, extending to more issues and more places – especially the core challenge of economic inequality. Otherwise, it’s hard to see how the United States can escape from a new era of plutocracy.

To read Callahan’s article in its entirety, click here.


In the wake of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial acquittal, here are some words of insight and, yes, encouragement and hope from Andre Damon. They're excerpted from his recent article, “Trump Gloats Over Impeachment, But Popular Opposition Mounts to His Administration.”

By this point, no one should be under any illusion as to what Trump represents. American capitalism has vomited up a figurehead who expresses its most predatory and criminal features: its greed, violence, backwardness and ignorance. Trump represents the intersection of two powerful impulses within American society: the parasitic growth of social inequality and US imperialism’s perpetual war drive.

. . . Millions marched to oppose Trump in the wake of his inauguration. He remains hated, with an approval rating among the lowest of any post-World War II president. His crimes against immigrant children, his racist overtures to fascists, his advocacy of torture and his sadistic militarism have made his name a profanity, a synonym for vulgarity, criminality and brutality.

The processes that created Trump – above all, the unprecedented growth of social polarization and economic inequality – have also created the social basis for his removal. Millions of workers throughout the United States live in hardship and oppression, toiling every day for the enrichment of the oligarchy, totally excluded from political life, yet yearning for equality, peace and democracy. This broad popular opposition to Trump must find expression and will find expression.

To read Damon’s article in its entirety, click here.


According to recent polling, Trump’s approval rating is at its highest in the wake of his acquittal. For instance, a recent Gallup poll found that Trump’s job approval rating was at 49%, which is the highest it’s been since he took office. I appreciate historian Manisha Sinha's perspective on all of this, one which she shared recently on Democracy Now!

Well, you know, polls come and go, and it would be interesting to see who conducted the poll and how it was conducted. As a historian, I tend to take all these things with a pinch of salt, and it’s just literally a snapshot in time. All the polls predicted that Trump would be defeated, and in fact he ended up winning the Electoral College.

I disagree with Senator McConnell. I think Trump will be damaged goods, that this impeachment, the ongoing investigation, the Bolton revelations, as they come out, will eventually swing the pendulum against Trump. I don’t think this is good for Trump at all. I think the entire impeachment process revealed not just the corruption that everyone knows about, not just, you know, the kind of behavior that demeans his office that everyone knows about, but it revealed a person who was willing to sacrifice national interest and security – something that the Republicans actually used to value – for personal gain. This is not even for his private enrichment. You know . . . he and his family have been flouting the emoluments clause of the Constitution by personally enriching themselves after his election to the presidency. But this is actually even worse than that kind of crude corruption. This is literally playing a game with the country’s security, with the country’s democracy. And that, I think, is extremely troubling. I think that that will eventually penetrate.

"[T]he Republicans today remind me a lot of the Democrats in the 1850s. And remember, you have to simply flip parties’ ideological roles when you talk about the 19th century, because the Republican Party was the liberal, progressive party of anti-slavery and big government, and the Democratic Party had become the party of slavery, white supremacy and states’ rights. You know, they just voted along partisan lines. They voted egregious laws protecting slavery, because they had a foolproof majority in Congress, and many times they had the – in fact, most of the times they had the presidency. And then, of course, they went down to a deep defeat, and they were able, eventually, to reinvent themselves in the Progressive Era, the New Deal era and finally with civil rights. Will the current GOP be able to do that? I doubt it. I think they have adopted a strategy of sinking and swimming with Trump. Let us see how far that gets them.

To listen to and view Manisha Sinha’s full interview on Democracy Now!, click here.


I was quite moved by Kate Willett's recent piece in Elle in which she makes the political profoundly personal by relating the tragic story of her boyfriend Raghav, one of the roughly 45,000 people who die every year in the U.S. from not having health insurance. It is both this personal and societal tragedy that compels Willett to support the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders and his Medicare for All platform. Following is an excerpt:

I used to think supporting Sanders would also somehow make me less of a feminist. Now I know that couldn’t be further from the truth – my feminism needs to fight for women who don’t have $500 a month to spend on health insurance premiums, for single moms working three part-time jobs and still not making ends meet, for women who can’t leave an abusive marriage because her insurance is tied to her husband’s job. In 2016, I thought Bernie was prioritizing economic issues over women’s issues – now I understand that they’re connected.

Contrary to the Bernie Bro narrative, the growing progressive movement in this country is multiracial, includes all genders, and is full of people who care deeply about creating a better world for everyone, including future generations. Anyone telling you otherwise is likely not on your side. I even kind of like when Sanders yells now, because he’s yelling for me. He’s yelling for Raghav.

To read Willett's commentary in its entirety, click here.


Okay, a change of topic. . . . As a gay man who has never felt drawn to the gay male hook-up scene, I found Lester Brathwaite’s article, “Why I’ve Given Up on Hooking Up” to be both insightful and affirming. Following is an excerpt.

[The process of hooking up’s] emphasis on anonymity and masculinity . . . engenders internal homophobia in the gay male community. Nevermind what sex between two (or more) men actually entails, we’re taught from a young age to embrace that which is manly and shun that which could be perceived as its antithesis. Femininity is weakness, is undesirable, is a boner-killer if there ever was one. From the ludicrously inflated pecs of Tom of Finland to the sculpted torsos on Grindr, gay men have always prized the hyper masculine, but this exaltation of all things manly forces those of us who don’t necessarily fit within those rigid gender constructs to make one of two choices: rebel or conform. I’ve tried both and I can say from experience — it takes a real man to be a queen.

I had my first flirtation with hookup culture back in high school — pre-Grindr, pre-Manhunt, maybe even pre-Craigslist – when XY (the now-defunct magazine for twinks and their admirers) had an online personals section. Then I was just coming into my own as a gay and I bought my occasional copy of XY with more than a little shame. I’d sneak onto my friend’s computer, excited to find others like me. It was all so new, but even then I remembered being confronted with the reality of the internet’s sway on people’s attitudes and mores: “No blacks, no Asians, no fats, no fems.”

The inherent racism of gay male hookup culture masquerading as a “preference” akin to height or hair color is an issue I’ve struggled with since then – and have grown weary discussing – but it’s incidental to my argument here. Being online and having a world of men at your fingertips with a wall of anonymity between you and them makes us all awful people. It reinforces unreal body expectations, encourages the enumeration of ideal qualities/deal breakers, and contributes to the further disconnectedness of my already disconnected generation. I’ve spent countless hours, whether alone or in the company of friends I rudely ignored, staring intently at my phone, slavishly yet listlessly flipping through the same profiles, wasting my time and poking holes in my self-esteem for what? Sex? Maybe. Love? Hardly. Validation? Probably.

. . . [I]t’s up to me to attempt to make real connections in the real world. Because through this process [of giving up hooking up] I realized the most important thing – that all those apps and sites aren’t real. I always attempted to see the headless torsos as real people, but they’re just the versions of the people they want to be. That’s why the connection online and in-person is often lost in translation: you can’t carry on a relationship – strings attached or not – with someone who doesn’t exist.

To read Brathwaite’s article in its entirety, click here.


Lester Brathwaite's piece above reminds me of another thoughtful and insightful article I read a while back and bookmarked on my computer: LeRon Barton's essay, “Men and the Need to Be Vulnerable.” Following is an excerpt:

I have been pondering a question for some time: what if we let men be themselves? Without any of the societal pressures, role assuming behaviors, or passed down expectations? What if we did not force men to succumb to any of the actions or conventional behavior of what a man is supposed to be? What if we just let men be free from all the identity destroying expectations we have placed on manhood? As I ask myself that same question over and over in my head, I have come to the conclusion that one of the ways to get to this point is to not shame men for showing vulnerability.

There is a stigma, a thought held with all of us, that if a man shows any kind of vulnerability he is not a man. This vulnerability can come from fear, pain, weakness, upset, or being in need of any kind of emotional help. This is taught to us at a very young age. Women are allowed to be emotional creatures, expressing any feeling they want. Men – we are supposed to be strong all the time. If we cry we hear, “Stop that, crying is for girls,” “Shake it off, it’s nothing”, and the ever present “Man Up.”

If there was ever a phrase that has severely hurt men’s growth, it is “Man-Up.” To say that to an adult male is one thing, but to hear that as a child is another. I cannot tell you how many times in one way or another I have heard that phrase. It’s almost as if boys are not allowed to feel any kind of discomfort, or that being hurt is one of the rites of passage of growing up to be a man. Having older people say that to a young boy, as well as shit like, “Pain is weakness leaving the body”, can and does have a negative effect. It forces men to bottle up our pain until it comes out – either through substance abuse, extreme behavior, violence against our partners, or ourselves. This teaching to young men discourages any type of real closeness between fellow boys. The friendships that result in this usually involve machismo, bravado, and alpha male chest pumping.

I didn’t start having deep friendships until my mid-twenties. For me up until that point, friendships meant talking about music, cars, video games, movies, sports, and women. It was nothing too deep because we are all frontin’ like we got it all together. This is what we thought being a friend was all about – getting drunk, fighting, picking up women, calling women bitches, helping them fix their car, and talking crap. Any attempt to go beyond that was met with being called a sissy, mama’s boy, and “talking like a bitch.” This was all we saw men doing. It wasn’t until I started seeing confident brothers of all races talking about more pensive things, not putting down women, not expressing this fake bravado, that I began to question my upbringing and manhood.

A turning point for me was when I heard one man say to another man: “I love you.” It was so casual, so natural. Two male friends had been having a conversation and as one was leaving the party, they gave each other a hug and the other friend said it. This guy was so secure in himself. He was self-assured and didn’t worry about anyone thinking he was soft, weak, or gay. I admired that about him and from that moment, I wanted to emulate that. Shortly after, I dropped the phony tough guy act that I was never good at anyway. That was the moment I decided I wanted to be better, more evolved person.

As I started to become more in touch with who I am, I started to like myself more. One of the first things I did was accept who I am. I am a sensitive guy; I always have been. I care very deeply and sometimes I am moved to tears. I realized there is nothing wrong with that. Men are human and crying is a part of life. Once I started being completely honest with myself, it was easier for me to express what I felt without worrying about what people thought. It is not easy, especially being a young Black man, but at some point I said, “Screw it, this is who I am.”

To read LeRon Barton’s essay in its entirety, click here.


The terrible bushfires in my homeland of Australia continue, and over the last couple of months (since last I wrote about them) there have been a number of well-written and insightful articles about the role that both the climate crisis and the actions of the pro-fossil fuel Australian government have played in these unprecedented fires.

Rachael Bunyan, for instance, wrote the following in her November 21, 2019 article for TIME magazine:

The conditions Australia experienced earlier this year count as the most severe in its modern history. Scientists have long warned that increasingly hot and dry climates, the result of the climate crisis, will lead to a worsening of wildfires around the world. And we are seeing the effects in Australia with unprecedented early fires. The wildfires also aggravate climate change by destroying treats that could absorb carbon in the atmosphere. “Climate change is a likely factor,” argues Peter Thorne, a climate change expert at Maynooth University in Ireland. “It’s changing the odds because it’s hotter and is drier on average in the summer in Australia.”

At first, [Australian Prime Minister] Scott Morrison acknowledged the contribution of climate change has had on the bushfires in Australia. “These are things that are very well known to the government — the contribution of these issues to global weather conditions and to conditions here in Australia are known and acknowledged,” he said. “In February [2019] I acknowledged the contribution of those factors to what was happening in Australia — amongst many other issues.” But, he then argued that the actions of Australia are not impacting the bushfires.

. . . Morrison has faced criticism this month for avoiding the issue of climate change by a group of former Australian fire chiefs. They said that the government “fundamentally doesn’t like talking about climate change” and that politics is getting in the way. “Just a 1 C temperature rise has meant the extremes are far more extreme, and it is placing lives at risk, including firefighters,” Greg Mullins, the former chief of NSW Fire and Rescue, said on Nov. 14. “Climate change has supercharged the bushfire problem.”

In his January 3, 2020 op-ed in The New York Times, Australian author Richard Flanagan provided an insightful and eloquent summation of the ongoing bushfire disaster and the underlying dysfunction of Australia's political scene, one dominated by a conservative government's climate crisis denialism, a massive propaganda machine (in the Murdoch press) and the lack of an effective opposition. Following is an excerpt.

Incredibly, the response of Australia’s leaders to this unprecedented national crisis has been not to defend their country but to defend the coal industry, a big donor to both major parties – as if they were willing the country to its doom. While the fires were exploding in mid-December, the leader of the opposition Labor Party went on a tour of coal mines expressing his unequivocal support for coal exports. The prime minister, the conservative Scott Morrison, went on vacation to Hawaii.

Since 1996 successive conservative Australian governments have successfully fought to subvert international agreements on climate change in defense of the country’s fossil fuel industries. Today, Australia is the world’s largest exporter of both coal and gas. It recently was ranked 57th out of 57 countries on climate-change action.

In no small part Mr. Morrison owes his narrow election victory last year to the coal-mining oligarch Clive Palmer, who formed a puppet party to keep the Labor Party – which had been committed to limited but real climate-change action – out of government. Mr. Palmer’s advertising budget for the campaign was more than double that of the two major parties combined. Mr. Palmer subsequently announced plans to build the biggest coal mine in Australia.

. . . Mr. Morrison has tried to present the fires as catastrophe-as-usual, nothing out of the ordinary. This posture seems to be a chilling political calculation: With no effective opposition from a Labor Party reeling from its election loss and with media dominated by Rupert Murdoch – 58 percent of daily newspaper circulation – firmly behind his climate denialism, Mr. Morrison appears to hope that he will prevail as long as he doesn’t acknowledge the magnitude of the disaster engulfing Australia.

Mr. Morrison made his name as immigration minister, perfecting the cruelty of a policy that interns refugees in hellish Pacific-island camps, and seems indifferent to human suffering. Now his government has taken a disturbing authoritarian turn, cracking down on unions, civic organizations and journalists. Under legislation pending in Tasmania, and expected to be copied across Australia, environmental protesters now face up to 21 years in jail for demonstrating.

“Australia is a burning nation led by cowards,” wrote the leading broadcaster Hugh Riminton, speaking for many. To which he might have added “idiots,” after Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack blamed the fires on exploding horse manure.

Such are those who would open the gates of hell and lead a nation to commit climate suicide.

Also, Tripe J’s Hack program shared the following in its January 6, 2020 piece on the fires:

Conservatives routinely blame the Greens political party, environmentalists in general, or simply green-tinged state laws for preventing government agencies and private landholders from carrying out prescribed burns [a common form of bushfire hazard reduction].

However, bushfire experts roundly reject this argument. Professor Ross Bradstock, the director of Wollongong University’s Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires, described it as a “tired and old conspiracy theory,” while [former NSW fire and rescue commissioner] Greg Mullins said ex-fire chiefs were annoyed that the fires were being used for political attack.

“That the Greens are stopping burning – it’s actually not true,” he said. “This is the blame game. We’ll blame arsonists, we’ll blame greenies.”

Even Alan Jones – the conservative radio host who is no friend of the left – this week said the Greens have been “unfairly blamed.”

And finally David Chadwick wrote the following in “Bushfires and Blame”:

Another embarrassingly stupid false narrative is that The Greens are somehow responsible for these fires because they stop hazard reduction burns. There is a seductive appeal to these lies, because accepting them is going to be a lot more comfortable for many people than admitting they have been wrong about climate change. Even so, it’s a really stupid argument. Despite the fact, that the Greens do not have a position against back burning, or hold majority government in any state, this narrative (which has repeatedly debunked by fact-checking) has been pushed so hard by unscrupulous politicians, shockjocks and newspaper hacks (if you work for The Australian I’m probably talking about you) that some people are falling for it. Sadly, some people don’t just drink the conservative Kool-Aid Rupert Murdoch and his goons provide. They practically swim in it.


I conclude The Wild Reed's Winter 2019-2020 round-up with the hopeful words of Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, a marine biologist, the founder and chief executive of Ocean Collectiv, a consulting firm for conservation solutions grounded in social justice, and the founder of Urban Ocean Lab, a think tank for coastal cities. Johnson was one of five climate change experts that The Huffington Post spoke to at the end of 2019 about what gives them hope.

I have a tenuous relationship with hope these days, but I am certainly bolstered by the fact that we already have all the solutions we need. From renewable energy, to replanting ecosystems, to regenerative farming, to retrofitting buildings, to electrifying transportation, to reducing waste – we don’t need to wait for new technologies, we just need to get to work. Plus, much of that doesn’t require the federal government, and there is so much beautiful and creative work happening at local levels just waiting to be replicated and spread.

I’m also aglow about what I call the “feminist climate renaissance” that we are witnessing. There have always been women leaders on climate issues, but they are now, finally, starting to get the resources and platforms they need to flourish. The youth climate movement is led primarily by girls and young women, and there are two older generations of women standing right beside them. The notable thing about these women leaders is how collaborative and generous they are. I’ve never seen anything like it in work or in a movement.

As for 2020, I’m looking forward to having a new president, one who prioritizes climate action and puts us on a fast track to zero emissions. And my . . . wish is for every American to read the Green New Deal. The big secret is that it’s only 13 pages – double-spaced and large font! So I hope you’ll cozy up with it this [winter] season so that as a society we can all have an informed conversation about how to shape the policy changes we need to secure a livable climate.

To read the hopeful insights of the four other climate change experts interviewed by The Huffington Post, click here.

See also the previous Wild Reed Round-Ups:
Fall 2014
Summer 2011
Spring 2010
(Australian) Summer 2009 II
Summer 2009
Spring 2009
(Australian) Summer 2009
Fall 2007
Spring 2007
End of Year (2006)

Opening image: Hugh Jackman as the Drover in Australia (2008).

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