Latest News

Fifty-One GOP Senators Just Voted to Cut $1.5 Trillion From Medicare and Medicaid to Give Super-Rich and Corporations a Tax Cut

Truthout - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 21:00

Sen. John McCain heads back to his office following a vote on amendments to the fiscal year 2018 budget resolution, on Capitol Hill, October 19, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

Along strict party lines, the Republican-controlled Senate on Thursday night voted to pass a sweeping budget measure -- one criticized as both "despicable" and "horrific" for providing massive giveaways to corporations and the super-rich while eviscerating funding for social programs, healthcare, education, and affordable housing.

The measure passed by 51-49 vote, with only one Republican, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, joining every Democrat and the chamber's two Independents who voted against it. Its approval now paves that way for massive tax giveaways to the wealthy and corporations envisioned by President Donald Trump and the GOP in both the House and the Senate.

"51 Republican Senators just voted to cut Medicaid by $1 trillion and Medicare by $500 billion so that millionaires and corporations can get a tax cut. It's immoral and despicable," said TJ Helmstetter, a spokesperson for Americans for Tax Fairness, in a statement immediately following the vote.

51 GOP Sens. voted to slash Medicaid by $1T, Medicare by $500B, & other working family priorities just so the 1% can get BIG tax cuts. SHAME

— For Tax Fairness (@4TaxFairness) October 20, 2017

Though the budget resolution itself is nonbinding,'s Ben Wikler notes how the Senate passage on Thursday represents the "starting gun for what might be the most consequential legislative fight of the Trump era: the looting of the US treasury to reward billionaire GOP donors and mega-corporations, at the expense of the rest of us." And with the Senate resolution now in place, a reconciliation process can begin with Republicans in the House, meaning the GOP can "shoot for a tax bill without a single Democratic vote."

In the wake of its passage, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) -- who earlier this week called the proposal "Robin Hood in reverse" for taking from the poor to give to the rich --  said the "Republicans' budget is not a bad bill. It's a horrific bill."

Republicans’ budget is not a bad bill. It’s a horrific bill.

— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) October 20, 2017

Sanders was far from alone in his outrage.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) called the vote a "dark deed" and urged people nationwide to stand up and fight back against what the budget represents:

Another dark deed done: GOP passes obscene budget to slash Medicare/Medicaid & explode the deficit – all in the name of tax cuts for the 1%.

— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) October 20, 2017

Just think of the possibilities if instead of padding millionaires' bank accounts, we invested this $$ in education and infrastructure jobs.

— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) October 20, 2017

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), also vocal in her warnings ahead of the vote, condemned the budget put forth by her Republican colleagues as "garbage".

Thanks to reader support, Truthout can deliver the news seven days a week, 365 days a year. Keep independent journalism going strong: Make a tax-deductible donation right now.
Categories: Latest News

For Months, the Trump Administration Has Illegally Stopped Undocumented Women From Obtaining Abortions

Truthout - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 21:00
(Photo: Fernndez Gutirrez / EyeEm / Getty Images) The only way Truthout can maintain a sanctuary for real, independent news is with your support. Make a tax-deductible donation today!

The US Constitution grants all women -- including prisoners and undocumented immigrants -- the right to an abortion, no matter what obstacles fundamentalist Christians may create in certain states. But since Trump's inauguration, the administration has blocked young pregnant women who cross the border without papers from seeking abortions.

The San Francisco ACLU has now taken on one such case on behalf of Jane Doe, a pregnant 17-year-old who is being held in a federal immigration shelter in Texas. The shelter won't allow her to visit the doctor who has agreed to perform her abortion.

"The government may not want to facilitate abortion, but it cannot block it," US Magistrate Laurel Beeler told SFGate. "It is doing that here."

Several hundred undocumented pregnant women cross the border alone each year, but shelters do not allow minors to leave to get abortions without permission from the US Office of Refugee Resettlement. Instead, these women are forced to attend Christian-sponsored "crisis pregnancy centers" where they are falsely warned that abortions are dangerous, forced to look at sonograms of the fetus and pressured into carrying their pregnancies to term.

Jane Doe missed her first scheduled abortion on September 28 because the shelter forbade it, and she is now attending mandatory anti-abortion counseling.

"Jane Doe is a brave and persistent young woman who has already been forced by the Trump administration to delay her abortion for weeks," ACLU attorney Brigitte Amiri told SFGate. "The government is holding her hostage so that she will be forced to carry to term against her will."

According to SFGate, Scott Lloyd, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, told a shelter staff person, "My priority is unborn children, and there will be no more abortions."

Plenty of others are on his side. In response to the ACLU's claim in court, seven states, including Texas, filed arguments stating that undocumented immigrants in American custody have no right to an abortion.

Categories: Latest News

Tearing Down Monuments of Oppression Is the First Step to Decolonization

Truthout - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 21:00
The Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt, in New York City. (Photo: MacLachlan; Edited: LW / TO)

The campaign to take down symbols of racism and colonization has only grown and intensified since right-wingers, emboldened by Trump, started to push back. With so much of the US's landscape built in the name of slave owners, conquistadors and génocidaires, white supremacists correctly see the removal of racist symbols as a slippery slope, as decolonizers attempt to remake the here and now.

The Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt in New York City. (Photo: MacLachlan; Edited: LW / TO)   Choose journalism that empowers movements for social, environmental and economic justice: Support the independent media at Truthout!

Hundreds of activists from various groups crowded into the American Museum of Natural History in New York City this past Columbus Day to take part in activist group Decolonize This Place's unofficial tour of the museum. As the activists stopped at each of the sections of the museum displaying the culture and history of various non-European peoples, a small group of organizers exposed the colonial perspective embedded in these displays and explained how the displays "otherized," exoticized, dehumanized and/or exploited these peoples along with their history and culture.

"It's really simple," said Natasha S.*, an organizer with Decolonize This Place. "The American Museum of Natural History is the most visited museum in this country. It is also the museum that gets the most funding from the city, and on top of that, it is a hall of white supremacy. So, what we're really doing is thinking about the museum as a representation of settler-colonization and basically highlighting our struggles and movements in that space."

After the tour inside the museum was done, the activists began unfurling banners denouncing white supremacy, colonialism and patriarchy and then raised up three very large, connected banners in front of the Theodore Roosevelt statue outside the museum, blocking the statue from being seen. The 10-foot statue, entitled "Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt," was sculpted by James Earle Fraser in 1939 and portrays a muscular Roosevelt on horseback with an African and a Native American walking on either side and seemingly being led by him. Roosevelt's left hand even rests on the head of the African to his side. The white supremacist symbolism is clear.

"The statue echoes those old 'races of mankind' posters that used to decorate college classrooms of physical anthropology, with whites highest on the evolutionary tree, furthest from the ape," historian and sociologist James W. Loewen wrote in his book Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong. "Inside its doors, the American Museum of Natural History still takes the same stance, putting American Indians and Africans closer to animals, whites furthest removed."

The activists then demanded that the Roosevelt statue be taken down and the exhibits be "reviewed and reconceived by representatives of the 'exhibited' populations." They also called for New York City to follow the lead of other municipalities to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day.

The action that day was one of many recent moves by activists against symbols and monuments to white supremacy and colonialism. After the murder of nine Black people in Charleston, South Carolina, by a Confederate-flag-waving white supremacist in July 2015 Americans were galvanized to start taking down Confederate flags, as well as statues and monuments dedicated to white supremacists. The campaigns have received much backlash from right-wingers and white supremacists which has, in turn, only intensified and expanded these campaigns. With so much of the US's landscape built in the name of slave owners, conquistadors, colonizers and génocidaires, today's white supremacists correctly see these calls to remove racist statues as a slippery slope ultimately leading to a questioning of the American project itself. And unfortunately for them, anti-racist and anti-colonial activists know this as well and plan on going beyond these initial steps, moving toward decolonization and the dismantling of white supremacy.

Statues Toppling Around the Country

For the past two years, all across the US, statues dedicated to white supremacy and colonialism have been targeted by activists in various ways. In October 2015, someone planted an axe in the head of a Columbus statue near Detroit's City Hall. Confederate statues at the University of Texas at Austin were tagged with "Black Lives Matter" in February 2016. An anarchist group in New Orleans calling themselves the Real Meow Meow Liberation Front-Professional Party Planning Committee spray-painted a circle-A on a Confederate monument in May 2017 -- even leaving a hammer and chisel at the base of the monument and a note encouraging people to "take a few whacks" at it. A month later, the same group chiseled the nose off a nearby Confederate soldier statue, spray-painted a circle-A on it, and even created a parody Twitter account for the missing nose. Decolonize This Place's recent protest at the American Museum of Natural History was a repeat of the anti-Columbus Day protest the group did last year, in which activists covered the Roosevelt statue with a tarp. 

People are talking about tearing down history, but it's not history. Not when the legacy is still very much alive." -- Takiyah Thompson

One of the most inspiring and audacious direct actions against a racist statue recently was in August in Durham, North Carolina. A group of more than 100 activists from leftist and anti-capitalist groups, such as the Workers World Party and the Industrial Workers of the World physically tore down the Confederate Soldiers Monument in front of the old Durham County Courthouse while chanting "No cops! No KKK! No fascist USA!" Multiple activists were later arrested and charged with felonies for tearing down the statue, the first of whom was 22-year-old student Takiyah Thompson.

"I think it's important to think about the position of the Confederate statue in front of the old courthouse," Thompson told Truthout. "Even though that courthouse is no longer in use, it's still a government building, and the fact that it's on the courthouse steps makes a very clear statement to Black people, and people of color more generally, about what kind of justice they're going to receive when they enter that courtroom. People are talking about tearing down history, but it's not history. Not when the legacy is still very much alive." 

Thompson said that the action started as a response to an uninspiring post-Charlottesville vigil organized by the liberal, pro-Democratic Party group IndivisiblesNC on August 13. According to Q. Wideman -- a Black, queer woman and friend of Thompson's who went to Charlottesville -- when she attempted to speak and criticize the liberal, pacifist rhetoric at that vigil, the Indivisibles organizers stopped her, threatened to call the police and cut the livestream. Right before the livestream was cut, a white man can be seen telling Wideman "You're not going to sabotage this!" and that she "can have another rally" if she wanted to speak. When Wideman was finally given time to speak, it wasn't included on the livestream.

IndivisiblesNC told Truthout that there "were a number of individuals involved in organizing the event who are active with Durham-area Indivisible groups" and that the IndivisiblesNC "network's involvement with this event was mainly around offering a public Facebook page from which to host a public event." 

"We share the community's sadness that not every voice could be heard," the vigil's organizers wrote in a statement issued shortly after the event. "The organizations involved in planning this rally remain committed to peaceful, non-violent protest that provides safety for everyone present and is in compliance with the law. To that end, the police were notified of the event via press release. The organizers had no further direct interaction with them."

IndivisiblesNC also told Truthout that the livestream "was interrupted (stopped and restarted) due to personal circumstances and choices of the individual using their own device to do the livestream" and "was not due to any direction or decision of the vigil organizers."

The next day, the Workers World Party organized its own rally which ended with the Confederate statue being torn down and history being made.

"I think it's important that the people struggle to remove the statues themselves because when people struggle for their own liberation, they won't allow others to come in and claim themselves as liberators," Thompson told me. "It's important that this movement be taken up by regular-ass people."

Not long afterwards, with Columbus Day in sight, people began taking direct action against statues of Columbus. On August 21, a Columbus monument in Baltimore was smashed with a sledgehammer "in protest of white supremacy," with the anonymous activists even posting a video of them doing it. Later that month in New York, Columbus statues in BuffaloYonkers and Queens were vandalized within days of each other. On September 12, a Columbus statue in New York City's Central Park had red paint splashed on its hands with the message "Hate Will Not Be Tolerated" spray-painted on the base. On the holiday itself, Columbus statues all over the country were vandalized. As all this happened, the calls for the statue in New York City's Columbus Circle to be taken down grew louder and louder.

"I think it's really important that we examine why this man gets a statue, what did he actually do, and break down that gross history filled with violence, rape, slavery and land dispossession. All those things together are really what that statue represents," said Shawnee Rice, a volunteer organizer with the American Indian Community House. "And what kind of message does keeping that statue there send to Indigenous children growing up, seeing this statue, and finding out that he raped our women and fed our children to dogs?"

White Supremacist Backlash

But all these actions have not gone unnoticed by the forces of white supremacy.

The infamous #UniteTheRight rally in Charlottesville was ostensibly in opposition to the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. For the torch-wielding fascists there, the removal of these monuments represents not only a threat to white supremacy, but a threat to the existence of white people. The chants of "You will not replace us" and "white lives matter" illustrated this. And in the name of these symbols of white supremacy, fascists have shown themselves to be more than willing to engage in material, concrete violence. 

Activists see the destruction of these statues as one of the initial steps to the destruction of the forces that constructed them.

On August 15, months before Decolonize This Place conducted this year's anti-Columbus Day tour, right-wing online media outlet The Daily Wire published a fearmongering article making it seem as if last year's tour had happened that month rather than last year. They even used one of my tweets from last year, despite it being clearly dated October 11, 2016. The article was so dishonest yet so widespread that Snopes felt the need to debunk it.

The fascists running the state apparatus correctly recognize that white supremacy is under threat if the vandalizing and removal of these statues and monuments are allowed to continue.

President Donald Trump himself apparently saw the misleading Daily Wire article and commented on the Roosevelt statue during his rally in Phoenix on August 22.

"I see they want to take Teddy Roosevelt's [statue] down, too," the US's head white supremacist told the crowd. "They're trying to figure out why. They don't know. They're trying to take away our culture. They are trying to take away our history."

And even before Decolonize This Place showed up at the American Museum of Natural History for this year's anti-Columbus Day tour, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) made sure to be visibly present with barricades surrounding the Roosevelt statue, preventing any activist from getting too close. 

"We expected that [the NYPD] would do that, but at the same time, these monuments are meant to reflect the values of the people," Amin Hussein of Decolonize This Place told Truthout. "And when you live in a city where it actually barricades those monuments against the people, something's off."

Right-wing politicians in New York City also rallied in front of City Hall on August 24 in support of keeping the Columbus Circle statue. And even Black and Brown Democrats like Public Advocate Tish James and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. (who supported taking down Confederate statues) voiced their support for keeping the statue. Even for the city's liberal Black and Brown politicians, the fight against white supremacy and colonialism can only be allowed to go so far.

In Durham, the day after the Confederate statue was torn down, the local sheriff Mike Andrews made sure to send a clear message to the perpetrators.

"Let me be clear, no one is getting away with what happened," he told reporters. "We can all agree yesterday went too far." 

"Creating a world where cultural racism is not okay is an important first step to tearing down more structural forms of racism." -- Takiyah Thompson

On August 17, days after Thompson and other activists were arrested, more than 100 people dressed in black lined up outside the Durham County Sheriff's office to turn themselves in to show solidarity with their arrested comrades. Most of them were turned away, but as of today, 14 people in total have been arrested for the action and are currently facing felony and misdemeanor charges.

Activists see the destruction of these statues as one of the initial steps to the destruction of the forces that constructed them. The agents of white supremacy and colonialism, both state and non-state, know this -- and they are willing to do whatever it takes to stop it.

As Frantz Fanon wrote in his anti-colonial magnum opus The Wretched of the Earth: "The colonial regime owes its legitimacy to force and at no time tries to hide this aspect of things. Every statue, whether of Faidherbe or of Lyautey, of Bugeaud or of Sergent Blandan -- all these conquistadors perched on colonial soil do not cease from proclaiming one and the same thing: 'We are here by the force of bayonets....'" 

Anti-racist and anti-colonial activists know this truth, too, and are prepared to keep pushing further. When people witness open defiance of white supremacy and colonialism -- when they see these statues being vandalized and torn down -- it can shake them into consciousness. These actions symbolize the fact that oppressive institutions can be overturned. The police, the prisons, the politicians -- all of these manifestations of white supremacy can be torn down much like the statue of the conquistador or the Confederate general. And as Hussein told me after the anti-Columbus Day action, these activists "are not going away." They intend on growing and building movements to further decolonize this country and abolish white supremacy. Like the brave folks in Durham, they're willing to face the violence of the state to do it.

"Creating a world where cultural racism is not okay is an important first step to tearing down more structural forms of racism. It's an act of the oppressed reclaiming their agency," Thompson told Truthout. "So even though it was just a statue and people have made the criticism of 'Oh well, let me know when you tear down a prison,' well obviously, that's the next step. That would be the end goal, but it's important for oppressed people to have these small victories in the long road to liberating themselves."

*Natasha asked to be identified by her first name only.

Categories: Latest News

The New Co-op Helping Formerly Incarcerated People Find Work -- and Heal

Truthout - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 21:00

The US has the world's highest incarceration rate in the world. And within the US, the highest incarceration rate belongs to Washington, DC. But a new worker-owned business cooperative hopes to reverse those numbers, offering the formerly incarcerated opportunities for employment and healing. Tightshift Laboring Cooperative is the first Washington, DC, co-op formed and operated by formerly incarcerated people. 

 (Photo: Skeeze)

No ads, no subscription fees -- instead, Truthout is fueled by generous donations from readers. Want to support our work? Click here to donate.

The United States has the world's highest incarceration rate, with more than 2.2 million people in prison. And within the United States, the highest incarceration rate belongs to Washington, DC. There, a new worker-owned business cooperative hopes to reverse those numbers, offering former prisoners opportunities for employment and healing.

Though co-ops that employ formerly incarcerated people already exist, Tightshift Laboring Cooperative is the first Washington, DC, co-op formed and operated by ex-prisoners. The co-op offers an array of manual labor services, including residential and commercial cleaning, hauling and moving, and landscaping. It also uses eco-friendly products to provide customers with affordable, high-quality cleaning services.

It's more than just a business to Juan Reid, a former inmate who co-spearheaded the cooperative. For him, Tightshift is about helping former inmates recover, find work, and counter prisoner stigmatization in the workplace.

Reid, 36, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for aggravated assault when he was just 18 years old. He spent the last seven of those years in solitary confinement, an experience he says was torture and a form of "dressed-up" slavery. When he returned to his Bloomingdale neighborhood, he noticed he was being punished a second time -- this time by employers who wouldn't hire him because of his criminal record.

Unbeknownst to his family, Reid became homeless. On the freezing morning of Jan. 21, 2015, a winter storm was passing and Reid was sleeping in a van. It was his 34th birthday.

His mother called him on his cellphone to wish him a happy birthday.

"She told me she was proud of me," Reid says. "She thought I was OK, but I wasn't. I wasn't going to tell her, though. I just didn't want to be a burden to her."

But his mother's message reassured him that his family still loved and cared about him. He moved back in with his father and a few months after that, he met Allison Basile while walking through the neighborhood. They don't remember what sparked their initial conversation, but they quickly found out that they had at least one thing in common -- they were both fed up with economic inequality and systemic racism.

Basile, 30, had a history of working with nonprofits and developing co-ops, although she hadn't worked with returning citizens before.

"I'm focusing on ways to shift ownership and control," Basile says. "Shifting ownership and control is the root of a lot of our challenges, and Juan is super-entrepreneurial and was looking to go into business for himself."

She told him about business cooperatives, and the idea of an employee-run business enthralled him. He wanted to join the movement. The two traveled to New York for a seminar to learn more about the inner-workings of co-ops. Back home, they received two microgrants from the Diverse City Fund in Washington, DC, and crowdsourced $6,500. With this money, they launched Tightshift late last December.

Reid plans to visit jails to recruit new members. He wants to assure them that they'll have jobs once they get out. In addition to that, he canvasses the streets, soliciting friends and youth in his neighborhood to join Tightshift.

New members must first go through the member-apprentice program. In that program, newcomers learn the workings of the cooperative and receive training. They earn $14 an hour and have a voice in the decision-making. Newcomers complete the program by accumulating 1,000 work hours, which Reid and Basile expect would take about a year to complete. Members then can buy into the co-op, receiving a $3 pay increase.

But it hasn't been easy getting people to finish the apprenticeship. Sixteen people have started the program, but only five work actively with Tightshift. Consequentially, Reid and Basile are the only official member-owners of Tightshift. A big reason for that, Basile says, is that a lot of the apprentice members deal with trauma. One apprentice-member, for example, was incarcerated at 18, watched his best friend get killed, and is now battling drug addiction.

"We love him and want for him to be able to keep working with Tightshift," Basile says, "but we know he's going to need some time and space for healing in order to be able to do that."

A residential healing center is something Basile and Reid are working to establish to help apprentice-members physically and emotionally recover from trauma, especially from incarceration.

To that end, Tightshift is launching a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for providing its member-apprentices with healing spaces and resources.

"There's a lot of trauma we have to deal with when you go through the prison system," Reid says. "Our new apprentices will live in the healing center, so they can just work and heal."

Categories: Latest News

Green Party Statement On The Impasse Between Catalonia And Spain

Commondreams - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 13:31
Green Party of the US

The Green Party's International Committee, on behalf of the party, has issued a statement on the crisis in Catalonia. The text of the statement is appended below.

Categories: Latest News

Nurses Urge Senate to Reject Proposed Budget Resolution ‘Will Endanger the Healthcare of Millions of Americans’

Commondreams - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 10:27
National Nurses United

National Nurses United today called on members of the Senate to vote against the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Resolution warning it will “endanger the healthcare of millions of Americans in order to ensure tax breaks for the wealthy, hurting our patients and hurting our country.”

Overall the proposed budget would cut vital social programs by $5 trillion over 10 years, including “lifesaving healthcare programs” like Medicaid, Medicare as well as food stamps, housing assistance, childcare programs, and more, wrote NNU RN Co-Presidents Deborah Burger and Jean Ross.

Categories: Latest News

More than 650 Students And Sexual Assault Survivors Protest Devos’ Rollback Of Title IX Enforcement At National Vigil And Day Of Action For Survivors Of Campus Sexual Assault

Commondreams - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 10:16
End Rape On Campus (EROC)

This Thursday, October 19, survivors, parents, students, and allies will gather outside the Department of Education for the The National Vigil for Survivors of Campus Sexual Assault to oppose Secretary DeVos’ rollback on civil rights enforcement. The National Vigil for Survivors of Campus Sexual Assault is organized by End Rape on Campus, Women’s March, It’s On Us, Feminist Majority Foundation, PAVE and SurvJustice. More than 650 people are expected to attend. There will also be more than 15 sister vigils on college campuses across the country.

Categories: Latest News

Three Ways Trump's Nuclear Strategy Misunderstands the Mood in Iran

Truthout - Wed, 10/18/2017 - 21:00
Why doesn't this site have ads? In order to maintain our integrity, Truthout doesn't accept any advertising money. Help us keep it this way -- make a donation to support our independent journalism.

US President Donald Trump has refused to tell Congress that the 2015 nuclear deal the Obama administration reached with Iran and five other world powers still serves US national interests. This refusal, or decertification, went against top officials in his own government and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Nobody should be surprised. Trump has attacked the Iran deal for years without offering a realistic alternative. His Oct. 13 speech on Iran was long on recriminations, but short on factual analysis and practical recommendations. This disconnect has kept experts and pundits guessing about what Trump's decertification is meant to achieve. 

There are three common interpretations. Each makes different assumptions about how Iran will react. All rest more on wishful thinking than a solid understanding of politics in Iran. 

A key figure in Iranian politics is Hassan Rouhani, who was elected president in 2013. He won by promising that skillful diplomacy could improve Iran's economy without sacrificing key aspects of Iran's nuclear program. 

The Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, where I am the director, has worked with partners in Tehran and Toronto on nine surveys of Iranian public opinion before and after Rouhani's recent reelection. Data from these surveys clearly suggest that each set of assumptions underlying interpretation of Trump's strategy is wrong

#1: Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too

In the most benign interpretation, responsible members of the Trump team are letting the president play to his domestic political base by denouncing the deal, but not allowing him to withdraw or reimpose sanctions that would violate it. 

This interpretation depicts decertification as a "legal placebo" -- a harmless, if ineffectual, way to make a petulant president feel better. It assumes that Iran will honor its nuclear obligations so long as the United States does not reimpose nuclear sanctions, thus preserving the benefits of a deal that Trump's secretary of defense testified does serve US interests.

Do Iranians really expect the economic benefits of the deal to outweigh the costs incurred by adhering to an agreement that is continually being undercut by the United States? They might -- but that hope is fading fast.

In June 2017, 64 percent of respondents to our survey said that their economy was bad and 50 percent thought it was getting worse. Seven in 10 said that the deal had not improved living conditions of Iranians at all. 

Two-thirds still support the nuclear deal. But, US actions are eroding optimism that the deal will eventually make life better. That has dropped to 59 percent, down from 66 percent a year earlier.

Iranian confidence that the United States will uphold its end of the bargain has already dropped precipitously, from 45 percent shortly after the deal was signed to 24 percent in June 2017. Confidence in the other parties to the agreement -- Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia -- is higher at 53 percent. But 71 percent of Iranians do not think the Europeans are moving as rapidly as they could to engage economically with Iran, mostly due to US obstructionism and pressure.

A clear majority, 55 percent, say that if the United States takes measures against Iran that violate the nuclear deal, Iran should retaliate by restarting aspects of its nuclear program. Only 41 percent want to abide by the agreement and try to resolve the problem diplomatically. 

Trashing the Iran deal without tearing it up, in other words, is not a harmless outlet for Trump's animosity. The more he makes threats and sows uncertainty, the more likely Iran's leaders are to decide that the gains are not worth the grief. 

#2: Hardball Bargaining Strategy

The second interpretation takes at face value Trump's claim that decertification is meant to increase US bargaining leverage and get more out of the nuclear deal. 

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson implied that allied support for tougher sanctions on Iran's ballistic missile tests might be required to keep the United States in the nuclear deal. The administration is also supporting legislation co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Bob Corker and Tom Cotton that would automatically reimpose sanctions if Iran does not obey demands that go well beyond the terms of the nuclear deal itself.

The Iranian public is strongly opposed to the kinds of additional restrictions that Trump wants Congress to impose. Seventy percent said that Iran should not agree to end enrichment under any circumstances, while 62 percent said categorically that Iran should not extend the duration of the special nuclear limits it accepted. 

When asked whether Iran should curtail certain nonnuclear activities in order to get all US sanctions lifted, 63 percent opposed reducing ballistic missile tests. Fifty-nine percent opposed ending aid to Syrian President Assad.

Iranians would be even more firmly opposed to these policy changes if they got nothing new in return. Thus, threatening to reimpose nuclear sanctions is counterproductive if the objective is to get more from Iran.

#3: Killing the Deal to Provoke Regime Change

A third interpretation suggests that Trump does not really want to prolong, or to improve, the nuclear deal. Instead, he wants to end it, preferably without being blamed for the deal's demise, and help the people of Iran get a government that is peace-loving and democratic. If so, he would be following some version of a strategy proposed by John Bolton, a leading neoconservative from the George W. Bush administration.

Trump's speech denounced Iran's government as a fanatical dictatorship that violently suppresses its own people, supports terrorism and causes conflict throughout the Middle East. He also alleged that this "rogue regime" had been on the verge of total collapse before the nuclear deal lifted sanctions and provided a huge financial boost. 

From this perspective, the main effect of the nuclear deal has been to prolong the power of Iran's supreme leader and his "corrupt personal terror force and militia." Trump's pledge to terminate the nuclear deal if Congress and US allies cannot gain Iranian acquiescence to unacceptable demands would demonstrate "total solidarity with the Iranian regime's longest-suffering vicitims: its own people."

Our surveys show that Trump misunderstands what the Iranian people want. The vast majority list economic problems, particularly unemployment, as their greatest concern, not political issues, like corruption or human rights. Pre-election data showed that younger Iranians preferred Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Tehran's conservative mayor who eventually dropped out of the race, to Rouhani, who is more moderate politically but has less impressive economic achievements.

Iranians see US sanctions as making their life worse, not better. When asked in December 2016 what happened to the economic benefits Iran was supposed to get from the nuclear deal, 51 percent said they never materialized. Few blamed their own government. Only 21 percent said the economic gains from the deal went to Iranians with special connections, while 15 percent thought they went to Iran's military and foreign allies. And, when asked in June 2017 about the effect of sanctions imposed because of Iran's alleged human rights violations, only 8 percent thought they improved human rights in Iran. Thirty-six percent thought they hurt them, and 52 percent said they had no effect. 

The Iranian people want the United States to fulfill the economic promises it made in the nuclear deal, not to foment internal unrest and radical political change. When asked about the meaning of Rouhani's reelection, only about a third said it showed that most Iranians wanted religion to play a lesser role in policymaking. Less than a quarter saw it as evidence that the Iranian public disapproved of the ideals of the Islamic revolution. In other words, by reelecting Rouhani, Iranians showed support for continuity and moderation, not fundamental changes to their political system.

Trump seems to think that he gains a strategic advantage by keeping everybody else guessing. That might be true if he had a sound strategy that could achieve his objective so long as his opponents could not anticipate his next move and counteract it. With Trump's decision to decertify the Iran deal, though, the evidence suggests that whatever strategy he has will likely be self-defeating.

Full disclosure: Nancy Gallagher receives funding from the MacArthur Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

Categories: Latest News

Wisconsin Governor Walker and His Appointees Push Policy to Punish Students Protesting Right-Wing Speech

Truthout - Wed, 10/18/2017 - 21:00

In the latest attempt to silence protesters, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his appointees on the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents are pushing a new policy that would suspend or expel students who protest right-wing speech on campus. Thomas Gunderson, an organizer for Our Wisconsin Revolution, discusses why the legislation lacks legitimacy. 

Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin speaks at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference on March 13, 2016, in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

We're now several months into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators, not only about how to resist, but how to build a better world. Today's interview is the 84th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

The battles over "free speech" on campus have loomed large in the era of Trump, with conservative provocateurs invited to campuses across the country only to claim that they are being silenced when students protest them. In one of the latest salvos in the battle to claim "freedom of speech" for the right wing, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his allies are pushing a policy that would suspend or expel students for protesting in ways the university deems infringe on the free speech of another.

Today we bring you a conversation with Thomas Gunderson, an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and an organizer (both on and off campus) with Our Wisconsin Revolution. Gunderson is organizing against Gov. Walker's policy.

Sarah Jaffe: The University of Wisconsin and Scott Walker's appointees there made headlines again last week with some sort of "free speech" policy. Can you explain that?

Thomas Gunderson: The big issue with it is that it is complicated to explain. The moral of the story is that it essentially threatens to suspend and expel students who ... violate a new set of really obscure and vague policies that the Board of Regents will be proposing.

So, you don't know what the policies that you could potentially be already violating are?

Pretty much. That is the really scary part. They promote it as a bill that is done to protect "freedom of speech" and "freedom of expression" while the obscure language really just chills the student body ... many think that this is the real intention of it, given that, really, the only thing that is concrete about it is that students will be suspended and students will be expelled.

For disrupting speech, right?

Yes, or disrupting just ordinary activity. Whatever that could mean.

Was there a particular incident on the University of Wisconsin's campus that made this seem necessary to the regents, or is this sort of a response to the national feelings that everybody is having about campus free speech?

This is really just about having a corporately captured state legislature and now, at this point, Board of Regents in Wisconsin. The Board of Regents policy is the other side to the Campus Free Speech Act, which comes out of the Barry Goldwater Institute from Arizona, a hard-right libertarian-esque type of think tank.

What would that act do?

That was pretty much giving the Board of Regents the go-ahead to make a new set of policies regarding academic freedom and freedom of expression, which is also just a huge irony. In Wisconsin, they are acting as if the University of Wisconsin Madison Board of Regents has been a stalwart of academic freedom when it has recently removed tenure and made the university a more exclusive place by raising the price of it.

This is all happening in the context of ongoing changes and attacks on the university. Could you talk a little bit more about those over the last few years?

I think it was around two years ago that they made pretty sweeping changes to what was once really sound tenure protection at the university. It caused a huge backlash among faculty and there has been a huge problem with retention since, as well as rising prices. It has really been pretty much an all-out assault on what once made [the] University of Wisconsin system kind of special.

Yes, I remember when Walker tried to change the Wisconsin Idea. Can you explain to people what that is?

Yes. That was really a sneaky Walker move, where he tried to slide in language changing that the goal of the university wasn't to promote the sifting and winnowing [of] the pursuit of truth, and instead to ... saying that the university's goal is to apply a sound workforce for Wisconsin.

Walker's attacks on the university have gone back to when he was first elected, but also, the university has been the source of a lot of the protests against him, going back to the Teaching Assistants Association ... who started the Wisconsin Uprising back in 2011.


On the one hand, we have something very specific here with Walker's specific motivations toward the university system. On the other hand, we are seeing similar attacks on public universities around the country, and we are seeing this particular obsession with student protest being somehow antithetical to free speech nationally. I wonder if you could talk about where you see these attacks on the university and on free speech in the broader national context.

It is especially annoying that they are just trying to do this in the UW system right now, because just in the recent year they have politically attacked both professors and students. Members of the state legislature have openly attacked professors and students whose expression, whose free speech they have found disagreeable.

For anything like a "free speech" legislation to have any sort of legitimacy to it, the restrictions upon free speech have to necessarily be viewpoint and value-neutral restrictions. That this would be the case in the UW system at the current moment is just completely unrealistic. I think that is what has many students, at least in my circles, very concerned about this: that they will be people who are targeted. Particularly a lot of minority groups at the university, those that are here are really worried about it.

In the moment of Trump, Wisconsin, of course, has been living with Scott Walker for a while now, so you have seen a lot of the things that are now being moved to the national level there.

Right. Just another really bizzarro quintessential timing thing of it is that as we speak, UW Madison is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the student Vietnam protests here on campus. If these policies were around then, those students wouldn't have only been pepper-sprayed, but they also would have been possibly getting suspended or expelled or worse.

Since we are talking about this and the work that people are doing on campus being potentially under threat, talk about what Our Wisconsin Revolution has been doing on campus.

At the moment, there [have] been a lot of op-eds written. We are trying to really just bring awareness that this happened on Friday the 6th [of October]. We also have a petition circulating that everyone is welcome to sign, saying they support the students and their right to freedom of expression and speech, and the language of this legislation is too vague and we believe will be used to target already marginalized students. We are, hopefully, going to build up some student awareness and, hopefully, be able to make something happen when the Board of Regents is actually at the University of Wisconsin Madison in these coming weeks, because they have not banned protests quite yet.

When did Our Wisconsin Revolution get started and when did the campus branch get started?

Our Wisconsin Revolution is fairly new. It is the state affiliate of Our Revolution. It arose in Wisconsin over this past summer, in June. I was able to attend the convention where we elected our board and made plans to get a Dane County and Madison chapter officially affiliated. Being that Our Wisconsin Revolution started in the summer, this is Our Wisconsin Revolution's student chapter's first semester. There has been a lot of energy around it, just because at this point, we have taken the [Bernie] Sanders vision and really tried to apply it to Madison, which has meant opposition to a new jail that the county board has been trying to build, and really building membership and awareness at this point.

Going forward, do you have anything coming up with Our Revolution on or off campus that people should know about?

We don't have a specific event planned at the moment, but the third Thursdays of every month we have a social mixer with the Democratic Socialists of America and that is always a great time. People should come to our general assembly meetings on the fourth Thursday.

How can people keep up with you online?

We have Facebook pages for both the student chapter and the state affiliate and county affiliate. Also, we have a webpage, as well:

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

The following article could only be published thanks to support from our readers. To fund more stories like it, make a donation to Truthout by clicking here!
Categories: Latest News

What Breitbart's Email Leaks Mean for Public Perception of the "Alt-Right"

Truthout - Wed, 10/18/2017 - 21:00

BuzzFeed's leak of Breitbart's emails are not a revelation but confirmation that Milo Yiannopoulos, Steve Bannon and their supporters were not only in cahoots with white supremacists, they were aware of the violence they were stoking. While the leaks have widened the rift that developed between the Breitbart gang and the "alt-right" in the wake of Charlottesville, they likely will not unseat Breitbart from electoral politics without massive public pressure from anti-fascist movements.

Far-right British commentator Milo Yiannopoulos is escorted from Sproul Plaza at the UC Berkley campus after a speech. (Photo: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)   Exposing the wrongdoing of those in power has never been more important. Support Truthout's independent, investigative journalism by making a donation!

The celebrity of Milo Yiannopoulos has always been a balance between career-end charades and headline-grabbing stunts. While tabloids were still fawning over his wedding photos, especially on the race of his new husband, BuzzFeed was preparing a feature that further demolished his defenses against allegations of white nationalism. In the story published on October 5, Joseph Bernstein unveiled what was apparently years of private emails and Breitbart memos that outlined the far-right publication's relationship with open white nationalists, including Yiannopoulos's clear reliance on them. What this revealed was how Yiannopoulos's celebrity became a tool by which Stephen Bannon engaged in an information war to "defend the West."

While the term "alt-right" was roundly used to describe Yiannopoulos as he railed against Black Lives Matter and feminism, it was always a bit misapplied. The "alt-right" has always meant white nationalism, though in a dressed-up form that would rather cite esoteric German philosophers than David Duke. Yiannopoulos, a queer Jew, did not fit that bill, and while he enjoyed denouncing Muslims and immigrants, he did not meet the ideological litmus test that white nationalists like Richard Spencer or Jared Taylor might.

Instead, Yiannopoulos led what is now called the "alt-light," a slightly more moderate sphere of angry far-right populists that have helped to mainstream "alt-right" memes and talking points without committing to their more shocking political fantasies. People like Anne Coulter, Lauren Southern, Gavin McInnes, Rebel Media and, of course, Breitbart, are all figures in this canon, and Yiannopoulos was simply their loudest and most prolific icon. Gaining fame by leading the misogynist troll army during Gamergate, Yiannopoulos was ported over the pond to work at Breitbart as a tech editor, but it was his pithy blogs going after Breitbart's favorite targets that garnered his celebrity. In 2015 and 2016, Yiannopoulos mingled with white nationalism, bringing people like male tribalist Jack Donovan onto his podcast and writing his much-cited outline of the "alt-right" for Breitbart.

What has allowed for Breitbart's and Yiannopoulos's success has always been plausible deniability. Yiannopoulos can say almost the same things as the "alt-right," but then ducks away from accusations since he effectively refused to take the final rhetorical step: He wasn't talking about people of color or women per se, just these particular people. This has been a known strategy for years as Breitbart replaced Fox News as the radical right organ of news. The email leaks show that Breitbart's connections to white supremacists were real.

In email after email, Yiannopoulos's directives came down from Bannon, who excoriated Yiannopoulos anytime he refused to hone in specifically on Muslims and those "we are in an existential war" against. Yiannopoulos, for his part, made friends with the white nationalists early on, especially with Weev, the famous troll known for his vulgar neo-Nazism and work with The Daily Stormer. Yiannopoulos's articles were shaped and edited by Devin Saucier of American Renaissance, the most prominent white nationalist organization in the country that focuses much of its time on trying to prove race differences in intelligence. Other "alt-right" figures did direct edits on stories, and far-right Breitbart investors like Rebekah Mercer of the Mercer Family Foundation filtered stories to Yiannopoulos through Bannon. While Yiannopoulos played the innocent dupe to the racism of the "alt-right," in email after email, according to BuzzFeed News, he not only understood its racism full well, but it appeared as though he and Bannon reveled in it and used Breitbart as a well-coded tool to stoke those racist feelings in readers.

The relationships of tech impresario Peter Thiel and Bannon and the Neoreactionary movement -- specifically race and IQ proponent Curtis Yarvin -- was again made explicit, but this inspired few surprises. Yarvin became famous under the pen name Mencius Moldbug, and wrote a blog outlining his opposition to equality, democracy and social progress. Moldbug's ideas have had major currency in Silicon Valley, and Thiel, as a major right-wing tech figure, was able to shelter himself from direct connections with Yarvin until the report was released.

Most damning of all, however, is likely the clip of Yiannopoulos's April 2016 Texas karaoke event, where "alt-right" leaders threw up "sieg heils," and Richard Spencer laughed in the audience. The private event was not open to the media, and presumably Milo had no intention of revealing his open admiration of the "alt-right" shown at the bar. Mike "Enoch" Peinovich, the host of the white nationalist troll-podcast The Daily Shoah, described on his show his own relationship with Yiannopoulos after the fact, admitting he was also at this karaoke event and that they had exchanged contact information.

What is more shocking, however, is the relationship that Yiannopoulos and Breitbart maintained with journalists at mainstream publications. Mitchell Sunderland at Vice's women's platform Broadly sent one email telling Yiannopoulos to go after the "fat feminist" Lindy West, a woman who has seen some of the most aggressive sexist harassment in the post-Gamergate internet. The undercurrent here is that Yiannopoulos's brand of reactionary abuse was a popular pastime for people in the media, and his antics created more clickbait stories for even leftist publications to lap up.

There have been few believers in the "alt-light" claims of anti-racism, or of Bannon's arms-length relationship with Neoreaction and the "alt-right," and that is the dark spot that BuzzFeed's info dump really elucidates. With such a massive leak as this, with such damning evidence, one could easily expect that the result would be firings (Vice did fire Mitchell Sunderland for his correspondence with Yiannopoulos), denouncements and social exorcisms. What is more shocking, in a sense, is that none of that will result because all of this is simply a confirmation for what has been both publicly known and privately accepted. That Breitbart is a tool for the development of white nationalism, that people like Bannon and Yiannopoulos know full well the type of violence they are stoking, and that backers like the Mercers and Thiel are allying with a revolutionary white supremacist movement is not particularly striking. Instead, we simply have the map laid out, our educated assumptions made transparent.

The recent fragmentation of the "alt-right," which really started with schisms in the days after Trump's victory, hit a fever pitch after Charlottesville. The effect of the social shift and the subsequent online platform denial the "alt-right" faced, as well as the betrayals that Yiannopoulos has brought on the "alt-right," has given him no quarter in the wake of this revelation. Yiannopoulos went as far as to go on social media to declare that it was an "alt-right" plot to reveal this information. "I am told a figure on the Right paid one of Richard Spencer's nutty goons $10,000 for this video," Yiannopoulos wrote on Instagram, with little evidence of this transaction. "I have been and am a steadfast supporter of Jews and Israel. I disavow white nationalism and I disavow racism and I always have." Figures like Paul Joseph Watson of Infowars have picked up on Yiannopoulos's allegations, pushing a conspiracy theory that establishment journalists colluded with white nationalists to bring down Yiannopoulos.

Spencer, for his part, has continued his anti-Yiannopoulos campaign on social media and podcasts, repudiating a figure he once celebrated. Around the troll-sphere of the "alt-right," Yiannopoulos's response to the revelations and his inability to take ownership for his racist protocols has further demonized him. The former alliance between the "alt-right" and the "alt-light" has been delivered a heavy blow, and no amount of revelations of previous collaboration is going to resurrect their Trumpian beast. Instead, this has the ability to permanently sever any future connections, and for "alt-light" figures who attempt to co-opt the energy of white nationalists, it will act as a warning about the potentially public nature of that friendship.

Revelations like this could cause Thiel and the Mercers to try and back away from their public associations with white nationalist people and movements, but if what we already know about them was not enough for them to go dormant, this is likely not dangerous enough either. It is unclear how Breitbart will respond, if the network will use this as an opportunity to clear its ranks, or to simply ignore the allegations and press forward with its mission. The only thing that forces these connections to dissolve is massive public pressure -- the kind that only organized movements with clear goals can grasp. All of these figures have been the target of anti-fascists over the past 18 months, and that is not likely to abate, but it will require larger coalitions of stakeholders to permanently unseat Breitbart's place in the American electorate.

Categories: Latest News

Trump's Travel Ban Suffers Another Defeat as Judges Say Threat of Discrimination "Still Intact"

Truthout - Wed, 10/18/2017 - 21:00

President Trump's latest attempt to bar some citizens of eight Muslim majority countries from entering the US suffers a second defeat, as another federal judge rules that the latest policy is unconstitutional. We speak with Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Guantánamo Prisoners on Hunger Strike Say Guards Threatened to Kill Them by Stopping Force-Feeding

Truthout - Wed, 10/18/2017 - 21:00

Guantánamo Bay detainees who are on hunger strike have accused officials of a sudden change in practice that could result in them starving to death, as doctors threaten to stop force-feeding them and are no longer monitoring their medical condition. We speak with Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve, which represents eight of the 41 Guantánamo detainees. Reprieve is urging supporters to join a solidarity hunger strike with the detainees. Among those participating are British Labour Party MP Tom Watson, Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters, comedian Sara Pascoe, director Mark Rylance and French-born actress Caroline Lagerfelt.

Please check back later for full transcript.


Categories: Latest News

Man From The Past

Truthout - Wed, 10/18/2017 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

Trump's Game Plan: Racism and Violence as Decoys

Truthout - Wed, 10/18/2017 - 21:00
Support from readers keeps Truthout 100 percent independent. If you like what you're reading, make a donation!

Millions of football fans must have felt grateful to President Trump for provoking the entire National Football League into a goal line stand last month. The sight of hundreds of players on the sidelines, arms linked with coaches and owners during the playing of the national anthem, not only soothed fears that a disrupted season lay in the NFL's future, but gave those fans tacit permission to keep on enjoying the games without being too disturbed about brain trauma on the field, collusion in the front office, or demands for racial justice.

Once again, Trump had made it all about Trump, then quickly blitzed on to fresh outrages.

Had anything really happened?


One long-time national sports conscience, Richard Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, declared that Sunday, September 24th, was "the most important sports day since [Muhammad] Ali decided not to fight in Vietnam." From it, he foresaw the possibility of a civic conversation emerging that would create "unity in our communities."

On the other hand, could that Sunday of Accord have actually been no more than a Hail Mary pass designed to briefly shore up a vulnerable sport? Could that show of NFL unity have helped to block growing concerns that, amid a blizzard of negative news and views, pro football was beginning to fade as America's most popular spectator sport?

In other words, could Donald Trump have saved professional football? Give him credit for this: he certainly spun a mild demonstration against racism into a flagrant case of disrespect for the flag, the military, our wars, patriotism, the nation, and above all else, of course, Donald J. Trump. With his usual skill, he then reshaped that sizzling package into yet another set of presidential pep rallies for his own fans, that much-invoked "base." In the process, he also helped highlight the Jock Spring that had stirred last year when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first refused to stand for the anthem. Though it seemed to fade after the initial blast of publicity, it was revitalized last month when the president labeled any football player who knelt or sat or stayed in the locker room during the playing of the pre-game anthem a "son of a bitch," the same term he used last year to describe the killer in the Orlando nightclub massacre.

Trump's slur clearly resonated with the resentment many everyday white male sports fans often seem to have when it comes to bigger, younger, better-paid African-Americans who don't appear grateful enough for the chance to live out their daydreams. Keep in mind that the NFL, like the National Basketball Association, is a predominately black league. Major League Baseball, on the other hand, has a relatively small percentage of African-American players, although many Latinos and Asians. (Only one active baseball player, Oakland's Bruce Maxwell, an African American, has taken a knee.)

The Coming of the Jock Spring

When it comes to racism and professional sports, the arc from Muhammad Ali's refusal to be inducted into the Army on April 28, 1967, to Lapchick's next most important sports day is a distinctly interrupted story. In that long-gone year, the Olympic Project for Human Rights, led by a San Jose State sociology professor, Harry Edwards, staged protests against racism. Among their demands was that Ali, the heavyweight champion, be allowed to fight again, since every American boxing commission had by then refused to license him and his passport had been taken away. Those protests culminated in an enduring image of resistance: African-American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos thrusting black-gloved fists into the air from the medal stand of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

The Empire immediately struck back (as it would do 50 years later to Colin Kaepernick). Smith and Carlos were thrown off the U.S. team and hustled out of Mexico. They spent years as jobless heroes. Ali himself would not be allowed to return to the ring for another three years. The boundaries of the power of athletes to express themselves politically were now set. The O.J. Simpson and Michael Jordan generations of black sports stars would remain determinedly apolitical, concentrated on pleasing the white men who controlled their endorsement contracts. The most revolutionary movement in sports in those years came from women tennis players, led by Billie Jean King, who fought for equal economic rights and an end to the tyranny and corruption of what passed for amateurism (still widely practiced in college sports today).

The Jedi returned in 2016 when, after a week of Black Lives Matter demonstrations and a lone gunman's attack that left five Dallas police officers dead, basketball stars Carmello Anthony, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Paul exhorted their fellow athletes at an ESPN awards gala to speak up, oppose racial profiling, and use their influence to renounce all violence. As James said at the time, "The four of us we cannot ignore the realities of the current state of America. The events of the past week have put a spotlight on the injustice, distrust, and anger that plague so many of us. The system is broken. But the problems are not new, the violence is not new, and the racial divide definitely is not new. But the urgency for change is at an all time high."

It briefly seemed as if a Jock Spring might indeed be stirring and it seemed fitting as well that it would start in basketball, where international stars with guaranteed contracts in a relatively liberal league had some clout. But there would be no meaningful follow-up until, on August 26, 2016, in a more conservative and controlled sport, Kaepernick sat down during the national anthem before a pre-season game. It was one of the most vivid image of American resistance to racism since Smith and Carlos. He was Rosa Parks with a helmet. At some point, someone finally noted the link that connected Kaepernick to Smith and Carlos: Harry Edwards, the now-retired Berkeley sociology professor, was a 49ers team adviser.

As the season progressed, Kaepernick regularly dropped to his right knee because, he said, he refused "to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color." He later referred specifically to the shooting deaths of unarmed black men by white police officers.

Then-candidate Trump's immediate response was: "I think it's a terrible thing, and you know, maybe he should find a country that works better for him. Let him try -- it won't happen."

It took the rest of the season, but another link between 1968 and 2016 became apparent: Kaepernick would be shoved out of the game and left a jobless hero to some (and an ungrateful turncoat to others). By season's end, he had become a free agent and Trump, of course, had become president. In a move that could only please the new president, the NFL owners apparently colluded in informally banning Kaepernick from the game. A healthy, 29-year-old with Super Bowl experience, he hasn't been hired since, not even as a backup quarterback. The rationales have included claims that he's lost his skills or doesn't fit into existing offensive schemes. They ring hollow when you compare his supposedly degraded abilities to those of some of the lesser talents who take the field every week.

Even if there was a billionaire team owner whose politics were sympathetic, it seems clear that Kaepernick was simply not considered worth the trouble in Donald Trump's America. Owners of sports teams are dependent not only on fan support but on media and political complicity to sell tickets and to strong-arm cities into financing their stadiums. Being perceived as soft on "unpatriotic" black athletes could damage their relationships with their own mostly conservative base.

Nevertheless, the blooming of a Jock Spring looked even more likely this season as other athletes stepped up and dropped down. Kaepernick was unsigned but stars like Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, and Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins kept the protest alive. One of Jenkins' teammates, Chris Long, who is white, even stood beside him, a hand supportively on his shoulder. After the game, he told reporters, "I think it's a good time for people that look like me to be here for people that are fighting for equality." 

There even seemed to be a spring awakening in the grandstands and living rooms of America. Some fans questioned the morality of finding pleasure in the deadly head-banging of black guys killing themselves for the entertainment of white guys, even as others began to complain, in a Trumpian fashion, about the intrusion of social issues into what had been considered their sanctuary from real life. There was concern, too, that politics, which they had been told has no place in sports, would upset the personal dynamics within their favorite teams. Coaches have always emphasized the need for "unit cohesion" -- the same catchphrase the military used in the past when it was still trying to keep either blacks, women, or gays out of the line-up.

Trump Takes the Field

And then, of course, President Trump strode onto the field. Not only did he put those uppity black "son of a bitch" players in their place, but he impugned their manhood by saying that there wasn't enough violence in the game. He similarly dissed the owners and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, daring them to fire any player who refused to stand for the anthem and later tried to go after them where it hurts, tweeting, "Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!" (This was, however, a ludicrous claim, since only the NFL's headquarters, a non-profit corporation, qualified for such exemptions and the league had waived that right several years ago for public relations reasons.) 

As a result, pro football's arm-linking response seemed, at the time, like an attempt to redeem itself to its fandom. It would, however, turn out to be a gesture that signified nothing more than a hollow pageant of pragmatic unity. To survive, in other words, the league reacted not with a show of force, but with a photo op that they thought might be reassuring to fans and advertisers alike.

That Sunday of Accord was kicked off by Pakistani-born Shahid Khan of the Jacksonville Jaguars, the league's first non-white majority owner and one of at least six owners who had donated a million dollars or more to Trump's campaign. His team was playing the Baltimore Ravens in London as part of a plan to bolster pro football by globalizing it and it was there, thanks to the time difference, that he became the first owner to stand entwined with his players. 

The NFL is, in fact, moving toward the end of a 10-year collective bargaining agreement with those same players. It ends after the 2020 season, already sure to be a politically charged year. This will be the first agreement since the full impact of the league's betrayal of those same players -- its willingness to ignore the widespread brain injuries the sport causes participants -- became well documented in the groundbreaking reporting of the New York Times's Alan Schwarz and then the book and the film League of Denial.

The latest revelations of the link between playing pro football and brain injuries put the NFL in the same league with those other classic civic criminals, the tobacco companies and the Big Oil promoters of climate change denial, not to mention a sycophantic media that offered years of cover for all the deniers by creating a false balance in its reporting and claiming a lack of definitive scientific evidence.

Still, the NFL's biggest concern is undoubtedly the potential drying up of its player and fan pipelines, which has already begun (and to which the president has been lending a distinctly helping hand when, at least, it comes to his base and the league's fan base). Despite attempts to create safer practice models and tackling techniques for the sport, there has been a distinct drop in youth football participation in recent years as evidence mounts that early play leads to harm.

Prominent players and former players have even declared that they would not allow their sons to play or recommend the sport to other children. As former Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback and Fox NFL Sunday broadcaster Terry Bradshaw put it, "If I had a son today, and I would say this to all our audience and our viewers out there, I would not let him play football." After 20 years at ESPN, former player Ed Cunningham even quit broadcasting because of his concerns about traumatic brain injuries. "I can no longer be in that cheerleader's spot," he said.

The Sundays since that day of linked arms have offered anything but conclusive evidence as to who's really winning the hearts and minds of football fans and Americans more generally, but if a guess had to be made, so far the embattled Donald Trump has proven to be the provisional winner. He's used it to rally his base (and Republicans more generally), while the protests have continued, but at a diminished level, and the owners have begun slipping away from the sidelines and returning to their luxury boxes. Having had their moment of symbolism with their players, they now seem to be preparing for another kind of symbolism entirely. In their fashion, they are reportedly getting ready to lock arms with Donald Trump by threatening either to bench any players who kneel for the anthem or possibly change league rules to make standing mandatory

And yet, as far as we can tell, the fans have not been heeding Trump's directive to "leave the stadium. I guarantee things will stop. Things will stop. Just pick up and leave. Pick up and leave. Not the same game anymore, anyway."

Oh wait, one fan actually did.

On Sunday, October 8th, Vice President Pence walked out of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis after about 20 members of the San Francisco 49ers took a knee during the anthem. Supposedly there for a ceremony honoring retired Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, he had flown in (and would fly out) at taxpayer's expense (chalk up a quick $242,500) and, reportedly at the president's bidding, he was clearly planning to walk out as soon as a knee hit the ground. (A protest was, of course, guaranteed since it was Kaepernick's former team on the field.) The VP was, it seems, running a play for the Coach-in-Chief.

Soon after, in a letter to owners, Commissioner Goodell supported standing for the anthem, while one of the most powerful owners, Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys, threatened to bench any player who did not do so.

The players had yet to come together in any meaningful way either as free men or as mercenary gladiators. A journeyman veteran, DeAngelo Hall of the Washington Redskins, spoke openly about his concerns for personal financial security, while Russell Okun of the Los Angeles Chargers published an open letter calling on the players to address inequality together.

Then, a seeming turnover. Kaepernick filed a grievance against the NFL, charging own collusion against his employment. A few days later, the owners voted, at least for the moment, not to penalize players who refused to stand for the anthem, prompting a protesting tweet -- "Total disrespect for our great country!" -- from Trump.

So even as the Sunday of Accord became a distant dream, the reality of a Jock Spring was still spiraling in the air. Would it lead to a score by progressive players, would it be intercepted by Trump? Would America -- sports fans and a-sportuals alike -- come to understand that the issue was more than a political football? Would they grasp that it was a locker-room lesson in how kneeling for principle could be a man's way of finally standing up?

Categories: Latest News

The Power of Stories: Why We Need More Than Facts to Win

Truthout - Wed, 10/18/2017 - 21:00

In this Progressive Pick excerpt from Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis, George Monbiot examines the power of stories, as what he calls "the means by which we navigate the world." Those who tell the stories wield the power. How do stories undermine facts, evidence, values, beliefs? And how has the story of neoliberalism shaped our present realities? 

Powerful stories like the Narnia series move us to cheer the triumph of values that contradict our own. (Photo: Manuka / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

The idea that human nature is inherently competitive and individualistic isn't just harmful, argues George Monbiot in his new book. It's also contradicted by psychology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology. Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis provides a compelling argument for how we can reorganize our world for the better from the bottom up. Order it today by donating to Truthout!

In this excerpt from Out of the Wreckage, George Monbiot talks about the power of stories. Stories are the tool we use to make sense of the world: We will only be apply to supplant the story of neoliberalism, which has shaped the outlook of so many minds, with a compelling new story. 

You cannot take away someone's story without giving them a new one. It is not enough to challenge an old narrative, however outdated and discredited it may be. Change happens only when you replace it with another. When we develop the right story, and learn how to tell it, it will infect the minds of people across the political spectrum. Those who tell the stories run the world.

The old world, which once looked stable, even immutable, is collapsing. A new era has begun, loaded with hazard if we fail to respond, charged with promise if we seize the moment. Whether the systems that emerge from this rupture are better or worse than the current dispensation depends on our ability to tell a new story, a story that learns from the past, places us in the present and guides the future.

Stories are the means by which we navigate the world. They allow us to interpret its complex and contradictory signals. We all possess a narrative instinct: an innate disposition to listen for an account of who we are and where we stand. In his illuminating book Don't Even Think About It, George Marshall explains that "stories perform a fundamental cognitive function: they are the means by which the Emotional Brain makes sense of the information collected by the Rational Brain. People may hold information in the form of data and figures, but their beliefs about it are held entirely in the form of stories."

When we encounter a complex issue and try to understand it, what we look for is not consistent and reliable facts but a consistent and comprehensible story. When we ask ourselves whether something "makes sense," the "sense" we seek is not rationality, as scientists and philosophers perceive it, but narrative fidelity. Does what we are hearing reflect the way we expect humans and the world to behave? Does it hang together? Does it progress as stories should progress?

Drawing on experimental work, Marshall shows that, even when people have been told something is fictitious, they will cling to it if it makes a good story and they have heard it often enough. Attempts to refute such stories tend only to reinforce them, as the disproof constitutes another iteration of the narrative. When we argue, "It's not true that a shadowy clique of American politicians orchestrated the attack on the World Trade Centre," those who believe the false account hear that "a shadowy clique of American politicians orchestrated the attack on the World Trade Centre." The phrase "It's not true that" carries less weight than the familiar narrative to which it is attached.

A string of facts, however well attested, has no power to correct or dislodge a powerful story. The only response it is likely to provoke is indignation: people often angrily deny facts that clash with the narrative 'truth' established in their minds.

The only thing that can displace a story is a story. Effective stories tend to possess a number of common elements. They are easy to understand. They can be briefly summarised and quickly memorised. They are internally consistent. They concern particular characters or groups. There is a direct connection between cause and effect. They describe progress -- from a beginning through a middle to an end. The end resolves the situation encountered at the beginning, with a conclusion that is positive and inspiring.

Certain stories are repeated across history and through different cultures. For example, the story of the hero setting out on a quest, encountering great hazard (often in the form of a monster), conquering it in the face of overwhelming odds, and gaining prestige, power or insight is common to cultures all over the world, some of which had no possible contact with each other. Ulysses, Beowulf, Sinbad, Sigurd, Cú Chulainn, Arjuna, St George, Lạc Long Quân and Glooskap are all variants of this universal hero. Our minds appear to be attuned not only to stories in general, but to particular stories that follow consistent patterns.

In politics, there is a recurring story that captures our attention. It goes like this:

Disorder afflicts the land, caused by powerful and nefarious forces working against the interests of humanity. The hero -- who might be one person or a group of people -- revolts against this disorder, fights the nefarious forces, overcomes them despite great odds and restores order.

Stories that follow this pattern can be so powerful that they sweep all before them: even our fundamental values. For example, two of the world's best-loved and most abiding narratives -- The Lord of the Rings and the Narnia series -- invoke values that were familiar in the Middle Ages but are generally considered repulsive today. Disorder in these stories is characterised by the usurpation of rightful kings or their rightful heirs; justice and order rely on their restoration. We find ourselves cheering the resumption of autocracy, the destruction of industry and even, in the case of Narnia, the triumph of divine right over secular power.

Truthout Progressive Pick

How can we create a new "politics of belonging" to radically reorganize our world?

Click here now to get the book!

If these stories reflected the values most people profess -- democracy, independence, industrial 'progress' -- the rebels would be the heroes and the hereditary rulers the villains. We overlook the conflict with our own priorities because the stories resonate so powerfully with the narrative structure for which our minds are prepared. Facts, evidence, values, beliefs: stories conquer all. 

Copyright (2017) by George Monbiot. Not to be reprinted without permission of the publisher, Verso Books

Categories: Latest News

Mnuchin Gives Away the Game: "It's Very Hard Not to Give Tax Cuts to the Wealthy"

Truthout - Wed, 10/18/2017 - 21:00

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks to members of the White House press corps during a daily briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House August 25, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

For weeks President Donald Trump and the Republican Party have been peddling the demonstrable lie that their tax proposals are primarily geared toward helping the middle class, not the wealthiest Americans. But in an interview with Politico's Ben White published Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin gave away the game, admitting: "It's very hard not to give tax cuts to the wealthy."

The math, given how much you are collecting, is just hard to do," the treasury secretary added.

But as The Huffington Post's Arthur Delaney notes, the math is not hard at all. In fact, the White House's own tax framework, released last month, had a useful suggestion: add in a higher top marginal rate.

"An additional top rate may apply to the highest-income taxpayers to ensure that the reformed tax code is at least as progressive as the existing tax code and does not shift the tax burden from high-income to lower- and middle-income taxpayers," the framework says.

When asked about Mnuchin's comments during Wednesday's press briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn't deny that the rich would benefit enormously from Trump's tax plan. Instead, she claimed that cutting taxes for the middle class remains "the focus and the priority."

Mnuchin's comments came as the Senate debates a GOP-crafted budget proposal that Republicans need to pass in order to pave the way for a tax plan that non-partisan analyses have shown would almost solely benefit the top one percent, while increasing taxes on some low-income and middle class families.

On social media, critics mocked Mnuchin's claim, suggesting that it exposes the tax "scam" Trump and the GOP are attempting to ram through Congress -- despite the fact that an of Americans disapprove of the plan.

"It's very hard not to, so I guess we'll just have to do it exclusively"

— Fight For 15 (@fightfor15) October 18, 2017

And there you have it:

Steven Mnuchin admits "It's very hard not to give tax cuts to the wealthy."

— Tax March (@taxmarch) October 18, 2017

Guy who wrote Trump's tax plan says that the laws of math basically forced him to give rich people a huge cut

— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) October 18, 2017

Mnuchin says it’s hard to avoid cutting taxes for the very wealthy (such as Trump)

— Citizens for Ethics (@CREWcrew) October 18, 2017 In times of great injustice, independent media is crucial to fighting back against misinformation. Support grassroots journalism: Make a donation to Truthout.
Categories: Latest News

Our Summer of Fire and the Fires to Come

Truthout - Wed, 10/18/2017 - 21:00

A helicopter prepares to drop water on a fire that threatens the Oakmont community along Highway 12 in Santa Rosa on October 13, 2017. Early morning mandatory evacuations happened on Adobe Canyon Road and Calistoga Rd. (Photo: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Out-of-control wildfires have devastated the Western US this year, causing not only immediate deaths and untold property damage, but dangerous levels of smoke pollution and long-term health effects. The impact of wildfires on human health and ecosystems will keep rising, unless serious and emergency measures are taken to counter climate change and its effects.

A helicopter prepares to drop water on a fire that threatens the Oakmont community along Highway 12 in Santa Rosa on October 13, 2017. Early morning mandatory evacuations happened on Adobe Canyon Road and Calistoga Rd. (Photo: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Explosive wildfires have raged in Northern California over the last two weeks. Forty-one people are dead, and at least 6,700 structures have been destroyed, making these the most destructive fires in the state's history. Parts of the city of Santa Rosa have burned to the ground. Extremely hot and dry conditions, continuing impacts of the state's drought, and high winds combined to create fires so fast-moving, many residents were forced to flee for their lives with only minutes notice. Tens of thousands have been forced to evacuate. In the last several days, better weather has been helping firefighters fight the blazes, though many are still continuing. Air quality in the region has been called the worst in recorded history due to wildfire smoke.

The fires in Northern California come after a summer of infernos and smoke spanning the West.

It began in Seattle on August 1, 2017. Coming out of work that day, I looked around to try to fathom why the entire atmosphere was thick with haze. Maybe the city's smog had suddenly become abominably worse for unexplainable reasons? Looking around, I noticed it was smoke that lay everywhere. It filled my throat and lungs. The world seemed suddenly wrong, without sense.

These days, and especially this summer, living on Earth feels like existing in dread of the next environmental apocalypse. That day, it felt like it had arrived.

That night, I heard the news. Smoke from wildfires in British Columbia was blanketing the area.

For the next two weeks, it was hard to take a breath outside. The air was acrid, lung-burning. The blue, fresh summer skies Seattle is known for were extinguished. Being outside felt like walking in a stagnant, dead, smoky bubble. The sun and moon eerily appeared through a deep haze, orange or blood red. It was like living in an alternate universe. The smoke returned throughout August and early September.

The Seattle Times said that the region's "natural air conditioning," marine air blown by winds from the west, had broken down. Air quality levels in August plunged so severely, at times Seattle and Portland had air quality worse than Beijing. Elderly people, children and those with compromised respiratory systems were warned to avoid going outside. The general population was told to avoid strenuous outdoor exercise.

I was happy to get out of town on August 11 to head for the Oregon coast and hiking in the Redwoods in Northern California. I looked forward to being able to breathe fresh air again. But it became clear the smoke went way beyond Washington State. As we drove into Eugene, giant plumes of white smoke billowed out of the Willamette National Forest to the east. Further south, more clouds filled the sky from the North Umpqua complex fire. Driving down Highway 101, we came to Brookings on the Pacific coast at the southern tip of Oregon. Smoke choked the town. A fire up the Chetco River had just "blown up" and was spreading in all directions. A few days later, we heard that people were being evacuated immediately due to the fires' rapid spread, in certain spots all the way down to the ocean.

Arriving in Redwood National Park, we were amazed to see the skies there clouded with smoke. In the late afternoon in the Tall Trees Redwood Grove, rays of sunlight angling through smoke and off the trees turned the grove a beautiful but surreal red. Coming home in late August, Oregon was smothered in smoke far thicker than it had been in Seattle, from the southern border almost to the northern. It was hard to imagine people having to try to live and function every day in this.

Summer of Heat and Western Fire

This summer, Seattle broke records for the driest in recorded history, the most consecutive days without rain -- 55 -- and also tied for the warmest summer on record.

Similar conditions were present throughout the West. High-pressure systems repeatedly set up and refused to budge along the north Pacific coast or slightly onshore, and blocked any developing weather systems from the west. After weeks without rain, forest brush and understory that had grown thick after an unusually wet winter withered and dried to a crisp. It was like jet fuel awaiting a match. It was only a matter of time until lightning strikes from dry storms, as well as humans, set things alight.

Scorched by record temperatures, British Columbia (BC) went up in flames in July. Fires raged all summer and 1.2 million hectares burned -- the equivalent of 4,680 square miles -- an area almost as large as the state of Connecticut. The area burned exceeded the yearly average of area burned in BC from 2006-16 by almost 10 times.

In Oregon this summer, a Rhode Island-sized area went up in flames. The Chetco Bar Fire scorched old-growth redwoods in a protected grove at the northern edge of the Redwoods range, severely burning 25 percent of the trees. Another major fire was one along the Columbia River Gorge in northeast Oregon. Started by fireworks on September 2, the fire was fanned by extreme heat and easterly winds. It exploded. Dozens of hikers were forced to hike for their lives to escape. Embers crossed the Columbia River and set off new fires in Washington.

In late August and September, offshore winds created by high pressure inland pulled in more smoke to the Seattle area, now from Washington's own wildfires. Ash fell from the sky, reminding people of the volcanic explosions from Mt. St. Helens in 1980.

Health Impacts of Wildfire Smoke

The smoke didn't just make life miserable at times this summer for the millions of people throughout the West; it was downright unhealthy.

Joshua Benditt, a pulmonologist with the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, said he was getting many calls from his patients with lung problems due to the wildfire smoke. Benditt said the poor quality of air from the smoke meant, "It's very difficult for patients with asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and even some other kinds of lung diseases. It's quite irritating to them and it can cause coughing and wheezing and actually even respiratory failure."

Bonnie Henry, a deputy provincial health officer in BC, told the Vancouver Sun in August that emergency calls and hospital visits had increased 20 to 50 percent among people with respiratory and other health conditions.

In the inland regions closer to the fires, the air was worse than on the coast. Sarah Coefield, an air quality specialist with the Missoula City-County Health Department, described how desperate the situation was becoming for people in Seeley Lake, Montana where elderly, children and sick people were choking on smoke.

These types of conditions existed to varying degrees for weeks throughout the West. Air quality values ranged from "unhealthy for sensitive groups" to "very unhealthy" and worse. In early September in Spokane, Washington, air quality reached hazardous levels for several days.

satellite image from NASA on September 5 showed smoke being blown across the US by the jet stream. NASA said, "Smoke from wildfires can be very dangerous. A 2017 Georgia Tech study showed the smoke from wildfires spew methanol, benzene, ozone and other noxious chemicals into the atmosphere." This study directly measured the amount of emissions from several Western wildfires of some of these potentially dangerous gases, as well as particulate matter pollution that is a mix of microscopic solids and liquid droplets. The study found that the particulate pollution from wildfires, already known to be a large source of particulate pollution in the West, was actually three times worse than previously thought.

A 2016 study, called a "Critical Review of Health Impacts of Wildfire Smoke Exposure" found that globally, the estimated premature mortality caused by wildfire smoke is 339,000 people yearly. High levels of particulate matter in the air from wildfire smoke have led to increases in deaths in Malaysia, Russia and Australia. The study drew a clear connection between wildfire smoke exposure and increased morbidity for people with asthma, COPD and general respiratory problems.

The Georgia Tech study cites other scientific studies that have linked particulate matter (PM) from wildfires to increased respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. While more research is required to fully resolve the whole picture of health impacts of PM in humans, the health impacts from fire smoke is clearly cause for real concern, when literally millions of people are living for weeks at a time in regions choked with wildfire smoke.

Climate Change and Increasing Forest Fires

Wildfires have been a natural occurrence in the history of forests over many, many millennia. In many ways, fires have played a crucial role in helping regulate and regenerate the health of the forest. Natural variation in weather patterns is one factor in creating conditions for wildfires. But what has been happening over the last several decades is far from normal.

Mike Flannigan, director of the Western Partnership for Wildland Fire Service at the University of Alberta, says the "evidence is becoming more and more overwhelming" of the link between climate change and increasing fires globally. The length of fire seasons worldwide increased by 19 percent from 1978 to 2013, due to longer periods of warm and dry weather in a quarter of the world's forests. While the pattern is not uniform, various parts of the world are seeing clear changes over the last decades, according to Flannigan, including Alaska, Siberia, the boreal forests of Canada and elsewhere.

In the Western US, the length of the wildfire season has increased from five months long in the 1970s, to seven months today with 2015 being the worst wildfire season in the West on record as tracked by the National Interagency Fire Center, with over 10 million acres burned. As of October 15, the amount of land burned in 2017 would rank third highest. According to the EPA, of the 10 years with the largest acreage burned, nine have occurred since 2000.

In the Pacific Northwest as a whole, temperatures have risen 1.5°F since 1920. Extremely warm temperatures and drought mix with historically low amounts of winter snowpack to create conditions setting the table for fire.

The connection of climate change and a warming planet to increasing forest fires isn't just confirmed by observational statistics. Scientific studies have started quantifying the contributions of a warmer planet to increasing fires. A 2016 study in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences demonstrated that over half of the increases in "fuel aridity" (metrics that measure the degree of lack of moisture in fuels) since the 1970s, and a doubling of the amount of forest area burned since 1984 were due to human-caused climate change. A 2017 study in the same journal concluded global warming was responsible for increasing the severity and probability of the hottest monthly and daily events in 80 percent of the globe that they were able to study.

In a sense, the relationship isn't rocket science, but it is basic science. Warming temperatures means warmer air, and warmer air holds more moisture, sucking it out of plants and trees making them drier and more likely to ignite and readily burn. When this happens over whole regions of millions of acres, these conditions predispose regions to burn more readily. When the warmth and dryness lasts for longer periods of time, the time when wildfires happen also lengthens.

There are other ways in which climate change is contributing to increasing fires in the West. Lightning strikes are increased by warmer temperatures. It's estimated that for every degree Celsius of warming, strikes increase by about 12 percent.

Furthermore, bark beetle infestation of forests is spreading northward and to higher elevations throughout the West as the planet warms. As winters become warmer and spring comes earlier, conditions for beetle survival increases. Drought-induced stress severely weakens trees' ability to fend off beetles. Beetles interfere with a tree's nutrient delivery and this can kill trees, providing more raw fuel for fires. The beetle infestation has killed tens of millions of acres of forest in North America, and is the largest known insect infestation in North American history.

Human-caused activity is contributing in other ways to forest changes and fire increases.

Forest and other natural habitat continues to be eaten up by new housing and sprawl, driven by the inability of capitalism to restrict development and protect natural areas. Forest Service policy over many years has been to suppress fires, and this has contributed to a build-up of large amounts of fuel on public lands. As human habitation continues to encroach on forests, more fires are sparked. The US Forest Service is also increasingly pushed to try to fight fires to protect houses and towns, in some cases further adding to build-up of fuel. Many foresters are advocating that more scientific criteria be used to differentiate when and which fires should be fought, and which should be allowed to burn up accumulated fuel and return the forests to a more natural fire cycle.

The 2017 Fires and the Larger Picture of a Changing Climate

The smoke and fires this summer were a wake-up call about how quickly things can change in the natural environment and how large the stakes are. But is this devastating summer just the beginning of much worse things to come? And if this is the harbinger of the future, what will this mean for the health of humans and ecosystems?

This summer has been one of truly devastating "natural" disasters overall. Intriguing and important scientific debates emerged from this hurricane season, including over whether global warming was causing more extreme and long-lasting weather events, such as Hurricane Harvey's stall over Houston that caused record rainfalls.

Jennifer Francis, a research professor at Rutgers University, has been studying the relation between the warming of the Arctic, the loss of sea ice and changes that are being observed in weather patterns in the Northern hemisphere, particularly at certain times of the year.

She has advanced a theory that the warming of the Arctic is causing the jet stream to wobble at certain times, creating big waves that draw warmer air up into the Arctic from the southern latitudes. Francis believes that with these big waves, which have been observed, the jet stream is also weakened in its flow from west to east. The jet stream then becomes more susceptible to any obstacles in its path -- physical ones, such as mountain ranges, but also areas of warm temperature, for example. The weakened, wavy jet stream leads to weather patterns that are more persistent. The main cause of this phenomenon is the way in which global warming is occurring more rapidly in the Arctic, lessening the temperature difference between the Artic, and the mid-latitudes.

These phenomena are also further warming the Arctic and melting more sea ice via a number of feedback loops.

Truthout asked Francis via email if this Arctic warming may also be responsible for hot, dry weather patterns that have occurred more frequently in the West over the last several years in summer, contributing to such massive wildfires.

She replied, "There are several new papers that connect Arctic warming and sea-ice loss in the Pacific sector of the Arctic with a strengthened Pacific ridge in the jet stream (large northward bulge), but the mechanism is not simple."

"It appears that there are two factors that need to happen simultaneously to create the strong, persistent ridge that has been so prevalent in recent years along the western coast of North America. One factor is the natural occurrence of a ridge in this location, owing usually to warmer-than-normal ocean temperatures along the west coast -- e.g., a pattern known as a positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation. If there is also substantial ice loss/warming in the Pacific Arctic sector, that ridge tends to be strengthened, which makes it more persistent. This favors the conditions conducive to wild fires: dry and hot."

This link is alluring, if not yet definitively proven. Truthout also spoke with Nick Bond, research meteorologist with the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean at the University of Washington. He said that the weather pattern we saw on the west coast this summer with the persistent ridge of high pressure was very unusual, but, "There's plenty of internal variability in the system -- I'm kind of reluctant, one particular weird year, to ascribe too much to that, but on the other hand, this weather we're having, is the kind of weather we expect to be more common in future decades ... in the long term maybe this is something we better get used to."

So, whether this summer's pattern of persistent high-pressure ridges and abnormally hot, dry weather is already a result of climate change enhancing natural variation, or if it's a harbinger of what's to come, these are important things to watch. Regardless, it's clear that the West, along with the planet, is warming overall, and that this is contributing to the conditions leading to larger wildfires right now. The impact of increasing wildfires on people's health and ecosystems will keep rising, unless serious and emergency measures are taken to counter climate change and its effects.

Want to see more coverage of the issues that matter? Make a donation to Truthout to ensure that we can publish more original stories like this one.
Categories: Latest News

A Poverty Expert Explains How We Make It a Crime to Be Poor

Truthout - Wed, 10/18/2017 - 21:00
Ready to make a difference? Help Truthout provide a platform for exposing injustice and inspiring action. Click here to make a one-time or monthly donation.

Officially, the United States ended debtors' prisons in 1833. Unofficially, as we saw in the Justice Department's report on racially biased policing in Ferguson, there is a system of fines and fees for minor crimes that often result in jail time for the poor, mostly black citizens who cannot afford to pay them.

To provide more context on the issue, I talked with Peter Edelman, Georgetown University law professor and former staffer for Robert F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, about his new book Not a Crime to be Poor: The Criminalization of Poverty in America.

Rebecca Vallas: So, just to start off, what got you interested in writing this book?

Peter Edelman: I'd been working on poverty issues for long time, and I thought I'd kind of seen everything. But when it came out that Ferguson's budget was based on hauling everybody into court and whacking them with these huge fines and fees, it got me interested. I realized this is really something that people need to know more about than they do.

Part of what you did to research for the book was to speak with an array of lawyers who represent clients facing these problems. (In full disclosure, I'm one of those people you spoke with in my capacity as a recovering legal aid lawyer who used to represent these clients.) Would you mind sharing one of the client stories that came up in your research?

Absolutely. Vera Cheeks, who's a resident of Bainbridge, Georgia, was pulled over and ticketed for rolling through a stop sign. The judge hit her with a $135 fine -- which in this business is a relatively small one -- and ordered her to pay in full immediately. She told him she was unemployed and caring for her terminally ill father and had no money.

The judge said he would give her three months of "probation" to pay up, and he sent to her a room behind the courtroom where Cheeks says, "There was a real big lady, and there were cells on both sides of the room and there was a parade of people paying money to the lady. They were all black. It was like the twilight zone, totally mind-boggling."

The woman said Cheeks now owed $267; the fine, plus $105 for the for-profit probation people, and $27 for the Georgia Victims Emergency Fund. The woman put a paper in front of Cheeks and told her to sign it. Cheeks said she would not. The woman said, "You're refusing to sign the paper? I'm going to tell the judge and put you in jail for five days." Cheeks still refused and finally the woman demanded $50 or else Cheeks would go to jail right then. Cheeks' fiancé, who was at the courthouse, raised the money by pawning her engagement ring and a lawn implement.

She avoided jail, but Cheeks remained at risk of being locked up if she was late with even one payment.

You mentioned that this practice first drew serious national attention after the killing of Michael Brown in 2014, which cast eyes, nationally, on Ferguson. But not only was this not a new phenomenon, it has not been restricted to Ferguson. I personally saw something very similar play out in Philadelphia when I was still working in legal aid. What's the story behind the rise of fines and fees? You've put a face on the issue for us, but what's driving what has really become a national trend?

Well, you could say Grover Norquist. It's the anti-tax rebellion that goes back quite a bit in the past, certainly a couple decades or more. Municipalities just didn't get the money they needed to run their government, so they turned to going after people who were essentially defenseless because there aren't anywhere near the number of lawyers that we need. And then you get added to that the broken windows.

You're referring to broken windows policing.

Yes, absolutely. There was this belief that if we brought people in on junky little stuff, that would clean up the city. The big source of it that they use around the country is driver's license suspensions. In California, for example, 4 million people just a couple years back had lost their licenses. They didn't actually throw them in jails, like they do in many, many other places in the country. But they could take it out of their paycheck or their tax return. And so California was making billions of dollars going after these people.

And they don't take away the driver's license only for something you did when you're driving. They do it for a lot of different things.

People may be most familiar with traffic violations, but your book looks at a whole other range of types of fines and fees that states and localities are now leveeing on people, largely black and brown, largely low-income populations, some of which are particularly shocking. For example, you expose in your book that in 43 states people are actually charged for exercising their right to counsel if they need a public defender.

That shocked me. It was a terrific study done by Joe Shapiro of NPR. It doesn't compute, right? If you're low-income and charged with a crime, you're supposed to get a lawyer. And 43 states are charging money for it.

Well, you're a recovering lawyer, too. How is this not unconstitutional?

Well, it is. But it's got a combination of weasel language in the Supreme Court case, and it's also so prevalent you would need the legislature to fix it and they want the money. And to sue in each instance is just very difficult, so there it is. The judge says, "Looks like you got a nice tattoo on your arm there, so you must have the money to pay for the lawyer or pay for the fine," or, "You've got these fancy shoes and so you're able to pay."

Wrapped up in this is effectively a vicious cycle. The people that you're profiling in this book begin without having actually committed any crime, and it never ends just because they are poor and can't afford to get out from under a debt.

Well, this raises money bail, because it's a major player in all of this. So, as you said, someone who's innocent, but has allegedly done some very small-potato thing. Nonetheless, bail is set at $500 or $1,000, and they don't have it and they can't get it. So how do they get out of jail? They plead guilty even though they're not. Then they get a payment plan. And then they can't pay it.

At that point, when they haven't paid it and they have pleaded guilty, it's a whole new violation. They owe the criminal debt; they didn't pay so they're back in jail again. There's another bail deal. There's more money that they owe. It goes on and on and on.

I think it's helpful sometimes to put concrete examples to "small potatoes offenses." Things like laws against public urination. There is also a different kind of subset of what I think of as the criminalization of survival, where we criminalize the types of behaviors that people need to engage in to scrape by. This is one of the stories I shared with you for your book -- one of my own clients had sold blood platelets to a blood bank to supplement her family's income from food stamps and disability benefits, because it wasn't enough to live on. She ended up being charged with what's known in public assistance jargon as an IPV, an intentional program violation, which can itself bring criminal penalties.

Yes, it's not just the fines and fees and the money bail. There's issues with vagrancy and you can't sleep in a car and you can't sleep standing up and you can't sleep lying down. Instead of having mental health services and housing to help people, they just tell them to get out of town. There's a man in Sacramento who I talk about who had mental health issues. He was arrested 190 times.

190 times. So, we've talked about a lot, but I'm curious what shocked you the most in doing research for this book.

The one that really got me are chronic nuisance ordinances. For example, say a woman calls 911 to get protection from domestic violence. If it happens two or three times, the police have been given the power to say to the landlord, "This woman is a chronic nuisance, and you have to evict her." And it's just totally shocking.

Now the good news is the ACLU in various parts of the country has found or been found by the person who has been hurt in this way, and won lawsuits. In Pennsylvania, both the local town and the whole state changed their laws.

I mean it sounds like common sense that a domestic violence survivor shouldn't be punished for experiencing domestic violence. It is sort of astounding to think that litigation could be necessary to make that the law of the land.

It's stunning.

Your book argues powerfully that we need to be addressing these problems. But we also can't miss the fact that addressing these problems is part of a larger anti-poverty agenda.

That's the last third of the book. It is about seven places that I visited and met the people doing the work. They're organizers and they're people who help families in a variety of ways, whether it's early childhood or mental health support or the Promise Neighborhoods that President Obama started.

If we're serious, we certainly have to have de-carceration. And Lenore Anderson in California with Prop 47, they've done the best job in the country and they're the first ones to tell you that it's not going to work if people get out but they're homeless or they can't find a job. They're going to be back in. So, one way to look at it is it's not going to work if we don't actually attack poverty itself.

There's obviously a lot at stake under the current administration. There is a lot of real fear on the part of communities as well as advocates working on these issues who had been seeing a tremendous amount of bipartisan agreement and momentum up until the election when it came to criminal justice reform, and obviously now there's not a lot of hope on that front at the federal level. But it sounds like you're arguing for there being a lot to be done at the state and local level in the meantime.

The action is heavily, mostly at the state and local level. Some of the things are suing in federal court and when you get up to the Supreme Court if you don't have the five votes then that way of doing it doesn't work. But that's going and meanwhile all of these things that are happening at the local and state level and that's now for example the chief justices and chief judges of all of the state systems as a group are strongly speaking about the fines and fees and not that long ago, ten years or so, they were talking about how "what a nice thing it is that we were getting money." And then somebody said, "Wait a minute, that's not right."

This interview was conducted for Off-Kilter and aired as part of a complete episode on August 13. It was edited for length and clarity.

Categories: Latest News

Insider Threat Program Training and Trump's War on Leaks: A Chilling Combination for Whistleblowers

Truthout - Wed, 10/18/2017 - 21:00
Where do you turn for news and analysis you can rely on? If the answer is Truthout, then please support our mission by making a tax-deductible donation!

The Trump administration has declared a war on media leaks and called for the US federal workforce and contractors to receive "anti-leak" training. The centerpiece of Trump's anti-leak campaign, aside from early morning tweet-storms railing against leakers and media, is the National Insider Threat Taskforce.

The Insider Threat Program is not Trump-era creation. In then-secret testimony to Congress in 2012, Directorate of National Intelligence official Robert Litt touted the original Insider Threat Program as a highlight in administrative efforts to "sanction and deter" leaks. In the past, Insider Threat Program training has improperly included "WANTED"-style images of whistleblowers pictured alongside actual spies and mass murderers.

As recently as last month, DOD has developed training courses, toolkits, templates, posters, and videos, all aimed toward silencing and deterring anyone who would disclose to the press or the public information the government wants kept secret for no legitimate reason and that the public has an interest in knowing. It is not only federal employees who receive these trainings, but tens of thousands of government contractors as well. Companies with any classified access are required to implement an "Insider Threat Program," an insidious presumption that employees cannot be trusted.

Part of the "Unauthorized Disclosure" training includes watching a Fox News clip on the crackdown on leaks and Attorney General Jeff Sessions' statement announcing an increase in criminal leak investigations. A student guide from the Insider Threat Awareness training includes the McCarthyesque request that employees report on each other for "general suspicious behaviors," including "Questionable national loyalty" such as "Displaying questionable loyalty to US government or company" or "Making anti-US comments." Never mind that the only oath government employees take is to the US Constitution, not to any government official or the US government itself and certainly not to a private company.

The many secrecy trainings come with promotional posters with unsophisticated rhyming slogans cringe-worthy to First Amendment advocates and marketing professionals alike, such as "There no delete when you tweet" or "Tweets sink fleets." The poster with the slogan "Every Leak makes us weak" is accompanied by a melting American flag info-graphic. Then there's the most anti-press poster, a mock newspaper website with the slogan "Think before you click," complete with a red, Trumpian-style, all caps "IT'S A CRIME" at the bottom. The messaging is so heavy-handed it would be funny if the consequences weren't the freedoms of speech and the press. Finally, there's the laughably inaccurate and awkward slogan "Free speech doesn't mean careless talk't mean careless talk." Actually, it does. Free speech does not mean screaming "FIRE" in a crowded theater, but there is no Supreme Court ruling holding that "careless speech" is somehow exempt from First Amendment protections, lest our President's Twitter feed be censorable.

There is an "unauthorized disclosures" video training from September 2017 billed as "compliant with White House and Secretary of Defense Memoranda" that condemns leaks, points out punishment for leakers, and warns apocalyptically  that when there are unauthorized leaks, "we all risk losing our way of life."

Another informational video includes a fictionalized news story about Americans dying in a terrorist attack because of a release of classified information. Such a story has never appeared in the actual news media because it has never happened. In Chelsea Manning's criminal case – worth mentioning since her leaks are consistently singled out in the videos – the government was unable to provide a finalized damage assessment, even though the leaks occurred years prior. (Curiously, Edward Snowden's even more-well known leaks are not mentioned by name in the videos.)

The trainings include little or no mention of whistleblowing, except to say that leaking to the media is not whistleblowing, and the First Amendment offers no protection to whistleblowers. This is chilling, but not accurate. The Supreme Court has recognized that the media is a legitimate outlet for whistleblowers. And, information that has been classified to cover up government wrongdoing or prevent embarrassment is not properly classified. In fact, whistleblowers leaking to the media is a time-honored tradition dating back, at least, to Daniel Ellsberg's leaking of the Pentagon Papers.

The Insider Threat Program trainings do not send a simple message against leaking properly classified information, such as nuclear launch codes or covert identities. Rather, the trainings send much more destructive messages against all leaks and speech the government does not like: do not criticize the government or you will be reported as an insider threat and keep all government secrets, even when the government breaks the law. These are messages contrary to a free and open democratic society, especially one where the First Amendment protects freedoms of speech, association, and the press.

The training videos go beyond simply urging employees to keep quiet. Employees are instructed not to access or share information already in the public sphere. Considering that every major newspaper includes almost daily leaks of classified information, such an instruction is impossible to comply with, and will almost certainly be used, as it has in the past, to retaliate against whistleblowers. After all, the biggest leaker of classified information is the US government itself.

Categories: Latest News

Activists in Puerto Rico Want the Jones Act Eliminated -- So Why Are Unions Defending It?

Truthout - Wed, 10/18/2017 - 21:00
The stories at Truthout equip ordinary people with the facts and resources to create extraordinary change. Support this vital work by making a tax-deductible donation now!

In the aftermath of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico, an obscure law governing maritime commerce has grabbed national headlines: The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, known colloquially as the Jones Act. After facing political pressure and at the request of Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, on September 28, President Trump issued a 10-day waiver of the Act to ease shipping regulations on the island. That waiver expired last week.

Many in Puerto Rico, along with members of the Puerto Rican diaspora living on the US mainland, argue that the statute is stifling aid by presenting an unnecessary barrier to the procurement of basic relief supplies. Maritime unions, meanwhile, contend that the measure is essential for protecting seafaring workers.

So what is the Jones Act? What does it do? And what other factors might be getting in the way of supplies reaching Puerto Ricans? 

What the Jones Act Does and Doesn't Do

The Jones Act stipulates that only US-flagged ships can operate between US ports, so any American goods coming into Puerto Rico via US-governed ports have to arrive on US-flagged, US-made ships. This mandate prioritizes the use of American ships and workers, and inhibits foreign shipping companies' access to inter-US shipping routes.

Passed on the heels of World War I, the measure, named for its sponsor, Rep. Wesley Jones (R-Wash.), was intended to ensure that America would thrive in maritime commerce and be full of seafaring men in case they were needed for another war.

The law includes provisions protecting seafarers' rights, requiring ships transporting goods between US ports to abide by the maritime labor laws and environmental standards outlined in the Jones Act.

Foreign-flagged vessels from foreign ports are not prevented from docking in Puerto Rico, only from shuttling goods from the mainland to the island. The law also doesn't mandate that imported goods bound for Puerto Rico pass through a mainland port first.

The Jones Act doesn't apply to goods shipped between the mainland and the US Virgin Islands, but does apply to goods shipped between the mainland and Puerto Rico. By comparison, US-made goods on the Virgin Islands are about half as expensive as they are in Puerto Rico.

The Case Against the Act

Well before Hurricane Maria, the Jones Act was blamed for driving up the cost of living in Puerto Rico, where groceries are as much as 21 percent more expensive than on the mainland. In 2011, the US Transportation Department Maritime Administration found that day-to-day operating costs were 2.6 times higher on US ships compared to international vessels, and that labor costs could be as much as 5 times higher.

On the island and off, a waiver of the Jones Act has been a mainstay of demands for relief and recovery packages, both to ease the flow of goods after the storm and for long-term reconstruction. 

"If Maria is enough to get us out of that, that would be amazing," says Sofía Gallisá Muriente, an artist and organizer from Puerto Rico who was also active in Occupy Sandy before moving back home to San Juan from New York City four years ago. "That's the best thing that could come of this storm, but I don't know if we could pull that off. The most I think we could get would be a waiver for a year."

Among those calling for a permanent lifting of the Jones Act for Puerto Rico is the Climate Justice Alliance, a network of climate justice groups in the United States with ties to several labor unions, but not the National Maritime Union, whose members would be most affected by a permanent lifting of the law. The network held a Day of Action on Wednesday, October 11 to call attention to their list of demands, including full debt relief and a transparent decision-making process around the distribution of aid resources, among other things.

After the Day of Action event in New York, Elizabeth Yeampierre, Executive Director of Uprose, a New York City-based group and member of the Climate Justice Alliance, told In These Times, "To have the waiver because they want to make the sipping industry happy at the expense of the lives of the Puerto Rican people is an international disgrace."

Asked about maritime unions' concerns over lifting the Jones Act, Yeampierre, herself Puerto Rican, says, "It can't just be about their pay and their resources right now, because climate change is coming for all of us. Justice is not one of those things you can parse. When I have a labor dispute it's not about getting justice for my people but no one else."

Why Unions and Shipping Companies Like It

Maritime unions have mounted their defense of the Jones Act on the basis that it protects seafaring workers and well-paid American jobs. "The Jones Act is one way to insure that vessels operating between US ports respect fair labor standards and don't exploit seafarers," Craig Merrilees, Communications Director for the International Longshore & Warehouse Union, told In These Times.

To get around strict labor standards in the United States and elsewhere, ship owners may adopt a practice known as "re-flagging," or registering a vessel in a country -- say Liberia or Panama -- with lax worker protections. Flying under so-called "Flags of Convenience" is a way for maritime operators to exploit workers on their ships, who are especially vulnerable to mistreatment due to their dependence on employers during extended trips at sea.

By preventing this evasion, Merrilees says, "the Jones Act is an important protector of decent working conditions and good-paying jobs for seafarers in the shipping industry. Crews on US flagged ships rarely experience anything like the terrible abuse and exploitation often found on vessels flying a flag of convenience."

The Jones Act has created a somewhat counterintuitive set of political alliances: Shipping companies like it for the access it gives them to US ports and make hayabout its importance to national security, while maritime unions want to defend the workplace protections it provides. At the same time, opponents of the Jones Act make the case that the law unfairly drives up the cost of living in Puerto Rico, which is already higher than on the mainland by virtue of the island being largely dependent on imports. Then there are the politicians such as John McCain and free market think-tanks including the Heritage Foundation, that have lobbied against the bill on anti-regulatory, anti-labor grounds.

The Scale of Disaster

While the politics surrounding the Jones Act remain thorny, several other factors also impede the flow of aid to Puerto Rican residents -- including the Trump Administration itself.

President Trump threatened on Twitter last week to disband federal relief efforts on the island entirely. An official statement later clarified that "successful recoveries do not last forever." Reports in the weeks since the storm have told of shipping containers stranded at ports due to downed logistics networks and government mismanagement, and even goods being confiscated at the San Juan airport after being flown in on commercial planes.

Gallisá Muriente dealt with similar issues after Hurricane Sandy, struggling to procure aid for some of the hardest-hit parts of New York City, albeit on a different scale. "That was a big lesson for me from Sandy: That there's no such thing as a natural disaster," she says. "It's really the human disasters that complicate things -- social conditioning, priorities, bureaucracy. And it doesn't work to go back to normal when that normal was also problematic."

Already, Gallisá Muriente notes, she and others have put some of the lessons learned in Occupy Sandy to work on the ground, while recognizing that there are major differences between conducting grassroots relief efforts in the Big Apple and on a small, austerity-stricken island.

"There are certain general logistical things that we've borrowed from that experience: creating lists of suggested donations, Amazon registries where people can buy specific things that we need," she says. "The governor keeps saying everything is fine and is talking about all the aid coming in, but no one sees it or feels like things are getting any better."

Heriberto Martínez-Otero, who teaches economics at a high school in San Juan and at the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico, told In These Times via Skype that there are still "5 or 6 municipalities that are incommunicado. Most of the municipalities with communications," he adds, "don't have ATMs or open banks. The schools are not open, and the hospitals are without power…except for some areas here in San Juan and some of the privileged suburbs, everything is a complete disaster."

He also notes issues with the sparse relief efforts that are being administered, mainly by the US government. "FEMA, I don't know where they are. But the US military are moving around most parts of the island with big guns," says Martínez-Otero. "These guys think this is a war zone."

What's Next for the Island

Many Puerto Ricans -- while recognizing the role the US military plays in disaster relief -- are weary of having troops on the ground for the long-term. Speaking to me from his classroom in San Juan, Martínez-Otero says, "On the streets here, in front of the school, this is a military state."

"I am against the Jones Act," Martínez-Otero continues, "but I don't know if waiving the Jones Act is the way to solve the current situation we're in." He also mentioned that it was hard to tell whether the 10-day waiver had improved conditions on the island, saying that a year-long waiver would likely be necessary in order to improve Puerto Rico's distribution infrastructure.

Debates around the Jones Act aren't likely to be resolved in the near future, and certainly not before the Senate moves to vote on the short-term, loan-based aid package for Puerto Rico that the House passed on Thursday. What does seem clear is that the overlapping crises on the island aren't likely to end anytime soon -- and US policy is only helping deepen them.

Categories: Latest News


Subscribe to Peace Action of San Mateo County aggregator - Latest News