In Ilana Gershon’s new book “Down and Out in the New Economy,” the employer power dynamic is called into question.
Photo Credit: Lisa S.
The following is an adapted excerpt from the new book Down and Out in the New Economy: How People Find (or Don’t Find) Work Today by Ilana Gershon (University of Chicago Press, April 2017):
Chris, an independent contractor in his midfifties, knows a lot about what it means to deal with an unstable job market, especially during those moments when you are between gigs and don’t know when you are going to get the next one. There was a period in 2012 where he hadn’t had a contracting job for a while, and he had no idea how he was going to pay his rent. He realized he might be able to make his rent for another month, but if he didn’t get a job soon, he might be homeless. He decided that he needed to get his body ready for this very likely possibility. “I started to sleep on the floor a few hours each night, as long as I could take it, so I could get used to sleeping on a sidewalk or on the dirt. That’s how bad it looked. It just seemed hopeless,” Chris said. Out of the blue, a staffing agency based in India contacted him and offered him a contract in the Midwest, giving him enough money to make it through this bad patch. But this stark moment, in which he saw homelessness around the corner, is part and parcel of the downside of careers made up of temporary jobs. Chris responded to this possibility in the way that you are supposed to if you are constantly enhancing yourself. He began to train his body for living on the streets, realizing that he needed to learn how to sleep without a bed. He was determined to be flexible and to adapt to potential new circumstances. Seeing the self as a bundle of skills, in practice, means that for some people enhancing your skills involves training yourself to survive being homeless. This too is a logical outcome of our contemporary employment model.
I have studied how people are responding to this new way of thinking about work and what it means to be a worker. In the United States, people are moving away from thinking that when they enter into an employment contract, they are metaphorically renting their capacities to an employer for a bounded period of time. Many people are no longer using a notion of the self-as-rented-property as an underlying metaphor and are starting to think of themselves as though they are a business, although not everyone likes this new metaphor or accepts all its implications. When you switch to thinking about the employment contract as a business-to-business relationship, much changes—how you present yourself as a desirable employee, what it means to be a good employer, what your relationships with your coworkers should be like, the relationship between a job and a career, and how you prepare yourself for the future.
The self-as-business metaphor makes a virtue of flexibility as well as the practical ways people might respond in their daily lives to conditions of instability and insecurity. As Gina Neff points out in Venture Labor, the model encourages people to embrace risk as a positive, even sought-out, element of how they individually should craft a career. Each time you switch jobs, you risk. You don’t know the amount of time you will have at a job before having to find a new one, and you risk how lucky you will be at getting that job and the next job. And with every job transition, you risk the salary that you might make. If there is a gap between jobs, then some people will find that they no longer experience a reliable, steady, upward trajectory in their salaries as they navigate the contemporary job market. Yet this is what you are now supposed to embrace as liberating.
Chris’s experiences cycling between employment and increasing periods of unemployment was a familiar story for me. I interviewed so many people in their late forties to early sixties who had a few permanent jobs early in their careers. But as companies increasingly focused on having a more transient workforce, these white-collar workers found their career trajectories veering from what they first thought their working life would look like. They thought that they might climb the organizational ladder in one or maybe even three companies over the course of their lifetime. Instead, they found that at some point in their mid to late forties, they started having shorter and shorter stints at different companies. The jobs, some would say, would last as long as a project. And as they grew older, the gaps between permanent jobs could start growing longer and longer. They struggled to make do, often using up their savings or selling their homes as they hoped to get the next job. Some started to find consulting jobs in order to make ends meet before landing the hoped-for permanent job, and then found themselves trapped on the consulting track—living only in the gig economy. True, not everyone felt like contracting was plan B, the option they had to take because of bad luck. In their book about contractors, Steve Barley and Gideon Kunda talk about the people they interviewed who actively chose this life. I met these people too, but they weren’t the majority of the job seekers I interviewed. Because I was studying people looking for a wide range of types of jobs, instead of studying people who already had good relationships with staffing agencies that provided consultants, I tended to meet people who felt their bad luck had backed them into becoming permanent freelancers. These were people who encountered the self-as-business metaphor as a relatively new model, one they felt they actively had to learn in order to survive in today’s workplace, as opposed to the younger people I interviewed, many of whom had grown up with the self-as-business model as their primary way to understand employment.
When you think of the employment contract in a new way, you often have to revisit what counts as moral behavior, since older frameworks offer substantively different answers to questions of moral business practice. People have to decide what it means for a company to behave well under this new framework. Consider the self-as-business model. What does a good company do to help its workers enhance themselves as allied businesses? What are the limits in what a company should do? What counts as exploitation under this new model? Can businesses do things that count as exploitation or bad practices now that might not have been considered problems earlier, or not considered problems for the same reasons (and thus are regulated or resolved differently)? Businesses are certainly deeply concerned that workers’ actions both at work and outside of work could threaten the company’s brand, a new worry—but this is the tip of the iceberg. And the moral behavior of companies isn’t the only issue. Can workers exploit the companies they align with now or behave badly toward them in new ways?
Yet while these two metaphors—the self-as-property and the self-as-business—encourage people to think about employment in different ways, there are still similarities in how the metaphors ask people to think about getting hired. In both cases, the metaphors are focusing on market choices and asking people to operate by a market logic. Deciding whether to rent your capacities is a slightly different question than deciding whether to enter into a business alliance with someone, but in both instances you are expected to make a decision based on the costs and benefits involved in the decision. In addition, both metaphorical contracts presume that people enter into these contracts as equals, and yet this equality doesn’t last in practice once you are hired. In most jobs, the moment you are hired, you are in a hierarchical relationship; you are taking orders from a boss. Some aspects of working have changed because of this shift in frameworks, but many aspects have stayed the same.
Avoiding Corporate Nostalgia
I talked to people who were thoughtfully ambivalent about this transition in the metaphors underlying employment. They didn’t like their current insecurity, but they pointed out that earlier workplaces weren’t ideal either. Before, people often felt trapped in jobs they disliked and confronted with office politics that were alienating and demoralizing. Like many people today, they dealt with companies in which they were constantly encountering sexism and racism. Not everyone had equal opportunities to move into the jobs they wanted or to be promoted or acknowledged for the work that they did well.
However, as anthropologist Karen Ho points out, when you have a corporate ladder that excludes certain groups of people, you also have a structure that you can potentially reform so that these groups will in the future have equal opportunities. When you have no corporate ladder—when all you have is the uncertainty of moving between companies or between freelance jobs—you no longer have a clear structure to target if you want to make a workplace a fairer environment. If there is more gender equality in the US workplace these days than there was thirty years ago, it is in part because corporate structures were stable enough and reformers stayed at companies long enough that specific business practices could be effectively targeted and reformed. Part of what has changed about workplaces today is that there has been a transformation in the kinds of solutions available to solve workplace problems.
I see what people said to me about their preference for the kinds of guarantees and rights people used to have at work as a form of critique, not a form of nostalgia. People didn’t necessarily want to return to the way things used to be. When people talked to me nostalgically about how workplaces used to function, it was often because they valued the protections they used to be able to rely on and a system they knew well enough to be able to imagine how to change it for the better.
Many people I spoke to were very unhappy with the contemporary workplace’s increasing instability. They worried a great deal about making it financially through the longer and longer dry spells of unemployment between jobs. I talked to a man who was doing reasonably well that year as a consultant, and he began reflecting on what the future would hold for his children. He didn’t want them to follow in his footsteps and become a computer programmer, because too many people like him were contingent workers. He wanted them to have their own families and reasoned: “If everybody thinks they can be laid-off in two weeks, how would they feel confident enough to be a parent and know that they’ve got twenty-one years of consistent investment?”
It is not that the people I spoke to necessarily wanted older forms of work. What many wanted was stability. No matter how many times people are told to embrace being flexible, to embrace risk, in practice many of the people I spoke to did not actually want to live with the downsides of this riskier life. The United States does not have enough safety nets in place to protect you during the moments when life doesn’t work out. Because you are supposed to be looking for a new job regularly over the course of a lifetime, the opportunities when you might become dramatically downwardly mobile increase. There are more possible moments in which you have to enhance your skills at surviving on much less money or even living rough.
Changing Notions of What Counts as a Good Employment Relationship
When people are thought of as businesses, significant aspects of the employment relationship change. The genre repertoire you use to get a job alters to reflect this understanding as you use resumes, interview answers, and other genres to represent yourself as a bundle of business solutions that can address the hiring company’s market-specific temporary needs. Networking has changed—what it means to manage your social relationships so that you can stay employed has shifted. Some people I met are now arguing that you treat the companies you are considering joining in the same way you would treat any other business investment: in terms of the financial and career risk involved in being allied with this company.
It is not just that you evaluate jobs differently when you know that your job is temporary—deciding you can put up with some kinds of inconveniences but not others. Instead, you see the job as a short-term investment of time and labor, and the job had better pay off—perhaps by providing you with new skills, new networks, or a new way of framing your work experiences that makes you potentially more desirable for the next job. What if this new framework allows workers to have new expectations of their employers, or can safeguard workers’ interests in new ways? If you have this perspective, what are the new kinds of demands that employees could potentially make of employers?
For Tom, this new vision of self-as-business was definitely guiding how he was judging the ways companies treated him and what was appropriate behavior. I first contacted Tom because I heard through the grapevine that he refused to use LinkedIn. I was curious, as I had been doing research for seven months by that point and only came across one other person who was not using LinkedIn (and has since rejoined). We talked about his refusal, and he explained to me that LinkedIn didn’t seem to offer enough in return for his data. He clearly saw himself in an exchange relationship with LinkedIn, providing data for it to use and in return having access to the platform. Fair enough, I thought: as far as I can tell, the data scientists at LinkedIn and Facebook whom I have met see the exchange relationship in similar ways. Yet Tom decided that what LinkedIn offered wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t worth providing the company with his personal data. So I asked him about various other sites that he might use in which the exchange might be more equitable, and he lit up talking about these other sites. For Tom, because he saw himself as a business, and viewed his data as part of his assets, he was ready to see LinkedIn as offering a bad business arrangement, one he didn’t want to accept. The self-as-business framework allowed him to see the use of certain platforms as instances of participating in business alliances. Some alliances he was willing to enter into, but not all.
This wasn’t his only encounter with a potentially exploitative business arrangement. He typically worked as an independent contractor, and a company asked him to come in for a job interview. When he got there, his interviewer explained that the position was a sweat equity job—Tom wouldn’t get a salary, but rather he would get equity in the company in exchange for his labor. “Okay” he replied. “So what is your business model?” His interviewer was surprised and discomforted to be asked this. He refused to answer; employees don’t need to know the details of the company’s business model, he said. Tom felt that this was wrong; because he was being asked to be an investor in the company—admittedly with his labor instead of with money—he felt should be given the same financial details that any other investor in a company would expect before signing on. It sounded to me like Tom’s interviewer was caught between two models: wanting the possible labor arrangements now available but unwilling to adjust whom he told what. The interviewer was not willing to follow through on the implications of this new model of employment, and as a result, Tom wasn’t willing to take the job. This is one way in which the self-as-business model offers a new way to talk about what counts as exploitation and as inappropriate behavior—behavior that might not have been an issue decades ago, or would have been a problem for different reasons (perhaps because a couple of decades ago, few people found sweat equity an acceptable arrangement).
But this new model also opens up the possibility that companies can have obligations to their employees that they did not have in the same way before. Since companies often don’t offer stable employment, they now provide a temporary venue for people to express their passion and to enhance themselves. Can this look like an obligation that businesses have to their workers? Perhaps—businesses could take seriously what it means to provide workers with the opportunities to enhance themselves. Michael Feher argues that if people are now supposed to see themselves as human capital, there should be a renewed focus on what good investment in people looks like—regardless of whether workers stay at a single company.
Should companies now help provide training for an employee’s next job? Throughout the twentieth century, companies understood that they had to provide their workers training in order for them to do their job at the company to their best of their ability. Internal training made sense both for the company’s immediate interests and for the company’s ability to retain a supply of properly trained workers over the life of the company. Now that jobs are so temporary, who is responsible for training workers is a bit more up in the air. Yet some companies are beginning to offer support for workers to train, not for the benefit of the company, but so that workers can pursue their passion, should they discover that working at that company is not their passion. Amazon, for example, in 2012 began to provide training for employees who potentially want radically different jobs. Jeff Bezos explained in his 2014 letter to shareholders: “We pre-pay 95% of tuition for our employees to take courses for in-demand fields, such as airplane mechanic or nursing, regardless of whether the skills are relevant to a career at Amazon. The goal is to enable choice.” It makes sense for a company to support its workers learning skills for a completely different career only under the contemporary perspective that people are businesses following their passions in temporary alliances with companies.
This model of self-as-business might give workers some new language to protest business practices that keep them from enhancing themselves or entering into as many business alliances as they would like. For example, just-in-time scheduling in practice is currently preventing retail workers from getting enough hours so that they can earn as much as they would like to in a week. This type of scheduling means that workers only find out that week how many hours they are working and when. They can’t expect to have certain hours reliably free, and they need to be available whenever their employer would like them to work. Marc Doussard has found that good workers are rewarded with more hours at work. While white-collar workers might get better pay in end-of-the-year bonuses for seeming passionate, retail workers get more hours in the week. If workers make special requests to have certain hours, Doussard discovered, their managers will often punish them in response, by either giving them fewer hours to work or only assigning them to shifts they find undesirable. In practice, this means that workers have trouble holding two jobs or taking classes to improve themselves, as unpredictable shifts will inevitably conflict with each other or class times. Predictable work hours, in short, are essential for being able to plan for the future—either to make sure you are working enough hours in the week to support yourself or to educate yourself for other types of jobs. Since companies are now insisting that people imagine themselves as businesses, what would happen if workers protested when companies don’t allow them to “invest” in themselves or when they are thwarted from having as many business partnerships (that is, jobs) as possible? Perhaps employees should now be able to criticize and change employers’ practices when they are prevented from being the best businesses they can be because of their employers’ workplace strategies.
This has been an adapted excerpt from the new book Down and Out in the New Economy: How People Find (or Don’t Find) Work Today by Ilana Gershon (University of Chicago Press, April 2017).
28 April 2017
In presenting the administration’s tax plan at a White House press briefing on Wednesday, Trump’s top economic advisers, Gary Cohn (net worth $610 million) and Steven Mnuchin ($500 million), both former Goldman Sachs bankers, could barely contain their glee over the prospect of a massive transfer of wealth to themselves and their fellow oligarchs.
Cohn, the director of Trump’s National Economic Council, set the tone, gushing: “This is quite an historic day for us and one that we’ve been looking forward to for a long time… We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do something really big.”
The “really big something,” as the one-page handout to reporters made clear, is a plundering operation that will shift trillions of dollars from the federal Treasury to the bank accounts of the rich and the super-rich. The aim, besides adding to the obscene wealth of the financial aristocracy, is to starve and eventually eliminate basic social programs such as Medicare and Social Security.
The proposals outlined by Cohn and Mnuchin include:
• Abolishing taxes that impact only the rich, such as the estate tax, the alternative minimum tax and a capital gains surcharge for Obamacare;
• Cutting the corporate tax rate as well as the rate for business profits taken as personal income from 35 percent to 15 percent; and
• Reducing the top income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent.
The administration is also proposing to eliminate the taxation of profits made by US-based corporations outside the country, along with a one-time tax incentive for corporations to repatriate trillions of dollars in profits held in offshore accounts.
The list of demands totaled a mere 200 words. In reality, the agenda could have been summed up in just four: “We want more money!”
The corporate-financial elite is particularly fixated on abolishing the estate tax. This is because it wants to nail down for its great grandkids everything it has stolen in the past. This tax on inherited wealth, established in 1916, has been repeatedly watered down, but the billionaire parasites want it wiped off the books to establish themselves as an American royalty.
Trump and his Goldman Sachs advisers are resorting to shameless lying to promote the tax scheme. Mnuchin, who appeared on the three network morning news programs on Thursday, insisted that the tax plan will benefit working and middle-class people, not the rich. “This isn’t about a dramatic tax cut for the wealthy,” he asserted. “It’s a middle class income tax cut to create American jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs.”
He also repeated the ridiculous claim that the multitrillion-dollar cost of the plan will not increase the federal debt because it will pay for itself through increased economic growth. An independent analysis of Trump’s campaign tax plan, similar to the proposal presented Wednesday, estimated that it would raise the federal debt by an additional $7 trillion in the first decade and $21 trillion by 2036.
The massive transfer of wealth will not go to investment, but to acquiring bigger diamonds; more luxurious mansions, yachts and private jets; new private islands; more security guards and better-protected gated communities to segregate the financial nobility from the masses whom they despise and fear.
A portion of the money stolen from the working class will be used to buy more politicians and reporters to keep the democratic façade going.
The official “debate” on the tax scheme will be nothing more than a smokescreen for implementing virtually all the tax proposals. The Democrats are no less the lackeys of Wall Street than Trump and the Republicans. The Obama White House proposed a cut in the corporate tax rate to 28 percent and repeatedly granted tax breaks to big business as the centerpiece of its phony “jobs” programs.
Even as the Trump administration was rolling out its tax plan, it was reported that Obama, following in the footsteps of the Clintons, had agreed to speak at a Wall Street event in return for $400,000 fee. Payment for services rendered.
It is nearly half a century since the Democratic Party abandoned any policy of social reform, which it adopted under the pressure of mass struggles of the working class. The increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the rich, abetted by changes in the tax structure, has been underway for decades, carried out by Democratic-controlled Congresses and Democratic as well as Republican administrations.
As a result, the corporate tax accounted for just 10.6 percent of the federal government’s revenue in 2015, down from a third in the 1950s. Today, two-thirds of active corporations pay no corporate tax. Large profitable corporations pay an average rate of 14 percent, and some of the biggest companies pay nothing.
The Trump administration marks the emergence of government of, by and for the oligarchy in the purest form. But Trump is no aberration and he did not emerge from outer space. He is the noxious outcome of decades of social counterrevolution.
Obama handed to Trump a country in which the annual income of the top 1 percent ($1.3 million) is more than three times what it was in the 1980s, while the pre-tax income of the bottom 50 percent ($16,000) has not changed in real terms. The share of national income going to the top 1 percent rose from 12 percent to 20 percent over that period, while that of the bottom 50 percent fell from 20 percent to 12 percent.
In human terms, this translates into a society wracked by social crisis and vast suffering, with tens of millions unemployed or consigned to poverty-wage, part-time jobs, life expectancy declining, and drug abuse and suicide rates soaring. Entire generations of young people are condemned to lives of economic insecurity, forced to live with their parents and postpone getting married or having children. The elderly face the destruction of their health and retirement benefits.
And all of this to sustain the meaningless and corrupt lives of a small elite of financial parasites!
With the people of America and the world facing ever worsening social conditions and the looming threat of world war, the top priority of the political establishment is to hand over trillions more to the wealthy elite. This shows that no social problem can be tackled without directly confronting the oligarchy, breaking its power and seizing its wealth so that it can be used to meet social needs.
The American oligarchy, steeped in criminality and parasitism, can produce only a government of war, social reaction and repression. In its blind avarice, it is creating the conditions for unprecedented social upheavals. It is hurtling toward its own revolutionary demise at the hands of the working class.
Here are nine people who will lose their coverage under Trumpcare and one who won’t:
1. a diabetic
2. a cancer survivor
3. an asthmatic
4. someone with allergies
5. a heart disease patient
6. an HIV/AIDS patient
7. someone with chronic lung disease
8. someone with Cystic Fibrosis
9. someone with Multiple Sclerosis
10. any member of Congress
Dr Cathleen Greenberg
Oregon Health & Science University
Residency Family Medicine
Yale University School of Medicine
By street artist c215
A New Poll Suggests the Answer May Be Yes
Photo Credit: George Sheldon / Shutterstock.com
Are tens of millions of Americans really this stupid? If the findings from a new poll are any indication, then the answer is yes:
There’s no honeymoon for Donald Trump in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll but also no regrets: He approaches his 100th day in office with the lowest approval rating at this point of any other president in polls since 1945 — yet 96 percent of those who supported him in November say they’d do so again today …
Among those who report having voted for [Trump] in November, 96 percent today say it was the right thing to do; a mere 2 percent regret it. And if a rerun of the election were held today, the poll indicates even the possibility of a Trump victory in the popular vote among 2016 voters.
This is despite all the lies Donald Trump has told and all the campaign promises he has betrayed: He has not “drained the swamp” of lobbyists and corporate fat cats, has not built his “huge” and “amazing” wall along the Mexican-American border, has not returned jobs to the United States and has not repealed the Affordable Care Act. Indeed, as of day 100 of his presidency Trump has fulfilled few of his main campaign promises.
Moreover, that 96 percent of Trump’s voters would make the same decision again despite overwhelming evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin interfered in the 2016 presidential election with the goal of installing Trump as a puppet candidate raises many troubling questions about how tens of millions of American voters were “flipped” by a foreign power to act against their own country.
It is easy to mock Donald Trump’s voters and suggest that their loyalty reflects poorly on their intelligence and capacity for rational thinking. Before doing so, one should consider the following data about Hillary Clinton’s voters:
Among surveyed Americans who say they voted in the 2016 election, 46 percent say they voted for Hillary Clinton and 43 percent for Trump — very close to the 2-point margin in the popular vote. However, while Trump would retain almost all of his support if the election were held again today (96 percent), fewer of Clinton’s supporters say they’d stick with her (85 percent), producing a 40-43 percent Clinton-Trump result in a hypothetical redo among self-reported 2016 voters.
That’s not because former Clinton supporters would now back Trump; only 2 percent of them say they’d do so, similar to the 1 percent of Trump voters who say they’d switch to Clinton. Instead, they’re more apt to say they’d vote for a third-party candidate or wouldn’t vote.
Donald Trump is the antithesis of what Hillary Clinton’s voters desired in a candidate. And in many ways Donald Trump’s incompetent, ignorant, reckless, racist, demagogic and cruel behavior in office is worse than even his most concerned and cynical critics predicted. This outcome should motivate Clinton’s voters to be more engaged and more active, instead of as making a hypothetical decision, in a hypothetical election, that might actually give Trump a victory in the popular vote.
The findings from this new poll are troubling. But they should not come as a surprise.
Political scientists and other researchers have repeatedly documented that the American public does not have a sophisticated knowledge of political matters. The average American also does not use a coherent and consistent political ideology to make voting decisions. As Larry Bartels and Christopher Achen demonstrate in their new book “Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government,” Americans have identities and values that elites manipulate, which voters in turn use to process information — however incorrectly.
While some groups of voters may apply decision-rules based on either single issues or concerns about their community and its progress (African-Americans fit this model, for instance), American voters en masse are not rational actors who seriously consider the available information, develop knowledge and expertise about their own specific political concerns, and then make political choices that would maximize those goals.
These matters are further complicated when considering right-wing voters. While Trump may have failed in most of his policy goals, he has succeeded symbolically in terms of his racist and nativist crusade against people of color and Muslims. Given the centrality of racism and white supremacy in today’s Republican Party specifically, and movement conservatism more generally, Trump’s hostility to people of color can be counted as a type of “success” by his racially resentful white voters.
American conservatives and right-leaning independents are also ensconced in an alternative news media universe that rejects empirical reality. A combination of disinformation and outright lies from the right-wing media, in combination with “fake news” circulated online by Russian operatives and others, has conditioned Trump voters and other Republicans to make decisions with no basis in fact. American conservatives do however possess a surplus of incorrect information. In that context, their political decisions may actually make sense to them: This is a version of “garbage in, garbage out.”
Republican voters also tend to be have more authoritarian views than the general public. As a type of motivated social cognition, conservatism is typified by deference to authority, group-think, conformity, social dominance behavior, and hostility to new experiences and new information. These attributes combine to make Trump voters less likely to regret supporting him and in some cases — because of a phenomenon known as “information backfire” — to become more recalcitrant when shown that Trump’s policies have failed in practice.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll also signals a deeper problem. In different ways, both Trump and Clinton voters appear unable to connect their personal political decisions to questions of institutional power and political outcomes. This is a crisis of civic literacy that threatens the foundations of American democracy.
For example, many of Trump’s voters know that his policies will hurt people like them. Yet they still support Trump anyway. The Clinton supporters who reported that they either would not participate or would choose a third candidate if they were able to vote again are making a decision that would make matters worse, by effectively guaranteeing that Trump — the candidate they claim to reject — would be elected.
This is but one more reminder that Donald Trump’s victory was not a sudden crisis or unexpected surprise. The neofascist movement that Trump represents was an iceberg of sorts — one that was a long time in the making. If this new poll is correct, many millions of Americans would make choices that would steer the ship of state into that same iceberg all over again. Such an outcome is ominous. The thought process that would rationalize such a decision is deranged.
Yale historian Timothy Snyder has argued that a democracy has approximately one year to reverse course if it has succumbed to fascism and authoritarianism. America’s civic literacy crisis may mean that the country has even less time than Snyder’s prediction suggests.
Posted on Apr 26, 2017
By Theodore A. Postol
Theodore A. Postol is professor emeritus of science, technology and national security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a specialist in weapons issues. At the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, he advised on missile basing, and he later was a scientific consultant to the chief of naval operations at the Pentagon. He is a recipient of the Leo Szilard Prize from the American Physical Society and the Hilliard Roderick Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and he was awarded the Norbert Wiener Award from Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility for uncovering numerous and important false claims about missile defenses.
I have been examining the possibility that the April 4 attack in which a number of Syrian civilians and animals were killed, apparently by some kind of poison, hit an ammunition dump as claimed by the Russians. Videos taken on the morning of the attack show explosive debris clouds from four targets that were hit and provide strong circumstantial evidence that this Russian explanation could be true.
One of the clouds is quite distinctly different from all the others. The stem of this debris cloud has a base area that is five or more times larger than the cloud-stem bases of the other bomb debris clouds. The evidence is consistent with the possibility that this debris cloud was created by an initial explosion, followed by a series of secondary explosions. This situation would be expected if the site was, in fact, an ammunition dump.
Evidence of bomb hit on possible ammunition and chemical storage site.
I also have looked up data on poisonous gases that could be generated by the combustion of plastics, and have inspected photographs of the dead and dying from the Bhopal, India, chemical accident of Dec. 2-3, 1984. Many of the symptoms of the victims from the Bhopal catastrophe are similar in appearance to those observed in victims of the attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria.
Images of poisoned victims of the gas release from a chemical pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, on Dec. 2-3, 1984.
In Bhopal, the gases released were not only extremely toxic but also were capable of burning the skin and eyes. The immediate and most deadly effect of these gases was when they were inhaled. The gases reacted with water in the lungs and created a large generation of fluids that caused victims to drown in their own lung fluids. This effect led to some victims showing foaming at the mouth and nose—an effect that can be generated from many toxic gases and is not unique to nerve agents.
There is no apparent evidence of burns from caustic gases in the pictures of alleged victims from the Khan Shaykhun event. However, the case of Bhopal is distinctly different because of a particular pesticide component that was released during the accident. There is no doubt that a simple mass fire that involves plastics can produce very dangerous materials like phosgene, carbonyl chloride, hydrogen cyanide, and a variety of highly toxic and dangerous organic compounds. One could expect a considerably more toxic release of gases if an ammunition dump was hit, a facility where a variety of chemicals could be stored, including precursors for the production of nerve agents.
Summary of toxic gases that can be created from combusting plastics. Does not include toxic gases that can be created from other materials released in accompanying explosions.
This evidence is not proof that the Russian explanation for a mass poisoning is correct. But given that there is no evidence to support the American alternative explanation—a sarin release from an airdropped munition at a site identified by the White House Intelligence Report—this additional data does provide some information that is relevant to the ongoing discussions on this matter.
Theodore A. Postol can be reached at email@example.com.