How will Nov. 9 be remembered in the annals of American history?

2016 Election Clinton

Guests at Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s election night rally watch the big screen television at the Jacob Javits Center glass enclosed lobby in New York. (Credit: AP)

For decades, Washington had a habit of using the Central Intelligence Agency to deep-six governments of the people, by the people, and for the people that weren’t to its taste and replacing them with governments of the [take your choice: military junta, shah, autocrat, dictator] across the planet. There was the infamous 1953 CIA- and British-organized coup that toppled the democratic Iranian government of Mohammad Mosadegh and put the Shah (and his secret police, the SAVAK) in power. There was the 1954 CIA coup against the government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala that installed the military dictatorship of Carlos Castillo Armas; there was the CIA’s move to make Ngo Dinh Diem the head of South Vietnam, also in 1954, and the CIA-Belgian plot to assassinate the Congo’s first elected prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, in 1961 that led, in the end, to the military dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko; there was the 1964 CIA-backed military coup in Brazil that overthrew elected president Jango Goulart and brought to power a military junta; and, of course, the first 9/11 (September 11, 1973) when the democratically elected socialist president of Chile, Salvador Allende, was overthrown and killed in a U.S.-backed military coup. Well, you get the idea.

In this way, Washington repeatedly worked its will as the leader of what was then called “the Free World.” Although such operations were carried out on the sly, when they were revealed, Americans, proud of their own democratic traditions, generally remained unfazed by what the CIA had done to democracies (and other kinds of governments) abroad in their name. If Washington repeatedly empowered regimes of a sort Americans would have found unacceptable for ourselves, it wasn’t something that most of us spent a whole lot of time fretting about in the context of the Cold War.

At least those acts remained largely covert, undoubtedly reflecting a sense that this wasn’t the sort of thing you should proudly broadcast in the light of day. In the early years of the twenty-first century, however, a new mindset emerged. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, “regime change” became the phrase du jour. As a course of action, there was no longer anything to be covert about. Instead, the process was debated openly and carried out in the full glare of media attention.

No longer would Washington set the CIA plotting in the shadows to rid it of detested governments and put in their place more malleable client states. Instead, as the “sole superpower” of Planet Earth, with a military believed to be beyond compare or challenge, the Bush administration would claim the right to dislodge governments it disdained directly, bluntly, and openly with the straightforward use of military force. Later, the Obama administration would take the same tack under the rubric of “humanitarian intervention” or R2P (“responsibility to protect”). In this sense, regime change and R2P would become shorthand for Washington’s right to topple governments in the full light of day by cruise missile, drone, and Apache helicopter, not to mention troops, if needed. (Saddam Hussein’s Iraq would, of course, be exhibit A in this process and Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, exhibit B.)

With this history in mind and in the wake of the recent election, a question came to me recently: In 2016, did the American people leave the CIA in a ditch and potentially do to themselves what the Agency (and more recently the U.S. military) had done to others? In other words, in the strangest election of our lifetimes, have we just seen something like a slow-motion democratic coup d’état or some form of domestic regime change?

Only time will tell, but one sign of that possibility: for the first time, part of the national security state directly intervened in an American election. In this case, not the CIA, but our leading domestic investigative outfit, the FBI. Inside it, as we now know, fulminating and plotting had been ongoing against one of the two candidates for president before its director, James Comey, openly, even brazenly, entered the fray with 11 days to go. He did so on grounds that, even at the time, seemed shaky at best, if not simply bogus, and ran against firm department traditions for such election periods. In the process, his intervention may indeed have changed the trajectory of the election, a commonplace in the rest of the world, but a unique moment in this country.

Donald Trump’s administration, now filling up with racists, Islamophobes, Iranophobes, and assorted fellow billionaires, already has the feel of an increasingly militarized, autocratic government-in-the-making, favoring short-tempered, militaristic white guys who don’t take criticism lightly or react to speed bumps well. In addition, on January 20th, they will find themselves with immense repressive powers of every sort at their fingertips, powers ranging from torture to surveillance that were institutionalized in remarkable ways in the post-9/11 years with the rise of the national security state as a fourth branch of government, powers which some of them are clearly eager to test out.

Hillary Clinton Supporter

A Hillary Clinton supporter watches televised election returns during a watch party in Wellesley, Mass, Nov. 8, 2016, in Wellesley, Mass. AP/Steven Senne

Blowback and blowforward as the history of our times

It took 22 years — in the wake of Washington’s 1979 decision to use the CIA to arm, fund, and train the most extreme Afghan (and other) Muslim fundamentalists and so give the Soviet Union a Vietnam-style bloody nose — for the initial American investment in radical Islam to come home big time. On that blowback path, there would be American military housing in Saudi Arabia blown sky high, two U.S. embassies bombed in Africa, and a U.S. destroyer ripped apart in a harbor in Aden. But it was 9/11 that truly put blowback on the map in this country (and, appropriately enough, turned Chalmers Johnson’s book with that title, published in 2000, into a bestseller). Those al-Qaeda attacks, estimated to cost only $400,000, were aimed at three iconic structures: the World Trade Center in Manhattan (representing American financial power), the Pentagon in Washington (military power), and assumedly either the White House or the Capitol (political power) — as United Airlines Flight 93 was undoubtedly headed there when it crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Those strikes by 19 mainly Saudi hijackers were meant to deliver a devastating blow to American amour propre, and so they did.

In response, the Bush administration launched the Global War on Terror, or GWOT (one of the worst acronyms ever), also known to its rabid promoters as “the Long War” or “World War IV.” Think of that “war,” including the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, as a kind of “blowforward,” or a second vast, long-term investment of time, money, and lives in Islamic extremism that only entrenched the phenomenon further in our world, helped recruit more supporters for it, and spread it ever more widely.

In other words, Osama bin Laden’s relatively modest $400,000 investment would lead Washington to squander literally trillions more dollars in ever-expanding wars and insurgencies, and on the targeting of growing, morphing terror outfits in the Greater Middle East and Africa. The resulting years of military effort that spiraled out of control and into disaster in that vast region led to what I’ve called an “empire of chaos” and set a new kind of blowback on a path home, blowback that would change and distort the nature of American governance and society.

Now, 37 years after the first Afghan intervention and 15 years after the second one, in the wake of an American election, blowback from the war on terror — its generals, its mindset, its manias, its urge to militarize everything — has come home in a significant way. In fact, we just held what may someday be seen as our first 9/11-style election. And with it, with the various mad proposals to ban or register Muslims and the like, the literal war on terror is threatening to come home big time, too. Based on the last decade and a half of “results” in distant lands, that can’t be good news. (According to the latest report, for instance, fears of persecution are growing even among Muslims in the Pentagon, the CIA, and the Department of Homeland Security, and with Islamophobic sentiments already rampant inside the newly forming Trump administration, you can conclude that this won’t end well either.)

Hillary Clinton Supporter

A Hillary Clinton supporter at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York, November 8, 2016. Reuters/Adrees Latif

History’s deal-breaker?

On September 12, 2001, you would have been hard put to guess just how the shock of the attacks of the previous day would play out in the U.S. and the world, so perhaps it’s idle to speculate on what the events of 11/8/16 will lead to in the years to come. Prediction’s a dicey business in the best of times, and the future ordinarily is a black hole. But one thing does seem likely amid the murk: with the generals (and other officials) who ran America’s failed wars these last years potentially dominating the national security structure of a future Trump administration, our empire of chaos (including perhaps regime change) will indeed have come home. It’s reasonable to think of the victory of Donald Trump and his brand of right-wing corporatist or billionaire “populism” and of the rising tide of white racism that has accompanied it as a 9/11-style shock to the body politic, even if it proves a slo-mo version of the original event.

As with 9/11, a long, blowback-ridden history preceded 11/8 and Donald Trump’s triumph. That history included the institutionalization of permanent war as a way of life in Washington, the growing independent power and preeminence of the national security state, the accompanying growth and institutionalization of the most oppressive powers of that state, including intrusive surveillance of almost every imaginable sort, the return from distant battlefields of the technology and mindset of permanent war, and the ability to assassinate whomever the White House chooses to kill (even an American citizen). In addition, in blowback terms, domestically you would need to include the results of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision of 2010, which helped release staggering amounts of corporate and 1%er funds from the engorged top of an increasingly unequal society into the political system (without which a billionaire running for president and a cabinet of billionaires and multimillionaires would have been inconceivable).

As I wrote in early October, “a significant part of the white working class… feels as if, whether economically or psychologically, its back is up against the wall and there’s nowhere left to go… many of these voters have evidently decided that they’re ready to send a literal loose cannon into the White House; they’re willing, that is, to take a chance on the roof collapsing, even if it collapses on them.” Think of Donald Trump’s election, then, as the victory of the suicide bomber the white working class dispatched to the Oval Office to, as people now say politely, “shake things up.”

In a moment that, in so many senses, is filling with extremism and in which the jihadists of the national security state are clearly going to be riding high, it’s at least possible that election 2016 will prove the equivalent of a slow-motion coup in America. Donald Trump, like right-wing populists before him, has a temperament that could lend itself not only to demagoguery (as in the recent election campaign), but to an American version of authoritarianism, especially since in recent years, in terms of a loss of rights and the strengthening of government powers, the country has already moved in an autocratic direction, even if that’s been a little noted reality.

Whatever Americans may have ushered in with the events of 11/8, one thing is increasingly certain about the country that Donald Trump will govern. Forget Vladimir Putin and his rickety petro-state: the most dangerous nation on the planet will now be ours. Led by a man who knows remarkably little, other than how to manipulate the media (on which he’s a natural-born genius) and, at least in part, by the frustrated generals from America’s war on terror, the United States is likely to be more extreme, belligerent, irrational, filled with manias, and heavily armed, its military funded to even greater levels no other country could come close to, and with staggering powers to intervene, interfere, and repress.

Hillary Clinton Supporters

Supporters of Hillary Clinton watch and wait at her election night rally in New York, November 8, 2016. Reuters/Carlos Barria

It’s not a pretty picture. And yet it’s just a lead-in to what, undoubtedly, should be considered the ultimate question in Donald Trump’s America: With both the CIA’s coup-making and the military’s regime-change traditions in mind, could the United States also overthrow a planet? If, as the head of what’s already the world’s second largest greenhouse gas emitter, Trump carries out the future energy policies he promised during the election campaign — climate-science funding torn up, climate agreements denounced or ignored, alternative energy development downplayed, pipelines green-lighted, fracking and other forms of fossil-fuel extraction further encouraged, and the U.S. fully reimagined as the Saudi Arabia of North America — he will, in effect, be launching a regime-change action against Planet Earth.

All the rest of what a Trump administration might do, including ushering in a period of American autocracy, would be just part and parcel of human history. Autocracies come and go. Autocrats rise and die. Rebellions break out and fail. Democracies work and then don’t. Life goes on. Climate change is, however, none of that. It may be part of planetary history, but not of human history. It is instead history’s potential deal-breaker. What the Trump administration does to us in the years to come could prove a grim period to live through but a passing matter, at least when compared to the possible full-scale destabilization of life on Earth and of history as we’ve known it these last thousands of years.

This would, of course, put 9/11 in the shade. The election victory of 11/8 might ultimately prove the shock of a lifetime, of any lifetime, for eons to come. That’s the danger we’ve faced since 11/8, and make no mistake, it could be devastating.

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BULLSH**TER OF THE DAY: Kimberly Guilfoyle, for equating higher education with Jihadist bootcamp

Kimberly Guilfoyle

Kimberly Guilfoyle (Credit: Getty/Monica Schipper)


“I mean literally, you’re literally corrupting people’s minds and making them mentally ill and turning them into jihadists. Seriously! . . . You can just go to school here in college and listen to this nonsense and let the college that we’re paying for with our tax dollars radicalize these guys.”

–Kimberly Guilfoyle, Fox News, Dec. 1, 2016

Who said it?

Model-turned-political-commentator, Kimberly Guilfoyle

What was the context?

After an attack on Nov. 28 at Ohio State University left 11 people injured, Fox News’ hosts were talking about terrorism and safety on American campuses. It was in this context that Guilfoyle decides to make her case for anti-intellectualism and against higher education. Classy.

Is there any merit to this claim?

Are American colleges “literally” radicalizing their students and corrupting their minds? No. If anything, the ignorance, xenophobia, racism and Islamophobia that you, Ms. Guilfoyle, and your Fox News peeps scatter are more responsible for alienating and radicalizing segments of the population than anything in a college core curriculum. By her logic, Ms. Guilfoyle, who has an undergrad degree and went to law school, is probably a terrorist in disguise. Beware, Fox News office-mates!

Is this the first time she has come out with a load of bullshit?

Like most Trump supporters, Guilfoyle lives in a detached reality. So, she has muttered more than her share of bullshit. Like when she argued that Trump “never said he was blocking Muslims from coming to the country” or when she admired Putin’s “strength model” and said that he “will do what it takes to defend his country.”

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Reporter who investigated Carrier deal barred from Donald Trump’s jobs event

Trump Carrier

FILE – This April 21, 2009, file photo shows the Carrier logo on an air conditioning unit in Omaha, Neb. Carrier and President-elect Donald Trump reached an agreement to keep nearly 1,000 jobs in Indiana. Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence planned to travel to Indiana on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, to unveil the agreement alongside company officials. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File) (Credit: AP)

A local Indiana reporter, widely credited with spearheading the investigation into Carrier’s intended exodus from Indianapolis that brought the issue to the attention of President-elect Donald Trump, was denied access to Trump and Carrier’s congratulatory event on Thursday.

Trump traveled to the home state of his vice president-elect, Mike Pence, to announce that he had reached a “tremendous deal” with the manufacturing giant to keep around 1,000 jobs from moving to Mexico. The company had planned to close its Indianapolis plant and ship about 2,000 jobs to a new facility in Monterrey, Mexico, where it can get away with paying workers $19 a day, before it agreed to a vague plan to keep about half of the jobs in the U.S. for now.

As Salon’s Gary Legum explained on Thursday, Trump’s “tremendous deal” amounts to little more than massive tax breaks in exchange for a promissory note and opportunity to gloat:

In exchange for tax breaks that will cost the state of Indiana $700,000 a year for an unspecified number of years, Carrier will keep 850 manufacturing jobs in the state, along with 300 headquarters and engineering jobs that slated to move to North Carolina. About 1,300 jobs will still relocate to the glorious workers’ paradise of Mexico.

According to the Indy Star, Carrier was only pressured to make the announcement for fear that Trump, who had repeatedly targeted Carrier on the campaign trail, would pull back on federal contracts with United Technologies, Carrier’s parent company, once he assumed office.

The plight of Carrier workers took center stage during the Trump campaign, in part, after Indianapolis TV reporter Rafael Sánchez spent months highlighting the company’s plans to relocate U.S. jobs.

The RTV6 reporter’s investigation led to a five-part digital documentary series.

When Carrier CEO Bob McDonough had visited Pence’s Indiana gubernatorial office, Sánchez had pressed the business executive whether he could live on the expected $3 hourly wage for Carrier’s prospective Mexican employees, who would also lack health care benefits:

In a video posted to Twitter on Thursday, Sánchez explained that he was denied access to Carrier at perhaps its biggest moment in the national spotlight. According to Sánchez, while another RTV6 reporter and photographer had been approved, along with several other local journalists, his credentials to Trump’s event at an Indianapolis plant were denied by Carrier executives.

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Breaking: The Greatest Living American Writer and Fidel sittin’ in a tree

Fidel Castro

(Credit: AP/Harold Valentine/Getty/Salon)

“Dictators,” I once wrote in “The Revolutionary Caudillo in Winter or Maybe Spring,” my epic study of Castroism, “are created, not born, unless they are actually born, but that is very rare.” How true that remains, even today. And no writer, not Jon Lee Anderson, not Gabriel Garcia Márquez and certainly not Jonathan Safran Foer (who hasn’t left his brownstone in seven years) had a greater hand in Fidel Castro’s creation than me. I mourn his death as though it were my own. Maybe, soon, it will be.

I first met Fidel in the summer of 1953, when I accidentally sat down at his table at a Buenos Aires steak house. Fortunately, he recognized me. I’d recently been featured in a Life photo spread titled “Lithe, Beautiful Essayist, Screenwriter Enjoys Yacht Outing with the Kennedys.”

That night, Fidel paid me homage. He was always the most flattering sort of man, with the best taste. I appreciated his attentions, which were focused and powerful and often came with cash attached.

“I admired your novel ‘Naked Up and Down the Beach at Normandy,’” he said.

“Thank you,” I said. “I dedicated it to Wally Trumbull, my long-lost love from Exeter, who vanished on Guadalcanal so very long ago.”

“A sad tale of history,” said El Jefe. “I am looking to write some history of my own.”

“Do tell,” I said, chin on hand.

He informed me, off the record, of his plans to overthrow the Batista regime, which had oppressed the people for too long by allowing freedom of speech and excessive luxury hotel development.

“What a monster,” I said.

“Soon,” Fidel said, “Cuba will belong to the people again.”

“Which people?” I asked.

“Well, me to start,” he said. “And also my brother.”

We had a good chuckle. I gave him some advice.

“Grow a beard,” I said. “Wear fatigues. And always imprison thousands of dissidents for even the most minor crimes. Everyone will love you for that.”

“Huh,” he said. “I hadn’t thought of those things before. Excellent suggestions.”

Naturally, once Fidelito (as I called him secretly, when I gazed at his sepiaed picture at night) took power, he invited me to stay with him on the island once a year, except for in 1961, when he was pretty busy. He always had a limousine meet me at the airport, which immediately drove 100 miles to a private harbor, where Fidel waited for me on a 90-foot yacht attended by dozens of scantily clad lady sailors who would sit on my lap for a peso.

“You know,” I said one night over mojitos, “I would really like to see Havana some day, so I can personally bear witness to the Cuban miracle.”

“Havana is a dump,” he said, “which is why I have my private island.”

That was the kind of brusque realism I loved about Fidel. He knew how to flatter, cajole, wheedle and coax. And he always knew exactly what I’d been working on.

“Your novel ‘Leon, a Man of the Streets’ truly captures the plight of the American Negro like none other,” he said one balmy night in 1972.

“How would you know?” I said. “It’s not coming out until next March.”

“I have obtained satellite photographs of the manuscript,” he said.

“Well call me Nancy and throw me in the dungeons!” I said. “That’s great!”

“Who told you about the dungeons?” he said.

* * *  

As Fidel grew older and Cuba became exponentially more literate and healthier, my relationship with him grew and deepened. I wrote a sequel to my previous book, this one called “The Autumn of the Winter of the Autocrat,” which was translated into 60 languages, had 16 printings in Berlin and won me my third Premio Bolivar for literary services to the peoples of Latin America. No other U.S citizen has ever come close to that level of honor. As I said in an interview with the Cartagena Daily Worker, “when it comes to literary inspiration, no world leader in history, not even Abraham Lincoln or Julius Caesar, inspires greater reveries than Fidel Castro. Truly, his life has been my greatest subject.”

One night a decade ago on his private island, after he had offered, and I’d refused, to let me “have sex with a shockingly attractive horse,” Fidel grew pensive as he puffed on a cigar. I got out my notebook and tape recorder, and he gave me the nod that indicated “I will not discuss civil liberties violations now, so you may take notes.”

Fidel sighed. “I shall die fairly soon,” he said.

“Nonsense,” I said. “You will live for a thousand years.”

“No,” he said, “even the immortal men of the people’s struggle must die. All that matters now is that my legacy is preserved so that the world will understand that I lived for the working class, and that I conquered all.”

“You can count on me, jefecito,I said.

Now Fidel is gone. When giants cease to walk the earth, their footprints stay behind forever. What truly happened in his final days will be revealed in my next book, “The Last Days of the Revolution in Winter for Real This Time,” to be published soon in many languages but especially in French. We must remember all the good that Fidel did and forget all the bad things that he didn’t do.

And now if you’ll excuse me, Caracas is on the line.

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On World AIDS Day: Coming to terms with the fallout of the judgments about the morality of pleasure made from within

Gay couple sitting in a meadow enjoying the view

Gay couple sitting in a meadow enjoying the view (Credit: Getty/Pekic)

Gaetan Dugas moves like a shark throughout the opening moments of Randy Shilts’ remarkable feat of HIV and AIDS reporting “And the Band Played On.” Dugas is a strikingly attractive French-Canadian flight attendant, and Shilts generally poses him in front of mirrors, where Dugas can contemplate his own beauty and how he can exploit desire in the pursuit of pleasure:

On California Street, airline steward Gaetan Dugas examined his face closely in the mirror. The scar, below his ear, was only slightly visible. His face would soon be unblemished again.

Gaetan briefly examined himself in the mirror. Yes, a few more spots had had the temerity to appear on his face.

Gaetan Dugas examined himself closely in the steamy mirror of San Francisco’s most popular bathhouse.

Americans, but especially Americans named Randy Shilts, attach morality to pleasure. It’s something one must deserve, earn; pleasure can’t be pursued for its own sake. Again and again in the pages of his history on HIV and AIDS, Shilts’ sympathies are with those in committed, long-term relationships or those new to the community of early ’80s homosexuals.

If you are bright-eyed and hopeful and yearning for monogamy, you get to ride Ferris wheels and be a mouthpiece for good values. If you’re pretty, or if you’re slutty, or if you know where the good lockers are at any bathhouse, you’re suspect in the eyes of Shilts. And because Shilts was such a fantastic writer and a powerful journalist of those early days of confusion and despair adjacent to HIV and AIDS, he influenced a lot of other people’s ideas about pleasure, sex and responsibility.

While the overarching thesis of “And the Band Played On” is the avalanching cascade of mistakes and egos that allowed HIV and AIDS to devastate an entire population of gay men for years, Shilts, who would also die from complications of HIV and AIDS, is judgmental of hedonism. In 1987, when “And the Band Played On” was first published, hedonism made sense to attack, just like it made sense to malign Gaetan Dugas as a creature motivated only by his own beauty and hunger.

As it turns out, Shilts (and those who bought into the moral calculus of HIV infection) was wrong — about Gaetan Dugas, about the morality of pleasure and about where blame needed to be placed.

* * *

When I think about World AIDS Day, I think about this: In the 1980s, almost every interesting gay man in American theater died. The fact that “The Lion King,” “The Producers” and “Hamilton” have all been the culture-stifling juggernauts that they have been is almost entirely attributable to this holocaust.

This is what happened: Interesting talented and provocative people fucked, got AIDS, got sick and died. Sometimes as quickly as the time it took to read this sentence. Sometimes in long humiliating epochs punctuated by moments of unrealized hope.

We’ve seen these kinds of cultural purges before: In the 1930s and ’40s, American communism was a scourge that needed bleaching so that all the most interesting writers, philosophers and artists — who also happened to have some alignment with early American communism and, though not always, often Jewish — were either jailed or terrified into silence and hiding. Afterward in the 1950s, we see a culture dominated by capitalist values and ideals, and television shows like “Leave It to Beaver” or “Father Knows Best” or “My Three Sons” dominate with a very specific idea of what Americans should do and look like.

So now, in a post-AIDS era — and by post-AIDS I don’t want to suggest that we’re beyond it; our eyes are simply now open, even if often focused elsewhere — we’re left with a landscape where all David Sedaris is doing is writing the same essay again and again about a funny thing that happened when he tried to mail a letter and this whole time there’s been a Gore Vidal-shaped hole in our intellectual culture and Fran Lebowitz is only one woman. There have been glimmers: “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is a wonderful throwback to when theater could be galvanizing. But then we let Neil Patrick Harris get in there — the gay community’s thirsty Anne Hathaway — and that fire and heat and transgressive power start to drain away.

Would Michael C. Hall have been allowed to play Hedwig if Freddie Mercury were still alive? I only ask the question.

* * *

We now know that Gaetan Dugas wasn’t Patient Zero in the sense that Randy Shilts wanted him to be and the way Americans have always wanted easy answer to infectious questions. “And the Band Played On” needed a villain in its early pages — someone on whom to pin the blame of spreading HIV throughout cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco. And because Gaetan Dugas was seductively attractive, and because he was clearly a man who relished pleasure (“extremely sexually active,” his Wikipedia page still says), and because he was dead by the time “And the Band Played On” was published, he was an easy man to scapegoat.

In 2007 an article in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” suggested that it was likely that HIV arrived in the U.S. from Haiti in 1969. And early this year, a genetic study of blood samples conducted by evolutionary biologist Michael Worobey seemed to point to a more complicated blossoming of HIV and AIDS in the U.S., where Dugas is “in the middle, not at the beginning” of the family tree of the virus.

It was never useful, as it turns out, to find a person or a point in time to blame for this sexual infection. It allowed for a critical, and criticizing, distance that granted people security in parceling out compassion. Someone with an HIV diagnosis had clearly sought it out, must honestly have known the risks of his behavior, should therefore be accountable to the consequences.

Americans look at consequences this way: they’re for someone else.

* * *

I came out in 1992, when I was 20 years old, after blowing my assistant manager Dave in a motel off the interstate outside Roseburg, Oregon. There’s a line from a poem by Dorianne Laux: “so that now/ when I think of love/ I think of this” and sometimes when I pass any sort of rundown motor lodge I wonder how Dave is. His best friend and roommate was a man named Mercer, and he was the first man I met who was HIV positive. I spent a lot of time wondering what he did to get it.

My early sexual life — and even calling it a “sexual life” makes it sound more active than it actually was — was rounded with fears of AIDS. It had an inevitable feeling about it, a not “if” but “when” character that tired out one’s vigilance while also terrifying every cough, sniffle, sneeze, loose stool or prophetic dream. “Have I had this cold too long? Why are my glands swollen? Isn’t illness a kind of magic anyway? Maybe I got it through sheer will of belief.”

It was in this Brave New World of human sexuality in 1996 that I took my first grown-up job — one for which I didn’t wear a name tag and remind drivers to pull up to the second window. It was at a church-sponsored HIV Day Center in Portland, Oregon, and I thought, This is how I will give back.

I assumed I would spend my days with gay men of a certain age who would sit in comfortable chairs making quilt squares. They would tell me about those early days of rampant ’70s sexuality and seeing Debbie Harry at Studio 54. Everyone would know Harvey Fierstein and no one would be an actual human being but each an angel to make me feel better about my own healthy choices. It was a kind of tourism I had planned, and my condescension was the cute look I wanted to wear out into the world.

Most of the men I worked with at the HIV Day Center were heterosexual drug addicts who came to use our phones, eat lunch and scam bus passes from us because if I said no, it’s possible Mary would say yes. (Actually, the opposite was mostly true; I was young and bathed in naive compassion. I would help everyone with a bus pass and an extra sandwich and even long-distance phone cards even after it was pointed out to me that all those kindnesses were being used as transactional items for street drugs.)

From this job, I learned to be judgmental early: How could anyone be newly infected in the 1990s? Didn’t we all now know what to do and what not to do? Weren’t condoms the answer to everything? Couldn’t everyone just masturbate, alone, to porn, the way I did? (The first porn I ever owned I didn’t buy. It was left to me by a man named Troy who killed himself because the disease was finally catching up to him. He was sicker, more often, and he had also finished his Great and Important Mural of erect penises in the men’s room of one of the seedier gay bars in Portland. The porn was a window into the kind of hedonism that was both exhilarating and terrifying. Don’t they know what is coming for all of them? I’d wonder, wiping my stomach off, afterward.)

It has taken 20 years, though, to correct my thinking. To not see HIV and AIDS as inevitable or evitable. To attach no more value to an infection than I would to a cold. To think about the weight of words like “clean” and “disease” and “fault.” To recognize that sometimes being HIV negative is nothing more than an accident of biology. That it is as much a performance as it is a reality.

December is an unfair month for World AIDS Day. December, with its skeleton trees and gray skies and thoughts of endings. The stigma around HIV and AIDS – the fear around infection, the risks involved with sex, the vocabulary of cleanliness – isn’t helped when we’re bundled in protective sweaters, hiding away our bodies from the cold.

World AIDS Day deserves a warmer month, a brighter sky, and more compassion than I’ve ever seen us muster before.

We can start by apologizing to Gaetan Dugas. We can end by thinking about June.

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Congress just killed legislation allowing LGBT workers to be fired — but anti-gay discrimination under Trump is here to stay

Same Sex Marriage Religion

(Credit: AP//Jacquelyn Martin)

A provision that would have allowed LGBT people to be fired from their jobs has been struck from a defense spending bill passed by the House of Representatives earlier this year.

The National Defense Authorization Act, which got a thumbs up from the Republican-controlled House in May, until recently included an amendment that would have given federal contractors the right to discriminate against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Known as the Russell Amendment, the bill has been stalled in committee for months after the House and Senate were unable to agree on a final draft of the legislation. On Tuesday the Washington Blade reported that the provision had been killed.

The Russell Amendment, which was named for its sponsor, Rep. Steve Russell, R-Okla., was developed in response to an executive order passed in 2014 by President Barack Obama. Executive Order 13672, which prohibited the firing of federal employees because of their LGBT identity, reportedly affected 28 million Americans. By effectively repealing those protections, those workers would have been at risk if the bill were passed.

This victory would be a proper cause for celebration if the incoming administration wasn’t already emboldening the forces of intolerance across the country, a message of anti-LGBT hate that’s especially potent during a time of enormous backlash to recent civil rights gains.

The provision is notably similar to bills passed in Mississippi and Indiana that let businesses and employers discriminate on the basis of “sincerely held religious belief.”

The Magnolia State passed House Bill 1523 in March, a “religious liberty” bill that would have affected a number of disparate groups. The legislation would have allowed medics to deny services to a transgender person who had experienced a heart attack and was in need of treatment. A landlord could deny the housing application of an unmarried couple. An employer could even terminate a female worker for having short hair or wearing pants in the office, as hypothesized by ThinkProgress.

These scenarios might seem absurd but are not out without precedent: A bartender was fired in Nevada in 2004 for not wearing makeup during her shift.

This opportunity for broad-based discrimination in Mississippi was struck down by a federal court in June, when HB 1523 was blocked by a federal ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves. Reeves claimed that the law failed to “honor [America’s] tradition of religion freedom, nor does it respect the equal dignity of all of Mississippi’s citizens.”

A similar law in Indiana, known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, was amended after passage last year. The law led to more than $70 million in economic losses following a nationwide corporate boycott of the state.

Despite these bills’ defeat, Russell maintained that pushing a nearly identical law at the federal level was necessary to protect “the free exercise of religion.”

“More than 2000 federal government contracts a year are awarded to religious organizations and contractors that provide essential services in many vital programs,” the Oklahoma lawmaker claimed in a May speech delivered on the floor of the House. “Now many of these services are being impacted due to conflicting and ambiguous executive guidance. The groups under assault are often the best, if not the only, organizations able to offer the assistance they perform.”

The Russell Amendment would have expanded the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the race, color, religion, sex or national origin, to offer protections for religiously affiliated groups that do business with the government. Because sexual orientation and gender identity are not yet protected under the landmark bill, such a law could technically be enacted.

Congressional Democrats fought the provision, warning that the definition of what comprises a faith-based organization is so broad that any number of groups could claim religious affiliation to exploit the legislation.

A group of 40 Senate Democrats, joined by two independents, penned a letter in October voicing opposition to the Russell Amendment’s passage.

“This discrimination erodes the freedoms that our military has fought for generations to protect,” the letter read. “It would particularly harm women, as religiously-affiliated contractors and grantees would be able to discriminate against individuals based on their personal reproductive health care decisions, including using birth control, becoming pregnant while unmarried, using in vitro fertilization to conceive a child, and accessing other reproductive health care that otherwise violate particular religious tenets.”

A coalition of political lobby groups opposed to the bill, including the Human Rights Campaign, American Civil Liberties Union, Center for American Progress Action Fund, American Military Partner Association and Americans United for Separation of Church and State collected signatures against it. More than 320,000 people signed the petition.

The organizations, though, particularly placed pressure on Sen. John McCain to block the Russell Amendment. McCain, who serves as the chair of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, had been instrumental in preventing the passage of a similar “religious liberty” bill in Arizona two years ago: State Bill 1062 faced a backlash from corporate leaders, including the National Football League, that would have led to an estimated $140 million blow to the state’s economy.

After McCain urged Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to veto SB 1062, which had passed the state’s House and Senate, she did just that.

The lobbying efforts appear to have been successful once again. A congressional aide told the Blade that Republicans had backed off the Russell Amendment, claiming that the provision was “always an imperfect remedy” to the nationwide battle over religious protections. The anonymous source did add, however, that the fight isn’t over. “Subsequent to the election, new paths have opened up to address those issues,” he said.

While LGBT rights advocates might claim the failure of the Russell Amendment a victory, that last sentence is an eerie reminder of the challenges that queer people will face under a Donald Trump presidency.

On his first day in office, the president-elect has vowed to do the very same thing that the Russell Amendment authorizes: overturn of protections for federal LGBT contractors. During the 2016 presidential race, Trump vowed to overturn Obama’s executive orders. The president-elect has yet to back off that pledge (unlike his recent flip-flops on an Affordable Care Act repeal, which had been central tenet of his campaign, and assigning a federal prosecutor to imprison his former challenger Hillary Clinton).

In allowing for discrimination against LGBT workers, Trump will likely have the support of his vice president, Mike Pence. As the governor of Indiana, Pence personally signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In a 2015 interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s “This Week,” Pence defended the law, claiming that it was “absolutely not” a mistake.

Aside from his running mate, Trump’s White House appears to be stacked with figures who have made a name for themselves by opposing equal rights for LGBT people.

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, a front-runner to helm the Department of Homeland Security, has claimed that trans people “suffer from mental disorders” and live a “freakish lifestyle.” Betsy DeVos, tapped to head up the Department of Education, donated $200,000 to a 2004 effort to add an amendment to Michigan’s constitution defining marriage as a union solely between a man and a woman. Tom Price, who could become the new health and human services secretary, co-sponsored the First Amendment Defense Act, yet another bill allowing anti-LGBT discrimination in the name of religion.

The latter bill, co-authored by Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, was introduced in 2015 and some form of it stands a decent shot at passage under a Congress soon to be controlled by Republicans in both houses. Trump has previously stated his support for the First Amendment Defense Act.

The Russell Amendment may be DOA for now, but the threat of anti-LGBT discrimination under Trump is here to stay.

Source: New feed

EPA plans to keep strict gas mileage standards in place

Gas Mileage Standards

FILE – In this June 30, 2016, file photo, gas is pumped into vehicles at a BP gas station in Hoboken, N.J. The Obama administration has decided not to change government fuel economy requirements for cars and light trucks despite protests from automakers. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File) (Credit: AP)

DETROIT — The Obama administration has decided not to change government fuel economy requirements for cars and light trucks despite protests from automakers.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said that based on the agency’s technical analysis, automakers can meet emissions standards and fuel economy requirements for model years 2022 to 2025. The standards will nearly double new-car gas mileage, dramatically cut carbon pollution, maintain regulatory certainty for the auto industry and save U.S. drivers billions in gasoline costs, the EPA said in a statement Wednesday.

The decision means that automakers will still have to meet strict fuel economy requirements and that companies likely will continue building small cars and electric vehicles still even though people are buying more SUVs and trucks. The standards had required the fleet of new cars to average 54.5 miles per gallon. But there was a built-in reduction if buying habits changed, dropping the number to 50.8.

“Although EPA’s technical analysis indicates that the standards could be strengthened for model years 2022-2025, proposing to leave the current standards in place provides greater certainty to the auto industry for product planning and engineering. This will enable long-term planning in the auto industry, while also benefiting consumers and the environment,” McCarthy said in the statement.

The EPA will take public comments on the decision until Dec. 30. Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign environmental group, said the agency plans to finalize the decision before President-elect Donald Trump is inaugurated in January. It’s uncertain what the Trump administration will do with the requirements.

Trump has stated that he wants to end some government regulations and has said in the past that he wants to get rid of the EPA. Leading Trump’s transition team on the EPA is Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank that gets financial support from the fossil fuel industry and that opposes “global-warming alarmism.” Though his academic credentials are in philosophy and political theory, Ebell is an enthusiastic denier of the voluminous scientific data that show the planet is warming and that burning fossil fuels is primarily to blame.

Becker says the standards cut oil use, save people money on gas and reduce pollution. “Numerous studies demonstrate that automakers have ample, affordable technology to achieve the program’s cost-effective goals,” he said.

Source: New feed

The future, Trumpified: Syfy’s dystopian drama “Incorporated” feels too close to reality for comfort


(Credit: Syfy)

The first thought that crossed my mind upon watching Syfy’s new series “Incorporated,” airing on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. starting this week was “Oof . . . too soon.”

For in this series, which is executive produced by Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Todd, creators Alex and David Pastor have given us a world that feels like a fairly accurate version of what life will look like in 2074, the year in which the drama is set. Between the haves and the have-nots are actual walls, keeping the fortunate few inside wealthy, spotless Green Zones and keeping the miserable poor in the slums known as Red Zones.

The Green Zones operate as nation states, in a sense, run by rich corporations. And in this version of future, corporations act as governments and godheads, competing for supremacy with one another and maintaining order among its citizens — er, employees, with a system that demands absolute obeisance and loyalty.

The benefits of working at these global megacorporations include safe housing, regular meals and luxuries such as medical care, even access to upscale items such as clean water and real meat. Procreation is controlled, and cute cartoons program children to spy on their parents.

Those living in the Red Zones have to scratch out a living anyway that they can and rarely, if ever, cross over the class divide guarded by armored security.

Today’s reality already has many of us reeling at the prospect of bank deregulation, disregard for environmental and health policy and the growing influence of corporate personhood on our political system. The idea of devoting a portion of our prime-time viewing to a fictional version of an authoritarian future where leaders wax on about “the infinite glory of the corporate mother” seems just a little masochistic.

Doesn’t it?

That depends, as always, on the story’s originality. Dystopian tales will always be the meat and potatoes of the science fiction genre, regardless of what’s happening in the real world. The world went nuts for “The Hunger Games” and slightly less so for “The Maze Runner” franchise and the “Divergent” films. On television, The CW has built a passionate audience around “The 100.”

And next year Hulu will debut a series based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Meanwhile, TNT has ordered a pilot based on the cult film “Snowpiercer.”

The point being, there is and will always be a market for stories exploring wretched possibilities for humanity’s future, provided the plots are relatively unique and compelling. “Incorporated” is neither. But if you’re a prepper who’s fond of drawing inspiration from fiction to sketch out your plans, you could do a lot worse than spending at least a small amount of time with this show.

Here are some useful takeaways from “Incorporated.” Think about moving to a northern region. Stock up on water filters and, you know, maybe consider working for a billionaire who runs a solid corporation.

Make sure he’s a decent guy, too. Otherwise, you’ll be screwed. According to the version of what lies ahead for us presented in “Incorporated,” such people will be kings among the elite. In the show’s version of 2074, the planet has been so thoroughly degraded that every system not overseen by corporate entities has descended into total chaos.

Miami? Dropped into the sea. Texas? A scorched wasteland. And no, Salon reader, I will not make a snarky joke. Here, the refugee crisis is homegrown and regional. Climate escapees fill the Red Zones, where people have long forgotten what natural food tastes like and exist on rations.

The story’s central hero Ben Larson (Sean Teale) was born in such a slum but somehow made it into a Green Zone paradise in Milwaukee and no longer has to worry about that life.

As an employee of Spiga Biotech, Ben lives with his wife Laura (Allison Miller), a plastic surgeon, in a lovely home and they have all their needs met. What’s more, Ben married up: Laura’s mother Elizabeth (Julia Ormond) happens to be the head of Spiga’s U.S. operations, effectively making her as powerful as a head of state.

This doesn’t mean Ben can operate with impunity — far from it. For those working at Spiga, a slip from the corporate ladder could mean torture and lead to one’s entire family being banished to a Red Zone. Overseeing everything is Spiga Biotech’s head of security, Julian (Dennis Haysbert), and Ben is barely able to remain a step ahead of Julian as he makes moves from his privileged position to help those he left behind on the outside, including his friend Theo (Eddie Ramos).

Echoes of “Blade Runner,” “1984,”  “The Fifth Element,” “Waterworld” — hell, even Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil”— are easily detectable in “Incorporated,” along with so many other sci fi stories that they defy counting.

Being derivative isn’t necessarily a deal breaker for a television series, as long as the acting or the script can elevate the show. But not even Ormond or Haysbert can make their characters seem like anything more than two-dimensional figures. Teale, for all his efforts, barely registers as more than a handsome, brooding face.

It is curious, though, to witness the arrival of such a show at this precise moment in history; it seems concurrently right on time and completely wrong for our collective mood. It feels a little like we’re watching some cable re-enactment of a history that’s yet to happen.

And if that’s what you want, you’ll find better entertainment in renting one of those movies mentioned above.

Source: New feed