Latest News

USA: Florida Set To Conduct Its First Execution In A Year And A Half

Commondreams - Mon, 08/21/2017 - 08:59
Amnesty International

Ahead of a planned resumption of executions in Florida on 24 August, 18 months after the last one, Amnesty International is issuing a paper on recent developments relating to the death penalty in the US state.

Death in Florida” outlines the state’s response to the January 2016 US Supreme Court decision that Florida’s capital sentencing law was unconstitutional, and the governor’s reaction to a prosecutor’s subsequent decision to reject the death penalty.

Categories: Latest News

Secret NAFTA Talks Wind Down: People And The Planet Put At Risk

Commondreams - Mon, 08/21/2017 - 08:30
Friends of the Earth

The first round of secret negotiations on a new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in Washington, D.C. was expected to conclude yesterday, Sunday August 20.

This week, Friends of the Earth released a blog entitled: 10 ways that Trump’s new NAFTA threatens people and the planet.

 

 

Bill Waren, Friends of the Earth senior trade analyst, issued the following statement:

Categories: Latest News

Trump's Proposed After-School Cuts Could Lead to More Hungry Kids, Lower Test Scores

Truthout - Mon, 08/21/2017 - 08:16

Greenville, Mississippi—In March, President Trump revealed his "skinny budget," a rough sketch of the nascent administration's fiscal priorities and objectives that included deep cuts to education and nutrition programs. Budget chief Mick Mulvaney defended the move. "[The programs] are supposed to help kids who don't get fed at home so they do better in school," Mulvaney said at a press conference on the day of the announcement. "Guess what? There's no demonstrable evidence they're actually doing that. There's no demonstrable evidence they're actually helping results, helping kids do better in school."

In Greenville, Mississippi, a town on the Blues Highway in the Mississippi Delta where every public school student receives free breakfast and lunch, Joan Rowe, director of the local Boys and Girls Club, heard that comment and immediately thought: "They should come down here."

Rowe and her colleagues across the Delta are watching with keen attention as the federal government aims to slash vital programs and relax school meal standards that have helped combat pervasive community health concerns and poor academic performance in one of the nation's neediest states.

Video by Emrys Eller.

The Trump administration's proposed budget would nix the Greenville afterschool program and impose deep cuts in other areas that impact school meals and nutrition. The USDA, which administers numerous grants and programs that help feed needy children, is facing a budget cut of $4.7 billion, or 21 percent of its discretionary spending, while the Department of Education's budget could fall by more than $9 billion. Even if Trump's budget never passes, the administration has already put its stamp on school meals. Newly installed Department of Agriculture chief, Sonny Perdue, is rolling back school lunch nutrition standards.

The moves befuddle researchers, who cite a growing body of evidence demonstrating that more meals for school children, and specifically more nutritious meals, benefit kids in a myriad of ways, not only in the short term, but throughout their lives. Recent studies indicate the impact of healthier meals is even greater on low-income children.

"I think there is a disconnect between the policy makers and the reality in many places," said Michele Leardo, assistant director of the Institute for Education and Social Policy at New York University. "They haven't experienced what it's like to go home and not get a meal. Some of these students are getting all three meals of the day at school -- free breakfast, free lunch and an afterschool meal. I think they are out of touch with what these kids face, and how vital these programs really are."

Many communities in the Mississippi Delta have better access to casinos, convenience stores and fast food than to grocery stores selling fresh fruits and vegetables. Sherry Jackson, who runs federal programs for the Greenville School District in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, views the proposed cuts with dismay. "[They] make me feel sick to my stomach," she said.

"There is nowhere else for parents to turn; we are the safety net," she added.

In Greenville, the people stitching that net together are loath to imagine what will happen if holes develop.

On a humid Wednesday afternoon in April, children wearing khaki pants and polo shirts color-coded to their grade level trickled into the Boys and Girls Club of Greenville, one of five sites for Greenville's 21st Century Community Learning Centers, an afterschool program. The center faces closure if the Trump budget passes.

Inside, tutor Louise Cox helped a group of 16 elementary and middle school students with their homework and ran them through math and language exercises. In another room, an instructor directed high school students in computer and career placement lessons. A forest green pennant from Delta State University, a school in nearby Cleveland, was tacked to the wall alongside motivational posters, alphabet charts and multiplication tables. Rowe, the director, who was born and raised in Greenville, repeatedly reminds the children how important it is to graduate high school and move on to college, just as she did.

Rowe would also like to offer a lesson to the federal budget experts like Mulvaney. "I'd tell them to come out here and see what the children are faced with," Rowe said "Not everyone is privileged. I remember I walked the kids over to the bank a while back to give them a lesson on banking. We walked in and the kids were amazed by the elevator -- they'd never seen one before."

Mississippi's graduation rates and test scores have lagged behind the national average for years, but recently started to catch up. The four-year graduation rate was up to 82 percent in 2016, an improvement from 74 percent in 2012 and close to the national average of 83 percent. But in Greenville, where about 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, the high school graduation rate is just 62 percent, one of the lowest in the state.

Greenville was once a prosperous and progressive city, but industry, including barge building and factory work, has slowly abandoned the area. Today the population is roughly 32,000, down from a high of 45,000 in 1990. The school district is shrinking with the community, and funding continues to decline. The district, held up as a model of integration when it became the first in the state to desegregate back in the 1960s, has become largely segregated again, with black children in public schools and white children in private ones. Today, 94 percent of Greenville's public school students live in poverty.

"A lot of them are latchkey kids. They eat a lot of fast food and some of their parents don't cook at all," said Patricia Allen, nutrition director for Greenville School District. "It's not like when I was a kid and you were taught how to cook, and maybe had fried chicken once a week as a treat. There is nobody at home for them. Nobody is providing food for them, period. They look forward to coming to school to get that meal. I see a lot of children that I'm sure are not getting the proper nutrition at home."

Good nutrition is vital for kids, who have a high metabolic rate and are growing. The effects of hunger and malnutrition go far beyond a grumbling stomach and daydreams of pepperoni pizza during algebra class, potentially causing lasting physiological damage and reduced brain development. Low levels of iron and long-term food insecurity are linked to cognitive delays. When blood glucose levels are low, adrenalin, cortisol and other hormones are released, leading to feelings of agitation and irritability. When a child is hungry the body prioritizes vital needs, dedicating scarce calories to organ function and growth. Hunger in school children is linked to an inability to focus, lower grades, higher rates of absenteeism, and often leads to grade repetition.

An array of new research has reinforced previous studies showing school meals have a profound impact on students' academic outcomes, attendance, and overall health. Initiatives that help the most needy, either through direct financial means or programs like free school lunch, have benefits that last decades -- boosting income, health and other life outcomes. The federally funded 21st Century Community Learning Centers is one such program, offering academic help and an evening meal to mostly low-income children enrolled in underperforming schools. Under the president's proposed 2018 budget, the program, which currently serves 1.8 million children through a $1.1 billion federal grant, would be eliminated.

Annual reports from the US Department of Education have consistently found 21st Century improves grades, test scores, class participation and student behavior.

"The data and performance indicate that this broad-reaching program touches students' lives in ways that will have far reaching impact," report author Sylvia Lyles, director of the USEDs Office of Academic Improvement, concluded in the 2016 report.

During the 2014-15 school year, approximately half the students who regularly attend the 21st Century program improved their math and English grades. In Mississippi, more than one third of program participants increased their math and reading assessment scores, according to the report.

While the USED study did not compare 21st Century participants to those not enrolled in the program, a 2013 Texas study did. That report found significant benefits, particularly for high school students: After school participation was associated with higher test scores, and led to much higher rates of grade level progression for students in grades nine to 12. Middle school students enrolled in the program missed fewer days of school and had fewer disciplinary incidents.

In Greenville, after the homework session with Cox, the kids slurped up spaghetti and meatballs and a fruit cup around 5:30 p.m. Then they ran outside for recess while they waited for their evening pickup. Rowe and the Greenville Boys and Girls staff feed, tutor and provide recreation for 50 students.

Brenda Birkhead is one parent who leans on Rowe and the 21st Century Program. The single mother of 10-year-old LaNiya Birkhead, a fourth grader at Greenville's Weddington Elementary School, works at a local clothing store.

"The 21st Century program really boosts the children," she said. "I know my daughter is safe. I know when I pick her up she has been fed dinner, she's had some exercise, and her homework is done."

Birkhead makes $8.50 an hour, slightly above the federal hourly minimum wage of $7.25. Mississippi has no state minimum wage. She works more than 30 hours per week, and often has to close the store at 8 p.m. and work weekend shifts.

"Without the Boys and Girls Club and programs like 21st Century, my back would be up against the wall," she said.

Up the road in Cleveland, Mississippi, Shenika Maiden carefully observed the lunch time assembly line at Bell Academy, inspecting for waste and other inefficiencies. The nutrition and food services director for Cleveland School District, Maiden has overseen the recent evolution in the district's school lunches. In single file, children grab their trays, choose between a banana and a fruit cup, and then receive green beans, mashed potatoes with gravy, a whole wheat roll, and hamburger steak.

"Shhhhhh. Listen. You hear that?" she asks. "They're not talking. They're not playing around. That means they're eating."

It's a reassuring sound. Since the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act went into effect in 2012 with new nutrition standards for school meals, Maiden has been working to cut sodium and fried foods, and add whole grains, fruits and vegetables to the lunch trays.

Less than 10 years ago Bell Academy, an elementary school, was failing and facing a state takeover. In 2010, it was completely revamped with a new magnet math, science and health curriculum, a direct response to rising childhood obesity rates. Recently, the school has been getting B's and C's on its state report cards. Principal Sonya Swafford says the magnet program, particularly the health portion, which is backed by a patchwork of federal grants, has brought the school a sense of purpose and community.  "It's given us our own little limelight," she said.

"In general, nutrition in the community is poor. There are high rates of poverty in the Delta, and many of our families receive SNAP benefits," Maiden said, referring to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called food stamps. "It's a big issue. Many of the people who get SNAP buy the cheapest food items, junk food … hot dogs."

In the Mississippi Delta, where many of the communities have little access to affordable, fresh ingredients, the school meal program serves multiple purposes. Children who do not get enough nutrition at home get the food they need to learn and thrive, but the hope is that teaching healthy eating habits will also reverse a troubling trend. Mississippi has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in the country, with almost 40 percent of the state's children considered obese or overweight.

"Change was necessary. Maybe Michelle Obama went a little far with it, and it was a lot at one time, but it was needed." Maiden said, referring to the former first lady's championing of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. "Now we're seeing a big jump in the quality of school meals. These children will be healthier in the future, if we continue the course. If they get used to eating this way at a young age, they'll make that choice on their own when they're older."

The standards required by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act were recently dialed back by new USDA director Sonny Perdue, who referenced the need to add flexibility and reduce food waste.

"This announcement is the result of years of feedback from students, schools, and food service experts about the challenges they are facing in meeting the final regulations for school meals," Perdue stated when he announced the change in May.  "If kids aren't eating the food, and it's ending up in the trash, they aren't getting any nutrition -- thus undermining the intent of the program."

After the implementation of the new rules, some states complained of waste and declining school lunch participation, but those figures have since rebounded. A 2016 Journal of the American Medical Association study assessing the Healthy Hungry-Free Kids Act found the new standards significantly improved meal quality in school cafeterias and had only a negligible impact on participation.

The nation's public schools feed a lot of children -- 30 million -- and companies are willing to meet their needs. "The manufacturers have been great. Schools buy a lot of food, so they'll accommodate us," Maiden said.

Since the school meal standards went into effect, there have been significant increases in the amount of fruits and vegetables children are eating, coupled with an increase in fiber consumption and reductions in sodium and saturated fat intake, the JAMA study found. Another study, showed the percentage of calories from saturated fat in the average lunch fell from 9 percent to 6 percent after the changes.

"There's definitely a lot of variance, but since 2012 the average nutritional floor of school lunches has moved up," said Michael Anderson, an associate professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of a recent study on nutrition in school lunches.

Kids can still find junk food at school, but it comes with more limitations and alternative ingredients. Some schools are installing filtered, cooled water fountains and turning off soda machines until after the school day. Snacks at Bell Academy, available for an extra 50 cents, included whole grain brown rice crispy treats or reduced-fat Doritos. Next year, the district is partnering with Pizza Hut, which is using a new school-approved recipe incorporating low-fat cheese and a whole wheat crust.

Although the new standards have shown results, making nutritious meals that the children will eat, while also staying on budget, remains a challenge. The same study that lauded the lower levels of saturated fat and sodium raised concerns regarding lower amounts of calcium and Vitamin C.

"The hope is kids will take the [health] information home and share it with their families," said Leardoof NYU's Institute for Education and Social Policy. "There are a lot of needy families that aren't exposed to the best options and information for healthy eating. They live near bodegas and fast food restaurants, and don't have easy access in their communities to healthy ingredients."

Five years into the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, research shows kids at schools serving more nutritious meals are doing better academically. Anderson's study found the California schools with healthier school lunches scored, on average, four percent higher on standardized tests. Also, the poorest students saw the most impact, with academic gains 40 percent higher for those who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. The study determined healthier meals cost approximately $80 more per year per student; to achieve similar testing improvements through reducing class sizes by hiring more teachers would cost five times as much.

"As an education policymaker you have multiple levers you can pull to improve performance," Anderson said. "If you're looking for the most return for dollars spent, school meals is a good place to start."

Sherry Jackson, the Greenville director for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers and other federal programs, has already had a glimpse of what would happen under the proposed cuts. During the 2016-17 school year the district lost nearly half its after school sites, representing spots for 250 children, due to a state accounting error that forced Mississippi to severely curtail participation in the program.

"I had parents calling me frantic, in tears," Jackson said. "They had nowhere else to turn, and were very worried about what they would do. I think they felt punched in the gut after seeing their kids thrive in the program."

It is communities like Greenville, with very few local resources to fall back on, that will see the deepest impact from any changes. "If it closes, I don't know what I would do," said Brenda Birkhead, LaNiya's mom. "It would be devastating."

Hear reporter Tovin Lapan talk about this story with the Education Writers Association.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the newsletter.

Categories: Latest News

Will the Nightmare of President Donald Trump Become the Nightmare of President Mike Pence?

Truthout - Mon, 08/21/2017 - 08:00

Vice President Mike Pence arrives at the OSAN Airbase in South Korea, April 16, 2017. (Photo: Jeon Han / Republic of Korea)

Will this time be different? Has Trump finally crossed a line that's the beginning of the unraveling of his presidency?

Last week he threatened nuclear war with North Korea. This week he doubled down on defending white supremacists even as his allies, corporate executives and military and intelligence chiefs, backed away.

Trump keeps spinning out. After a few cities removed monuments of Confederate Civil War heroes, he tweeted Thursday, "The beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!"

The idea of replacing Trump is now edging back into the public's mind. The Washington Post's famed 1970s Watergate scandal reporter, Carl Bernstein, is urging the press to dig into sentiment for replacing Trump inside the GOP.

Petitions are circulating. A national PRRI poll released Thursday found 40 percent favor impeaching Trump. That's 72 percent of Democrats, compared to 58 percent six months ago, and 38 percent of independents, compared to 27 percent in February. Only 7 percent of Republicans, however, want to see him ousted, a figure holding firm from February.

With Congress firmly in GOP hands, the question becomes when would the House, which initiates the impeachment process, realize that it's in the GOP's benefit to do so. Of course, Trump could step down, as unlikely as that sounds. All of this is uncharted territory. But the latest Trump chaos is on par with last fall's grabbing-pussy boasts that at the time prompted some Republicans to consider their options for replacing candidate Trump.

All of these machinations lead to taking a closer look at Vice President Mike Pence, who would become history's latest accidental president -- even if he, too, is under the cloud of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian collusion in the campaign. (In January, Pence told CBS News the campaign had no contacts with Russia, a claim that has been disproven.)

What would Pence bring to the presidency that's not already in Trump's White House, besides self-control and a lack of drama, threats of nuclear war and overt embraces of neo-Nazis and slavery-defenders? The answer appears to be even more doctrinaire right-wing positions than those taken by Trump. Pence would shepherd the agenda repeatedly rubber-stamped by the House and Senate GOP and vetoed by President Obama. As FiveThirtyEight.com noted after his selection, he's the most far-right veep nominee in 40 years.

Pence was a smooth-talking radio host before being elected to the House, where he served in the leadership with current Speaker Paul Ryan. He was elected Indiana governor in 2012, but his backing of a "religious freedom" bill allowing businesses to refuse service to LGBT individuals caused such an economic backlash that his career seemed over until Trump rescued him.

Virtually all of his policy positions are in sync with the GOP's draconian 2016 platform, adopted at the convention soon after he introduced himself as "a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order." While it might be a relief for virtually everyone left of the political center should Trump be fired, Pence actually knows how Washington works and could deeply damage government and many public policies.

A quick survey of Pence's stances is revealing -- beyond his habit of never meeting alone with a woman other than his wife because he believes such interactions are implicitly sexual. As the Washington Post put it, "There's little distance between that perspective and that of the ultra-Orthodox Jews who refuse to sit next to a woman on an airplane, or the fundamentalist Muslims who demand that women be covered head to toe to contain the unstoppable sexual allure that renders men unable to control their urges."

Pence's Record

Here are snapshots from a biography of his career: After he was elected to the House in 2000, he opposed President George W. Bush's expansion of Medicare prescription drug benefits. During his 12 years in Congress, he introduced 90 bills and resolutions. None became law. He opposed Obama's Affordable Care Act, needless to say.

After becoming governor in 2013, he faced a state fiscal crisis. He cut tens of millions from the budget for higher education, social agencies and human services. Although Indiana's economy had the nation's worst job growth, he signed bills blocking local governments from raising the minimum wage or requiring businesses to offer better benefits. He pushed cutting income and business taxes, but would not sign laws reversing other regressive taxes.

Pence was a big booster of privatizing government services, whether new highways or traditional public schools. He repeatedly acted to boost charter schools and vouchers and undermine the teachers' unions, including making the state Board of Education an arm of the executive branch. From there, he clashed with educators over treatment of transgender students.

On energy and the environment, he rolled back energy efficiency standards, denounced and fought with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and declared Indiana was a pro-coal state. On guns, he signed a bill to let people keep guns in their cars parked on school grounds, recruited the NRA to train the Indiana National Guard and pre-empted the city of Gary from suing gun manufacturers whose weapons were sold illegally.

On health, he and the state GOP defunded Planned Parenthood, even with southern Indiana experiencing an HIV epidemic. He opposed needle exchanges for drug addiction treatment. While he did accept Obamacare funds to expand state-run Medicaid, he added bigger co-payments for recipients. 

Pence received national attention after signing a so-called religious freedom bill in 2015, prompting some big state employers -- notably Angie's List -- to cancel a state-based expansion in Indianapolis, costing the state 1,000 jobs. The backlash forced him to rescind parts of the law. On women's health and reproductive rights, Pence has been a fundamentalist, signing into law a bill banning abortion procedures and penalizing providers. A federal court overruled the law, saying it was unconstitutional.

Pence also tried to create a state-run news service, to circumvent local media. He's repeatedly stonewalled reporters seeking public documents. He is known for using private emails to conduct official business -- the same thing he criticized Hillary Clinton for. And he tried but failed to prevent Syrian refugees from resettling in the state. A court stopped him.

In the fall 2016 campaign, Pence said his role model for the vice presidency, if elected, would be Dick Cheney, George W. Bush's powerful surrogate.

"I frankly hold Dick Cheney in really high regard in his role as vice president and as an American," he told ABC-TV. "Vice President Cheney had experience in Congress as I do, and he was very active in working with members of the House and the Senate."

While tens of millions of Americans want the nightmare of Trump to end, a different right-wing takeover looms should Pence inherit the Oval Office. One can ask, as Carl Bernstein has, whether Republicans and careerists in military and intelligence circles have completely lost faith in Trump. It's anybody's guess when congressional Republicans will decide whether they would be better off with a President Pence -- notwithstanding Mueller's probe.

The country's last accidental president was Gerald Ford, who took office after Richard Nixon resigned, and wasn't re-elected in 1976 after issuing a full pardon for Nixon two years before. Ford did not get much done in his time in office. But the mid-1970s was another era.

Should Pence inherit the job, and should the GOP maintain its control in Congress, the far right could have even more power than it does today.

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Categories: Latest News

Doctors Warm to Single-Payer Health Care

Truthout - Mon, 08/21/2017 - 07:51

Single-payer health care is still a controversial idea in the US, but a majority of physicians are moving to support it, a new survey finds. Fifty-six percent of doctors registered either strong support or were somewhat supportive of a single-payer health system, according to the survey by Merritt Hawkins, a physician recruitment firm.

There's a growing sense of inevitability as more doctors assume single-payer is on the horizon. (Photo: megaflopp / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

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Single-payer health care is still a controversial idea in the US, but a majority of physicians are moving to support it, a new survey finds.

Fifty-six percent of doctors registered either strong support or were somewhat supportive of a single-payer health system, according to the survey by Merritt Hawkins, a physician recruitment firm. In its 2008 survey, opinions ran the opposite way -- 58 percent opposed single-payer. What's changed?

Red tape, doctors tell Merritt Hawkins. Phillip Miller, the firm's vice president of communications, said that in the thousands of conversations its employees have with doctors each year, physicians often say they are tired of dealing with billing and paperwork, which takes time away from patients.

"Physicians long for the relative clarity and simplicity of single-payer. In their minds, it would create less distractions, taking care of patients -- not reimbursement," Miller said.

In a single-payer system, a public entity, such as the government, would pay all the medical bills for a certain population, rather than insurance companies doing that work.

A long-term trend away from physicians owning their practices may be another reason that single-payer is winning some over. Last year was the first in which fewer than half of practicing physicians owned their practice -- 47.1 percent -- according to the American Medical Association's surveys in 2012, 2014 and 2016. Many doctors are today employed by hospitals or health care institutions, rather than working for themselves in traditional solo or small-group private practices. Those doctors might be less invested in who pays the invoices, Miller said.

There's also a growing sense of inevitability, Miller said, as more doctors assume single-payer is on the horizon.

"I would say there is a sense of frustration, a sense of maybe resignation that we're moving in that direction, let's go there and get it over with," he said.

Merritt Hawkins emailed its survey Aug. 3 and received responses from 1,003 doctors. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

The Affordable Care Act established the principle that everyone deserves health coverage, said Shawn Martin, senior vice president for advocacy at the American Academy of Family Physicians. Inside the medical profession, the conversation has changed to how best to provide universal coverage, he said.

"That's the debate we're moving into, that's why you're seeing a renewed interest in single-payer," Martin said.

Dr. Steven Schroeder, who chaired a national commission in 2013 that studied how physicians are paid, said the attitude of medical students is also shifting.

Schroeder has taught medicine at the University of California-San Francisco Medical Center since 1971 and has noticed students' increasing support for a single-payer system, an attitude they likely carry into their professional careers.

"Most of the medical students here don't understand why the rest of the country doesn't support it," said Schroeder.

The Merritt Hawkins' findings follow two similar surveys this year.

In February, a LinkedIn survey of 500 doctors found that 48 percent supported a "Medicare for all" type of system, and 32 percent opposed the idea.

The second, released by the Chicago Medical Society in June, reported that 56 percent of doctors in that area picked single-payer as the "best care to the greatest number of people." More than 1,000 doctors were surveyed.

Since June 2016, more than 2,500 doctors have endorsed a proposal published in the American Journal of Public Health calling for a single-payer to replace the Affordable Care Act. The plan was drafted by the Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), which says it represents 21,600 doctors, medical students and health professionals who support single-payer.

Clare Fauke, a communications specialist for the organization, said the group added 1,065 members in the past year and membership is now the highest since PNHP began in 1987.

Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit health newsroom whose stories appear in news outlets nationwide, is an editorially independent part of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Categories: Latest News

Renegotiating NAFTA Will Only Serve the Rich -- Just Like It Always Has

Truthout - Mon, 08/21/2017 - 07:49

Both Donald Trump and his neoliberal opponents seem to agree that NAFTA has been good for Mexicans, but in reality, the pact caused Mexico to lose millions of jobs, especially in the agricultural sector, and resulted in a sharp increase in migration to the US. If NAFTA is renewed, it will continue to benefit transnational corporate moguls rather than workers.

Robert Lighthizer, then-nominee to serve as United States Trade Representative, meets with Senator Charles E. Grassley, January 18, 2017. On August 16, Lighthizer met with his counterparts from Canada and Mexico to open talks on renegotiating NAFTA. (Photo: Wikipedia)

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The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect at midnight on January 1, 1994. That night, thousands of Indigenous Mayans rose up in arms in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, seizing at least five towns and declaring NAFTA a "death certificate" for people like themselves. This was just the beginning of Mexico's troubles in a year that brought countless protests, hotly disputed elections and the assassinations of two of the then-ruling party's leaders. 1994 ended with a sudden devaluation of the peso, the start of an economic collapse from which the country didn't recover fully for years.

NAFTA is back in the news this month: On August 16, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer met with his counterparts from Canada and Mexico, the other two NAFTA nations, to open talks on renegotiating the pact.

While it's true that NAFTA was just one of the many problems Mexico had in the 1990s, we have to wonder, given the renewed focus on the trade accord, why US mainstream media have carried so little discussion of the events that accompanied NAFTA's rollout in Mexico. The reason may be a consensus among opinion makers about NAFTA and similar trade pacts.

It is an article of faith across party lines that these accords are beneficial to our trading partners in the Global South. On the right, we have President Trump, who told CBS during the campaign that "Mexico ... is taking our jobs. I love the Mexican people. They're great people. But the leadership is too smart for our country.... We're being defrauded by all these countries." On the other side, we have commentators who insist that NAFTA's been good for the US economy but still go along with Trump's claim that Mexicans benefit from it. Some even assert that these trade pacts are the only hope for the developing world.

NAFTA's lifting of protective tariffs left Mexico's family farms unable to compete against imports from US-subsidized agribusiness firms.

The numbers tell a different story. In 2009, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace issued a report on Mexico after 15 years of NAFTA. The researchers found some positive results -- including trade growth and an 80 percent productivity increase in the manufacturing sector -- but little improvement in areas such as economic growth, inequality and the disparity between Mexican and US wages. Interestingly, the worst news was about jobs. The export assembly plants known in Mexico as maquiladoras gained some 660,000 jobs, most of them probably manufacturing jobs outsourced from the United States and lost to workers here. But at the same time, NAFTA's lifting of protective tariffs left Mexico's family farms unable to compete against imports from US-subsidized agribusiness firms. The result was the disappearance of 2.3 million jobs in Mexico's agricultural sector -- a net loss of some 1.6 million jobs for Mexicans.

This helps explain a sharp increase in Mexican migration to the United States "from about 350,000 per year before NAFTA to nearly 500,000 per year by the early 2000s," according to the report. Many of these immigrants are the unauthorized residents Trump is now deporting.

It's true that NAFTA produced some winners. Mexican telecommunications mogul Carlos Slim moved into the top 10 on Forbes' list of the world's billionaires, Walmart became Mexico's largest private employer, and US corporations like Archer Daniels Midland, Bartlett Grain and Cargill profited handsomely from our country's agricultural exports to Mexico, worth $17.7 billion in 2016. NAFTA critics suggest that trade accords negotiated behind closed doors by business-oriented experts are bound to produce results like these and that future negotiations should be handled by the people left behind in previous pacts.

In fact, there have been several efforts to bring together civil society groups from Canada, Mexico and the United States to formulate demands for a more equitable accord. The DC-based nonprofit Global Trade Watch has been promoting the idea for years, and a meeting in Mexico City in May this year has set the project in motion. The agenda would include proposals to create or strengthen protections for labor organizing, for small-scale farming, for the environment, and for the rights of women and people of color -- along with a more rational approach to migration than what we have now.

These grassroots efforts are important, although they aren't likely to sway the policy makers in the short term. US negotiator Lighthizer talked tough on August 16, telling the press that "NAFTA has fundamentally failed many, many Americans and needs major improvement," but a letter he sent Congress in May suggests that the Trump administration will actually go ahead with what is pretty much a modernized version of the old NAFTA, its flaws intact.

Still, at the very least, we can use the new attention on trade to start dispelling the fantasy that NAFTA was a giveaway to Mexico. This was never a conflict between the people of the NAFTA nations; the conflict was between the super-rich and all the rest of us, and we're the ones who have been losing.

Categories: Latest News

In Chicago and Iowa, Contrasting Tales of Building a Clean Energy Economy

Truthout - Mon, 08/21/2017 - 06:39

As former industrial communities seek to rebuild their economies around clean energy, two cities in the Midwest provide examples with starkly different outcomes.

Chicago's Southeast Side and Newton, Iowa both used to house thriving industries, keeping residents with a solid toe in the middle class through well-paid and steady factory work. In Chicago it was steel, while Newton boomed under the all-encompassing attentions of the Maytag family and their washing machine factories.

Thirty years later, those core industries have left both areas and a handful of different businesses have taken their place. In Newton, the Maytag sites have been reborn to manufacture wind turbine bodies and blades. But in Chicago, the jutting land formerly housing US Steel remains empty.

While urban Chicago and rural Iowa are different in obvious ways, experts say there are still common factors that influence how a green economic development transition takes place.

Greg Carlock, a climate researcher with the World Resources Institute, says that sustainable development is a wide-ranging and complicated process, but he has seen some essentials emerge. These were detailed in a study for the Brookings Institute in 2011 which found that any green development transitions require long-term commitment to incremental changes, a shared public-private vision, public support, specialization and strategies that take local context into effect.

And to understand how this plays out in real life, says Carlock, look at the local level.

"All changes are local, if you can identify these local models you have created the enabling environment for action," he says.

Who Is Leading the Transition -- and Bringing the Resources?

Where the transitional plan comes from, and who has buy-in, is a significant factor. In Newton, the shock from the unexpected loss of their biggest employer pushed both local officials and community leaders to band together to find a new major employer for the area.

In contrast, the Southeast Side was just one of many areas in Chicago competing for economic development funding -- and the valuable lakefront real estate is also being targeted by multiple parties for development.

US Steel, the company that dominated a 369 acre site called the South Works, closed in 1992. It left an area of polluted and vacant land, one of the last few pieces of Chicago's lakefront that was undeveloped or unclaimed. A series of development proposals has come and gone for the area, including a Solo Cup Factory and high-rise housing, to no avail.

Today there are three primary plans for developing the space. The first is the Green Economic Industrial Corridor plan, a blueprint created by the Southeast Environmental Task Force that re-imagines redevelopment of the site as including environmentally friendly businesses and residential space as well as integrating renewable energy.

The second is called the Chicago 808 Lakeshore Master Plan, a joint venture between a Spanish housing developer and a social media security platform called WELink to create apartments with up to 12,000 homes, and include extensive green spaces and gardens.

And most recently, the city of Chicago reached a deal with a developer to buy the property to convert the site into a mixed-use development which will include housing as well as manufacturing space.

These initiatives, announced over the last several years, however, are mostly stalled, moving slowly or in the very initial stages.

Alberto Rincon, a native of the Southeast Side, briefly a development intern with local alderman Sue Garza's office and currently a graduate student at Harvard University completing a fellowship with the City of Chicago's Mayor's office, says he saw a lack of coordination, coherence and concreteness in these efforts that kept them from moving forward.

The stalling is also an example of the ways in which poorer neighborhoods of color, and particularly those further away from the city center, see less investment. As the Southeast Side, which is more than 70 percent Latino and majority working class, has been struggling to find a developer for the area, complicated projects with more city backing, like the development of an elevated walking trail on the wealthier and whiter Northwest Side, have moved forward.

"People don't really know a lot about what is going on around here," says Rincon. Unlike initiatives in other areas that have had direct mayoral backing, the Southeast Side has been working with numerous local partners but is rarely a pet project of the mayor's office. "It's important to collaborate because it allows communities to tap into the resources and skill-sets needed to see a project through," says Rincon.

Carlock says that a disconnect between citizens and government is common, and unfortunate. "If the needs of the people in the area can't be conveyed up through the political apparatus, then the incentives aren't aligned and the will won't be there," he says.

In Newton, Maytag announced in 2007 that it would be selling out to Whirlpool and closing the doors of its factories, which at their peak employed one in every five people in the town of 15,000 people. The leadership of the town -- both then-mayor Chaz Allen and the Newton Development Corporation, a business group -- saw the need for an immediate solution.

With Iowa already a leader in wind energy, the city decided to court two companies -- TPI Composites, which makes wind turbine blades, and Trinity Structural Towers. Among the incentives for the companies, which eventually settled in Newton, were Maytag's existing infrastructure, a workforce familiar with manufacturing, the city's willingness to help redevelop the land for TPI Composites, and the availability of state-level funds to offer training programs.

"We had the workforce and we had the access to capital," said Frank Liebl, executive director at the Newton Development Corporation, "and it gave us confidence that this was a good place to locate."

Carlock says having a clear economic argument for a certain type of energy or industry is also often helpful when localities are considering large investments.

"When it makes economic sense, it aligns with values because it supports people," says Carlock. "Everyone is motivated by positive economic outcomes, particularly when there is good policy alignment and market incentives."

In Iowa, wind energy was the obvious answer. The state creates a larger share of its electricity from wind energy than any other in the country, and its wind energy infrastructure was rapidly growing. The state also offered tax incentives for areas that were interested in transitioning to green energy. Newton was also connected to rail lines that could carry components to other markets.

"It just happened that wind energy was taking off at the time, and we were in the right place," says Liebl. "We want to create a new workforce, and let these youngsters know there is a career in manufacturing."

Looking Ahead

Green development in a larger city can be more complicated. In Chicago, clean energy manufacturing competes with other needs, such as those for tourist areas, nature reclamation and expanding affordable housing in an already densely populated area.

That said, Carlock says, there is "a clear global trend about where it is in the interests of global and national government to go in sustainability."

A May 2017 report called "Sizing Up Our Region's Green Economy," from the University of Illinois at Chicago, found that the clean economy in the Chicago region was growing faster than other sectors, and that there were clear specialties that included energy services, lighting, and air-water purification.

On the Southeast side, access to the Calumet River for bringing materials in and out of the area, as well as a population trained to work in manufacturing settings, could make it an area particularly good for green energy manufacturing, says Rincon.

On the former US Steel site, Rincon says he would like to see wind or solar manufacturing, which could be helped by the state's recent passage of the Future Energy Jobs Act, which promises support for bringing clean energy jobs to low-income communities.

The recently elected alderman of the 10th ward, Sue Garza, knows well the need for a livelihood for the residents of the area -- her father was Ed Sadlowski, legendary union activist and former director of the United Steelworkers of America. Garza, before becoming alderman, was a former public school counselor and union activist.

"Traditionally the 10th ward has always been an industrial corridor, everyone comes to bring dirty industry and landfills," she says. "But we want no more landfills, no more toxic waste. We want something that will revitalize the whole Southeast side of the city."

This story was produced as part of the Social Justice News Nexus fellowship at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. It was also supported by the Fund for Environmental Journalism.

Categories: Latest News

Dick Gregory in His Own Words: Remembering the Pioneering Comedian and Civil Rights Activist

Truthout - Sun, 08/20/2017 - 21:00

In a special broadcast today, we remember legendary comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory, who passed away on Saturday in Washington, DC at the age of 84. Gregory became one of the most popular comedians in the country, paving the way for generations of African-American comedians. On Sunday Chris Rock wrote on Instagram, "We lost a king. They'll never be another. Read his books. Look him up you won't be disappointed. Unfortunately the America that produced Dick Gregory still exists." Dick Gregory was the first African-American comedian to sit on the couch of The Tonight Show, then hosted by Jack Parr. As his popularity grew, so did his activism. In 1967, Dick Gregory ran for mayor of Chicago against the infamous Richard Daley. He was a close friend of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and in 1968 he ran for president against Richard Nixon. Dr. Greg Carr, chair of Afro-American Studies at Howard University and a friend of Gregory, described him as a perpetual student. "His intellectual capacity was honed to precision with a lifetime of deep study," Carr told Diverse Magazine. We feature Dick Gregory in his own words in our 2002 interview with the comedian in our old firehouse studio. We first interviewed Gregory just months after Democracy Now! went on television. In a special broadcast today, we remember legendary comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory, who passed away on Saturday in Washington, DC at the age of 84. Gregory became one of the most popular comedians in the country, paving the way for generations of African-American comedians. On Sunday Chris Rock wrote on Instagram, "We lost a king. They'll never be another. Read his books. Look him up you won't be disappointed. Unfortunately the America that produced Dick Gregory still exists." Dick Gregory was the first African-American comedian to sit on the couch of The Tonight Show, then hosted by Jack Parr. As his popularity grew, so did his activism. In 1967, Dick Gregory ran for mayor of Chicago against the infamous Richard Daley. He was a close friend of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and in 1968 he ran for president against Richard Nixon. Dr. Greg Carr, chair of Afro-American Studies at Howard University and a friend of Gregory, described him as a perpetual student. "His intellectual capacity was honed to precision with a lifetime of deep study," Carr told Diverse Magazine. We feature Dick Gregory in his own words in our 2002 interview with the comedian in our old firehouse studio. We first interviewed Gregory just months after Democracy Now! went on television.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, a special broadcast. We remember the pioneering comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory. He died on Saturday in Washington, DC, at the age of 84. In the early 1960's Dick Gregory became one of the most popular comedians in the country and paved the way for generations of African-American comedians from Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor to Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle. On Sunday, Chris rock wrote on Instagram, "We lost a king. There will never be another. Read his books, look him up. You won't be disappointed. Unfortunately, the America that produced Dick Gregory still exists," Chris Rock wrote. Dick Gregory was the first African-American comedian to sit on the couch of "The Tonight Show" then hosted by Jack Parr. But as his popularity grew, so did his activism. He was jailed and beaten by Birmingham police for parading without a permit in 1963. He took a bullet in the knee while trying to calm a crowd during the Watts riots in 1965. That same year he spoke at one of the first major teach-ins on the Vietnam War at University of California, Berkeley.

DICK GREGORY: As far as war, as far as the way that radical group will say, oh they just holding this meeting because they want to duck the draft. They will always think of little petty things to say. But I tell you one thing, I'm not against armies as long as this the army that's going to come in after a tornado and help clean up. I'm not against the Army if the type of Army that is going to go around the world and distribute food to everyone. But, I'd love to ask the boys in Washington, DC how a Negro and standing up and say, he's non violent, and white America loves that and going to send me over to kill somebody? No, nonviolence to me means not that I'm not supposed to hit American white man, nonviolence mean to me that death might put me on its payroll, but I'll never put death on my payroll.

AMY GOODMAN: Two years later in 1967, Dick Gregory ran for mayor of Chicago against the infamous Richard Daley. He was a close friend of Martin Luther King, Jr., and in 1968 he ran for president against Richard Nixon.

DICK GREGORY: I had already announced 18 months ago that I was a presidential candidate as a write-in because I feel that the two-party system is obsolete. The two-party system is so corrupt and immoral that it cannot solve the problems confronting the masses of the people in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Dick Gregory, by his account, pulled an astonishing 1.5 million votes, but the official tally put him at 47,000 votes. And that was as a write-in candidate. During the campaign, Dick Gregory was arrested by U.S. Treasury agents for printing and distributing fake American currency with his picture on the bills as campaign literature. He also became well-known for his hunger strikes for justice. In 1967, he weighed more than 280 pounds and smoke and drank heavily. Then he began a public fast, starting Thanksgiving Day, to protest the war in Vietnam. 40 days later, he broke his fast with a hearty glass of fruit juice. He weighed 97 pounds. In the summer of 1968, he fasted for 45 days as a show of solidarity with Native Americans. The following summer, he did another 45 days of fast in protest of de facto segregation in the Chicago public schools. In 1970, Gregory went 81 days to bring attention to the narcotics problem in America. Beginning in 1971, he went nearly three years without solid food, again, to protest the war. During that stretch, he ran 900 miles from Chicago to Washington, DC During the Iran hostage crisis, Dick Gregory traveled to Tehran in an effort to free the hostages and he traveled to the north of Ireland to advise hunger-striking IRA prisoners. In his campaign against hunger, he traveled to Ethiopia more than 10 times. More recently, his face appeared in newspapers across the country for his community action to -- approach to investigate allegations behind the CIA's connection with drugs in the African American community. He camped out in dealer-ridden public parks and rallied community leaders to shut down head shops. He protested at CIA headquarters and was arrested. Throughout his life, Dick Gregory has been a target of FBI and police surveillance. And he was virtually banned from the entertainment arena for his political activism. When we come back from break, we we'll hear from Dick Gregory in his own words. Again, Dick Gregory died at the age of 84 in Washington, DC Stay with us.

(Music Break)

AMY GOODMAN: "Imagine" by John Lennon, partly inspired by Dick Gregory. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman. As we continue our special remembrance of the life of the legendary comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory. He died Saturday at the age of 84 in Washington, DC. I spoke to Dick Gregory many times. We're going to go back, though, first to 2002 when we were in our firehouse studio's in downtown Manhattan.

DICK GREGORY: When you think about what on happened September 11 of last year, the number one problem confronting America, there is never another act of terrorism if this country stays as frightened as it is, cannot survive. I mean, I never understood what Roosevelt meant when he said, "nothing to fear but fear itself." I been married 43 years and the biggest problem i have with my wife, literally when I first got married, is scared. She could can't handle debt. "When we going to pay Sears and Roebuck? You act like we got some money. We don't have no money. And when I get me some money, Sears and Roebuck now my first priority" Well, look, Sears knew I wasn't gonna pay for that stuff when I got it. On the back of the application they said who's going to pay for this? I said, "your mama." About two weeks later I walk in the house and she's like, losing her -- "they did it. They did it." I asked her what's wrong. "They did it. They did it. Here it is final notice. Final notice." I looked at it. Final notice. Hm. Thank God we won't be hearing from them no more. You don't have to worry. Listen, I have a brother that's so worried, he called me the other day, he said, "they about to repossess my car. What must I do?" Don't park in front of the house. Just simple. Don't worry. And for those of you out there, those book collectors, look, I don't know how many of you aware of the fact that 60% of those bill collectors that call you, they are prison inmates. I mean, I had a triple serial killer call me the other day to embarrass me because I'm late paying Neiman Marcus. I said, "punk, you come get the money. You leave the jail and come get the money." And then another thing you have to stop doing, stop having your children lie to the bill collectors. You go to the phone, "tell them I'm not here." How you going to tell a child to lie and then tell them one day "never lie to me"? You go to the phone, "Dick Greg?" "Yeah, this is Dick." They don't know what to do. You see, they've been trained that you going to say you're not there. And when you say you there, they run back to the manual. "What do you say when they say they there?" He comes back, "this is not you." I said, "boy, how old are you?" "22 years old." "Let me tell you something, I've been owing this company this money for 38 years. What makes you think you're going to collect it in your lifetime?" And then when they can't intimidate you, then they bring the high echelon people; Phd's, psychologists, psychiatrists and the call goes like this "hi, there, guy. When can we expect a payment?" "Well, I'm not in control of your expectations. Matter of fact you can expect a payment all the time." And so, when you stop letting fear interrupt -- I mean, fear, fear. If you look at NBC, CBS, ABC and the black community, I mean, black folks have looked at the news -- and I know black folks that haven't even got nothing, got locks on their door. I mean, how you going to something from -- I got a cousin in Kansas City, Missouri, he had 27 locks on the door and haven't got nothing in house. I said, "boy, if somebody broke in here, they would leave something." And the house he live in is so small, he stuck the key in the door one day and stabbed 12 people. They was in the backyard. So, when you stop and think about -- I mean, just think about this for a minute. I keep asking the black community, what do you mean by black on black crime? And that's what I tell white folks, you got to listen to black folks because sometimes they be saying stuff that sound good, but they be talking about you all. For instance, black on black crime. Ask anybody and they say, we tired of black folk killing black folk. Now they didn't say they was tired of killing. They said they were not tired of black folks killing black folks. Then who be left? I mean, it's a simple matter. If you go to China today, who do you think is killing Chinese in China? If you go to Italy tomorrow, who do you think is killing Italians in Italy? You kill where you live. And if 98% of all white folks that was murdered in America last year was murdered by white folks. If they're not talking about white on white crime. Why we going to talk about black on black crime? Like I said, you kill where you live. And to all you black folks out there that's worried about black on black crime, join the NAACP, the Urban League, PUSH, SCLC. Get out here with us and work to integrate this country, and I guarantee you, if I'm living in a white suburban neighborhood and somebody -- my old lady make me mad enough to want to shoot somebody, I'm not going to jump in my car and drive all the way back to the ghetto and shoot you. Trust me. I mean, like I say, you kill where you live. But, look at these stats; 98% of all homicides in America is caused by friends or relatives. And 96% of all homicides in America is caused from arguments, not breaking and entering. So, we don't need more locks on our doors, we need locks on our attitude.

So, when you look at fear -- and I understand that because at the height of the civil rights movement when I would go south, I mean, I was frightened. Thank God I went anyway. And at that time I did not understand that fear and God do not occupy the same space. And because of the non-fear that the king and that nonviolent movement had, I was able to lose mine. And so, when you stop and think, I'm 70 years old. When I was the youngster, we celebrated Negro history week. Now we celebrate Black Month. Now, tell me that's not progress. Because when you know they getting ready to give us a month, and be that month with all them days missing. I mean, I did not expect a 31 day'er, but I was like wiped out when they laid February on us. 'Cause most blacks that I know, not only do we not like February, we don't even understand it. I mean, what's a groundhog? I mean, February 2 of this year, I was in Saint Louis. The white dude said, "Brother Greg, today is Groundhog Day. What do you think'll happen if the groundhog see it's shadow?" So I said, "man, back up. I don't play that ground---" And he got real hostile, "what do you mean you don't play groundhog? You anti-American? Anti-social?" I said, "I didn't know you was going to feel that way. You feel that way about it, ask me again, I'll play it." He said, "today is Groundhog Day. What do you think will happen today if the groundhog sees his shadow, boy?" I said, "six more weeks of winter, sir. But, since we going to play it, let's keep playing. Suppose that groundhog come out today and don't see his shadow, but see five black dudes? Do you know what that means?" He got nervous. "No, no, no, what does it mean?" "It means six more weeks of basketball, chump." And then we moved from February 2 to February 14. Which is not just Valentine's Day, but saint -- saint. I mean, that is the only day on the calendar that is called "saint."

Categories: Latest News

The Philippine Labor Movement Is Beginning to Turn Against Authoritarian Rule

Truthout - Sun, 08/20/2017 - 21:00

The people of Manila have always struggled to survive day to day, but now they're cheating death every night. The vices and bandits that usually roam the streets are being eclipsed by a crueler menace: the foot soldiers of President Rodrigo Duterte's authoritarian regime.

Last week, Duterte brought another summer nightmare to the region, with 32 "drug personalities" slaughtered in 67 police operations, deployed in a series of raids on the provincial outskirts of the city. The massacre capped a year of thousands of killings in a hyper-militarized drug war, which seems to be growing bolder following Duterte's recent expansion of military rule. 

The formal imposition of martial law has shown that much of the president's working-class base remains loyal. Banking on promises of stability and development, many are still lured by the political deal he proudly campaigned on -- trading democracy for "law and order" -- even as his administration robs them of both. His brazen populism and incendiary rhetoric is now undermining the labor movement that helped bring him to power, as the government continues to fail to protect workers from exploitation.

But dissent is brewing among some allies on the left, who have supported him since his days as a renegade mayor of Davao. Late last month, the left-wing Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) Labor Center set up a street encampment to protest martial law and demand labor reforms.

"Poverty, hunger and oppression among workers have worsened under Duterte's continued promotion of cheap, contractual and repressed labor," the group declared in its July 24 manifesto, denouncing the president's economic policy as "subservient to the neoliberal dictates of the US and China."

Breaking from labor's general tolerance of Duterte's hardline tactics, the group contended that martial law was "merely being used to curtail civil liberties and suppress workers' and people's legitimate demands and struggles." At the same time, the military crackdown on a rebellion on Mindanao island, Duterte's home region and long a site of communal conflict, "has served as a threat to other workers asserting their demands for regular jobs and living wages," they write.

The chaos that Duterte generates is providing justification for bludgeoning the insurgency and tightening his grip on the urban core. Capitalizing on a strongman persona, his scorched-earth policing agenda has led to mass imprisonment and extrajudicial slaughter with virtually no due process, according to international human rights authorities.

But disillusionment with Duterte's image as a "voice of the people" is spreading among the rank-and-file. Old labor alliances have bristled at the Labor Ministry's ongoing failure to address systematic abuses of worker rights, neglect of longstanding union demands for stronger regulation of subcontracting and refusal to implement meaningful land reform. With an estimated 24 million irregular contract workers nationwide, girded by a highly unequal tiered wage structure, unemployment and social disenfranchisement fester amid state oppression and neoliberal free markets.

The parallels between Duterte's reign of terror and Trumpism go beyond the optics of nationalist bravado and vulgar soundbites. Both figures have mastered the art of manipulating media and social anxieties to distract the public from the root causes of social dysfunction.

In reality, political insurrection from militants on the country's marginalized outskirts, along with the war on drugs, both reflect the abysmal social inequality and deprivation that his regime has inherited and perpetuated. The chief victims of Duterte's drug wars, after all, are the jobless, disenfranchised youth who have been trapped for generations in a maelstrom of corruption and exploitation. Yet mass incarceration, extrajudicial killings and rampant police-led brutality continue in a crackdown that rights advocates have condemned as a "war on the poor."

Amnesty International observed in February that police-led and vigilante street violence "have overwhelmingly hit the urban poor. And the police and paid killers have built an economy off extrajudicial executions. Witnesses and family members repeatedly told us how the police stole money and other valuables from their homes, and wedding rings off the fingers of the deceased."

The police and vigilante aggression unleashed by Duterte's anti-crime campaigns, now steeled by martial law in Mindanao, has provoked tense backlash from faith groups and human rights advocates who fear a return to the dictatorship days under Marcos. An opposition prosecutor has even tried to get Duterte charged at The Hague, apparently with little impact on domestic politics. But Duterte's grip on civil society will only be broken when he loses the faith of his working-class followers, the vast majority of whom support his drug war policies, although most express concern about extrajudicial murder impacting them or someone they know.

Nonetheless, militant workers might be crystallizing a grassroots opposition.

Following the protest camp action in late July, KMU Chair Elmer Labog stated via email that the campaign was one of several mass uprisings across the country that month, largely driven by frustration with dismal wages, the exploitation of precarious subcontracted workers and pervasive state violence under martial law.

Labog, nonetheless, acknowledges the challenges of organizing under authoritarianism, arguing: "Once again these are dangerous times for organizers and mass leaders, but we had survived the worst attacks under Marcosian rule. We have learned a lot from our experiences during those dark days under martial law." While some "yellow unions" are still standing by Duterte, Labog notes, "They would eventually be isolated by supporting anti-people and anti-worker policies of the US-Duterte regime."

Partido Manggagawa, a labor-left opposition party, expressed solidarity with KMU's protest camp, but also pointed out that KMU remains somewhat compromised -- indirectly tied to the regime through key cabinet posts held by party affiliates "who are serving in Duterte's cabinet have not resigned, so there is an ambivalence."

Partido Manggagawa, meanwhile, has joined a national federation of leftist labor groups, Nagkaisa, to sign a collective opposition statement to Duterte's oppressive policies. The coalition linked the fate of working people to the need to disinvest in violent and repressive institutions, and to focus instead on social remedies that actually raise the quality of life, rather than fuel more bloodshed. At the heart of labor's demands are issues of basic welfare: fair taxation of the rich, stable family-supporting jobs and rehabilitation for youth and communities trapped in the drug crisis.

The group cautioned, "It will be very unproductive [for Duterte] to spend his remaining years in office for this costly war. War is both destruction and political distraction. It neither creates nor equally redistributes social wealth that is now concentrated in the hands of oligarchs."

The statement also denounced regime's militarization of society when there was "a better war to wage and win against contractualization, low wages and high prices of basic goods and services. If you want peace, Mr. President, build social justice and economic inclusion first."

Echoing a long legacy of oppressive administrations, Duterte has built power by aggravating social divisions. Finding common ground among all the communities under his grip, however, can sow real populism -- if a critical mass can rise again against authoritarian rule.

Categories: Latest News

Social Security: Still the Most Efficient Way to Provide Retirement Income

Truthout - Sun, 08/20/2017 - 21:00

The program has stood the test of time well. (Photo: eric1513 / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Last week marked the 82nd anniversary of Franklin Roosevelt's signing the bill that created Social Security. The program has stood the test of time well.

It accounts for more than half of the income for 60 percent of senior households and more than 90 percent for almost one third. It has reduced poverty rates among the elderly from more than one-third to roughly the same as the rest of the adult population. In addition, it provides disability insurance, as well as life insurance for family members, for almost the entire working-age population.

This is a pretty good track record. This is the reason the program is hugely popular and efforts at privatization, like President George W. Bush's 2005 effort, have all gone down in defeat. It's hard to beat Social Security.

A big part of the benefit of Social Security is that it is very efficient. The administrative costs of the retirement portion of the program are just 0.4 percent of what is paid out in benefits each year. By comparison, the costs of even relatively well-run privatized systems, like those in Chile or the United Kingdom, are 10-15 percent of benefits. That difference would amount to $80 billion a year (close to $1 trillion over a 10-year budget horizon) being paid out to the financial industry instead of to retirees.

This was a huge hurdle for President Bush to overcome with his privatization plan. His main route was to invent stories about the much higher returns that workers would be able to earn with the privatized accounts he promised them.

But this story of better returns turned out to be based on phony numbers. Essentially, his crew was extrapolating stock returns from a period when the economy was growing fast and price-to-earnings ratios in the stock market were much lower. Their claims about future returns could not be reconciled with the Social Security trustees growth projections that provided the basis for the debate.

To make this point, we invented the "No Economist Left Behind" test where we challenged supporters of privatization to write down numbers for capital gains and dividend yields that added to the stock returns assumed by the Bush administration. This amounted to writing down two numbers that added to 7 percent (the annual real return they assumed for stocks), a task which should not be too difficult for someone with a Ph.D. in economics.

It turned out the privatizers were not up to the challenge. If they picked a high number for real stock returns (say 5 percent), they would soon have price-to-earnings ratios well over a hundred to one. No economist wanted to be associated with this prediction.

The alternative was to assume a high dividend yield. This quickly had companies paying out more than all of their profits in dividends or share buybacks. This meant they wouldn't even be able to invest enough to maintain their capital stock, also an unlikely scenario.

The moral of the story is that there is no free lunch in financial markets. That was true back in 2005 and is probably even truer today. Price- to-earnings ratios are even higher than in 2005, and profits are an unusually large share of national income, meaning that they are likely to grow at a slower pace than the economy as a whole in future years. With real estate also at unusually high prices, it is virtually guaranteed that returns to all forms of financial capital will be considerably lower in future years than in the past.

In this story, the best way to generate wealth for future retirees is to minimize the money that is wasted in fees for the financial industry. This is the route being followed by the states of Illinois, California and Oregon, all of which have passed legislation that allows workers in the private sector to invest with their public employee retirement funds. Several other states are close behind in this process.

While these plans keep a strict separation of the funds, they allow workers throughout the state to invest their money by taking advantage of the structure already in place for public employees. The savings on administrative expenses compared to existing IRAs or 401(k)s can easily be on the order of 1-2 percentage points annually. This difference could translate into almost $30,000 in additional savings for someone putting aside $2,000 a year for 30 years, a difference of close to 30 percent.

In short, insofar as we want to supplement the income provided by Social Security, we should look to the program as a model. Keep it simple and keep the costs low. If people want to speculate in financial markets they are welcome to do so, but retirement policy means simple and cheap, and if that reduces profits for the financial industry, that's good too.

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Categories: Latest News

Why the Democratic Party Can't Save Us From Trump's Authoritarianism

Truthout - Sun, 08/20/2017 - 21:00

Sen. Tammy Baldwin speaks alongside fellow Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Sen. Joe Donnelly during an event to unveil "A Better Deal on Trade and Jobs," in front of the US Capitol on August 2, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

Resistance to Trump's authoritarianism will not come from a two-party system that has been shaped by neoliberalism and the power of the financial elite. Despite its rebranding efforts, the Democratic Party is far from embracing the anti-capitalist vision of radical change needed to make democratic socialism into a real alternative in the United States.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin speaks alongside fellow Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Sen. Joe Donnelly during an event to unveil "A Better Deal on Trade and Jobs," in front of the US Capitol on August 2, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

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There is a certain duplicity in the Democratic Party's attempts to remake itself as the enemy of the corporate establishment and a leader in a movement to resist Trump and his mode of authoritarianism.

Democrats, such as Ted Lieu, Maxine Waters and Elizabeth Warren, represent one minority faction of the party that rails against Trump's racism and authoritarianism while less liberal types who actually control the party, such as Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, claim that they have heard the cry of angry workers and are in the forefront of developing an opposition party that will reverse many of the policies that benefited the financial elite. Both views are part of the Democratic Party's attempt to rebrand itself. 

The Democrats' new populist platform, called "A Better Deal: Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Wages" has echoes of FDR's New Deal, but it says little about developing both a radical democratic vision and economic and social policies that would allow the Democratic Party to speak more for the poor, people of color and young people than for the corporate and financial elite that run the military-industrial-entertainment complex. Their anti-Trump rhetoric rings hollow.

For Democratic Party leaders, the rebranding of the party rests on the assumption that resistance to Trump merely entails embracing the needs of those who are the economic losers of neoliberalism and globalization. What they forget is that authoritarianism thrives on more than economic discontent, as the recent white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, made clear. Authoritarianism also thrives on racism, xenophobia, exclusion, expulsion and the deeming of certain subgroups as "disposable" -- a script that the "new" Democratic Party has little to say about.

David Broder has recently argued that being anti-Trump is not a sufficient political position because doing so inures people to a myriad of neoliberal policies that have impoverished the working class, destroyed the welfare state, waged foreign wars and a war on public goods, polluted the environment, created massive inequities and expanded the reach of the punishing and mass incarceration state. Even though these neoliberal policies were produced by both Republicans and liberal Democrats, this message appears to have been taken up, at least partly, by the Democrats in a focused attempt to rebrand themselves as the guardians of working class interests.

For too many members of the Democratic Party, Trump is the eccentric clown who unexpectedly stepped into history by finding the right note in rousing an army of "deplorables" willing to invest in his toxic script of hatred, demonization and exclusion. Of course, as Anthony DiMaggio, Thomas Frank, Michelle Alexander, Naomi Klein, Paul Street and others have pointed out, this is a false yet comforting narrative for a liberal elite whose moralism is as suffocating as is their belief in centrist politics. Neoliberal policies, especially under Clinton and Obama, created the conditions for Trump to actually come to power in the first place.

Trump's presidency represents not merely the triumph of authoritarianism but also the tragedy of a neoliberal capitalism that benefited investment bankers, Wall Street, lawyers, hedge fund managers and other members of the financial elite who promoted free trade, financial deregulation, cutthroat competition and commercialization as the highest measure of individual and market freedom. Trump is not simply the result of a surprising voter turnout by an angry, disgruntled working class (along with large segments of the white suburban middle class), he is also the endpoint of a brutal economic and political system that celebrated the market as the template for governing society while normalizing a narrative of greed, self-interest and corporate power. Trump is the mirror reflection of the development of a form of illiberal democracy and authoritarianism that mixes neoliberal economic policies, anti-immigrant bigotry, the stifling of free speech, hyper-nationalism and a politics of disposability and exclusion.

A History of Betrayal by Both Political Parties

Getting in bed with Wall Street has also been a favorite pastime of the Democratic Party.

The tyranny of the current moment bespeaks a long history of betrayal by a financial and political class that inhabits both major parties. It is no secret that the Republican Party has been laying the groundwork for an American-style authoritarianism since the 1970s by aggressively pushing for massive tax cuts for the rich, privatizing public goods, promoting a culture of fear, crushing trade unions, outsourcing public services and eliminating restrictions designed to protect workers, women and the environment. But they have not been the only party reproducing the dictates of neoliberalism. Getting in bed with Wall Street has also been a favorite pastime of the Democratic Party.

It was the Democratic Party, especially under President Clinton, that prepared the groundwork for the financial crisis of 2007 by loosening corporate and banking regulations while at the same time slashing welfare provisions and creating the conditions for the intensification of the mass incarceration state. The Clinton administration did more than court Wall Street, it played a decisive role in expanding the neoliberal gains that took place three decades before he was elected. Nancy Fraser insightfully sums this up in her contribution to The Great Regression anthology:

Neoliberalism developed in the United States roughly over the last three decades and was ratified with Bill Clinton's election in 1992.... Turning the US economy over to Goldman Sachs, it deregulated the banking system and negotiated the free-trade agreements that accelerated deindustrialization.... Continued by his successors, including Barack Obama, Clinton's policies degraded the living conditions of all working people, but especially those employed in industrial production. In short, Clintonism bears a heavy share of responsibility for the weakening of unions, the decline of real wages, the increasing precarity of work, and the rise of the 'two-earner family' in place of the defunct family wage.

The Obama administration continued this abandonment of democratic values by bailing out the bankers and selling out millions of people who lost their homes while at the same time aggressively prosecuting whistleblowers. It was the Obama administration that added a kill list to its foreign policy and matched it domestically with educational policies that collapsed education into vocational training and undermined it as a moral and democratizing public good. Obama mixed neoliberalism's claim to unbridled economic and political power with an educational reform program that undermined the social imagination and the critical capacities that made democracy possible. Promoting charter schools and mind-numbing accountability schemes, Obama and the Democratic Party paved the way for the appointment of the hapless reactionary billionaire Betsy DeVos as Trump's Secretary of Education. And it was the Obama administration that enlarged the surveillance state while allowing CIA operatives who tortured and maimed people in the name of American exceptionalism and militarism to go free. In short, the flirtation of neoliberalism with the forces of illiberal democracy was transformed into a courtship during the Clinton and Obama administrations and until death do us part under Trump.

The growing disregard for public goods, such as schools and health care, the weakening of union power, the erosion of citizenship to an act of consumption, the emptying out of political participation, and the widening social and economic inequality are not only the product of a form of ideological extremism and market fundamentalism embraced by Republicans. The Democratic Party also has a long legacy of incorporating the malicious policies of neoliberalism in their party platforms in order to curry favor with the rich and powerful. Neoliberalism stands for the death of democracy, and the established political parties have functioned as its accomplice. Both political parties, to different degrees, have imposed massive misery and suffering on the American people and condemned many to what David Graeber has described in his book The Democracy Project as "an apparatus of hopelessness, designed to squelch any sense of an alternative future." While Trump and the Republican Party leadership display no shame over their strong embrace of neoliberalism, the allegedly reform-minded Democratic Party covers up its complicity with Wall Street and uses their alleged opposition to Trump to erase their criminogenic history with casino capitalism. With Republican majorities, mainstream Democrats share an unwillingness to detach themselves from an ideology that challenges the substance of a viable democracy and the public spheres and formative cultures that make it possible.

Democratic Party Remains Complicit in Neoliberal and Authoritarian Politics

Chris Hedges has laid bare both the complicity of the Democratic Party in neoliberal and authoritarian politics as well as the hypocrisy behind its claim to be the only political alternative to challenge Trump's illiberalism. He is worth quoting at length:

The liberal elites, who bear significant responsibility for the death of our democracy, now hold themselves up as the saviors of the republic. They have embarked, despite their own corruption and their complicity in neoliberalism and the crimes of empire, on a self-righteous moral crusade to topple Donald Trump. It is quite a show.... Where was this moral outrage when our privacy was taken from us by the security and surveillance state, the criminals on Wall Street were bailed out, we were stripped of our civil liberties and 2.3 million men and women were packed into our prisons, most of them poor people of color? Why did they not thunder with indignation as money replaced the vote and elected officials and corporate lobbyists instituted our system of legalized bribery? Where were the impassioned critiques of the absurd idea of allowing a nation to be governed by the dictates of corporations, banks and hedge fund managers? Why did they cater to the foibles and utterings of fellow elites, all the while blacklisting critics of the corporate state and ignoring the misery of the poor and the working class? Where was their moral righteousness when the United States committed war crimes in the Middle East and our   militarized police carried out murderous rampages?

According to Katie Sanders, writing in PunditFact, under the Obama presidency, the Democrats "lost 11 governorships, 13 U.S. Senate seats, 69 House seats, and 913 state legislative seats and 30 state legislative chambers." And the losses and humiliations got worse in 2016 elections. It is no secret that the Democratic Party is a political formation of diminished power and hopes. Yet, in the face of Trump's authoritarianism, it has attempted to reinvent itself as the party of reform by updating its worn out economic policies and ideological scripts. As proof of its reincarnation, it has proposed a platform titled "A Better Deal," signaling a populist turn in economic policy. A number of its economic reforms would certainly help benefit the poor and underprivileged. These include proposed increases of the minimum wage to $15, tax credits to encourage job training and hiring, regulations to lower drug costs, stronger anti-trust laws and a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. The platform, however, does not support universal health care, and it says nothing about providing free higher education, reducing military spending or reversing the huge growth in inequality.

As Anthony DiMaggio points out, the plan "doesn't even reach a Bernie Sanders level of liberalism, and it is a far cry from the kind of progressive populist policies introduced in FDR's New Deal and Johnson's Great Society/War on Poverty." Eric Cheyfitz adds to this argument by insisting that the plan does nothing to challenge the rapacious system of unfettered capitalism the Democrats and Republicans have supported since the 1970s. Democrats are completely unrepentant about having supported the deregulation of capital and thus ushered in a new form of US authoritarianism. Moreover, any reform policy worth its name would directly address income inequality and the power of the military-industrial complex, while fighting for single-payer health care and a redistribution of wealth and power. There will have to be a massive refiguring of power and redistribution of wealth to address the health care crisis, poverty, climate change, inadequacies in education and the plague of mass incarceration -- problems not addressed in the Better Deal. It is not unreasonable to assume that such vexing challenges cannot be addressed within a two-party system that supports the foundational elements of predatory capitalism.

In spite of the horrendous neoliberal ideology and reactionary policies driving the Democratic Party, various Democrats and progressives cannot bring themselves to denounce either capitalism as the bane of democracy nor its suffocating hold on its reform efforts. They appear thunderstruck when asked to denounce a corrupt two-party system and develop a social movement and political apparatus that supports democratic socialism.

For instance, unrepentant centrist liberals, such as Mark Penn and Andrew Stein, have castigated progressives within the party while unapologetically embracing neoliberalism as a reform strategy. They believe that the Democratic Party has lost its base because it rushed to defend "identity politics" and leftist ideas and that workers felt abandoned by the party's "shift away from moderate positions on trade and immigration, from backing police and tough anti-crime measures." Instead, they claim that the Democratic Party needs "to reject socialist ideas and adopt an agenda of renewed growth, greater protection for American workers ... return to fiscal responsibility, and give up on ... defending sanctuary cities."

This sounds like a script written by a Trump policy advisor. It gets worse. Others such as Leonard Steinhorn have argued that the real challenge facing the Democratic Party is not to change their policies but their brand and messaging techniques. This argument suggests that the Democrats lost their base because they failed to win the messaging battle rather than the loss being due to moving to the right and aligning themselves with corporate and moneyed interests.

Suffering from an acute loss of historical memory, Jonathan Chait argues that the Democratic Party never embraced the policies of neoliberalism and has in its recent incarnations actually moved to the left, upholding the principles of the New Deal and Great Society. As Leah Hunt-Hendrix observes

One need not be anti-capitalist to understand that the Democratic [Party] ... allowed for policies that deregulated the finance sector (under President Bill Clinton), allowed for the privatization of many public goods (including the weakening of the public education system through the promotion of charter schools) and bailed out Wall Street banks without taking measures to truly address the needs of struggling working Americans.

Chait seems to have overlooked the fact that Trump and Sanders have proved conclusively that the working class no longer belongs to the Democratic Party or that the Democratic Party under Clinton and Obama became the vanguard of neoliberalism. He goes even further, arguing implausibly that neoliberalism is simply an epithet used by the left to discredit liberals and progressive Democrats. Chait appears oblivious to the transformation of the Democratic Party into an adjunct of the rich and corporate elite.

Is Chait unaware of Clinton's elimination of the Glass-Steagall Act, his gutting of the welfare system and love affair with Wall Street, among his many missteps? How did he miss Obama's bailout of Goldman-Sachs, the abandonment of education as a public good, his attack on whistleblowers, or the Democrats' assault on organized labor via NAFTA? Was he unware that, in a White House interview given to Noticias Univision 23, Obama admitted that his "policies are so mainstream that if I had set the same policies that I had back in the 1980s, I would be considered a moderate Republican?"

In the end, Chait is most concerned about what he calls an attempt on the part of the left to engage in the trick of bracketing "the center-left with the right as 'neoliberal' and force progressives to choose between that and socialism." He goes on to say that "The 'neoliberal' accusation is a synecdoche for the American left's renewed offensive against the center-left and a touchstone in the struggle to define progressivism after Barack Obama [and] is an attempt to win an argument with an epithet." Because of his fear of democratic socialism, Chait is like many other centrists in the Democratic Party who are oblivious to the damaging effects of the scorched-earth neoliberal polices adopted under the Clinton and Obama administrations.

Other progressive spokespersons, such as John Nichols and Leah Hunt-Hendrix, and groups, such as Our Revolution and the Incorruptibles, want to rebuild the Democratic Party from the base up by running candidates with progressive values "for local offices: in state houses, city councils, planning commissions, select boards and more." The emphasis here would be for activists to revitalize and take over the Democratic Party by turning it to the left so that it will stand up for the poor and underprivileged.

Tom Gallagher adds to this reform strategy by arguing that Bernie Sanders should join the Democratic Party -- forgetting that when he supported Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, he presented himself as a defacto member of the party in all but name. 

Many of the strategies proposed to move the Democratic Party away from its history of centrism and the violence of neoliberalism are noble: If they were enacted at the level of policies and power relations, they would certainly make life easier for the poor, vulnerable and excluded. Progressives are right to be motivated and inspired by Sanders's courage and policies. Sanders's campaign against a rigged economy that redistributed wealth and income upward on a massive scale to the rich and corporate robber barons, coupled with his critique of the fixed political system that protected neoliberalism, provided a new language that had the potential to be visionary. But there is a difference between calling for reform and offering a new and compelling vision with an emphasis on a radical transformation of the political and economic systems.

At the same time, calls for a new vision and supporting values for radical democratic change do not mean abandoning attempts at reforming the Democratic Party as much as viewing such attempts as part of a broader strategy designed to make immediate progressive gains on a number of fronts. Most importantly, such a strategy moves beyond reform by pushing the party to its ideological and political limits so as to make visible the endpoint of liberal reform. At stake here is the assumption that such a strategy will make clear that the Democratic Party is incapable of being transformed radically and as such should not be expected to be on the forefront of radical democratic change.

Political and ideological centrism is endemic to the Democratic Party: It has never called for restructuring a system that is corrupt to the core. As a result, in the words of Nancy Fraser, the antidote to authoritarianism "is a left project that redirects the rage and the pain of the dispossessed towards a deep societal restructuring and a democratic political 'revolution'." The power of a left-progressive presence in the United States will, in part, depend on developing a comprehensive and accessible narrative that is able, as Nancy Fraser observes, to "articulate the legitimate grievances of Trump supporters with a fulsome critique of financialization on the one hand, and with an anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-hierarchical vision of emancipation on the other." The left needs a populism with a social conscience, one that allows young people, workers, the middle class, and others to see how their futures might develop in a way that speaks to their needs and a more just and equitable life, one in which the utopian possibilities of a radical democracy appear possible.

Looking Beyond the Democratic Party

A new vision for change cannot be built on the legacy of the Democratic Party. What is needed is a concerted attempt to figure out what democratic socialism will mean and look like in the 21st century. This suggests rethinking the meaning of politics, one that can rekindle the social imagination. Central to such a struggle is the role education must play in creating the formative culture capable of creating critical and engaged citizens. In this case, politics moves beyond ephemeral protests and recalibrates itself to create the public spheres that enable progressives to think about what long term movements, organizations and institutions can be aligned to create new political formations willing to confront neoliberal capitalism and other forms of oppression, not simply as symptoms of a distorted democracy but as part of a more radical project unwilling to compromise on identifying root causes.

Michelle Alexander is right in warning us that it would be a tragedy to waste the growing resistance against Trump "by settling for any Democrat the next time around." I would similarly argue that we should not settle for a choice between good or bad Democrats. We must instead struggle for a radical restructuring of society, one that gives meaning to a substantive democracy. Resistance cannot be either defensive or ephemeral, reduced to either a narrow criticism of Trump's policies or to short-lived expressions of protests. As Michael Lerner has pointed out, protests are moments, and however pedagogically and politically valuable, do not constitute a movement. As Zygmunt Bauman and Leonidas Donskis have suggested in their book Liquid Evil, protests function as "an explosion of political subjectivity" and generally tell us what people are against but not what they want. Coupled with a new vision, moral language and democratic values, the left and other progressives need a platform for thinking beyond neoliberal capitalism.

As David Harvey observes, the problems Americans face are too intractable and extensive to resolve without a strong anti-capitalist movement. This will only take place if progressives create a broad-based social movement that aligns struggles at the local, state and national level with democratic movements at the global level. The peripheral demands of single-issue movements cannot be abandoned, but they must translate into wider opportunities for social change. There should be no contradiction between the call for educational reform, women's rights and ecological change and what Katrina Forrester calls an alternative economic and political vision for America. At the same time, it is a mistake for progressives to look at society only in terms of economic structures and issues. A mass-based movement to challenge neoliberalism and authoritarianism cannot be constructed unless it also commits to struggle against the many forms of oppression extending from sexism and racism to xenophobia and transphobia. Only a movement that unifies these diverse struggles will lead us toward a radical democracy.

Politics becomes radical when it translates private troubles into broader systemic issues and challenges the commanding institutional and educational structures of neoliberalism. To be effective, it must do so in a language that speaks to people's needs, enabling them to both identify and invest in narratives in which they can recognize themselves and the conditions that produce the suffering they experience. For this reason, the call for institutional change is inextricably connected to the politics of social transformation. Such transformation must propel us toward an international movement to build a society that embraces the beauty of universal emancipation and promise of a radical democracy. At a time in history when the stakes for democracy are so threatened and life on the planet itself so imperiled, collective action is the only way out of the age of illiberal democracy. It is time to go for broke. 

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Troubled Waters: Tennessee Families Stand Up for a Clean Environment

Truthout - Sat, 08/19/2017 - 21:00

Sterling and Stray, a now abandoned coal mine in Tennessee, is seen on May 18, 2017. (Photo: Valerie Vozza for Equal Voice News)

Clairfield, Tennessee -- On the northern slope of Cooper Ridge --  a long, low-slung rise in Tennessee's Cumberland Mountains --  sits the 127-year-old Hatfield Cemetery, a well-maintained strip of flower-adorned plots where gravestones older than a century sit next to still-fresh graves.

Bright pink ribbons hang in the tree branches surrounding the cemetery, marking 100 feet from the burial grounds. Beyond them is planned one of the largest surface coal mines in Tennessee's history. The mine will soon surround the cemetery. On an afternoon in May, a swath of clear-cut logging was visible through the trees, and heavy machinery could be heard over the sound of chirping birds. 

The Cooper Ridge mine will span a total of roughly 1,400 acres of land, both above and below ground, stretching from the southern tip of the ridge where it will encircle Hatfield Cemetery to the northern tip, where it will sit right above the Clairfield Elementary School, which serves 92 students.

The massive surface mine went through most of the permitting process under former President Barack Obama's administration, and would likely have moved forward with much the same design no matter the result of the recent of Election 2016.

But environmental advocates fear that weakened protections under President Donald Trump could aggravate the mine's impact on local residents.

They point to legislation Trump signed in February rolling back the Stream Protection Rule, a regulation that had increased water testing and protection measures, such as "hydrologic balance" as the Sierra Club points out, near surface mines.

Some locals fear the damage to their drinking water --  not to mention the mountains they call home --  could be irreversible.

Around the country, safe drinking water has soared as a topic of concern for families and environmental justice advocates, after dangerously high levels of lead in the drinking water of Flint, Michigan prompted a federal emergency last year. The Standing Rock protests last year also drew worldwide attention to the issue of clean water, which has surfaced in smaller communities, such as Tornillo, Texas.

More than 4 million Americans --  many of them in rural areas -- live in places where dangerous contaminants in drinking waters exceed legal limits, according to a new database from the Environmental Working Group.

In Claiborne County, where Cooper Ridge is located, and in the surrounding counties rural counties nearly everyone gets their drinking water from wells.

The water table in the mountains is complex and unpredictable, and the heavy metals and waste exposed by surface mining can potentially affect drinking water miles away.

Children are especially at risk when it comes to the effects of heavy metal contamination of drinking water, with the toxic byproducts of coal mining frequently including lead, mercury and arsenic.

Long-term exposure to these toxins can stunt neurological development and damage vital organs, and some heavy metals can even cause cancer.

"Most of the mines around here are back in the hills, back in the hollers, and this one is going to be right in your face," said April Jarocki, a mother of five who has lived in this Tennessee community for nine years.

"The mine is literally hundreds of feet above an elementary," said local resident DJ Coker, who, along with Jarocki, is co-coordinator of the Citizen's Water Monitoring Project, a local initiative that recruits volunteers to test the streams and ponds that dapple the area's mountains.

The project catalogs the existing effects of acid mine runoff from decades of the industry. It also helps serve as an early warning system for damage to the watershed from new mines.

"We don't have much here, so we have to protect what we have and care for what we have, and that's what bonds us together," said Coker, who grew up in the area, left for college, and then returned abruptly before completing his studies to help care for his mother, who was seriously injured in a car crash.

"We care for other people, we care for everything," he said. "The environment gives you so much. It gives you peace, it gives you food when you need it, and the least I can do is protect it."

April Jarocki, a resident in Tennessee's Cumberland Mountains, tests water on May 18, 2017, for any pollutant that might have come coal mining activity. (Photo: Valerie Vozza for Equal Voice News)

"We're the Treehuggers"

On the northwest side of Cooper Ridge sits Clearfork Valley, a community cobbled together from several unincorporated towns along the Clear Fork Creek. The residents of the valley are relatively isolated even from their county governments -- they've lobbied unsuccessfully for several years to get an ambulance station, since the closest one is over a half hour away.

Cell phone service is practically nonexistent, and the two options for internet service are an expensive satellite uplink or archaic dial-up connections.

Much of the land surrounding the valley is owned by out-of-state shell corporations. But since 1977, the Woodland Community Land Trust has been purchasing land in the area a few acres at a time, to return it to community use and protect it from strip mining.

"We own 450 acres, so we're competing with them, our 450 to their thousands," said Tonia Brookman, director of the trust.

Then, she said, letting out a laugh: "We're the treehuggers."

Brookman, though personally opposed to further strip mining in the area, realizes that jobs are the first priority for the community, where employment options are limited. Unemployment in this area remains high, and many residents live on $600 to $700 a month.

The operators of the Cooper Ridge mine project say that it will create about 85 jobs at its peak, each paying around $50,000. The mine is expected to operate for about nine years.

"When you have no jobs, 85 jobs sounds like a lot to this community," Brookman said. "When you're thinking about this type of employment, you're not going to say anything negative about it."

It is a dilemma faced by many Appalachian communities, which have seen coal mining employment declining steadily as major seams are exhausted, and cheaper natural gas and Wyoming coal flood the market, diminishing demand.

Brookman and other community members in this part of northern Tennessee, as well as in Appalachia in general, have been pushing for new solutions beyond ever larger and higher altitude surface mines.

The land trust includes two long-abandoned coal mines, which could be eligible for federal remediation funding.

In cooperation with the University of Tennessee's agriculture program, the land trust has applied for an EPA Brownfields grant, which they want to use to reclaim one of the abandoned sites and turn it into a hops farm.

The working farm, which would be hydroponic because of the region's poor topsoil, could employ as many as 65 people, Brookman said.

There's only one problem with the plan, but it's a big one. The federal budget proposal put forward by Trump includes huge cuts to the Brownfields program, a popular initiative that helps communities convert abandoned industrial sites into productive economic uses. Trump's budget would cut the program by more than 30 percent.

Brookman fears that, far from ending the 'war on coal' and boosting the economy of Appalachia, which voted heavily in favor of Trump in November, the president's policies and budget proposals could devastate the region. The administration's budget also proposes eliminating the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), a multi-state agency that injects millions in economic and infrastructure development grants into the region.

In April, Mick Mulvaney, the president's budget director, said in a television interview that Trump "probably didn't know what the Appalachian Regional Commission did," but had decided to eliminate the agency anyhow.

"ARC does so much for this community," said Brookman, noting that financial support for several of the homes on the land trust came from the agency in the 1990s.

"The sad part is: How long is it going to take after this funding gets cut? How many years is it going to take before they realize what's happened? It's going to make a huge impact here, and not just here but all rural communities. And rural communities are the ones that voted for Trump. They believed what he said -- that he was going to make it great again. Everything he's cutting is affecting the people who supported him and believed in him."

A Game of Cat and Mouse

On a May afternoon, Jarocki and Coker headed up the northern base of Cooper Ridge to one of their water testing sites in Valley Creek. Next to the creek is a natural gas wellhead that appears to be abandoned, protruding from a foul-smelling rust-orange pond coated with a filmy sheen.

The pond spills an orange plume into Valley Creek, where Jarocki, wearing waders, measured the creek's temperature, acidity and conductivity. A mile or so downstream, Valley Creek joins the Clear Fork, which runs past Clairfield Elementary School and then hooks north into Kentucky to join the Cumberland River, which wanders back into Tennessee before joining the Ohio River and, ultimately, the Mississippi.

The region's complex hydrology means that even with planning, mining often has unintended consequences on the water table. Ann League is the executive director of SOCM, a member-run organization formally known as Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment. SOCM fights for economic and environmental causes in Tennessee.

League had little interest in politics until strip miners began razing Zeb Mountain near her home. Soon after, her well water turned orange -- so much so that after a shower she'd wake up with rust-colored stains on her pillow. 

Stories like this abound in the Cumberland Mountains, making the Citizen's Water Monitoring Project something of an environmental neighborhood watch program. Volunteers from the community join Coker and Jarocki once a month to check water quality at various testing sites in the area.

The test results are fed into an open database maintained by the Appalachian Citizens Enforcement Project, which collects citizen water quality data from similar groups in four states.

If the water quality test results are concerning, as they frequently are, they can be used to file official complaints that trigger a state inspection. The testing data also can be used to put citizen lobbying pressure on lawmakers and bolster lawsuits against mining companies.

But it's a task that can feel thankless, and requires a constant game of cat and mouse. Jarocki and Cocker are careful not to trespass, but given warning, they claim, the mining companies use a trick to distort test results: throwing a car battery into a drainage pond to temporarily neutralize any heavy metals that have leached out from the mining site.

Fighting for the Future

The Cooper Ridge mine has received all but one of the permits it needs to move forward, and appears set to open soon, barring massive community outcry. The jobs it will create will be among the few new Appalachian coal mining jobs created so far under the Trump administration.

But many residents are concerned about long-lasting impacts on health, especially children's health. Claiborne county, where Cooper Ridge is located, has one of the highest childhood asthma rates in the state, at 18 percent.

The permit area of the surface mine extends to within roughly a half mile of the Clairfield elementary, right up the slope from the school, raising concerns about dust from the mine further jeopardizing the children's health.

"It's a very different time we're in, and I'm still wrapping my head around what it means for our communities," said Bonnie Swinford, an organizer with the Tennessee Sierra Club.

"The massive funding cuts that are happening right now are especially disappointing at a time where we're getting beyond the talk about the 'war on coal.' Communities are ready to figure out what is next for their economy, and we're no longer stuck in this place where it's taboo to talk about what's beyond coal," she said.

DJ Coker and April Jarocki worry that by the time the environmental impact on their community becomes clear, long-lasting damage will have already been done.

To build upon the grassroots efforts to protect the environment, they want to expand their water testing efforts and recruit more volunteers. 

"I spent a lot of years looking for home," Jarocki said. "My children love these mountains. There's something about this part of the mountains that feels like home."

"I want my kids to see that when they're older, and I want my grandkids to see that. I want those kids to swim in the creeks, and to see these beautiful mountains."

Categories: Latest News

Building a Campus Antifascist Network

Truthout - Sat, 08/19/2017 - 21:00

Antifa protesters link arms as they demonstrate at a rally on June 4, 2017, in Portland, Oregon. (Photo: Natalie Behring / Getty Images)

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Given that college campuses have been central to activism by the so-called alt-right, is it time for a campus-based countermovement? Scholars behind the proposed Campus Antifascist Network, or CAN, think so.

"The election of Donald Trump has emboldened fascist and white nationalist groups nationwide, on campus and off, and their recent upsurge requires antifascists to take up the call to action once again," reads an invitation to join the group, posted on social media this week by David Palumbo-Liu, the Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor and professor of comparative literature at Stanford University.

"As we wrote this letter," it says, "hundreds of torch-bearing white supremacists were marching on the campus of University of Virginia chanting 'Jews will not replace us' and other vile slurs. An antifascist activist was murdered by these same forces in Charlottesville, raising the stakes of resistance to new heights."

Network co-organizer Bill Mullen, a professor of American studies at Purdue University, on Wednesday called CAN a "big tent" that "welcomes anyone committed to fighting fascism."

"We are diverse in our political points of view but unified by our fight against fascism," he said. The idea is "to drive racists off campuses and to protect the most vulnerable from fascist attack."

And of objections made by some that Trump is not a fascist? Palumbo-Liu said that is "literally an academic argument in the worst sense of the word. We need to pay attention to what is happening, not the labels that we feel are most fitting."

Mullen said the network started with about 40 members concerned about alt-right campus activity and the recent set of death threats against professors -- many of them women and minorities -- who have spoken out publicly against racism.

Since Charlottesville, the network has jumped to 200 members and 1,000 followers on its Facebook page, Mullen said. Antifascist branches are being formed on campuses and the group is preparing teach-ins and self-defense materials for faculty and students who may meet with white supremacist protesters.

The network has been endorsed by writers Junot Díaz and Viet Nguyen, as well as graduate student unions. In addition to faculty members, graduate students and some undergraduates have joined.

Network members across the country already have expressed their solidarity with Charlottesville counterprotesters and published an open-access syllabus on fascism for educators. They're asking other interested parties to support or join CAN, and offering to help organize local antifascist chapters. Such chapters will "support, educate and defend faculty, students and staff, and share information on fascist organizing in the U.S., planned fascist activities and organized antifascist responses," they say.

Palumbo-Liu said that the political right has framed the issue of alt-right provocateurs, neo-Nazis and white supremacists being allowed on campus as a simple matter of free speech. And if all they did was talk, that would be their right, he said. Instead, CAN is worried about such activists' "propensity to physical violence, aggressive confrontation and provocation, and violations of others' civil rights."

Historic Roots, Contemporary Concerns

Antifascist activism against ethnonationalism and general racism dates early-20th-century Europe. But its shorthand, "antifa," has become part of mainstream American political discussions since the rise of the alt-right -- and as white supremacist groups began to support Trump's candidacy.

While experts say that antifa organizing is mostly nonviolent, the movement sees violence against those racists who would hurt others as ethically justifiable. Case in point: the antifa protests at the University of California, Berkeley, in February, ahead of a talk by then-Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos. Protesters -- largely unaffiliated with the university -- lit fires and threw rocks at police, drawing widespread condemnation from the right and a tweet from Trump threatening to cut off Berkeley's funding.

Even many on the political left criticized the antifa tactics on campus, noting that the damage was fixed and paid for my Berkeley, not Yiannopoulos.

Of Yiannopoulos, Palumbo-Liu said that he'd come to Berkeley promising to reveal the identities of undocumented students -- leaving them potentially vulnerable to all kinds of danger. And prior to that, he said, an anti-Yiannopoulos protester was shot ahead of his appearance at the University of Washington.

A couple was charged in the Washington crime. According to the charges, the husband, Marc Hokoana, messaged a friend on Facebook the day prior, saying that "if the snowflakes get out off [sic] hand I'm going to wade through their ranks and start cracking skulls."

Charlottesville, of course, resulted in the death of antifa activist Heather Heyer and the wounding of many others.

Even free speech champion John Stuart Mill "drew a line on speech meant solely to incite," Palumbo-Liu said.

Mullen said CAN's approach to protests will be to protect those most vulnerable to attack and "to build large, unified demonstrations against fascists on campuses when they come."

Asked specifically about the possible use of violence, Palumbo-Liu said antifa activists include those whose tactics CAN would reject. "We would advocate self-defense and defense in various forms of those who are being threatened by fascists, but not violence," he added, saying his group can't control the antifa label or who ascribes to it.

Labels aside, Mullen said "shying away" is the wrong approach. The alt-right has already tried to claim university campuses as recruiting grounds, he said, recalling that his own campus was covered with racist, neo-Nazi posters in November by the group American Vanguard. Identity Evropa has stated it is specifically targeting college and college-educated men as the future leaders of the movement.

Mark Bray, an historian of human rights, terrorism and political radicalism in modern Europe and a lecturer at Dartmouth College, wrote a Washington Post op-ed criticizing Trump's comments this week comparing the "alt-left," or antifa, to white supremacists. Bray is the author of the forthcoming book, Antifa: The Antifascist Handbook. (Bray is a cousin of Scott Jaschik, co-editor of Inside Higher Ed.)

"Years before the alt-right even had a name, antifascists were spending thankless hours scouring seedy message boards and researching clandestine neo-Nazi gatherings," Bray wrote. "Agree or disagree with their methods, the antifa, who devote themselves to combating racism, are in no way equivalent to alt-right trolls who joke about gas chambers."

Bray said in an interview Wednesday that he'd heard of CAN and thought that any political risk of professors identifying with antifascism was worth forming a broad campus movement against the alt-right.

Safety in numbers and routinization of response to white supremacy -- especially now that the alt-right has been so clearly aligned with neo-Nazism -- could make it much easier for administrators to defend their faculty members against attacks by the alt-right, he said. And eventually it could stifle the alt-right on campus altogether.

"A Campus Antifascist Network is totally rational if you look at what kind of organizing the political opponent is doing," he said. "Right now the alt-right wants to make neo-Nazi politics seem more palatable and middle-class and intellectual -- they're trying to put khakis on it by recruiting on campuses, pushing back on what they see as cultural Marxism or 'PC' politics. So organizing against it on campus makes complete sense."

Asked about future of the campus alt-right, Bray said there "are still plenty of people out there who think white people are superior or who think that women are inferior." Yet, "in a certain sense I'm optimistic, or at least hopeful, that this is sort of the beginning of the end," he added.

Categories: Latest News

Big Pharma Can Be Beaten: This Union Proved It

Truthout - Sat, 08/19/2017 - 21:00

Nevada's Culinary Workers Union took on Big Pharma and won. (Image: CIPhotos / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

In an attempt to address the drug-pricing crisis that has ruined so many lives, Nevada recently passed a law requiring transparency from all players in the secretive world of pharmaceuticals. An intensive door-to-door campaign in support of the insulin pricing bill by the Culinary Workers Union was instrumental in defeating Big Pharma's deep pockets and offers a way forward in the fight for drug pricing reform.

Nevada's Culinary Workers Union took on Big Pharma and won. (Image: CIPhotos / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

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When Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval sat down at the Culinary Health Center in east Las Vegas on June 15 to sign the nation's toughest-ever drug pricing law, Bonnie Sedich was thinking of her daughter Mary. Mary had Type 1 diabetes, and she had struggled to afford insulin as its cost rose by over 300 percent in recent years. Sedich thought about the still-unpaid bills for the credit cards that she and her husband maxed out trying to help Mary buy medicine. And she thought about Mary's last grim months of life, partially paralyzed by a stroke and tortured by other diabetes complications, before dying in November at age 51.

Bonnie Sedich's grief was still raw when she talked to Nevada legislators earlier this year about the need to rein in the price of insulin, a 95-year-old drug likely manufactured at a cost of a few dollars per vial but sold for as much as $400. For many diabetics, including all Type 1 diabetics like Mary, insulin is necessary for survival. "But what good does it do if you can't afford it?" Sedich asked the lawmakers.

On the day of the bill signing, Sedich watched the governor talk with health care providers and working people with diabetes. The ceremony's setting at the health center operated by the Culinary Workers Union of UNITE HERE was no coincidence. Sedich is a former union member, and the union was the driving force behind Nevada's new law.

As the governor put pen to paper, several of those gathered around him were in tears, including Sedich. "It just seemed that Mary's suffering had taken on some meaning," she said later. "I felt encouraged."

Others are feeling encouraged, too. The Nevada legislation is the most significant victory to date for the movement to hold pharmaceutical corporations accountable for their record-setting profits gathered from the skyrocketing prices on essential medicines. More than two dozen states are reviewing proposed legislation to address the drug pricing crisis. Multiple bills have been filed in Congress, ranging from allowing importation of low-cost medicines from Canada to bypassing the patents on overpriced drugs discovered with taxpayer dollars.

There is enormous public support for drug pricing reform, with national polls showing that 77 percent of Americans consider drug prices to be unreasonable. Strong majorities, including a majority of Republicans, support reform measures. But the populist anger -- remember that even Donald Trump said the drug companies are "getting away with murder" -- has not yet translated into widespread changes. Nearly all of the legislative efforts to advance drug pricing reform have been blocked or delayed.

However, the Nevada legislation is a sign that the tide may be turning. The new law requires transparency from the players in the secretive world of medicines pricing. If manufacturers raise Nevada prices on insulin and diabetes-treating biguanides, they are required to report their costs of manufacturing and marketing. Pharmacy benefit managers, the middle men in the medicines process, are forced to disclose the rebates they receive from the manufacturers. And pharmaceutical sales representatives, notorious for wooing physicians with gifts and misleading claims about their products, will be compelled to report the details of their interactions with those doctors. Even health care nonprofits that receive pharma industry donations will be required to make that information public.

No one in Nevada or elsewhere is claiming that these measures will alone fix the drug pricing crisis. But they are a historic first step toward doing so, especially since many observers believed that the powerful pharmaceutical lobby would easily block all reform efforts. Last April, the Wall Street brokerage and research firm Bernstein issued a report concluding that state-level drug pricing proposals are "a very modest risk to pharma, if at all." The industry "is very much on the ball" in opposing reform, Bernstein concluded.

That prediction was partly on target, as the industry was definitely on the ball in Nevada. It hired dozens of lobbyists in the state, launched an aggressive social media campaign and threatened lawsuits to challenge any legislation. Yet the industry was beaten, and advocates across the world have taken note.           

How was this victory won, and what lessons can be learned by other patients, activists and lawmakers wanting to build on the Nevada success? Here are the highlights.

Grassroots Organizing Works

No clever slogan, ad campaign, or social media plea will singlehandedly beat Big Pharma, says Bethany Khan, communications director of the Culinary Union. "You have to organize, and you have to organize every day," she says.

Fortunately, Khan and her colleagues were no strangers to that challenge. With 57,000 members, the Culinary Union is the largest local of UNITE HERE, and has a reputation for being unafraid of a fight. In the 1980s and 1990s, the union led multiple fiercely contested strikes at Las Vegas casinos, including a battle with the Frontier Hotel and Casino that lasted six-plus years, the longest successful hotel strike in history. The union that stands toe-to-toe every day with some of the richest casinos in the country was not fazed by Wall Street analysts concluding that the pharma industry was unbeatable. "If money could buy everything in Nevada, this would not be a blue state," says Khan.

As the legislative session began, union workers and allies flooded each legislator's district with door-to-door campaigning and thousands of phone calls supporting the insulin pricing bill. For those who think of labor struggles as focusing only on wages and collective bargaining, it may be surprising that the Culinary Union put its full strength behind a piece of drug pricing legislation. But the union's Culinary Health Fund provides health insurance for over 140,000 Nevadans who are union members or their dependents. Diabetes care is the fund's fastest-growing cost, rising over 20 percent in 2016 alone.

So, it was not hard to find Nevadans like Bonnie Sedich who had stories to tell legislators and media about the struggle to afford insulin. The Nevada capital of Carson City is a seven-hour drive from Las Vegas, but that did not stop diabetes patients, family members and advocates from packing a legislature hearing room in April to testify about the bill. Afterwards, they fanned out across the Nevada Legislative Building to buttonhole legislators and talk to the media. Some of the patients who travelled to Carson City had lost legs to diabetes; some had lost homes when they had to choose between paying their mortgage and paying for medicine.

One of the patients who visited the legislature was Keyonna Lawrence. "About six months out of the year, I do not have the (insulin) medicine, because if I can't afford the medicine, I don't take it," she said. "My biggest fear is that my 11-year-old son is going to wake up one morning and come in and say, 'Mom!' And Mom is cold as ice."

A union-led coalition put other Nevadans' insulin stories on a website and produced a "Stop Price Gouging" video that was viewed over 400,000 times.     

The legislation would eventually earn votes from both Democrats and Republicans. A line could be drawn directly between that bipartisan support and the patients' stories. The day after the diabetes patients made their in-person visits, State Senator Yvanna Cancela, the bill's sponsor, was sitting on the floor of the Senate. A Republican senator who had previously not been interested in the insulin legislation pulled up a chair next to Cancela. "Tell me about your bill," the senator said.

Election Support for Progressive Candidates Pays Off

It is an age-old debate among activists: Should resources and time be put solely into issue agendas, or should sympathetic political candidates be supported along with a policy fight? The Nevada experience provides a compelling argument for activist engagement in winnable election contests, since the state's new insulin law owes its existence to the Culinary Union's deep dive into electoral politics.

In 2016, the union made the decision to allow 300 of its members to take two-month leaves of absence to engage in grassroots campaigning. Those members talked to tens of thousands of Nevada voters and delivered 54,000 early votes. Not coincidentally, the 2016 election caused Nevada's State Senate and State Assembly to flip from Republican majorities to Democrat control.

The Culinary Union is one of the most powerful players in Nevada politics, and it is not surprising that labor power led to groundbreaking health legislation. The world's most comprehensive and successful health systems, including those in the UK and Canada, were enacted in the wake of progressive, labor-led parties coming to power.

Pharma Pushes Back -- Hard

The pharmaceutical industry's breathtaking profits -- by some measures the highest of any in the history of modern capitalism -- are the byproduct of decades of relentless corporate manipulation of government policies. For starters, the industry's lobbyists in 1980 successfully pushed through Congress the Bayh-Dole Act, which set the stage for wholesale transfer of the fruits of publicly funded US medicines research into privately held monopolies. What is more, those same lobbyists have convinced the US government to voluntarily decline to negotiate the prices the Medicare system pays for the very medicines that taxpayers helped discover.

The industry's weapons of choice include political campaign checksex-lawmakers installed as industry shills and image-bolstering TV ads . Pharma companies dominate the top of the lists for both campaign contributions and lobbying expenses. So it was hardly a surprise when the advancing insulin-pricing bill caused tiny Carson City, Nevada, to be overrun with nearly 70 lobbyists on the pharma industry payroll. Drug companies began giving generously to the campaigns of Nevada legislative leaders and created a brand new political action committee, the Healthy Nevada PAC.

The industry expressed much of its public opposition through surrogate groups that claimed to have patients' best interests at heart. Nonprofits that had received funding from PhRMA wrote letters to legislators opposing the bill and others had their names featured in geo-targeted social media and pop-up ads criticizing the legislation. As the days of the 2017 legislative session waned, the dozens of industry lobbyists openly threatened legislators with protracted litigation challenging the law. In fact, a court challenge to the Nevada law is still expected, so the pharma resistance is far from over.

Popular Support Should Beat Pharma Money

Despite all the dollars and influence Big Pharma brought to bear in Nevada, Senator Cancela says the lobby does not intimidate her. "Of course, the drug company lobbyists have a long reach, but when the conversation becomes about what the overwhelming majority of voters want to see happen, pharma should have no chance," she says.

Cancela knew that there is one thing that lawmakers care more about than campaign donations and lobbyist pressure: their re-election. So, she used some of her campaign funds to commission a poll on the drug-pricing crisis. The plan was to show her colleagues that following the pharma agenda would put their political futures at risk.

The results from Cancela's poll made that case, and then some. In the weeks before the final votes on the insulin bill, 80 percent of a sampling of Nevadans told David Binder Research that they felt prescription drug costs were too high. A strong majority blamed pharmaceutical companies. Cancela's poll aimed at the heart of lawmakers' self-interests, revealing that a plurality of Nevadans said they would be less likely to vote for their legislator if the legislator voted against controlling the price of insulin. If the dissenting legislator was revealed to have taken contributions from pharmaceutical companies, that vote-against number went up to a whopping 71 percent.

"That poll gave voice to the hundreds of thousands of people who could not come to the legislature in person, but who supported the change," Cancela said. "When the conversation becomes about public support, pharma's political power disappears."

The States Show the Way

In addition to the Nevada success, Vermont has passed a law that compels pharma companies to justify price hikes, Maryland has adopted legislation allowing its attorney general to sue generic drugmakers who sharply raise medicines prices, and New York's new budget includes Medicaid regulations designed to lower the costs the state pays for its drugs. The dozens of other state-level proposals face varying prospects for success, but many are gaining far more traction in statehouses than the federal legislation is in Congress.

This trend is consistent with that of the minimum wage movement, which transitioned over the last decade from a federal focus to localized campaigns that have succeeded in passing dozens of laws raising wages for millions of Americans. The end game for drug pricing reform will require federal-level action, especially stopping the corporate giveaway of federally-funded medicines research and unshackling Medicare's ability to negotiate drug prices. But an expanding patchwork of state-level laws will embolden activists and put pressure on federal lawmakers to move forward.

Odd-Bedfellow Coalitions Await

Bobbette Bond is the policy director for the trust fund that provides the health benefits for the Culinary Union members and their dependents. "That means I have this great job of figuring out where there are strategic opportunities for decreasing costs or increasing services," she says. When looking at the cost side, it didn't take long for Bond's eyes to focus on prescription drugs. Medicines recently climbed over hospitalization bills to become the fund's biggest expense.

The union knew it was not alone. Its Culinary Health Fund is a member of the Nevada Health Services Coalition, made up of 21 organizations that are similarly self-insured, including huge Nevada gaming corporations like Caesar's and the Tropicana. After the union urged them to calculate their own spiraling diabetes and prescription drug costs, the companies came on board in support of the insulin legislation. They brought along political clout and a pro-business perspective that helped woo Republican legislators and the Republican governor.

With the average employer's health care costs increasing far faster than the rate of inflation, and drug prices a top driver of those increases, Nevada advocates say this type of labor-business alliance should be a viable strategy in every state. In fact, similar drug pricing coalitions are already beginning to form. At the national level, the Campaign for Sustainable Drug Pricing is made up of a diverse group that includes insurance companies, corporations like Walmart, and the AARP. Richard Master, CEO of the Pennsylvania frame manufacturing company MCS Industries, has been pushing for fellow business owners to join his advocacy for controlling healthcare costs, including drug pricing regulations.

One Bite of a Larger Project

Compared to most drug pricing reforms, Nevada's legislation has an unusually narrow focus on a single disease and drug type. But that does not mean that a diabetes-focused law is insignificant. One in three US adults are predicted to develop diabetes in their lifetimes, and Nevada's diabetes-related costs exceed $2 billion per year.

With that kind of reach and a more specific topic to discuss, advocates found it was easy to make connections when talking with legislators and their constituents. "Almost every lawmaker we talked to shared that they had a family member with diabetes or that they were at least prediabetic themselves," Cancela says.

Which meant that they knew a bit about the skyrocketing insulin costs in the US, which have been called "price-gouging, plain and simple" by a US senator and a "racket" by an endocrinologist writing in the New York Times. A pending class-action lawsuit alleges unlawful collusion among the three manufacturers of insulin -- Eli Lilly, Sanofi Aventis and Novo Nordisk.

The Nevada law will not fix these problems overnight. The most ambitious portions of the original proposal, including a de facto price cap of mandatory rebates for prices that exceed inflation, were removed in the course of the legislative sausage-making. But Governor Sandoval said he would be open to revisiting the pricing problem, and advocates plan to take him up on that.

In the meantime, mandatory disclosures of marketing and manufacturing costs begin the long-overdue process of regulating an industry that has managed to enjoy enormous public funding with no companion oversight of its pricing.

"Once we get the insulin pricing data over the next two years, then we can start to ask, 'Why shouldn't we do this with hepatitis C drugs, and why not with all drugs?'" Cancela says.

Cancela is not the only one who is feeling optimistic about the future of drug pricing regulation. As the signing ceremony for the insulin pricing bill began, Bonnie Sedich shared her view that the campaign had made a big impact on Nevada lawmakers, including the state's chief executive. "I think the governor finally got to see first-hand how people need help," she said.

But it turned out that Sandoval did not need outside stories to educate him about diabetes. At the ceremony, he revealed for the first time publicly that his grandfather had struggled with the disease. "This was my mom's dad, and he's somebody that I saw suffer because of that," Sandoval said.

Nevada's new law does not include all that the Culinary Union and Senator Cancela wanted. And they expect the industry to file lawsuits to block what did pass, and to resist honest disclosure at every turn. But Cancela points to how the impact of the drug pricing crisis is so broad that it includes a personal reach up to and including the governor of her state.

That gives her confidence that the cause will ultimately prevail. "The stories are heartbreaking, and the numbers for changing this make sense," she says. "Doing nothing is no longer an option."

Categories: Latest News

Illinois' Wage Theft Bill Actually Made Things Worse

Truthout - Sat, 08/19/2017 - 21:00

Most victims of wage theft in Illinois never see a dime because the system meant to help them isn't working.

That's not what labor advocates envisioned in 2010, when the state passed a bill meant to give employees a better chance of recouping stolen wages and to toughen penalties against the employers who stiff them.

The situation, however, has gone from bad to worse for the thousands of mostly low-wage workers who have filed roughly $50 million in wage claims with the state since the measure took full effect in 2014.

Workers who report wage theft now face longer wait times, higher dismissal rates and more red tape, according to a Chicago Reporter review of complaint records and enforcement procedures at the Illinois Department of Labor.

Fewer than 1 in 4 workers recouped wages within a year, the analysis found. The odds are so bad, many labor advocates say workers shouldn't bother filing a claim.

"The worst that can happen to [employers] is that they can use the workers like a credit card, and pay them months after the claims were first filed," said Jacob Lesniewski, an associate professor of social work at Dominican University, who has studied wage theft.

The Reporter's review of wage enforcement records found:

  • More claims are dismissed: 58 percent in 2014, up from 41 percent in 2010. The state doesn't track why cases are dismissed, but most are scrapped early, before workers get a chance to have the merits of the cases weighed.  
  • Cases now take an average of nearly nine months to resolve, about two months longer than in 2010. If a case ends up going to a hearing, resolving it could take well over a year.
  • Even when workers win their cases, they might not be paid. Only about 1 in 10 of nearly 500 cases forwarded to the Illinois Attorney General's Office for collection resulted in payment, and collection can take years.
  • The state has let dozens of deadbeat employers off the hook by allowing them to settle claims early in the enforcement process, avoiding formal violations or financial penalties.

Because of the ineffective enforcement, workers and labor advocates say they've lost confidence in the department. Perhaps as a result, wage claims have declined 40 percent since 2010.

Most wage complaints filed with the Illinois Department of Labor in 2014 ended up dismissed, according to a Reporter analysis.

 

One of the most celebrated aspects of the reforms elevated repeat offenses to felonies, a change that advocates hoped would be a deterrent. But the labor department does not refer cases for criminal prosecution. Nor does it systematically track repeat offenders. One result: Without such tracking, Chicago has never been able to enforce its ordinance that allows the city to revoke the business licenses of repeat offenders.

Department of Labor officials say their priority is to get wages back into workers' pockets, not to punish businesses.

"The Illinois Department of Labor works collaboratively with employees and employers to try and reach a just outcome for all wage cases," a spokesman said in a written statement. "Relevant staff reviews each and every claim individually and litigation can sometimes lengthen the duration of open cases. However, it is an important legal process that helps ensure fairness for both workers and businesses."

But without effective state enforcement, low-wage workers have few options.

The labor department has become the de facto option for "people who either don't have information to know they could get an attorney to take their case, or an attorney wouldn't take their case because it's too small," said Chris Williams, a private labor attorney and one of the original champions of the 2010 legislation. "Unfortunately I think it's kind of utilized in that way: It's where [those] cases go."

A Worker's Quagmire

In Chicago, the highest concentration of wage complaints comes from workers living in low-income black, Latino and immigrant communities, according to the Reporter's analysis. Complainants often work for smaller companies in the health care, transportation, construction, landscaping, manufacturing and service industries.

These 10 Chicago zip codes have the highest rates of wage complaints, are all overwhelmingly non-white, and have higher poverty rates than the city average of 22 percent. (Graphic: Matt Kiepher)

 

"All of the growth industries in the city rely on low-wage labor. These occupations breed wage theft," said Lesniewski. "So much of what makes the city run are occupations where wage theft is endemic. This is just as damaging to the city as the crime problem."

Juan Lopez's story is typical. Last August, the 42-year-old Mexican immigrant planned to take his two-week paid vacation from the suburban Itasca-based manufacturing company where he worked, building beverage displays. He had his bags packed and train ticket to Los Angeles purchased for a visit to his brother, whom he hadn't seen in more than two decades.

But on his last day before vacation, a 145-pound oak whiskey barrel he was building rolled off a display mount and crushed his body. There would be no vacation. Lopez, who used to take pride in his physical prowess and jog every night after work in Pilsen, can no longer work and can barely walk; injuries to his lower back, hips and knees shoot pain up his body with every step. The company denied his workers' compensation claim, but an attorney is helping him fight the rejection.

When he went to pick up his last paycheck, Lopez asked his former boss about his vacation pay, a little over $1,000. His employer told him he wouldn't get paid. Lopez was dejected but unsure of his rights. He didn't know that the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act protects a worker's right to be paid for earned vacation time.

But Lopez, depressed because he was plowing through his savings, knew "a thousand dollars would help me pay the bills for a long time." He turned to Chicago Community & Worker's Rights, a workers center.

Executive Director Martin Unzueta knew Lopez's case was too small for a private attorney. So he contacted Lopez's former employer and asked the company to pay up.

"We go to the Department of Labor as a last resort," said Unzueta.

Direct negotiations got nowhere. So Unzueta helped Lopez prepare a wage claim in January, though warning him not to get his hopes up about getting his money quickly.

"He told me this could take a year or more," recalled Lopez, speaking in Spanish. "I said that was OK. In a year I will still need $1,000. I don't know when I will be able to work again."

Within weeks, a labor department employee called Lopez to ask him to fill out another wage claim form. Lopez speaks and writes limited English, and said he was told language help was available at the department's downtown Chicago office and that he would hear back on a date to come in. Lopez said he never heard back, but got a letter telling him his case would be closed if he didn't provide more evidence within 10 days.

"To tell you the truth, I got frustrated … because we'd already sent them what they were asking for," Lopez said. "I called the office once and nobody picked up. So I didn't bother filling out the form again. They already had all the information."

In March, the department dismissed his case, records from Lopez's case show. (After Unzueta's group contacted the labor department, Lopez was able to refile his paperwork to open a new case, which is now pending).The Reporter's analysis shows that workers who say they need a translator are far more likely to have their cases dismissed.

Like Lopez's case, most claims to the labor department are dismissed early on. Department officials estimate that nearly half of dismissals occur because of incomplete claim forms.

Stricter notification requirements as well as recent labor department policies have made dismissals more likely, especially for low-wage and immigrant workers. For example, the department will dismiss a case when it can't locate a worker -- and low-income and immigrant workers tend to be more transient and are more likely to change phone numbers. Also, workers, instead of the labor department, are now required to send copies of their evidence to their employer -- creating an added expense.

"Some workers don't know the real name of their employer or how to find their address or phone number," said Carmen Cabrera, an organizer with the Chicago Workers' Collaborative, another workers center. "These people know how to work with their hands, and that's it … It's impossible for some of them to stay on top of their cases, especially if they're looking for a new job."

In a written statement, a labor department spokesman said, "The new forms have helped provide clarity for workers on their rights and responsibilities, improved the processing of claims internally, and contributed to the reduced number of cases filed per year."

But Lopez got the sense that labor department staff was so overwhelmed, "it was like they were trying to frustrate me with the process so I would drop the case. So I would go away."

Finding Solutions Elsewhere

Labor advocates and former labor department officials say lack of manpower is part of the problem, as wage claim specialists handle hundreds of cases per year. The ongoing state budget impasse has made it impossible to hire more staff.

"They don't have much in the way of resources and so they're backlogged. To get anything done takes forever. It's like pulling teeth," said State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat who has studied the issue. "My impression is that they are just plain under-resourced and overworked."

Department officials acknowledge that cases take far too long to resolve, and they have begun to make changes. More administrative law judges have been trained, and department officials said that move doubled the number of cases that went to hearings late last year.

Advocates have proposed other changes, including more aggressive collections against deadbeat employers, who take advantage of the lengthy process by dissolving their assets or declaring bankruptcy to avoid payment. Workers then may find it nearly impossible to recoup their wages, and employers who stiff workers get a message that the state won't go after them.

"For very few employers have there been consequences, because of the slowness of the Department of Labor, because of the difficulty of proving the charge, because of the timetable," said Flynn Currie, who introduced legislation last summer that would let the labor department file wage liens against an employer's property at the time a worker files a claim. "People who need the money now don't have the time and the resources to go through all of these motions, jump through all of these hoops and wait three years to get their money."

The labor department opposes the bill and estimates that the law would cost about $1 million annually, mostly in salaries for new staff with expertise in lien procedures.

"For us it's an administrative burden," said Chris Wieneke, legislative liaison for the department, during an Illinois House committee hearing in February. "Our opposition is the million-dollar price tag to properly enforce this act."

Another bill, introduced this spring by State Sen. Daniel Biss, an Evanston Democrat who's running for governor, would increase fines for employers that refuse to pay judgments for wage theft and would ban repeat offenders from getting state contracts. The bill has passed the state legislature and now heads to the governor's desk.

A recent study suggests that higher financial penalties do reduce wage theft. Daniel Galvin, an associate professor of political science at Northwestern University, analyzed self-reported income data from the Current Population Survey and found the states with stiff financial penalties for wage theft -- particularly triple damages -- have fewer minimum-wage violations.

"Each state's embrace of treble damages signaled to employers that intentional wage violations would be extremely costly, especially in cases involving multiple plaintiffs," Galvin noted in his paper, published last year in the academic journal Perspectives on Politics.

Unlike Illinois, a handful of states, including California, New York and Massachusetts, are more aggressive in criminal prosecution. The strategy has drawn more attention in recent years, particularly after high-profile cases brought by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman against home health agencies, car wash bosses and a pizza franchise owner.

"It's so important for prosecutors to take these cases seriously and understand the criminality of this conduct," said Terri Gerstein, former Labor Bureau chief at Schneiderman's office. "It is, while nonviolent, certainly analogous to many other kinds of cases prosecutors routinely bring without batting an eyelash. And these crimes have a serious social impact on victims and communities."

Illinois could follow New York's example because the 2010 amendments elevated criminal penalties for repeat or willful offenders from a misdemeanor to a felony. But it doesn't.

Advocates point out that it will take a variety of strategies to make a dent in the problem. Improving the complaint-based system, which the labor department relies on, would not be enough, given the scale of need and the persistent lack of resources.

"We have to think about [each of] these as small, incremental changes," said Sophia Zaman, executive director of the Raise the Floor Alliance, an umbrella legal and policy advocacy group for the state's eight workers centers. "How do we make the path to justice easier for workers?"

The Chicago Reporter is a nonprofit investigative news organization that focuses on race, poverty and income inequality.

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The Untold Stories of Women in the 1967 Detroit Rebellion and Its Aftermath

Truthout - Sat, 08/19/2017 - 21:00

The movie "Detroit," which tells the story of the 1967 Detroit rebellion, has received mixed reviews since its release. Some praised the film for tackling a complex, little-known story, while others criticized it for its representation of the the city, the historical events and actors involved. In many respects, the film is limited, with the voices and perspectives of women and girls lacking.

I moved to Michigan in the fall of 2013 to begin teaching theater for social change and performance studies at Michigan State University. As a Chicago native, I knew little about the history of Michigan and Detroit.

I began researching the 1967 Detroit rebellion to answer my own questions about what had happened. When I began to review the wealth of materials found in oral history collections and newspaper archives, I was struck by the lack of any sort of perspectives from the women and girls who witnessed and participated in the uprising.

In photo after photo, women and girls appear alongside men and boys. Of the over 7,000 people arrested from July 23 to July 28, 1967, between 10 and 12 percent were women or girls. (The youngest was 10 years old.) Forty-three people were killed, including two white women and one little girl, Tanya Lynn Blanding, shot and killed by the National Guardsmen who opened fire on her building.

Who were these women and these girls? What were they doing on the street? What roles and responsibilities did they take during and after the military occupation, and later, when industry and investments fled the city?

Those questions inspired me to develop a new play called "AFTER/LIFE," which focuses on the experiences of women and girls in Detroit before, during and after the rebellion.

Rather than beginning that story with the raid on the unlicensed after-hours club on July 23, 1967 -- as the film does -- I decided to focus on the activism that emerged following the police murder of Cynthia Scott in Detroit four years earlier. Long before 1967, the issue of police brutality was at the forefront of Detroiters' minds, with women and girls going on to play prominent and important roles in the rebellion and its aftermath.

A 1963 Police Murder Sparks Outrage

The history of police brutality in Detroit is long and complex, but at no time have men or boys been the exclusive targets of their violence. In the early morning hours of July 5, 1963, police stopped Cynthia Scott and a male companion as they walked down John R Street near Edmond Place.

Scott was a young, African-American woman with a history of engaging in sex work to survive. According to several witnesses who spoke to the Detroit Free Press, despite Scott's repeated assertions that she was with her boyfriend and that they had the right to walk down the street, Detroit police moved to arrest Scott on suspicion of prostitution. She broke away and officer Theodore Spicher shot her three times. She fell face down on the pavement dead.

Witnesses contested Spicher's official statement that she had pulled a knife on him before he shot her. Local activists took up the case as a rallying cry. The Illustrated News, a grassroots circular published by civil rights leaders, carried a two-page story accompanied by detailed pictures of community members picketing the police headquarters.

On the Front Lines

Segregation in 1967 Detroit meant there were few opportunities for blacks to live, work or socialize freely. Racist public policies called for the overpolicing and underprotection of Detroit's black communities. Underground bars called "blind pigs" filled a vital need for safe places for adults to relax, mingle and exchange ideas.

In the scorching hot, early morning hours of Sunday, July 23, 1967, Detroit police raided the "blind pig" run by William Walter "Bill" Scott II at 9125 12th Street. As the police slowly loaded the 80-odd partygoers into paddy wagons, neighbors gathered on the street to watch. A rumor circulated through the crowd that the police had manhandled at least one woman. For Scott's 19-year-old son, William Walter Scott III, a lifetime of frustration over police misconduct fueled the first bottle he threw. The chaos spilled into the street, the police pulled back and looters broke into local stores. The disturbance would escalate as the crowds -- and the response by law enforcement -- would turn increasingly violent and deadly over the next several days.

In 1967, women worked in many of the businesses that were impacted by shoplifting and arson. Some of the women I spoke with -- who were girls at the time -- recalled that older women, including their aunts and mothers, discouraged shoplifters from taking items from the grocery stores and dry cleaners where they worked on 12th Street.

I learned from interview subjects that in other instances -- recognizing that the food and goods would rot or be destroyed -- women encouraged people to take what they could carry for themselves and their families. Many understood that 12th Street, one of the most vibrant corridors for black businesses, was being destroyed, and that it would take some time for these much-needed jobs and services to return, if they ever would.

Despite the fires and rampaging police and National Guardsmen, black women took to the streets and put their lives on the line. For some, this meant taking food and other items they needed for friends and family; for others it meant personally ensuring family members made it out alive.

During performances of "AFTER/LIFE," patrons were asked to share their memories. One man recalled that his mother piled her children into a car to evacuate them out of the city. Another woman told us that her mother faced down a National Guardsmen's rifle and bayonet to get her children home. Teaching their children to load weapons, to hit the floor and duck for cover to avoid getting shot by the police, and to be forever wary of men in uniform -- all of these things became a necessary part of mothering during the rebellion.

Women Organize and Rebuild

As police and National Guardsmen escalated their attacks on black Detroiters and local businesses came under fire, black women also worked to deescalate the violence. Oral histories and archival materials reveal that they carried sandwiches and lemonade to guardsmen and police who were deployed without provisions in their communities. Most importantly, women activated longstanding community organizing networks to provide food, water and shelter to those Detroiters who had been displaced by the violence. Women in positions of influence, from Grace Episcopal and New Bethel Baptist churches to the Temple Beth El synagogue, rallied together.

This vital, "behind-the-scenes" work would have been impossible without a concerted effort on the airwaves. Martha Jean "The Queen" Steinberg, a prominent black radio host, convinced her station managers at WCLB-AM1400 to interrupt their regular programming and allow her to go on air. For the next 48 hours, she would urge calm while giving her majority-black listeners the latest updates, including how local, state and national leaders were responding to the crisis and where they might get help.

Some of the hardest tasks fell to women such as Margaret Gill, Rebecca Pollard and Viola Temple, the mothers of the teenage boys killed by police at the Algiers Hotel. Along with June Blanding, whose four-year-old daughter, Tanya, was murdered by National Guardsmen while she slept, these women organized immediate aid for the victims and led the longer-term charge for justice.

Women also played key roles in a "People's Tribunal," which was organized to hold the police and National Guard accountable. On August 30, 1967 at the Central United Church of Christ (later the Shrine of the Black Madonna), Rosa Parks, a veteran of civil rights organizing, sat as the lead juror in the mock trial that drew hundreds of spectators and ultimately found the police guilty of murder. While the tribunal would have no impact on the formal, criminal proceedings, it provided a necessary and important space for the community to tell the truth, express its anger and frustration, and receive a measure of social justice.

Fifty years later, Detroiters are engaged in a large-scale act of commemorating the 1967 Rebellion. Art and history museum exhibits, panel discussions, book releases and performances have been staged across the city by grassroots organizations and cultural institutions. Men continue to figure prominently in the coverage.

Curators at the Detroit Historical Museum acknowledged as much when they posted a sign in their exhibit that asked patrons, "What's missing?"

Their answer: the perspectives of people of color and women. As long as our stories about the 1967 Detroit Rebellion overlook the knowledge and experiences of women and girls, they will continue to circulate half-truths and false representations of the city, the causes of the uprising and the world Detroiters inhabit today.

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The Clever Games Tax "Reformers" Play

Truthout - Sat, 08/19/2017 - 21:00

Reuters reports that President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans are now tackling tax reform. Staffers are working straight through the August recess, with proposed legislation expected to be released in September.

Among the goodies expected in the new legislation: a lowering of the corporate income tax rate from its current level of 35 percent. President Donald Trump is seeking a reduction to 15 percent. Many Republicans in Congress are favoring a new 20 percent corporate rate.

Either cut, once enacted, would almost certainly trigger a feeding frenzy of tax avoidance. Here's why: Tax avoidance planners seize on distortions in the tax law. One example: The current tax rate applicable to capital gains runs substantially lower than the rate for other income. So tax avoidance planners have developed strategies that cause non-capital gains income to be characterized as capital gains.

This particular distortion sits at the heart of the so-called carried interest loophole, the end run around taxes that lets ultra-rich hedge fund managers treat the income from their fund management work as investment income -- and pay taxes on this income at the lower rate that applies to capital gains, while avoiding, at the same time, employment tax entirely.

Follow the Tax Debate!

Under current law, individual income tax rates top out only slightly higher than corporate income tax rates, 39.6 percent for individual taxes as opposed to 35 percent on the corporate side. But this small gap doesn't have much of an impact. Avoidance planners seldom try to convert what otherwise would be individual income into corporate income. Why bother? Corporate income, after all, faces another round of taxes once distributed out to shareholders as dividends.

So avoidance planers see no upside in the long run to lodging individual income in a taxable corporation. But that would change -- and dramatically so-- if Congress dropped the corporate income tax to half or less of the individual income tax rate, with a 20-percentage point or so differential in the respective rates.

Indeed, at the rate differentials Trump is seeking, the total tax due from the corporate income tax rate and the rate on dividend income received by individuals would still, taken together, come to less than the individual income tax rate for America's most affluent taxpayers.

Which means that any deep-pocketed individuals who can lodge their income in a taxable corporation instead of in their own column would be able to avoid tax by doing so. Yes, these deep pockets would pay tax on the dividend distributions they receive, but those payments could be delayed for years, even decades, and the total tax might still be less than if our tax avoiders had paid tax at individual rates up front.

Trump's Worst Colluding?

If Trump gets his way, would all this gamesmanship end up showing up as a shortfall in corporate tax receipts? In an insidious way, no. The tax avoidance planning triggered by a lowering of the corporate rate would have the effect of transforming individual income into corporate income. The corporate tax base, as a direct result, would increase and offset the revenue loss from the rate reduction.

In fact, the more avoidance planning that takes place, the greater the corporate tax receipts.

Of course, the corporate tax revenue numbers wouldn't reflect the hemorrhaging in individual tax revenue almost certain to result from the corporate rate cut.

We have, in other words, the ultimate in cynical tax policy. If Trump and like-minded lawmakers (including some on the Democratic Party side of the aisle) succeed with their corporate tax cut plan, we would be likely to hear about the unbelievable effect this cut goes on to have on business activity. Arthur Laffer and his minions would ballyhoo the results as vindication for the Laffer Curve and trickle-down economics.

But this would, of course, all be a lie, albeit a damn difficult one to refute. Total tax revenue will have plunged, but ordinary Americans will not understand the cause. Most just won't grasp the connection between a corporate tax rate cut and a plunge in individual tax receipts.

Would anything in Trump's plan work to avoid this result? Ironically, yes. The Trump plan does include one notion that would likely decrease individual income tax revenue in a more direct fashion, without the need to convert individual income to corporate income. You see, Trump also wants a lower tax rate, comparable to the lower corporate rate, for businesses structured as "flow-through" entities -- partnerships, S corporations, and limited liability companies. The income of those entities gets taxed to their owners at individual rates, under current law.

If Trump gets his way on that front, we likely won't see massive tax avoidance planning using taxable corporations. Instead, we'll see massive tax avoidance planning using flow-through entities. The revenue loss will be about the same, but more balanced between corporate and individual tax revenue.

To sum up: Trump's corporate tax rate cut, standing alone, would cause a massive decrease in individual income tax revenue by shifting a large chunk of the individual tax base to corporations, where it would be taxed at lower rates. Throw in Trump's cut in the tax rate on "flow-through" income, and the tax base doesn't shift, but the revenue loss will be just as massive.

Categories: Latest News

Bannon's Ouster Welcomed, but Much Bigger Problem Remains in White House: Trump

Truthout - Fri, 08/18/2017 - 21:00

White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference on February 23, 2017, in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Michael Vadon)

"The problem was never just Steve Bannon. It was and always will be Donald Trump."

That's how Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) responded to news that Friday would the last day on the job for Trump's top political strategist.

Others echoed Sanders on the heels of the breaking reports, saying that while Bannon's departure is a welcome step, the fight against white nationalism is far from over.

"Bannon has unquestionably been a driving force behind the racial turmoil that threatens to tear this country apart. Such a divisive figure has no place in the White House," Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement.

"While it is appropriate that Steve Bannon go, his departure is not enough," Clarke concluded. "The Trump administration must end its pursuit of policies that promote the marginalization of minority communities which emboldens the very white nationalists who descended on Charlottesville last weekend."

Echoing this argument, UltraViolet said on Friday: "Good riddance Steve. The larger and more urgent crisis however is that a white supremacist sympathizer is the president of the United States."

Friends of the Earth also weighed in:

Bannon is OUT! A victory for all decent people who choose love over the hate and racism in Trump’s White House. https://t.co/uaGGH2Dqt1

— Friends of the Earth (@foe_us) August 18, 2017

It is unclear whether Bannon resigned or if Trump, who has of late been under pressure to remove the "nationalist wing" of his administration, ultimately decided to fire him.

The New York Times summarized:

The president and senior White House officials were debating when and how to dismiss Mr. Bannon. The two administration officials cautioned that Mr. Trump is known to be averse to confrontation within his inner circle, and could decide to keep on Mr. Bannon for some time. As of Friday morning, the two men were still discussing Mr. Bannon's future, the officials said. A person close to Mr. Bannon insisted the parting of ways was his idea, and that he had submitted his resignation to the president on Aug. 7.

Bannon made headlines earlier this week after The American Prospect's Robert Kuttner published the details of a phone conversation he had with the former executive chair of the right-wing outlet Breitbart.

During the call, Bannon casually discussed administration in-fighting and mocked the White House's stance on North Korea.

At an impromptu press conference on Tuesday, Trump seemed to express doubt about Bannon's future.

"We'll see," he said in response to questions about Bannon's status.

In a now infamous speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) earlier this year, Bannon described his ambitious plan to fundamentally alter the American political system. The called the end goal of his vision "the deconstruction of the administrative state" -- everything from the tax system to trade deals to regulations.

For now, at least, that plan appears to be on hold.

White House officials, for their part, don't seem worried that his departure will cause any internal turmoil.

"His departure may seem turbulent in the media, but inside it will be very smooth," one official told Swan. "He has no projects or responsibilities to hand off."

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Revolutionary Ferment: From the Russian Revolution to the Contemporary US

Truthout - Fri, 08/18/2017 - 21:00

While it's impossible to know when and where a revolution is going to happen and under what conditions, there is currently a broad radicalization taking place internationally and in the US, with large numbers of people not accepting the capitalist status quo, says labor historian and author Paul LeBlanc.

While it's impossible to know when and where a revolution is going to happen and under what conditions, there is currently a broad radicalization taking place internationally and in the US, with large numbers of people not accepting the capitalist status quo, says labor historian and author Paul LeBlanc. (Photo by Darrian Traynor / Getty Images)

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Labor historian Paul Le Blanc is the author of more than 20 books and has served as an editor of the eight-volume International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest (2009) and of the Complete Works of Rosa Luxemburg (begun in 2013). Le Blanc has more than half a century of activist experience in social movements and is an internationally recognized scholar of working-class history and revolutionary politics.

In this interview, Le Blanc discusses the radicalization process that he sees unfolding in the United States today and possible revolutionary strategies for the future.

Vaios Triantafyllou: Given the current shape of the left in the United States and in Europe, do you think that it is possible to build a revolutionary movement that is conscious of its demands and tactics? What would the role of the vanguard of the working class be in this process, and how would spontaneity be nurtured into consciousness?

Paul LeBlanc: I think that, as you said, there is this broad radicalization that is taking place internationally ... with large numbers of people not accepting the status quo, challenging the status quo, reacting against the status quo (which is a capitalist status quo).... All of this does create circumstances for the coming together of a substantial left-wing force in American politics, and I think the same thing has happened in various other countries. There is nothing automatic about that. It may not be realized, but possibilities exist now that haven't existed for years in this country for that kind of left-wing development.

I want to talk more about both the word vanguard and the word working class, because they are both so important.

The working class is comprised of people who are selling their ability to work for a paycheck. The great majority of people are working class, but this [category is internally] very diverse. It's diverse in different ways: it's racially diverse, it's age diverse, it's gender diverse, etc. But it is diverse in a different way, as well. There are certain layers of the working class that are conscious of various problems, are developing ideas on what those problems are, are developing ideas on what should be done, are starting to engage in struggles to bring about changes for the better ... when I talk about the vanguard, that's what I'm talking about.

Things are very different today compared to 1917.... Things have changed, but not everything has changed. So, the question is: Can we find lessons and insights from the earlier experience [of revolutionary uprising] that are relevant to our experience?

One question is: What is meant by spontaneity? If I am guided by a left-wing organization and doing things on behalf of the organization, that's not necessarily spontaneous. If, on the other hand, I (along with my friends, and neighbors and workmates, and so forth) react against something bad that is happening, trying to do something about it, that could be considered spontaneous.

The thing about that kind of spontaneity, though, is that I am influenced by what others have done. For example, some of my thinking is influenced by Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, some of my thinking is influenced by what happened with the labor movement (my parents were part of the trade union movement), and so on and so forth.

The fact is that there were left-wing organizations in the past, organizations that shared ideas, that engaged in action, that spread ideas of socialism and human rights and the socialist perspective that all of us have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- not just politically, but economically. I have soaked that in, and some of my neighbors and workmates may have soaked that in. We don't know exactly where it came from, but it came from the larger political struggles and culture of previous times and that were influenced by left-wing organizations.

The kind of process that I envision, the kind of process that has been taking place and will continue to take place, is this interplay between organization and spontaneity, the interplay between left-wing groups that may be competing with each other but which also are all contributing to the larger ferment. There is an interplay of such groups with the thinking and actions of people who are reacting to their experience, as it develops under the present stage of capitalist development.

There are several movements that engage in one-issue campaigning. Many people fighting for these rights are liberals opposing socialist principles. How can socialists engage in such campaigns alongside liberals?

There are some liberals who have an anti-socialist perspective, because although they may understand what socialism is, they just believe it won't work, and therefore they support capitalism. In fact, the majority of people in this country don't self-identify as socialists. How do you work with them? How do you win them to socialism?

You can't win them simply by giving them a damn good book, or a leaflet, or by having a series of conversations with them. That may influence their thinking but it won't win them to socialism. They have to win themselves to socialism, in large measure through their own experience, and discussions that we have will be part of the chemistry of that. But there has to be a certain experience through which the idea of socialism makes sense. Now one thing that is helpful in this is capitalism, and the way it is functioning right now is horrible....

There are many people like Al Gore who now favor single-payer health care, just like Gore is in favor of fighting against climate change, although on the matter of being in favor of capitalism, I would imagine Gore has not changed his mind on that. But I can work in a united front with Al Gore and people like him around an issue. We can build a united front around an issue, agree to disagree on questions of socialism and all kinds of other things, but unite on the issue that we agree on, build enough of a coalition to win the battle. Now, in that struggle, any socialist worth his or her salt will be connecting that to the idea of socialism and to the need for socialism.... We talk, we share ideas, we do good work, and we show that these socialists are good people and good activists, that they do good work, that they have interesting ideas. This is how we will build a socialist consciousness and a socialist movement, not just by giving people a pamphlet to read or giving a speech, but by this practical experience through struggle, through united front campaigns around specific issues.

Do you believe that some principles that govern modern representative Western democracies, such as separation of powers, would still be applicable to a socialist democracy? If not, what would be the "checks and balances" and how would a bureaucratic abuse of power be prevented?

Those are crucial questions. You make a reference to bureaucracy, and with this we have a cluster of questions that anyone who is seriously thinking about socialism has to wrestle with. I want to focus on that in a moment.

We don't have a clear model of socialism because there has never been a socialist society in the way that I define socialism. There have been societies and countries with governments that define themselves as socialist, but these have generally been dictatorships, some of them terrible, some of them not as terrible, but still dictatorships, not genuinely democratic and therefore not genuinely socialist.

What would socialism look like? Marx, unlike many of the so-called utopian socialists, didn't draw any blueprints of what the future society should look like. The utopian Charles Fourier, for example, drew up elaborate, fascinating blueprints. One of the reasons Marx didn't draw any blueprints is that he saw socialism as organically blended with democracy and with the majority class that was coming into being -- the working class. Therefore, he didn't want to be some kind of dictator over the working class, with his own plans and his own blueprint to superimpose on the future society. Rather, the future society is something that needs to be worked out by the people of that society -- the working-class majority that is going to shape the socialist society. There are some general principles that Marx articulated. But not blueprints on the exact structure of the economy, or the exact structure of the government. Also, it is impossible to know when and where the revolution is going to happen and what the actual conditions are going to be. So, part of your blueprint might not be relevant to the actualities of that situation. So, Marx's reluctance about blueprints is valid.

On the other hand, when there was a working-class uprising in Paris, creating the Paris Commune of 1871, there were specific organizational structures that crystallized. Engels afterwards said, "Hey, you want to see the dictatorship of the proletariat? That's it!" Marx wrote a pamphlet explaining the structure of the Paris Commune and said that's what we want. That structure involved a certain degree of representative democracy; that is, there were representatives elected to help oversee things, there was a multiparty situation, there was a lot of control by the people over their representatives, you didn't have a government so far above the people that the people couldn't control it. All the people in the government were not paid more than a well-paid worker in society, so that there was a close interplay between the genuinely democratic government and the people. Marx and Engels said that's the kind of thing we should look for.

In my opinion, the transition to socialism will require some kind of representative democracy, at least in much of our political and economic life. Not all of us are in a position to be focusing all of our energy and all of our attention to making sure that the right decisions are made all the time on various complex issues. That has to be delegated to people who we elect, control and trust. That means representative democracy. There needs to be representative democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of organization, freedom to put forward alternatives to the existing policies, whether they are political or economic. There need to be "checks and balances." The interests of the workers at the workplace are not necessarily fully consistent with government that seeks to represent the general interests of society as a whole. This means that workers need to have some say over what is happening at work -- that is a check....

Socialism will require a certain amount of pluralism, and checks and balances can be valuable. The transition period can be chaotic, so there will be a need to determine what is the line of authority, but there have to be various ways for people to express their opinions and discontent and to push for a different balance from what the balance has come to be in a community or workplace. There will be different parties or organizations with different values or plans that they will push for and try to win others to. That is essential for genuine socialism to work. If there is only one party, with one leadership and one program, you can't have socialism or democracy.

I think that a transition to socialism should be seen in that way. But at the same time, you are talking about people's lives: food, clothing, shelter. You can't wait 20 years to get certain things right. There are going to have to be certain things done immediately or in the short-term. Certain basic things need to be guaranteed to everyone as a matter of right, and therefore there is a certain matter of central planning that needs to be implemented right away. Everyone should have a right to good health care, everyone, as soon as possible should have the right to a decent home, everyone should have food -- at least a basic, decent diet; there needs to be a decent transit system.

While certain centrally implemented policies will be required from the beginning, it seems to me within such central implementation there have to be checks and balances and democratic expression. Beyond providing for the basic needs, there is greater room for testing alternative policies -- we can try one thing or another thing and see what happens. What role can the market play that would be positive? Marxists debate that today. But, there has to be an openness, pluralism, a democracy if we are going to get to socialism.

It seems like a central planning of the economy is a very demanding task, most probably demanding a very sophisticated system, or structures, to translate the concept "from each according to his ability to each according to his needs" from meaningless jargon to a much-needed actuality. Is it possible to create such a blueprint in advance, or is this something that will be developed in the process as you mentioned above? Was there such a plan in the case of the Russian Revolution?

First of all, it seems to me that as we build an effective, large socialist movement that is struggling for power, through reform efforts and people's assemblies, through trade unions, and through our own political party with running candidates, we must have a program. We won't have everything mapped out and blueprinted, but there are certain proposals that we should make. Some of them will involve central planning, as I have already indicated: Everyone should get food, clothing, shelter; everyone should get health care and education; there should be mass transit; there must be preservation of a livable environment -- these will be part of the program. There are limited resources, and this has to factored into the program, so we cannot promise everything to everyone. There are a lot more resources than there appear to be, because they are monopolized and used wastefully by those who control the economy now. But even if there is a democratization of the economy, there will be limitations and urgent needs. So, built into the actual struggles there have to be program proposals that will be implemented if we take power.

There has also to be an understanding that there will be a transitional period. In the Communist Manifesto, if you take a good look at it, Marx and Engels talk about the development of democracy within the larger economy. They don't see the transition as an immediate establishment of a socialist economy. As the working class takes power, there will be more and more policies that erode, undermine and ultimately replace capitalism. What that means is that we are not talking about an immediate transition to socialism, and Lenin was aware that this was impossible in Russia, because you didn't have the economic basis for that. Russia was an impoverished country. Socialism cannot be built on the basis of poverty, because then regardless of what is supposed to happen, people will be competing for scarce resources. Those that will get a little bit more power will be able to get more resources and push others down, and the same thing that has afflicted all class societies will start all over again. This was an idea developed by Marx, and it was keenly felt by Lenin and others: We cannot have socialism based on poverty.

Even in a more prosperous economy, there will have to be a transitional period, which means that there will still be a mixed economy, which means that there will still be capitalism. But there will be regulation of capitalism, the creation of public services that will be guaranteed, and public sectors of the economy. The new government must work to facilitate that with an array of organizations, pluralist organizations -- community, city and factory-wide, as well as national entities -- that are elected and controlled by the people, that will help push in this socialist economic direction. There will be controversies and there will inevitably be some chaos, as is natural in any political situation, certainly in one of revolutionary transition.

So, it will not be a simple process, and Lenin didn't envision a simple process. But what he envisioned (and it turned out he was wrong, it didn't work out this way) was the following: He came in with a plan and one aspect of it was workers' control of the economy through trade unions and factory committees. This did not mean the workers taking over the factories (and there were workers who wanted to do that, and they put their bosses and managers in wheel barrels, rolled them out of the factories, and dumped them on the street). But what Lenin argued, and what the workers found out, was that they didn't know how to run the factory yet. It's one thing to make certain kinds of things in the factory, but then how do you connect it to the rest of the economy and run the economy? It is not a simple process.

And so, Lenin was assuming and hoping that an understanding could be worked out at least with many of the capitalists: they would continue to function, but workers would be watching, workers would be making sure the capitalists would not be cheating, workers would be learning more and more how this operates and eventually there could be a transition. That was the intention of "workers' control" -- the workers would know how to operate this part of the factory, connected to the other factories, and other parts of the economy, workers in conjunction with the central government, and a transition would take place. That was the original notion of how to make the transition.

Lenin was also aware that you cannot have a socialist economy in a single country, because what you had at that time (as well as today) was a global capitalist economy. So, you had an economic interdependence of various national economies, and for this socialist thing to work there would need to be working-class socialist revolutions in other countries as well, which is why Lenin and his comrades were helping to build the Communist International. That issue still is the case, I think, and poses a challenge for us.

But what happened after the Russian Revolution was that successful revolutions did not take place in other countries, and the Russian capitalists didn't go along with their long-term extinction. As quickly as they could, they helped enemies of the revolution, they got out and tried to take back as much of their factories as they could (that's why you need workers' control, too, to stop them from doing that). The result was that the economy was prematurely nationalized. The workers didn't know how to run the factories and the Communists didn't know how to run the economy. So, while there was a premature attempt at very extensive central planning, all kinds of mistakes were made. This was taking place amidst a civil war, under the impact of World War I on the Russian economy, as well as under the impact of an economic blockade imposed by capitalist countries. So, you had a super-centralized situation that was destroying the early Soviet economy. As soon as the civil war basically was ended, Lenin and the majority of the Bolsheviks shifted back to the direction of a mixed economy, a New Economic Policy. They did it in many different ways, it's interesting to look at it -- they made mistakes, but some things they did were good, and they got the economy going again.

All of this may not be completely applicable to our situation. We don't know what the situation is going to be. What we know is that there is going to be a transitional period, that there are going to be screw-ups, that certain balances could be established, that we need to go in aware that we are dealing with life and death issues, and therefore we have to have some initial plans in place.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Time to Impeach Trump

Truthout - Fri, 08/18/2017 - 21:00

President Donald Trump waves from his motorcade vehicle after departing Trump Tower on August 16, 2017, in New York City. Trump is traveling to Bedminster, New Jersey, as fallout continues from his comments on the violence in Charlottesville. (Photo by Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

It's time to urge the House of Representatives to bring articles of impeachment against Trump for his abuse of power and before he launches a new civil war and/or nuclear war. When the people elect a president, they are entrusting that person with their security, well-being and survival. Trump clearly has betrayed that trust and must go.

President Donald Trump waves from his motorcade vehicle after departing Trump Tower on August 16, 2017, in New York City. Trump is traveling to Bedminster, New Jersey, as fallout continues from his comments on the violence in Charlottesville. (Photo by Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

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As we mourn the death of Heather Heyer, murdered by a white supremacist at the Charlottesville "Unite the Right" rally on Saturday, and hope for the recovery of the dozens of other anti-racist counterdemonstrators injured that day, Donald Trump continues to fan the flames of hatred and bigotry he has nourished throughout his brief presidency.

The president's reprehensible behavior in this moment creates a new sense of urgency. We cannot postpone consideration of impeachment until Special Counsel Robert Mueller finishes his criminal investigation. It is time to pressure the House of Representatives to bring articles of impeachment against Trump for his abuse of power. We must stop this president before he launches a new civil war and/or nuclear war.

Commentator Robert Tracinski, writing on the conservative website The Federalist, concurs. "We're done with the 'Well, maybe it won't be so bad and we should take what we can get' phase of this administration," he wrote, apparently referring to Republicans who are holding their noses while hoping for tax cuts and more right-wing Supreme Court justices.

"It's time for the 'He's a disaster and needs to go' phase," Tracinski continued. "For everybody's good, Donald Trump needs to not be president, and he needs to not be president yesterday."

Tracinski noted, "In a country where 99 percent of the population is opposed to Nazis, it should be the easiest thing in the world for an American president to unite the country by appealing to our shared values."

But that is not what Trump did after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville resulted in the death of Heyer and wounding of 34 people. The rally drew together neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and self-described members of the "alt-right" -- a racist, radical right-wing movement that seeks to rebrand white supremacy, anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant, anti-feminist politics, homophobia and transphobia under a more polished, middle-class veneer.

In a classic example of false moral equivalency, Trump ultimately responded on Tuesday to the racist, anti-Semitic attacks by saying there were "very fine people on both sides" and "many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists."

Outrage at Trump's Remarks

A Washington Post editorial stated, "Tuesday was a great day for David Duke and racists everywhere. The president of the United States all but declared that he has their backs." It continued, "We've all seen the videotape: One side was composed of Nazis, Klansmen and other avowed racists chanting, 'Jews will not replace us.' The other side was objecting to their racism."

As Tracinski pointed out, "this was a Nazi march from the beginning, planned by Nazis, for Nazis." The day before the deadly rally, the neo-Nazis and white supremacists marched through Charlottesville with Ku Klux Klan-like tiki torches, also chanting the Nazi slogan, "Blood and Soil."

Five members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and National Guard, condemned the neo-Nazis, stating that their beliefs contradicted the military's core values.

A dozen CEOs of powerful corporations, outraged at Trump's remarks, agreed to disband the Strategic and Policy Forum, an elite group chosen to advise the president on economic issues.

After Trump's comments conflating the neo-Nazis and white supremacists with anti-racist protestors, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), tweeted, "We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity."

Ryan is no anti-racist hero; if his policy proposals were enacted, they would devastate communities of color. But Trump went too far, even for Ryan.

So, will Ryan exercise moral leadership and shepherd the House through impeachment of the president?

Abuse of Power

The proceedings would begin in the House Judiciary Committee, which can recommend impeachment. The full House would then decide whether to issue articles of impeachment, which requires a majority. If the House votes to impeach, the case would go to the Senate for trial, where a two-thirds majority is necessary for a finding of guilt and removal from office.

The Constitution provides for impeachment of the president when he commits "high crimes and misdemeanors." They include, but are not limited to, conduct punishable by the criminal law. One of the articles of impeachment filed against Richard Nixon was "abuse of power."

Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist No. 65 that offenses are impeachable if they "proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust."

"They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself," Hamilton added.

No individual embodies the trust of the public more than the president, who is elected by the people. When the people choose their president, they are entrusting that person with their security, well-being and survival. The voters should be able to trust the president to act in their best interests and protect them from harm.

The neo-Nazis and white supremacists are on a roll, with rallies planned across the country. By emboldening them and encouraging widespread polarization, Trump is abusing his power and placing the country at risk of a new civil war.

Five months before Charlottesville, Keith Mines, a State Department expert on internecine conflict, predicted, "the United States faces a 60 percent chance there will be a civil war over the next 10 to 15 years." The consensus among several national security thinkers interviewed by Foreign Policy about the likelihood of a new civil war is closer to a 35 percent chance -- lower than Mines' estimate but still quite significant.

Since 2002, militant right-wingers have killed more people in the United States than Islamic extremists have, according to Newsweek. 

Trump has also illegally threatened North Korea with nuclear annihilation. The United Nations Charter prohibits the threat or use of military force against another country except in self-defense or with the Security Council's blessing. After the Department of National Intelligence restated a four-year-old unconfirmed claim that North Korea had miniaturized nuclear warheads for its missiles, Trump stated, "North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen." Four days later, Trump warned North Korea that the US military is "locked and loaded." If Trump attacked North Korea, he would not be acting in self-defense or with approval of the Security Council.

By supporting neo-Nazis and white supremacists, and threatening to start a nuclear war, Trump is violating the trust and abusing the power "We the People" have placed in him.

Obstruction of Justice

Another article of impeachment leveled against Nixon was "obstruction of justice." Even before Charlottesville, there was sufficient evidence of Trump's obstruction of justice and law-breaking to support impeachment.

Trump prevailed upon then-FBI Director James Comey to halt his investigation into former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn's wrongdoing. When Comey refused, Trump fired him. In addition, Donald Trump Jr. violated the Federal Election Campaign Act by meeting with Russians to get damaging information on Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign. When it became public, Trump wrote a statement trying to cover it up.

Trump has also violated the Constitution's Take Care Clause, which says the president "shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed." He pledged to sabotage the Affordable Care Act (the law of the land), encouraged police brutality (advocating violation of the Fourth Amendment), promulgated an unconstitutional Muslim Ban, illegally bombed Syria and killed numerous civilians, and violated the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.

Do Republicans Have the Will to Impeach Trump?

An August 2-8 poll from the Public Religion Research Institute found that 40 percent of Americans -- including almost three-quarters of Democrats and 7 percent of Republicans -- favored Trump's impeachment. That poll took place before the deadly Charlottesville rally.

Several GOP Congress members issued strong statements against the terrorist attack by white supremacists. Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) wrote, "We should call evil by its name. My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged at home." Only a few Republicans defended Trump.

But do Republicans have the will to impeach Trump? Maybe not. Of those who took issue with his statements, almost none called out the president directly. Sen Cory Gardner (Colorado), one of the few who did, tweeted, "Mr. President -- we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism."

After Trump's statement about "very fine people on both sides," David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, rewarded Trump with the tweet, "Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa."

Duke was drawing a false equivalency. Antifa, short for "anti-fascist," is a loose affiliation of radical leftists who chronicle and demonstrate against militant right-wingers throughout the country. Black Lives Matter (BLM) was also represented in Charlottesville. It should go without saying that members of these groups, who acted in self-defense against the neo-Nazis and white supremacists, are not terrorists.

In February, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has documented over 900 active hate groups in the United States, stated, "The radical right was more successful in entering the political mainstream last year than in half a century."

Moreover, a new CBS poll found 67 percent of GOP voters approve of Trump's statements about Charlottesville.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, has called for hearings into the Charlottesville attack and the rise of white supremacists in the United States. But no Republican has publicly discussed impeachment, and the GOP has a majority on the House Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, announced he plans to introduce articles of impeachment against Trump. He stated that Trump had "failed the presidential test of moral leadership," adding, "There are no good Nazis. There are no good Klansmen." Cohen said, "None of the marchers spewing such verbiage could be considered 'very fine people' as the President suggested.... No moral president would ever shy away from outright condemning hate, intolerance and bigotry."

The Democrats have mounted a full-court press against Republicans to denounce Trump on this issue. "No tool has been overlooked," Mike Lillis and Scott Wong reported in The Hill. "The Democrats have sent letters, called for hearings, launched campaign ads and promised resolutions of censure and impeachment."

The GOP is at a critical juncture. It must decide whether it wants to become the official party of the white supremacists.

We must pressure the members of the House Judiciary Committee in every way we can to initiate impeachment proceedings.

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