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Stopping Chicago's Proposed $95 Million Police Academy in Its Tracks

Truthout - Tue, 11/21/2017 - 07:51

Better police training does not take away from the fact that the police force is inherently violent, and has roots in anti-Black oppression, says Chicago artist and organizer Monica Trinidad. A city-wide coalition of Black activist groups led by Assata's Daughters is going all out to fight the $95 million boondoggle being built on the backs of much-needed public schools and social services.

Speakers against the police academy at City Hall on the day of the vote for land use, November 8, 2017. (Photo: Matt McLoughlin)

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We're now several months into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators, not only about how to resist, but how to build a better world. Today's interview is the 92st in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with Monica Trinidad, an artist and organizer born and raised in Chicago who is currently organizing with For the People Artists Collective and also the People's Response Team.

Sarah Jaffe: We are here to talk about one particular campaign happening in Chicago right now, which is around the construction of a new police academy. To start off with, tell our listeners what that is and, in particular, what they are budgeting for it.

Monica Trinidad: Over Fourth of July weekend, Rahm Emanuel, who is a really awful, awful mayor, threw out this proposal to build a $95 million police academy. He originally framed it as a public safety training center. That is sort of the messaging he is using in mainstream news outlets. Really, what it is, is $95 million for a new fancy shiny building for the police force here in Chicago, in a city where we already spend $1.5 billion on police every year.

That is $4 million every single day that goes into policing from our city budget. That is about 300 percent more than the Department of Public Health, on family and support services, on development, housing, shelters, things like that.

Basically, he tried to slide this under the radar on Fourth of July weekend thinking nobody would pay attention. But we did. We saw it and were like, "No, this is not what we need in our community right now. This is not what we are asking for." The No Cop Academy campaign is an effort that is supported by community organizations from across the city. There are about 40 organizations right now that are part of this coalition.

We are saying that $95 million needs to be invested in our communities and not in more police training and more police training grounds, for example. The campaign is being led by Assata's Daughters, which is a young Black women and femme organization in Washington Park. It is also in coalition with the People's Response Team, For the People Artists Collective, Black Lives Matter Chicago, BYP 100; the list is incredibly long. The campaign is only about two months old now. It started as a rapid response campaign and it still is, but now we see that this is longer than we had expected and so now we are in it for the long run.

(Photo: Matt McLoughlin)

Some of the money that Chicago spends on policing is on paying out settlements over police violence. Take us through the recent history of the Chicago Police Department and Rahm Emanuel's involvement.

In Chicago, in this year alone, I think 14 people have been shot and killed by the Chicago Police Department. We know that a huge amount of money goes toward settlements. We are hearing these arguments from aldermen that, "Well, if we have better police training, we won't have to be paying out all of these big huge settlements." That is not necessarily true, when you think about policing and the police force as inherently violent, as having roots in oppression and being anti-Black.

When you think about the ways in which we are talking about this police training center and how this is going to be better for our city, we are saying, "Absolutely not." This is not where our money needs to be going. Our money needs to be put into resources. In a time when Rahm closed over 50 schools in 2013, six of them in that neighborhood where they want to build that police academy. It is very clear that Rahm is saying he is supporting schools and resources for cops, but not for the Black kids.

We are trying to say that real community safety is coming from fully funded schools and mental health centers and job training programs and social and economic justice in our communities. Not these expanded resources for policing.

A lot of us that are involved in this current coalition, we were part of We Charge Genocide, which was an effort in Chicago in 2014 where we went to Geneva, Switzerland to go to the United Nations to submit a report on the huge amount of police violence being committed against young people of color in our city. We were there, we did direct action inside of the United Nations calling attention to the murder of Dominique "Damo" Franklin. His family recently got paid out about $200,000 in a settlement for wrongful death.

This cycle keeps repeating over and over where we see somebody is murdered by the Chicago police. There is a huge settlement that gets paid out. Then it happens ... again. If they think that opening up a brand new police academy is going to stop this, then they are just entirely wrong.

This kind of campaign follows from the invest/divest framework that has been discussed a lot in the last couple of years. Could you talk a little bit more about that framework and why it has been effective for previous campaigns, and particularly for this one?

Even from just an artist perspective -- something that Chicago is really, really good at is really understanding the role that art plays in organizing and activist spaces, understanding the importance of the cultural worker, understanding the importance that opening up our imaginations to endless possibilities of a world outside of what we are actually existing in right now is so crucial in our campaigns and moving forward in them. So, when we think about $95 million, we are like, "What could we actually be doing with that money?"

There is so much we could be doing with that money! It is just absurd that they want to put more money into the police department when $95 million could pay for running 259 mental health clinics in our city. It could mean one brand new high school. A new school in Englewood would cost $75 million. It could build six new Chicago Public Library branches; $15 million is the cost for a new library that happened in Chinatown.

We are being given this one option from our city that says, "Oh, we are going to give you more policing." Then, people say, "Okay" because everybody wants more. More, more, more. We want resources. But no one is stopping and asking our communities, "What would you actually like to see done with $95 million?" That is where we are coming in and informing our communities and saying, "Here are all the things that we could actually incredibly benefit from in our city and here is what they are proposing." This is not okay. This is not right.

And, also, just making it clear that this isn't a transparent process. This plan was well developed long before it even was made public. And there has been no public comment or input at all whatsoever on the plan at any stage. We are making this clear to our communities that this plan is being put forward without our input in a time when our mayor is saying that the city is broke. But apparently, he can find money when he wants to.

That is where we are coming from with the invest/divest. Let's ask our communities and folks that are directly impacted by a lot of the violence that is happening and say, "What actually would make this violence stop?" That would be job training, that would be after-school programs. I think that imagination piece is what is often missing in the conversations around what we could actually invest our money in.

The beautiful organizing that happens in Chicago is being able to expand our imaginations and to demand the impossible, to demand what people think is not ever going to happen and being like, "Yes. It is. If we just believe it and work for it and think about it, we could actually achieve what we want."

Tell us about this coalition that is working on this and how it came together.

Just last year we had the #ByeAnita campaign. That was a campaign to oust our state's attorney Anita Alvarez who was blocking any sort of progress in moving forward in any sort of justice in our city. It was also at a time when the Laquan McDonald video came out. We know that she played a huge role in keeping that undercover and under wraps. We came together as an organization being led by Black women and fems of Assata's Daughters and fearless leading by the youth and said, "Bye" and she is out.

It also comes from working together with people within the reparations ordinance fight. Those are some of the same people ... [who] won reparations after 20 years for Jon Burge torture survivors in our city and won a huge package. A huge financial package. A memorial should be going up soon, which is one of the first of its kind ... dedicated to people that have been victims of police violence. That is something just unheard of. Then, also, including this history in Chicago Public School curriculum. It is this huge, huge success.

Some of the same people that were part of We Charge Genocide and charging Chicago Police Department with genocide ... are involved with this coalition. Again, I want to emphasize that this is being led by young Black people, in particular, by Assata's Daughters. We are taking cues and taking the lead from young Black people that are saying, "This is not what we want. We do not want more police harassment and violence. We want money for the schools." That is how it came together.

It started out very small. We knew that this was being hidden from the public, so we really just wanted to make some noise about it. We put out a statement and we did a press conference and sort of just hoped for the best. Then, so many organizations started reaching out to us to endorse the campaign, organizations that we haven't worked with before. Education and economic justice groups were reaching out to us and being like, "Yes, this is exactly what we are saying." It was really a beautiful moment where we thought, "Wow, we could really build a huge coalition of organizations across ... our city to demand better for our city."

We are about 40 organizations strong now and still growing every day. We get at least three or four requests to endorse per day and press coverage across the country. It has really taken off. I really think that it shows the desperation that our communities have, that we are like "This $95 million does not make any sense."

What we want is accountability and something that keeps coming up is the Department of Justice coming to Chicago and giving us their 99 recommendations. Can they tell me how many recommendations have been taken care of that will decrease the violence that police are perpetrating on our communities? No. What they are doing first and foremost is creating a $95 million shiny new building. What we are saying is that we want accountability, not a new facility, and we want transparency.

You mentioned the Justice Department and, of course, Donald Trump loves to use Chicago as his example of a place where there is all this violence. Rahm Emanuel wanted to be one of the people who was resisting Trump, whatever that means, but when you look at this kind of thing, his priorities are not actually that different.

Absolutely. You hear Rahm talking about being a sanctuary city and a place where police never cooperate and never collaborate with ICE. We are like, "Wrong. That is absolutely wrong and you are a liar."

We have a Chicago gang database. Nobody knows how you get on this database. Nobody knows how to get off this database. It is just this arbitrary, non-transparent database [that] people get put on ... and that is one of the exceptions to police and ICE collaborating. BYP 100 Chicago and Mijente are doing a lot of work, a lot of brilliant work in Chicago to really amplify that and to really expose that.

He is such a liar when it comes to being the antithesis to Donald Trump. He is using Trump politics. He is Chicago's Trump, basically. I think that is another narrative that we want to disrupt as a campaign.

There was just a city council meeting to vote on the police academy. Talk about what went on at the city council meeting and then, what the next steps are.

There was a city council vote last week. Basically, 48-1 voted in favor of the land acquisition ... 30 acres of vacant land for that academy. The one sole alderman who opposed it was Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa from the 35th Ward. He gave a speech about how police training isn't going to solve problems that are being highlighted in the Justice Department report and that we don't need more training, we need more money for mental health services and schools and not for a police academy.

It is so interesting. We are very new to working and being involved in the city council process. I think it is very muddled and very confusing on purpose. When we went in, we were like, "Okay, let's get our people in to make public comments against the police academy because we know that it is going to be up for vote today. So, let's get in line. Okay. How do we make a comment? What do we do? What do we fill out?"

Also, I am sure many people have heard that Chance the Rapper came out to oppose the police academy, as well. He was there. He gave his three-minute opposition to the police academy. There were also folks from NTA, which is a school in Chicago that is also facing closure. There were about 100 NTA students ... demanding that their school remain open. They also plugged us and said, "No police academy. Fund our schools. Not this."

Then, there were also folks ... from Uptown Tent City who are basically calling out their alderman James Cappleman who is harassing the homeless and taking away their ability to have a tent community in Uptown area. They were also saying, "No cop academy. Create homeless shelters and create housing for homeless people."

So, we have all these different people that are all saying, "We are opposed to this police academy." Then, when the time for the vote comes up, you have all of these aldermen that are saying why they support the police academy. And before this, there were all these different line items that were just being voted on and passed, voted on and passed, voted on and passed. We really believe that this land acquisition vote, which was also just a line item, would have just had that vote and been done with had we not been making the noise that we have been making. Then, they spent an hour defending this police academy being built. I don't think they would have done that if we weren't there.

This wasn't a surprise, the way they were going to vote. Especially knowing that this entire process hasn't been transparent, without public comment, and the way that city council works is not about democracy. So, we already knew this wasn't going to happen the way that we wanted, but I think that we were really just curious to see what was going to happen inside of the city council.

And we said, "Okay, next steps. Let's focus on putting pressure on the aldermen." Not that voting is going to change anything, but showing these alderman that people felt really polarized about this campaign and where their alderman stood. After this vote happened, my Facebook wall was flooded with people who were being like, "How dare my alderman vote for this police academy! I am committing to voting you out in 2019."

So, you are seeing this huge surge in constituent power that is happening right now. People are really pissed off and are committing to recreating the #ByeAnita campaign for all of these different aldermen. I think that these aldermen really made a huge mistake and miscalculated their decision in which way their vote went.

Do you know what the next steps are or where the next opportunities to stop this are?

Yes, it is not a done deal yet. They still have to find a contractor. They still have to figure out financing. This building is not a done deal yet, because they still don't know exactly how they are going to pay for the project. They are still about $37 million short. I think that is also a huge area of question, of "How can we organize around that?"

It is going to be brought back to city council in March. So, there is still time to organize around that. And I think there is still time to turn aldermen around and stop it. We are re-strategizing, we are re-grouping, and figuring out the next steps.

Even if this police academy gets built, I think we have already won. I think we have already been successful in really exposing the ways that the city really doesn't care what its community members think or what its constituents think. They are still going to do whatever Rahm says to do and exposing that is something that we have really been successful at.

I think it is really giving room to have conversations around abolition, to have conversations around alternatives to policing, alternatives to prisons. It is really building up power amongst our different communities and friends and building a united front against the things that are harming our communities. And changing the narrative. I think that is something we have been really successful at in this campaign so far.

Right in the beginning, Rahm was trying to call this [a] public safety training center and that was the language that was being utilized universally in the news. Now, it is being referred to as the "cop academy." Now it is being referred to as exactly what it is. I think, in that sense, we have also won by changing the narrative. Now, next steps are keeping the pressure on.

How can people keep up with you and with the campaign?

People can visit us at www.NoCopAcademy.wordpress.com. We post a lot of updates on the People's Response Team Facebook page, Assata's Daughters' Facebook page, and For the People Artists Collective Facebook page. Lots of updates there. If people want to get on the endorser's list, if you are an organization in Chicago that wants to join us, you can email us at nocopacademy@gmail.com.

Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.

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Categories: Latest News

On George W. Bush: The Enemy of Our Enemy Is Still a War Criminal

Truthout - Tue, 11/21/2017 - 07:27

That George W. Bush finds Trump's rhetoric distasteful is no reason to turn a presidential war criminal into a liberal hero. (Image: Nathan Congleton / Flickr)

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He received a prestigious award from the West Point Association of Graduates. He published a "runaway" bestselling autobiography. Last February, a lavishly produced book celebrating his paintings of Americans who served in the military was, as Time put it, "burning up the Amazon charts."

Still, the liberal media wasn't ready to embrace George W. Bush -- not at least until he made some oblique criticisms of the current tenant of his old position, suggesting that, in the present political climate, "bigotry seems emboldened." Seems? Have you been to Charlottesville lately, Mr. Bush?

The former president was less tentative on the main subject of his address to a conference on "democracy" he'd organized in New York City: the importance of free trade and the need for a large American footprint in the world. "We see a fading confidence in the value of free markets and international trade," he said, "forgetting that conflict, instability, and poverty follow in the wake of protectionism." More on that speech later.

Not the First Rehab Job

George W. Bush is hardly the first disgraced Republican president and war criminal to worm his way back into American esteem. Richard Nixon remains the leader in that department. He spent his later years being celebrated as an elder statesman and a master of realpolitik in international relations. In the process, he managed to shake off the dust of Watergate.

In those years, few even remembered that his was the first administration in which both the president and vice president resigned. In 1973, that disgraced vice president, Spiro Agnew, pled guilty to a felony count of tax evasion, but not before he'd bequeathed the English language a few of its most mellifluous sobriquets, among them the "nattering nabobs of negativism" and the "effete corps of impudent snobs" (aimed at those who opposed the Vietnam War).

Nixon's rehabilitation not only reduced the Watergate scandal in American memory, but also essentially obliterated his greater crimes, among which were these:

* while still a presidential candidate in 1968, he opened a secret back channel to the South Vietnamese government to keep it out of peace talks with the North that might have benefited his Democratic opponent;

* in the war itself, he oversaw the expansion of the CIA's Phoenix Program of torture and assassination in which, as historian Alfred McCoy has described it, "the formalities of prosecution" of suspected Viet Cong were replaced "with pump and dump -- pumping suspects of information by torture and then dumping the bodies, more than 20,000 of them between 1968 and 1971";

* he also oversaw an expansive, illegal, and undeclared war in Cambodia (which, when it was about to come to light, he described as a brief "incursion" into that country);

* he oversaw the saturation or "carpet" bombing of the North Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, and that country's major port, Haiphong;

* and he presided over the "first 9/11," the 1973 military coup that murdered Chile's elected president, Salvador Allende, ushering in years of terror and torture under General Augusto Pinochet.

And don't think that Richard Nixon is the only other example of such a post-presidential rehabilitation. Ronald Reagan is now remembered by friend and foe alike as a kind, folksy president and a wily strategist who ended the Cold War by forcing a cash-strapped Soviet Union to keep up with US defense spending and then negotiated directly with Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev. When he died in June 2004, The New York Times was typical in the largely fawning obituary it ran, describing him as "the man who restored popular faith in the presidency and the American government."

That obituary did at least mention the Iran-Contra conspiracy in which President Reagan approved the (illegal) sale of arms to Iran to fund his (illegal) support of the Nicaraguan Contras, the murderous rebel force that sought to overthrow that country's leftist Sandinista government. "The deception and disdain for the law," commented the obituary, "invited comparisons to Watergate, undermined Mr. Reagan's credibility, and severely weakened his powers of persuasion with Congress." An odd set of observations about a man being hailed for restoring faith in the presidency, but consistent with the contradictions inherent in any lionization of Reagan.

Lest we forget, he was also the president who began his first term by attacking unions, starting with the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, a move which so many years later still results in regular flight delays, thanks to a 27-year low in the number of air controllers. Reagan also inaugurated the mania for deregulation that led to the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and ultimately to the subprime mortgage crisis and financial meltdown of 2007-2008. His presidency reinforced what would become a never-ending slide in the value of real wages and his tax policies were the starting point for what has, in our own time, become not an inequality gap but an inequality chasm that has now left three men with the same amount of wealth as 160 million Americans. (Not surprisingly, depending on who's calculating it, the United States either has the world's highest or perhaps fourth-highest Gini score, a measurement of economic inequality.)

Nixon had to wait many years for his rehabilitation and Reagan's was largely posthumous. At a vigorous 71, however, Bush seems to be slipping effortlessly back onto the national stage only nine years after leaving office essentially in disgrace. He will evidently have plenty of time to bask in history's glow before the first of those nostalgic obituaries are written. And for that, he can thank Donald Trump.

W. Redux?

During that October 17th speech in which he criticized Trump without mentioning his name, George W. Bush touted the "Spirit of Liberty: At Home, in the World." There, he bemoaned the degradation of political discourse by "casual cruelty," noting that "bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children." Like the rest of his family, Bush does not share Trump's aversion to immigrants, so he added that this country seems to be forgetting "the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America."

Articles in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and even the Guardian eagerly reported Bush's implicit criticisms of the president as a hopeful sign of resistance to Trumpism from the "responsible" Republican right. Politico simply labeled the event a "George W. Bush speech on Trumpism," although much of it was about the decline of democracy in Europe and the value of free trade.

It's certainly true that his speech included oblique critiques of the man who repeatedly insulted his brother Jeb as "a very low-energy kind of guy" and knocked him out of the race to be the third Bush to sit in the Oval Office, but it's worth reading the whole address. It's vintage W. -- that is, vintage W. as a war criminal. He began, for instance, by reprising the lie that "since World War II, America has encouraged and benefited from the global advance of free markets, from the strength of democratic alliances, and from the advance of free societies."

As Alfred McCoy demonstrates in his recent book, In the Shadows of the American Century, that is a particularly disingenuous description of a 70-year history in which Washington supported and, in a remarkable number of cases was directly involved in, the destruction of free societies. A list of examples would perhaps begin with the 1953 British and US-backed coup against the democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh that would install the despotic Shah in power in that country. It would certainly continue with the 1954 US and United Fruit Company coup against Jacobo Arbenz, the democratically elected president of Guatemala (an early instance of Washington's post-World War II "encouragement" of anything-but-free-trade); the 1960 CIA-backed coup against, and the murder of, Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba; and the 1973 military coup in Chile. An honest history would also include the active "encouragement" of societies that were anything but free, including those run by juntas, dictators, or military governments in Greece, Brazil, Argentina, the Philippines, Indonesia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Uruguay, Iraq, and South Korea, to name just a few.

Of course, George W. Bush is hardly the first president to lie about the post-World War II record of the United States. Nor is he the first to suggest that "American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places," which he attributed in his speech to the lack of the democracy Washington put so much effort into destroying in more than 70 countries across the planet.

And don't forget that it was precisely the pretext of a direct threat to American security that led to the most criminal lie of his career: the insistence that Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and that the US invasion of his country was justified by a (legally questionable) case of preemptive self-defense. By initiating a war of aggression, by loosing "shock and awe" on the capital of a nation that had not attacked ours, President Bush committed a war crime. Indeed, it was the first in the list of crimes for which the leaders of Nazi Germany were indicted at Nuremberg after World War II: the ultimate crime against peace.

Few Americans have ever heard of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, but in 1928 the United States signed it and the Senate ratified it by a vote of 85-1. The 50 signatories of that treaty renounced war as a means of settling international disputes and, as the authors of The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World have argued, by implication made aggressive war a violation of international law. The US Constitution states in Article 6 that "all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land." By invading Iraq, Bush broke both international and US law.

In addition to his crimes against peace, Bush and his administration were also the authors of such traditionally recognized war crimes as torture and the use of chemical weapons. One of the uglier aspects of the US military's battle for the Iraqi city of Fallujah was its use of white phosphorus, an incendiary munition. Phosphorus ignites spontaneously when exposed to air. If bits of the chemical attach to human beings, skin and flesh burn away. The burning continues as long as there is oxygen available, sometimes right into the bone.

In short, isn't it a little early to begin rehabilitating the man responsible for indefinite detention at Guantánamo, "enhanced interrogation techniques," and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and at least 150,000 Afghans -- not to mention the trillions of US dollars shoved down the memory hole in pursuit of the futile wars that followed?

Leda and the Swan 

The same year that the Kellogg-Briand Pact was signed, William Butler Yeats published a collection of poems called The Tower. It contains what many consider his masterpiece, the harrowing sonnet "Leda and the Swan." In it, Yeats recreates the moment in Greek myth when Zeus, the ruling god of Olympus, having taken the form of a swan, rapes the helpless human woman Leda, leaving her pregnant with a daughter. That daughter became Helen of Troy, whose abduction was the casus belli for the Trojan War.

The poet begins with the victim's shock and awe:

"A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

In the final stanza, Yeats writes:

"A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead."

In those brief words can be read an entire history of war and death, recounted more fully in the 15,693 lines of the Iliad, all somehow encapsulated in that first act of violence.

In his poem, Yeats implies that Zeus knows full well the final outcome of his act. Similarly perhaps, the "swans" of Washington in 2003, which was at that time the planet's own imperial Olympus, had more than an inkling of the broken walls, the burning roofs and towers their invasion of Iraq might engender. As early as 1996, future Vice President Dick Cheney's fellow hawks Richard Perle and Douglas Feith -- who would later join the Bush administration as adviser on the Defense Policy Board and under secretary of defense for policy -- helped write a report for Benjamin Netanyahu, who was then running the Israeli government for the first time. Titled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," it urged the leaders of Israel's right-wing Likud party to leave behind the nation's previous geopolitical strategy by abandoning peace negotiations with the Palestinians and using military means to actively restructure the Middle East in their favor.

"Israel," the authors argued, "can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria." Such a campaign would begin by "removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq -- an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right -- as a means of foiling Syria's regional ambitions." The ultimate goal was a realignment of power in the region, with Syria destabilized, a monarchy in Iraq, and a new regional alliance among Turkey, Jordan, and Israel.

It would prove to be the geopolitical equivalent of a movie preview. In the wake of 9/11, the same cast of characters would take a similar path in Washington and, in the end, that "rolling back" operation would shake or destroy country after country from Afghanistan and Iraq to Libya and Yemen. Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Syria has certainly been destabilized in ways almost impossible to imagine, through the rise of ISIS (born in an American military prison) and a vicious, multi-sided civil war that, by early 2016, had left more than a tenth of its population killed or injured. In the process, more than 10 million people, including untold numbers of children, were turned into internal or external refugees.

Netanyahu, in fact, would reject the "clean break" proposal (perhaps because it also suggested that Israel make a clean break with its dependence on US aid), but the neocons were undeterred. In 1998, they resurrected the plan as part of a new pressure group they formed, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), and presented it to Bill Clinton in a letter encouraging him to direct "a full complement of diplomatic, political, and military efforts" to "remove Saddam Hussein from power."

Nor were they overly concerned about the legality of such a move, writing that "American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council." In other words, the country should not be "crippled" by adherence to the UN Charter, whose Article 51 prohibits unilateral war making without Security Council approval, except in cases of immediate "individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations."

Like Netanyahu, Clinton ignored their suggestion. However, the signatories of the letter included many figures who would become key players in the Bush administration, among them Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Undersecretaries of State John Bolton and Richard Armitage, Reagan hold-over Elliott Abrams, and Zalmay Khalilzad, who among other roles served as Bush's special envoy and ambassador at large for free Iraqis. And it included, of course, Cheney adviser and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, who had prepared a draft of a 1992 Defense Planning Guidance document for President George H.W. Bush in which he argued for the importance of US readiness to take unilateral military action, whether approved by the United Nations or not.

In other words, the top officials of the Bush administration took office already planning to attack Iraq. It only awaited 19 mostly Saudi terrorists hijacking four American commercial airliners on September 11, 2001. That would be the pretext to launch what has become a "generational struggle" that would eventually destroy Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen (and almost as a side dish, Afghanistan), and which now threatens to engulf the entire Greater Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Asia, from Afghanistan to the Philippines, in a set of never-ending wars and spreading terror movements.

All that suffering sprang from the actions of one feckless president and his crew. So what if -- after 16 years of fruitless war, 16 years of disintegrating American infrastructure, 16 years of almost unprecedented inequality -- George W. Bush does find Trump's rhetorical style distasteful? Is that really any reason to turn a presidential war criminal into a liberal hero?

Categories: Latest News

US Military No Longer Cool With Narcotics Labs in Afghanistan, Bombs Them

Truthout - Tue, 11/21/2017 - 07:02

An Afghan policeman decorates himself with opium plants as they destroy the crop, on a farm on March 14, 2013, in Babaji village-Helmand Province, south east Afghanistan. (Photo: Majid Saeedi / Getty Images)

The US Commander in Afghanistan announced several airstrikes on Sunday against opium production facilities, marking a shift in the Pentagon's approach toward the booming illicit drug industry in the country.

Army Gen. John Nicholson reported that roughly ten opium laboratories in the Northern Helmand province were destroyed in the barrage.

The purported aim of the strikes was to cut off Taliban insurgents' revenue streams.

The Washington Post noted the assault was the "first significant use" of new authorities President Trump bestowed upon the Pentagon, giving military commanders more latitude in targeting decisions.

Nicholson added that more strikes against Afghanistan's opium network "will continue." The Drug Enforcement Administration reports there are as many as 400 to 500 such facilities across the country.

Since the US occupation of Afghanistan began at the end of 2001, the Pentagon has been unable to get a handle on illegal opium production -- despite spending vast sums on counternarcotics. In some cases, officials turned a blind eye to illegal drug activity when it was conducted by warlords who had forged alliances with the US during the war.

According to Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko, the US has spent $8 billion trying to stem the flow of Afghan narcotics.

Last year, Sopko told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that he feared Afghanistan was descending into a "narco-terrorist state."

One of the largest recipients of federal dollars to dismantle opium production in Afghanistan was the defense contracting firm Academi -- formely known as Blackwater. According to data from SIGAR, Academi was paid $309 million between 2002 and 2013 to clamp down on drug manufacturing.

During that time, opium production steadily increased, and the total value of the crop grew by roughly $1 billion between 2012-2013.

Sunday's strikes were carried out in conjunction with the Afghan armed forces.

"We're determined to tackle criminal economy and narcotics trafficking with full force. It's the main source of financing violence and terror," Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Twitter Monday.

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Categories: Latest News

After Mainstream Crowdfunding Platforms Shut Them Down, Racists Are Still Generating Profits Online

Truthout - Tue, 11/21/2017 - 06:54

White nationalist Richard Spencer, who popularized the term "alt-right" speaks during a press conference at the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on October 19, 2017, in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

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White supremacists, alt-right members, Republicans and other garden-variety bigots used to rely on mainstream crowdfunding sources when they wanted to raise money. Vocal white nationalist Emily Youcis received donations using Patreon; violent alt-rightie Kyle Chapman had a PayPal; and racists rallied to pay the legal defense costs of murderers George Zimmerman and Darren Wilson via GoFundMe. But in recent months, those platforms have been shutting down the campaigns of hardline right-wingers and various other heroes of the alt-right. In response, there's Hatreon, which caters to the neo-Nazis and outspoken racists those other platforms have left behind.

Hatreon launched in August, with early adopters including Richard Spencer and Andrew Anglin, who runs the neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer. While the two initially took in modest totals each month, they're now making a decent living off donations from their racist supporters. Spencer, who lists his creative project as "Richard Spencer-ing" (really), gets $942 each month in contributions. Anglin, who has been in hiding for months trying to avoid an SPLC lawsuit against him for stochastic terrorism, pulls in nearly $7,725 each month. That's nearly $93,000 a year, not a bad haul for cranking out racial slurs, Holocaust memes and generally making the world a more terrible place.

Hatreon was created by Cody R. Wilson, who was included on Wired Magazine's list of the 15 Most Dangerous People in the World. That's partly because Wilson's life mission is to distribute blueprints for a 3D printable gun, effectively rendering gun control laws useless. Cool goal, right? The name of the site, Wilson told Newsweek, is a "delightful pun. It's meant to make fun of Patreon's investigations of people for hate speech."

While racism has always been wildly profitable in this country (I'm looking at you, slavery), technology has created new ways of generating revenue. Hatreon is just one example. Counter.Fund, launched by the former head tech guy for Business Insider (he was fired for super unfunny racist tweets), is another. The site bills itself as "a crowdfunding platform built by and for the wider alt-right counter-culture." There's also WeSearchr, where paid protesters can raise huge sums for poorly defined projects. (Spoiler alert: they're all right-wingers.) Rootbocks, a "crowdfunding and e-commerce platform dedicated to the principles of liberty and freedom of speech," launched in June but seems to have faltered since then. Gab, a sort of Twitter for neo-Nazis, allows right-wing extremists and Tucker Carlson (I know, same difference) to chillax and use the n-word in what amounts to an online, virtual Trump rally.

The development of a far-right sub-internet feels like the inevitable next step as site administrators try to reclaim their digital cultures from racist hordes. After years of standing by while white nationalists and misogynists grew in number and heaped abuse on people of color and women, sites like Twitter, Reddit and Patreon have finally attempted to establish rules of law -- and decency -- by eliminating racists and their cohorts. But the whole effort feels like it's coming a bit late, like a cautionary tale about what to do for the next generation of the internet.

"Reddit is twelve years old, and they're only now realizing, oh shit, we didn't focus on culture early on, and now we have the world's biggest group of white supremacists and misogynists and just the worst of the worst of everybody," Dan McComas, a former higher-up at Reddit, told me when I interviewed him last year. "We've given them this massive platform to grow their bases, and it goes way deeper than just that too...I think those four sites have contributed to a large cultural shift on the internet that has made it just kind of a rotten place. You kind of have to purposely go out seeking something that isn't terrible to find something that isn't terrible."

A few months ago Gab -- which has a logo that looks a lot like Pepe the frog put up a post on Medium meant to serve as a clarion call to like-minded potential users and a warning to Silicon Valley. It offers an ominous look at where the internet, and the right-wing element within it, might be headed:

"We aren't going to play by your rules anymore...We refuse to be shunned and shamed for our core values and beliefs. We reject your [social justice warrior] cultural marxist lunacy and will fight to defend the freedoms that you are putting in jeopardy for sake of faux diversity, control, and political correctness...The rise of nationalism, populism, and patriotism around the world is in response to the failed policies of the globalist agenda....The People have been left to squander in the false promises of multi-cultural clashes of values, core beliefs, and rule of law...The free speech tech revolution has begun."

Categories: Latest News

Why I Helped Organize the Singing Revolt Against the White House at the UN Climate Talks

Truthout - Tue, 11/21/2017 - 06:31

As Trump's climate-denier delegates tried to present their pro-fossil-fuel agenda at the UN Climate Summit last week, a US youth delegation began singing to register their protest and declare solidarity with climate justice advocates around the world. The message to the Trump administration was clear: The young people of the US are ready to step in and fill the leadership vacuum.

People disturb an event titled: "The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation" with friendly singing at the COP23 United Nations Climate Change Conference on November 13, 2017, in Bonn, Germany. (Photo: Lukas Schulze / Getty Images)

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Last week, nations of the world gathered in Bonn, Germany, for the annual United Nations Climate Negotiations. This year's conference was pivotal -- the first meeting since Trump announced his intentions to pull the US out of the historic Paris Agreement.

The Trump administration's plans for the conference drew attention well before the meetings began, when it became known that the administration was preparing an official event touting fossil fuels as a solution to the climate crisis.

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, UN special envoy for cities and climate change, put it well: "Promoting coal at a climate summit is like promoting tobacco at a cancer summit."

As a youth delegate with the US People's Delegation, my purpose at the UN was to stand up for the 70 percent of American people -- and the majority of Americans in every state -- who agree the US should remain in the Paris agreement. It was our duty to make sure the White House would not get away with selling coal at a climate conference, and to remind President Trump how isolated he is on this issue.

More than 1,000 Americans, along with tens of thousands across the world, have died from climate disasters in the past few months. I spent part of my October quarantined at home in the Bay Area due to hazardous smoke from wildfires raging just 60 miles north of me. The fires burned thousands of acres and destroyed over 8,000 structures in one of the deadliest wildfires California has ever seen. Climate change is making wildfires more frequent and more intense across the American West.

On the second day of the conference, Syria made news in a surprise announcement that it would sign the Paris Agreement. The United States now stands alone as the only country in opposition.

To represent the US at the UN negotiations, the White House sent George David Banks, special assistant to Trump on energy and environment. Banks has an odd set of qualifications to speak at a climate conference, given his ties to the Koch brothers and history working for anti-wind activist John Droz Jr. to derail renewable energy policies nationwide.

During the Trump administration's pro-fossil fuel program, Banks sat on the panel beside Francis Brooke, a policy adviser to Vice President Mike Pence. Alongside him were representatives of coal producer Peabody Energy Corporation, nuclear engineering company NuScale Power and liquefied natural gas company Tellurian Inc.

The energy in the room was intense and uncomfortable. After 20 minutes of listening to their lies, I could not take it anymore. So, I opened my mouth and started to sing.

It felt like jumping out of a plane as I interrupted Barry Worthington, from the United States Energy Association, with a rendition of "God Bless the USA" that I had the honor of adapting for this occasion.

The panel fell silent. Soon, the 14 other youth delegates from my SustainUS delegation joined me in singing:

So you claim to be an American,
but we see right through your greed.
It's killing all across the world
For that coal money
And we proudly stand up
Until you keep it in the ground.
Let the people of the world unite,
And we are here to stay.

And as we sang "stand up," two thirds of the room stood up with us and joined the choral protest, a vocal blockade in loud defiance of the fossil fuel industry's takeover of the US government.

Then we turned our backs on the panelists and, with our hands over our hearts, sang directly to the media from across the world, to broadcast our message that the American people stand in solidarity with communities across the world impacted first and worst by climate change.

Feelings of joy, dignity and unity filled the room. I could not have felt more proud in that moment, leading this chorus on the right side of history. As the founder and co-director of the Thrive Choir, an interfaith social justice gospel choir based in Oakland, California, I've been training for this moment for some time.

After holding the room in song for 10 minutes, we walked out en masse, leaving the majority of the seats empty. Emerging from the doors, we were met with victorious cheers and applause from over 200 people from around the world who had come to sing with us but were not allowed into the room.

Right there, outside the doors of the panel, we led a "people's panel" featuring speeches from young organizers, Indigenous leaders and other Americans experiencing the effects of climate injustice on the ground. Leaders from SustainUS, Idle No More, Indigenous Environmental Network, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, the Climate Justice Alliance and more joined together to say no more to corrupt fossil fuel executives, who have been misinforming the public on the reality of climate change for 40 years.

While the Trump administration wants to open new coal plants, drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and promote tar sands pipelines that cut through our great American rivers, the young people of the US are ready to step in and fill the leadership vacuum. As young people, we have more to lose than any other generation to the climate crisis.

The era of fossil fuels is over. A coal plant is retired or set to be retired every nine days in the US. Meanwhile, solar and wind technologies are becoming cheaper every day, and are already competitive with fossil fuels.

We can stop climate change and create millions of jobs. It is up to us to demand our elected officials stand up as true climate leaders. Otherwise, we will replace them with people who care for the health of people and planet over profit.

Last Monday, we the people took back the mic from the White House. We sang not in anger, but in love of justice. Going forward, we will be louder together. This is a chorus of billions across the world who have woken up to the truth, a chorus demanding climate justice.

Categories: Latest News

Damning New Report Shows US Airstrikes in Iraq Killing Civilians Amount to 31 Times the Pentagon's Count

Truthout - Mon, 11/20/2017 - 21:00

We spend the hour looking at a damning new report that reveals how US-led airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq have killed far more civilians than officials have acknowledged. The coalition's own data shows 89 of its more than 14,000 airstrikes in Iraq have resulted in civilian deaths, or about one of every 157 strikes. But their an on-the-ground investigation by The New York Times magazine found civilian deaths in "one out of every five" strikes. We are joined by the two reporters who co-authored this investigation titled "The Uncounted." Azmat Khan is an investigative journalist and a Future of War fellow at New America and Arizona State University; and Anand Gopal is a reporter and an assistant research professor at Arizona State University. A civilian survivor who lost his family and home to a 2015 US airstrike in Mosul, Basim Razzo, also joins us from Erbil, Iraq.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, Democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We are spending the hour looking at a New York Times investigation that reveals many of the American-led airstrikes against Islamic State militants actually killed civilians. One of the survivors the reporters interviewed, Basim Razzo, described a coalition airstrike on his home in Mosul, Iraq in 2015 in which his wife, daughter, brother, and nephew were killed. Video of the strike on his home shows a target hit with military precision.

AMY GOODMAN: Basim Razzo is just joining us, and you've heard a part of his story in our last segment as he speaks to us from Erbil, Iraq, via Democracy Now! video stream. And we're joined in our New York studio by the two reporters who co-authored the New York Times investigation headlined The Uncounted.... It was the cover of The New York Times Magazine this past Sunday.

Azmat Khan, investigative journalist and a Future of War fellow at New America and Arizona State University, and Anand Gopal, assistant research professor at Arizona State University, and the author of the book No Good Men Among the Living. Azmat Khan, talk about the US figures for how many civilians have died, how many airstrikes, how many civilians killed, and then what you found.

AZMAT KHAN: So, the coalition, which is led by the United States, releases monthly civilian casualty figures. Our analysis of them shows that they have admitted to 466 Iraqi civilian deaths in 89 airstrikes. This is of more than 14,000 that they have carried out in Iraq, which is an incident rate of 0.6 percent. Less than one percent. What we found…

AMY GOODMAN: Less than 1 percent civilian killed.

AZMAT KHAN: Less than one percent, exactly -- 0.6 percent. What we found is that one in five airstrikes, or 31 times as high, resulted in civilian death.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And your analysis is based not obviously on all the 14,000, but you investigated about 103 separate incidents. Because 14,000 over roughly a four-year period, we're talking about 100 airstrikes a day on average that were occurring in Iraq in this war against ISIS.

AZMAT KHAN: Yeah. Many of these airstrikes took place near or around the time of liberation, but they were ongoing throughout. And so we saw an escalation around the time that Mosul or parts of Mosul were retaken. But you're basically looking at our sample, which was in East Mosul. It was in a neighborhood called Aden, a town that's -- so and East Mosul is relatively an urban, densely packed neighborhood. Next, we had like a suburban municipality called Qayyarah. And after that, we had downtown Shura, which is probably a small settlement typical of many ISIS-held areas.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in each of these 103 strikes, you actually went on the ground to interview people who were there at the time to find out what happened.

AZMAT KHAN: Exactly. So I've been to the site of every single one. We interviewed hundreds of survivors. We excavated the rubble. We looked for any presence of ISIS, whether that was in ISIS propaganda materials, weaponry. We analyzed bomb fragments. We analyzed satellite imagery before and after in order to assess the date ranges of when these airstrikes had happened. We also checked all of the civilian casualty allegations with local administrators, health officials, or law enforcement.

AMY GOODMAN: Anand Gopal, how does the US military gather its numbers?

ANAND GOPAL: Most of these numbers come from internal reports by the US military itself. For example, if they notice a mission irregularity, if let's say a pilot is dropping a bomb and all of the sudden a civilian vehicle appears after the bomb is dropped, they will report that to their superiors, and often times, they will investigate that.

Occasionally, they get reports from outside sources, from the media, from Airwars, which is a great organization that tracks these things. But they tend, more often than not, to actually discount those reports, and it is their own internal reports they take the most seriously, which is why the number is so low -- 466 civilians killed in 14,000 airstrikes.

If that was true, it would make it the most precise air war in the history of humanity. But it's because the threshold for what qualifies as evidence for being a civilian is extremely, extremely high. So in practice, people like Basim are in fact guilty until proven innocent.

AMY GOODMAN: So is Basim included in this count of civilians? Even the far lower count that the US military has?

ANAND GOPAL: Well, initially, he wasn't. And a large part of our investigation was to press that point. His family members were not counted. They were listed as ISIS, basically. After the airstrike on his house, the coalition put up a video of the strike claiming that it was an IED factory, car bomb factory, essentially. And so you could have gone on YouTube and found the video of the bombing that destroyed his family for over a year.

And it was only after we found this and sort of showed this to the coalition that they kind of took it off YouTube. And eventually, after a long process of hundreds of emails and back and forth, did they admit that they killed his family and that they were civilians, and they were eventually added to the count. Today they are part of the count, but they had not been for many years.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, this issue of the preciseness of these strikes, which the military is always touting that they hit exactly what they're looking for -- your report suggests that the problem is not so much in the munitions themselves, but in the intelligence of what are the targets that they actually strike. That it's faulty intelligence. Can you talk about that?

ANAND GOPAL: Well, that's right. And in fact, talking about precision in some ways is a slight of hand, because -- and in fact, it is true they are very precise. They hit exactly what they intend to hit. The question is, what do they think they're hitting? And the intelligence is often so poor.

And again, it goes back to this issue of Iraqis having to prove that they are not ISIS, which is the opposite of what we would think. We would think that the coalition would do the work to find out whether somebody is a member of ISIS or not. Essentially, they assume people are ISIS until proven otherwise. And that's what leads to this extremely high count.

AMY GOODMAN: Basim Razzo, I wanted to go back to you. Now you are in Erbil. Your home is in Mosul. You went to Western Michigan University in Michigan, here in the United States?

BASIM RAZZO: Yes, I was at Western Michigan. I graduated in 1988 in a degree with industrial engineering -- B.Sc.

AMY GOODMAN: And you traveled with your wife in a sort of love journey across the country?

BASIM RAZZO: Yeah, that was in 1982 when she joined me. We went for like a honeymoon for about 40 days around the United States in my car.

AMY GOODMAN: So you moved home to Mosul. Your family was killed in 2015. And what has been your interaction with the US military?

BASIM RAZZO: Well, first, when I was in Turkey for my operation, I received a text on my Viber from the American Embassy in Baghdad saying that would like to contact me. I texted them back. I told them I was in Turkey and I will get in touch with them as soon as I am back in Baghdad. I returned late, about December. And then I texted them and then they gave me an appointment to meet with them in February. That is when I visited the American consulate in Baghdad.

And I have gathered some report. I wrote down the report. I gathered some pictures. Some aerial shots of my farm. And then I went to the embassy. I submitted the report to them. The woman who interviewed me, she told me that they would have to make sure that my allegations were right, and that they will pass my information to the DOD for verification. And then I never heard from them for like two months.

I emailed them back, and the lady said, "We still had not heard anything from them." And nothing for months until about like five or six months later, I emailed them a letter, and it was returned, saying the mailbox is full. That is when I started doubting -- that something is going on. And then that's when I really met Azmat, and then things starting rolling from there.

AMY GOODMAN: The reporter who did this amazing piece, along with Anand Gopal for The New York Times. So can you describe your meeting, when you went to the US Embassy in -- was it Baghdad? Tell us what you were demanding and what it was that they gave you.

BASIM RAZZO: OK. When I submitted my report, she looked at it and then she went inside into a room and she came back like 15 minutes later. In my report, I had demanded that first and most important thing to me was for them to state clearly that this bombing is a mistake. This is just to clear my name, and so I can no longer be afraid to go back to Mosul. Because at that time, I was labeled as ISIS. My second demand was for them to compensate me for the losses of my family. I demanded compensation for my injury. I had lost my job because of my injury. So this was basically my demands in my report that I submitted.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what was their response?

BASIM RAZZO: Well, it took them months and months to -- if it wasn't for Azmat's pushing -- and then they offered me -- first they admitted that the bombing was done by mistake. But this took months and months of emails back and forth. They still have not provided me with a clear letter saying that the bombing was done by mistake.

And then they gave me an appointment to meet in Erbil, to offer me a payment they call [inaudible] payment. When I met with them at Erbil airport, this lady lawyer, she expressed her sorrow and deepest sympathy to my accident. She said, "We are sorry. We know the bombing was done by mistake."

And I, for the second time and third time, I asked her, I said, "Listen, I need an explicit letter from you saying that the bombing was done by mistake." She said, "OK, I promise I will get you this letter." And then they offered me the payment of $15,000 as a compensation for the death of my wife and my daughter, which I immediately declined. And she said "I'm sorry, sir, this is the most that we can do [and we are tapped off?]."

And then I asked her for one more request. My farm has been ransacked by government officials. I cannot say who because there were so many government agencies that entered Mosul and liberated Mosul, being the Army, the federal units, the Hashd. I don't know. But they entered my farm and they have ransacked it and have stolen so many things. And I said, "Listen, lady, I need you to help me get the word to whoever is in charge of that area that stop anybody from entering the premises."

And she also promised she will get in touch through the American forces with the local commanders to stop anybody from entering. But this has not happened. Actually, until about three weeks ago, they have entered the premises again and they have stolen more material from storage that we have. So they have not offered me anything until now.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask Azmat Khan -- this is a family that is a professional family, well educated, was relatively middle-class. And there are many others who are victims who are not so fortunate and don't have the ability to really confront the coalition. You talk about one case in April of 2015 where 18 civilians were killed and where the coalition is still saying there's insufficient evidence that any civilians were killed in that attack. What is happening with all of these other cases?

AZMAT KHAN: Right. That particular incident was an electrical substation in East Mosul, for which there was ample evidence of online. When I went on the ground and interviewed people, dozens of people, they said, "Just go online. You'll find the videos." And I did.

They showed children who were maimed and hurt. Some of their legs were blown off.

These young, young children, boys and girls -- there is no doubt about whether or not they are civilians. And so this was readily available to the coalition, but in the coalition's own assessment of this incident, they concluded there was insufficient evidence.

Now, to speak to this excellent point about how so many survivors that I have met really don't have the resources or access or networks in the way that Basim did, to, for example, arrange an appointment at the US Embassy in Baghdad, what I found repeatedly were people who couldn't even afford to rebuild their homes. Some people who couldn't afford to even seek necessary medical treatment.

One family in Mosul had three injured. They lost eight individuals in an airstrike last November in East Mosul. What they told me was that "we are still injured." And the women took me to a room in the back and one woman revealed her headscarf and pulled open a cap and you could actually see the skull on her -- you could see the skull visible from the top. Another woman, her hand…

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: She had had no medical treatment since…

AZMAT KHAN: She had had no medical treatment. They needed really expensive surgeries. And ultimately what we did is we provided all of the coordinates of these airstrikes to both the coalition and to the US Air Force after we had visited the base in Qatar, where many of these aircraft take off from. What they told us in the case of, for example, the incident I just described to you with these injured women who could not afford medical treatment, was in that case, they had conducted an airstrike just meters away on that day.

So this is very likely a coalition airstrike.

And these individuals, who often don't even have cell phones that are working all of the time, have very little means and access. And we have now turned over all of those allegations that were close to where the coalition reported coordinates to us. And we are waiting to hear a response to them about whether or not they are even going to investigate them.

AMY GOODMAN: And Azmat, when Basim went to the US lawyer and he laid out all he had lost -- this is outside of the agony of the loss of his family -- his wife and daughter, his nephew, deeply close to him, and his brother next door -- talked about what the houses were worth. He owns a downtown building in Mosul, said something like $500,000. And then they said altogether, $15,000 if he signs on the dotted line. How common is this? I mean, he is talking about, even this wouldn't have happened -- though he has not gotten a letter that he is not part of ISIS, even if they say it to him privately. How typical is this?

AZMAT KHAN: So this is one of two condolence payment offers that have been offered in this entire anti-ISIS air war. So since August 2014, and some 27,000 airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria, this is one of two offers. This is the only offer that was made for a civilian death. The other offer that was made was for damage to a car in a separate airstrike, but not for a civilian. And so Basim has…

AMY GOODMAN: How much has been allocated?

AZMAT KHAN: So, every year, for the last two years, Congress has authorized $5 million dollars in funds to be used for payments like these. There have only been two offers made.

Basim is the only offer for a civilian death that has been made during that time. And in this case, the $15,000, just to give you a sense, it was his wife and daughter only -- that is even higher than what they ordinarily offer, which is usually capped at $2,500 per death.

AMY GOODMAN: Did it have something to do with you being there?

AZMAT KHAN: Anand was actually in the meeting with them.

AMY GOODMAN: Anand, describe that meeting and your participation in it.

ANAND GOPAL: Yeah. I went with Basim to the meeting at the Erbil airport, and we didn't exactly know how much they would offer, although we expected that it's not going to be high. And in the meeting, the JAG officials explained that the offer they were going to make wasn't an offer of compensation, but of condolence.

And it was an important difference, because the US military is not in the business of compensating civilians who have lost things. Because of course, the problem is, from their perspective, if they feel that they start compensating people for what they have lost, then they're going to start having to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars, and it would impede their very ability to wage a war. So instead, it is an offer of condolence, ultimately with the idea of not having Iraqis upset at them. That's the purpose here.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what has been the reaction by the US military, by the coalition, since your article came out?

ANAND GOPAL: Well, almost nothing, actually. We have been waiting to hear something from them. We gave them all of our essential findings way before the article was published -- three or four weeks before -- and asked them for comment on each specific individual allegation that was made in the piece. And we haven't heard a thing.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to break and then come back to this discussion. Our guests are Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal, co-authors of The New York Times Magazine cover story called, The Uncounted. Basim Razzo is joining us from Erbil, Iraq, who lost his wife, daughter, brother, and nephew during a US airstrike on his home in Mosul, Iraq, in 2015. We'll be back with them in a moment.

[MUSIC BREAK]

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, Democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman with Juan González, as we continue to spend the hour looking at a damning new report that reveals how US-led airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq have killed far more civilians than officials have acknowledged. The Pentagon claims 466 civilians have been killed in 89 airstrikes since 2014.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But an on-the-ground investigation by The New York Times Magazine titled The Uncounted found the actual civilian death toll is much higher than the US is admitting. In fact, the report reveals that as many as one in five coalition airstrikes on ISIS targets in Iraq resulted in civilian deaths.

The reporters write, "To understand how radically different our assessment is from the coalition's own, consider this: According to the coalition's available data, 89 of its more than 14,000 airstrikes in Iraq have resulted in civilian deaths, or about one of every 157 strikes. The rate we found on the ground -- one out of every five -- is 31 times as high." For more, we're joined by the two reporters who co-authored this investigation titled The Uncounted.

Azmat Khan is an investigative journalist and a Future of War fellow at New America and Arizona State University. And Anand Gopal is an assistant research professor at Arizona State University and the author of No Good Men Among the Living. Also with us is Basim Razzo in Erbil, Iraq, via Democracy Now! video stream.

Basim Razzo, I'd like to begin with you. In our headlines today, we talked about -- and I understand that he is in the dark right now because the electricity has gone out in his city. But his line is still working with us. I would like to ask you -- in our headlines, we reported that the United States is going to end up spending trillions of dollars just in interest over the next decades on all of the military, the interventions in Iraq and Syria. I am wondering, when you hear this enormous amount of funds and yet you find that you are one of the few people, civilians, who suffered from a US airstrike that has actually been offered any kind of payment, your reaction when you hear these enormous sums spent, and yet so little that the United States is setting aside for the victims of its mistaken attacks.

AMY GOODMAN: I think his light has just come on.

BASIM RAZZO: Yes, it just came on. Well, really, it is very upsetting because, actually, the first time I heard that the civilian life of an Iraqi killed was $2,500, which was really, really upsetting, I felt it was degrading. And I talked to one person -- I said, "How would you feel, like if you are in an airplane accident in the United States, and you lost somebody you love, and the airline will give you $2,500 for it?" He said, "I would be outraged." I said, "How do you think I feel? My wife, daughter, brother, and nephew were killed by an airstrike, and they were innocent civilians, and now they offered me $15,000 for two people." I was outraged really by this amount. Very, very upset.

AMY GOODMAN: Anand Gopal, can you talk about the effect of this on Iraq? The far more -- far greater number of civilians killed than the US is willing to admit, as it says it is routing out ISIS, the so-called Islamic State?

ANAND GOPAL: Yeah. The US has effectively defeated ISIS, but at the cost of destroying whole cities and leaving thousands, if not tens of thousands, of families completely broken. Mosul is an example in which at least half of the city of Mosul is nearly in rubble. And these are not accidents in the sense that we would normally think about it.

These are policy decisions. For instance, in Mosul, the city of Mosul was surrounded and civilians and ISIS fighters were not allowed to leave the city in an exit corridor, which was one of the conditions which induced ISIS to take civilians hostage and led to extraordinary numbers of civilian casualties.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And Azmat, you had mentioned that your study area was East Mosul, but really some of the worst damage was in West Mosul, and you think that the casualty figures may actually be much higher than even your study shows?

AZMAT KHAN: Yes. Not just because we didn't include West Mosul, but also because these airstrikes that we were serving -- the 103 in that sample -- occurred before a rule change that stated last December, under President Obama, that authorized more ground commanders, to be able to call in and approve airstrikes. And many believe that this was one of the reasons why we saw a spike in civilian casualties from these airstrikes.

But I also want to point out what we found to be a lack of ability to investigate properly by the coalition. What we found repeatedly during the course of our investigation is not just that they were not necessarily locating evidence or verifying evidence for allegations, but also that they sometimes lacked the information to even determine sometimes whether an airstrike was a coalition airstrike or their own.

In the 103 coordinates, and even more than that, that we passed on, we were told sometimes, "Listen, this particular airstrike was not us. It is unlikely to be us. The nearest airstrike we carried out was as far as 600 meters away." But then we would find coalition videos uploaded by the coalition itself showing those airstrikes in the places that we had pinpointed, or in that area.

And when we followed up about it, we were told "We can only tell you what the log shows." And we had this happen on several occasions. And what it shows you is that their logs are incomplete or what they're searching is incomplete. And the number one reason that they cite when they deny a civilian casualty allegation is that they have no record of a coalition airstrike taking place in a geographic area. And that casts doubt on their credibility investigations so far.

AMY GOODMAN: Have they taken down all these YouTube videos?

AZMAT KHAN: They took down videos from YouTube. These videos still -- and to distinguish, they still exist on other military websites, but YouTube was the one place where people could comment.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So in other words, to follow up on this, what you're suggesting is that the actual record keeping, the logs of where the attacks occurred, are sometimes incorrect, which could either mean, one, just sloppy log keeping by the soldiers involved, or deliberate reports of the wrong coordinates for an attack?

AZMAT KHAN: It really is troubling that these records were not kept in a way that was conducive to accurately investigating or investigating properly, because what we were told when I visited Qatar and I went to the Combined Air Operations Center, is that "We have 100 percent authority over where we drop our weapons. We know exactly where they are landing." And that turned out in some cases not to be true.

AMY GOODMAN: The US military says it is the most precise war and targeting that they have ever engaged in. We only have a minute, and we want to give that minute to the focus of your story, though you tell many. As we talk about what has happened to Basim Razzo, your final comment, your message to the world?

BASIM RAZZO: Well, I want to add just one more thing in this one minute. Just like Azmat said, because there was no exit corridor for ISIS, they were forced to stay in the city and fight. And the excessive use of force, because some -- probably one member of ISIS would be on top of a roof of a building -- just remember, Azmat, the guy we met from [inaudible] family. There were two numbers of ISIS on his roof, and the whole house was bombed. This was excessive use of force.

My friends in Mosul told me of really precision bombing on small cars and only the car will be hit. But when you want to kill one person, you demolish a whole house? This is really terrible. I'm sorry for all the loss that has happened. I really would like the Americans to restudy their strategy of using this precision [inaudible].

AMY GOODMAN: We are going to have to leave it there. I thank you so much for being with us, Basim Razzo, from Erbil, Iraq, and Azmat Khan, and Anand Gopal. We will link to their story, The Uncounted. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Thanks so much for joining us.

Categories: Latest News

Iraqi Civilian Describes US Airstrike on His Home That Killed His Wife, Daughter, Brother and Nephew

Truthout - Mon, 11/20/2017 - 21:00

Today we spend the hour looking at a damning new report that reveals how US-led airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq have killed far more civilians than officials have acknowledged. An on-the-ground investigation by the New York Times Magazine titled "The Uncounted" found the actual civilian death toll may be 31 times higher than US officials admit. We interview one of the survivors featured in the report. Joining us from Erbil, Iraq, Basim Razzo describes the 2015 US airstrike on his home in Mosul, in which his wife, daughter, brother and nephew were killed. Video of the strike on his home shows a target hit with military precision.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, Democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I'm Juan González. Welcome to all of our listeners and viewers around the country and around the world. Today we spend the hour looking at a damning new report that reveals how US-led airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq have killed far more civilians than officials have acknowledged.

The Pentagon claims its air war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State has killed few civilians. But an on-the-ground investigation by The New York Times has revealed the US-led military coalition is killing far more civilians in Iraq than it has acknowledged. The Pentagon claims just 89 of its airstrikes have killed civilians since 2014. But the Times found the actual rate of civilian deaths may be 31 times higher than the US is admitting. In fact, the report reveals that as many as one in five coalition airstrikes on ISIS targets in Iraq resulted in civilian deaths.

The reporters write, "In terms of civilian deaths, this may be the least transparent war in recent American history." The investigation comes as US military officials continue to insist coalition bombing in Iraq has been precise in hitting its targets. This is Army Lieutenant General Stephen J. Townsend.

ARMY LIEUTENANT GENERAL STEPHEN J. TOWNSEND: I reject any notion that coalition fires were in any way imprecise, unlawful, or excessively targeted civilians. I would argue that this is, I believe, the most precise campaign in the history of warfare, and we have gone to extraordinary measures to safeguard civilian lives.

AMY GOODMAN: But The New York Times investigation reveals many of the American-led airstrikes against Islamic State militants actually killed civilians. One of the survivors they interviewed, Basim Razzo, described a coalition airstrike on his home in Mosul, Iraq, in 2015 in which his wife, daughter, brother, and nephew were killed. Video of the strike on his home shows a target hit with military precision.

Well, today we are joined by that man, Basim Razzo. He's joining us from Erbil, Iraq, via Democracy Now! video stream. We're also joined in studio, here in New York, by the two reporters who co-authored this New York Times investigation headlined "The Uncounted."

Azmat Khan is an investigative journalist and a Future of War fellow at New America and Arizona State University, and Anand Gopal is an assistant research professor at Arizona State University and the author of No Good Men Among the Living. I want to start off in Erbil, Iraq, with Basim Razzo. Basim, that is not actually your longtime home. You lived in Mosul until 2015. Can you describe what happened on that fateful night when your home was hit by a US airstrike?

BASIM RAZZO: Good morning, Amy. Thank you for having me on your program. That night, as I said in my story, I went to bed around 1:00. I had just checked my daughter to see if she was asleep, and I lied down. And then I woke up to a devastating explosion. Did not realize what had happened. I felt that I was in a nightmare, but then I felt that something had happened, because I looked up to the skies and I could see the stars.

There was a terrible smell in the air. And then I started feeling my legs, pinching myself. I thought I was in a dream or in a nightmare, but no, it was reality. I looked to the left at my wife, and all I could see was debris. And I started shouting her name -- "Mayada, Mayada." She did not answer me. I started shouting at my daughter, Tuqa. No answer. And then I started shouting at my brother's house, but I could not hear a sound.

Minutes later, I could hear a sound from far away, and it seems that it was the groundkeeper that we have. His house was about 500 meters from my house. Minutes later, he started shouting at me. He said "Uncle Basim, Uncle Basim, I am coming, I am coming. But I need to get a ladder so I can climb up. Are you OK?" I said to him -- his name is [inaudible]. I said [inaudible] "Please, help me. I think I am very hurt and something is broken. I cannot move."

I tried to stand up, but I fell down. I reached to my back because I felt my back was warm. And I touched my back, and then I felt something in my left arm. Something was warm. And it was blood. My back has been injured. My left foot had broken. My bed was in a v-shape, which resulted in a break to my hip. I tried to just move a little bit, but I could not move at all.

So minutes later, I could hear our groundkeeper climbing up to me. And then he came to me and he said "Are you OK? Are you OK?" I said, "I am badly hurt. What has happened to the other house?" That was my brother's house. He said "I don't know." But I could hear a female sound. And then when I started shouting at her, it was my sister-in-law, Azza. And she said "Basim, everybody's gone."

But I could not see anything. It was very dark. The bombing has damaged the electricity. The street was dark. Everything was dark. And then about half an hour later, I could see somebody was walking, entering the farm with a torch light. And they climbed up the ladder and three members of ISIS were looking down at me. So the first thing I said to them, I said, "Are you happy?"They looked at me in disgust and they left me. They climbed down the ladder and they left.

But they had called an ambulance, but they did not let the ambulance come right away.
Because usually when there is a bombing, most of the time it is followed by a second bombing, so they wanted to stay out. So they left for another like 15 minutes. And then when they could hear that the planes were out of the sky, they ordered the ambulance to enter my farm.

And they took me down, put me on the ambulance, and they rushed me to the hospital. When I reached the hospital, it was chaos. I was disoriented. I didn't know what was happening. I was in pain. And then I looked around and I could not know anybody. It was all ISIS members. But some person, he tapped on my shoulder and said, "Uncle Basim, don't worry, I know you are here, my son." He said, "I will be here for you. Don't worry. Don't worry."

So he started rushing me -- he cleaned my wound in my back. They did some x-rays for me. They did a CT scan for -- they were afraid that I have like brain damage or hemorrhage. Thank God, I did not have anything. They put a cast on my left foot. And then I woke up the next morning around 10:00 with my brother-in-law and another friend, and they had told me what just happened. They told me that all my member family are gone.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Basim Razzo, our deepest condolences to you and your family. You mentioned that your brother's house was next door. How many total members of the family were in both houses, and how many survived, and what kind of injuries did they have?

BASIM RAZZO: In my house, it was me, my wife, and my daughter. Two lost their life -- my wife and my daughter. In my brother's house, which was about 20 feet away from my house, it was my brother, his wife, and his son. Only his wife survived. So total, four deaths, two survivals.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you describe the last day with your wife and your daughter?

BASIM RAZZO: Well, usually, before ISIS, I could come home late, like 10:00 or 11:00.
But since ISIS entered Mosul, it is better for me and more comfortable for me to be home early. I would sit with my family, sit with my brother's family, after sundown. We will go out to the farm. So it was just a regular everyday. I would come home from work around 5:00 or 6:00. I'd have dinner with them.

AMY GOODMAN: You had had a party the night before at your brother's house?

BASIM RAZZO: We had a party, like a party for women. And my daughter and my wife attended that party. And then we just have tea. And then when it's -- and it is sundown, when the temperature cools down a little bit. Because you know, it was September. It is very hot in September in Iraq. So about 8:00 or 9:00, we would go out to the front yard. We would have tea, maybe some cold drinks. Maybe we will have some fruits. And then we would stay late until like 10:00 or 11:00. And that was my hours before my accident.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And your mention of the strike -- how often were these airstrikes visited on Mosul or on your neighborhood in particular? Were these regular occurrences or was this an unusual occurrence in your neighborhood?

BASIM RAZZO: Well, at that time, there was not that much bombing, before the liberation of Mosul. You would hear some bombing every now and then, but it was not that often. But you could hear drones in the sky. But for bombing, it was not that often.

AMY GOODMAN: There is a picture in The New York Times investigation of your daughter Tuqa on the night before the airstrike. She's got that sparkler you describe.

BASIM RAZZO: Yes. She had found it somewhere. I think it was -- I don't know if we had bought it earlier for her birthday, but it was left somewhere, and she had found it. And she lit it. And I was shouting at her because it was dangerous to light it inside. I told her, "Tuqa, honey, why don't you go outside?" She said, "No, it's not working. I think it is damaged because of the humidity, so it is not sparkling that much. So I will be safe. I'll be safe." So thank God she was safe. But she lost her life later.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to break and then come back and hear what happened next. Has the US claimed responsibility for what it did to your family? We will be joined by the two reporters who have investigated the attack on not only your home and your brother's, but so many others in Mosul, Iraq.

This is Democracy Now!, Democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report, and investigated airstrikes throughout Iraq. Please, stay with us.

Categories: Latest News

Authoritarian Funnies: Kettling

Truthout - Mon, 11/20/2017 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

Say Goodbye to Net Neutrality. Say Hello to the FCC's Trickle-Down Experiment

Truthout - Mon, 11/20/2017 - 21:00

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai before speaking at an internet regulation event at the Newseum April 26, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Eric Thayer / Getty Images)

Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission's Trump-appointed chairman, is preparing to gut the agency's net neutrality rules. The move is part of an aggressive agenda based on the idea that slashing regulations and maximizing private profits will provide benefits for everyone else. Opponents say Pai is working for the rich and powerful and leaving the rest of us behind.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai before speaking at an internet regulation event at the Newseum April 26, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Eric Thayer / Getty Images)

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Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission's Trump-appointed chairman, is moving to gut the net neutrality rules that progressive activists and a massive online movement successfully pushed for during the Obama administration.

The effort to kill net neutrality adds to a long list of deregulatory moves that media rights advocates say will hurt people the FCC is charged with protecting: everyday consumers, low-income families, underserved Indigenous communities, disabled people, as well as women and people of color, who remain underrepresented in broadcast media.

Last week, Pai and the FCC's Republican majority began overhauling the Lifeline program that subsidizes phone and internet service for low-income people, an effort that Democratic commissioners say will punitively cripple the crucial safety net. Commissioners also voted along party lines to repeal a list of media ownership regulations, a move that critics say will usher in a new era of media consolidation in local markets and help a massive, right-leaning broadcasting company gobble up TV stations without selling others off.

The FCC's agenda may be good news for the class of mostly white men who own big telecom companies and broadcasting stations and are eager to consolidate their control over the media landscape. Consider Sinclair Broadcast Group, the TV broadcasting giant that reportedly "struck a deal" with the Trump campaign for favorable coverage and has since seen regulatory hurdles standing in the way of a proposed merger with Tribune Media cleared by Pai and the FCC.

Sinclair is known for pushing a conservative agenda and could soon reach 72 percent of local TV viewers nationwide if the merger is approved.

"To some extent Trump TV already exists; it's just going to be Trump TV on steroids," Tim Karr, spokesperson for the digital rights group Free Press, said of Sinclair in an interview.

Pai has been talking about killing the FCC's historic net neutrality rules since they were established in 2015 (well before his appointment as chairman). He's been taking comments on a draft proposal to do so for months, and a final draft is due out any day now. While the scope of his proposal remains to be seen, observers expect the FCC to vote on a measure that will largely gut the rules next month.

Like his counterparts in other agencies under the Trump administration, Pai argues that slashing regulations and allowing big businesses to maximize profits will lead to new media models and investments in telecom infrastructure that will benefit everyone else. It's the same "trickle-down" theory driving Trump and many GOP politicians.

Speaking before the right-libertarian Cato Institute on Friday, Pai said the FCC's role isn't to support "any particular company or industry," but rather to "foster a light-touch regulatory framework" that allows different companies to compete.

"And then we'll let American consumers choose who succeeds and who doesn't," Pai said. "After all, competition is a far better guarantor of consumer welfare than preemptive regulation."

However, there are only so many airwaves and broadcasting licenses available in local TV and radio markets, and by relaxing media ownership rules, the FCC is setting the stage for newsroom consolidations that could reduce the number of journalists working local beats, as well as the already-small number of voices from communities of color on the airwaves.

"It's a giveaway to [broadcasting] companies without expecting, or frankly, having a realistic case for competition in return," said Phillip Berenbroick, a senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge, in an interview with Truthout.

Pai argues the deregulation is necessary to help newspapers and local broadcasters compete with large online platforms such as Facebook that deliver news, but Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn points out that big internet firms are not producing local news reporting on their own.

"Citing to 'simple fairness,' the Chairman is fond of making a comparison between local broadcasters and tech companies like Google, Twitter and Facebook," Clyburn wrote in her dissenting statement. "Yet the last time I checked, none of these companies are in the newsgathering business nor to my knowledge are they engaged in local news production."

Consumers also have limited choices when it comes to internet providers. In many parts of the country, only one or two companies provide cable and high-speed internet service. Some rural and impoverished areas do not have any options, and experts say slashing regulations is not going to help.

"Killing net neutrality is not going to move the needle on broadband deployment in areas [where] it's not economical," Berenbroick said. 

Net neutrality supporters say that without the rules, big broadband providers like AT&T and Comcast would be free to censor competing web content and extract fees from big players like Google and Amazon in exchange for priority speeds that would put smaller companies at a disadvantage. Providers say they would never do such things, but advocates counter that the incentives are there and attempts at priority deals have already been made.

Rashad Robinson, executive director of the online civil rights group Color Of Change, said net neutrality has been an "indispensible tool" for those fighting for justice and civil rights.

"Net neutrality ensures that the internet is a place for innovation and opportunity for all, allowing the voices and ideas of everyday Black folks to spread based on substance, rather than financial backing," Robinson said in a statement.

Some net neutrality advocates fear providers would eventually "cable-ize" the internet by providing lower-income consumers with access to only certain websites, rather than the entire internet, in exchange for lower service rates.

However, Pai says the regulations have impeded profit margins and prevented telecom companies from investing in broadband infrastructure. If the FCC repeals them, he argues, broadband companies will have extra cash to deploy high-speed internet in needy areas.

Yet, both Karr and Berenbroick said that there is no evidence that the net neutrality rules have kept broadband companies from laying new cables and fiber wires to expand internet access.

"The notion that he is fixing a problem is a bogus premise to begin with," Karr said.

In May, a study by Free Press found a 5 percent increase in capital investments among providers after net neutrality was established.

In fact, broadband companies tell investors that they are expanding infrastructure more than ever before, particularly in high-income areas where they are seeing high profits. Rural and low-income areas remain disconnected because bringing services to them is expensive and will not reap large returns for these private companies. Repealing net neutrality is not going to change that, according to Berenbroick. 

"If they were going to deploy there, they would be there already," Berenbroick said of areas in need of high-speed connection, adding that government investment would ultimately be necessary to fix the problem.

If we are to believe Pai, then his deregulatory efforts will unleash a new wave of innovation and investment in both local media and the internet. If instead we see rampant consolidation, the closing of local newsrooms and big telecom companies increasingly shaping how we access the internet, could voters respond by punishing Republicans in the midterm elections?

Karr said net neutrality remains popular among voters and consumers, including Republicans, and millions of comments supporting the rules have flooded the FCC. (Perhaps this is why Pai is scheduling his major moves on the issue around major holidays.) Meanwhile, internet service providers that enjoy monopolies and duopolies across the country consistently score lower than any other industry when it comes to customer satisfaction.

With all the buzz around net neutrality, Karr said, the issue could very well be "part of a progressive/Democratic platform that is featured in the 2018 midterms."

Categories: Latest News

We Saw Puerto Rico's Struggle to Survive

Truthout - Mon, 11/20/2017 - 21:00
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Almost two months after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, the island is adjusting to a new reality.

As one activist we met put it, Hurricane Maria ripped the leaves off the trees -- and also ripped away the thin veil that barely concealed widespread poverty and immiseration.

The first few weeks after the storm were a period in which people worked just to ensure the safety of their families, comrades and loved ones, using alternative methods of communication to reach people in different areas. With very little support from the government, people pooled their resources to clean out their homes and try to salvage what was salvageable.

As of mid-November, about two-thirds of the island's residents remained without electricity. Although authorities are promising to restore power to 95 percent of residents by mid-December, attempts to repair the electrical grid have already run into many problems and breakdowns.

As a result, many people must rely on power generators for electricity, polluting the air with sound and exhaust. Without reliable electricity, people struggle to preserve and cook food, clean their clothing and keep desperately needed medicine such as insulin.

While 75 percent of the island reportedly had running water as this article was being written, people still line up for hours for bottled water -- because it's suspected that water from the tap isn't safe to drink in the wake of the storm. In the Rio Piedras area of San Juan, the tap water ran blue as it flowed from faucets, according to residents.

What You Can Do

New Yorkers can hear from Monique Dols and others who have traveled to Puerto Rico at a forum on From Devastation to Solidarity: Building a Movement that Stands With Puerto Rico. Wednesday, November 29, 6:30 p.m., City College of New York, North Academic Building (NAC) Ballroom, 160 Convent Ave.

Shortages of certain products roll through at different moments, creating spikes in prices. For example, right before we arrived, there was a shortage of mosquito repellant, which is now a necessity on the island.

The informal death toll is now around 900, but is likely more since communication is still spotty, reporting is low, and the medical system is still in a state of crisis.

Yet despite this latter crisis, the US Navy medical ship, the USS Comfort -- which, when we were there, was anchored in San Juan's port where cruise ships usually dock -- is woefully underserving the sick people of Puerto Rico.

With doctors at Centro Médico in San Juan, the main hospital for the island, still operating by flashlight at times, many people wanted to know what you had to do to get admitted to the USS Comfort. The authorities had set up a couple of tents on the promenade next to the dock, and we saw dozens of people -- some with walkers or oxygen tanks -- lining up in the sweltering heat, presumably seeking treatment.

The common understanding on the island is that the local and federal governments have completely abandoned ordinary Puerto Ricans.

***

The situation in Puerto Rico today is the result multiple disasters that compounded the consequences for residents.

First, there was the severity of the hurricane itself. "It was as if a 50- to 60-mile-wide tornado raged across Puerto Rico, like a buzz saw," Jeff Weber, a meteorologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Vox.

The hurricane affected those in charge of emergency response along with everyone else. Without means of communication and electricity and supplies of diesel cut off, they couldn't distribute the needed relief.

Then there are the failures of FEMA and the island government due to their political priorities.

FEMA initially distributed aid through the island's 78 municipalities. This led to posturing, with politicians using aid distribution as an opportunity for photo ops and favoritism, with supplies directed to their bases of electoral support.

To top it off, the FEMA relief packages were insultingly meager and inadequate. They included small quantities of water, as well as junk food and candy. "They just kept throwing Spam at us," an activist who works in the Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo in Mariana, a small barrio in Humacao on the east coast of the island, told us.

But even before these packages were distributed, FEMA infamously went from town to town distributing... forms for residents to fill out. The agency even urged people to file their claims online -- when most of the island had no electricity or cell service!

The US Army Corps of Engineers is also embroiled in a controversy on the island because for weeks after the hurricane, its "blue top" program -- which is supposed to get tarps covering ruined roofs -- has been woefully slow and bureaucratic.

Dozens of scandals lie right below the surface. Puerto Ricans know about them, but they haven't been widely reported in the US press.

For example, several days after the hurricane struck officials in Toa Baja, a municipality west of San Juan on the north coast, decided to open floodgates in order to "prevent worse flooding."

The New York Times reported that people simply didn't listen to evacuation orders before the order was carried out. But one friend in San Juan told us a different story: the flood alarms didn't work.

In a local news segment, the official in charge admitted to, as our friend put it, "criminal negligence and federal fraud" -- stating in the same breath that the alarm system wasn't functional and that it had been certified by the federal government as capable of alerting people to the arrival of a tsunami.

Similarly, the federal government continues to deny that Puerto Rico has suffered any problem related to leptospirosis, a treatable disease spread through contaminated water. Though there are dozens of cases confirmed by medical workers, they haven't been "officially" categorized as an outbreak or an epidemic.

It's the same with tallying the death toll from the hurricane. Authorities prefer to count casualties according to their immediate causes, such as heat stroke, rather than to their hurricane-related social causes, such as lack of air conditioning.

***

The Puerto Rican people received a bit of good news when Gov. Ricardo Roselló was forced to cancel a $300 million contract with Whitefish Energy Holdings in late October.

The two-employee Montana-based firm -- whose CEO is a friend of Interior Secretary Ryan Zincke and whose main investor is a Trump donor -- raised eyebrows when it landed a no-bid contract to help restore the electrical grid only a few days after the hurricane struck. When a Washington Post report raised questions about the contract, Roselló -- who had earlier defended the contract with the island's public electrical utility -- was forced to do an about-face.

The Whitefish contract might be the most obvious example of corruption, nepotism and profiteering off Puerto Rico's tragedy, but it's far from the most significant.

In fact, the completely "legal" privatization and profiteering in the wake of the crisis is well underway.

The Army Corps of Engineers -- like FEMA, it seems, acting as a broker for private contractors -- marked up a deal with Fluor Corporation, the Texas-based multinational engineering and construction firm, from $200 billion to $840 billion for work restoring the power grid.

With the likes of Whitefish out of the way, the "big fish" can move in -- and rebuild a grid that will then be sold off to private investors, according to the longstanding plans of the current Puerto Rican government and the seven-member Fiscal Control Board imposed by the US Congress.

Another major target for the privatizers is the more than 1,000 public schools on the island.

The Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR), the more socially conscious of the two main teachers' unions, is one of the only forces we witnessed firsthand organizing against the government's privatization schemes.

The FMPR is drawing the connection between the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina -- which gave the state of Louisiana the opportunity to close all of New Orleans' schools and reopen them as charters -- and Maria today.

Puerto Rican Education Secretary Julia Keleher has made little secret of wanting to use the crisis to change the pre-hurricane "status quo," adopting the language of school closers and privatizers in the US But the FMPR is directly challenging the school closings -- pressuring the local government to reopen ones that are safe for children to attend.

***

Because of the colonial relationship between the US and Puerto Rico, federal neglect after the hurricane and the already dire state of the economy infrastructure before Maria, the post-hurricane crisis promises to be more drawn out even than in places like New Orleans.

This could result in a situation that deteriorates very suddenly. Mass disease outbreaks are an ever-present threat, contributing to an extreme degree of instability that could go in any number of directions.

Already, stories are circulating by word of mouth -- like people taking what they needed from a Walgreens before burning it to the ground -- an example of what is to come if there isn't a drastic change for the better.

The common-sense feeling is that people can't rely on the government in a moment of crisis, and so they must organize themselves to make a terrible situation a bit better.

Everywhere we went, we met people who had lost everything, but were working against the school closings and for mutual aid. A slogan heard around the mutual aid centers that have arisen in different towns and cities captures that spirit: "Because we aren't rich, a collective response makes us rich."

People routinely pool their resources to meet the needs of larger numbers of people. A comrade who lives in a cooperative apartment building in San Juan told us that residents generate power for a collective refrigerator to make sure that everyone's basic food and medicinal needs are met.

The sense among many people with whom we spoke is that getting together to break out of social isolation and working together to meet people's needs is a form of collective therapy and a part of the process of rebuilding solidarity from below.

In Caguas, south of San Juan, comrades from the Centro de Apoyo Mutuo pointed out that since people can't cook at home on their electric stoves, they bring the food they get with their food stamps to the CAM as a donation -- where it is shared out at communal meals serving hundreds.

The CAM slogan of "I can't eat austerity! I cook dignity!" has struck a chord. The crisis has led to a growth in the idea of self-organization from below.

***

Despite this instinctive spirit of solidarity, a resistance to government and colonial indifference and private profiteering will take some time to develop, just because of the scale of the crisis.

A comrade from the Movimiento Socialista de Trabajadores (MST, or Socialist Workers Movement) described, for example, how the group's first priority right after the hurricane had to be accounting for all of its members and allies, and helping each other clean up from the storm and get basic needs met.

In spite of the difficulties, though, comrades we met were part of organizing some small but important initiatives.

For example, the MST organized a small protest when Donald Trump came to town, raising the slogan "People Before Debt!" The Colectiva Feminista en Construcción protested the army's inefficient distribution of relief, demanding "More water, less militarization."

And the FMPR organized teachers and families for important protests and press conferences to keep schools open. We attended the union's protest at the Padre Rufo School in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan. The school was opened the next week, proving yet again that protest and solidarity work!

While on a solidarity brigade with the FMPR, we visited a school in Guaynabo, the mountainous area outside of San Juan. At the somber meeting of teachers at the Escuela Rafael Hernandez -- many of whom had lost everything in the storm -- the educators discussed how to organize to get their school reopened, weighing and debating the risks involved in engaging in a struggle.

After several weeks of organizing families and teachers to engage in direct action at the offices of officials responsible for the decision, along with protests and interviews with the press, the school -- one of the last in the area, so its closure would have been deeply felt -- reopened!

Socialists reported an opening to socialist ideas and organizing outside of the two main political parties: the Partido Popular Democratico (the pro-commonwealth PPD, aligned with the Democrats, and the party of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz) and the Partido Nuevo Progresista (the pro-statehood PNP, currently led by Gov. Ricardo Roselló).

Most people we met with described a left in Puerto Rico that had, even before the hurricane, struggled to find its feet and orientation in the face of a grave economic crisis that has disorganized many people's lives.

The unelected Fiscal Control Board, established under the 2016 federal law titled the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), has devastated the island by intensifying neoliberal policies of privatization and austerity.

***

To this point, the working class has been unable to launch the kind of resistance needed to stop privatization and force debt relief. After the hurricane, this dynamic is even more pronounced.

Almost all members of the left that we met pointed to 2008 as a turning point. Faced with harsh anti-union and anti-public education demands, the FMPR launched an island-wide strike that suffered a bitter defeat, leaving the union open to a government-sponsored decertification under newly passed labor legislation.

The result was the decimation of the island's most militant and socially conscious labor union. In subsequent elections, the Associación de Maestros (Teachers Association), a more conservative organization affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers in the US, displaced the FMPR as the sole representative of the teachers.

The FMPR has attempted to win back representation, but has been unable to. The organization has shrunk from a membership of 40,000 in 2008 to 3,000 today, according to FMPR President Mercedes Martinez.

The FMPR continues to be a key organization with Puerto Rico's social movements, but it has lost much of its social weight.

The weakening of the FMPR reinforced sectional, business-unionist tendencies in the rest of the labor movement. Labor has faced a decline based on a series of anti-union laws, mass layoffs, austerity measures, shifts in the economy and the exit of thousands of workers to the US during the recession that has gripped the island since 2006.

All the comrades we met pointed to the weakness of the labor movement as a central reason why, as yet, there has not been a broader political movement or protest against the local or federal governments following Maria.

Due to the uncertainty and volatility of the situation, struggles may break out in any number of arenas. Yet all the activists we talked to realize they are up against powerful forces -- like the US military and Wall Street's richest firms, to name two -- that will not be easily dislodged from pushing through austerity.

For that reason, all asked for solidarity and support from the US Comrades from the Partido del Pueblo Trabajador (PPT, or the Working People's Party) stressed that political solidarity in the US will be crucial over the next few months.

Specifically, they asked that US organizations standing in solidarity with Puerto Rico organize around the follow demands: Billions from Congress to help in the reconstruction of the island; cancellation of Puerto Rico's debt; and the repeal of PROMESA and its austerity agenda.

These are demands we think anyone concerned with justice and democracy should enthusiastically endorse.

Categories: Latest News

Experts Warn It Would Take More Than One General to Thwart "Illegal" Nuclear Strike

Truthout - Mon, 11/20/2017 - 21:00

While a top US nuclear military commander made global headlines over the weekend after he stated plainly on Saturday that he would resist any order from President Donald Trump that he deemed "illegal," including an unlawful directive to carry out a nuclear strike, experts warn that individual objections such as that could be overcome by a commander-in-chief determined to launch an attack.

Speaking at a security convention in Nova Scotia, Canada, Gen. John Hyten, head of US Strategic Command, said that his role in the event of the president ordering a nuclear strike would be to offer both strategic and legal guidance, but that he would not betray the laws of war simply because Trump ordered it.

"I provide advice to the President," Hyten answered when asked how he would respond to a nuclear attack being ordered. "He'll tell me what to do, and if it's illegal, guess what's going to happen? I'm gonna say, 'Mr. President, that's illegal.' Guess what he's going to do? He's going to say, 'What would be legal?' And we'll come up with options of a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is, and that's the way it works. It's not that complicated."

But is it that simple?

What would happen if a president ordered a nuclear strike, but the commanding general refused, believing it to be illegal? The truth is, no one knows. https://t.co/H4VVRblmVU

— The Associated Press (@AP) November 19, 2017

As reporting by the Associated Press points out on Sunday, a simple refusal by even a top commander like Hyten might not be enough to stop a commander-in-chief bent on having such an attack carried out:

Brian McKeon, a senior policy adviser in the Pentagon during the Obama administration, said a president's first recourse would be to tell the defense secretary to order the reluctant commander to execute the launch order.

"And then, if the commander still resisted," McKeon said as rubbed his chin, "you either get a new secretary of defense or get a new commander." The implication is that one way or another, the commander in chief would not be thwarted.

Hyten's remarks follow a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week in which the president's authority to launch nuclear weapons was held on Capitol Hill. As Common Dreams reported, "Trump's behavior throughout his campaign and presidency has heightened concerns about the threat of nuclear annihilation and has, for monthsprovoked global demands that the US Congress strip Trump of his nuclear authority."

While Hyten's comments on Saturday likely brought some relief to those concerned about Trump's finger on the nuclear button, Bruce Blair, a former nuclear missile launch officer and co-founder of the Global Zero group that advocates eliminating nuclear weapons, said there's an another important caveat that shouldn't be missed: The Strategic Command chief, Hyten in this case, could be bypassed by the president.

A president can transmit his nuclear attack order directly to a Pentagon war room, Blair told the AP. And from there the news outlet reports, the order "would go to the men and women who would turn the launch keys."

With everything going on in the White House, the media must maintain relentless pressure on the Trump administration. Can you support Truthout in this endeavor? Click here to donate.
Categories: Latest News

The "Redneck Revolt" Is Showing Up at Gun Shows and KKK Rallies to End White Supremacy

Truthout - Sun, 11/19/2017 - 21:00

Last year, following the presidential election, I wrote a column suggesting that people who identify as White consider working in their own families and communities to address the racism and bigotry that helped to put Donald Trump in office. I asked what if the well-intentioned White allies who have moved to urban centers to "help" communities of color had instead remained in their own communities -- however racially regressive and intolerable -- and worked to make them better at engaging in race relations.

I later discussed two communities doing this kind of work. In Maine, a Truth & Reconciliation Commission investigated how generations of Native children had been taken from their homes, against the wishes of their families, and placed in foster care with White families. From that process came the organization Maine Wabanaki REACH, a cross-cultural group that worked to implement suggestions that came out of the commission to help heal that community. And the Truth-Telling Project, founded in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police-killing of Michael Brown, is not only working within its community to address police violence enacted on the mostly Black community, but also with White communities in other states. The TTP is helping them with their approach to truth-telling in their local areas, and unlearning racism.

My thinking is this: Our best hope for changing deep-rooted attitudes that perpetuate racism and White supremacy is for people from similar backgrounds to work together toward that end. Conversations between people with shared life experiences could perhaps more effectively change minds and, ultimately, behaviors. This is a strategy of Redneck Revolt.

The self-described anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-fascist group was founded in the summer of 2016 to challenge working-class White people to stand against White supremacy.

In an open letter called "To Other Working Americans," Redneck Revolt put out a call for its fellow working-class rural White people to "reject the idea of whiteness." That is, they wrote, "to reject the idea that our allegiance is somehow determined by what skin we have, even when our real living situations are so different."

Media and some progressives want to lay blame for the Trump presidency at the feet of working-class White people, yet it is this demographic that makes up Redneck Revolt. The organization recruits working-class and poor Whites in rural areas -- the target of far-right and White nationalist groups.

This is intentional.

They are rural White people challenging other rural White people to connect to their local communities so that they can build the kind of relationships that defend each other against the divisions caused by right-wing politics. They do this by sharing the history of struggle experienced by all working-class Americans and immigrants: people of color, White people, and LGBTQ communities.

"Race affects us all differently," co-founder Tyler said in a Redneck Revolt podcast, "but what unites us is our shared struggle to survive -- the working-class folks, poor folks.

"And there are people who systematically benefit from our struggle."

To be clear, that's the wealthy.

With about 40 chapters nationwide, Redneck Revolt members can be found "counter recruiting" at gun shows, country music concerts, and White nationalist/Ku Klux Klan demonstrations around the country.

Modeled after the Rainbow Coalition, the group builds alliances with non-White organizations. It's not uncommon to see them show up at a Black Lives Matter protest in support of that movement's efforts.

Redneck Revolt's immediate work is organizing White working-class people to attend to the needs of their local communities. This includes food programs, community gardens, clothing programs, and needle exchanges (in addition to their armed self-defense programs, which comes from the organization's roots in the John Brown Gun Club). All this organizing is done as a coalition with organizations of color.

This is what it looks like when White folks exercise self-determination in their own communities -- naming for themselves who are their allies, what is their real enemy, what needs to be done to heal and build community on all sides of the color line.

Getting more serious about that sort of work is Scalawag Magazine, which on Nov. 2 announced an in-depth reporting initiative on how Southerners are challenging White supremacy. In a recent New York Times article, Alysia Nicole Harris, the editor of Scalawag, said: "Ultimately, we believe that the South is going to be the voice that emerges to lead this conversation about trauma and healing, because here is where the trauma was the thickest."

This is hopeful news. For decades, Whites have worked alongside communities of color for civil rights. It is reassuring to know there are White allies bold enough to hold their own people accountable to disrupt racism and White supremacy.

Categories: Latest News

Virginia Governor Defies Trump on Paris Climate Deal, Pushes Investments in Solar and Wind

Truthout - Sun, 11/19/2017 - 21:00

At the UN Climate Summit in Bonn, Germany, a number of US senators, mayors and governors staged a defiant anti-Trump revolt. The lawmakers were part of a coalition of cities, universities, faith groups and companies who attended the UN climate summit to reject Trump's vow to pull the US out of the Paris deal and instead proclaim "We Are Still In." We spoke with Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

As Zimbabwe's Mugabe Refuses to Resign, Advocates Say Coup "Is Not the Answer" for Meaningful Reform

Truthout - Sun, 11/19/2017 - 21:00

In Zimbabwe, longtime leader Robert Mugabe is refusing to resign as president amid a growing political crisis. Last week Mugabe was placed under house arrest after Zimbabwe's military seized parliament, courts, government offices, and the main airport in the capital, Harare. The apparent coup came a week after President Mugabe ousted his Vice President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who's since been named by the military as interim president. Members of Zimbabwe's ruling party are preparing to meet to discuss Mugabe's impeachment, after the deadline for him to resign came and went this morning. On Sunday, Mugabe gave a televised address acknowledging the country's problems, but did not mention stepping down. Zimbabwe's ruling party, ZANU-PF, has expelled Mugabe and First Lady Grace Mugabe from the party. Impeachment proceedings against Mugabe may now begin as soon as Tuesday. For more we're joined by Glen Mpani, Mason fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He is a democracy and governance practitioner who has worked for the last 15 years in Africa. His recent op-ed in the New York Times is titled, "For Zimbabwe, a Coup Isn't the Answer."

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, Democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman.

We begin today's show with Zimbabwe, where long-time leader Robert Mugabe is refusing to resign as president amidst a growing political crisis in Zimbabwe. Members of Zimbabwe's ruling party are preparing to meet to discuss Mugabe's impeachment after the deadline for him to resign came and went this morning. On Sunday, Mugabe gave a televised address acknowledging the country's problems, but did not mention stepping down.

PRESIDENT ROBERT MUGABE: Whatever the pros and cons of the way they went about registering those concerns, I, as the president of Zimbabwe and as their commander in chief, do acknowledge the issues they have drawn my attention to, and do believe that these were raised in the spirit of honesty and out of deep and patriotic concern for the stability of our nation.

Of greater concern to our commanders are the well-founded fears that the lack of unity and commonness of purpose in both party and government was translating into perceptions of inattentiveness to the economy. Open public spurts between high-ranking officials in the party and government exacerbated by multiple conflicting messages, from both the party and government, major criticisms leveled against us, inescapable.

AMY GOODMAN: Zimbabwe's ruling party, ZANU-PF, has expelled Mugabe and First Lady Grace Mugabe from the party. Mugabe had been working to hand over power to his wife Grace. The impeachment proceedings against Mugabe may now begin as soon as Tuesday. Last week, President Mugabe was placed under house arrest after Zimbabwe's military seized parliament, courts, government offices, and the main airport in the capital Harare.
The apparent coup came a week after President Mugabe ousted his vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa. The military says it has appointed him as the interim president of Zimbabwe.

On Sunday, after a week of relative calm, residents in Harare took to the streets to celebrate the expected announcement of Mugabe's resignation, only to be disappointed by his refusal to step down.

UNKNOWN PERSON: We were expecting to hear the president say, "I have heard your concerns yesterday, and I'm ready to step down. This is not what we were expecting, to hear a long speech without any results for us. The results were simple -- "I am stepping down. I am handing over the country to someone else."

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Mugabe has held power since Zimbabwe declared independence 37 years ago. For more, we're joined by Glen Mpani, Mason fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, democracy and governance practitioner who has worked for the last 15 years in Africa. His recent op-ed in The New York Times is headlined, For Zimbabwe, a Coup Isn't the Answer. Glen Mpani, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about what is the latest in Zimbabwe and give us background on how to understand it?

GLEN MPANI: Thank you so much. It is good to be on your show. As you are aware, Zimbabwe has been confronted with an economic and political crisis for the last 20 years. The crisis has been largely due to bad governance, centralization of power, and the inability of the ZANA-PF government to be able to provide alternative solutions to address the economic crisis. The crisis has also resulted in the country's being placed on sanctions. It has resulted in multitudes of Zimbabwe fleeing the country to go to other countries to be able to [inaudible] a living.

And if you look at some of the key things that have been a major challenge for a day-to-day Zimbabwean, unemployment is at 98 percent. There are shortages of water, electricity, and cash within the country. So these are some of the major economic issues that have been a problem.

But of major concern the last three or four years, there have been issues that deal with succession within ZANU-PF. And within ZANU-PF, there have been two major factions that have been trying to show that they can be able to succeed Mugabe. One of the factions was led by the former vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was voted out a couple of weeks from ZANU-PF. And the other faction was led by the first lady Grace Mugabe, which the president, Robert Mugabe, is regarded to have been part of.

So this jostling for position reached fever pitch a couple of weeks ago when there was the expulsion of the vice president from his post as the vice president of the country, as the result that he was promoting factionalism. And in that process, a free-for-all event took place, where we saw the security, which has been very close to Vice President Mnangagwa, aligning themselves to it, and in essence moving in to ensure that they can be able to restore him.

On the other side, the faction that was aligned to the first lady was pushing to ensure that they [inaudible] the structures and ensure that they align them with the faction of the first lady. So what we are confronted with here is factional issues with intraparty disagreements within ZANU-PF that have largely sped into a national crisis.

And unfortunately, there has been now a convergence of issues where Zimbabweans, the general public, is tired of the leadership of ZANU-PF, and they have been saying it for many, many years. And now we have one individual who everyone is in agreement that they should go. We have got a faction in ZANU-PF that would not want him to stay, and the general [inaudible] in Zimbabwe that do want him to be there. So there is a common enemy on the ground to say, "Let's get him out."

But there are nuances that people need to pick out. The nuances are as follows. The ZANU-PF faction that is pushing for this in all intents and purposes is not sincere in terms of economic recovery and democratization of Zimbabwe. They're simply doing it simply because they want to install one of their own. And the people rallying with them are using it as an opportunity for them to be able to gain legitimacy, for them to be able to sanitize themselves as a pro-democratic movement. But in essence, that is not their agenda and their cause.

AMY GOODMAN: So talk about, for people who are not familiar with Zimbabwe's history, 37 years ago gaining independence from England. It used to be called Rhodesia, for Cecil Rhodes. Robert Mugabe a leading independence activist as was his vice president, who has just been appointed president. Give us the history of Zimbabwe in Africa.

GLEN MPANI: Zimbabwe attained independence in 1980 and offered a lot of hope for the continent. I think if you look at the history of Zimbabwe, we are regarded as the bread basket of the continent. We largely were able to produce commodities such as tobacco. We were able to feed ourselves and to feed other regions on the continent. We were able to have a very robust and vibrant education system. Our health sector was very effective. And we were proud as a country, for us to be able to provide a shining example in terms of how a country can be able to transition from colonial rule.

But what remained, post-independence 1980, was that we had the dominance of ZANU-PF. Regardless of the dominance of ZANU-PF there and the existence of ZAPU as an opposition party -- which it largely also played the very pivotal role during the liberation struggle -- we focused more on the economy and paid very little attention in terms of the politics. So the idea of centralizing authority and power remained a key tenet of the ZANU-PF government.

But unfortunately, because there was very little opposition to them, there was less attention that was paid to them because they were a darling of the West. The British loved them so much. Donors were pouring money to Zimbabwe. But pre-2000, when they went to introduce the IMF conditions for them to be able to reform the economy, we started noticing, one, the cutting down of the social [inaudible], levels of unemployment increased, there was now high inflation.

And this instance led to the rise of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the largest labor movement that resulted in the formation of the now major political party in Zimbabwe, the Movement for Democratic Change. This ushered in a new era within Zimbabwean politics, where the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions was now challenging the government to say, one, there are high levels of corruption. Two, the basic livelihood issues of ordinary Zimbabweans cannot be met. And this resulted in the formation of an opposition. And this opposition since 2000 has successfully been -- successively been participating in elections, which have largely been seen as unfair, in the way it has been seen to have won.

But unfortunately, because of the military, this military that has just intervened, which played a role in instituting violence, rigging of elections, inflicting reprisals on key activists, it has become very, very difficult for any prospect of an opposition being able to get into office through an electoral process.

I recall there was even an instance where all these generals had to do a press conference where they categorically stated that in no way would they allow anyone who has never fought in the liberation struggle to be a leader of Zimbabwe. And true to their word, they have been very consistent. And if you see what is currently happening, they are making sure -- because the G40 is regarded as a faction within ZANU-PF of young people who don't have liberation credentials. So true to their word, the insistence of them intervening, to have Mnangagwa come in as their candidate is in line with their agenda that they will never accept anyone who doesn't have liberation credentials.

AMY GOODMAN: Glen Mpani, I wanted to ask you about Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who you were talking about, who returned to Zimbabwe from South Africa reportedly discussing plans to form a government of national unity with Emmerson Mnangagwa, who the military has appointed as interim president. Tsvangirai served as prime minister under Mugabe from 2009-2013. Former labor activist who was repeatedly arrested by Zimbabwean authorities, subject to beatings, torture while in jail. We only have a minute the half, but if you can talk about both Tsvangirai, Mnangagwa, and the power of the first lady as well? If you can talk about the power of Grace Mugabe and where she fits into this, now also expelled from the party?

GLEN MPANI: Let me start with the first lady. I think the first lady made a greater disservice to Mugabe, whose image had already been eroded. I think she overstretched their hand. She overplayed their hand and in essence did not manage to be able to play an effective role in ensuring that Mugabe can steer this succession agenda. She played a very divisive role, and unfortunately this has culminated into this. And if you listen to most Zimbabweans, they express greater revulsion and hatred in terms of what she has done, because in essence, she caused this to be able to implode.

So if you are to move away from looking at Grace -- so moving forward as a factor, I don't see her as a factor. I think if she's going to play a role, she will play a role within ZANU-PF. That is, if they want it. But from the signs that are there, they have expelled her, and I don't think there will be an opportunity -- if Mugabe leaves, I don't think she will have any opportunity in any realignment or in the future politics for Zimbabwe. This might actually be the end of her political career.

When it comes to Mnangagwa and Tsvangirai, I think they can come up with an alliance of convenience, where they can say, "Let's have an interim arrangement or a transitional government." But I don't see that bringing any meaningful change. It can bring relief in an interim phase, but it will not work. Both of them are desperate. Mnangagwa wants legitimacy. He wants international acclaim. Morgan Tsvangirai is desperate. He also wants to get into government, considering that he is not also feeling well. So they are joined together by their personal missions.

AMY GOODMAN: He is undergoing cancer treatment, right?

GLEN MPANI: He is also undergoing cancer treatment. But in terms of a greater good, I see an elite pact. I don't see any substantive reforms, in terms of them coming out of this process. I don't think all three have the appetite for them to push an agenda. So unfortunately, if citizens in Zimbabwe don't challenge whatever deals or decisions that whatever interim arrangement is going to come up with, they will realize that we have another 37 years where the status quo remains. Because now elite interests and selfish interests are now taking precedence over what needs to be done in terms of reforming Zimbabwe.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much, Glen Mpani, for joining us. Zimbabwean scholar, Mason fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Democracy and governance practitioner who has worked for the last 15 years in Africa.
We will link to your piece in The New York Times: For Zimbabwe, a Coup Isn't the Answer.

When we come back, the UN Climate Summit has just wrapped up. We're just back from Bonn, Germany. We'll speak with Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who was part of the anti-Trump revolt in Bonn. Remember when President Trump said, "I serve Pittsburgh, not Paris"? So we'll hear from Pittsburgh. Stay with us.

Categories: Latest News

How Is Gender Affecting Candidates' Fundraising Going Into 2018?

Truthout - Sun, 11/19/2017 - 21:00
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As we reported earlier this fall, members of the 115th Congress are likely to face far more -- and better funded -- challengers than in previous cycles. In particular, Democrats are fielding an unusually high number of challengers. But, despite political action committees from both parties attempting to boost involvement in politics by women, this year's batch of early challengers has no more women, proportionally, than the current Congress. This is particularly true for Democrats: Of the 481 Democratic challengers who have filed financial reports, 164 are women -- just around 34 percent. Currently, 33 percent of the Democratic members of Congress are women. Fourteen percent of Republican challengers are female, an increase over the 9 percent of female Republicans in Congress.

These counts do not tell the whole story. Democratic female challengers and Democratic women running in open seats are doing at least as well as male candidates in the same kinds of races.  Republican women, however, face significant and severe fundraising deficits.

While Democratic female challengers have raised about 93 percent of what Democratic male challengers have raised, Republican female challengers have only raised 22 percent of what Republican men have raised. This is almost certainly related to the races these candidates are running in -- only 3 Republican women are running as challengers in competitive House races as identified by Cook Political, compared to 75 Democratic women running in competitive races.  Competitive races will generally see more spending overall. 

In races for open House seats, Republican women fare better. They raise, on average, about the same amount that their male counterparts have raised, while female Democrats raise about 160 percent of male Democrats.

The sources of funds vary depending on the candidate's gender and party as well. In general, Democrats this cycle are getting more money as a percentage of their total fundraising haul from individual donors than Republicans, although the difference is not large. Republican women challengers or those running in open seats take in more money from small donors than do their male counterparts, but both male and female Republicans take in 64 percent of their total fundraising haul from individual donors. Democratic women in the same races take in 83 percent of their money from individual donors, while Democratic men take 77 percent from individual donors.

For challengers and candidates in open seats, regardless of gender, very little money comes from PACs -- and most of that goes to candidates in open seats. This is not so for incumbents, who receive the plurality of their campaign contributions through PAC donations regardless of party or gender. However, while male incumbents of both parties receive over 50 percent of their campaign donations from PACs, female incumbents receive less than 50 percent from PACs -- and Republican women get even less than Democrats. Although the differences are small, female incumbents generally get more of their campaign cash from individuals, while men get more from PACs.

Categories: Latest News

The Deepening Divide Between the South's Blue Cities and Red States

Truthout - Sun, 11/19/2017 - 21:00
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The headline from this month's elections was the huge Democratic victory in Virginia, where the party swept the statewide races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general and came close to wiping out the Republicans' 32-seat advantage in the gerrymandered House of Delegates, where partisan control is still up in the air.

The wins were a rare bright spot for Democrats in Southern states: Their party currently controls none of the region's 26 state legislative chambers since losing the Kentucky House last year, and just three governor's mansions -- Virginia's, Louisiana's, and North Carolina's.

But the region is experiencing a widening political divide between cities and states that was apparent in this month's mayoral races.

Following last week's elections, 10 mayors of the South's 30 largest cities are Republicans, while 18 are Democrats and two are unaffiliated (see chart below). Those numbers have changed only slightly since 2015, when a Facing South analysis found that eight of those 30 mayors were Republicans, 21 were Democrats and just one was unaffiliated -- Raleigh's Nancy McFarlane, who has been Democratic Party-endorsed. (Our 2015 analysis misidentified Plano, Texas, mayor Harry LaRosiliere as a Democrat; his office says he is a Republican.)

Since then, Republicans have captured the mayor's offices in the Texas cities of El Paso and Corpus Christi, and there are now two unaffiliated mayors in the region: McFarlane, who won re-election this month in a runoff, and San Antonio's left-leaning Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who defeated registered Democrat Ivy Taylor earlier this year.

Nearly all of the cities with Republican mayors are in Texas or Florida. And Florida and Virginia are the only states in the South whose largest cities -- Jacksonville and Virginia Beach -- are led by Republicans.

Tension in the Tar Heel State

Perhaps nowhere is the divide between blue cities and red legislatures deeper than in North Carolina, a state that has seen high-profile battles over local control and preemption in recent years.

For example, the state's notorious anti-trans and anti-worker HB 2 "bathroom bill" was the Republican-controlled legislature's response to an ordinance passed by the Charlotte City Council seeking to expand LGBT protections. In other attempts to limit local control, the N.C. legislature has also tried to gerrymander local electionsban sanctuary cities, and even take over Charlotte's airport and Asheville's water system.

Those efforts have done little to boost Republicans' popularity in the state's urban centers, as this year's mayoral elections showed.

In Charlotte, the state's largest city, Democrat Vi Lyles overcame a fundraising deficit to roll to an 18-point win over Kenny Smith, one of two Republicans on the city's 11-member council. Lyles will be first African-American woman to lead Charlotte and the fourth Democrat in a row elected mayor of one of the South's most business-friendly cities, where Republican Pat McCrory served seven straight terms from 1995 to 2009 before going on to be elected governor in 2012. Democrats make up nearly 48 percent of all registered voters in Charlotte, while unaffiliated voters account for 31 percent and Republicans just 21 percent.

In Raleigh, the state's second-largest city and its capital, Republican Paul Fitts finished a distant third in the October primary with just 15 percent of the vote behind the unaffiliated McFarlane at 48 percent and Democrat Charles Francis at 39 percent. McFarlane won her fourth term in this month's runoff with 58 percent of the vote. Despite hosting a far-right legislature, Raleigh hasn't elected a Republican mayor since 1999.

And in Fayetteville -- North Carolina's sixth-largest city and home to Fort Bragg, the most populous US military base -- Democrat Mitch Colvin defeated one-term incumbent Republican Mayor Nat Robertson by 18 points to become the city's second African-American mayor. Following Colvin's win, the biggest North Carolina city with a Republican mayor is High Point, the state's ninth-largest.

A Deeper Shade of Blue

In other cities across the South, moderate Democratic mayors are being replaced by more progressive Democrats, further deepening the state-local political divide.

In Durham, North Carolina, for example, progressive Democrat Steve Schewel defeated the more moderate Democrat Farad Ali to succeed longtime Mayor Bill Bell, a Democrat who had endorsed Ali. First elected to city council in 2011, Schewel is part of a bloc endorsed by the progressive Durham People's Alliance that gained even more influence in this month's elections. Schewel and other bloc members supported Duke University graduate student workers' fight for a union and backed efforts to give Durham city workers a $15 hourly minimum wage and to de-prioritize marijuana enforcement.

If Schewel and the council's progressive majority manage to stay in power through the 2019 elections, they could lead Durham to enact local LGBT protections and a minimum wage ordinance. That's because HB 142 -- the controversial compromise reached between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and legislative leaders earlier this year to roll back HB 2 -- set an expiration date of Dec. 1, 2020, on a provision barring local governments from "enacting or amending ordinances regulating private employment practices or public accommodations."

Progressives also defeated incumbent Democratic mayors elsewhere in the South this year. In Jackson, Mississippi, lawyer and activist Chokwe Antar Lumumba -- the son of the late Jackson mayor and legendary civil rights activist Chokwe Lumumba, -- was elected mayor in July after running on a "People's Platform" to expand participatory democracy. And in Birmingham, Alabama, local school board member Randall Woodfin won an October mayoral runoff against incumbent William Bell by running what he described as "one of the most people-centered campaigns the state of Alabama has ever witnessed." Lumumba and Woodfin are progressive black men in their 30s winning local elections in states that went for Donald Trump by 18 and 28 points, respectively.

But as in North Carolina, these progressive mayors and the city councils they lead face the challenge of operating under conservative legislatures that want to limit local power. For example, Mississippi has a preemption law barring local governments from setting minimum wages higher than the state's $7.25 an hour, while last year the Alabama legislature blocked Birmingham's attempt to raise the local hourly minimum wage to $10.10.

And it's not a problem only in the South: Preemption efforts have become more common nationwide as cities in states with conservative legislatures have pushed for more progressive policies. In 2016, 36 states considered preemption legislation, up from 29 in 2015 and 23 in 2014.

As Facing South reported earlier this year, preemption laws don't just negatively impact local sovereignty but marginalized communities as well. For example, Georgia recently passed a law barring local governments from passing "fair workweek" ordinances that require employers to compensate employees for changing their schedules without proper notice -- policies aimed at improving conditions for low-wage workers, who are disproportionately people of color.

"The United States is coming to resemble two separate countries, one rural and one urban," as Durham, North Carolina-based writer David A. Graham observed last year in The Atlantic. "Only one of them, at present, appears entitled to self-determination."

Categories: Latest News

The Moore-Holy-Than-Thou Hypocrites

Truthout - Sun, 11/19/2017 - 21:00
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Content warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual harassment and assault.

With more women stepping forward with stories about Roy Moore sexually assaulting and harassing them as teenagers, the mask was ripped off the holier-than-thou Alabama Senate candidate.

The evangelical Christian judge is probably best known for getting drummed out of the state Supreme Court in 2003 for refusing to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments that he'd had erected in front of the Alabama state judicial building -- but he has a long record of cruel, bigoted stances in the name of his religious beliefs.

After again being elected chief justice, Moore denied LGBT couples in Alabama their legal right to marry following the US Supreme Court decision lifting a ban on same-sex marriage in 2015. Moore claimed that the goal of the movement for equal marriage "is to drive the nation into a wasteland of sexual anarchy that consumes all moral values."

In 2002, Moore prevented a lesbian mother from gaining custody over her children from an abusive ex-husband -- because he believed homosexuality was "an inherent evil." "If a person openly engages in such a practice, that fact alone would render him or her an unfit parent," he said in ruling in favor of the batterer ex-husband.

But now, the hypocrisy of Moore's Christian "values" is on display for everyone to see after a woman stepped forward to detail how the then-32-year-old assistant district attorney forced himself on a 14-year-old girl.

That left Republicans scrambling to figure out what to do about the special Senate election in Alabama, where Moore is the candidate and was expected to win.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell evented floated the idea of Attorney General Jeff Sessions as a potential write-in candidate for his old seat if Moore won't step out of the way -- though Sessions doesn't sound thrilled at the prospect of giving up the position in the Trump administration he sought so cravenly.

But no matter how far the Republican establishment goes to distance itself from Moore now, there's plenty of Moore-sized hypocrisy to go around the GOP.

***

The Republican Party has had a long relationship with evangelicals like Moore -- precisely because of their hateful Christian values rhetoric.

For decades, evangelical Christian leaders figures incited hate and conflict over social issues such as LGBT rights and abortion to push religious conservatives toward the Republican Party. And it has never mattered to the Republican Party how much fear and violence they whipped up in the process.

In the 1950s, Billy Graham scaremongered about the evils of communism in his sermons and even preached against the evils of the social safety net won during the New Deal. During the Reagan era of the 1980s, the Religious Right scapegoated women and gays and lesbians, reinforcing the idea that the 1960s and '70s social movements had gone too far.

So while Mitch McConnell and others may pretend that Moore doesn't belong in the party, the inconvenient truth is that he -- and his hypocrisy -- has been welcome there for decades.

The tolerance for the intolerant runs the other way, too. When Donald Trump -- not exactly a pious or "moral" individual with his record of bragging about grabbing women "by the pussy" -- became the Republican candidate for president, some political commentators questioned whether the Christian Right would fall in behind him.

The answer was clear immediately: Of course they did.

And of course they got something in return.

Trump has pandered constantly to religious conservatives -- including the promise that he would stop using the supposedly politically correct "Happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."

But that's not the only way he's proven himself. In October, the Trump administration announced administrative rules that allow any employer to claim a religious or moral objection to Obamacare's birth control coverage mandate -- in order to deny women employees access to contraception.

In May, he signed an executive order that would allow churches to maintain their tax-exempt status even if they actively participate in politics, such as endorsing candidates -- something that is currently prohibited by the Johnson Amendment. Most readers have probably heard of the concept of "separation of church and state" -- but Trump is acting like he hasn't.

Then, of course, there's the administration's stance on abortion, which has included an attack on federal funding for Planned Parenthood, one of the few places that poor people seeking abortions have any hoping of obtaining them.

At the National Right to Life convention this summer, a lot of attendees were thrilled that Trump was in the White House -- so thrilled that they were willing to overlook how Trump behaves all the time, which is hardly in keeping with religious teachings.

"If I ask the question: do I want everybody to be virtuous? Yes, I do," said one anti-choice activist. "But if I'm going to get my car fixed, I'm not there to clean up the guy's language, I'm there to get the car fixed. If you can do it, I choose to pay you, I'm hiring you to fix my car. That's what we're doing with the president."

Given that record, it wasn't much of a surprise that some Republicans chose to stand by Moore, including the 5th Congressional District Republican Executive Committee in Alabama, which adopted a resolution earlier last week that smeared the media, the women who came forward about Moore and Moore's Democratic opponent in the Senate race in defense of a man they claim "has a 30-plus-year record of outstanding honesty and moral public service in Alabama."

Apparently, the Religious Right won't let anything, even sexual assault allegations, get in the way of their crusade for "morality" -- which really means refusing women the right to control their own bodies, denying LGBT people the right to marry, and all the other cruel and immoral stances that scapegoat the most vulnerable in society.

Categories: Latest News

The Trump Doctrine: Making Nuclear Weapons Usable Again

Truthout - Sun, 11/19/2017 - 21:00

(Photo: Geoff Stearnes; Edited: LW / TO)

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Maybe you thought America's nuclear arsenal, with its thousands of city-busting, potentially civilization-destroying thermonuclear warheads, was plenty big enough to deter any imaginable adversary from attacking the US with nukes of their own. Well, it turns out you were wrong.

The Pentagon has been fretting that the arsenal is insufficiently intimidating. After all -- so the argument goes -- it's filled with old (possibly unreliable) weapons of such catastrophically destructive power that maybe, just maybe, even President Trump might be reluctant to use them if an enemy employed smaller, less catastrophic nukes on some future battlefield. Accordingly, US war planners and weapons manufacturers have set out to make that arsenal more "usable" in order to give the president additional nuclear "options" on any future battlefield. (If you're not already feeling a little tingle of anxiety at this point, you should be.) While it's claimed that this will make such assaults less likely, it's all too easy to imagine how such new armaments and launch plans could actually increase the risk of an early resort to nuclear weaponry in a moment of conflict, followed by calamitous escalation.

That President Trump would be all-in on making the American nuclear arsenal more usable should come as no surprise, given his obvious infatuation with displays of overwhelming military strength. (He was thrilled when, last April, one of his generals ordered, for the first time, the most powerful nonnuclear weapon the US possesses dropped in Afghanistan.) Under existing nuclear doctrine, as imagined by the Obama administration back in 2010, this country was to use nuclear weapons only "in extreme circumstances" to defend the vital interests of the country or of its allies. Prohibited was the possibility of using them as a political instrument to bludgeon weaker countries into line. However, for Donald Trump, a man who has already threatened to unleash on North Korea "fire and fury like the world has never seen," such an approach is proving far too restrictive. He and his advisers, it seems, want nukes that can be employed at any potential level of great-power conflict or brandished as the apocalyptic equivalent of a giant club to intimidate lesser rivals.

Making the US arsenal more usable requires two kinds of changes in nuclear policy: altering existing doctrine to eliminate conceptional restraints on how such weapons may be deployed in wartime and authorizing the development and production of new generations of nuclear munitions capable, among other things, of tactical battlefield strikes. All of this is expected to be incorporated into the administration's first nuclear posture review (NPR), to be released by the end of this year or early in 2018.

Its exact contents won't be known until then -- and even then, the American public will only gain access to the most limited version of a largely classified document. Still, some of the NPR's features are already obvious from comments made by the president and his top generals. And one thing is clear: restraints on the use of such weaponry in the face of a possible weapon of mass destruction of any sort, no matter its level of destructiveness, will be eliminated and the planet's most powerful nuclear arsenal will be made ever more so. 

Altering the Nuclear Mindset

The strategic guidance provided by the administration's new NPR is likely to have far-reaching consequences. As John Wolfsthal, former National Security Council director for arms control and nonproliferation, put it in a recent issue of Arms Control Today, the document will affect "how the United States, its president, and its nuclear capabilities are seen by allies and adversaries alike. More importantly, the review establishes a guide for decisions that underpin the management, maintenance, and modernization of the nuclear arsenal and influences how Congress views and funds the nuclear forces."

With this in mind, consider the guidance provided by that Obama-era nuclear posture review. Released at a moment when the White House was eager to restore America's global prestige in the wake of George W. Bush's widely condemned invasion of Iraq and just six months after the president had wonthe Nobel Prize for his stated determination to abolish such weaponry, it made nonproliferation the top priority. In the process, it downplayed the utility of nuclear weapons under just about any circumstances on just about any imaginable battlefield. Its principal objective, it claimed, was to reduce "the role of US nuclear weapons in US national security."

As the document pointed out, it had once been American policy to contemplate using nuclear weapons against Soviet tank formations, for example, in a major European conflict (a situation in which the USSR was believed to possess an advantage in conventional, non-nuclear forces). By 2010, of course, those days were long gone, as was the Soviet Union. Washington, as the NPR noted, now possessed an overwhelming advantage in conventional weaponry as well. "Accordingly," it concluded, "the United States will continue to strengthen conventional capabilities and reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks."

A nuclear strategy aimed exclusively at deterring a first strike against this country or its allies hardly requires a mammoth stockpile of weaponry. As a result, such an approach opened the way for potential further reductions in the arsenal's size and led in 2010 to the signing of the New Start treaty with the Russians, mandating a sharp reduction in nuclear warheads and delivery systems for both countries. Each side was to be limited to 1,550 warheads and some combination of 700 delivery systems, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers. 

Such an approach, however, never sat well with some in the military establishment and conservative think tanks. Critics of that sort have often pointed to supposed shifts in Russian military doctrine that suggest a greater inclination to employ nuclear weapons in a major war with NATO, if it began to go badly for their side. Such "strategic deterrence" (a phrase which has a different meaning for the Russians than for Western strategists) could result in the use of low-yield "tactical" nuclear munitions against enemy strongpoints, if Russia's forces in Europe appeared on the verge of defeat. To what degree this doctrine actually governs Russian military thinking no one actually knows. It is nevertheless cited regularly by those in the West who believe that Obama's nuclear strategy is now dangerously outmoded and invites Moscow to increase its reliance on nuclear weaponry.

Such complaints were typically aired in "Seven Defense Priorities for the New Administration," a December 2016 report by the Defense Science Board (DSB), a Pentagon-funded advisory group that reports to the secretary of defense. "The DSB remains unconvinced," it concluded, "that downplaying the nation's nuclear deterrent would lead other nations to do the same." It then pointed to the supposed Russian strategy of threatening to use low-yield tactical nuclear strikes to deter a NATO onslaught. While many Western analysts have questioned the authenticity of such claims, the DSB insisted that the US must develop similar weaponry and be on record as prepared to use them. As that report put it, Washington needs "a more flexible nuclear enterprise that could produce, if needed, a rapid, tailored nuclear option for limited use should existing non-nuclear or nuclear options prove insufficient."

This sort of thinking now appears to be animating the Trump administration's approach to nuclear weapons and is reflected in the president's periodic tweets on the subject. Last December 22nd, for example, he tweeted, "The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes." Although he didn't elaborate -- it was Twitter, after all -- his approach clearly reflected both the DSB position and what his advisers were undoubtedly telling him.

Soon after, as the newly-installed commander-in-chief, Trump signed a presidential memorandum instructing the secretary of defense to undertake a nuclear posture review ensuring "that the United States nuclear deterrent is modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready, and appropriately tailored to deter 21st-century threats and reassure our allies."

Of course, we don't yet know the details of the coming Trumpian NPR. It will, however, certainly throw the Obama approach to the sharks and promote a far more robust role for nuclear weapons, as well as the construction of that more "flexible" arsenal, capable of providing the president with multiple attack options, including low-yield strikes.

Enhancing the Arsenal

The Trumpian NPR will certainly promote new nuclear weapons systems that are billed as providing future chief executives with a greater "range" of strike options. In particular, the administration is thought to favor the acquisition of "low-yield tactical nuclear munitions" and yet more delivery systems to go with them, including air- and ground-launched cruise missiles. The argument will predictably be made that munitions of this sort are needed to match Russian advances in the field.

Under consideration, according to those with inside knowledge, is the development of the sort of tactical munitions that could, say, wipe out a major port or military installation, rather than a whole city, Hiroshima-style. As one anonymous government official put it to Politico, "This capability is very warranted." Another added, "The [NPR] has to credibly ask the military what they need to deter enemies" and whether current weapons are "going to be useful in all the scenarios we see."

Keep in mind that, under the Obama administration (for all its talk of nuclear abolition), planning and initial design work for a multi-decade, trillion-dollar-plus "modernization" of America's nuclear arsenal had already been agreed upon. So, in terms of actual weaponry, Donald Trump's version of the nuclear era was already well underway before he entered the Oval Office. And of course, the United States already possesses several types of nuclear weapons, including the B61 "gravity bomb" and the W80 missile warhead that can be modified -- the term of trade is "dialed down" -- to produce a blast as low as a few kilotons (less powerful, that is, than the bombs that in August 1945 destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki). That, however, is proving anything but enough for the proponents of "tailored" nuclear munitions. 

A typical delivery system for such future nukes likely to receive expedited approval is the long-range standoff weapon (LRSO), an advanced, stealthy air-launched cruise missile intended to be carried by B-2 bombers, their older cousins the B-52s, or the future B-21. As currently envisioned, the LRSO will be capable of carrying either a nuclear or a conventional warhead. In August, the Air Force awarded both Raytheon and Lockheed Martin $900 million for initial design work on prototypes of that delivery system, with one of them likely to be chosen for full-scale development, an undertaking expected to cost many billions of dollars.

Critics of the proposed missile, including former Secretary of Defense William Perry, argue that the US already possesses more than enough nuclear firepower to deter enemy attacks without it. In addition, as he points out, if the LRSO were to be launched with a conventional warhead in the early stages of a conflict, an adversary might assume it was under nuclear attack and retaliate accordingly, igniting an escalatory spiral leading to all-out thermonuclear war. Proponents, however, swear that "older" cruise missiles must be replaced in order to give the president more flexibility with such weaponry, a rationale Trump and his advisers are sure to embrace. 

A Nuclear-Ready World

The release of the next nuclear posture review will undoubtedly ignite a debate over whether the country with a nuclear arsenal large enough to destroy several Earth-sized planets actually needs new nukes, which could, among other dangers, spark a future global arms race. In November, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report indicating that the likely cost of replacing all three legs of the US nuclear triad (intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and strategic bombers) over a 30-year period will reach a minimum of $1.2 trillion, not including inflation or the usual cost overruns, which are likely to push that figure to $1.7 trillion or beyond.

Raising questions about the need for all these new weapons and their phenomenal costs couldn't be more important. After all, one thing is guaranteed: any decision to procure such weaponry will, in the long term, mean budget cuts elsewhere, whether in health, education, infrastructure, or fighting the opioid epidemic.

And yet questions of cost and utility are the lesser parts of the new nuclear conundrum. At its heart is the very idea of "usability." When President Obama insisted that nuclear weapons had no battlefield use, he was speaking not just to this country, but to all nations. "To put an end to Cold War thinking," he declared in Prague in April 2009, "we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same."

If, however, the Trump White House embraces a doctrine that closes the distance between nuclear weapons and ordinary ones, transforming them into more usable instruments of coercion and war, it will also make the likelihood of escalation to all-out thermonuclear extermination more imaginable for the first time in decades. There is little question, for instance, that such a stance would encourage other nuclear-armed nations, including Russia, China, India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea, to plan for the early use of such weaponry in future conflicts. It might even encourage countries that don't now have such weaponry to consider producing them.

The world imagined by President Obama in which nukes would be a true weapon of last resort was certainly a more reassuring one. His vision represented a radical break from Cold War thinking in which the possibility of a thermonuclear holocaust between the planet's two superpowers seemed like an ever-present possibility and millions of people responded by engaging in antinuclear protest movements. 

Without the daily threat of Armageddon, concern over nukes largely evaporated and those protests came to an end. Unfortunately, the weaponry and the companies that built them didn't. Now, as the seemingly threat-free zone of a post-nuclear era is drawing to a close, the possible use of nuclear weapons -- barely conceivable even in the Cold War era -- is about to be normalized. Or at least that will be the case if, once again, the citizens of this planet don't take to the streets to protest a future in which cities could lie in smoldering ruins while millions of people die from hunger and radiation sickness. 

Categories: Latest News

Mismanagement, Fraud and Worker Abuse at Charter Schools Are Driving School Staff to Unionize

Truthout - Sun, 11/19/2017 - 21:00

Unionized teachers with ASPIRA charter school network rally outside an ASPIRA high school to convince the company's management to come to terms on a contract on March 9, 2017, in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images)

Charter school teachers and staff are increasingly seeking union representation. Issues such as job security, salary, benefits and decent working hours have been catalysts driving collective bargaining efforts. Pro-union workers also want a larger say in decisions impacting school management and measures of student learning.

Unionized teachers with ASPIRA charter school network rally outside an ASPIRA high school to convince the company's management to come to terms on a contract on March 9, 2017, in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images)

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Nearly 30 years ago, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Albert Shanker gave a speech at the National Press Club in which he outlined his pedagogical ideal: Small, independently managed schools that championed innovation and served as "educational laboratories." He called them charter schools. As Shanker envisioned it, unionized charters would test a variety of classroom techniques and strategies; those that worked would then be replicated in schools throughout the country.

By 1991 the first charter was up and running in St. Paul, Minnesota. In the 26 years since then, the number of charters has mushroomed: by August 2017, 43 states and Washington, DC, had enrolled more than 3 million K-12 students in approximately 6,750 online and brick-and-mortar programs -- a full 8 percent of school-aged kids.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools anticipates that this trend will continue, projecting that 4 million children -- 10 percent of the total -- will be enrolled in charters by 2020. And as is obvious, the majority of these programs are nothing like the model that Shanker envisioned: Almost none are teacher-run, independently managed or innovative. Worse, only between 10 and 12 percent are unionized.

How did this happen? As the AFT website notes, "Some leaders in the corporate education reform movement have hijacked much of the charter school industry both to profit from and undermine public education." Indeed. In addition, the charter movement has gotten a huge financial boost from the Bill and Melinda Gates, Broad, and Walton Foundations, promoters of what has been dubbed "school choice." What's more, they have a close friend in Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, whose budget request for the next fiscal year includes a whopping $168 million increase in charter school funding -- a 50 percent hike from current levels -- at a time when public schools expect a federal funding decrease of 14 percent.

The Pro-Charter Sales Pitch

Charter school supporters consistently sell the concept of flexibility -- crowing that charters allow teachers to design and implement curricula as they see fit. They further state that charters give administrators the "freedom" to sidestep union rules on employment conditions, including job security, salaries, benefits and hours.

"The citizens of the US deserve freedom and access and input" into educational policy, the conservative Center for Education Reform argues. "Only by achieving that will we restore excellence to education, maximizing everyone's potential success, regardless of the circumstances into which they were born."

Critics, of course, point to research showing that charter school students do no better than students attending traditional public schools on standardized tests or other supposed measures of academic achievement, and note that charters are often cauldrons of administrative mismanagement and racial segregation.

Nonetheless, virtually everyone agrees that charters are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. While many groups, including the NAACP and the National Education Association (NEA), want limits on the growth of for-profit charters -- if not an outright moratorium on additional such programs -- they see unionization as the best way to ensure managerial accountability, decent working conditions and adequate support for student learning.

Marla Kilfoyle, executive director of the Bad Ass Teachers Association (BATS), says that BATS members were initially concerned that supporting unionization drives at charters might legitimize them, but ultimately decided to support collective bargaining efforts. "We concluded," she told Truthout, "that unions will make charters more transparent and allow teachers to set working conditions that are better for them and better for the kids they teach. It is also a way to defeat what market-based education advocates want -- profits. Unions force charter administrators to pay teachers decently and give them due process rights. It makes the bosses accountable."

Richard Berg, an organizer at the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), agrees, noting that just because an institution is part of an exploitative system does not mean unions should avoid organizing its employees -- in fact, the opposite is true.

"It's comparable to how we see Walmart," Berg explains. "The labor movement is very critical of Walmart and how it operates, but when it comes to those who work in the stores, we believe they deserve full rights on the job, including better salaries and benefits."

Chicago Leads the Way

Chicago is the national leader in charter school unionization: More than 25 percent of charter employees are members of the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff. This amounts to more than 1,000 individuals in 32 schools; still, 89 charters in the city remain unorganized.

Berg expects the upcoming academic year to be particularly exciting. "I work primarily in charters that are already organized," he said. "We consciously lined up 9 of 10 contracts so that they expire before the 2018-19 year begins. We're doing salary comparisons with the Chicago public schools now to try and push for a reasonable standard to bargain for."

Other anticipated bargaining points will include the length of the school day and school year. According to Berg, teachers at charters typically work one to three hours more per day than public school teachers and four to five days more per year -- for less pay. These factors contribute to an enormous turnover rate at charters -- in some cases nearly double that of traditional public schools -- not just in Chicago, but throughout the country.

Then there's the issue of financial accountability. "Charters don't have the same reporting requirements," Berg said. "A lot of money tends to go toward student recruitment, program expansion and advertising. Many charter operators prioritize growth over taking care of the kids who are already enrolled. Teachers constantly complain about a lack of resources, from copiers that don't work to a lack of supplies." 

At the crux of this issue is profiteering: Many charters are run by for-profit entities eager to make a quick buck off the backs of students. In one particularly egregious example, Berg reports that the CEO of one Chicago charter was paid a salary equal to that of the CEO of the Chicago Board of Education. "One person runs 700 schools and one runs one, but they make the same salary," he said. "That really opened people's eyes. Even when a charter purports to be not-for-profit, we've found that individuals sometimes still benefit. CTU's research addresses how money goes in and out of a school. We've also dug into charter claims about innovation and unique learning environments and found them to be BS. We shine a light on this for the public as well as for our members."

In the long term, Berg said, CTU's goal is to bring public resources back to public school classrooms.

New York City Unions Take on Charters

The United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the New York City arm of the American Federation of Teachers, has a similar goal to CTU. "We've organized more than 25 schools in the city, which is about 10 percent of the total," Miles Trager, the UFT's coordinator of services and negotiations told me. "Most charters don't offer staff great benefits. People usually have to contribute a lot for health care and there are very meager pensions. Charters are not set up for people to make a career in one school. There is also a ton of mismanagement."

Trager attributes these problems to the fact that many charter administrators know very little about education. "Some charters hire managers who seem to have found their educational vision on the internet. In New York you don't need to be licensed or certified to be a charter school supervisor. It's a set up for disaster," he said.

However, Trager maintains that the UFT is not anti-charter. After all, he continues, the idea for charters actually came from the UFT's parent union.

"Our critique of charters doesn't conclude that they're wholly bad," he said. "Our critique focuses on the bad actors and the people who operate in bad faith. The idea that teachers could create their own schools has been co-opted by business interests. They need some form of oversight."

One of those bad actors, Trager said, is the management of the Charter High School for Law and Social Justice in the Bronx, where 70 percent of the bargaining unit and the entire negotiating committee were fired in June 2017, a year after staff voted to join the UFT. The dismissals are currently being adjudicated by the National Labor Relations Board. Meanwhile, the school has hired new teachers and is now in its third year of operation.

Sadly, this situation is not anomalous. In fact, numerous charters in Detroit and elsewhere have shut down or fired staff after management found out that folks were organizing.

But even beyond these tyrannical management responses to unionization drives, many charters have a terrible track record when it comes to longevity. According to the NEA, 21 percent of charters that opened in 2000 were closed five years later; 33 percent were shuttered by 2010. The reasons for this vary, but include fiscal mismanagement -- with some sponsors taking the money and literally running -- or the realization that it is far harder to run a school than the sponsor originally anticipated.

Community Outreach Is Essential

Secky Fascione, the director of local growth and strategic initiatives at the NEA, says her union's impetus for charter school organizing comes largely from parents, especially those whose children need support services due to learning difficulties or disabilities -- needs that may be going unmet. "Sometimes the charter is the only school available in their neighborhood and sometimes the parents believed the hype that charters will offer something better, but once their children enroll, they become concerned," she said. "These parents are aware that in a regular public school there is ongoing professional development for teachers and resources are dedicated to an actual physical space and materials for special needs students. They also worry about whether channels are in place for them to voice their concerns."

Like other unions, the NEA puts these concerns into the context of school privatization. "Folks who operate in a space where profit is the goal stand in contrast to our members who simply want their children to be successful in school," Fascione said. "Our job is to stop the commodification of education and the growth of for-profit charters."

Fascione cites two recent victories. In Georgia, a 2016 initiative to remove local control from schools deemed "failing" so that they could be handed over to for-profit charters was rejected by voters. Similarly, Massachusetts voters rejected a 2016 measure to lift the cap on development of new charters. Fascione credits the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools  -- a coalition of educators, parents, student activists, unions, religious leaders and progressives -- with turning the tide on these initiatives and insists that broad networks are necessary to reverse the business model that currently holds sway in Washington and in far too many statehouses.

Despite such wins, organizers acknowledge that restoring support for public schools will not be easy. But thanks to many well-publicized scandals at charter schools, public support for them is diminishing. A survey conducted earlier this year found just 39 percent of people favoring charters, down from 51 percent a year earlier.

Here's one reason why: Center for Popular Democracy's researchers report that the financial impact of charter school "fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement" has cost state, local and federal government $223 million since 2014. Wrongdoings include a California charter school director who spent $1 million in federal funds on personal real estate ventures; a New Mexico administrator who doctored receipts to cover up payment for cleaning services at her home; and a Minnesota charter that inflated enrollment numbers to collect $608,000 for students who'd never attended the program. And that's just a smattering of the abuses.

Suspicion of financial improprieties is what led staff at Philadelphia's Olney Charter High School to unionize. Former Olney English teacher Ben Finkelstein reports that as soon as faculty began to suspect that ASPIRA, the school's sponsor, had misused funds, they began to seek redress. "Teachers thought that if they had more say, the school would have a better chance of success," he wrote in an email. In addition, management's initial antagonism toward a union gave teachers the push they needed to organize. "It emboldened us," he said.

This emboldening is happening at charters across the US. Already, organizing victories have been won in Los Angeles; Washington, DC; New York City and Cincinnati, to name just a few. It has also provoked increased skepticism among parents and community members who previously thought of charters as a viable -- if not superior -- alternative to a traditional public school education.

For their part, teachers' unions are cautiously optimistic that charter staff will see collective bargaining as their best hope for ensuring job security, decent salaries and improved working conditions.

"A lot of teachers heard the propaganda that if you want to be a social justice warrior in the field of education you needed to go to a charter," the UFT's Miles Trager said. "But then they got there and saw problems, big problems. We want those people to give the union a call."

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An Obscure Rule Change Could Legalize Housing Discrimination Again

Truthout - Sun, 11/19/2017 - 21:00
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report from Trump's Treasury Department says that using a legal theory that documents subtle discrimination could "impose unnecessary burdens on insurers." Instead, Treasure recommends that federal housing officials "reconsider" using this theory in anti-discrimination efforts, and Republican lawmakers recently urged Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to drop a rule using the theory, which is known as "disparate impact analysis."

Business groups are also trying to muzzle the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the watchdog federal agency that Trumpers loathe, as I have written for DCReport.org.

The trade group for the consumer credit industry, the American Financial Services Association, wants to prevent the bureau from using the legal theory that the bureau has employed to force auto finance companies such as American Honda Finance Corp. and Toyota Motor Credit to pay $126 million in damages and penalties.

Stacy Seicshnaydre, a law school professor at Tulane University, said the Trump administration can't undo disparate impact because a 2015 Supreme Court decision upheld the laws behind it -- although the administration can stop pursuing anti-discrimination cases using the theory.

This doctrine "helps ensure that policies are justified and supported by empirical analysis, not driven by assumptions and perceptions," she said.

Carson, the man officially in charge of setting our nation's housing policy, has bashed efforts to undo discrimination with disparate impact.

"These government-engineered attempts to legislate racial equality create consequences that often make matters worse," he wrote in the Washington Times.

Disparate impact was used by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commissionin the early years of the agency's existence. The analysis measures discrimination, such as African-Americans paying higher interest rates on car loans, without having to prove an intent to discriminate.

Susan Carle, a law school professor at American University, said moderates who wanted to avoid the confrontational lawsuits favored by the NAACP pushed the use of disparate impact to work with companies.

"It really is meant to be a very moderate theory, without accusing people of nefarious and immoral motives, to produce results that can make things better for everybody," Carle said.

The landmark case was a 1971 Supreme Court decision in a lawsuit brought by 13 African-American employees of a power-generating facility in Draper, North Carolina, against Duke Power. Private utilities had the lowest rate of minority employees among all major industries. Duke Power's African-American employees were laborers, earning less than the lowest-paid employees in other departments where only whites worked.

Duke started requiring a high school diploma or IQ scores equal to those of the average high school graduate after the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race. Those requirements disqualified African-Americans at a higher rate than other applicants.

The Supreme Court decided that the Civil Rights Act required "the elimination of artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barriers to employment" that keep minorities out if they can't be shown to be related to job performance.

Disparate impact claims are difficult to prove, however, because the lawyers bringing the cases need to have sophisticated statistical analysis to show the effects of the discrimination and identify what is causing these effects.

Seicshnaydre looked at four decades of disparate impact claims under the Fair Housing Act, from 1974 to 2013. She found that plaintiffs had historically been "overwhelmingly unsuccessful," with wins in only 20 percent of the FHA disparate cases considered on appeal.

But even as Seicshnaydre researched her paper, the Obama administration was moving to use disparate impact analysis more aggressively. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced in 2012 that it would use disparate impact to look at problems with access to credit. The bureau teamed up with the Department of Justice to enforce fair lending laws.

In 2013, the bureau and the Department of Justice ordered Ally Financial Inc. and Ally Bank (formerly GMAC) to pay $80 million in damages to car buyers who had been overcharged for car loans, along with $18 million in penalties.

"Discrimination is a serious issue across every consumer credit market," said Richard Cordray, the director of the bureau. "We are returning $80 million to hard-working consumers who paid more for their cars or trucks based on their race or national origin."

An investigation by the bureau and the Department of Justice found that about 100,000 African-Americans were each charged an average of over $300 more in interest than similarly qualified non-Hispanic whites for their loans. About 125,000 Hispanic borrowers were charged over $200 more, as were about 10,000 Asian and Pacific Islander borrowers. Ally did not monitor whether discrimination was occurring.

The bureau and the Department of Justice got similar consent orders from American Honda Finance Corp. and Toyota Motor Credit.

On the housing front, Obama's Department of Housing and Urban Development adopted a rule using disparate impact analysis in 2013. The insurance industry promptly sued. The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America argued that homeowners' insurance relied on setting prices based on risk, such as the age and condition of homes, and that the rule violates a federal law that exempts the business of insurance from most regulation.

Illinois federal judge Amy St. Eve said HUD hadn't adequately addressed the insurance industry's concerns and told HUD to consider those issues.

HUD reconsidered the public comments and essentially told the insurance industry "too bad," noting its "long, documented history of discrimination."

That history included the Missouri Department of Insurance finding in 1993 that residents of low-income minority neighborhoods in St. Louis paid 50 percent more than residents of low-income white areas for comparable policies.

The Property Casualty lawsuit is pending.

The 2015 Supreme Court decision that upheld disparate analysis in housing cases, Texas Department of Housing v. Inclusive Communities Project, stemmed from claims that the state housing authority set up a system that encouraged developers to produce housing units in minority neighborhoods.

Inclusive Communities, a nonprofit that helps low-income families find affordable housing, accused the agency of perpetuating segregated housing by allocating too many tax credits in predominantly black inner-city areas and too few in predominantly white suburban neighborhoods.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, casting the crucial vote in a 5-4 decision, tightened the standard to prevail in such cases. He wrote that such claims must fail if the plaintiff can't point to policies that cause the racial disparity and that a "robust causality" requirement was needed to ensure that defendants don't use racial quotas.

"It would be paradoxical to construe the FHA to impose onerous costs on actors who encourage revitalizing dilapidated housing in the nation's cities merely because some other priority might seem preferable," Kennedy wrote.

All four of the court's prominent conservatives at the time, Chief Justice John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, dissented from the decision.

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