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New Documentary Celebrates the Life of Groundbreaking Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Truthout - Sun, 01/21/2018 - 21:00

One of the most talked-about documentaries at this year's Sundance Film Festival looks at the groundbreaking life of the nearly 85-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 2018 marks her 25th year on the court, and she has no plans to retire. Ginsburg first gained fame in the 1970s when she co-founded the Women's Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, where she argued six gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court. In recent years, Ginsburg’s public profile has soared as the court has swerved to the right. Ginsburg often now finds herself on the dissenting side of opinions. We feature excerpts from the new film and speak with its directors, Julie Cohen and Betsy West.


AMY GOODMAN: 2018 marked Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s 25th year on the U.S. Supreme Court. We’re joined now by the directors of the film, Julie Cohen and Betsy Wright. Julie is a longtime filmmaker who’s made eight documentaries and was the creator of Court TV’s Supreme Court Watch. Betsy West is a 21-time Emmy winner for her work as an ABC News producer, who now teaches at the Columbia School of Journalism.

Julie Cohen and Betsy Wright [sic, it is so great to see you -- Betsy West, it is so great to see you both. Julie, why don’t you start off by talking about why you decided to take on Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the subject of your film? Why did you decide to follow her?

JULIE COHEN: You know, "How could you not?" is almost a question with RBG. Betsy and I had each, individually, for separate projects, done interviews with her several years ago. We had followed her kind of stellar rise to rockstardom, as young women began to sort of idolize her as the Notorious RBG. And we just felt like, "You know, someone ought to do a full-dress, serious documentary covering this extraordinary woman’s life. And why not have it be us?"

AMY GOODMAN: So, Betsy West, you’ve covered many different issues, and one of the things you’ve done most recently is the Makers series, women making a difference. So, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, you -- both you and Julie had interviewed her separately.

BETSY WEST: Yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And what most strikes you about her? If you can begin by sort of giving us a nutshell description of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court justice?

BETSY WEST: Well, when you meet her in person, she’s a very tiny person. And yet she has a kind of commanding presence. I think it’s the contrast about her that really strikes you. She’s a very serious person, the kind of person, if you say, "Hey, how are you?" she doesn’t immediately jump in to tell you how she is, she thinks about it. She’s very deliberate in everything she says. So, as she said to us in the interview, "I tend to be rather sober." On the other hand, she has a fabulous sense of humor. And as we discovered in the film, she loves to laugh. And so, she’s a very -- she’s a multidimensional person, with an extraordinary life story.

AMY GOODMAN: And I want to talk about that life story. I want to first, though, go to a clip from your documentary, RBG, where Justice Ginsburg talks about the first time she argued before the Supreme Court, in the case Frontiero v. Richardson in 1972. The case centered on a female Air Force lieutenant who had been denied the same housing and medical benefits as her male colleagues. Justice Ginsburg, then the lawyer Ginsburg, argued the Air Force’s statute for housing allowances treated women as inferior, and the Supreme Court ruled in her favor, eight to one.

JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG: With not a single question, I just went on speaking. And I, at the time, wondered, "Are they just indulging me and not listening, or am I telling them something they haven't heard before, and are they paying attention?"

BRENDA FEIGEN: The justices were just glued to her. I don't think they were expecting to have to deal with something as powerful as a shear force of her argument, that was just all-encompassing. And they were there to talk about a little statute in the government code. I mean, it was just -- we seized the moment to change American society.

RUTH BADER GINSBURG: In asking the court to declare sex a suspect criterion, we urge a position forcibly stated in 1837 by Sarah Grimke, noted abolitionist and advocate of equal rights for men and women. She said, "I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks."

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from RBG, the documentary that’s just aired at the Sundance Film Festival to much acclaim. In that clip, we also heard from Brenda Feigen, who was co-director, with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. So, Julie Cohen, let’s talk about her life before she was the Notorious RBG, before she was Supreme Court justice.

JULIE COHEN: Sure. I mean, you know, that was one of the big factors making us want to make this film. A lot of the people that love her and think she’s cool and know about her dissents don’t really know the full story and don’t appreciate how much she achieved for women’s equal rights under law in her career as a lawyer, particularly during those times at the Women’s Rights Project in the 1970s.

Basically, she took on a number of cases. There were six, including that one you just played, Frontiero, that she argued before the Supreme Court, winning five of them, making the case at a time when that case wasn’t widely understood or even -- you know, it was sort of hard for society and the male justices of the time to register the idea that, "Oh, wait, the Constitution should provide equal rights for men and women?" This was -- she was following up on what Thurgood Marshall had done sort of the decade earlier -- basically, a slow legal march for civil rights for people of all races -- and she was applying that idea to gender and had extraordinary success with it.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to another clip. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, nominated by President Clinton in 1993. This is during her Senate confirmation hearing, when she openly defended -- and this was highly unusual -- openly defended a women’s right to have an abortion.

JUDGE RUTH BADER GINSBURG: This is something central to a woman's life, to her dignity. It's a decision that she must make for herself. And when government controls that decision for her, she's being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.

AMY GOODMAN: During Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s 1993 Supreme Court confirmation hearing, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah questioned her stance on abortion.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: The so-called constitutional right to abortion, a right which many, including myself, think was created out of thin air by the court --

JUDGE RUTH BADER GINSBURG: But you asked me --


JUDGE RUTH BADER GINSBURG:  -- the question in relation to the Supreme Court's precedent. And you now ask me another question in relation to the Supreme Court's precedent. The Supreme Court's precedent is that access to abortion is part of the liberty guaranteed by the --

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Well, that was just to be affirmed by --

JUDGE RUTH BADER GINSBURG:  -- the 14th Amendment.

AMY GOODMAN: That 1993 confirmation hearing, Betsy West, how unusual, especially in light of now, in 2018? Imagine hearing a Supreme Court justice being so open about her support for freedom to choose for women, about her support for abortion. Talk about the significance of this.

BETSY WEST: She was extremely forthright about this. She’s a very principled person, and she was not going to pull her punches on this. I mean, the amazing thing is that, after that, she was confirmed 96 to 3. I know.

AMY GOODMAN: Ninety-six to three.

BETSY WEST: To three. And you heard, I mean, Orrin Hatch basically saying, "Look, we disagree, but I think you’re well qualified to serve on the Supreme Court. And you’ve been nominated by our president, who happens to be a Democrat. That’s the way this system works." It’s kind of poignant and extraordinary to hear that, you know, today.

AMY GOODMAN: You both interviewed Orrin Hatch. I mean, you interviewed him for the film.

BETSY WEST: Yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Did he say he would support her today? I mean, he was very laudatory of her.

BETSY WEST: Yes. Yes, he was. First of all, he said, "I love Ruth Bader Ginsburg." He said that. I was like, "What?" Really, he admires her so much. He admires her brain, and he admires her character, what she stands for. And he said, "Look, I think it’s a good thing for the court to have an articulate, smart liberal on the court." He said, "I think it elevates the entire conversation, the debate." I was surprised by how forceful and strong he was in his ongoing support for her.

AMY GOODMAN: And talking about relationships that might surprise some, her relationship, Julie Cohen, with Justice Scalia and the significance of this, the history of this, before Scalia died?

JULIE COHEN: Yes. I mean, Justice Scalia and Justice Ginsburg were quite close, going back to their days together on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in the 1980s, admired each other as kind of intellectual sparring partners and really liked and loved each other as friends. They both loved opera. They both had a lot of other intellectual interests, in theater, in literature. And the fact that they disagreed so vehemently on the law, extraordinarily, seemed to have made them closer to one another. They don’t -- you know, they didn’t deny that it sometimes wasn’t exactly pleasant. You know, after -- one example that the justice has talked about is, you know, after Bush v. Gore, when they were like -- you know, couldn’t have been more opposed to each other’s point of view, when the stakes couldn’t have been higher, at one point, at the end of the evening, he gave her a call and said, "Ruth, you know, go home and take a hot bath, and we’ll see each other again in the morning." And, you know, it’s a kind of --

AMY GOODMAN: And for those who aren’t familiar with Bush v. Gore, though they may have been familiar -- become familiar with the results?

JULIE COHEN: Yes. The Supreme Court decision that ended the recount in Florida and led to George W. Bush becoming president of the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Being chosen as president by the U.S. Supreme Court.

JULIE COHEN: By the U.S. Supreme --

BETSY WEST: And she dissented.



JULIE COHEN: Justice Scalia was one of the -- one of the architects of the majority decision, saying -- having George Bush become the president. And Ruth Ginsburg wrote a -- wrote one of several -- I think there were a number of dissents in that case, but was one of the dissenters in that case.

AMY GOODMAN: And this issue of Ruth Bader Ginsburg being the dissenter, young people who are following her now, that’s all they would think about. But that actually wasn’t always the case. And you have a really interesting sort of image that you have in the film, RBG, where you show her right in the center there, you know, much closer to the conservatives, and then how she moves to the left. Betsy West?

BETSY WEST: Yeah, as one of our interviewees said, she was never meant to be the great dissenter. She always wanted consensus. And she still wants consensus. She has a very practical view of the law, and she’s always trying to bring people over to her side. It’s very important to her that she have collegial relationships with her fellow justices and that she makes reasoned arguments. She’s not a bomb thrower. However, when push comes to shove and she feels that the Constitution is not being followed, she’s not afraid to issue a very scathing dissent. And as she says, "Look, I’d rather be in the majority. But when I’m not, I will write a dissent."

AMY GOODMAN: And she’s got the doily collars. That’s what I call them, because they look like doily.


AMY GOODMAN: The different ones.


AMY GOODMAN: What did you say?

JULIE COHEN: Yes, jabot is the name of them.

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, excuse me. Excuse me.

BETSY WEST: They call them -- they call them jabot. She and Sandra Day O’Connor came up with this together. And, yes --

AMY GOODMAN: And she’s got the different ones for when she’s in the majority opinion --


AMY GOODMAN:  -- or when she’s expressing the dissent.

BETSY WEST: The dissent, yes. It’s her -- she has a great fashion sense, and she brings her fashion sense to her clothing on the Supreme Court.

JULIE COHEN: And, you know, when Supreme Court justices come out to read opinions, it’s not publicly known yet what the decision is going to be. So, if you’re in the courtroom -- of course, there aren’t cameras in the courtroom, but if you’re in the courtroom, you get a preview a few minutes earlier, because from Justice Ginsburg’s collar, if she’s going to read an opinion and she’s wearing that lovely sort of black, sparkly, fan-shaped collar, you know she’s about to deliver a dissent.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to a break, and then we’re going to come back and hear a really interesting comment from Justice Ginsburg just yesterday. She spoke at the Filmmakers Lodge. She was interviewed by NPR’s Nina Totenberg, and she talks about this seminal, foundational work of Catharine MacKinnon and how it changed her view also of women’s rights and what the whole issue of gender harassment is all about. This is Democracy Now! We’re talking about a film that just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s called RBG and is about the Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival in Park city, Utah, and we will be here for the week. Yes, from the Sundance Film Festival, where a film about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called RBGhas just premiered. Well, before the film, on Sunday, Justice Ginsburg, who flew in to Park City, Utah, this weekend, was interviewed by NPR’s Nina Totenberg, a dear friend of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Totenberg asked Ginsburg if she had ever been sexually harassed herself. This was the Supreme Court justice’s answer.

JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG: The answer is yes. Every woman of my vintage knows what sexual harassment is, although we didn't have a name for it. The attitude to sexual harassment was simply "Get past it. Boys will be boys."

Well, I'll give you just one example. I'm taking a chemistry course at Cornell, and my instructor said -- because I was uncertain of my ability in that field -- he said, "I'll give you a practice exam." So he gave me a practice exam. The next day, on the test, the test is the practice exam. And I knew exactly what he wanted in return. And that's just one of many examples.

This was not considered anything you could do something about, that the law could help you do something about, until a book was written by a then-young woman named Katie MacKinnon -- Catharine MacKinnon. And it was called Sexual Harassment in the Workplace [Sexual Harassment of Working Women]. And I was asked to read it by a publisher and give my opinion on whether it was worth publishing. It was a revelation. The first part described incidents like the one I just mentioned. And the next was how this anti-discrimination law, Title VII, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, religion and sex -- how that could be used as a tool to stop sexual harassment. It was eye-opening, and it was the beginning of a field that didn't exist until then.

NINA TOTENBERG: So, just to close the loop here for a minute, what did you do about the professor? Did you just stay clear of him? What did you do?

JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG: I went to his office, and I said, "How dare you! How dare you do this!" And that was the end of -- the end of that.

NINA TOTENBERG: I assume you did quite well on that exam.

JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG: Well, I deliberately made two mistakes.

AMY GOODMAN: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, speaking with NPR’s Nina Totenberg, a woman who has interviewed her for decades. They’ve known each other for 40 years. And she is one of the people interviewed in the new documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that will go throughout the week, called RBG. Our guests, again, are the film’s directors and producers, Julie Cohen and Betsy West.

Betsy West, the significance of what Justice Ginsburg said, saying that Catharine MacKinnon was so seminal?

BETSY WEST: Well, I had never heard her talk about this, but it’s absolutely true that there really was no word for sexual harassment, when Ruth Bader Ginsburg was being discriminated against as a young woman, and then, later, all of the women who flooded into the workplace in the '70s just sort of felt like, "Hey, this is the price of entry, something we've got to put up with in order to have these fantastic jobs." And it was Catharine MacKinnon, who was really just a young -- just out of law school. She may still have been in law school, when she started working on this concept and wrote this paper, that was absolutely seminal and, in fact, was quoted by the Supreme Court in the mid-'80s, parts of her -- some of the exact language that she used. And as Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, it was a revelation: "Hey, this is wrong, and it's actually unconstitutional." That’s something that I think a lot of people don’t understand.

AMY GOODMAN: And, you know, we can’t talk about your film, RBG, without talking about her family, her relationships, and particularly her husband, who was also a well-known lawyer. Julie Cohen, if you can talk about this love story, that lasted for over half a century?

JULIE COHEN: Yeah, I mean, the love and marriage between Ruth and Marty Ginsburg is sort of like -- it’s not just romantic, but it’s -- I think it’s really an inspirational part of a feminist story. Ruth Bader Ginsburg would say -- often the way like a super-successful man talks about his wife, she’ll say she wouldn’t have gotten where she got, without him pushing. And it’s absolutely true. They met at Cornell, where they were both students. They fell madly in love. Marty Ginsburg -- Ruth Bader Ginsburg said he was the first guy who even seemed to notice that she had a brain.

BETSY WEST: That’s because she was so beautiful, by the way.

JULIE COHEN: Because she was so beautiful, by the way, yes. And he basically -- although he was an incredibly successful tax attorney in his own right, he really devoted a lot of his life both to the family -- he was the primary cook, and he certainly shared childcare responsibilities with her -- and then he devoted a fair amount of his time and energy to pushing her career forth. She’s not the type to go around self-promoting. He was not shy about promoting her.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about that, because we just played that clip of President Clinton nominating her, but how did that happen? How did Ruth Bader Ginsburg come to Clinton’s attention? He certainly -- she wasn’t the old one he was looking at.

BETSY WEST: Yeah, I mean, Clinton himself had -- says that he wanted to nominate Governor Cuomo. Cuomo didn’t want to do it. And then he started looking around, and possibly, probably -- yes, definitely, because of the Marty Ginsburg campaign and others of her supporters who just felt that she was a legal giant, her name came to his attention. But as he says, Marty Ginsburg wasn’t the only person lobbying for somebody. And when he met her in person, he told us that within 15 minutes of their conversation, he knew he was going to nominate her. It was kind of a meeting of the minds about the law, the best way to make law. And so, he was really taken by her. She was 60 years old when she was nominated. That was actually kind of on the old side. But he decided that she deserved it.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to the 2007 Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber discrimination case, the Supreme Court rejecting Lilly Ledbetter’s claim of pay discrimination at a Goodyear tire plant in Alabama, where she worked as an overnight supervisor for 19 years. The decision moved Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to read her dissent from the bench, a relatively rare move reserved to criticize the majority opinion. This is part of Justice Ginsburg’s dissent.

JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG: In our view, the court does not comprehend or is indifferent to the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination. Title VII was meant to govern real-world employment practices, and that world is what the court ignores today. Pay disparities often occur, as they did in Ledbetter's case, in small increments. Only over time is there strong cause to suspect that discrimination is at work.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act later passed in response to the Supreme Court. The significance, Julie?

JULIE COHEN: Well, I mean, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was a very important piece of legislation. And the significance in the RBG story is reminding you that, yes, of course, a key role of a Supreme Court justice and what you think of as maybe their greatest potential for accomplishing change is in a majority opinion they write, but Justice Ginsburg really made a huge difference in our laws by the dissent that she wrote in Lilly Ledbetter, not only where she explained the unfairness of the statute of limitations that had been placed on how long a woman could wait to make a claim about being paid unequally, but her dissent, she just came right out and said, like, "The ball is now in Congress’s court. Like, you know what? Maybe we’re a little stuck here on the judicial side. Congress, take some action here." And Congress took her up on it, and the law was passed and signed into law -- actually, the first piece of legislation that President Obama signed, when he was inaugurated in January 2009.

AMY GOODMAN: At Sunday’s interview that NPR’s Nina Totenberg did with Justice Ginsburg, she pointed out that Justice Ginsburg had hired clerks through the 2020 term, and asked her about how long she’ll stay on the court.

JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG: My current answer, the answer that will continue to be my answer: As long as I can do the job full steam, I will be here.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Betsy West, she has chosen her clerks through the 2020 term.

BETSY WEST: Think she’s sending a signal? Yes, she seems very determined to continue doing the job that she loves. I mean, one of the most --

AMY GOODMAN: A survivor of pancreatic cancer --


AMY GOODMAN:  -- and colorectal cancer.

BETSY WEST: Colorectal cancer. One of the most amazing scenes for us was filming her in her gym with her trainer, where she works out twice a week. She does a grueling one-hour workout, without fail. She is -- well, and the workout involves, you know, planks, push-ups, medicine ball, the whole routine.

AMY GOODMAN: It's the new Jane Fonda workout video I'm expecting to see.

BETSY WEST: Yeah, I mean, 85 is the new 45. Who knows? I mean, she is determined to keep herself in shape.

AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds, Julie. What most surprised you in meeting Justice Ginsburg and doing this documentary?

JULIE COHEN: You know, there are a lot of legends that have arisen about Justice Ginsburg over the past couple years, as she’s become the Notorious RBG, including the workout, including her long work hours. I think the surprise was that most of those legends are true.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank Julie Cohen and Betsy West, directors and producers of the documentary RBG, which just had its world premiere here at the Sundance Film Festival.

Categories: Latest News

"The Year of Our Awakening": Global Protests Mark Anniversary of Women's March and Trump Inauguration

Truthout - Sun, 01/21/2018 - 21:00

Hundreds of thousands of women took to the streets across the country this weekend to mark the first anniversary of last year's historic Women's March protesting President Trump's inauguration. As Democracy Now! broadcast from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, protesters braved freezing temperatures and a snowstorm to take part in a Respect Rally. We feature the voices of longtime women's rights attorney Gloria Allred and actress Jane Fonda, and speak with actress Tessa Thompson, who played the superhero Valkyrie in the film Thor, Samantha "Sam" White in Dear White People and Diane Nash in Selma.


AMY GOODMAN: Hundreds of thousands of women took to the streets across the country Saturday to mark the first anniversary of last year's historic Women's March protesting President Trump's inauguration. In New York City, authorities estimated over 200,000 people marched. Protests were also held in Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles and hundreds of other cities and towns. Here in Park City, Utah, protesters braved freezing temperatures and a snow storm Saturday to take part in the Respect Rally. Speakers included the longtime women's rights attorney Gloria Allred.

GLORIA ALLRED: Snow, freezing rain, to stand up. And why have we come here today? We have come here for respect for women, for equal rights for all of our daughters, for our mothers, our sisters and our aunts. This entire year has been the winter of our discontent. But it has also been the year of our awakening. And awake we are, to the lack of respect and the denial of our rights for women. Do you agree?


GLORIA ALLRED: This marks the end of fear being used as a weapon to silence women and to deny our rights. Do you agree?


GLORIA ALLRED: This is the year that women's voices have been heard, the year when women broke our silence about the injustices we have suffered, and the year when we said to rich, powerful, famous men, "You can break our hearts, but you cannot break our spirits!"

We will not be silenced. We have reached the breaking point. We have reached the tipping point. We demand respect for our daughters, our granddaughters, our mothers, our sisters, our lesbian sisters, gay men, transgenders and all minorities. We demand our rights! We demand the right to be free of sexual assault, rape and abuse. Say after me: RIPE -- resist, insist, persist, elect. Now, resist!



AUDIENCE: Persist!





GLORIA ALLRED: We demand the right to control our bodies and our lives. Resist!





AUDIENCE: Persist!



GLORIA ALLRED: We demand the right to choose legal, safe and affordable abortions, and not have our lives placed at risk by illegal, unsafe abortions, which cause many of us to be mutilated and die, like I almost died when Roe v. Wade was not yet the law and abortions were illegal. Resist!





AUDIENCE: Persist!



GLORIA ALLRED: We demand the right to have contraceptives when men are getting Viagra. Resist!





AUDIENCE: Persist!



GLORIA ALLRED: We demand the end of sexual harassment and all violence against women and girls. Resist!



AUDIENCE: Persist!





GLORIA ALLRED: We demand the enforcement of child support laws, so mothers can support their children and not be forced onto welfare and lives of poverty. Resist!





AUDIENCE: Persist!



GLORIA ALLRED: We demand the end of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. Resist!





AUDIENCE: Persist!



GLORIA ALLRED: And we demand the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, that equality of rights shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Resist!



AUDIENCE: Persist!



GLORIA ALLRED: And don't forget insist. Insist! And let me tell you, Utah, we have 36 states who have ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, most recently Nevada. And now it is time for Utah. Resist!





AUDIENCE: Persist!



GLORIA ALLRED: And give a hearing to the ERA in Utah. Yes, let's hear it!

PHOEBE WALLER-BRIDGE: It's my huge honor here to be introducing the unintroduceable, the formidable, Jane [bleep] Fonda!

JANE FONDA: Thank you for being here in the cold and in the snow. Yea, Sundancers! We're still marching. We're still protesting. But now we have to also organize!

Last September, 50 women took a bus from Los Angeles to San Diego to join hundreds of grassroots organizers who have been canvassing there to flip the 49th Congressional District. They went door to door and talked to people, some of whom were ardent, avid Trump fans. The women didn't talk about a candidate. They never mentioned a Democratic or Republican party. They focused on issues, the issues that people at the door cared about. And by listening and giving people information that they had not heard before -- because, you know, Fox News -- they were able to change minds. And just a few days ago, the Republican from that district, Trump's good pal Darrell Issa, retired! Yes! He was scared away by our organizing.

Listen to this. The tea party, with the Koch brothers, learned what works. They learned from the successes of the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the women's and the LGBTQ movements. And they've been organizing under the radar for years. And that's how they've taken over state legislators and county supervisors and governorships. And this is really important, because governors determine redistricting. So if we want to protect our voting rights, we have to take back governorships. Our democracy's survival and the Earth's survival depends on our ability to get people the facts, help them understand who is really on their side and they're not alone, and then get them registered and motivated to vote.

AMY GOODMAN: Jane Fonda, speaking at the Respect Rally in Park City, Utah, Saturday, to mark the first anniversary of the historic 2017 Women's March. Before that, the women's rights attorney Gloria Allred.

During the rally, I also interviewed the actress Tessa Thompson, who you may know from her roles as the superhero in the film Thor or playing Samantha "Sam" White in Dear White People or performing as Diane Nash in Selma. I spoke to her just after she addressed the Respect Rally.

AMY GOODMAN: Hi. I'm Amy Goodman from Democracy Now!

TESSA THOMPSON: Hi. I know who you are.

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, my god! Well, I know who you are.

TESSA THOMPSON: Are you kidding? I know who you are.

AMY GOODMAN: So, your thoughts today, on this first anniversary of the inauguration of President Trump, but also the first anniversary of the massive women marches around the country?

TESSA THOMPSON: I mean, it's -- you know, it's incredible to be here. I think that, you know, a lot of movement has happened since then, and, in many ways, not enough. I think until we can really create systemic change, in legislation, in policy, we'll continue to march. And that was something that was echoed by Jane Fonda and Gloria Allred. Like, I think that's where we are. And so, I was really spirited to hear particularly the words of Jane, helping us understand the ways in which it's important to organize, because I feel like we're in such a cultural moment sometimes that -- particularly in this media space that we live in, where you can feel like retweeting or hashtagging is enough, and I think we really need to get to a place of understanding, and, you know, in a real way, with our friends and our family, what we can do, how we can really create change.

AMY GOODMAN: Tessa Thompson, you played Diane Nash in Selma.


AMY GOODMAN: Talk about this civil rights leader and what -- this kind of activism, from a half a century ago, if we're seeing it expressed today.

TESSA THOMPSON: We're seeing it expressed. The thing that was so incredible about Diane and every leader that I spoke to that's still alive that could tell me about Diane -- of course, I got to meet her, as well -- is just how radical she was, you know, that she really felt like an important component of creating real change is tension, that she wasn't afraid of it, to create it even with the people that she collaborated with. And that kind of bravery and real dedication to getting to the core of an idea, I think, is so fantastic, particularly in a political space. And so I was continuously struck by that. And she is that way still. I mean, she has such fierce integrity and really believes in America, so much that she can be quite critical. And that's, I think, what we need.

AMY GOODMAN: And now you are a black woman superstar in Thor. Talk about your message to young women in the world.

TESSA THOMPSON: I think what's really been incredible about that, obviously, the character Valkyrie has not historically been a woman of color, although she is -- in the context of the comics, she is depicted as sometimes a bisexual, so she's a queer woman. But it's been incredible to see young women come up to me and say that it means so much to them because they can see themselves reflected in a film like that. And I think, for me, you know, when I first got the part, I couldn't believe it. And I think a part of that is because I had not seen it before. And so, I think that's where representation in media is really important. It's important that when people are ingesting their popcorn, they're also ingesting images that make them feel hopeful about their sense of possibility.

AMY GOODMAN: That's actress Tessa Thompson at the Respect Rally on Saturday here in Park City. When we come back from break, we will look at RBG, a new documentary about the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who's here in Park City, as well. Stay with us.

Categories: Latest News

Becoming Stable Geniuses: Seeking New (and Very Old) Habits for a New Year

Truthout - Sun, 01/21/2018 - 21:00
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A little over a year ago at TomDispatch I wrote about the bloody nightmares rupturing my sleep and the night terrors gripping my little household in the wake of Donald Trump's election. That piece was reposted by a wide range of publications. And then, in what at first seemed like a terrible mistake, I read the comments.

Some of them weren't very nice. Some of the names the guys (and they were all guys) called me were downright mean. Shocking, I know. But a common thread ran through those responses, one I've been musing about ever since. It was this, as one fellow put it: "There's nothing to be afraid of. Stop being such a coward." They were wrong, of course. There's plenty to be afraid of in the Trump era from climate disaster to nuclear war to disappearing medical care. But they were half-right, too. Those of us seeking to resist Trump can't afford cowardice. We need to practice courage.

Remembering that exchange with those trolls has gotten me thinking about some of the personal qualities we'll need to sustain the movements resistingTrump and the Republican agenda forward. The ancient Greek philosophers called such qualities "virtues," by which they meant stable habits of character -- a dependable tendency to act a certain way in certain situations. The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed we can only develop such habits through practice. We become courageous, he wrote, by acting courageously. In effect, we fake it till we make it.

There are many lists of such virtues. Aristotle himself described a number of them, some of which didn't even have names -- like the ability to be entertainingly witty at a dinner party. But most of the classical and medieval European philosophers settled on four key or "cardinal" virtues: justice, courage, temperance (which, today, we would call moderation), and wisdom. It's as good a list as any to cultivate for those intent on resisting the transformation of our world into a Trumpian hell on Earth.


Ancient philosophers spent a lot of time defining justice. For the Greek philosopher Plato, a just person was someone in whom each part of the personality played the role it was best suited for. For Aristotle and many who came after him, justice consisted of giving to people what they were due or owed, what they deserved.

We've certainly seen the Trump administration fail to give people their due.

For example, in April 2017 Attorney General Jeff Sessions acted to stop the implementation of consent decrees worked out between the Obama-era Justice Department and a number of local police forces around the country. Those agreements to reform law enforcement practices came in the wake of a new media interest in an old problem: the deaths of striking numbers of unarmed people of color annually at the hands of police departments from Staten Island to Baltimore to San Francisco, not to mention Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown was infamously shot to death by a city police officer.

After Brown's death, the Justice Department investigated the practices of the Ferguson police and discovered that, far from giving that city's citizens their due, the police department and its municipal court were preying on them for financial gain. "Ferguson's law enforcement practices," the Department's Civil Rights Division found, "are shaped by the city's focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs." In other words, the main activity of the police and court turned out to be wringing as much money as possible out of the African American population.

As a result of Justice Department action, in 2016 Ferguson agreed to a consent decree outlining the concrete steps it would take to correct an unjust system. Similar agreements were put in place in other cities with histories of discriminatory, indeed murderous, treatment of communities of color. Now, Trump's attorney general has halted enforcement of these consent decrees, effectively ending an attempt to bring justice to communities suffering at the hands of those who are supposed to protect them.

Donald Trump himself has demonstrated little respect for the institutions responsible for justice in this country. In January 2018, for example, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stayed a Trump move to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (the DACA program, which allows undocumented immigrants who came here as children to remain in the United States). Trump's reaction? An attack not only on this particular decision, but a tweetpronouncing the entire court system "broken and unfair" (followed by his now infamous assault on the "shithole" countries from which such immigrants come and a call to replace them with "Norwegian" immigrants).

And this was hardly Trump's first attack on the courts. As early as June 2017, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School had already collected a remarkable range of presidential tweet assaults on the court system, part of a full-scale presidential campaign to delegitimize an entire branch of government (until the president can appoint judges more to his taste). It cited a tweet storm of Trumpian pronouncements like: "Our legal system is broken!" "Just can't believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system." "What is our country coming to when a judge can halt a Homeland Security travel ban…?"

What, indeed? A country with a system of checks and balances, perhaps, in which multiple branches of government work to keep each other honest, or even… just?

In general, we tend to think of justice (or injustice) as a situation brought about by human activity, rather than as a quality of humanity itself. Consider the expression "to bring someone to justice." In this sense -- and it's a commonplace one -- justice is a metaphorical place, a condition. That's not wrong, of course, but we can also understand justice as a virtue -- a moral characteristic of individuals. Justice in this sense is the personal habit of giving people what they are truly owed, whether demanding respect for women's bodily and moral integrity or striving for a living wage for every worker.

Justice in the form of habitual respect for those who are -- perhaps profoundly -- different from ourselves is crucial if we are to build strong and effective coalitions of resistance.


George W. Bush and his administration spent eight years trying to turn the United States into a terrified nation of cowards. The pretext for their invasions and torture was "our" safety (though on any number of other, far more dangerous subjects they couldn't have cared less). We've now come to accept, for example, the "security theater" we encounter at US airports, a drama in which an audience of docile passengers is reminded by the indignity of the procedures that we should be very afraid. Indeed the absurdity of these measures (only 3-ounce bottles in a quart-sized baggie permitted; no bigger! no smaller!) reinforces our sense of their ultimate power. The danger must be very great indeed, if our government is making such ridiculous demands in such profusion (even if the Transportation Security Administration has a dismal record when it comes to finding actual objects of danger on passengers as opposed to nail files or water bottles).

Similarly, we were asked to accept that other people had to be tortured if we were to remain safe. It was as if the government were offering us a solemn deal: just let us do what we need to over there on the dark side and, in return, we promise you will never die. The same illusory guarantee of immortality is implied in the promise to wealthier, whiter communities that they could enjoy lives of perfect safety as long as they permitted militarized policing and massive incarceration in this country.

In spite of an historic decline in violent crime in recent years, Donald Trump continues to stir such fears. In his inaugural address a year ago, he spoke of "American carnage," in a landscape "of abandoned factories, economic angst, rising crime." To deal with it, Muslims and immigrants of color were to be tossed out of the country (or kept from entering), prompting no less a fear-monger than George W. Bush to describe the address as "some weird shit."

Such fear-mongering has a long history in this country. Today it is especially focused on the "dangers" represented by Muslims and immigrants in general. If you're a Central American immigrant, then you must also be a member of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS) 13 gang and in need of deportation so that good Americans can remain safe. Never mind that many such immigrants are here precisely because MS 13 and other drug gangs targeted them in their home countries -- or that MS 13 originated in the United States when Salvadorans fled war and repression instigated by US-backed dictatorships.

We are encouraged to let fear guide our response to the horrors lived by millions of Middle Eastern refugees, many of them displaced from their homes by our own country's military adventures. Those adventures, in turn, were fueled by all sorts of ginned-up fears, including that -- as Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser, put it back in early 2003 -- we must not wait until the "smoking gun" (proving that Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein did indeed possess weapons of mass destruction) turned out to be "a mushroom cloud" rising over an American city.

Half of all Syrians have by now become refugees, in part because of the regional destabilization that began with the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Trump travel ban forbids even one of them to enter this country. Since the attacks of 9/11, fear of terrorism -- and terrorism alone -- has constricted the American heart, while helping fund the spectacular rise of the national security state.

To be clear: the problem isn't fear itself, it's our habitual reaction to fear. Reasonable people are often afraid. We are all mortal and there are real dangers in this world. Fear can be a perfectly useful response, alerting us to danger. So courage doesn't mean never being frightened. Courage is the habit that allows us, even as we tremble, to do what we know is right and necessary -- to refuse to torture anyone, to rescue refugees, to recognize that striking first is not self-defense but aggressive war, to realize that others are profiting by the ways we let fear immobilize us.

If we are to successfully resist the Trump juggernaut, we will need to be brave, to create through practice a habit of refusing to let fear -- whether of ridicule or repression -- keep us from acting.


Moderation -- the ability to resist extreme behavior -- isn't always a popular virtue among leftists like myself. Our intemperance often tends less in the direction of self-indulgence than puritanical self-righteousness. This makes it difficult to compromise; it often makes "the perfect," as they say, the enemy of "the good." Such a tendency could prove disastrous if we fail to support imperfect Democratic nominees -- is there any other kind? -- in the 2018 midterm elections. There are legitimate bottom lines of course. A resistance movement worth its name can't support candidates who don't recognize the full humanity of people of color, of women, and members of LGBTcommunities. We mustn't trade anyone's humanity for a mess of electoral pottage. Still, there are compromises we can make.

A puritan intemperance can also create in activists a contempt for anyone who takes time out from politics to pay attention to the details of ordinary life. Often such people are women on whom the main social responsibility still falls for raising children and feeding, clothing, and soothing family and friends. We can be tempted to forget that the whole point of political engagement is to create a world in which everyone is free to attend to the ordinary joys and pains of human life.

There's a saying attributed to Carlos Fonseca, one of the founders of Nicaragua's Sandinista party. "A man who is tired," he is supposed to have said, "has the right to rest. But a man who rests does not have the right to be in the vanguard." It's a stirring exhortation. But the implication is that only supermen (and they would be men) can lead movements for the benefit of ordinary people. And buried in that implication lies a contempt for the very people any "vanguard" hopes to lead.

Moderation -- a recognition and embrace of human limitations -- is the virtue that will keep a resistance movement humble and grounded in real life.


Aristotle called it phronesis; Thomas Aquinas, prudentia. It's probably best translated as practical wisdom. It's the ability to use your mental powers, honed through your experience of life, to discern in a given situation not just the most effective move, but the right one. It's the quality that allows us, for example, to recognize the injustice in a tax bill that gives wealthy people something not due to them -- even greater wealth -- while taking yet morefrom the poor. Once armed with that recognition, practical wisdom helps us figure out the best way to confront and overturn injustice, while maintaining our own integrity.

It helps us decide, for example, which candidates or ballot measures we should support or oppose in the 2018 elections. Once committed, practical wisdom helps us decide not only which tactics will be effective in an electoral battle, but which contribute to our longer-term goals.

Suppose, for example, there's a ballot initiative to outlaw all state and local services to undocumented immigrants. No emergency health care, no public schooling. Opponents could decide to leverage the very anti-immigrant sentiment fueling the initiative to defeat it. "You don't want untreated immigrants spreading tuberculosis," they might argue (as in fact they did in a 1994 California electoral campaign). Or "You don't want dangerous immigrant teenagers hanging out on street corners. Wouldn't it be better to have them in school where we can keep an eye on them?"

Arguments like this might deliver a short-term win (although they failed to do so in that state in 1994) but at the cost of reinforcing racism and xenophobia in the long run. Practical wisdom counsels us to do the right thing (in this case, oppose a vicious law) -- and in the right way.

Becoming Stable Geniuses

Resisting Trump will require developing such dependable habits in ourselves and our movements.

How do we do this? Here I defer to Aristotle. We become just by doing just acts and brave by acting bravely. We show up at immigration courts when asylum seekers ask to be released on bond from detention centers; we demonstrate outside legislators' offices, demanding they keep their promises to protect DACA holders; we keep doing these things even though we're afraid they won't help.

We take risks -- including the risk of being ridiculed for making moral arguments, for injecting questions of right and wrong into the political conversation -- in a country where the "grownups" only talk about costs and benefits measured in dollars and cents.

We fake it till we make it, all the while acknowledging our own human imperfections, even the possibility that we might be wrong. We build dependable habits of justice, courage, and moderation, guided by practical wisdom. We seek, in other words, to become very stable geniuses.

Categories: Latest News

Does the GOP Really Want a DACA Deal? We Already Know the Answer

Truthout - Sun, 01/21/2018 - 21:00

Dreamers and their supporters protest outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 19, 2018. (Photo: Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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Update: On Monday, the Senate advanced a three-week, short-term continuing resolution to fund the federal government, meaning that the shutdown will end soon. Democrats agreed to the resolution based on a promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that the chamber will promptly address immigration legislation if a DACA deal is not reached by the new funding deadline. Immigration advocates warned against trusting McConnell's word, when so many lives are left in the balance.

In May of last year, President Donald Trump said "our country needs a shutdown." Over the weekend he got his wish. After a tumultuous couple of weeks in which the president said he would agree to a clean DACA bill "of love" and then ranted about not wanting any more immigration from "shithole" countries, the Republican House majority voted for a stopgap spending measure to keep the government funded. But the Republican Senate couldn't muster more than 51 votes and it needed 60.

As I write this, all non-essential government services are closed and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is promising a vote on DACA if Democrats agree to a stopgap measure lasting until Feb. 8. He has scheduled a vote for noon on Monday. Of course they've been kicking this can down the road for months. McConnell promised the same thing in December and never delivered the DACA vote, but maybe he really means it this time.

The sticking points are a fix for DACA recipients, enhanced border security including the Trumpian border wall, newly introduced draconian restrictions on legal immigration and funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program. The DACA issue and the CHIP program basically involve young people and sick children being held as hostages by Republicans to get their extreme immigration policies enacted.

The best description of what the negotiations have been like over the past three days came from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in a speech on Saturday when he said working with Trump was "like negotiating with Jell-O." He said Democrats had capitulated on the wall, and in return, Trump told him he would push for a measure to keep the government open for four or five days so they could hammer out the details. Then:

"Several hours later he called back. He said, 'So, I hear we have a three-week deal.' I said, 'No, Mr. President, no one is even talking about a three-week deal,'" Schumer recounted.

"Then a few hours later they called back again, 'Well we're going to need this, this, this in addition,'" Schumer said. "Things they knew were far, far right and off the table."

Basically, every time the parties reach an actual agreement, the right-wingers demand more.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, who foolishly believed he had seduced the president into adopting a moderate stance on the issue, was more or less with Schumer on the character of the negotiations. Graham said on Sunday, "As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we're going nowhere. He's been an outlier for years."

The malevolent Miller, a White House policy adviser, may be an outlier, but he's been a pretty successful one. He and his former boss Jeff Sessions (then in the Senate), along with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, were responsible for the failure of the last big push for comprehensive immigration reform back in 2013. Miller seems to be good at currying favor with his xenophobic bosses.

Sessions himself worked tirelessly to ensure the DREAM Act was never passed, which was why DACA was required in the first place. Back in 2010, Sessions made the case that young people who were brought to the US by their parents, and were in all respects but paperwork American citizens, should be sent back to countries many could not remember. He called the DREAM Act "amnesty" for uneducated, unproductive criminal welfare recipients and said it would cost "hard-working Americans" vast sums of money. That was, of course, a lie, but Sessions managed to get the votes to scuttle the bill.

Trump made that man his attorney general. Immigration is the issue most closely associated with Trump's campaign. His closest advisers on the issue, from Steve Bannon to Miller to chief of staff John Kelly, are hardcore anti-immigration zealots. The president himself blew up the negotiations over the notion that people from "shithole" countries were coming into the United States legally. Why, if we didn't know better, you'd think they don't really want a deal at all.

The GOP revealed its true strategy over the weekend with this repugnant message:

The White House tried to distance the president from the ad, but the fact that it concludes with the words "I'm Donald Trump and I approve this message," disproves that claim. Trump also tweeted several times that the Democrats have shut down the government because they care more about "illegal immigrants" more than they care about the American people. His secretary of homeland security backed him up:

Benefits for millions of illegal immigrants instead of paying Americans who put their lives at risk daily to protect ours? I don’t think so. Most Americans don't either. Fund the government and then negotiate. #endtheshutdown

— Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen (@SecNielsen) January 21, 2018

Characterizing this issue as one of conferring "benefits" on "illegal immigrants" is code for the dreaded "amnesty," which leads directly to the racist trope that they are all on welfare. The administration is now consciously demagoguing against DACA recipients by conflating them with criminals.

Yes, the polls all say that there is a bipartisan majority in favor of helping the Dreamers. Even many Republican voters aren't so heartless that they think it makes sense to deport 800,000 young people simply because their parents broke the immigration laws when they were small children. Everyone knows that it's the Democrats who are trying to help them. That would explain why party officials and the White House are purposefully conflating Dreamers with criminal gang members in that ad. They have to keep their voters confused and angry.

It's obvious from the Keystone Kops nature of the so-called negotiations that Trump isn't strategizing. His racist id and his desire to get a "win" are being pulled in opposite directions, depending on whom he listens to at any given time. His lack of understanding of the issue or how laws are actually made makes him a hindrance to deal making. But we know what Trump wants. He's said it many times during debates and on the stump during the campaign:

We either have a country, or we don't have a country. We have at least 11 million people in this country that came in illegally. They will go out. Some will come back, the best, through a process. They have to come back legally. They have to come back through a process, and it may not be a very quick process, but I think that's very fair, and very fine.

Yes, he's hedged on the Dreamers from time to time. But seriously, all you have to do is look at his rhetoric from the moment he announced his candidacy to understand what he really, deep down, wants to do. It was the central promise of his presidential campaign from day one.

So yes, I think it's probably true that as president he's being manipulated in the negotiations by the odious Stephen Miller and probably by Kelly and Sessions too. They know what buttons he really likes pushed. And some ambitious Republican hardliners like Sen. Tom Cotton, R-AK, and members of the ever-cunning House Freedom Caucus are riding the Trump zeitgeist as well.

But let's not pretend it's all Trump and his courtiers. The Republican majority in Congress has been playing Russian roulette with the Dreamers for years now. They have blocked every single solution to the problem, and it's irrational at this point to believe they are acting in good faith.

Categories: Latest News

Congress's Ratification of Trump's Spying Power Is a Direct Threat to Our Privacy

Truthout - Sun, 01/21/2018 - 21:00

(Left to right) Sen. Steve Daines, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Elizabeth Warren hold a news conference about their proposed reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill January 16, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

When it voted 65 to 34 to pass the National Security Agency's Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Reauthorization Act of 2017, Congress gave Donald Trump vast authority to spy on Americans. Senate Republicans and Democrats have handed the Trump administration a dangerous tool to intercept our internet communications and target immigrants, people of color and government critics.

(Left to right) Sen. Steve Daines, Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Elizabeth Warren hold a news conference about their proposed reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill January 16, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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"Today, the United States Congress struck a significant blow against the basic human right to read, write, learn, and associate free of government's prying eyes," Electronic Frontier Foundation Executive Director Cindy Cohn wrote. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Reauthorization Act of 2017, which Congress passed on January 19, poses a serious threat to the privacy of our internet communications.

Section 702 of FISA allows spying on Americans who communicate with people outside the United States.

Congress voted to extend Section 702 of FISA, with minimal changes, for six years. It permits the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect email and texts of foreigners abroad without a warrant, and also allows spying on Americans who communicate with people outside the United States. For example, the NSA can intercept the communications of a US citizen or permanent resident who attends an international conference on human rights or marches against climate change in another country.

In 2013, whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA was using section 702 to spy on Americans through the PRISM internet surveillance program. The government is collecting private messages, without a warrant, from US companies including Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Skype, AOL, Apple and YouTube. It targets foreigners who are "reasonably believed" to be outside the US, even though the surveillance occurs on US soil. However, the communications of Americans can also be incidentally intercepted.

To read more stories like this, visit Human Rights and Global Wrongs.

We cannot confine our criticism for this travesty to the GOP. In a vote of 65 to 34, 18 Senate Democrats joined many of their Republican colleagues to give the Trump administration vast spying authority. Although some Democratic senators, including Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), had suggested amendments that would require a court order to gain access to the communications of US persons, others quickly got behind the reauthorization.

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who is running for reelection this year, provided the deciding vote that prevented any debate on increased civil liberties protections. "I would like to see more reforms in this program, and perhaps that is something those of us on the Intelligence Committee can strive for," she said. "But I believe this is the best we are going to do at this time."

It is no coincidence that Feinstein failed to stand up for our privacy. In 2013, when she was chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Feinstein defended the surveillance program while acknowledging she didn't know how the data collected by the NSA was being utilized. At the time, journalist Glenn Greenwald noted in a tweet, "The reason there are leakers is precisely because the govt is filled with people like Dianne Feinstein who do horrendous things in secret."

"Instead of instituting much needed reforms and safeguards, Senators supported legislation that would give spying powers to an administration that has time and time again demonstrated its disregard for civil rights and civil liberties," the ACLU tweeted after the Senate voted to reauthorize section 702 last week.

Demand Progress, an internet activist group with 2 million members, concurred, stating, "This expanded surveillance power is particularly troubling in the hands of the Trump administration, which has made regular practice of cynical, politically-expedient and dangerous attacks on our country's most targeted communities."

In a vote of 65 to 34, 18 Senate Democrats joined many of their Republican colleagues to give the Trump administration vast spying authority.

This reauthorization bill was passed shortly before the US government shut down because Donald Trump refused to make good on his promise to protect Dreamers after ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Following the vote to reauthorize section 702, the ACLU tweeted "No president should have this [spying] power, much less one who has endorsed policies designed to unfairly target critics, immigrants, and minority communities."

The bill, which allows warrantless backdoor searches of the communications of Americans, requires a warrant when there is an ongoing criminal investigation. But, as the ACLU's Neema Singh Guliani noted, "Congress has left this loophole wide open for exploitation by an administration openly hostile to critics, immigrants, Muslims, and people of color."

Snowden maintains that Congress would not have reauthorized section 702 if it knew about alleged abuses of the program described in a secret government memo. On Friday, he tweeted, "Officials confirm there's a secret report showing abuses of spy law Congress voted to reauthorize this week. If this memo had been known prior to the vote, FISA reauth would have failed. These abuses must be made public and @realDonaldTrump should send the bill back with a veto."

Ironically, Republicans have issued calls to #ReleaseTheMemo, a classified memo written by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-California), which purportedly shows Barack Obama misused FISA to conduct surveillance during Trump's presidential transition. Democrats contend the memo misstates and misconstrues the facts.

"There is one signal that will tell you if the Republican's #ReleaseTheMemo campaign is legitimate: whether or not @RealDonaldTrump signs the FISA 702 reauth into law in the next 10 days," Snowden tweeted. "If he doesn't veto 702 and send it back to Congress for reform, this is nothing but politics," he added.

Categories: Latest News

Trump's Top Donors: Where Are They Now?

Truthout - Sun, 01/21/2018 - 21:00
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One year ago, President Donald Trump's inauguration broke records  --  not in turnout, but in inaugural donations.

Trump pulled in $107 million in individual contributions, nearly doubling President Barack Obama's 2009 record of $53 million. With the donations came a set of perks for top donors  --  "intimate" dinners with Vice President Mike Pence; exclusive luncheons with Cabinet appointees and congressional leaders; tickets to inaugural balls, dinners and luncheons with appearances by Trump.

The money came flooding in from corporate executives, owners of US sports teams and other wealthy benefactors. And this year, some came calling back.

The Center for Responsive Politics assessed Trump's relationships with his top donors a year after the January 20, 2017 inauguration. Some now hold ambassador positions while others have developed close relationships with the administration.

Inaugural Donors

Chief among the top donors was Sheldon Adelson, a GOP megadonor and CEO of the largest casino company in the United States, Las Vegas Sands Corp. He doled out $5 million for Trump's inauguration fund.

The donation was not only Trump's largest inaugural contribution, but the largest individual donation made to any presidential inaugural committee. He and his wife, Miriam Adelson, also donated nearly $83 million to Republicans in the 2016 election.

In the past year Adelson has pressed Trump to follow through on his campaign pledge to relocate the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a move Trump announced in December.

"The Adelsons reportedly have been disappointed in Trump's failure to keep a campaign pledge to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem on his first day in office,"wrote the Las Vegas Review-Journal after Adelson's October meeting with Trump. The paper is owned by the Adelson family.

(Home Depot CEO Bernie Marcus, who donated $7 million to Trump's campaign effort but was not an inaugural donor, also has a vested interest in the region as founder of the Israel Democracy Institute).

But he is not the only inaugural donor who may have turned his contribution into special access to the administration.

In April, coal baron Robert Murray, who donated $300,000 to the inauguration, gave Trump a detailed to-do list of environmental rollbacks, according to The New York Times. Since then, the administration is on track to check off most of Murray's wish list.

The son of R.W. Habboush, a Venezuelan lobbyist who donated $666,000 to the inauguration, sat in on meetings about sanctions on Venezuela.

In the past year, a series of Trump donors or their close relatives have also been appointed US ambassadors.

Notable among them is Robert Wood Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets. Johnson donated $1 million to the inauguration. In August, he was sworn in as the US ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Joseph Craft III, president and CEO of Alliance Resource Partners, was another million-dollar donor to the inaugural committee. His wife, Kelly Knight Craft, wassworn in as the US ambassador to Canada in September.

Doug Manchester, owner of Manchester Financial Group and another $1 million inaugural donor, was nominated for a position as the US ambassador to the Bahamas in May. Manchester is now awaiting a re-nomination from Trump because of a Senate rule.

Campaign Donors

Many of the top inaugural donors also donated millions in support of Trump's presidential campaign.

Trump's top campaign donor, Robert Mercer, the billionaire co-CEO of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, poured more than $15 million into outside groups to get Trump elected. Mercer also donated $1 million to the Trump inaugural committee. PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel donated $1 million to Trump's campaign efforts and $100,000 to the inauguration.

Each were top campaign donors and each held close relationships to the administration.

Of the more than $400 million raised to elect Trump, about $50 million was raised by Trump's top 13 contributors --  many of whom have found themselves in the Trump administration's inner circle.

Some like Linda McMahon, owner of McMahon Ventures and co-founder of the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) empire, donated over $6 million to getting Trump elected. Much of that was donated to Trump-aligned super PACs, such as Future45 and Rebuilding America Now.

McMahon was later appointed administrator of the US Small Business Administration.

In 2009, Dallas banker Andrew Beal, who donated $2.1 million toward Trump's presidential bid and $1 million for the inauguration, worked with Carl Ichan in an attempt to take control of the bankrupt Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc. Ichan served as an advisor in the early months of the administration until he resigned ahead of a story detailing potential conflicts of interest. 

Others toted close relationships to the administration like Stephen Feinburg, who donated $1.5 million to campaign efforts and had a close military ear in the Trump administration. That was before ex-White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon's departure from the administration.

Many of Trump's top donors have stepped into the political spotlight in the wake of Trump and Bannon's public feud.

Contributors like Feinburg, Thiel and Marcus  --  Trump's second largest campaign donor  --  held close relationships to Bannon.

Some of them, such as GOP megadonors Adelson and the Mercer family, have since distanced themselves from Bannon in support of Trump. Rebekah Mercer, the billionaire daughter of Robert Mercer who runs the family business, severed ties with Bannon in a January statement to The Washington Post.

"I support President Trump and the platform upon which he was elected," Rebekah Mercer said. "My family and I have not communicated with Steve Bannon in many months and have provided no financial support to his political agenda, nor do we support his recent actions and statements."

Categories: Latest News

Department of Education Rules That Texas Violated Rights of Disabled Students

Truthout - Sun, 01/21/2018 - 21:00
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Though equal access and civil rights don't seem very popular with the Trump administration, the Department of Education recently ruled that Texas denied disabled students their right to an education.

The verdict was an important victory not just for students within the state, but also those living elsewhere. Civil rights laws are only truly effective if they're enforced, and states considering moves similar to those seen in Texas will be reconsidering in light of this decision.

Here's what happened: Texas effectively instituted a quota on disability education services  -- sometimes known as special education. The state decided that up to 8.5 percent of enrolled students could receive services, even though the nationwide average suggests that 13 percent -- and sometimes more -- of school-age children have disabilities that might require accommodation and support.

And this wasn't the only issue in Texas. In addition to failing to serve disabled students, school districts also failed to take steps to identify, screen and diagnose students who might need help. Learning disabilities are frequently caught in educational settings, and schools have a legal duty to identify at-risk students --  like a child who is having trouble reading -- and reach out. Early intervention can radically increase the chances of later success.

As a result, some students who were legally entitled to such services by the nature of their disabilities were instead denied. This goes against the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which says states must provide a "free, appropriate public education" (FAPE) for disabled students.

For disabled people, the right to education wasn't always enshrined in the law. Historically, some people with significant developmental, intellectual and cognitive disabilities simply weren't sent to school at all, or were isolated and denied services at school. With a series of civil rights laws specifically addressing education rights, including the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, states gradually came to understand that every child needs an education -- and that includes disabled children.

This means that schools have to be physically accessible so that wheelchair users can get to class and learn; they must provide curricula in formats accessible to d/Deaf and blind or low-vision students; they must accommodate students who need extra test-taking time or tutoring; they must make room for personal assistants or aides if students need them; and much, much more. Schools are provided with funding to meet these needs, though it can be insufficient.

Texas is far from the only state with a deeply flawed approach to integrating disabled students. Across the country, states and individual counties and districts struggle to provide disabled students with the education they're entitled to. This isn't necessarily malicious, as many are dealing with poor funding and other obstacles, but it can seriously affect the lives of disabled people.

Disabled people, including children, are more likely to be poor, and this makes it harder for their families to fight back and secure rights -- parents might not be able to afford an attorney to sue the school district, or have the capacity to pick up and move to a more inclusive district.

What's remarkable about this decision is that it emerged from the Department of Education under Betsy DeVos, who's no friend to disability rights. During her confirmation hearing, DeVos made it clear that she wasn't even familiar with the legal requirements surrounding disability education. She's also heavily pushing the use of school vouchers, and rescinded guidance on educating parents about the potential disability-related ramifications of using a voucher program. Private schools aren't subject to the same accommodation requirements as public schools, so withdrawing a disabled student from public education can have unexpected consequences.

Some disability rights advocates are hopeful that this may be a sign the Department of Education is committed to upholding the law, and that as DeVos settles in at the department, perhaps she'll get more familiar with disability issues. While this 15-month investigation may have started during the Obama era, she could have taken it in a number of directions, and this very serious outcome is heartening for disabled students in Texas, and across the country.

The Texas governor and education commissioner have both said they intend to take prompt action to address the shortcomings identified by the Department of Education. Educators, parents and students will be keeping a close eye to determine if that pledge carries weight.

Categories: Latest News

The Corporate Tax Cut Bonanza

Truthout - Sun, 01/21/2018 - 21:00

(Photo: Rawpixel)

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There have been numerous news stories in the past few weeks about corporations doing the right thing with their big tax cuts. These stories tell us how they are giving higher pay to workers and have ambitious plans for new investment. The Trump administration has been crowing over these announcements as proving the success of their tax cut. There is much less here than meets the eye.

To start, we can look at the latest and biggest announcement in this category, Apple's plan to bring back $252 billion in cash that it held overseas. Apple announced it would make a one-time $38 billion tax payment on the repatriated money.

Before anyone starts celebrating, we should be clear what bringing back this cash means. Previously, this $252 billion had been credited to Apple's foreign subsidiaries. These subsidiaries had immediate legal claim to the money, which could in fact be anywhere in the world, including the United States.

What Apple did in repatriating this money was transfer the ownership claim from its subsidiaries to the parent company. It is entirely possible that this meant simply shifting money in an account at Citigroup owned by Apple's Irish subsidiary to an account at Citigroup owned by the parent company. This means essentially nothing to the US economy.

There is the one-time tax payment of $38 billion, but this is a savings of $43 billion against Apple's tax liability under the former system, according to the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy. So it's hard to see the cause for celebration here.

Apple did announce that it was giving a one-time bonus of $2,500, in the form of stock. If all of the company's 84,000 workers get this bonus, it is equal to a bit less than 0.5 percent of the tax liability Apple saved on its foreign profits.

Apart from this one-time windfall on foreign earnings, we don't know how much of Apple's ongoing tax savings will show up in worker's wages. As it stands, Apple is looking a bit stingy compared to other big winners from the tax cut.

Verizon announced that it would give bonuses of $1,000 to each of its 200,000 workers. This $200,000 million expenditure comes to almost 10 percent of its $2 billion-plus in annual savings from the tax cut. Similarly, Walmart announced pay increases that came to around $300 million annually. This would be close to 15 percent of the $2 billion that it would save annually from the tax cut. 

Many of these companies are also announcing plans for expansion, which they are attributing to the incentives provided by the tax cut. While that is possible, it is also likely that many of these plans for expansion were in the works long before the tax cut was even introduced in Congress.

After all, Walmart also just announced that it was closing 63 Sam's Clubs stores. Should we attribute these closing and the resulting layoffs to the tax cut as well?

Corporate America is clearly putting on a public relations show to thank the Republicans who pushed through the tax cut. They are trying to convince people that the Republicans in Congress were doing something that was good for the country, not just rewarding big donors to their campaigns.

But this is not the sort of stuff that the public should take seriously. We know how to evaluate the tax cut. The question is whether it truly does lead to a big upturn in investment. We will find the answer in the government's data on investment, not the tall tales from corporate chieftains.

Thankfully, we shouldn't have to wait long to get the preliminary results. If the tax cut really is the huge spur to investment that the Republicans claim, it should be showing up very quickly in new orders for capital goods. The Commerce Department will release the data for December this week. While this is early, fast-moving companies surely were following the debate and were prepared to jump once passage became certain.

In late February we will have the data on capital goods orders for January. If corporate America sees the tax cut as the boon the Republicans promised, surely they will have some of their new orders in by the end of this month.

These Commerce Department reports will provide the real test of the Republican claims that the tax cuts will boost growth and provide substantial benefits for workers. Until we have these data, all the announcements of corporate generosity should be recognized as nothing more than self-serving propaganda. 

Categories: Latest News

Newly Released Documents Show Dakota Access Pipeline Is Discriminatory Against Native Americans

Truthout - Sun, 01/21/2018 - 21:00

Records obtained recently show that the companies funding the Dakota Access pipeline manipulated their environmental justice assessment of its impact after the pipeline was rerouted from a predominantly white area onto Sioux Tribal land. What's more, it appears that this was done under the active guidance of the US Army Corps of Engineers.

A young activist holds a sign during a march in solidarity with Standing Rock Water Protectors in Seattle, Washington, on September 16, 2016. (Photo: John Duffy)

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A new year and five oil-spills later, the flowing of oil through the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) underneath the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's water supply continues to be a threat to tribal survival. As the Tribe battles to shut down the oil flow through the courts, new information detailing how the pipeline was wrongly placed through Lake Oahe -- the Tribe's main source of drinking water -- is emerging.

The decision to move the DAPL from a route north of the 90 percent white population of Bismarck down onto the traditional lands of the Sioux and under Lake Oahe, impacting the 84 percent Native population, required a legally adequate environmental justice analysis that Dakota Access, LLC failed to prepare.

Records obtained through a recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request reveal that the United States Army Corps of Engineers inappropriately attempted to guide the companies funding DAPL toward providing an environmental justice analysis of the pipeline that would conclude that there was no disproportionate impact on a racial minority.

Taking their cue from the Army Corps, the pipeline companies Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) and Dakota Access, LLC manipulated their environmental justice assessment to reach that predetermined conclusion.

Leaky Pipes

Touted as "one of the safest, most technologically advanced pipelines in the world" by Dakota Access, LLC, the pipeline has already leaked five times in 2017, with more than 100 gallons of oil in two separate incidents in North Dakota last March, 84 gallons in South Dakota, 168 gallons in Illinois in April, and 21 gallons in Iowa in November. This shouldn't come as a shock, as another company operating the pipeline, Sunoco Logistics, has spilled more crude oil than any of its competitors, with more than 200 leaks since 2010.

Last June, DAPL began flowing oil under Lake Oahe, a reservoir considered sacred to Lakota spiritual practices. The potential for an oil leak under the lake drove thousands of Water Protectors to protest the pipeline between 2016 and 2017. While the easement for the route was denied by the Obama administration, which sought to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing, the Trump administration hastily granted it.

Emails obtained from the Army Corps of Engineers show the agency actively and improperly sought to convince the companies behind DAPL to include a legally sufficient environmental justice section, and to be sure that the section concluded that there was no disparate impact on Natives when the route through Lake Oahe was selected.

In an internal email to Brent Cossette and Johnathan Shelman (a section coordinator and environmental resource specialist with the Omaha District Army Corps, respectively), Eric Laux, a natural resources specialist with the Army Corps, writes:

The tribes have provided us comments that they believe we have forsaken their water quality vs citing the pipe near Bismarck and their groundwater protection area. As such, it would be VERY wise to make it clear, especially in the EJ [Environmental Justice] section, why this citing is not unequal in relation to other cities that could have been selected. The EJ appears to be pretty weak in that regard, especially since we have seen comments that area begging for better reasoning in the EA [Environmental Assessment] by the Corps.

Laux continues,

[T]his EJ, based on my view, could use some touch-up in order to make it clear that the citing of this line isn't unequal in any way. I.e. there are good reasons (not 'land is cheap', but geologic, environment, etc.) ... If DAPL is going to force us to ferret every single kink out of this thing ourselves instead of their EIS contractor being professional enough to have this stuff buttoned up from the beginning, than it will impact their schedule.

Upon noticing that the company's environmental assessment did a poor job of addressing the question of environmental justice, the Army Corps of Engineers took it upon itself to notify Dakota Access, LLC that a more substantive environmental justice analysis was needed, and that such an analysis should conclude that there was no disproportionate impact, i.e. provide reasons for the location selection that would not raise the issue of a disproportionate impact on the Natives at Standing Rock.

The emails indicate the Army Corps cooperated with Dakota Access, LLC to prepare an environmental justice analysis that deliberately excluded or obscured evidence of disproportionate racial impact, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

On December 4, 2016, the Obama administration announced a decision by the Army Corps to not issue the easement, which is needed by the pipeline company to begin construction under Lake Oahe, and, instead, to prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The Army Corps filed notice of its intent to prepare an EIS and solicited public comments on the scope.

On January 24, 2017, in one of his first acts as president, Trump ordered the Army Corps to withdraw the notice of its intent to prepare an EIS and to issue the easement for DAPL. The Army Corps abandoned its position and complied with the president's directive.


Last October, a federal court ruled that, even with the Army Corps' assistance, the environmental justice section in its broader environmental assessment had insufficiently addressed three items.

First, the degree to which the project's effects are likely to be highly controversial. Second, the consequences of a spill for the Tribe's fishing and hunting rights. And lastly, the environmental justice impacts of an oil spill on the Tribe's water supply. Federal District Court Judge James Boasberg remanded the proceeding back to the Army Corps to address the identified deficiencies.

The judge then ruled that the oil could continue to flow while the Army Corps cured the deficiencies the court has identified. In his ruling, however, the judge made it clear that he considered the pipeline a threat to the Tribe.

"[T]here is no doubt that allowing oil to flow through the pipeline during remand risks the potentially disruptive effect about which the Tribes are most concerned -- a spill under Lake Oahe," the judge wrote.

He continued to support his opinion, writing, "The likelihood of any such rupture may be low, but pausing the operation of the pipeline would mitigate even this small risk.... [B]y emphasizing the financial impacts of vacatur [the halting of the pipeline's flow of oil through Lake Oahe], defendants ignore the devastating consequences that the Tribes allege could result from remand without such a remedy in place."

Falling Short

The Corps' Environmental Assessment and Finding Of No Significant Impact claims that given the proposed mitigation measures and assessment of DAPL's "anticipated environmental, economic, cultural ... social and cumulative effects," the crossing at Lake Oahe would not "significantly affect the quality of the human environment."

The facts, however, show the decision to place the pipeline underneath Lake Oahe to be a racially motivated decision. A misleading impact area was defined excluding the Native population. The impact area was defined as one half-mile on either side of the pipeline. The reservation boundary begins just over a half-mile from the pipeline; therefore, the analysis excluded any impacts on the reservation population. The Army Corps accepted this arbitrary manipulation of the impact area definition and the consequent failure to assess the impacts on the Tribe.

The Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes challenged the selection of the Lake Oahe site over the Bismarck alternative, arguing that the Army Corps failed to properly analyze whether the current placement would disproportionately affect low-income communities of color. Agreeing with the Tribes, the court held that the Corps analysis did not "reasonably support the conclusion that the Tribe will not be disproportionately affected by an oil spill in terms of adverse human health of environmental effects." The court concluded that the agency "did not properly consider the environmental-justice implications of the project."

The Corps' analysis fell short, failing to explain what the effects of a spill from the pipeline would be. They justified this, ineffectively, by asserting that the likelihood of a spill is so low that they don't have to look at the impact.

If an environmental assessment concludes that there will not be significant environmental impact, the agency may forgo completing a full EIS, as it did. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is asserting that the Army Corps violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to complete an EIS. Judge Boasberg agreed that the racial impact analysis provided was unsatisfactory, and that the Army Corps failed to fully follow NEPA when it determined the pipeline would not have a significant environmental impact.

Ultimately, Judge Boasberg found that stopping the flow of oil was not the appropriate remedy in this case, "in light of the serious possibility that the corps will be able to substantiate its prior conclusions."

Judge Boasberg lends credence to the fact that the current route through Lake Oahe was inappropriately assessed by saying that the court recognizes "the lack of a reasoned explanation is a serious failing in an agency's decision, because it leaves the court in doubt as to whether the agency chose correctly in making its decision."


The unfortunate reality is that NEPA is toothless. Signed into law in 1970, NEPA requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions. While it forces the Corps to take a hard look at potential impacts, it leaves room for the findings to be ignored in favor of whatever plan the agency desires to pursue.

The Army Corps considered four route alternatives prior to deciding on the Lake Oahe route. Under NEPA, an agency is "not required to select the course of action that best serves environmental justice, only to take a 'hard look' at environmental justice issues. Just as the agency is not required to select an alternative with the least environmental impact under NEPA, the agency is not required to select an alternative with the least environmental justice impact," writes Judge Boasberg.

Therefore, Judge Boasberg writes, "The identification of a disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effect on a[n] ... Indian tribe does not preclude a proposed agency action from going forward, nor does it necessarily compel a conclusion that a proposed action is environmentally unsatisfactory. Rather, the identification of such an effect should heighten agency attention to alternatives (including alternative sites.)"

Judge Boasberg's frightening analysis reveals just how lackluster and meaningless toothless laws like NEPA are. It begs the question: Can we require agencies to select the option with the least environmental justice impact? As this case shows us, we cannot. Laws like NEPA provide the public a flowery illusion. What is the point of having a law like NEPA if the law does not require making the choice that best protects the environment? It effectively serves the same purpose as a guard dog that may look scary, but will whimper and hide upon an intrusion.

Back in March of 2014, Dakota Access, LLC considered a route north of Bismarck, North Dakota, that never made it in the proposed route submitted to the Public Service Commission, which must approve the route. The key reason is that the pipeline would have crossed a "high consequence area," which is an area determined to have the most significant adverse consequences in the event of a pipeline spill. As the crossing under Lake Oahe poses a great risk to the main water supply of the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Tribes, the question arises: Why do white lives matter more than Native lives?

"Indians This, Indians That"

Internal Corps email excerpts -- received through discovery by Earthjustice -- show the decision makers behind the pipeline wearing lenses fogged with racism.

One May 2016 email chain documents Army Corps communications about ETP and Dakota Access, LLC. "Why do we tolerate these comments from an applicant? Someone needs to tell Joey the next RACIST comment will shut down the entire project," wrote Julie Price a cultural resources project manager for US Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District. She goes on to write, "This project is ruining our relationships with the Tribes." The name referenced is Joey Mahmoud, the project executive for the pipeline and executive vice president of ETP.

separate email further illustrates the racist attitudes of ETP. "Indians this, Indians that. Who is this Ed Wester guy anyway? The attitude from these guys is just atrocious. It's pretty obvious it pisses these guys off that they even have to talk to tribal folks," wrote Richard Harnois, a senior field archaeologist for the US Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District Oahe Project Office.

He continues, "... some of the blatantly racist attitudes I keep hearing from them will just continue to make things worse." Ed Wester is the environmental project manager for the pipeline.

Harnois replied to the same email thread, "MY years of experience working with tribal PEOPLE, TCP's [Traditional Cultural Property], sacred and archaeological sites HERE, lead me to the exact conclusion that I have already stated: there is an area of concern that needs to be avoided if they want a permit for that crossing."

The mentioned excerpts highlight the racist attitudes of the pipeline developer, providing further credence to the conclusion that the Environmental Justice Assessment deliberately excluded or obscured evidence of disproportionate racial impact, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Regardless of the outcome of the court case, history will remember that a grave injustice has been committed upon the Lakota people. I will never erase from my memory the image of law enforcement officers -- guided by the private military force TigerSwan -- terrorizing peaceful and prayerful people who stood for clean water and against oppression. 

As two-faced Judge Boasberg says, "What is clear is that accidents and spills, however they may occur, have the potential to wreak havoc on nearby communities and ecosystems."

Categories: Latest News

The Deportation Machine That Thrives on Terror

Truthout - Sun, 01/21/2018 - 21:00

Jorge Garcia's wife and two teenage children sobbed as he was forced onto a plane bound for Mexico from Detroit on January 15. After more than 30 years living uneventfully in the US, the 39-year-old Garcia was deported.

Garcia did everything right -- he paid his taxes, worked as a landscaper to support his family, and never had so much as a parking ticket. But because his efforts -- he spent more than $125,000 in legal fees since 2005 -- to find a way to documented status failed, the US government kicked him out.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Garcia was given a deportation order by the courts in 2009, but under the Obama administration, he had received repeated stays of removal. The Trump administration has reversed the longstanding policy of allowing such stays.

And because Garcia doesn't qualify for consideration under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program -- he was brought to the US as a child, but DACA doesn't cover people born before 1981 -- the Garcia family have had their lives upended.

"How do you do this on Martin Luther King Jr. Day?" Erik Shelley, an activist with the immigrant rights group Michigan United said to the Free Press. "It's another example of the tone-deafness of this administration...If Jorge isn't safe, no one is safe."

But this is exactly the message that the Trump administration wants to send.

News reports last week warned of the Trump administration's plans for massive series of raids in San Francisco and other cities in Northern California. The operation could include flying in ICE agents to participate in raids designed to arrest as many as 1,500 people.

If this operation takes place, it would be a deliberate assault on sanctuary city laws designed to protect the undocumented. In response to California Gov. Jerry Brown signing a statewide sanctuary law in October, Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan threatened this month that "California better hold on tight" -- and added that if local politicians "don't want to protect their communities, then ICE will."


The cruelty of the Trump administration's assault was underlined earlier this week with the arrest, detention and scheduled deportation of Youngstown, Ohio, convenience store owner Al Adi Othman, after what he thought would be a routine check-in with immigration authorities.

Adi's lawyer David Leopold described what happened to his client as the "brazen humiliation, degradation, dehumanizing of a man who's an American in every way but a piece of paper."

Adi has lived in the US for the past 39 years, since he was 19 years old. He and his wife have four American-born children.

He was ordered deported in 2013, but Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, an advocate for Adi, introduced a so-called "private bill" that would have granted him legal status and prevented his deportation. The measure didn't become law, but the Department of Homeland Security traditionally had a policy of not deporting people who are the subject of pending "private bills."

The Trump administration, however, has chosen to scrap that policy.

In early January, Adi was given a deportation order. He purchased an airplane ticket to Jordan, his country of origin, and began the arduous process of saying goodbye to his daughters, who planned to stay in the US.

Before he could get on his flight, authorities stayed the deportation order -- only to suddenly change their mind without warning when Adi showed up to an appointment at an ICE regional office, where Adi was put under arrest and detained.

"Why would you trick us to say he has a stay, get us here, just to put him behind bars?" Adi's distraught wife, Fidda Musleh, asked WKBN. "What's the reason behind it? Was he a threat to anybody? They have no answers."

"This is absolutely insane," Rep. Tim Ryan, who was at the hearing, said. "He would have bought a ticket and packed his bags. He would have left. They put him jail. They're treating him like an animal."


But that is the point. The Trump administration's immigration policy is calculated, maximum cruelty and terror by design.

The White House is intent on sending a message to undocumented immigrants that no one is safe. It doesn't matter how long they have lived in the US, whether they have families or ties to their communities, whether they face the threat of repression and violence in their countries of origin if deported.

To carry out this stepped-up assault, the Trump administration is relying on a slew of repressive forces -- increased Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids; a crackdown by border control forces; increased use of detention facilities where immigrants are subjected to brutal conditions; and more severe legal penalties imposed on the undocumented by conservative judges.

From late January through September of last year, USA Today reported, ICE arrested 97,482 people suspected of being in the country illegally, a 43 percent increase over the same time period in 2016 under Obama. Just over 28,000 of those arrestees didn't have a criminal record, a 179 percent increase for arrests in this category over 2016.

ICE claims that arrests and deportations are about removing "individuals who threaten public safety, national security and border security." But officials have offered zero explanations for which of those categories people like Jorge Garcia or Al Adi Othman fall into.

In October, immigrant rights advocates noted that a federal contracting website showed that ICE had submitted paperwork to identify more privately-run jail sites as detention centers for immigrants -- potentially adding thousands more to the 31,000 to 41,000 immigrant detainees currently in custody on a given day.

Even more troubling are the four cities identified for new detention facilities: Chicago, Detroit, St. Paul and Salt Lake City. All are sanctuary cities, leading to speculation that the Trump administration is planning to target municipalities that have defied the federal crackdown by limiting cooperation with immigration authorities.

Already, the Trump administration has handed a $457 million contract to GEO Group, one of the largest private prison contractors in the country -- and notorious for its abuses of prisoners -- for a 1,000-bed immigration detention center outside of Houston.

"The Obama administration focused heavily on apprehending people on the border, but the Trump administration is targeting people in US communities very far from the border," Carl Takei, a staff attorney with the ACLU's National Prison Project, explained to USA Today.

"And because they are targeting cities far from the border, they are looking for detention space in areas where historically they haven't had as much detention space."

As ACLU director of immigration policy Lorella Praeli said in an October statement: "ICE's intention to expand detention in areas surrounding four of the nation's largest cities is an attack on the freedom of long-term residents, including DREAMers, and asylum-seekers fleeing persecution in their home countries."


This trend will inevitably lead to more abuses in a detention system that is already rampant with them.

In December, a report from the Inspector General's Office of the Department of Homeland Security -- the department's own watchdog -- found that immigrants in privately run detention facilities in California, Georgia, New Jersey and New Mexico had been subjected to inhumane treatment, including a lack of medical care and unsafe food.

Regarding guards' treatment of prisoners, the report noted:

[I]n violation of standards, all detainees entering one facility were strip-searched. Available language services were not always used to facilitate communication with detainees. Some facility staff reportedly deterred detainees from filing grievances and did not thoroughly document resolution of grievances.

Similar abuses at ICE facilities have been documented by immigrant rights activists for many years -- but they will undoubtedly worsen under the Trump administration's aggressive expansion of the immigrant detention system.

And on top of that comes the deal announced this week between ICE and several Florida sheriff's agencies, which would allow local law enforcement to essentially hold people in the country illegally who are charged with other crimes on behalf of ICE.

In other words, local law enforcement will essentially keep federal detainees in their custody.


For the millions of immigrants -- documented and undocumented -- who are simply trying to live their lives in peace, the threat of escalating raids and deportations, more detention centers and increased cooperation between local and federal officials translates directly into more terror.

That was brought home earlier this month when ICE agents carried out raids on nearly 100 7-Eleven stores across 17 states, arresting 21 people.

ICE officials claimed that the raids were meant to send a signal to businesses that they will face penalties for hiring undocumented workers. In reality, as the New York Times noted, "a primary goal of such raids is to dissuade those working illegally from showing up for their jobs -- and to warn prospective migrants that even if they make it across the border, they may end up being captured at work."

"It's not motivating people to self-deport," Mariela Martinez, organizing director of the Garment Worker Center in Los Angeles, told the Times. "It's motivating people to not use their labor rights. It's causing people to distrust government agencies."

Enforcement measures like this also give employers even greater leverage over the undocumented, who are more intimidated than ever in standing up for their rights. "Now [businesses] know the president is on their side," said an undocumented garment worker named Pablo, "so they feel like they can intimidate people and treat them badly, and they will never talk."

But the Trump administration doesn't care about conditions for immigrant workers on the job in the US -- just as they don't care that ending temporary protected status for nearly 200,000 Salvadorans -- and thousands more from Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan -- will consign these refugees to poverty, violence and even death. As the New Yorkernoted:

[T]he number of migrants coming to the US because their lives are in danger has soared. According to the United Nations, since 2008 there has been a fivefold increase in asylum-seekers just from Central America's Northern Triangle -- Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador -- where organized gangs are dominant. In 2014, according to the UN, Honduras had the world's highest murder rate; El Salvador and Guatemala were close behind.


The statistics show that apprehensions of the undocumented at the border have decreased. But the brutality of Border Patrol agents -- the other major face of the US immigration enforcement apparatus, after ICE -- remains constant.

According to the report "Disappeared: How the US Border Enforcement Agencies Are Fueling a Missing Persons Crisis," released by La Coalicion de Derechos Humanos and No More Deaths, the Border Patrol's strategy of "prevention through deterrence" hinges on actions that deliberately force migrants into increasingly perilous situations.

This includes pursuing them into ever more remote areas where they "scatter, become lost, and often die or disappear," as well as the intentional destruction of over 3,000 gallons of water and other supplies that humanitarian groups have left out to prevent border-crossers from dying in the dessert.

And the human toll of these policies? There is no way to know for certain, but according to the report, since the 1990s, the Border Patrol admits that more than 6,000 people have perished attempting to cross. That number is certainly undercounted, and could be as much as 40 percent higher, say immigrant advocates.

Such brutal policing and security practices -- whether carried out by Border Patrol agents, by ICE agents or inside immigrant detention centers -- are too ubiquitous to be dismissed as the fault of a "few bad apples." As the report notes, "they are the logical extension of a US border enforcement strategy that views the lives of border-crossers as expendable" -- and the lives of all the undocumented as less worthy of dignity and respect.

In the era of Trump, this will only get worse unless there is a struggle to demand an end to the anti-immigrant terror.

Categories: Latest News

I Am American, Jewish and Banned From Israel for My Activism

Truthout - Sun, 01/21/2018 - 21:00

This month, the Israeli government announced that activists affiliated with 20 organizations, including CODEPINK, would be banned from entering Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories because of their support for the nonviolent boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights. Despite this, activists will strengthen their work in support of justice for all people in Israel/Palestine.

CODEPINK cofounder Medea Benjamin speaks at at an Occupy Wall Street rally in Washington, DC, on October 11, 2011. (Photo: Mark Taylor)

This month, the Israeli government announced that activists affiliated with 20 organizations, including my organization CODEPINK, would be banned from entering Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories because of our support for the nonviolent boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.

As a Jew, this causes me tremendous sadness because I have a lifetime attachment to Israel and Palestine. It also deepens my commitment to working for peace and equality for all the peoples of the region.

I first went to Israel 50 years ago, right after the June 1967 war. I was 16 years old and spent the summer living on the kibbutz Ein Gedi, right on the Dead Sea. I loved the kibbutz, where I learned about farming, communal living and socialism (yes, it was a socialist kibbutz at the time). I also learned, however, about the contempt and racism many Jews exhibited towards Palestinians and other Arabs.

I made friends with Arabs who taught me how the Jewish state had dispossessed Palestinians from their lands during Israel’s establishment, created millions of refugees who were not allowed to return, and denied basic rights to the Palestinians who remained as second-class citizens.

Over the years, I have stood in solidarity with both Palestinians and Israelis trying to build a truly democratic nation. I co-founded the group Global Exchange, which has been taking delegations to the region since 1990. Unlike most trips organized by US groups, these trips take people to meet Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. They work together in the olive harvest, join efforts to stop Palestinian homes from being demolished by Israel’s ever-expanding illegal settlements, and meet with Israelis who defend Palestinian rights.

In 2002, Jodie Evans and I founded the women-led peace group CODEPINK, to stop the war in Iraq. Along with protesting the US’s ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, and other aspects of militarism, we have incorporated the Palestinian struggle for freedom into our agenda.

After the horrific 2009, 2012 and 2014 Israeli bombings of Gaza, we took hundreds of people to the beleaguered Gaza Strip to witness the devastating human suffering and bring critical humanitarian aid. We joined up with the international Freedom Flotillas that every year since 2010 have been sending ships to try to break the Israeli-imposed blockade of Gaza and its collective punishment of more than 1.8 million Palestinians.

We have pushed the US government to stop giving more than $3bn of our tax dollars to the Israeli government in military aid each year. We have supported courageous Palestinians such as Issa Amro and 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi who face long jail sentences for their human rights activism, and worked with wonderful Israeli groups such as Rabbis for Human Rights and the Israeli/Palestinian Coalition of Women for Peace.

In 2005, when Palestinian civil society called on the global community to support BDS as a tactic to advance their struggle for freedom, justice and equality, we signed on. Over the years, we have engaged in successful advocacy campaigns, such as pushing the cosmetics company AHAVA and SodaStream to move their factories out of illegal West Bank settlements. We are also campaigning to stop AirBnB and Remax from renting and selling settlement properties.

The Palestinian-led BDS movement is fashioned after the boycott movement that helped bring down apartheid in South Africa. Its goal is to apply nonviolent economic pressure on Israel until it ends its occupation of all Palestinian lands conquered in 1967, grants equal rights to Palestinian citizens of Israel, and honors United Nations resolution 194 that upholds the right of return for Palestinian refugees expelled from their homes by Israel.

Beyond the movement’s economic impact, it has transformed the discourse around Palestinian disenfranchisement and built a broader global movement. From major church denominations, academic associations and labor groups, to social justice movements like Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock, to pop culture icons refusing free trips to Israel, as BDS grows worldwide, Israel becomes more and more desperate to contain it. The latest effort is this blacklist of 20 pro-BDS organizations.

This new ban comes on the heels of arrests and prosecutions of nonviolent Palestinian activists who face long jail sentences. It is clear that Israel, egged on by its supporters in the Trump administration, is increasing its repression of human rights activists and critics.

This tactic, however, will only continue to make a pariah of the Israeli government. As former South African government minister Ronnie Kasrils said: “Attempts by the former South African apartheid government to discredit and threaten the BDS movement failed and backfired, only intensifying international protest which assisted in bringing down that unjust regime. Apartheid Israel is following that path.”

In the face of Israel’s increasingly draconian attempts to suppress nonviolent activists at home and abroad, we will strengthen our principled work in support of freedom and justice for all people in Israel/Palestine.This month, the Israeli government announced that activists affiliated with 20 organizations, including my organization CODEPINK, would be banned from entering Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories because of our support for the nonviolent boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.

As a Jew, this causes me tremendous sadness because I have a lifetime attachment to Israel and Palestine. It also deepens my commitment to working for peace and equality for all the peoples of the region.

I first went to Israel 50 years ago, right after the June 1967 war. I was 16 years old and spent the summer living on the kibbutz Ein Gedi, right on the Dead Sea. I loved the kibbutz, where I learned about farming, communal living and socialism (yes, it was a socialist kibbutz at the time). I also learned, however, about the contempt and racism many Jews exhibited towards Palestinians and other Arabs.

I made friends with Arabs who taught me how the Jewish state had dispossessed Palestinians from their lands during Israel’s establishment, created millions of refugees who were not allowed to return, and denied basic rights to the Palestinians who remained as second-class citizens.

Over the years, I have stood in solidarity with both Palestinians and Israelis trying to build a truly democratic nation. I co-founded the group Global Exchange, which has been taking delegations to the region since 1990. Unlike most trips organized by US groups, these trips take people to meet Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. They work together in the olive harvest, join efforts to stop Palestinian homes from being demolished by Israel’s ever-expanding illegal settlements, and meet with Israelis who defend Palestinian rights.

In 2002, Jodie Evans and I founded the women-led peace group CODEPINK, to stop the war in Iraq. Along with protesting the US’s ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, and other aspects of militarism, we have incorporated the Palestinian struggle for freedom into our agenda.

After the horrific 2009, 2012 and 2014 Israeli bombings of Gaza, we took hundreds of people to the beleaguered Gaza Strip to witness the devastating human suffering and bring critical humanitarian aid. We joined up with the international Freedom Flotillas that every year since 2010 have been sending ships to try to break the Israeli-imposed blockade of Gaza and its collective punishment of more than 1.8 million Palestinians.

We have pushed the US government to stop giving more than $3bn of our tax dollars to the Israeli government in military aid each year. We have supported courageous Palestinians such as Issa Amro and 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi who face long jail sentences for their human rights activism, and worked with wonderful Israeli groups such as Rabbis for Human Rights and the Israeli/Palestinian Coalition of Women for Peace.

In 2005, when Palestinian civil society called on the global community to support BDS as a tactic to advance their struggle for freedom, justice and equality, we signed on. Over the years, we have engaged in successful advocacy campaigns, such as pushing the cosmetics company AHAVA and SodaStream to move their factories out of illegal West Bank settlements. We are also campaigning to stop AirBnB and Remax from renting and selling settlement properties.

The Palestinian-led BDS movement is fashioned after the boycott movement that helped bring down apartheid in South Africa. Its goal is to apply nonviolent economic pressure on Israel until it ends its occupation of all Palestinian lands conquered in 1967, grants equal rights to Palestinian citizens of Israel, and honors United Nations resolution 194 that upholds the right of return for Palestinian refugees expelled from their homes by Israel.

Beyond the movement’s economic impact, it has transformed the discourse around Palestinian disenfranchisement and built a broader global movement. From major church denominations, academic associations and labor groups, to social justice movements like Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock, to pop culture icons refusing free trips to Israel, as BDS grows worldwide, Israel becomes more and more desperate to contain it. The latest effort is this blacklist of 20 pro-BDS organizations.

This new ban comes on the heels of arrests and prosecutions of nonviolent Palestinian activists who face long jail sentences. It is clear that Israel, egged on by its supporters in the Trump administration, is increasing its repression of human rights activists and critics.

This tactic, however, will only continue to make a pariah of the Israeli government. As former South African government minister Ronnie Kasrils said: “Attempts by the former South African apartheid government to discredit and threaten the BDS movement failed and backfired, only intensifying international protest which assisted in bringing down that unjust regime. Apartheid Israel is following that path.”

In the face of Israel’s increasingly draconian attempts to suppress nonviolent activists at home and abroad, we will strengthen our principled work in support of freedom and justice for all people in Israel/Palestine.

Categories: Latest News

We Cannot Survive a Nuclear Apocalypse by Ducking and Covering

Truthout - Sat, 01/20/2018 - 21:00

Seemingly well-intentioned newspaper columns have been inadvertently normalizing the use of nuclear weapons, depicting nuclear attacks as events we will have the agency and capacity to respond to meaningfully. But nuclear weapons are a threat to all living beings -- let's not be distracted by discussions of all the clever ways we can dance our way out of the apocalypse.

(Image: Paul Campbell / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Current fears of the potential use of nuclear weapons -- partly resulting from the North Korean weapon program and accompanying threats by President Trump, and mishaps like the errant ballistic missile alert notification in Hawaii recently -- have led to a new flush of articles on what to do if there is a nuclear weapon detonation nearby. Articles, such as "What to do in case of a nuclear attack," in the Washington Post, and "How to survive a missile attack: What's the official advice?" on the BBC website, offer thoughtful and pragmatic guidance to those who are anxious about protecting themselves and their families under atomic attack.

These articles offer sage tips, such as "get inside, stay inside, stay tuned," or as it is referred to: shelter in place. An article in the Dallas Morning News advises, "If you're outside and can't get inside within a few minutes, lie on the ground and cover your head. Take cover behind anything that could offer some protection." The BBC article offers guidance mined from the website of the US Department of Homeland Security -- "An underground area such as a home or office building basement offers more protection than the first floor of a building. The heavier and denser the materials -- thick walls, concrete, bricks, books and earth -- between you and the fallout particles, the better."

News articles such as these fill a need in an anxious public longing to feel as though there are actions that they can take to mitigate the effects of a nuclear attack, and procedures that will minimize the effects of radiation. As a historian working on nuclear issues and living and teaching in Hiroshima, such discourse is not only familiar, but also plays a dangerous role in the national conversation. Articles such as these seemingly well-intentioned advice columns for the apocalypse normalize the use of nuclear weapons: They depict nuclear attacks as events in which we will have agency and the capacity to respond to in meaningful ways.

I am reminded of the responses of my students here in Hiroshima whenever I show them the 1951 Civil Defense film classic, Duck and Cover. While many Westerners remember this film for its campy opening animation sequence, what astonishes my students is the later sections that communicated to children what to do if there was a nuclear attack. In this section, you see children responding to the bright, white flash of a nuclear detonation by taking steps to protect themselves. They duck under their bus seats, they run behind buildings, they get off their bicycles and lie down against a curb. At a family picnic, a father is seen putting a newspaper over his head as he dives to the ground. My students are stunned, many offering involuntary laughter at the scenes. The reason they are so shocked is that they have grown up with a far more intimate understanding of what happens when a nuclear weapon detonates. Many have personal, familial histories of the loss of ancestors; many have hibakusha, or survivors, in their families. The stories of what followed the bright, white flash on that August Monday morning come from experience and not from hope. All have been raised with an education that stresses what actually happened in Hiroshima. The notion that anyone would have had the time to "react" to the flash, and to engage in a course of actions that might mitigate the arrival of the bomb's effects, is ludicrous to them. They understand that the blast and heat that accompanied the detonation arrived less than a second after the flash, as did the burst of gamma radiation that killed tens of thousands within a week or two. No amount of training or preparation would have helped.

Beyond the immediate reaction to a detonation, even having some time -- as those terrified people in Hawaii had before the imagined impact of the incoming ballistic missiles -- the notion that preparations, actions and reactions, would accomplish much is mostly illusory. Yes, being indoors would be better than being outdoors, given you are a sufficient distance from the detonation. But it would be better by degrees and not magnitudes. If you are in the radius of the blast and heat of the weapons, buildings may not offer sufficient shelter, as most will collapse and the contents inside of even brick buildings may instantly catch fire from the heat. It would rarely make the difference between avoiding disaster and being immersed in disaster.

But one of the other insidious things that articles like this do, is to suggest that the period after a nuclear attack would be one of rational choices and measured activities. The article in the Dallas Morning News advises, "If you are outside during a blast, wash yourself off as soon as possible, removing clothes that could have radioactive material on them and keeping them far away from other people or animals to avoid contamination. Take a shower with lots of soap and water, washing your hair with shampoo or soap but not conditioner (which could bind radioactive material to your hair and make it tough to wash out)."

There is a lot to unpack here. After a nuclear attack, the suggestion that one can go somewhere and find clean, running water is ridiculous. Or that one could take their contaminated clothes off and simply find uncontaminated clothes nearby. Or that washing your hair one time will remove the systemic dangers of being in a radiologically contaminated environment, and your hair would not simply reabsorb some of that radiation. Or that shampoo would be uncontaminated, etc. This is a vision of a post-nuclear environment in which the conditions prior to the attack would quickly and easily be restored, and an ordered society would be available to everyone that "survives" the detonation.

What will it be like after a nuclear attack? Just think of the current situation in Puerto Rico to get a sense of the difficulties of restoring order after a natural disaster. Add to that the panic and anxiety of dwelling in a contaminated place, full of the dead and the dying, where responders would be cautious to enter, and you barely begin to understand that the horrors have only begun once the blast is over. Harkening back to that primary text of Duck and Cover, I am reminded of what happens to little Tony after he dives from his bicycle to take shelter against the curb when there is a nuclear detonation -- he remains there even after the explosion. The narrator advises us that "Tony knew what to do. Notice how he keeps from moving, or getting up and running? He stays down until he is sure the danger is over." A man walks into the scene and helps Tony get up, "The man helping Tony is a Civil Defense worker. His job is to help protect us when there is danger of the atomic bomb. We must obey the Civil Defense worker."

The "Civil Defense worker" helps Tony recover after the nuclear detonation in Duck and Cover (1951).

This fallacy remains at the heart of our "preparations": The notion that order will swiftly follow a nuclear attack. For Tony, a Civil Defense worker was, apparently, about 20 feet away at the time of the attack, and he quickly came specifically to Tony to let him know that he could now proceed with his childhood. All was in order. For us, it means that we can quickly wash our hair with shampoo and be "rid" of the residual radiation. Here in Hiroshima, it may have been some time before a nice wash and shampoo was available to anyone. And today's weapons are vastly more powerful.

The immense fallout cloud following the Castle Bravo test conducted by the United States in the Marshall Islands in 1954 contaminated a vast swath of the Central Pacific with lethal levels of radiation. After mapping the cloud extensively, the United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) superimposed the fallout cloud onto a map of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, and produced this map:

Richard J. Hewlett and Jack M. Holl, Atoms for Peace and War, 1953-1961: Eisenhower and the Atomic Energy Commission (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989)

The AEC concluded that had the same weapon been detonated over Washington, DC, and had the winds blown the resulting fallout cloud in the same pattern, not only would everyone in Washington, DC, be dead from the blast and heat of the weapon, but everyone in Baltimore, Philadelphia and half of the population of New York City would soon die of radiation sickness if they did not immediately evacuate. Those who were choosing which (undamaged) building to shelter in, or those downwind weighing the virtues of various shampoos, would be doing nothing of consequence.

Why don't the articles in the news tell us what things would really be like after a nuclear attack? Why didn't they tell us during the Cold War? Normalizing the possession and the potential use of nuclear weapons was the goal of this misinformation. While our current round of articles may not be so nefariously intended, and may simply be the result of lazy journalism, the impact of disseminating this narrative remains potentially deadly.

Comforting people about the rapid restoration of order following a nuclear war suggested that however bad the weapons were, those who survived could start cleaning up and then return to a normal life. Telling people that there was little of consequence that they could do during and after a nuclear attack would only leave them the option of trying to do something before the attack. The only actions that might be effective before the attack would be to advocate against the possession and deployment of these weapons -- to argue for their abolition.

And that is what we must do now to "prepare" for nuclear attack. It takes a society to fund nuclear weapons, and it will take a society to defund and decommission them. Nuclear weaponry in the hands of immature leaders (or even in the hands of reasoned leaders) is a threat to all living beings. Perhaps it takes irresponsible leaders to remind us of this simple truth, but let's not be distracted with discussions of all the clever ways we can dance our way out of the apocalypse.

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Categories: Latest News

Fear of a Black Planet: Under the Republican Push for Welfare Cuts, Racism Boils

Truthout - Sat, 01/20/2018 - 21:00

President Donald Trump speaks during an event to celebrate Congress passing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act with Republican members of the House and Senate on the South Lawn of the White House December 20, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

To US conservatives, the enemy within has always been the idle poor -- specifically, poor people of color. Although a majority of welfare recipients are poor whites, the GOP calls for welfare reform and tax cuts for the wealthy -- from Reagan to Trump -- have always been dog whistles for white supremacy.

President Donald Trump speaks during an event to celebrate Congress passing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act with Republican members of the House and Senate on the South Lawn of the White House December 20, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

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"Never tell anyone," my mother hissed, "that we're on welfare!" I sputtered, "Okay." She let go, angrily. People shuffled to the window where a tired man scanned their papers. That was 1982. Passing a poster of President Reagan, she shot him the middle finger. Later I realized, he rose to power by branding women like her "welfare queens."

Republicans talk of prosperity, dignity and self-reliance. Peel back the rhetoric, and racism boils underneath.

In late 2017, Donald Trump smiled as the GOP passed its Tax Cuts and Jobs Bill. The Republicans want to slash Medicaid, food stamps and welfare. The deficit their tax bill created will be used to justify it. Yet, why attack the needy? In American conservativism, the internal enemy of the nation is the idle poor -- specifically, the poor of color.

Republicans talk of prosperity, dignity and self-reliance. Peel back the rhetoric, and racism boils underneath. Tax cuts and calls to end welfare are dog whistles for white supremacy. The real effect of their policies is that people will suffer and thousands will die as they fall through gaping holes in the safety net.

Deadly Math

Every day, I see homeless people ask for money. Every. Day. On the street or lurching in a train, they shake cups for loose coins. Most of us look away. A few give wrinkled bills. Many wince with disgust -- mostly, I think, because we're afraid of becoming them. We already live such precarious lives.

How do we justify poverty in a land of abundance? The US is the wealthiest nation in history. The annual federal budget is nearly $3.5 trillion. All of us pour into it. Our paychecks are slivered. Corporations cough up cash. Even undocumented workers pay taxes. Yet, out of 326 million people, 43.1 million live in poverty.

In the Deep South, Midwest Rust Belt towns and public housing, people cling to food stamps and Medicaid. These needed programs lie on the Republican chopping block. President Trump has pushed drug testing for food stamps and work requirements for Medicaid. Rep. Paul Ryan wants to cut Social Security and Medicare.

I've known this rhetoric my whole life because it was aimed at me.

Again, why attack the most vulnerable? Maybe it's because the poor vote less. When they do, they vote for Democrats. Maybe it's because Republicans -- like all of us -- don't just see with their eyes, but also with their ideology.

The GOP is led by a business elite that does not have a natural base. Since the 1970s, it has allied with Christian Evangelicals, jingoists and racists to ride reactionary movements to power. It fuses our class and racial hierarchies to cut off interracial, working-class solidarity. It is kept going by feeding their voting base with political "red meat" via Fox News and other right-wing outlets, which channel resentment at immigrants, the poor and especially the poor of color.

The GOP employs a Manichean ideology with two poles, opposed but bound together. On one end, there is the job creator who comes off like Hercules in a business suit. He is smart, decisive and a straight, white male. "I will be the greatest job producer that God ever created," Trump promised. He is exhibit one on how privilege warps self-image. In a Mar-a-Lago portrait he commissioned, our president looks like Alexander the Great crossed with Fabio.

On the other end, conservatives see the poor as expecting hand-outs for nothing. Sen. Orrin Hatch recently said, "I have a rough time wanting to spend ... trillions of dollars to help people who won't help themselves ... and expect the federal government to do everything." He was followed by Sen. Charles Grassley, who opposed the estate tax because the rich invest, unlike the poor who "are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it's on booze or women or movies."

The modern GOP think the poor are parasites. They inherited the idea from older conservatives, schooled in Social Darwinism and eugenics. It is deeply familiar. I've known this rhetoric my whole life because it was aimed at me.

When Non-White Means Non-Human

"Blacks are lazy." "Blacks complain." "Blacks always want a handout." I heard it all before and hated it. My mom came home, bone-tired from work. My aunts, uncles and friends were wrung dry from work. I was always told to work "twice as hard." We were running from a stereotype: the "parasite coon."

Racism bends vision into pre-set images. The underlying spectrum is from fully human whites to animalistic non-whites. At the bottom, in the right-wing worldview, Africans are still framed as monkeys; bestial, lustful and stupid.

The white racial imagination changes with the level of control over Black bodies. In the Antebellum era, the Southern planter class promoted the docile Black as proof of slavery's beneficence. "Mammy" happily served her master. "Uncle Tom" happily served his master. "Sambo" did too. They were portrayed as pets, kept by a superior race.

After the smoke of the Civil War cleared, the white racial imagination, fueled by fear of free Black people, created more menacing imagery. The rapist, Black male brute was a threat. The wanton Black jezebel was a threat. The "coon" was a sambo gone bad; he was lazy, cynical and mean.

"Bad" Black images rose with white fear. The Black Codes were written with the pen of white panic. The Ku Klux Klan rode at night to kill freedmen and reclaim the land. As the Radical Republicans sent troops to guard Black voting rights, property and bodies, former Confederates hated federal soldiers for forcing racial equality. "State's rights" transformed into a call to arms for white supremacy.

In 1877, Reconstruction collapsed. Federal troops left the South. White militias killed, raped and beat Black people who tried to vote. Southern Redemption had begun -- a political cycle of Black freedom confronted by white backlash. It used "bad" Black imagery like the Brute or Parasite Coon. It was violent. It spoke the language of state's rights and small government.

D.W. Griffith romanticized this terror in the 1915 film Birth of a Nation. In it, Gus, a Black federal soldier -- a brute -- tries to rape a white woman. In the state house scene, Black men put dirty feet on desks; they eat chicken, drink, fight and act loutish. They were "coons" in power. The white audience cheered the Ku Klux Klan, chasing them out to "redeem" the white man's country.

I saw Birth of a Nation in a college film course, and watching it, a tension tightened my chest. Here was the myth that lay in the heart of the US. Here were the characters that racists saw when they looked at me, my family and friends.

Beware of the Dog Whistle

It is an iconic photo. I always wonder at it. In 1957, soldiers guarded nine Black teens walking to school in Little Rock, Arkansas. White Southerners spat slurs as if the Civil Rights Movement was a Second Reconstruction. Eighty years after Northern occupation, federal troops were back in an attempt to force at least a semblance of Black equality.

Each political invocation of the "bad" Black heralded a cut to social programs.

Today, a memorial stands to the Little Rock Nine at the Arkansas capital. When they integrated the school, each step inside was a literal and symbolic trampling of open racism. Alongside African Americans' legal victories was a cultural one: White supremacy -- if not defeated -- was somewhat delegitimized.

When the white backlash came, politicians could no longer speak in bald racism. Republicans, who were moribund after decades of Democratic dominance, used a Southern Strategy to corral racist Democrats. In exchange for this new voter base, the GOP cleaned up bigotry with euphemism.

Lee Atwater, a Republican strategist for Ronald Reagan and George Bush, spelled out the mechanics. "You start out in 1954 by saying, nigger, nigger, nigger," he breezily instructed. "By 1968 you can't say nigger. So, you say forced busing, states' rights. You're getting so abstract now that you're talking about cutting taxes ... and a byproduct is Blacks get hurt worse than whites." It was a cruel calculation. The Black poverty rate was higher and the need for social programs, greater.

So, when Nixon called for "law and order," the Republican voter heard "Blacks." When Reagan praised state's rights and attacked "welfare queens," the Republican voter heard "Blacks." When Bush hammered Michael Dukakis with the infamous Willie Horton ad, Republican voters saw "Blacks."

Each political invocation of the "bad" Black, whether the parasite-coon, brute or baby-making jezebel, heralded a cut to social programs. Poor Blacks got hurt worse than poor whites. They also got hurt with them. President Johnson's 1964 War on Poverty had saved millions of lives. What was not being saved was the idea of welfare itself. Republicans gave it a Black face, even though most welfare recipients had been (and still are) white.

After campaigning against "welfare queens," Reagan said in his 1981 inaugural, "Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem." He cut payments to the working poor, cut a million people off food stamps and cut job programs. He then gave tax breaks to the wealthy.

Fifteen years later, President Clinton in his 1996 State of the Union said, "The era of big government is over." Seven months into that term, he signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act; it ended welfare as entitlement, limited benefits and forced work requirements. He then repealed parts of the Glass-Steagall Act and let big Wall Street banks play in the markets.

In 2005, George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security. He was stopped cold by Democrats and a disbelieving public.

The Republican Southern Strategy of displacing racism onto the welfare programs of the federal government satisfied the GOP's business elite. It did not help their base, who were trapped on both ends. Over them was a top-heavy GOP whose business leaders and donors were destroying the very social programs the white poor needed. At the other end, they were trapped by their own racial bias against "big government."

Donald Trump was the Redeemer of White Supremacy. He promised to save Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security for the "deserving poor" -- down on their luck white people.

What racist voters could not see in the footage of federal troops protecting Black children going to school in Little Rock, Arkansas, was that the soldiers were not just protecting everyone's right to attend public institutions. They were protecting the very possibility of having them.

Fear of a Black Planet

"It's not a bigger government we need," Obama said at his 2013 State of the Union. "It's a smarter one." I cringed as he spoke. The first Black president felt he had to soothe a public raised on the racial stigma of big government, assuring them that he wasn't going to sell white people into slavery to pay off the federal debt.

Just a year before, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich launched a short-lived candidacy by calling Obama "the most effective food stamp president in American history." He was asked about it and squirmed like an eel.

Months later, Pat Buchanan bellowed on TV, "Barack Obama is a drug dealer of welfare." He contrasted him with candidate Mitt Romney's work ethic. Romney, who was caught on a hot mic saying, "There are 47 percent of the people ... who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe government has a responsibility to care for them."

Again, race works its magic between the lines. Again, the parasite coon is a shadow in the text. After Obama's 2008 victory, fear of a Black planet became a rising rage. A Black democratic pollster, Cornell Belcher noted on Roland Martin's show, "You saw a spike in racial aversion.... Whites see it as we're losing power to them."

It was Birth of a Nation again, only this time, federal troops didn't just attempt to force racial equality, but also obeyed the commands of a Black president. Each news cycle brought fresh proof that the US was slipping out of white hands. A Latina was on the Supreme Court. Confederate statues were torn down. Black people rioted and protested in the streets.

When Donald Trump glided down the escalator, he was a one-man Ku Klux Klan coming to the rescue; he was the Redeemer of White Supremacy. He promised border walls. He promised "law and order." He even promised to save Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security for the "deserving poor" -- down on their luck white people.

They needed it. Blatant white supremacy, left behind by global capitalism, had hit a nadir. Deaths of despair hit a Heartland ruined by opioids and joblessness. Seeing no future, they turned to Trump -- who, having no plan, turned to the GOP -- who tried to "solve" this problem with a tax cut for the wealthy.

At this point, it doesn't matter if this or that Republican is personally racist. They can toast marshmallows on a burning cross for all it matters. The GOP cannot credibly take a race-neutral position when the overarching history of its politics is based on racism. The effects of its policies are race specific. And class specific. And deadly.

We won't see them, and we won't know their names, but people will die. Quietly. Invisibly. Ten thousand of us will die. Economist Lawrence Summers analyzed the Congressional Budget Office report that 13 million people will leave Obamacare when the individual mandate is repealed. He said on CNBC, "When people lose health insurance, they're less likely to get preventive care, defer health care they need and they're more likely to die."

Ten thousand. Ten thousand. I repeat it. Not just a number. It's someone shaking with fever. It's someone fighting for breath. It's getting a phone call that someone you loved died, far away and alone because they couldn't afford treatment.

How many people have they killed? On my laptop, a video plays of the GOP cheering the tax bill. I turn it off, go outside and see a line of people waiting for free food at the Macedonian Church. Old men, workers, a neighbor I know, all wait with carts. A mother stands with them, trying to hold two squirming kids. She's tired. I look at her and see across 30 years to my childhood and the moment I learned to be silent.

Categories: Latest News

Why We Need to Stop Calling Trump "Crazy" When We Really Mean "Dangerous"

Truthout - Fri, 01/19/2018 - 21:00
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Questions about President Donald Trump hit a fever pitch this month following his tweets about the size and potency of his nuclear button. Of course, such questions are nothing new. Throughout the campaign and Trump's first year in office, news articles, op-eds, and tweets critical of him have routinely deployed words such as "crazy," "insane," and "unstable" as epithets. But what are the implications of the use of mental health language in such critiques for how our society views mental illness?

I sat down with Rebecca Cokley, a senior fellow for disability policy at the Center for American Progress, to discuss this.

Rebecca Vallas: So I've had conversations with a lot of folks who say "Why does it matter? People can use all kinds of language but isn't this just about people being a little too PC?"

Rebecca Cokley: I'm going to read a quote from Leslie Templeton from the Women's March Disability Caucus. She just posted a series of snapshots of news clips talking about the mental status of Trump. She said, "When you read stuff like this, having said issue yourself, it makes you feel small. It makes you feel inferior, it makes you feel weak. Not only do I feel like my rights are being attacked by Trump, I feel who I am is being attacked by the American people."

These are people's lives. The accusation of someone's unfitness to serve in any sort of role -- whether as a parent, a colleague, a boss, an educator -- is impacted by the slightest accusation, especially around mental health. It's not about someone being PC or not, it's really about a lack of understanding of the impact of labeling someone without irrefutable proof.

So there's a connection being made between his negative behaviors and his unpopular policies that people are explaining by this labeling. You're saying that by extension people who themselves have mental health disabilities, mental illness, intellectual disabilities, and so forth are being implicated in these negative behaviors.

Definitely. I also think one of the challenges with all these armchair diagnostics is that the people that are doing it aren't even clear on what a mental health disability is. We sit there and see articles titled like, "Can someone with the attention of a kitten on crack make a decision?", "Trump has social autism," "Trump has a dangerous disability." People still like to think about the other, the unknown, the shadow in the corner of the room, the thing we don't talk about, versus acknowledging that it's your son seeking therapy, it's your best friend who is grieving the loss of their mother, it's your boss who is now taking anti-anxiety meds. It's much easier to castigate those folks than to say, "No, these are real people, and in some cases even me."

There's a particular significance of this conversation having to do with the presidency or really with any elected office. It's basically gospel that people with mental illness or mental health disabilities are unfit to serve. If someone has ever sought treatment -- whether for depression or for substance misuse -- even just that can stop someone from being taken seriously as a potential candidate. So in reinforcing this kind of narrative around what mental illness is and tacking it onto Trump's face, there is a much deeper consequence that a lot of people aren't thinking about that has to do with maintaining the status quo or even taking us backwards in terms of representation by people with disabilities in elected office.

Definitely. When we're talking about people with disabilities writ large we're talking about 54 to 58 million people. If you're zooming in specifically on people with mental health disabilities or mental illness, we're talking about 10 million people in this country. And I think as we're talking about Trump, it really is much easier to point at "mental fitness" than to actively talk about behaviors. That's uncomfortable, because it forces us to be specific: What are the behaviors that we've seen? What are the behaviors that are evident in this person's history that we should be pointing at to say "we screwed up here." We dropped the ball, we elected somebody who was unfit to become president of the United States.

Besides, we have a history in this country of electing people with disabilities. Right now we can look at Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) as people with physical disabilities that are currently serving in government.

Your examples point out that people would not be looking at Trump and saying "man, his disability makes him unfit to serve" if it were a physical disability -- that's something that people at their core would understand would be deeply offensive. But if it's a mental illness, all of a sudden that seems to be equivalent to unfitness to serve.

That brings us to something you often talk about, what you refer to as "a hierarchy of disability." And what this means in the policy context, for example, is that it has been a lot easier to get health coverage if you're a person who has a physical illness or a physical disability than it is to get mental health coverage. But that conversation is rare when it's about social perceptions and stigma. I think what we're seeing here is this massive gap between the trust that a lot of people in this country have for the potential leadership or decision-making by people without disabilities or people with physical disabilities, compared with people who have mental health disabilities or mental illness or intellectual disabilities and so forth. Am I right to characterize it that way?

I think you're definitely right. I'll even use myself as an example, being a little person. I walk in the room and you can tell that I'm a little person. Nobody is going to object to me asking for a stool or jumping on the chair to push the chair down. But for a long time I wasn't as out about having obsessive compulsive disorder and it wasn't something I frequently talked about until I was in my 20s. I was actually challenged by a friend and mentor of mine, Andy Imparato, who is very outspoken about having a mental health disability. When Andy and I were on a four-hour car ride from Washington, D.C. to Newport News for the Virginia Youth Leadership Forum, there were two topics of conversation: One, why haven't I proposed to my then-boyfriend, now husband and two, why don't I talk about having OCD?

We had a conversation about why I was hesitant to talk about it, and why I had put myself out as an advocate, as a spokesperson, as somebody working in the disability space, but I was not coming to the table with my whole self there. And so I tried it that night. I addressed the fact that I walk in the room as a little person and that's a privilege. And I often don't think we talk about disability as privilege. There is a privilege to my existence as a person with a physical disability. There's a privilege to the fact that unlike 80% of disabled people, I grew up in a family just like me.

And then I addressed the fact that I also have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and I used to wash my hands like 200 times a day. The number of young women who came up to me afterward was amazing. It was about 50 young women that pulled me aside that all wanted to talk about mental health disabilities. The fact that I had a job, the fact that I was in a relationship, the fact that I was being paid to go around the country and talk to other young people with disabilities, and the fact that I was working on a presidential campaign at the time were huge.

So I think a lot of times when we have internally stigmatized our own mental health disabilities and then we face a public that criminalizes mental health, without any criminal behaviors associated with it. We do it for no more reason other than to say that you don't like somebody, for no more reason than to say that somebody is evil or you don't agree with their decisions. It invalidates a part of their humanity, and makes it that much harder for folks to come out.

I want to get to the solutions part -- how we do better. You talked about the importance of precision in language. What's your advice to those folks who are out there wanting to be good allies on this?

I think checking in on your friends that have mental health disabilities and saying, "Hey, how is it going? Do you need anything? How are you feeling in this time?" And doing some real deep listening as to what people are encountering, because it's hard right now. I think also connecting to organizations that work with folks with mental health disabilities, whether it be groups like Dan Fisher's Psych Survivors Network or certain chapters of the National Alliance on Mental Illness that are doing some really good things. Engage to see what needs to be said, what is the right language to use, and ask your friends. So much of our language gets caught up on the fear of saying the wrong thing versus taking five seconds and asking your friends what's the right thing to say.

I also think, as long as we continue to hold mental health at arms length as "the other," we can't have the conversation that we really need to be having. That leads to the criminalization of mental health and the knee-jerk reaction of saying, "Oh, that person can't do that job because they're nuts."

I want to read a tweet by Julia Bascom, Executive Director of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. She says, "We can conclude that the president is unfit to serve without armchair diagnosis or violations of medical ethics. We can resist racism, totalitarianism, and a nuclear threat without ableism. We don't need this, we can do better, progressives have a moral obligation to do better." Powerful words. But it feels to me that that piece of call-to-action language doesn't quite go as far as some people are wanting to go, especially given the conversations about invoking the 25th Amendment. So I would love to hear any suggestions you have about how people can handle these kinds of hard and honest conversations when folks are looking for guidance about how they can actually engage in this conversation but in a way that is not ableist.

I think going back to the last line of Julia's tweet, progressives have a moral obligation to do better. We are the party that came up with mental health parity in health care, thanks to former Senator Paul Wellstone. We are the party that is pushing for the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We are the party that is pushing to end sub-minimum wage programs for people with disabilities. We are the party that is pushing to increase access to mental health services on college campuses and programs for young people with mental health disabilities. Why are we then at the same time being so quick to use disability diagnosis as a weapon? Because we don't like the president and we think the president is acting like a jackass. If President Obama wasn't afraid to say Kanye was a jackass, why can't we say that President Trump is being a jackass?

Categories: Latest News

Four Unbelievable Realities for US Public Schools

Truthout - Fri, 01/19/2018 - 21:00

Every child in the US has the right to a quality education, and the American public school system has been responsible for ensuring that occurs -- regardless of a child's location or income level. But the public school system has been slowly starved of money, teachers and even infrastructure itself -- an escalating problem, as the GOP uses these challenges to justify taking even more money from "failing" schools.

Now, the situation is dire as the gap between public and private schools grows even wider. Here are four things you may not believe are happening at schools these days.

1. There Is Still Tainted Water in Flint School Drinking Fountains

The Flint water crisis continues, with lead and other contaminants making tap water undrinkable. That doesn't just affect the homes of the families in Flint, but it also impacts the water at the schools their children attend. Flint schoolchildren have not been able to use their own drinking fountains in years, and the situation doesn't appear to be changing any time soon.

"[S]tudents are drinking bottled water," NBC News 25 reports. "But since the state has indicated it isn't going to pay for that in the future, 4 companies have stepped forward to pay for it through June. After that there will have to be other arrangements."

2. Baltimore Students Are Freezing in Their Classrooms

A severe winter cold snap proved just how fragile the infrastructure of many Baltimore schools really was, as failed heating systems and frozen pipes left many students huddling inside their coats for warmth in their own classrooms.

As the Baltimore Sun reports:

Nearly half of the city's 171 schools experienced heating issues or burst pipes in the days since schools opened last week after the holiday break. In some schools students bundled up in coats, hats and gloves inside classrooms, scenes that went viral on social media. Unable to keep up with the number of repairs, the school system closed all schools on Thursday because of snow and on Friday because of continued heating problems.

The state had to allocate $2.5 million in emergency funding for repairs, but many express concerns that the funds come too late for the already deteriorating heating and plumbing systems.

3. Jackson Public Schools Are Closed Because They Have No Water

Water issues aren't just for the more northern states, either. In Jackson, Mississippi, schools were closed for days due to city water main problems, which have left many buildings -- including the public schools -- without water for drinking, toilets or showers. According to one news report, "District staff said more than half of the schools and office buildings are experiencing low or no water pressure at all."

That left public school children with no classes, and with no clear idea when school would start again. Meanwhile, according to one local mother whose children attend a private school, those students still have classes because their schools made accommodations.

"JPS is closed for the third day," tweets Lori, a Jackson mother. "My kid is at school because her private school trucked in portable toilets. Because, money."

4. Teacher Handcuffed for Challenging Pay

What it all comes down to is money -- how little there is, and where that money gets allocated when it is available. That's why one teacher in Louisiana became so angry when the school district superintendent received a pay raise, while teacher and staff pay was stagnant.

"'You're making our job even more difficult," [Deyshia Hargrave] told the Vermilion Parish school board, according to video from CNN affiliate KATC," CNN reports. "'A superintendent or any person in a position of leadership getting any type of raise, I feel like it's a slap in the face to all the teachers, cafeteria workers, and any other support staff we have.'"

She was ruled out of order and, when she refused to stop speaking, was accosted by a marshal who handcuffed her and took her to the Abbeville, Louisiana, jail, where she was released without charges.

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Categories: Latest News

Don't Give the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau a Single Dime, Mulvaney Tells Fed

Truthout - Fri, 01/19/2018 - 21:00

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, President Donald Trump's pick for acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, walks back to the White House from the CFPB building after he showed up for his first day of work on November 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

Watchdogs' worst fears about Mick Mulvaney undermining the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are proving well-founded.

The interim CFPB director and top White House aide has asked for no additional money from the Federal Reserve for the next fiscal quarter, according to a Tuesday letter obtained by the conservative Washington Examiner.

Since the CFPB opened its doors earlier this decade, it has received on average roughly $500 million per year from the Fed, which oversees agency finances. The funds have been used to win about $2 billion per year for about 28 million consumers cheated by banks.

The budget request, or lack thereof, comes after Mulvaney announced a wider, all-encompassing review of the massively-popular agency.

It also comes days after Mulvaney announced he would issue waivers to regulations on payday loans, while opening the rules to reconsideration.

The rules were finalized in October under Obama-appointee Richard Cordray. They would force lenders to apply a "full-payment test" to determine if a borrower can actually afford to take out payday loans (the CFPB is prevented, by law, from setting maximum interest rates).

"The cycle of taking on new debt to pay back old debt can turn a single, unaffordable loan into a long-term debt trap," the agency said, when issuing the final rule.

Even Republicans on Capitol Hill were hesitant to touch the rules, as they invoked the Congressional Review Act to annul another CFPB regulation completed last year. The so-called Forced Arbitration Rule would have guaranteed consumers the right to bring class action lawsuits against financial firms.

On Tuesday, progressive organizations denounced Mulvaney as a friend of loansharks and banking conglomerates. Public Citizen accused him of "inviting financial predators to help him dismantle consumer safeguards."

"There is quite literally no reason to delay implementation of this rule -- unless, like Mulvaney, you are more concerned with the needs of payday lenders than you are with the interests of the consumers these financial bottom-feeders prey upon," said Karl Frisch, executive director of Allied Progress.

While in Congress, then-Rep. Mulvaney (R-S.C.) was one of the top recipients of campaign donations from payday lenders.

In November, after Cordray stepped down ahead of schedule, Mulvaney was appointed CFPB Director by President Trump on an interim basis. Mulvaney is also currently the head of the Office of Management and Budget -- a powerful White House organ that issues veto threats and revises every major regulation across the Executive Branch.

Mulvaney's temporary appointment has been challenged in court by Leandra English, a deputy director named acting CFPB head by Cordray just before the end of his term.

Though a District Court ruled last week in favor of the Trump administration, English is expected to appeal the decision, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Categories: Latest News

Racism, Not Profanity, Is the Problem With Trump's Immigration Policies

Truthout - Fri, 01/19/2018 - 21:00

Trump's recent profane comments about African countries came as no surprise to most Black and other people of color. While the immigration policies of the US have always had an anti-Black bias, to anyone paying attention, it's obvious that this administration's immigration agenda is only a perpetuation of that bias.

People take part in a protest against President Donald Trump's recent statements and words about immigration in front of the Federal Building on January 19, 2018 in New York. (Photo: Eduardo MunozAlvarez / VIEWpress / Corbis via Getty Images)

Recently, the news cycle was dominated by reactions to President Trump's use of the phrase "shithole countries" when describing El Salvador, Haiti and countries in Africa. But for anyone who has been paying attention to the administration's immigration policies, these comments came as no surprise.  

The Trump administration has made it very clear that it wants to halt or radically alter all US immigration programs. The underlying but often unspoken subtext is the goal of limiting immigration programs that serve people of color, and particularly predominantly Black nations. Calling a group of African nations "shithole countries" makes explicit the fact that racism is a driving force of the policies coming out of the White House.

Many have responded to Trump's comments with examples of how immigrants from these countries play a vital role in the economic and social fabric of the US. But responding with instances in which immigrants of color have had to prove themselves worthy of acceptance is counterproductive. Narratives that further employ the term "shithole" to explain that immigrants from these "shithole" countries are hard workers, smart and contribute to the economy, misses the point. It doesn't matter how hard people work or how "deserving" they are if the underlying value behind these immigration policies is xenophobia and anti-Black racism.

The Trump administration has targeted every avenue that increases racial diversity in the US. The call to end the Diversity Visa Lottery, the terminations of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), all four Muslim bans and current visa sanctions are all mechanisms the administration is using to re-whiten the immigration system.

The Trump administration has terminated TPS for Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Haiti, all countries with majority Black populations. They have also terminated TPS for Nicaragua and El Salvador. The administration has largely dismissed conditions on the ground and the humanitarian need for this program. The recipients of TPS have been vetted by the government, and there is a large body of evidence documenting their contributions to US communities. However, this administration is not concerned with what they contribute to the United States, but would rather such contributions be made by immigrants from predominantly white nations.

Overall, the number of immigrant visas issued to African immigrants is significantly lower than those issued to recipients from other regions, such as Asia and North America. In 2016, African immigrants accounted for about 5 percent of immigrant visas, in comparison to more than 40 percent for Asians and more than 30 percent for North Americans. These disparities further reflect the underlying anti-Black racism of the immigration system.

This administration has also implemented visa sanctions on Eritrea, Guinea and Sierra Leone, preventing people from applying for temporary visitor visas, student visas and exchange programs visas. This further alienates African countries, which are already underrepresented in the general visa numbers. These sanctions have interrupted people's ability to pursue education in the US or visit for leisure purposes, and have made it difficult for families to visit each other.

The fourth and most recent Muslim ban also targets citizens of several African countries, including Mali, South Sudan, Somalia and Sudan, all nations that are under various forms of duress. The Trump administration has also reduced refugee admissions for this fiscal year to 45,000, which is a historic low. Banning or severely restricting the human right to migrate to safety further advances this administration's racist agenda, at an astronomical human and moral cost.

The Diversity Immigrant Visa program has been an important instrument for African people seeking to immigrate to the US. In 2014 over 43 percent of the Diversity Visas went to citizens of African Nations. In the last few months, the program has come under unexpected attack by the administration, with Trump calling to terminate it, foreclosing the opportunity for many aspiring African immigrants.

As we reflect on the arbitrary creation of borders by predominantly white nations like Britain, France, Germany, etc., we need to acknowledge the fact that the laws that govern these borders are created to disadvantage communities of color who seek to migrate. It is no surprise that those who created and benefited from the existence of borders for generations would advocate for racially biased restrictions on who can cross these borders freely.

Further embedding racism in our immigration system -- through bans and quotas, through detention and deportation, and through the termination of vital, life-saving programs like TPS --is a moral and spiritual disaster for the United States. We cannot accept policies designed to separate families and communities and enforce racial and geographic segregation.

President Trump's comment sheds light on what most Black people and other communities of color have known for a long time: This administration's agenda to "revamp" the immigration system stems from an anti-Black, racist and xenophobic viewpoint. We need to come together to make sure that this administration does not continue to push a racist agenda in the disguise of immigration reform.

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Categories: Latest News

Shutdown for the Trumpiversary: A Ghastly Symmetry

Truthout - Fri, 01/19/2018 - 21:00

(Photo: Joe Brusky)

One year to the day since Donald Trump was sworn in as the nation's 45th president, and here we are, smack dab in the middle of a government shutdown caused to a huge degree by the president's own rampant racism. Of course, it could be no other way than this.

(Photo: Joe Brusky)

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Right? Just perfect. The one-year anniversary of Donald Trump's inauguration could not have happened any other way. A choreographer could not mark it, a screenwriter could not script it, if either tried they'd be laughed out of their respective professions, yet here we are.

The government is shut down under one-party rule for the first time in history.

As of midnight, the federal government is shut down. It will remain so until the Senate and House agree on a new spending bill. The federal government is shut down because the president of the United States is too racist to cut a deal for the Dreamers, and because the congressional Republicans who coddle him for his precious signature could not govern their way down a short hallway with one door. The federal government is shut down under one-party rule for the first time in history.

Remember when the Republicans moved Heaven and Earth to pass their terrible trillion-dollar tax bill? Now that it's law, the IRS is scrambling to update all its tax software, staff call centers to field questions from befuddled taxpayers, resolve a myriad of legal questions left murky by the new law, and generally get ready for the 2017 tax season, which has already begun. With the government shut down, more than half the IRS is on furlough and that vital work isn't getting done. An awful bill is being made worse by the man celebrating one long, strange year on the job.

No one is happy about the government shutting down. Speaking personally, I am glad the Democrats and a few rogue Republicans have decided to give the Dreamers a fighting chance to put at least some of this whole xenophobic nightmare behind them. The thing is, avoiding a shutdown by striking a Dreamers deal could have been accomplished two Tuesdays ago, when Trump was all smiles about it. That lasted until Stephen Miller and a cohort of immigration hardliners dragged him back to his base and blew the whole thing to hell, of course.

Here is the measure of the moment: As we speak, a salacious story about Donald Trump's alleged six-figure dalliance with an adult film actress is fighting for column inches with Tank McNamara on the back page of who cares. This story has everything, including a cameo appearance by Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback and possible potato Ben Roethlisberger, but no one seems the least bit interested. I hate to indulge in a moment of "Whataboutism," but if a story like this had popped during Bill Clinton's administration, Wolf Blitzer's head would have turned into a pillar of fire. Now? It barely tweaks the needle.

Don't snicker too long at the morass of chaotic ineptitude the administration is mired in.

So we wait, and we watch, and we're officially a year into this grim thing. Don't snicker too long at the morass of chaotic ineptitude the administration is mired in. Some -- if not most  -- of that is theater in the vein of Wrestlemania. In reality, Trump and his congressional allies have been quite busy. In the last year, they have:

  • Expedited approval for the Keystone XL pipeline;
  • Put Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court and put a whole slew of right-wing judges on the federal bench;
  • Rolled back protections for transgender students;
  • Declared a permanent US military presence in Syria;
  • Eliminated the Affordable Care Act's birth control mandate;
  • Rolled back huge swaths of environmental protections;
  • Basically obliterated the Environmental Protective Agency as a functioning body;
  • Rolled back net neutrality and various internet privacy rules;
  • Signed a law allowing states to deny funding to Planned Parenthood;
  • Translated a trillion dollars in taxpayer money to the wealthiest Americans while simultaneously gutting the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate;
  • Pulled out of the Paris climate accord;
  • Succeeded in enacting some of Trump's anti-Muslim travel ban;
  • Embraced and empowered white nationalism;
  • Pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio;
  • Appointed Mick Mulvaney to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and;
  • Reestablished vast warrantless surveillance rules.
In reality, Trump and his congressional allies have been quite busy.

That ain't nothing, and worse is yet to come. They have been busy, and look to be busier still once they get past the current calamity. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has his eyes on Social Security and Medicare in the coming year, for openers.

For the moment, however, let us enjoy the ghastly symmetry of it all: Trump celebrates his inaugural anniversary by watching his government close up shop because his racism once again crashed into the making of public policy. 

Categories: Latest News

Empire Files: Abby Martin Meets Ahed Tamimi -- Message From a Freedom Fighter

Truthout - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 21:00

Recently, the struggle for Palestinian human rights gained international attention surrounding a new icon of resistance -- 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi. While in the West Bank in late 2016, Abby Martin interviewed Ahed Tamimi about her hardships and aspirations living under occupation, and it becomes clear why her subjugators are trying to silence her voice. Her brother Waad and father Bassem also talk about their experiences with Israeli soldiers harassing their village and targeting their family.

In this exclusive episode, Abby outlines the Tamimi family's tragic tale and unending bravery in the fight for justice and equality in Palestine, and how the story of their village of Nabi Saleh is emblematic of the Palestinian struggle as a whole.

Categories: Latest News

As Shutdown Looms Over Immigration, Trump's Rejection of Refugees Could Have Global Domino Effect

Truthout - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 21:00

As Senate Democrats say they'll vote against a government spending bill that fails to protect DACA recipients, setting up a potential government shutdown, we look at the worldwide refugee crisis. The United Nations Refugee Agency reports the number of displaced people worldwide has hit a record high, with more than 65 million people forcibly displaced from their homes. As the humanitarian crisis grows, the United States and many other nations are limiting immigration and closing their borders. During his first year in office, President Trump sought to ban all refugees and citizens of many majority-Muslim nations. When federal judges struck down multiple versions of the so-called Muslim travel bans, Trump then slashed the number of refugees who could be resettled in the United States this year, capping the number at 45,000 -- the lowest level in three decades. We speak with David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, former British MP and author of the new book, Rescue: Refugees and the Political Crisis of Our Time.


AMY GOODMAN: The House of Representatives passed a short-term spending bill late Thursday, setting up a high-stakes showdown in the Senate today, ahead of a midnight deadline to reach a deal or face government shutdown. Congress members voted 230 to 197, mostly along party lines, in favor of a Republican-led continuing resolution to fund the government through February 16th. In the Senate, many Democrats have said they'll vote against a bill that fails to protect young DREAMers -- DACA recipients, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. This is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

SEN. MITCH McCONNELL: They want a sensible compromise on immigration. But they cannot, Madam President, for the life of them, understand why -- why some senators would hold the entire country hostage until we arrive at a solution to a problem that doesn't fully materialize until March. Military families, veterans and children benefiting from the SCHIP program don't need to be shoved aside -- don't need to be shoved aside while we continue good-faith negotiations.

AMY GOODMAN: A hundred DACA recipients lose their status every day.

Well, as the debate over immigration could force a U.S. government shutdown, our next guest argues migrants and refugees are a key political crisis worldwide. The United Nations Refugee Agency's most recent annual report says the number of displaced people worldwide has hit a record high, with more than 65 million people forcibly displaced from their homes across the globe -- that's 20 people forced to flee their homes every single minute.

These refugees often face deadly journeys to reach safety. Last week, humanitarian groups said dozens of refugees drowned when their boat sank off the coast of Libya en route to Europe. This week, the Arizona humanitarian group No More Deaths accused U.S. Border Patrol agents of routinely sabotaging or confiscating humanitarian aid left by activists near the border with Mexico, condemning some Mexican and Central American refugees to die of exposure or dehydration in the Sonoran Desert.

As the humanitarian crisis grows, many nations, particularly the United States, are limiting immigration, closing their borders. During his first year in office, President Trump sought to ban all refugees and citizens of mainly majority-Muslim nations. When federal judges struck down multiple versions of the so-called Muslim travel bans, Trump then slashed the number of refugees who could be resettled in the United States this year, capping the number at 45,000 -- the lowest level in three decades. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has also cut $65 million in annual contributions to the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency, known as UNRWA. On Thursday, Pope Francis made an urgent appeal on behalf of refugees and migrants, while speaking on the last day of his visit to Chile.

POPE FRANCIS: [translated] We know well that there is no Christian joy when doors are closed. There is no Christian joy when others are made to feel unwanted, when there is no room for them in our midst. We must be alert that work is becoming more precarious, which destroys lives and homes. We must be alert to those that take advantage of the irregularity of many immigrants because they don't understand the language or they don't have their papers. We must be alert to the lack of housing, land and work of so many families.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we're joined by David Miliband, president and CEOof the International Rescue Committee, former British Labour MP, brother of Labour Leader Ed Miliband. His new book is titled Rescue: Refugees and the Political Crisis of Our Time.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

DAVID MILIBAND: Thank you very much. Good to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you have heard, David, all the headlines. Half of them involve immigrants, involve refugees, involve people taking sanctuary across the country, California declaring itself a sanctuary state, and Trump administration officials threatening to arrest not only refugees, but politicians who defy Trump administration policy. This is the anniversary of President Trump's inauguration. What is your assessment of his approach to immigrants in this country?

DAVID MILIBAND: Well, issues of refugees and immigration have always been matters of politics as well as policy. And there's a lot of confusion. One of the points in my book is that a refugee is someone who flees their home as a result of conflict or persecution. An economic migrant is someone who's seeking a better life. It's not that one is good and the other is bad, but they're different.

And I think the way I would summarize the approach of the Trump administration is really a reversal of the best of American history. It's not that throughout the ages America has always made itself open to refugees and immigrants from around the world, because there have been dark periods of American history. But the best of the American approach, both in respect of immigration and in respect of refugees -- and we should talk about the difference between them -- but the best of American history has established this country as a haven for those who are seeking not just a place of safety from persecution, but also a chance to start a new life and contribute to the society that they are arriving in.

And what the president has done -- you referred, just to give you one example, to the fact that the president has halved the number of refugees who should be allowed to come to the U.S., from the 90,000 a year that have been allowed since the 1980s, since Ronald Reagan's time, to just 45,000. But, actually, the truth is that the administration that is putting that into practice is not delivering 45,000 refugees this year. It's going to deliver about 20,000. So you're actually seeing, because of the actions of the Department of Homeland Security, a quartering of America's historic commitment to refugees, at the time when there are record numbers of refugees around the world.

And this is significant both for those individual cases and for the lesson it sets elsewhere in the world, because, the truth is, a country like America has 1 percent of the world's refugees. Countries like Ethiopia, Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan, they have the most refugees in the world. And I think that there's an issue of substance, but also an issue of symbolism, at stake here.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to step back for a minute -- why you care so much about the issue of migrants, of refugees, of immigrants. Talk about your own family background.

DAVID MILIBAND: Yeah, I mean, and maybe people have an image of a refugee that doesn't summon up someone with a blue shirt and a red tie on, but the -- speaking with a British accent. But I was born in safety in the U.K. in 1965, but both my parents were refugees from -- my dad from Belgium, from Nazi-occupied Belgium, in 1940, and my mom survived the war in Poland, came to the U.K. as a refugee in 1946. So, I don't want to exaggerate the sense in which today's crisis is a parallel of previous crises, but there are very similar issues.

And the most fundamental issue is whether those who are not persecuted have a duty to those who are. It's, I call it, the duty to strangers. And it seems to me that the best lessons of human history are that when the duty to strangers is exhibited, it builds not just a more moral planet, but also a safer planet. And what we're seeing today, ironically, in a world that's more connected than ever before, is that it's a world that's -- the danger is it's defined by walls, not by connections. And I think that goes to the heart of the political crisis, as well as the policy crisis, that exists at the moment.

AMY GOODMAN: How would you characterize President Trump's policies? I mean, you were born in Britain, but you now work here in New York.

DAVID MILIBAND: Yeah, I live and work --

AMY GOODMAN: And you head the International Rescue Committee.

DAVID MILIBAND: I mean, people don't know this, but the International Rescue Committee was founded by Albert Einstein, one of the most famous refugees in this city, never mind this country, in some ways an emblem of what refugees can bring. So, I now lived and worked in the U.S. over the last four years.

And I think that global leadership has been abandoned or, in Richard Haass's words, abdicated. The sense that America established itself not with a high moral tone, but with a set of principles and values that would be enshrined, not just constitutionally and legally, but also in policies, that has been abandoned. And I think the question facing the country is whether or not that is going to be consolidated in the next three years or whether it can be reversed, because the truth is that if you carry on reducing the number of refugees who are allowed here at the current rate, if plans to reduce the international aid budget are followed through, then there will be a double whammy, really, on the world's most vulnerable people.

AMY GOODMAN: On Capitol Hill, a slew of lawmakers have joined members of the Congressional Black Caucus in backing a resolution to censure President Trump over his racist comments in which he reportedly called African nations, El Salvador, Haiti "s -- hole countries" -- but he said the curse. Several Democratic lawmakers have announced they'll also skip the State of the Union address on January 30th over Trump's racist remarks. Can you talk about what he said? It's not only calling people from these countries -- Botswana recently asked for a clarification, they want to know if they're in the "s -- hole" category -- but using that word, but also saying we want more immigrants from Norway.

DAVID MILIBAND: Well, I think that the way I would put it is that, really, the presidency has been dragged into the gutter by not just the language, but the thinking behind it, because, as you say, Botswana -- every African country is asking, "Well, does that include us?"

I mean, it's true that the countries that produce the most refugees are war-torn. They are conflict-ridden. But some of them are courting conflict as a result of a resource curse, not a poverty curse. If you think about a place like the Democratic Republic of Congo, in some parts of its history the undemocratic republic of Congo, that is -- the conflict there is on -- it's because of the resources that exist in that country, not because of the poverty that exists in that country, the conflict over mineral resources. And I think it's really important that the people were condemned, as well as the country. And that's the most pernicious aspect of what was said.

My point would be that this has a domino effect around the world. When the Jordanian government is hosting 650,000 refugees, when the Lebanese government is hosting a million refugees, when the Kenyan government has a million Somalis, the worst forces in those countries are going to be citing President Trump in their defense.

And I think that there is a profound question both about how the country governs itself internally, but also what sort of role it wants to play externally. The interesting thing -- one interesting thing about the Trump administration is, both its domestic and its international agenda come together on this issue.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the things that we recently played, just at the top of the show, your clips about -- of the defining of refugees as terrorists, and your point that, in fact, it's the opposite.

DAVID MILIBAND: No, these are people who are fleeing terror. I mean, you cited Syria in your introduction. People should know, the war in Syria isn't over, but it's being prosecuted not primarily by the American government, but by the Syrian government. Two hundred thousand Syrians in the northwest of the country have been driven from their homes by a bombing campaign in the last six weeks, six or seven weeks. And so, these are people who are the victims of terror. Some of them get good press coverage. Some of them, the coverage of the appalling stories of Yazidi women being chased from their homes by ISIS, they get a sympathetic ear. Others get a less sympathetic one. But my point is simple: People who have known the price and the cost of terror, they become the most patriotic and productive citizens when they find refuge here.

And I think there's one other point that's important, as well. America is making a small commitment to resettlement. The great bulk of refugees stay in countries close to those at war. And that doesn't include the U.S., notwithstanding what's happening south of the border in the Northern Triangle of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras. People are fleeing gang violence there. We shouldn't forget that. But one of the most pernicious parts of the Trump narrative, President Trump's narrative, is that somehow America is bearing an undue burden of the world's problems. That isn't the case when it comes to humanitarian and refugee issues.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about President Trump shutting off funding, something like $65 million, to UNRWA, to the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency, and the significance of this, what this means for Palestinians?

DAVID MILIBAND: Well, obviously, the Palestinian population is the longest-standing refugee population. It was only after the Second World War that the refugees were given any rights in international law, after the foundation of the state of Israel, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, in Jordan, elsewhere in the Middle East. UNRWA -- including in Gaza.

UNRWA, the United Nations agency, provides, above all, for children. It's, above all, providing support through education for kids. The $65 million, you're right, that's been granted, is the first part of a three-part delivery of American aid to support this organization. And it seems to me very important that we don't lose sight of the people on the receiving end of this. You have 1.8 million people in Gaza. Half of them are children. You've got Palestinian refugees elsewhere in the region. And the message that's being sent is a rejection to them and their condition. And it seems to me it goes to the heart of what the country should be standing for. And at a time when the U.N. is needed more than ever before, the last thing that the U.N. needs is one of its most effective programs to be -- have the rug pulled from under it.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a Gaza resident. They're saying that soon they could starve, unless international donors step up to fill the funding gap left by President Trump.

FATHIYA ABED AL-JAWAD: [translated] We will be lost. It will be a catastrophe. People will be stealing from each other. We will live in a catastrophe. We will suffer to provide food and wheat. People will kill each other.

NAIM HAMAD: [translated] What should I do? Should I go sell one of my kids or sell my kidney? What should I do? Should I go and steal or work as a spy? I need cooking oil, yogurt, eggs and bread.

AMY GOODMAN: In Cairo, the Arab League met Wednesday for a two-day conference, where leaders condemned the Trump administration for cutting funding to UNRWA and for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital. David Miliband?

DAVID MILIBAND: Yeah, look, the crisis in Gaza is a subset of the wider Middle Eastern crisis, the wider crisis of what's called the peace process, but there is no peace process in respect of the Palestinian issue. And I was in Gaza in 2012, before I started this job. I went to visit. And the fact that half the population is under the age of 18 is ignored in so much of the coverage. This is a very tightly confined area. I think that there are mechanisms in place to make sure the people don't starve, but that doesn't mean that there isn't grave need there, and also, frankly, grave danger of radicalization, because, for the first time, there are now reports of ISIS organizing in Gaza. And the equation between immiseration and extremism is well documented. And so, both for moral reasons and for strategic reasons, I think this is a misbegotten policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what you think is the solution to the refugee crisis.

DAVID MILIBAND: Good. I'm glad to get a chance at that, because it's easy to spend all the time thinking -- 65 million people displaced by conflict and persecution, they're displaced for an average of 10 years, half of them are in urban areas -- and one could almost think that there's just endless suffering and no solutions. In my book, I point out that in addition to the refugee resettlement issue, for the most vulnerable cases, three things are absolutely key for refugee populations.

First, since half of them are kids, have of refugees are kids, education needs to come center stage. Traditionally in the humanitarian sector, education has been seen as a luxury. It gets only 2 percent of global humanitarian funding. Actually, education is a lifeline, not a luxury, for refugee children.

Second, refugees need to be allowed to work. Sixty percent are in urban areas. For the adults, they need the chance to contribute to the societies that they are living in. The countries that are hosting them, though, like Lebanon, Jordan, Kenya, they need international economic support. And organizations like the World Bank need to step up.

Thirdly, the traditional image of a refugee is someone who's been given a tent or a fleece or food. The thing that refugees need more than anything else is cash. They need the ability to participate in the local market economy that they are living in. And some of our work at the International Rescue Committee shows that if you empower refugees, you also bring benefit to the local host community, because, of course, in the countries that are hosting refugees, the local population is under enormous stress, as well. There are towns and cities across the Middle East, across Africa, whose population doubles as a result of a refugee influx. Uganda, a country with only $1,000 per -- income per head, per person, has received a million refugees in the last year. You wouldn't know that. They're not building a wall, but they need support to help encourage those people to be able to contribute to the Ugandan economy.

And it seems to me that if you take seriously the education, the employment, the cash support, you can redesign the humanitarian aid system, so that instead of simply helping people survive from one year to the next, it's actually giving them the chance to lead a dignified life.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the issues that you raised -- you talked earlier about so many refugees come from war-torn countries.

DAVID MILIBAND: Almost, by definition, all of them do. I mean, there's a small number who are persecuted for political reasons, but the vast bulk of the refugee flow is because of wars, in Syria or Somalia or South Sudan.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what about those who vote for war? For example, you were a politician before you were head of the International Rescue Committee, a Labour parliamentarian, MP, in Britain. Didn't you vote to authorize the war in Iraq?

DAVID MILIBAND: I did. And the story of Iraq is a terrible tale. In a phrase, the war was won, but the peace was lost. There were no weapons of mass destruction. I document and I speak very openly about this in the book, without any reservation.

But I think that it's important to understand that the crisis of diplomacy that exists at the moment is real. You know that the Trump administration is proposing to cut 30 percent from the State Department. What did I spend my time doing as foreign minister? I spent my time preventing a war in the Balkans, in the former Yugoslavia. I spent my time trying to stop the slaughter in Sri Lanka, where Tamil residents were caught in the north of the Jaffna Peninsula. There's a crisis of peacemaking that stands at the root of the refugee crisis today. And it seems to me that it's that that we need to speak to, in a very thoroughgoing way.

AMY GOODMAN: If you could cast that vote again?

DAVID MILIBAND: Of course I wouldn't cast it for the -- in the same way. I've said that very publicly and very clearly.

AMY GOODMAN: Right. So talk about that. Talk about what led you to do it and what was the new information you have, what you realize now, and what advice you have to politicians today who are making decisions in these areas.

DAVID MILIBAND: Well, these are hard decisions. In 2003, the main issue for the U.K. Parliament was that there were significant levels of undocumented weapons of mass destruction that the Saddam regime had built up since 1991. Hans Blix, the U.N. inspector, produced a 175-page report documenting the way in which the -- Saddam Hussein's regime had failed to dispose of the weapons of mass destruction that had been developed after 1991. Everyone thought they were there. It turned out they weren't there. So the heart of the mistake was in respect of that -- of that criteria.

I think there's a wider point, too, though, which is that the war in Afghanistan was not over in 2003. And it's still not over today. And it seems to me that there has been a real political failure, both in Afghanistan and in Iraq, in developing institutions that are credible and legitimate institutions for the sharing of political power. And the biggest lesson I draw from the last 20 years is that countries that establish legitimate and credible systems for sharing political power, even in a fragile context -- so, Lebanon would be a good example. Every Lebanese community has a stake in the government. There's not been a census since 1931. It's a very fragile country, but every community has a stake in power. And the country hasn't been at civil war since 1990. The countries that don't establish credible institutions for sharing power -- Afghanistan, Iraq -- those are the ones that fall into failed states.

AMY GOODMAN: But would you say that the greatest driver of the refugee crisis, these wars, the longest war in U.S. history, Afghanistan, and Iraq, are really what broke the Middle East?

DAVID MILIBAND: Well, I think that you would say that there are two things. One, the war in Iraq is certainly part of that. But the drive of Middle Eastern populations, of Arab populations, for accountable government, for decent levels of freedom, those have been the impulses that have propelled Arab youth onto the streets, not just in the Arab Spring, but before, and not just Arab youth. Just to take the Syrian example, there's obviously been a civil war in Syria since 2001 -- in 2011. It started with a boy in Daraa being persecuted, then tortured by his own government. But in 2005, 250 Syrian intellectuals were demanding accountable government.

And I think that there's a danger in thinking all of this comes from Western policy. Don't ignore the people on the receiving end. And the truth about significant parts of the Arab world is the absence of accountable government, the absence of opportunities for women, the absence of opportunities for young people. Remember, 60 percent of the Arab world is under the age of 30. It's the lack of those opportunities that is driving the challenge to government authorities in the region. And you've seen that most recently, remarkably, in Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you describe President Trump as racist and anti-Muslim?

DAVID MILIBAND: Well, I think that the racist statements have been very clear. And I think that the most important thing now is that the voice of America is not simply the voice of President Trump, it's the voice of the millions of people who listen to your show, because around the world -- there's a poll that's out today -- America's reputation has never been lower. I'm not an American; I'm a British citizen, but I live and work here, as you said. And there are -- there's is a side of America that's being lost. And that side is the side that when a refugee comes into a community -- we resettle refugees across America, in 26 cities -- when refugees arrive, in Dallas or in Houston or in San Diego, the American reaction is actually not to spurn them. It's not to build a wall between them and their new neighbor. It's actually to knock on the door and say, "Where are you from? How can I help you? Do you know the way the local schools work? Do you know the way the local health system works? We want to help you." And I think that side of America needs to be heard, because, at the moment, the world is seeing only -- it's seeing another side.

AMY GOODMAN: David Miliband, I want to thank you so much for being with us.

DAVID MILIBAND: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, former British Labour MP, former British foreign secretary. His new book is Rescue: Refugees and the Political Crisis of Our Time.

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor will be talking to us about what she describes as the white power presidency. When she first called President Trump a racist, months ago, in a speech at Mount Holyoke, she got death threats. She continues her charges. Stay with us.

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