10/23/2017 – BY DAMIAN CARRINGTON (Occupy.com)

The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to a new study that has shocked scientists.

Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.

The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said.

The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role. The scientists were able to rule out weather and changes to landscape in the reserves as causes, but data on pesticide levels has not been collected.

“The fact that the number of flying insects is decreasing at such a high rate in such a large area is an alarming discovery,” said Hans de Kroon, at Radboud University in the Netherlands and who led the new research.

“Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof. Dave Goulson of Sussex University, U.K., and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

The research, published in the journal Plos One, is based on the work of dozens of amateur entomologists across Germany who began using strictly standardised ways of collecting insects in 1989. Special tents called malaise traps were used to capture more than 1,500 samples of all flying insects at 63 different nature reserves.

When the total weight of the insects in each sample was measured a startling decline was revealed. The annual average fell by 76% over the 27 year period, but the fall was even higher – 82% – in summer, when insect numbers reach their peak.

Previous reports of insect declines have been limited to particular insects, such European grassland butterflies, which have fallen by 50% in recent decades. But the new research captured all flying insects, including wasps and flies which are rarely studied, making it a much stronger indicator of decline.

The fact that the samples were taken in protected areas makes the findings even more worrying, said Caspar Hallmann at Radboud University, also part of the research team: “All these areas are protected and most of them are well-managed nature reserves. Yet, this dramatic decline has occurred.”

The amateur entomologists also collected detailed weather measurements and recorded changes to the landscape or plant species in the reserves, but this could not explain the loss of the insects. “The weather might explain many of the fluctuations within the season and between the years, but it doesn’t explain the rapid downward trend,” said Martin Sorg from the Krefeld Entomological Society in Germany, who led the amateur entomologists.

Goulson said a likely explanation could be that the flying insects perish when they leave the nature reserves. “Farmland has very little to offer for any wild creature,” he said. “But exactly what is causing their death is open to debate. It could be simply that there is no food for them or it could be, more specifically, exposure to chemical pesticides, or a combination of the two.”

In September, a chief scientific adviser to the U.K. government warned that regulators around the world have falsely assumed that it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes and that the “effects of dosing whole landscapes with chemicals have been largely ignored”.

The scientists said further work is urgently needed to corroborate the new findings in other regions and to explore the issue in more detail. While most insects do fly, it may be that those that don’t, leave nature reserves less often and are faring better. It is also possible that smaller and larger insects are affected differently, and the German samples have all been preserved and will be further analysed.

In the meantime, said De Kroon: “We need to do less of the things that we know have a negative impact, such as the use of pesticides and the disappearance of farmland borders full of flowers.”

Lynn Dicks at the University of East Anglia, U.K., and not involved in the new research said the work was convincing. “It provides important new evidence for an alarming decline that many entomologists have suspected is occurring for some time.”

“If total flying insect biomass is genuinely declining at this rate – about 6% per year – it is extremely concerning,” she said. “Flying insects have really important ecological functions, for which their numbers matter a lot. They pollinate flowers: flies, moths and butterflies are as important as bees for many flowering plants, including some crops. They provide food for many animals – birds, bats, some mammals, fish, reptiles and amphibians. Flies, beetles and wasps are also predators and decomposers, controlling pests and cleaning up the place generally.”

Another way of sampling insects – car windscreens – has often been anecdotally used to suggest a major decline, with people remembering many more bugs squashed on their windscreens in the past.

“I think that is real,” said Goulson. “I drove right across France and back this summer – just when you’d expect your windscreen to be splattered all over – and I literally never had to stop to clean the windscreen.”

Originally published by The Guardian

Palestinian museum, celebrating art and culture, to open in Woodbridge, Connecticutt

WOODBRIDGE — Within the next few weeks, the history, art and culture of the Palestinian people will be on display at a museum in town.

Faisal Saleh, who was born in Ramallah on the West Bank, is executive director of Palestine Museum US, which is creating the museum that he believes will offer a fuller, more intricate portrait of his people than Americans see in the news media.

“The mission of the museum is to preserve Palestinian history and celebrate the artistic achievement of Palestinians in the U.S. and Palestine and tell the Palestinian story through art and literature and other forms of artistic expression,” said Saleh, 65, who lives in Wallingford and works in the employee benefits field.

Palestinians are a people without a state. According to the Institute for Middle East Understanding, 4 million of the world’s 10.3 million Palestinians live in the West Bank of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip, occupied since the end of the 1967 Six Day War by Israel. Millions more live in Jordan and Israel, and 239,000 live in the Americas, according to the institute’s website.

A “two-state solution,” which would create an independent Palestine alongside Israel, has been endorsed by the United Nations and longstanding U.S. policy, but attempts to bring it about so far have failed. Saleh said his museum, run by an independent nonprofit organization, will not be overtly political, but will tell the story of a people who “have suffered over almost the last 100 years through a whole series of historic progressions.”

The area was part of the Ottoman Empire, then overseen by the British mandate of 1917 until the state of Israel was founded in 1948, “at which time hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, which is the majority of Palestine, were displaced and a good number of them were living in about 35 refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon,” Saleh said.

“The history will be presented through photographs and art,” Saleh said. “It will not take any political posture and political position on issues. … It will be quite independent and will not be influenced by any political organizations.”

The first exhibit will be of “old photographs from before 1948 that depict the history of Palestine at the time,” he said.

Future exhibits will draw on the work of some of the “thousands of Palestinian artists in Palestine, in most of the countries around the world,” Saleh said. “Their art covers the whole gamut of painting, drawing … films, poetry.”

Saleh said while there are Palestinian museums elsewhere, including in Birzeit in the West Bank and Bristol, England, this will be the first in the United States.

He called the museum, which will open in November or December, “a nucleus.” “Eventually we can see a larger museum in a major city like Washington, D.C., or New York,” he said. Saleh said Woodbridge was chosen because “there was some opportunity to have some space there without spending a lot of money.”

Judy Alperin, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, which is based in Woodbridge, said, “We know Faisal. He is a friend of the Jewish community” and came forward to help “at the time of the crisis of the fire in our building.” The Jewish Community Center suffered serious damage in a Dec. 5 fire and Alperin’s temporary office is in the same building as the museum, she said.

She said of the museum, “We see it as a further opportunity for us to build better friends and relationships between our two communities and maybe even more of a cultural exchange.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to show what’s possible … that we can not just peacefully coexist, living side by side, but we can extend a hand in friendship.” Alperin said that the federation is on record as supporting a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.

While Woodbridge land records identify Saleh as owner of 1764 Litchfield Turnpike (Route 63) and town Building Official Terry Gilbertson said there is an application on file to turn the first-floor space into an art gallery, Saleh would not identify the address as the location for his museum. “I think there’s concern that people would not want to have something like this in a particular area,” he said.

He also said, “We’re going to be showing art and photographs and I don’t see how that could be a problem for anybody. We welcome everybody to come visit the museum once it’s open. … We hope to have a dialogue with everybody.”

First Selectwoman Beth Heller said she didn’t have enough information about the project to comment on it.

Salah Al-Bakri of West Haven, who was born in Bethlehem on the West Bank and lived in Jerusalem until 1968, said of the museum, “I think it’s a great idea, a great move, and I can’t wait until it opens up because people like us left Palestine at a very young age and we haven’t seen very much of the culture, so something like this would introduce it to us.”

Al-Bakri said his family immigrated to the United States “because of the war and because of the lack of work and opportunity and the situation in general in Palestine.”

He said the museum will help correct distorted images of Palestinians as anti-Israeli terrorists. “All we know is stuff that we read about or see in the media,” he said. “It’s very beneficial to all Palestinians that are not able to go back and live that culture [of] Palestinian art and social life.” Saleh is “going to be able to show it to us up close and personal.”

Contact Ed Stannard at edward.stannard@hearstmediact.com or 203-680-9382.

“How Can We Turn Military Spending into a Budget for the People?” by Frida Berrigan

The problem isn’t that we are spending more on the military — it’s that it comes at the expense of just about every social good imaginable.

October 24, 2017 (commondreams.org)

Rep. Keith Ellison spoke outside the Capitol last May, when the Congressional Progressive Caucus unveiled its People’s Budget. (Photo: Twitter/@ProgCongress)

Connecticut is the only state in the union that does not have a budget, and the state’s bills are being paid in emergency supplementals — or going past due. The state is budget-less, so my town of New London — one of its smaller urban communities — doesn’t have a budget either. That means a hiring freeze at our local schools, budget cuts and tax increases from City Council, the farmer’s markets not accepting senior citizen vouchers this summer, the downtown library cutting its hours, a smaller pool of money to pay for the heating needs of low-income people this winter and several other important city-funded offerings.

So far, this belt tightening has resulted in longer lines at the food pantries and an added weight of stress to already vulnerable and burdened people. Eventually, if it goes on long enough, the people impacted by these cuts — and the bigger ones on the horizon — will look across our river to the big industrial facilities that mar our otherwise beautiful view. The General Dynamics Electric Boat corporation isn’t tightening its belt or trimming its excess or trying to make more with less. It just got a $5 billion contract to build a new class of nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed submarines.

Have you been worried about the United States not having enough nuclear submarines? Me neither. But Electric Boat is booming. The same can be said for most of the bad old military-industrial complex. President Trump’s 2018 budget is a brutal behemoth that proposes giving more than $700 billion to the military — a lot of it going right into the very pockets of the military-industrial complex.

That would be bad enough, but the problem isn’t that we are spending more on the military — it’s that it comes at the expense of just about every social good imaginable. Over the next decade, the Republican-held White House and Congress are planning over $5 trillion in cuts to the safety net.

Comparisons to the military budget abound: We spend more than the next seven nations combined; one year of military spending could hire every unemployed person in the United States and put them to work in a high paid infrastructure rebuilding job; if you took the military budget in $100 bills it would circle the equator 500 times. (OK, I made that last one up.) But here is one that is pretty profound: According to the math of Alex Emmons, a reporter for The Intercept, just the increase to the military budget from 2017 to 2018 ($80 billion) that the Senate approved would be enough to make “public colleges and universities in America tuition free.”

Let’s pause here. The budget situation in Connecticut is so severe that one version of the budget being promoted by state Republicans would cut hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding for the University of Connecticut system. University representatives and Democratic leaders responded by saying that such cuts would essentially shutter institutions where lower-income, first generation students seek higher education. Why cry poverty when there are billions that could be gleaned out of the military-industrial complex?

Getting there is the hard part, but — thanks to the People’s Budget — we have a map to follow.

More than 100 representatives voted for the People’s Budget earlier this month, which limits investment in the military and pumps money into jobs, education, health care and climate resiliency. Of course, the resolution was not binding and was voted down by the House. Nevertheless, the ideas in the People’s Budget provide a clear, concise plan for mobilizing the significant resources of the United States in the service of its people — which is kind of how it is supposed to be, right?

The document comes courtesy of the Congressional Progressive Caucus — they compile it every year — but it is more than a Washington effort. The breadth of organizational supportfor the People’s Budget is impressive: from Planned Parenthood to Network: The Catholic Social Justice Lobby to VoteVets to Peace Action to dozens of other organizations representing the interests of hundreds of thousands of people, all setting aside policy differences to work together to achieve a different kind of national security.

Their aims include a $2 trillion investment in America’s energy, water and transportation systems; higher taxes on Wall Street firms and corporations that offshore jobs; a minimum wage hike and stronger union rights; auditing the Pentagon budget; and making debt-free college “a reality for all students.”

According to the Economic Policy Institute, the People’s Budget would add 2.4 million jobs and increase GDP by 2 percent in the near term. And when it turns its attention to the military, the Progressive Caucus’ budget “prohibits any expansion of U.S. combat troops in Syria, prohibits an increase in defense spending and slashes wasteful Pentagon spending.”

Peace Action senior director for policy and political affairs Paul Kawika Martin sees something fundamentally hopeful in this annual process. “Every year, it gets better,” he said in a recent interview. “More Democrats vote for the People’s Budget and we push the party closer to representing our ideals.”

Up against the Pentagon’s pervasive reach and endless resources — not to mention the military-industrial complex’s practice of strategically citing its manufacturing in key congressional districts and spending millions on lobbying every year — this has to count as real progress.

Still, it can’t just happen inside the Beltway. The People’s Budget also provides an opportunity to organize locally and to ask the questions: What is security? How much should it cost? Is it walls? Impregnable borders? Militarized police forces? Pervasive surveillance? Guns? Or is it local autonomy, affordable housing, accessible medical care, livable wages, truly representative government, and a sense of well-being that doesn’t cost a lot, but sure is priceless? With the war in Afghanistan entering its 17th year, swaths of our country digging out of damage from fires and hurricanes, and communities trying to find sanity in the wake of another mass shooting, it is a critical question.

Frida Berrigan

Frida Berrigan, a columnist for WagingNonviolence.org, serves on the board of the War Resisters League and organizes with Witness Against Torture.

“NYT Laments ‘Forever Wars’ Its Editorials Helped Create” by Adam Johnson

The Times spends a great deal of time trying to market itself as not being the rubber stamp pro-war outlet it manifestly is.

The “no boots on the ground” pseudo-opposition is an admission that the only lives that matter are American, and that the PR pitfalls of body bags returning home on national TV are the only moral limit to the US invading and occupying other countries.

October 24,m 2017 (commondreams.org)

“The “no boots on the ground” pseudo-opposition is an admission that the only lives that matter are American, and that the PR pitfalls of body bags returning home on national TV are the only moral limit to the US invading and occupying other countries.” (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/cc)

Corporate media have a long history of lamenting wars they themselves helped sell the American public, but it’s rare so many wars and so much hypocrisy are distilled into one editorial. On Monday, the New York Times (10/22/17) lamented the expansion of America’s “forever wars” overseas, without once noting that every war mentioned is one the editorial board has itself endorsed, while failing to oppose any of the “engagements” touched on in the editorial.

The Times began by noting the sheer scope of US military reach:

The United States has been at war continuously since the attacks of 9/11 and now has just over 240,000 active-duty and reserve troops in at least 172 countries and territories…. American forces are actively engaged not only in the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen that have dominated the news, but also in Niger and Somalia, both recently the scene of deadly attacks, as well as Jordan, Thailand and elsewhere. An additional 37,813 troops serve on presumably secret assignment in places listed simply as “unknown.” The Pentagon provided no further explanation.

The editorial stops short of actually opposing anything specific, instead insisting, “It’s time to take stock of how broadly American forces are already committed to far-flung regions and to begin thinking hard about how much of that investment is necessary.” They are vaguely concerned; here we have this massive global empire, fighting an ever-changing nebulous enemy of “terrorism,” with no end in sight. What can be done? It’s unclear—but let’s “take stock.”

Left unmentioned in the editorial: from Afghanistan (both the 2001 invasion and Obama’s 2009 surge) to Iraq (the 2003 invasion and Obama re-entering the country in August 2014 to fight ISIS) to Syria (both CIA-backed regime change and bombing ISIS) to Korea to our drone wars in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the New York Times has endorsed and often cheered every of these “forever wars.” And the “engagements” the Times didn’t expressly support (Thailand, Jordan, etc.), because they’re so routine as to not merit mention, there’s no record of them opposing. Indeed, as FAIR (3/27/17) has noted previously, the New York Times editorial board has not opposed a single US war since its equivocal and lukewarm opposition to Reagan’s invasion of Grenada 34 years ago (10/30/83).

When confronted with this fact on Twitter, New York Times foreign and defense policy editorial writer Carol Giacomo responded, “In last decade, NYT editorial board has raised many questions about US military engagements.” Raised many questions? Well, then, never mind; let’s leave the Times’ role in the creation of said global empire unexamined.

The Times spends a great deal of time trying to market itself as not being the rubber stamp pro-war outlet it manifestly is. To do this, it employs two main genres of nominal anti-war posturing. The first—previously commented on by FAIR (3/27/17)—is to call for congressional approval of a war, without actually opposing it or arguing against its underlying moral or political validity. It’s a process complaint that permits the New York Times to look Very Concerned without the messy work of actually opposing anyone in power. The argument is never “this war is wrong or unjust”; it’s “this war may be great, but we have a legal problem of not getting congressional buy-in—the absence of which is not problematic enough to make us actually oppose the war.”

The second is the morally half-assed “no boots on the ground” argument, like the one the Times employed in support of bombing ISIS in Iraq in 2014 (8/8/14) and the Syrian government in 2013 (8/27/13). They insisted, for example, that Obama “best follow through” on his threat to bomb the Syrian government, while still opposing “deep American involvement,” whatever that meant. This genre supports bombing people—typically brown and poor—from afar, but draws the line at using US troops to augment the long-distance killing.

The “no boots on the ground” pseudo-opposition is an admission that the only lives that matter are American, and that the PR pitfalls of body bags returning home on national TV are the only moral limit to the US invading and occupying other countries. Cruise missiles, drones, special forces raids, and covert funding and arming of dodgy rebel groups are A-OK, so long as there are no “boots on the ground”—a cliche, as FAIR has noted (5/19/15), that itself has an increasingly boutique definition.

Both of these genres permit the New York Times to look like Conflicted Liberals, distressed about war without ever opposing it in any meaningful sense. Both modes typically involve appeals to gather more willing nations, other vague appeals to “international support” or running through legal motions, but, ultimately, after all the tortured language and qualifications, the Times always—always—ends up back at supporting the bombing. The Times acts not as an outside voice holding power to account, but as US empire’s internal compliance officer—there to warn of excesses and problems around the margins, but always with the best interest of their NatSec client at heart.

No such heavy-hearted qualifications, needless to say, exist for US enemies. Russia is “engaging in aggressive and dangerous behavior in the air and on the high seas,” the Times(5/19/16) insisted in an editorial condemning the “duplicity of President Vladimir Putin.” Iran’s “destabilizing role in the Mideast” is simply taken for granted (4/24/17); its actions routinely “deserve condemnation” (4/7/17).

Meanwhile, the US is presented as a good-faith arbiter of human rights and peacekeeping, with no broader military or cynical aims. “At least in recent decades,” the Times editorial board (2/7/17) childishly put it earlier this year, “American presidents who took military action have been driven by the desire to promote freedom and democracy.” Funny how that worked out.

Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson is a New York-based  journalist, a contributing analyst for FAIR.org, and co-host of the Citations Needed podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @adamjohnsonnyc

“How to Engage a Fanatic” by David Brooks 

I’ve had a series of experiences over the past two weeks that leave the impression that everybody on earth is having the same conversation: How do you engage with fanatics?

First, I was at a Washington Nationals game when a Trump supporter in the row in front of me unleashed a 10-minute profanity-strewn tirade at me, my wife and son.

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“Being Busy Is Killing Our Ability to Think Creatively” by DEREK BERES

Article Image

July 10, 2017 (bigthink.com)

The other day a friend mentioned that he’s looking forward to autonomous cars, as it will help lower the accident and fatality rates caused by distracted driving. True, was my initial reply, with a caveat: what we gain on the roads we lose in general attention. Having yet another place to be distracted does not add to our mental and social health.

Little good comes from being distracted yet we seem incapable of focusing our attention. Among many qualities that suffer, recent research shows creativity takes a hit when you’re constantly busy. Being able to switch between focus and daydreaming is an important skill that’s reduced by insufferable busyness. As Stanford’s Emma Seppälä writes: 

The idea is to balance linear thinking—which requires intense focus—with creative thinking, which is borne out of idleness. Switching between the two modes seems to be the optimal way to do good, inventive work.

She is not the first to point this out. Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin made a similar plea in his 2014 book, The Organized Mind. Information overload keeps us mired in noise. In 2011, he writes, Americans consumed five times as much information as 25 years prior; outside of work we process roughly 100,000 words every day. 

This saps us of not only willpower (of which we have a limited store) but creativity as well. He uses slightly different language than Seppälä—linear thinking is part of the central executive network, our brain’s ability to focus, while creative thinking is part of our brain’s default mode network. Levitin, himself a former music professional who engineered records by the Grateful Dead and Santana, writes: 

Artists recontextualize reality and offer visions that were previously invisible. Creativity engages the brain’s daydreaming mode directly and stimulates the free flow and association of ideas, forging links between concepts and neural modes that might not otherwise be made.

Engaging creatively requires hitting the reset button, which means carving space in your day for lying around, meditating, or staring off into nothing. This is impossible when every free moment—at work, in line, at a red light—you’re reaching for your phone. Your brain’s attentional system becomes accustomed to constant stimulation; you grow antsy and irritable when you don’t have that input. You’re addicted to busyness. 

And that’s dangerous for quality of life. As Seppälä points out many of the world’s greatest minds made important discoveries while not doing much at all. Nikola Tesla had an insight about rotating magnetic fields on a leisurely walk in Budapest; Albert Einstein liked to chill out and listen to Mozart on breaks from intense thinking sessions. 

Paying homage to boredom—a valuable tool in the age of overload—journalist Michael Harris writes in The End of Absencethat we start to value unimportant and fleeting sensations instead of what matters most. He prescribes less in the course of a normal day.

Perhaps we now need to engineer scarcity in our communications, in our interactions, and in the things we consume. Otherwise our lives become like a Morse code transmission that’s lacking breaks—a swarm of noise blanketing the valuable data beneath. 

How to disconnect in a time when connection is demanded by bosses, peers, and friends? Seppälä makes four suggestions:

1. Make a long walk—without your phone—a part of your daily routine
2. Get out of your comfort zone
3. Make more time for fun and games
4. Alternate between doing focused work and activities that are less intellectually demanding

That last one is also recommended by Cal Newport, author of Deep Work. Newport is not on any social media and only checks email once a day, perhaps, and even that time is strictly regimented. What seems to be lost in being “connected” is really irreplaceable time gained to focus on projects. Without that time, he says, you’re in danger of rewiring your neural patterns for distraction.

Spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanentlyreduce your capacity to perform deep work. 

That’s not a good sign for those who wish to perform creatively, which in reality is all of us. Research shows that the fear of missing out (FOMO) increases anxiety and takes a toll on your health in the long run. Of all the things to suffer, creative thinking is one of our greatest losses. Regardless of your vocation a flexible mindset open to new ideas and approaches is invaluable. Losing it just to check on the latest tweet or post an irrelevant selfie is an avoidable but sadly sanctioned tragedy.

Derek is the author of Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles, he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.


October 22, 2017 (moc.media.com)

No matter what the laws of physics decree, there is untold and explosive energy in resistance. Or such is the evidence of “Burning Doors,” the Belarus Free Theater’s bruising exploration of the dynamics of resistance — the kind that occurs in the intersection of art and politics — at La MaMa.

By BEN BRANTLEY, The New York Times

This galvanizing production, which runs through Oct. 22, finds a host of able-bodied young women and men subjecting themselves to, and transcending, a spectrum of trials and tortures. These include being wrestled repeatedly to the ground, interrogated in a circular infinity of verbal assaults, harnessed to bungee cords while running desperately in place, strung high in nooses and dunked again and again in a bathtub, while trying to recite a poem.

The woman in the bathtub knows whereof she speaks, or gasps. She’s Maria Alyokhina, a member of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot who made international headlines when they were imprisoned for staging an anti-Putin performance (of 40 seconds’ duration) in a Moscow cathedral.

Then again, it seems safe to say that most members of the Belarus troupe, which is banned from performing in its native country, have firsthand knowledge of the repression they’re re-enacting and responding to onstage. (Program biographies include references to arrests and prison terms.)

Only blocks away from La MaMa, at New York University’s Skirball Center, another set of visitors from abroad are channeling recent history into confrontational drama. There’ll you find the Freedom Theater, a storied West Bank-based company that describes itself in the program as “a platform for cultural resistance.”

The troupe’s current production, which has met with protests in other parts of the world, is “The Siege,” a speculative re-enactment of the 39-day event of the title, when Palestinian militants took refuge from the Israeli Army in 2002 in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, built in the fourth century and a longtime destination for religious pilgrimages.

Created and directed by Nabil Al-Raee and Zoe Lafferty, this study of soldiers waiting out the standoff with diminishing supplies and stamina takes a more naturalistic and overtly didactic approach than “Burning Doors.” The characters here include a scene-bridging tour guide, who reminds us of the sacredness of the setting — summoned in crepuscular stateliness by Andy Purves (lighting) and Anna Gisle (set).

But most of the play is devoted to conversation among six soldiers, who debate the existential toll of resistance and the historical value of martyrdom in dialogue that emphasizes exposition and theme over individual character. Despite the intrinsic suspense of the setup and the likability of the performers, “The Siege” often registers as sincere but static, like an animated chapter from a partisan history book.

The astonishment of “Burning Doors” — conceived and staged by the troupe founders and artistic directors (in exile), Nikolai Khalezin and Natalia Koliada — is its ability to translate political rage and impotence into an art of indirection that is often as complex as it is powerful. This is no trumpeting call to arms, or not only that, but an open-ended portrait of both the sociology and psychology of the artist as rebel in Eastern Europe.

At the production’s center are three specific artists of the 21st century: Ms. Alyokhina of Pussy Riot; the Russian political performance artist Petr Pavlensky, whose widely reported acts of civil disobedience have included nailing his scrotum to Red Square; and the Ukranian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who is in jail in Russia for alleged acts of terrorism.

Ms. Alyokhina — whose book “Riot Days,” published in English this year, is in part a memoir of incarceration — is here to testify on her own behalf. She becomes a participant in the ensemble’s impressionistic re-creations of an outcast childhood, a brutalizing stint in prison (in which cavity searches were common events) and the bewildering early days of freedom.

She even appears in a drolly self-conscious question-and-answer session, in English, with the audience. (The questions on the night I saw the show included, “What do we do about Trump?” Her answer, delivered tentatively and almost shyly: “I would resist. But it’s you, not me,” who must make the decision.)

The words of Mr. Pavlensky and Mr. Sentsov, who have been highly articulate in state psychiatric exams and court statements and testimony, are spoken — and projected — here as well. (Most of the performance is in Russian and Belarusian, with English supertitles.)

As for the opposition, it is given comic voice by two actors, embodying Russian fat cat apparatchiks (Pavel Haradnitski and Andrei Urazau), who discuss how to deal with the incomprehensible behavior of subversive artists while sitting, face to face, on toilets. (That scene has a triumphant visual punch line, involving women dressed in signature Pussy Riot balaclavas, wielding flashlights and rolls of toilet paper.)

The production also summons the lyricism under duress of the French poet Paul Éluard (whose “Liberty,” a totemic work for the French Resistance during World War II, is recited by Maryia Sazonava in a noose and harness, suspended agonizingly above the stage); and the ruminations of Michel Foucault (delivered by Maryna Yurevich as a circus ringmaster-cum-judge) on subjugation and punishment.

The twisted human forms of the art of Egon Schiele are conjured in haunting ballets of what might be called defensive masochism. The performers coil their bodies increasingly inward, as if to squeeze their own flesh into invisibility.

The punishment of one’s own flesh is notoriously the specialty of Mr. Pavlensky, whose performance pieces of protest include — in addition to the scrotum nailing — setting fire to the doors of the Russian Federal Security Service building, sewing his lips together and wrapping his body in barbed wire.

“Burning Doors,” which has been designed as a sort of prison cell of the mind by Mr. Khalezin, makes the subliminal case that such painful activities are of a piece with a longstanding, specifically Russian sensibility. In the 19th century, Dostoyevsky wrote about the phenomenon of self-laceration, as both a physical and spiritual form of torment, a naturally unnatural response to the divisive absurdities of self and society.

Two of this production’s most haunting vignettes are set to Dostoyevsky’s words. A naked performer slowly dresses himself while reciting Prince Myshkin’s account from “The Idiot” of a man awaiting his execution, counting down what he believes to be the final moments of his life.

The actor here, Kyril Masheka, is steeped in a raw, empathic fear and sorrow that make putting on clothes a fraught and irrelevant-seeming business. And in a scene from “The Brothers Karamazov,” a dialectic debate on viciousness and goodness between Ivan and Alyosha (Mr. Haradnitski and Mr. Urazau) becomes a furniture-upending wrestling match.

Philosophical issues of immortal import assume a mortal — and moral — urgency. And Dostoyevsky’s questions about persisting, and resisting, in the face of institutionalized inhumanity glow with an infectious fever.

The show’s visual epilogue is (literally) writ in flame, but the bonfire that lights up “Burning Doors” is from the friction of artists as arsonists — in motion, at war and determined to scorch.

California Governor Candidate Forum Oct. 22, 2017

The National Union of Healthcare Workers hosted the first major forum featuring the four leading Democratic candidates for California governor Sunday, October 22, in Anaheim. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, State Treasurer John Chiang, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin appeared together on stage for the first time to answer questions related to health care, worker and immigrant rights, and how California should respond to the Trump presidency.

The forum was be moderated by veteran network journalist John Donvan, host of Intelligence Squared, which airs on NPR stations throughout the country. Questioning the candidates were reporters Bob Butler of KCBS Radio, Jeff Horseman of the Southern California News Group, Melanie Mason of the Los Angeles Times and Maria Paula Ochoa of Telemundo.


The BART police are about to commit a crime. They are about to evict some 25 homeless people from homes they have resided in for the last nine months. For no reason.

For nine months a stable, peaceful, law-abiding community of homeless people has resided at the HERE/THERE space just north of the Oakland/Berkeley border

On Saturday afternoon BART police put up notices demanding that they remove themselves from HERE/THERE area within 72 hours and threatening to confiscate their possessions.

(More details here: https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2017/10/22/18803818.php )

What you can do (details below):

  – Contact your BART Rep
– Show up at the Eviction Resistance Party on Tuesday
– Testify to the BART Board


STARTING MONDAY MORNING, please call, email, Facebook and tweet at them to let them know how strongly you disprove of this intended eviction.

Rebecca Saltzman is the Chair of the BART Board and represents parts of Berkeley and Oakland.
Her contact information is

Email: Rebecca.Saltzman@bart.gov
Twitter: @rebeccaforBART
Phone: 510 464-6095

Lateefah Simon is the BART Board Director whose district the encampment lies in. Her contact information is

Email: info@lateefahforbart.compress@lateefahforbart.com
Twitter: @lateefahSimon
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lateefah.simon
Phone: (510) 464-6095628-333-9553415-636-6581

You can find other BART Board representatives here and BART Board district maps:


A few talking points:
– Winter (and the rain) is coming.
– There is a Hepatitis A outbreak in California spreading among homeless people who have no access to sanitation – the HERE/THERE camp has such access.
– They’ve been there for nine months. There is no rush or reason to do this immediately. Let’s sit down and talk this through.  Put a moratorium on the eviction action.
– BART police have more important things to do.

See https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2017/10/22/18803820.php for further details.


Item 3 on the Agenda is Public Comment (An opportunity for members of the public to address the Board on matters under their jurisdiction and not on the agenda).

If you can make it this would be an idea time to vocalize your opposition to BART contemplating or having already done their threatened eviction.

The BART Board Room is located in the Kaiser Center 20th Street Mall, Third Floor, 344 20th St., Oakland, CA. Directions to the BART Board Room: https://www.bart.gov/sites/default/files/docs/Map%20to%20BART%20Board%20Room.pdf It’s just a couple of blocks from the 19th St. BART station.

–Ruthie Sakheim

“Megadonor Tom Steyer launches TV ad campaign for Trump impeachment” by David Weigel 

October 20, 2017 (WashingtonPost.com)

Political mega-donor Tom Steyer is funding an eight-figure TV ad campaign to “demand that elected officials take a stand” on impeaching President Trump.“A Republican Congress once impeached a president for far less, and today people in Congress and his own administration know that this president is a clear and present danger,” Steyer says in the ad, which directs viewers to a new NeedToImpeach website.The TV spot will be supplemented by a seven-figure social media buy.
Need to Impeach: ‘Join Us’ | Campaign video

Political mega-donor Tom Steyer launched a TV ad campaign to push officials to impeach President Trump. (Tom Steyer)

The campaign, which was previewed last week by the New York Times, is not a project of Steyer’s political organization, NextGen America. It is funded directly by Steyer, a donor who has not ruled out a run for office himself and who has built relationships with think tanks and elected Democrats in California and Washington.

Visitors to Steyer’s new website see a compilation of news articles about Trump’s decisions, and a long open letter from Steyer, with a litany of reasons for politicians to remove Trump from office. Finally, there is an offer to sign up with the campaign.

“He is repealing clean air protections and unleashing polluters, even as increasingly catastrophic natural disasters supercharged by our warming planet ravaged the country throughout the summer,” Steyer writes. “He has threatened to reduce aid for millions of American citizens in Puerto Rico who are struggling to survive without drinkable water or electricity — a move that would be a total dereliction of his duty. And every day, Americans are left bracing for a Twitter screed that could set off a nuclear war.”

To date, few elected Democrats have called for impeaching the president before the independent investigation headed by Robert S. Mueller III wraps up its work.

In the House, Reps. Al Green (D-Tex.) and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), two backbenchers from safe seats, have introduced articles of impeachment with no real hope of being adopted. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who once fended off liberal demands that her party impeach President George W. Bush, said this summer that Trump might well “self-impeach” as he tumbled from controversy to controversy.

Republicans, meanwhile, have looked at the impeachment chatter as a potential way to motivate their donors and base. At an August retreat in Wyoming organized by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), donors were warned that a Democratic takeover of the House would put Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) in charge of the House Oversight Committee, a perch where he could launch endless investigations with unlimited subpoena power.

But so far, talk about impeachment — or about invoking the 25th Amendment of the Constitution, which would allow the president’s Cabinet to remove him from office — has not been embraced by the Democratic Party’s leaders. Removing Trump after an impeachment in the House would take the votes of 67 senators, leading many Democrats to consider the issue a distraction.

Last Sunday, the publisher of Hustler magazine, Larry Flynt, put a full-page ad in The Washington Post offering $10 million for information leading to Trump’s “impeachment and removal from office.” In the wanted post-style ad, Flynt listed a range of accusations against Trump including “massive conflicts-of-interest” and “gross nepotism and appointment of unqualified persons to high office.”  

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