Independent Media Institute

American workers have been taken to the brink

When COVID-19 forced the 66-bed Maryhill Manor into lockdown, a resolute Veronica Dixon and her colleagues realized they had to make a choice: band together or fall apart.

So they put in longer hours, shouldered extra duties and leaned on each other to keep the Niagara, Wisconsin, nursing facility operating as the coronavirus swept through, sickening dozens of residents and staff members.

What saved Maryhill Manor also offers hope for a country convulsed by storms. Only by working together can Americans end the pandemic, create a more equitable society and build a just economic system.

Dixon, a cook at the nursing home and the financial secretary of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 3168, noted that COVID-19 exacerbated the inequality that mires millions in poverty and tears at the nation's social fabric.

"How can you not come together and try to work it out?" she asked.

"The rich keep getting richer, and the poor keep getting poorer," observed Dixon, who's seen more people in Niagara struggle since a local paper mill shut down, eliminating hundreds of family-sustaining jobs, more than a decade ago. "There has to be something in between so people can live a decent life and not worry about how to pay their bills."

So many Americans see the nation at a crossroads that they came together in record numbers to elect Joe Biden, charting a course for healing and progress.

Then, in runoff elections for U.S. Senate in January, Georgia voters propelled the nation yet another step along the path of change by electing Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, inclusive candidates committed to progress.

"You can't lie about the numbers," Dixon said of the historic election results. "People want change."

But it isn't enough for Americans to band together at the ballot box. It's just as important to rally behind the initiatives that build a fairer country, just as the solidarity of union workers yielded the 40-hour workweek, decent benefits and workplace safety in previous decades.

Right now, it's essential that every citizen pitch in to arrest a pandemic that's already stolen more than 398,000 lives and left the economy in tatters.

Scientists and researchers maintained a feverish pace during the months they spent developing the vaccines, and pharmaceutical manufacturing workers put in grueling hours producing millions of doses. USW members manufacture glass vials for the vaccines and special packaging to keep them safe during transport. Still others label the vaccines and ship them.

With the Biden administration pledging to oversee a speedier, better-coordinated rollout of vaccines, millions of ordinary Americans will soon be able to roll up their sleeves to protect themselves and their communities. Dixon and her colleagues lined up when the vaccine reached Maryhill Manor, knowing the faster people are vaccinated, the more lives will be spared.

And after bringing COVID-19 under control, America can tend to the fragile health of its democracy and strive for a new shared prosperity that will shore up the nation's foundation.

When Niagara's paper mill closed in 2008, a trucking company that did business with it disappeared not long after. Nothing ever replaced them. Dominating Niagara's economy today are low-wage and part-time positions that fail to cover basic expenses, let alone enable workers to save for the future.

"There should not be anybody trying to raise a family on $7.25 an hour. That's crazy," Dixon said, referring to the poverty-level federal minimum wage that congressional Republicans left in place for more than a decade. "We have to make sure that, somehow, we get our share."

To create a just economy, Americans need to continue advocating for legislation that will help workers organize and impose meaningful penalties on employers who illegally attempt to thwart union drives.

Working people helped push the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act through the House in 2020. Senate Republicans refused to consider it. But workers remain hungry for changes that will yield a more level playing field.

Organized workers command decent wages, affordable health care and a voice on the job. Because unions fight for equitable working conditions, they help to narrow racial and gender pay gaps. And because union members embrace social justice and understand the power of collective action, they often volunteer for service projects that uplift their communities.

"As a group, you're that much stronger," noted Mike Dwornik, an Indiana resident and a District 7 coordinator for the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR).

Because of union steel mill jobs, Dwornik said, he earned a "pretty darn good" living as well as a stable retirement.

When the federal government sent him two pandemic stimulus checks—as it did millions of other Americans—he donated the money to charity.

Dwornik realized a lot of people needed the help more than he did. He particularly worries about friends whose retirements depend almost entirely on Social Security—and who get rattled every time they hear about the program potentially running out of money.

Now, Americans can leverage Biden's strong support of retirees and coalesce around a campaign to shore up Social Security and Medicare programs for generations to come.

"I know a lot of people don't want to get involved in politics. I understand that," Dwornik said. "But I'll tell you this: They have to know what's going on and act on the things that affect them."

"It doesn't take a lot to write a postcard or fire off an email or even write a letter," he said. "They've got to get off their butts and do it. There's strength in numbers."

That's exactly what Dixon and her colleagues discovered at Maryhill Manor during the darkest days of the pandemic.

Their unflagging teamwork kept the virus out of the facility for months and then sustained them when patients and coworkers finally started to get sick.

"We held on, and we did a lot better than all the other nursing homes in the area," Dixon said.

Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

This historical anthropologist wants to upend the conventional wisdom about human nature and violence

War and all of its brutality is attention-grabbing and memorable. Recollections of war and conquests tend to stick around and take up the spotlight in historical records. However, a war-centered narrative paints an incomplete picture of human history—and human nature. While there is a popular opinion in the anthropological community that war is an evolutionary, inborn tendency of humans, there is also pushback to that theory. There is a growing argument for a human history that predates war altogether and further points out that war is not innate to human nature, but instead, is a social and cultural development that begins at certain points around the globe.

However, once war takes place, it tends to spread, explains historical anthropologist R. Brian Ferguson, who has spent more than 40 years researching the origins of war. Ferguson, a professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, notes that war is not the same thing as interpersonal violence or homicide. War implies organized, armed conflict and killing sanctioned by society and carried out by members of one group against members of another group. Ferguson argues that current evidence suggests that war was not always present but began as a result of societal changes—with evidence of war's origins appearing at widely varying timestamps in different locations around the world. He estimates that the earliest signs of war appear between 10,000 B.C., or 12,000 years ago.

"But in some areas of the world you don't see any signs of war develop until much more recently," he says, noting that in both the U.S. Southwest and Great Plains there is no evidence of war until around 2,000 years ago.

Ferguson wrote an article in the Scientific American in 2018 titled, "War Is Not Part of Human Nature," in which he details his take on war. In the article, he summarizes the viewpoints of two anthropological camps, dubbed hawks and doves by late anthropologist Keith Otterbein. The hawks argue that war is an evolved predisposition in humans dating back to when they had a common ancestor with chimpanzees. Doves, meanwhile, argue that war has only emerged in recent millennia, motivated by changing social conditions. In the article Ferguson writes:

"Humans, they argue [doves], have an obvious capacity to engage in warfare, but their brains are not hardwired to identify and kill outsiders involved in collective conflicts. Lethal group attacks, according to these arguments, emerged only when hunter-gatherer societies grew in size and complexity and later with the birth of agriculture. Archaeology, supplemented by observations of contemporary hunter-gatherer cultures, allows us to identify the times and, to some degree, the social circumstances that led to the origins and intensification of warfare."

Ferguson has studied the anthropological and archeological records throughout ancient, and sometimes into more modern, human history. He says there is a lack of evidence of war or large-scale violence, in many places around the world throughout various periods of history. He has spent four decades researching and historically contextualizing the various origin points of war around the world. He has also contextualized incidents of group violence in humanity's closest ape cousins, chimpanzees. He argues that war is not innate, evolutionary nor inevitable behavior for humans.

Ferguson spoke with Local Peace Economy correspondent April M. Short about his findings and theories surrounding war and human history.

April M. Short: The big questions are: have humans always gone to war, or is there a point of origin for war? And, is war innate to the human species (or maybe just men)? Is there an evolved predisposition to war or is it a social, learned behavior that emerged with particular organizations in societies?

Brian Ferguson: There is a great deal of interest regarding this in anthropology in particular, and in archeology, and political science as well. It's been a very active field and they are many different issues that are involved [here] that are connected to each other.

To mention one issue about whether war has always been with us, there is the related question of how war was affected by the expansion of colonial systems. In particular, related to Western Europe, but other [colonial systems] as well. I maintain that colonial expansion generally led to more intensive warfare than a lot of the fighting that we've seen around the world in the past few hundred years, from the Age of Exploration onward. This is not a reflection of human nature but a reflection of circumstances, or the contextual situation.

But, even before the beginnings of colonialism, war was quite common around the world. War leaves a number of different signs, which is indicative of violence in the archeological records, the most important of which are skeletal trauma and settlement data of different sorts. There are other indicators as well, but if you have a lot of information on those two things, then if war is present, it will show up.

AMS: Another, related question is whether there is evidence of a clear starting point for war?

BF: Everybody wants to know when war began. It's difficult to give an answer that will satisfy people because you have to ask where you're talking about. Evidence for war appears at different times in different locations. And, once war began, sometimes it went away for a while, though that was not the case most times. Oftentimes war would spread, and it would change over time as political systems changed. It's a very complicated field.

But the question people really want to know the answer to is [whether] war [is] human nature? And in one sense, the answer is definitely yes, because humans make war, we're capable of making war, it's one of the things humans do. But I think the more meaningful question that people are trying to get at is: is there something that has evolved in human beings, or maybe just in men, that makes them inclined to try to kill—or at least to act with extreme fear to—people outside their own group. Is it a natural human tendency or predisposition to kill outsiders? That is what has been argued by a lot of people. [cognitive psychologist and science author] Steven Pinker is one, there are many others.

Other people have argued something a little different than that, which is: maybe there isn't any inborn tendency to want to kill outsiders, but war will happen naturally unless you have some kind of system in place to stop it. That's sort of what Thomas Hobbes was talking about in Leviathan, right? He didn't know about genes and this was before [Charles Darwin's theory of evolution]. He wasn't saying people had an "evolved" predisposition to kill outsiders. He just said that people pursuing their own interests, without some kind of larger civil society, will naturally turn to violence to further their own interests, and that will lead to war. And what that means is war is a natural condition of human society. So, is [war] part of human nature or is it the nature of humans in society?

The bottom line is, in one view, humans have always made war since they've been humans. But what I have been arguing for some time now is that if you look around the world, in the archeological records, the earlier remains don't have evidence of war.

Now, when we go very far back—say 30,000 years or more—there is almost nothing to indicate the humans were even there. Maybe you have a stone tool or something, but you can't say based on evidence whether there was war or not. But, when you come closer to the present and you look at the material evidence, you do not find evidence of war for some time.

What you find is a global pattern. At different times in different places around the world, if you go from the earliest archeological evidence [and move] forward, there will come a time when evidence of war will start to appear. Those changes occur without a dramatic increase in archeological recovery. It's not like we're starting to get good [evidence in] archeology, [or] good data, and only now are we starting to see [signs of] war. We had all of it but there weren't any signs of war. Then signs of war started to appear.

A colleague of mine, Doug Fry, works in this area and has been making a bigger point about this, and it's a very good point. We've been accumulating a number of cases from the archeologists who work in particular areas, and archeologists themselves aren't interested in the question of when war began, they're just digging their own digs. They're generally not interested in making global comparisons like I am. But we find that when archeologists provide summaries of the evidence of interpersonal violence of a deadly nature, more and more of them are showing that war has a starting point.

AMS: You mentioned this is the pattern everywhere you look, is it the global pattern?

BF: In the Americas alone, which I've been working on lately, [the pattern of evidence of war emerging during a given time in the records] includes the Andean region, it includes the Oaxaca region in Mexico, it includes the Pacific Northwest coast of Canada, Northwest Alaska, the Eastern Woodlands, the Great Plains. I'm not sure whether you can say the same for Western California, because Western California is unusual for having a lot of violence that goes back very far, so I'm not sure whether you can say there's clearly a time before you have evidence of war there. But it's the case in all these other places. I also looked at the patterns in Europe and the Near East where you see the same thing: you don't have any evidence of war, and then war shows up.

One more note on this: it's often said that an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, so if you don't find evidence of war, that doesn't mean war [didn't happen] there. For any particular case, any particular [archaeological] dig, that is absolutely true. But if you are talking about a larger region with multiple excavations, that is not a scientific statement, because it cannot be challenged, it cannot be falsified. If you're saying: "Even if you don't find evidence of war, war probably [still happened] there," how do you disprove that? But if I'm saying that in these different areas you're not going to find any evidence of war before certain periods of time, because no war took place there, that's easy to disprove. You just find the evidence.

It's a little tiring to me to have the phrase repeated, "just because you don't find the evidence doesn't mean it isn't there," because the pattern of seeing [war] start-up is so clear in so many places. It's time to consider the possibility that, really, war wasn't there at all before a certain point.

AMS: Why do you think the popular theory has been that war is innate to humans, or we've always had war?

BF: That's a great question, and it's a difficult question to answer. If I'm talking about whether there are signs of war in Europe in a particular year, I can talk about that in terms of evidence. But when you get to the question of why people tend [to lean] toward either the theory that "people are innately belligerent" or "people are innately good," (which is often suggested to be the Rousseau versus Hobbes point of view), some of it is individual variation in opinions. But I also think when you look at the prevalence of these ideas, they're time specific.

Back in the late 19th-century when Darwin's work was new, there was a real emphasis on this struggle for survival. There was a racial part to it too, which was the idea that some races are superior to others, and the struggle and fight [between the races leads to] the superior ones conquering the inferior ones. That whole Social Darwinist ideology was very common, and it fed into other theories back then, which were a bleak view of humanity. Freud was very bleak. Early psychologists were very bleak and would talk about humans having instincts, and one of the big instincts was the instinct of pugnacity. Pugnacity is a word we don't use much anymore, but pugnacity was said to be the instinct in which people just wanted to fight. So, if you wanted to know why wars exist, it was because we had the instinct for pugnacity.

World War I provoked a kind of revulsion against war. There was a change in how people looked at things. There was a 1915 study that was really revelatory, titled, "The Material Culture and Social Institutions of the Simpler Peoples: An Essay in Correlation." It looked at a number of different societies around the world (in what today would be a very crude method). It said that the simplest societies may have some war, but they had less war than more developed societies. It began to seem like war wasn't part of human nature, it was part of developing larger-scale, hierarchical societies. It came with that political evolution.

Time went on and in the 1960s there developed a very strong intellectual argument for war being innate. There were several writers who were key in [the development of] this [argument]. One was an Austrian ethologist (ethologists are people who study animal behavior) named Konrad Lorenz. He was on the German side during World War II. He was of the view that if you play a martial tune, men will drop everything and go off to war. He wrote the book On Aggression that was very influential.

Then there was Raymond Dart, an Australian paleobiologist (though they didn't use that word at the time) who found early skulls and remains, and was convinced that in every skull he found he saw evidence of a violent death and cannibalism. Dart's work was picked up by a very gifted writer, Robert Ardrey, who wrote several books, including African Genesis and The Territorial Imperative, which were part of his Nature of a Man series. That was the basis for Stanley Kubrick's movie "2001: A Space Odyssey." If you've ever seen the beginning of that film, these proto-apes had something changed in their minds by black obelisks from outer space, and they start killing each other, and that's the beginning of human creativity. That's what Ardrey basically believed to be the truth about humans, and he popularized it.

And then, there was the famous book, Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Golding came up with this idea that people were just real pieces of work. All of these concepts were part of the popular culture in the 1960s, and it was very influential. It became the accepted wisdom that that's the way people are.

The Vietnam War made a big difference. Anthropologists had not really been interested much in the study of war before Vietnam. The Vietnam War went on for a long time, and demonstrations against it were very big on college campuses, which is where anthropologists are. I was a draft-age student back then and that's really when the anthropology of war as a field first developed. It grew from there and different perspectives developed. Some of them held that war has always been with us, some said it was a biological instinct, some argued that war was a cultural product, and a relatively late development. Margaret Mead [cultural anthropologist] was one of those, who said "Warfare is Only an Invention, Not a Biological Necessity." And I think she was right. Since then, this argument has continued on in a more scholarly way, with people producing evidence. Now we've been doing that for a couple of decades and we've got a lot of evidence.

AMS: You mention in your Scientific American article that the people who argue that war is innate often use the example of chimpanzees being warlike. They point to the common ancestor shared between chimpanzees and humans to argue humans are innately warlike. You have spent two decades analyzing all of the recorded incidents of violence relating to chimps, and you have written a book on the topic, which is soon to be published. In your book, you theorize that chimpanzees are not, in fact, warlike but that their incidents of violence can be attributed to cultural and social contexts, largely involving human interference. Can you share a bit about your work on chimpanzees?

BF: I'm not a primatologist. I've never worked with chimpanzees. I'm a historical researcher, so I read the observations by other scholars, and I contextualize those observations. I did that with war, and I've done it with chimpanzees.

Back in 1996, a book came out called Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence. It painted a really grim view of human nature, as evolved to kill strangers. And the argument was that chimpanzees do this… not because they're hungry or they're in some kind of immediate contest over resources. It's just: they're programmed biologically, by evolution, to do it. And the argument was that, then, so are humans because chimpanzees and humans got it from their common ancestors anywhere from six to 13 million years ago.

I started [going through all the literature] in the late 1990s, and now the book is finished. I've called it Chimpanzees,"War,"and History. And you'll note I put quotes around "war." For the book, I went through every site [where chimpanzee group violence took place]. What I found was that while people would say their [warlike] behavior of looking for outsiders or strangers and killing them is normal chimpanzee behavior, it's really rare. If you talk about a war as being sequential killings of members of another group, then there are only two chimpanzee wars that take place in a span of about nine years. I mention this in the Scientific American article:

"My work disputes the claim that chimpanzee males have an innate tendency to kill outsiders, arguing instead that their most extreme violence can be tied to specific circumstances that result from disruption of their lives by contact with humans. Making that case has required my going through every reported chimpanzee killing. From this, a simple point can be made. Critical examination of a recent compilation of killings from 18 chimpanzee research sites—together amounting to 426 years of field observations—reveals that of 27 observed or inferred intergroup killings of adults and adolescents, 15 come from just two highly conflicted situations, which occurred at two sites in 1974–1977 and 2002–2006, respectively.
The two situations amount to nine years of observation, tallying a kill rate of 1.67 annually for those years. The remaining 417 years of observation average just 0.03 annually. The question is whether the outlier cases are better explained as evolved, adaptive behavior or as a result of human disruption. And whereas some evolutionary biologists propose that killings are explained as attempts to diminish the number of males in rival groups, those same data show that subtracting internal from external killings of males produces a reduction of outside males of only one every 47 years, fewer than once in a chimpanzee's lifetime."

The gist of my argument is that evidence shows deadly intergroup violence is not a normal, evolved behavior pattern of chimpanzees, but a situational response to a local history of human disturbance. That is what the book demonstrates.

AMS: I've read that bonobos share just as much DNA with humans as chimpanzees and are not warlike or violent—in fact, they're practically nonviolent. Do you look at bonobos in your book?

BF: Yes. My book has 10 parts and part eight [is about] bonobos. Bonobos are a fascinating comparison. They're as related to humans as chimpanzees are. We have, however, never seen a bonobo kill another bonobo (although one killing of an infant is suspected, but very possibly didn't happen). Another thing that's different about bonobos is that they have on occasion accepted outside adult males into their groups. Now, chimpanzees have accepted adolescent males to their groups, and they've also temporarily tolerated stranger adult males in their groups, so it's kind of a fine point, but it is a qualitative distinction between [chimps and bonobos].

The saying was chimps are from Mars and bonobos are from Venus. Chimpanzees are partial to violence, aggressive and totally male-dominated; and bonobos are, as the story goes, female-dominated and not as hostile, not as aggressive… I wouldn't say bonobos are matriarchal, instead, I would say their society is gender-balanced—which is very different from chimpanzees.

And this takes us back to the question of inborn predispositions because if chimpanzees are born to kill, and if the bonobos don't kill, is that because somehow [bonobos] evolved out of the killing mode? Are they biologically evolved so that they don't kill?

Other than the two extreme behaviors I mentioned, accepting outside males into their groups and killing, almost everything a chimpanzee has been seen doing, a bonobo has been seen doing. There's a lot of overlap in what they do. It's kind of a difference in frequencies rather than cut and dry differences.

… Bonobos don't have the things that I think make chimpanzees fight, which is a scarcity of resources connected to human impact. Bonobos haven't had that. And at the same time, they have something that goes against fighting, which is a social organization that's very different from chimpanzees. I don't think this is a result of instincts or inborn predisposition.

I spend a lot of time in the book laying out the fact that a young male chimpanzee grows up in an adult world where males dominate females, and females don't spend a lot of time with other females. Males spend a lot of time hanging out with other males, so they've got a sort of boy club there, and this leads them to engage in status competition that's male-on-male. Very often a group of two or three males together will kind of rise in the social hierarchy by hanging together and attacking any other males as a duo or trio, and that's how they beat the alpha. And [being an] alpha has a lot of advantages.

For chimpanzees but not bonobos, the second hypothesis in my book is that the unusually aggressive, high-status males may, in some circumstances, engage in what I call 'display killing' of helpless individuals, even infants within their own group, in order to intimidate status adversaries.

But bonobos have a tendency of females to bond (which may have to do with the genito-genital rubbing that females engage in, although that's not entirely clear), and they will attack a male who is too aggressive. If a male wants to rise up in the status hierarchy of bonobos [they need to be less aggressive]… because the society structure is [based on] a bisexual ladder. For a male to rise in the status hierarchy, what they do is they stick close to their mothers. The best ally for a bonobo male in getting access to feeding, getting access to mating and going up in the status hierarchy means being close to a high-status female. The status game is played with mothers, not brothers. That's how a bonobo male takes care of his own business. It means that they're attached to females and very often not attached at all to other males.

AMS: For me, just as a layperson coming into this, learning that we are just as related to bonobos as chimps undermines the idea that human warlike tendency is due to the common ancestor with chimpanzees. It's interesting to consider how much social structures may be influencing behaviors, for humans as well as other apes.

BF: It's a big area of research now, and field research has changed for a number of different reasons. One thing that's happened in primate field research, and in laboratories too, is that work in non-intrusive studies that look at hormone levels and genetics has expanded. [Researchers] can get their samples by placing tarps under trees and waiting for chimpanzees to pee in the morning. And then they can collect data on the hormone levels and genes.

There is interest right now in the biology of these primates, and the argument in biology has been that chimpanzees and bonobos really are biologically different— genetically, hormonally and behaviorally. It's a really interesting area that I find complicated because of the nature of these biological studies and the nature-nurture interaction. The idea that biology and environment combine and influence the development of any organism and these changes may be epigenetic and may have to do with the birth environment. The main action of epigenetics, [the study of heritable changes in gene expression] is based on what happens in early life, though epigenetics works throughout life and may be transmitted through generations, too.

The way I put my argument at one point [in my book] is: what if they were switched at birth? If an infant chimpanzee was put in with bonobos and vice versa, what would they grow up to be like? Would a chimpanzee raised among bonobos grow up to act like a chimpanzee with all the aggressive notions, male bonding and all that stuff? I argue that they would follow the local customs [of the bonobos], they would do what they saw others around them doing. Then along came epigenetics, and as it was applied to chimpanzees, it seemed to fit perfectly that the early childhood and the social experience of a chimpanzee and a bonobo at birth is very different.

AMS: To bring it back full circle to humans, how do you argue this idea of nature vs. nurture, epigenetics and socialization, might come into play anthropologically, and in relation to war?

BF: The implication, or lesson here, for humans is that humans are flexible. I think chimpanzees are very flexible, I don't think that they have innate patterns to do things like fight with each other. I think it's acquired in chimpanzees and bonobos. And I think that that goes for human beings too. And humans go a lot farther than that in the complexity of culture.

A lot of people will say that chimpanzees and bonobos also have cultures, they will use the word culture for these great apes. I think what chimpanzees and bonobos have is clearly learned traditions. They learn things to do, things that others in their group do. I don't think that's the same thing as culture, because culture involves a symbolic and linguistic medium to exist. And that culture exists in our thoughts and our language and our speech. That's how you learn it. That's how you communicate it. That's how it's passed on.

Human culture has cumulative development—and it needs language and symbols for this. You learn what one generation did, then you can do something on top of that. Everything we have in this world goes back to thousands and thousands of innovations, all of which have been based on the innovations that came before. Chimpanzees do not have cumulative innovations.

For war, I think the difference plays out in that humans do not have inborn predispositions. Some anthropologists will argue that humans have an inborn predisposition to not kill other human beings, that they're born against doing that, and they have to unlearn that [in order to be violent]. That's an optimistic way of thinking about human beings, and it certainly goes against the idea that people are natural-born killers. I hope it's true, but I'm not convinced. I think that could just as easily be a result of the way that we're socialized in our own societies.

What I'm saying is that, at a minimum, we don't have a predisposition either way. We're certainly not predisposed to kill. We're not predisposed to be xenophobic. Ethnocentric is a little different because ethnocentric simply means at the basic level, that the way you were brought up is the way you think things should be done. Every culture teaches every new infant. Everybody thinks: "My way is the right way to do things." But going beyond that, to the concepts that other people are inferior, or dangerous enough to be killed—that's certainly not part of human nature. When we look at tribal people, when the Europeans first showed up, the initial response typically was to look at these strange people with curiosity. It's not a natural reaction of fear, not this kind of tribal hostility that everybody always talks about, which is a lot of bunk.

The lesson is that humans have a great deal of plasticity. And we can be molded in different ways. We can be molded to be Nazis, or we can be molded to be passivists. Thinking that it is something that comes from the genes, that it's evolved and that's the way we are, is not going to help you understand what's going on, and it's going to confuse you.

At the end of my book, I summarize all the work I've done over the years on war. For the past few years, I've been talking about human nature and war. Before that, the big question for me was not, "Is it human nature to make war?" but, "How do you explain the wars that actually happened in tribal societies, and in modern society?" The book isn't just about debunking theories about chimpanzees, it's about: If you have this idea of culture that I just described, it leads you to ask a lot of other questions that are a lot more interesting, and probably more meaningful in terms of understanding why real wars happened and why people really get killed.

There's an article I wrote in 2006 called Tribal, Ethnic and Global Wars, where I summarize my approach to wars that are going on around the world, based on what I know about tribal warfare. In it, I try to show how it is that wars have happened, and the relationship between practical self-interest and the symbolic values people have in a society. That, to me, is where the action is, and it explains what the cause of war is: it's practical, and it's also symbolic.

AMS: In this current moment in human history, where we have much more globalized and ongoing warfare than our ancient ancestors—and a more globalized world culture in general, is there hope for a future that's not so war-inclined?

BF: Is there hope? Yes, absolutely. If you look at the long history of the world as I do as an anthropologist, you see that we've gone from having thousands of independent societies on this planet, which at first I don't think were making war. Over time war developed in more places around the world and spread. Since then, over time we've had a consolidation of societies. There are fewer independent societies in the world today—and you've got to be independent to go off and make war. I've been using Europe as an example now for over 20 years. You would have never expected Europe to come together into the community that it is now [looking at where it] was heading toward [in the past]. The war between Germany and France and England and other parts of Europe was world history for quite a long time. Europe is just one thread, but it's a strong example of how things have changed.

I wrote an article in 1988 called How Can Anthropologists Promote Peace?, and one of the things I said was that as an anthropologist, you can say that there are other possible worlds out there. The things that we can't imagine to be possible now could become true. And in this article that came out in '88, I said that one thing we can say with certainty is that at some point the militarized East-West frontier in Europe will cease to exist. It was hard to imagine that happening then. But the next year [after the article], it went away. So, we don't know. There's no general direction toward peace, but I think an important part of it is for people to mobilize themselves, for people to promote peace, for peace to be of value.

It's important for people to see that a world without war is a realistic possibility. Maybe not now, but a world without war is something we can aspire to realistically, and work toward. If you think that's something that can never happen, well that fatalism is one of the main props that is keeping war going. It's good to break out of that mindset.

April M. Short is an editor, journalist and documentary editor and producer. She is a writing fellow at Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute. Previously, she served as a managing editor at AlterNet as well as an award-winning senior staff writer for Santa Cruz, California's weekly newspaper. Her work has been published with the San Francisco Chronicle, In These Times, Salon and many others.

This article was produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Here's why US political dysfunction has reached its breaking point

While the majority of Americans deplored the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, it was troubling to see a YouGov poll indicating that 1 in 5 voters approved of the assault. Their attitudes were buttressed by a significant number of House and Senate Republicans who have egged on the matter by continuing to call into question the legitimacy of last November's election result. This is a sign that the rot in the American political system goes deep.

Upgrading the physical security around the country's political institutions is of little long-term value, especially if the activities that occur within them continue to manifest ongoing dysfunction worthy of a banana republic.

Let this be our wake-up call, America's "Beirut blast." The bomb explosion that devastated large parts of Beirut last summer was not an isolated, unfortunate occurrence, but the profound manifestation of decades of incompetence, complacency, and corruption in the Lebanese government—an outcome of the ruling classes' criminal neglect of essential public needs.

By the same token, the events of January 6th should be viewed as the point U.S. political dysfunction reached its breaking point. While the country still appears to remain economically powerful, it has become politically weak and socially fragile in ways characteristic of a society in decline. The focus on the relatively small group that broke into the Capitol as a result of lax security is akin to focusing on the Beirut blast wreckage to the exclusion of all else. Far more significant are the surveys of representative samples of Americans that reveal deepening mistrust of the core institutions and a growing commitment to sectarian interests which have, in many parts of the nation, superseded commitment to the republic itself.

This sheds a different light on the events. While the spark that ignited the violent pro-Trump upheaval was the incumbent's allegations that the November Presidential election was fraudulent, for many the assault on the Capitol was also an insurgency against the entire political class. "All these politicians work for us. We pay their salaries, we pay our taxes. And what do we get? Nothing. All of them inside are traitors"—as a member of the mob stated.

On this particular point, the grievances of the violent mob and the findings of scholars align: America is an oligarchy, not a functioning democracy, as the detailed study by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page argued in 2014. Thus, much as this was an assault on American democracy, the storming of the Capitol was also a sign that American democracy had already failed. Surely, these clumsy "revolutionaries" did not storm the Capitol because they are living the American Dream—and they are blaming, unsurprisingly, the whole political class for their malaise.

Whenever economic explanations of this radicalization are attempted, inequality is singled out as the root of working-class discontent. Commentators from Joseph Stiglitz to Thomas Piketty or Emmaunuel Saez relentlessly hammer on one theme above all others: an economic inequality that has deep roots in the political system. A cross-party consensus is now emerging on fighting inequality through redistribution—from raising the minimum wage to increasing unemployment benefits.

One reason why inequality has attracted so much attention is that it is easily measurable. Indeed, reports of the top 1% of Americans taking $50 trillion from the bottom 90% easily appeal to our sense of injustice. However, there are studies of the white working class which reveal that despite the outrage about inequality, many in this demographic still admire the rich. Additionally, the singular focus on economic inequality obscures another phenomenon—the massive economic insecurity which is affecting broader swathes of the population beyond the 'precariat' (those in poorly paid and insecure jobs). While insecurity is not easy to measure and report, it is in fact at the root of the social malaise of Western societies.

Seeing economic precarity as a root cause also helps to better explain why so much of the working-class radicalization has taken a turn to the right. Right-wing populists specifically evoke language that triggers conservative instincts—the evocation of family, a desire for stability, for clinging strongly to what is familiar ("Make America Great Again"), as opposed to plunging into political experimentation with something new—with the "foreign", to the American mind, European-style social democracy (especially when combined with "woke" issues that tend to alienate). On the other hand, many on the libertarian right champion free market fundamentalism, which fosters competitive, rather than solidaristic attitudes—especially when public goods are converted into private rents via privatization, which in turn limits access to resources that mitigate the effects of that intense competition instead of enhancing social solidarity.

Even under recent Democratic Administrations, economic recovery from the 2008 financial meltdown happened through a growth in insecure employment. The services jobs that fueled U.S. economic growth for the past 40 years—until the pandemic began to destroy them—were numerous, but of low quality. The rise of neoliberalism at the expense of the conservative-liberal divide that preceded it has enabled employers to tilt the terms of our capitalist economies heavily toward capital and away from labor, via the evisceration of unions, the deconstruction of the welfare state, and the privatization of public services. Most importantly, funding for public services and social programs has been persistently slashed. It is this impoverishment of the public commons that has increased the importance of personal wealth in securing essential goods such as healthcare and education. Thus, economic inequality matters enormously, but as a grave symptom of a broader problem—that of massive, and growing, fragility of society as a whole. The erosion of the public sector precludes access to many of the social supports that have historically buttressed economic security.

As a result, the American economy has begun to resemble a new, modern feudalism with a small technocracy dominated by Silicon Valley tech overlords and Wall Street billionaires at the top, and a large, uneducated, rapidly growing serf class at the bottom with no social safety net to protect it. Even if the wealth gap were to be considerably reduced by transfer from rich to poor, precarity would persist because it is rooted not in inequality, but in a depleted public sector, in a public authority that has abandoned the public and increasingly become a vehicle for predatory capitalism.

The pandemic exacerbated both the inequality and the precarity. Wall Street and the stock market have boomed over the past several months, generating affluence imbued with unprecedented levels of risk. At the same time, job growth has collapsed, and unemployment remains stubbornly high. Millions of Americans have withdrawn from the labor force, their jobs likely destroyed for good as the long-term impact of the economic shutdown wreaks havoc in many industries.

That has become a literal life consequence for working people in a system that continues to introduce restrictions to curb the pandemic. It is a particularly acute paradox in the United States, where healthcare remains largely predicated to employment via employer-funded healthcare systems. So we have the makings of a vicious cycle: restrictions are introduced to slow the pandemic, which in turn creates further job losses, which in turn can mean loss of employment and, hence, loss of access to healthcare provision. The very policies designed to safeguard health, then, ultimately exacerbate the problem. Add all of these factors together, align it with a demagogue working to undermine an election result, and you get the ingredients for a very poisonous outbreak of the kind we witnessed on January 6th.

The forces that led to the evisceration of working-class security is now extending to those ensconced in historically well-paid jobs, from lawyers to IT engineers. Even in the midst of a severe recession and a rapidly accelerating pandemic, policy makers remain remarkably indifferent to these trends and the ongoing precarity. They persist in believing that what has happened is merely a disruption to a solid structure, a deviation from normality, all of which can be rectified by the right mix of policy stimulus. A growing political consensus in the United States to tackle inequality appears to be emerging (especially in the wake of the recent Georgia run-off election, which put the Senate back under the control of the Democratic Party). But no matter how equal society becomes in terms of wealth distribution, without a dramatic government investment in public services, notably education, healthcare provision, and job security, trust and disillusionment in American institutions will persist, and with that also the rise of militancy by a radicalized underclass.

Albena Azmanova is an associate professor of politics at the University of Kent's Brussels School of International Studies and author of Capitalism on Edge: How Fighting Precarity Can Achieve Radical Change Without Crisis or Utopia (2020).

Marshall Auerback is a researcher at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, a fellow of Economists for Peace and Security, and a regular contributor to Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Republicans knew they were making a deal with the devil — now they're paying for it

When Donald Trump ran for the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 2016, many top Republicans shunned him. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) confidently explained how Trump was "not going to change the platform of the Republican Party, the views of the Republican Party… we're much more likely to change him." He even admitted, "it's pretty obvious he doesn't know a lot about the issues." McConnell alluded to Trump's racism in vague terms, saying, "I object to a whole series of things that he's said—vehemently object to them. I think all of that needs to stop… these attacks on various ethnic groups in the country."

But as soon as Trump won the Electoral College and was declared the winner of the 2016 race, McConnell set to work to ensure he could make full use of the newly elected president regardless of Trump's continued spouting off of dangerous lies and hateful claims. The Senate majority leader was happy to see the seating of ultra-conservative Supreme Court justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and most recently Amy Coney Barrett. He went on an unprecedented spree to remake the federal judiciary into one that is dominated by white conservative men, young enough to reshape legal decisions for a generation. He pushed through a massive tax reform bill that disproportionately benefits the wealthy, allowing almost no room for debate over it. He ensured the Senate turned into a "legislative graveyard," refusing to even consider hundreds of bills passed by the House of Representatives, thereby ensuring that most policy changes during the past four years were shaped by the president's executive action.

Three years into Trump's term, McConnell still had not had enough, relishing the power that his position in the Senate gave him to enact his conservative agenda. When the House impeached Trump in late 2019 over a clear case of corruption and abuse of power, McConnell led the 2020 Senate acquittal of Donald Trump. It matters little whether McConnell admits Trump is unfit for office a mere handful of days before the president's term ends. He used Trump for four years, subjecting the nation to a mad, would-be-dictator, unhinged and unrepentant in his relentless abuses. Senator McConnell owes the nation an explanation. Was it worth it?

Although he is the highest-ranking elected official to enable Trump, McConnell is hardly alone among his Republican colleagues to have engaged in a deal with the devil. The transformation of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) from Trump critic to sycophant is even more dramatic.

In 2016 Cruz criticized Trump more than any of his fellow lawmakers, calling Trump "a narcissist at a level I don't think this country's ever seen" and accurately saying Trump is "a pathological liar." He adeptly explained, "he doesn't know the difference between truth and lies… in a pattern that is straight out of a psychology textbook, he accuses everyone of lying." It was a stunning piece of foresight into the next four years of Trumpism. Cruz went further, saying, "Whatever lie he's telling, at that minute he believes it… the man is utterly amoral… Donald is a bully… bullies don't come from strength; they come from weakness."

Similar words were uttered often during the past four years—by Democrats, liberals, progressives, and the tiny handful of Trump's Republican critics. But once Trump held office, like McConnell, Senator Cruz saw fit to make use of the "amoral" president to suit his agenda, transforming himself into one of Trump's most ardent Senate loyalists. Seemingly forgetting his scathing and accurate critiques of Trump, Cruz became a MAGA-cheerleader, saying, "President Trump is doing what he was elected to do: disrupt the status quo… That scares the heck out of those who have controlled Washington for decades, but for millions of Americans, their confusion is great fun to watch." In return for his allegiance, Trump campaigned for Cruz in Texas during a tenuous Senate reelection battle, and Cruz returned the favor by defending him vehemently during Trump's first Senate impeachment trial.

Most recently, Cruz led the push to object to the 2020 election results. He repeatedly echoed Trump's demand to "stop the steal," a slogan that became a rallying cry at the Capitol riot in Washington, D.C., on January 6 that left at least five people dead. Now Cruz faces accusations alongside Trump of fomenting an attempted coup and encouraging the violent rioters. His aides are abandoning him, and the chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security has recommended that he be placed on the FBI's "no-fly" list. Like McConnell, Cruz owes the nation an explanation for his backing of a destructive demagogue who has left the nation and its democratic institutions battered and reeling. Has it all been worth it for the Texas senator?

Over the past two decades, Republicans have developed a well-deserved reputation for fighting by any means necessary in order to advance their agenda. They have abandoned norms, traditions and ethical standards. They have successfully retained power by rigging the rules governing elections and laid the groundwork of baseless assertions of "voter fraud" that Trump then built upon to claim he won the 2020 race. They have led a cultural shift convincing many Americans that popular progressive policies are the dangerous ideas of the "radical left," and spawned media outlets that deliver lies and propaganda to an unsuspecting base of voters.

After the Capitol riot, an unnamed senior Trump official appeared shell-shocked, saying to a reporter, "This is confirmation of so much that everyone has said for years now—things that a lot of us thought were hyperbolic. We'd say, 'Trump's not a fascist,' or 'He's not a wannabe dictator.' Now, it's like, 'Well, what do you even say in response to that now?'"

But this late-breaking realization that many Republicans are expressing publicly or feeling privately is not enough to absolve the dirty deal that they made with Trump to further their agenda. The GOP and Trump deserve one another and have maintained a symbiotic relationship that has devastated the nation. Whether leading GOP figures like McConnell try to distance themselves from Trump at this late-breaking hour, or like Cruz, remain loyal to him until the very end, is irrelevant. The party has lost credibility and is lying in a bed of its own making. They have edged us far too close to the abyss of Hitlerism, and like political parties in other nations that have flirted with or enabled fascism, Republicans need to answer for what they have done.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Trump's false stolen election claims sully a historic expansion in ballot access

The fallout from the insurrection at the Capitol is far from over, even as the House impeaches President Trump for a second time. But let's recall what is at the heart of this electoral crisis.

In 2020, a pandemic caused most states to pivot and offer voters more options to cast ballots. Tens of millions of voters opted for mailed-out absentee ballots. How those ballots were returned, how the voter's identity was verified, and how their ballots were counted broke new ground in many states — as did expanding early in-person voting options.

Rather than celebrating the 2020 election's record turnout, President Trump and his allies have used somewhat new and unfamiliar voting processes in key states as a cudgel to revive cynical cliches about stolen elections. Their cynical propaganda took advantage of the reality that many Americans do not understand the details of how elections work, and why access to a ballot—not the vaguer right to vote—is at the center of America's history's democratic struggles.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. repeatedly said on May 17, 1957, during a speech at the Lincoln Memorial, "Give us the ballot and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights."

Access to a ballot during the pandemic was at the heart of most decisions in 2020 by state legislatures and election officials, and partisan lawsuits and rulings by state and federal judges. The pivot by tens of millions of Americans to voting by mailed-out absentee ballots or voting at early voting sites, made 2020's general election the highest turnout election in U.S. history, the MIT Election Data and Science Lab authoritatively reported. Those expanded voting options, which voters widely praised, also set turnout records during Georgia's Senate runoffs.

But weeks since 2020's Election Day, a louder narrative has prevailed. False claims that masses of Americans voted illegally have dominated Trump's tweets and speeches, his right-wing media coverage and filled the pages of 65 post-election lawsuits—64 of which were rejected by courts. Those claims were yelled by those storming the Capitol on January 6, heard in floor speeches from Republicans who opposed certifying the presidential election, and were again heard by President Trump's most ardent defenders during the Jan. 13 House impeachment debate.

The stolen election narrative was built on attacking the little-known steps to help voters to access a ballot in the pandemic, followed by how their ballots were processed. These attacks—that start with access to ballots—have continued as post-election politics have emerged.

Consider what is unfolding in Georgia after its Jan. 5 Senate runoffs elected a prominent Black minister and Jewish filmmaker over Republican incumbents by margins that kept growing as the final overseas ballots came in. The state's Republican-majority legislature is eying a list of reforms to make access to a ballot more difficult.

Two days after voting ended for Georgia's runoffs, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Republican legislators had proposed a list of ways to make it harder to get a mailed-out ballot. They proposed reinstating the excuse needed to apply for an absentee ballot; banning absentee ballot drop boxes; mandating photo ID be included when returning an absentee ballot; banning mobile voting buses during early voting; and barring government agencies and outside groups from mailing absentee ballot applications to voters.

These kinds of details are the real features of elections that make the process harder or easier for all involved. There were some disagreements among Georgia's top Republicans. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who won national acclaim for rejecting Trump's demands to overturn Joe Biden's victory, has said that 2020's fall elections were too much work for county officials. He proposed reeling in absentee ballots by reinstating the excuse requirement (a disability, illness, travel, etc.) to obtain a ballot. Georgia's most powerful lawmaker, House Speaker David Ralston, disagreed, saying people have not "been getting the truth" about mailed-out ballots.

Some key voices are missing in this post-election jockeying. The first voices are those of local election officials. What do they think would make their task easier — following Raffensperger's rationale — when it comes to getting ballots to the voter and processing the returned ballots? County officials and poll workers spent 2020 learning how to use their new statewide voting system, which included implementing expanded absentee voting.

The second missing voice are from voters. What do they want? If their views are hard to discern because louder Republicans are calling for regressive reforms, what does the data show about who voted in 2020 (by age, race, party)? How did these voters choose to cast their ballot (by mail, via drop boxes, or voting early or on Election Day)? It may not be possible to silence powerful partisans, but one can factually describe America's 2020 elections.

With the fallout from the storming of the Capitol still unfolding, these key voices and facts are not front and center. But it would not be surprising if Georgia's local election officials opposed reviving the excuse requirement to obtain an absentee ballot. Why? Because processing more detailed applications adds work. Local officials might welcome reforms that streamlined the process, such as allowing voters to drop off an absentee ballot at any voting site.

States also can do more to inform the public about who voted — to dispel disinformation. Few states go as far as Oregon, which quickly released detailed 2020 data. In Multnomah County, where Portland is located and where controversial racial justice protests were held, 86 percent of registered Democrats aged 18-to-34 voted. Among registered Republicans aged 18-35, 76 percent voted. That is very high turnout. A Pew Research Center survey in mid-November found that nationally, 64 percent of whites voting for Biden voted by absentee ballots, versus 39 percent of Black voters. Such data raises the question of what's causing the discrepancy.

It is possible to ground discussions in who is getting access to a ballot—as opposed to hurling accusations of election fraud, and then claiming that the public demands a response to those false assertions. It is also possible to discuss legitimate GOP concerns about how the returned absentee ballot envelopes are verified. Concerns about validating the voter's signature on a ballot return envelope—which is akin to poll workers checking in a voter—can be answered. Some Democrats, too, can do better than refer to signature verification as "junk science."

In Georgia, Raffensperger — with the help of state police — audited the signatures on more than 15,000 ballot return envelopes in an Atlanta-area county to see if reams of absentee ballots had been illegally cast for president, as Trump has alleged. They found zero forgeries, meaning that every vote was legal.

"This audit disproves the only credible allegations the Trump campaign had against the strength of Georgia's signature match processes," his office said when releasing the audit report.

When peeling back the layers that led to January 6's storming of the Capitol, one can focus on cultural factors and societal traumas. But as states start their next legislative sessions and look to enact laws in response to their 2020 elections, the first question was the same question that faced election officials as the pandemic struck last year: how will citizens get their ballot? That question is followed by how will voters return their ballot, and then how will those ballots be verified and counted?

Rev. King's 1957 speech at the Lincoln Memorial did not demand the right to vote. Blacks were given that right by the Fifteen Amendment in 1870. King was more specific.

"Give us the ballot… And we will by the power of our vote write the law."

The 2020 presidential election may be over. But Trump’s lies and doubts linger

It was past midnight on Thursday, January 7, when the House began its debate on whether to accept Pennsylvania's 20 Electoral College votes.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Earlier on Wednesday, allegations of illegal and fraudulent voting in Pennsylvania and other swing states where President Trump lost led his supporters to storm the Capitol. The mob came after a Trump rally, where the president recited numerous falsehoods that long have been debunked.

It was a stunning spectacle. More than a dozen Republican congressmen rose and condemned the violence. Then, as if the cause of the rampage lay elsewhere, they opposed certifying Pennsylvania's votes by reciting many of the same allegations that Trump uttered that day—atop innuendo that Democrats had widely cheated.

"To sum it up, Pennsylvania officials illegally did three things," said Rep. Ted Budd, R-NC. "One, they radically expanded vote by mail for virtually any reason. Two, they removed restrictions when a ballot could be sent in. And three, they removed signature verification on those very ballots."

Budd did not mention that Pennsylvania's Republican majority legislature had approved the election reforms that laid the ground rules for 2020's election. Nor did he note that the Republican National Committee had pushed Pennsylvania's Republicans to vote with absentee ballots—and hundreds of thousands did.

Instead, Budd and other Republicans said that the election was illegitimate because Democratic officials—such as Pennsylvania's secretary of state—issued rules to make it easier for voters and election officials to manage in a pandemic. They said the Constitution had been violated because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had agreed with those steps. Only state legislatures could set election rules, they said, making a novel argument that ignored decades of election law and court rulings.

"I rise in support of this objection and to give voice to the 249,386 men and women of Ohio's 6th Congressional District," said Rep. Bill Johnson, R-OH, "who have had their voices silenced by the rogue political actors in Pennsylvania, who unilaterally and unconstitutionally altered voting methods to benefit the Democratic candidate for president."

"Secretaries of state and state supreme courts cannot simply ignore the rules governing elections set forth in the [U.S.] Constitution," he fumed. "They cannot choose to usurp their state legislatures to achieve a partisan end, Constitution be damned."

These representatives were joined by others who said that Trump's mob was "shameful," "unacceptable" and "un-American." Yet they went on to recite many of the same claims that Trump made before his mob acted. These claims filled the 60-plus lawsuits brought by Trump and his allies since the election—claims federal and state judges have overwhelmingly rejected as baseless and lacking in evidence.

Had these Republicans learned anything from the rampage? When the debate ended well past midnight, 138 Republicans voted to reject Pennsylvania's 20 Electoral College votes. Their dissents did not stop the chamber from accepting the state's Electoral College votes. Nor did it prevent a joint session of Congress later that morning from certifying Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the 2020 election's winners.

Yet the 138 votes, and the slippery arguments or misrepresentations that preceded them, are a dark sign of the times. When one-quarter of House members either lack sufficient knowledge of how elections are run or cling to specious arguments to overturn results, the undercurrents driving Trump's mob are still present. Looking ahead, voting rights advocates are starting to see these sentiments resurface as a new wave of anti-voting legislation in red-run state legislatures.

"We're deeply concerned the post-election lawsuits are now morphing into state-driven voter suppression schemes," said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, speaking during a press briefing during Georgia's runoffs on January 5. "These lawsuits failed universally… Now we see lawmakers seeking to exploit this moment [and] institute new restrictions on measures such as [repealing] no-excuse absentee voting."

Clarke is partly referring to a proposal by Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to reel in absentee voting. The 2020 election had overwhelmed local election officials, he has said, adding that future voting options needed to be streamlined. Record numbers of Georgians voted by mailed-out ballots in 2020, which was part of the wave that elected two Democratic U.S. senators and delivered a surprising Biden-Harris victory.

Raffensperger had been attacked by Trump as a RINO—Republican In Name Only—and pressured by Trump on January 2 to alter the certified vote count so Trump would emerge as the victor. On Thursday, the Trump campaign withdrew its suits in Georgia on the eve of scheduled court hearings. Raffensperger issued a detailed press release that noted Trump folded just before his legal team had to present evidence of illegal voting and rigged elections.

"On the eve of getting the day in court they supposedly were begging for, President Trump and [Georgia Republican Party] Chairman David Shafer's legal team folded Thursday and voluntarily dismissed their election contests against Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger rather than submit their evidence to a court and to cross-examination," the secretary's release began.

"However, even in capitulation, they continue to spread disinformation," it said. "The President's legal team falsely characterizes the dismissal of their lawsuits as 'due to an out of court settlement agreement.' However, correspondence sent to Trump's legal team prior to the dismissals makes perfectly clear that there is no settlement agreement. The Trump legal [team] voluntarily dismissed their lawsuits rather than presenting their evidence in court in a trial scheduled for tomorrow in front of Cobb County Superior Court Judge Adele Grubbs."

The statement said that the "withdrawals came after Secretary Raffensperger sent a letter to Congress on Wednesday containing point-by-point refutation of the false claims made by the President and his allies. Late last night, Congress accepted Georgia's slate of electors without objection, as no Senator joined in [Republican] Congressman Jody Hice's objection to Georgia's electors."

Few Republicans probably read Raffensperger's memo as they sought shelter from Trump's mob. However, in the other chamber, Georgia's Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who lost to Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock a day before, said she could no longer oppose her state's certification of the presidential vote. The storming of the Capitol had changed her mind. The same could not be said of nearly one-third of the House.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

The government chooses the health of businesses over human lives

Los Angeles, California, is now considered one of the worst COVID-19 hotspots in the nation. LA mayor Eric Garcetti assessed grimly that there is one new infection every six seconds and a death every 10 minutes from the virus. Hospitals are turning away ambulances, and health facilities in LA County are quite literally running out of oxygen. But last spring, as the pandemic was first declared, the city was an early adopter of mandated mask wearing and benefitted from California enacting the first statewide shelter-in-place order that helped curb the worst spread of the virus. So, what happened?

There is a possibility that the deadly surge in cases may be a result of a new, more transmissible strain of the virus circulating in the area. But more likely the spread is the result of the message that authorities are sending of a premature return to normalcy. As social media platforms are filled with angry Angelenos blaming and shaming one another for brazenly vacationing and flouting social distancing guidelines, in truth, the burst of infections is the price that officials are willing to pay for ensuring that corporate profits are protected.

California's latest shelter-in-place order is quite different from its first one. Whereas in March 2020 the state ordered all non-essential businesses to remain closed, in early December, at the peak of the holiday shopping season, all retail stores were allowed to remain open, even as outdoor parks were closed. So outraged were Californians by the obvious double standards that state officials caved and reopened parks—instead of shutting down retail stores.

Predictably, infections at malls soared as shoppers, eager to salvage Christmas, rubbed elbows with one another in their rush to fulfill holiday wishes. After all, authorities had okayed such actions, so they must be safe, right? Rather than enact strict rules to prevent such congregating, some Californians rightfully terrified of the disease simply blamed the shoppers. Even LA County health services director Dr. Christina Ghaly told the Los Angeles Times, "If you're still out there shopping for your loved ones for this holiday season… then you are missing the gravity of the situation that is affecting hospitals across LA County. Though they may seem benign, these actions are extremely high-risk." LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said to Angelenos, "stay home," but has refused to consider shutting down non-essential businesses.

In other words, officials kept retail stores open but then chastised residents for shopping. There are two ways to interpret the muddled messaging. If authorities are allowing all businesses to remain open, surely it must be safe to frequent them. Or, authorities are being driven by financial stakes, not public health, so surely it is not possible to trust them.

Hollywood is another exercise in contradictions. While new films and TV shows were not considered essential last year, production has now resumed. Why? Simply put, "there is too much money at stake," in the words of one TV producer. State and local authorities have the power to stop production in the interest of public health, but rather than exercise that power, they asked companies to volunteer to halt their projects. Now that the virus has spread so far and has caused so much suffering and death, even Hollywood has decided maybe it is not a good idea to continue filming. But is it too late?

American society is ruled by the right of businesses to make money above all else. And while for a few months in 2020 it seemed as though we prioritized public health and well-being by shutting down large swaths of the country and passing the modest CARES Act, that did not last. Lost in the horrifying surge of cases and mounting death toll is the stark fact that authorities have chosen to sacrifice human life at the altar of corporate profits. By their logic, if anyone is to blame, it is the individual American who has brought the disease upon themselves by simply making the wrong choices. It is the American way.

Take John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, an elite grocery chain favored by wealthy and health-conscious Americans. According to Mackey, there is no need for health care services. "The best solution is to change the way people eat, the way they live, the lifestyle, and diet," he said in a recent interview. He added, "There's no reason why people shouldn't be healthy and have a longer health span. A bunch of drugs is not going to solve the problem." Tell that to the seemingly healthy people among us who contract dangerous diseases like cancer and need the kind of chemotherapy drugs that do precisely that—help "solve the problem" of cancer.

Mackey's logic is consistent with that of the new pro-business "shelter-in-place" orders in California, which effectively send the message that if you catch COVID-19, it is your fault, not the fault of the indoor mall that was allowed to remain open.

Businesses do need to continue operating if they want to make money. But large corporations have amassed so much wealth through the Republican Party's tax giveaways that surely those in non-essential industries can survive for a year or two while remaining closed and dip into their assets without threatening their bottom line.

The situation is of course far different for small businesses that operate on razor-thin margins and are easily plunged into bankruptcy with just a few months of forced closures. But surely the world's richest government can pay such businesses to remain closed so that they can reopen safely once the danger is over. European nations have paid workers to stay at home—an obvious solution to curbing the virus.

An NBC News article compared the U.S. response to other nations, making the point that "unlike Western Europe and Canada, the U.S. is asking citizens to face the COVID-19 pandemic without any additional financial cushion from the government." One epidemiologist told the outlet, "I know multiple industries have been lobbying governors to stay open because closing means a huge loss of income to business owners and employees, even if it would be the best thing to do from a public health perspective."

Indeed, California has allowed businesses to remain open in part because of a dangerous decline in tax revenues and a lack of federal government funding to states to make up for pandemic-related losses. Again, authorities have chosen the sink-or-swim approach to business and public health. Why pay people to stay at home and remain safe when those individuals can simply risk their lives in the service of profit? After all, it is the same logic that has driven the relentless shredding of the pre-pandemic safety net programs for economically struggling Americans.

There is much hand wringing, blaming and shaming the individual, and general confusion over why COVID-19 is continuing to claim so many lives. But to understand the real reason for the ever-increasing death toll, look no further than the American way of leaving citizens to fend for themselves in the service of capitalism.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The storming of Congress ended — but it left a dark cloud

It was past midnight on Thursday, January 7, when the House began its debate on whether to accept Pennsylvania's 20 Electoral College votes.

Earlier on Wednesday, allegations of illegal and fraudulent voting in Pennsylvania and other swing states where President Trump lost led his supporters to storm the Capitol. The mob came after a Trump rally, where the president recited numerous falsehoods that long have been debunked.

It was a stunning spectacle. More than a dozen Republican congressmen rose and condemned the violence. Then, as if the cause of the rampage lay elsewhere, they opposed certifying Pennsylvania's votes by reciting many of the same allegations that Trump uttered that day—atop innuendo that Democrats had widely cheated.

"To sum it up, Pennsylvania officials illegally did three things," said Rep. Ted Budd, R-NC. "One, they radically expanded vote by mail for virtually any reason. Two, they removed restrictions when a ballot could be sent in. And three, they removed signature verification on those very ballots."

Budd did not mention that Pennsylvania's Republican majority legislature had approved the election reforms that laid the ground rules for 2020's election. Nor did he note that the Republican National Committee had pushed Pennsylvania's Republicans to vote with absentee ballots—and hundreds of thousands did.

Instead, Budd and other Republicans said that the election was illegitimate because Democratic officials—such as Pennsylvania's secretary of state—issued rules to make it easier for voters and election officials to manage in a pandemic. They said the Constitution had been violated because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had agreed with those steps. Only state legislatures could set election rules, they said, making a novel argument that ignored decades of election law and court rulings.

"I rise in support of this objection and to give voice to the 249,386 men and women of Ohio's 6th Congressional District," said Rep. Bill Johnson, R-OH, "who have had their voices silenced by the rogue political actors in Pennsylvania, who unilaterally and unconstitutionally altered voting methods to benefit the Democratic candidate for president."

"Secretaries of state and state supreme courts cannot simply ignore the rules governing elections set forth in the [U.S.] Constitution," he fumed. "They cannot choose to usurp their state legislatures to achieve a partisan end, Constitution be damned."

These representatives were joined by others who said that Trump's mob was "shameful," "unacceptable" and "un-American." Yet they went on to recite many of the same claims that Trump made before his mob acted. These claims filled the 60-plus lawsuits brought by Trump and his allies since the election—claims federal and state judges have overwhelmingly rejected as baseless and lacking in evidence.

Had these Republicans learned anything from the rampage? When the debate ended well past midnight, 138 Republicans voted to reject Pennsylvania's 20 Electoral College votes. Their dissents did not stop the chamber from accepting the state's Electoral College votes. Nor did it prevent a joint session of Congress later that morning from certifying Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the 2020 election's winners.

Yet the 138 votes, and the slippery arguments or misrepresentations that preceded them, are a dark sign of the times. When one-quarter of House members either lack sufficient knowledge of how elections are run or cling to specious arguments to overturn results, the undercurrents driving Trump's mob are still present. Looking ahead, voting rights advocates are starting to see these sentiments resurface as a new wave of anti-voting legislation in red-run state legislatures.

"We're deeply concerned the post-election lawsuits are now morphing into state-driven voter suppression schemes," said Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, speaking during a press briefing during Georgia's runoffs on January 5. "These lawsuits failed universally… Now we see lawmakers seeking to exploit this moment [and] institute new restrictions on measures such as [repealing] no-excuse absentee voting."

Clarke is partly referring to a proposal by Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to reel in absentee voting. The 2020 election had overwhelmed local election officials, he has said, adding that future voting options needed to be streamlined. Record numbers of Georgians voted by mailed-out ballots in 2020, which was part of the wave that elected two Democratic U.S. senators and delivered a surprising Biden-Harris victory.

Raffensperger had been attacked by Trump as a RINO—Republican In Name Only—and pressured by Trump on January 2 to alter the certified vote count so Trump would emerge as the victor. On Thursday, the Trump campaign withdrew its suits in Georgia on the eve of scheduled court hearings. Raffensperger issued a detailed press release that noted Trump folded just before his legal team had to present evidence of illegal voting and rigged elections.

"On the eve of getting the day in court they supposedly were begging for, President Trump and [Georgia Republican Party] Chairman David Shafer's legal team folded Thursday and voluntarily dismissed their election contests against Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger rather than submit their evidence to a court and to cross-examination," the secretary's release began.

"However, even in capitulation, they continue to spread disinformation," it said. "The President's legal team falsely characterizes the dismissal of their lawsuits as 'due to an out of court settlement agreement.' However, correspondence sent to Trump's legal team prior to the dismissals makes perfectly clear that there is no settlement agreement. The Trump legal [team] voluntarily dismissed their lawsuits rather than presenting their evidence in court in a trial scheduled for tomorrow in front of Cobb County Superior Court Judge Adele Grubbs."

The statement said that the "withdrawals came after Secretary Raffensperger sent a letter to Congress on Wednesday containing point-by-point refutation of the false claims made by the President and his allies. Late last night, Congress accepted Georgia's slate of electors without objection, as no Senator joined in [Republican] Congressman Jody Hice's objection to Georgia's electors."

Few Republicans probably read Raffensperger's memo as they sought shelter from Trump's mob. However, in the other chamber, Georgia's Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who lost to Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock a day before, said she could no longer oppose her state's certification of the presidential vote. The storming of the Capitol had changed her mind. The same could not be said of nearly one-third of the House.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Here's how to prevent a 2024 Trump campaign

Now that Donald Trump has gone full Lukashenko in his now-violent plot to retain power, we have to ask whether this time, finally, the nation will muster the collective will to hold him responsible for his malfeasance. The future of American democracy may depend on how the question is answered.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Even before Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 to disrupt the joint session of Congress that had convened to certify Joe Biden's Electoral College victory, Trump had committed a variety of fresh federal and state criminal offenses in his hour-long telephone conversation with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on January 2. In the call, the sitting president of the United States pressured Raffensperger and Ryan Germany, the secretary's general counsel, to "find" him enough votes to overturn Biden's win in the state.

As two recounts and a signature audit have confirmed, Trump lost Georgia by precisely 11,779 ballots. Nonetheless, Trump made it clear toward the latter part of his talk with Raffensperger that he wasn't just asking for an outlandish favor. Rather, he was making a demand, and serving notice in his official capacity that both Raffensperger and Ryan could face federal prosecution if they refused to comply.

Don't accept this interpretation of the conversation from me. Take it from Trump himself. Trump has acknowledged on his Twitter account that he made the call, and the Washington Post, which broke the story, has published a complete transcript of the conversation, in which Trump was joined by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and several lawyers, including prominent conservative attorney Cleta Mitchell.

The Washington Post has also released the complete audio recording of the conversation and you can listen to Trump's own words:

"That's a criminal offense," Trump can be heard saying, accusing Raffensperger of reporting false election results. "And you can't let that happen. That's a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer.… And you can't let it happen, and you are letting it happen. You know, I mean, I'm notifying you that you're letting it happen. So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state."

Realizing the need for action, two Democratic members of the House of Representatives—Ted Lieu of California and Kathleen Rice of New York—have written FBI Director Christopher Wray, asking for a criminal investigation into Trump's threats. Citing two federal statutes and a Georgia law, Lieu and Rice wrote that they believe Trump has "engaged in solicitation of, or conspiracy to commit, a number of [federal and state] election crimes."

Lieu and Rice might also have added treason and sedition to the list, but they drafted their letter before Trump supporters rioted at the Capitol.

Unfortunately, there is still little chance that Trump actually will be prosecuted for the phone call. Federally, as Biden's inauguration approaches, Trump can be preemptively pardoned for any crimes, either by resigning and permitting Mike Pence, as his successor for the few days remaining in the lame-duck period, to do the honors or by issuing a pardon to himself. And as for Georgia, no one should expect an indictment as long as the levers of state government remain in Republican hands.

There is another way to hold Trump accountable, however—by means of a second impeachment.

The goal of a second impeachment would not be to remove Trump from the White House, unless, of course, he somehow manages to pull off a coup d'état before January 20. The goal would be to disqualify Trump from ever holding federal office again.

Under Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution, judgment in cases of impeachment extends to both sanctions—removal from current office and disqualification from holding future office. Since Trump reportedly has floated the idea of running for president again in 2024, a second impeachment would be designed to deal a death blow to another Trump campaign with hearings in the House and a trial in the Senate focused on the "high crimes and misdemeanors"—the phrase used in Article II of the Constitution to define impeachable offenses, along with treason and bribery—that Trump committed in his first term in office. Impeachable offenses, moreover, are not subject to the pardon power.

A second set of impeachment articles returned against Trump could allege a bundle of serious crimes in addition to the phone call to Raffensperger, ranging from obstruction of justice in connection with former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election to conspiracy to defraud the United States by subverting the entire 2020 election.

Nor would the fact that Trump was no longer president legally bar a second impeachment. In 1876, the Senate conducted an impeachment trial of Secretary of War William Belknap even though he had resigned before the House voted to impeach him for financial corruption. Although the Senate failed to muster the two-thirds majority needed to convict Belknap, a majority of senators found him guilty. His impeachment trial lasted nearly four months and featured more than 40 witnesses.

While Richard Nixon escaped impeachment via resignation, the current House and Senate would not be bound by Nixon's example. Both chambers would be free instead to follow the Belknap precedent in the case of impeaching a former president, as several leading constitutional scholars indicated in interviews with the Washington Post in 2019.

If he were faced with a second impeachment, Trump wouldn't get off as easily as he did the first time around. He would still have to be convicted of an impeachable offense by a two-thirds Senate majority, but as Amherst College professor Austin Surat argued in a USA Today column published January 4, only a simple majority vote would be needed for disqualification. The National Review's Kevin D. Williamson has also called for a second impeachment.

The bottom line is that Donald John Trump, our 45th commander in chief, must be brought to justice by any legitimate means. With the House in Democratic hands and with enough Republicans in the Senate fed up with Trump's sedition, a second impeachment is not only possible—it is a necessity.

Bill Blum is a retired judge and a lawyer in Los Angeles. He is a lecturer at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication. He writes regularly on law and politics and is the author of three widely acclaimed legal thrillers: Prejudicial Error, The Last Appeal, and The Face of Justice.

Trump's now-violent plot to retain power demands that he be impeached again

Now that Donald Trump has gone full Lukashenko in his now-violent plot to retain power, we have to ask whether this time, finally, the nation will muster the collective will to hold him responsible for his malfeasance. The future of American democracy may depend on how the question is answered.

Even before Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 to disrupt the joint session of Congress that had convened to certify Joe Biden's Electoral College victory, Trump had committed a variety of fresh federal and state criminal offenses in his hour-long telephone conversation with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on January 2. In the call, the sitting president of the United States pressured Raffensperger and Ryan Germany, the secretary's general counsel, to "find" him enough votes to overturn Biden's win in the state.

As two recounts and a signature audit have confirmed, Trump lost Georgia by precisely 11,779 ballots. Nonetheless, Trump made it clear toward the latter part of his talk with Raffensperger that he wasn't just asking for an outlandish favor. Rather, he was making a demand, and serving notice in his official capacity that both Raffensperger and Ryan could face federal prosecution if they refused to comply.

Don't accept this interpretation of the conversation from me. Take it from Trump himself. Trump has acknowledged on his Twitter account that he made the call, and the Washington Post, which broke the story, has published a complete transcript of the conversation, in which Trump was joined by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and several lawyers, including prominent conservative attorney Cleta Mitchell.

The Washington Post has also released the complete audio recording of the conversation and you can listen to Trump's own words:

"That's a criminal offense," Trump can be heard saying, accusing Raffensperger of reporting false election results. "And you can't let that happen. That's a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer.… And you can't let it happen, and you are letting it happen. You know, I mean, I'm notifying you that you're letting it happen. So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state."

Realizing the need for action, two Democratic members of the House of Representatives—Ted Lieu of California and Kathleen Rice of New York—have written FBI Director Christopher Wray, asking for a criminal investigation into Trump's threats. Citing two federal statutes and a Georgia law, Lieu and Rice wrote that they believe Trump has "engaged in solicitation of, or conspiracy to commit, a number of [federal and state] election crimes."

Lieu and Rice might also have added treason and sedition to the list, but they drafted their letter before Trump supporters rioted at the Capitol.

Unfortunately, there is still little chance that Trump actually will be prosecuted for the phone call. Federally, as Biden's inauguration approaches, Trump can be preemptively pardoned for any crimes, either by resigning and permitting Mike Pence, as his successor for the few days remaining in the lame-duck period, to do the honors or by issuing a pardon to himself. And as for Georgia, no one should expect an indictment as long as the levers of state government remain in Republican hands.

There is another way to hold Trump accountable, however—by means of a second impeachment.

The goal of a second impeachment would not be to remove Trump from the White House, unless, of course, he somehow manages to pull off a coup d'état before January 20. The goal would be to disqualify Trump from ever holding federal office again.

Under Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution, judgment in cases of impeachment extends to both sanctions—removal from current office and disqualification from holding future office. Since Trump reportedly has floated the idea of running for president again in 2024, a second impeachment would be designed to deal a death blow to another Trump campaign with hearings in the House and a trial in the Senate focused on the "high crimes and misdemeanors"—the phrase used in Article II of the Constitution to define impeachable offenses, along with treason and bribery—that Trump committed in his first term in office. Impeachable offenses, moreover, are not subject to the pardon power.

A second set of impeachment articles returned against Trump could allege a bundle of serious crimes in addition to the phone call to Raffensperger, ranging from obstruction of justice in connection with former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election to conspiracy to defraud the United States by subverting the entire 2020 election.

Nor would the fact that Trump was no longer president legally bar a second impeachment. In 1876, the Senate conducted an impeachment trial of Secretary of War William Belknap even though he had resigned before the House voted to impeach him for financial corruption. Although the Senate failed to muster the two-thirds majority needed to convict Belknap, a majority of senators found him guilty. His impeachment trial lasted nearly four months and featured more than 40 witnesses.

While Richard Nixon escaped impeachment via resignation, the current House and Senate would not be bound by Nixon's example. Both chambers would be free instead to follow the Belknap precedent in the case of impeaching a former president, as several leading constitutional scholars indicated in interviews with the Washington Post in 2019.

If he were faced with a second impeachment, Trump wouldn't get off as easily as he did the first time around. He would still have to be convicted of an impeachable offense by a two-thirds Senate majority, but as Amherst College professor Austin Surat argued in a USA Today column published January 4, only a simple majority vote would be needed for disqualification. A National Review writer has also called for a second impeachment.

The bottom line is that Donald John Trump, our 45th commander in chief, must be brought to justice by any legitimate means. With the House in Democratic hands and with enough Republicans in the Senate fed up with Trump's sedition, a second impeachment is not only possible—it is a necessity.

Bill Blum is a retired judge and a lawyer in Los Angeles. He is a lecturer at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication. He writes regularly on law and politics and is the author of three widely acclaimed legal thrillers: Prejudicial Error, The Last Appeal, and The Face of Justice.

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