Ahead of the Peoples Climate March, Senator Jeff Merkley, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Senator Ed Markey stood beside movement leaders to introduce legislation that will completely phase out fossil fuel use by 2050. The “100 by ‘50 Act” outlines a bold plan to support workers and to prioritize low-income communities while replacing oil, coal and gas with clean energy sources like wind and solar.
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, issued the following statement on the upcoming “first 100 days” of the administration of President Donald J. Trump:
In his first 100 days, President Trump has taken dozens of actions that threaten clean air, clean water, our families’ health, and treasured places from the Arctic Ocean to the Everglades. (Read our in-depth analysis of Trump’s first 100 days here.)
The American Civil Liberties Union today released a report on the civil rights and civil liberties record of the first 100 days of the Trump administration. These include the unconstitutional Muslim ban, the failed Affordable Care Act repeal, and the repeated attacks on LGBT rights. The organization also published a day-by-day accounting of the administration’s “100 Days of Failure.”
Erin Brockovich speaks at the 2016 Arizona Ultimate Women's Expo at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona, October 9, 2016. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)
"It's not just one Flint. It's hundreds of Flints," says environmental activist Erin Brockovich, describing how water supplies throughout the US have become repositories for industrial waste. More than 200 million Americans are exposed to the carcinogen Chromium 6 alone. With regulation-blocking Scott Pruitt in charge of our drinking water, we must mobilize to prevent widespread illness and death.
Erin Brockovich speaks at the 2016 Arizona Ultimate Women's Expo at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona, October 9, 2016. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)
Come take a ride on America's toxic water slide: First stop: Flint, Michigan, where two years later, people are still contending with lead-laced water, which was finally detected by the EPA in February 2015 with the help of resident Lee Anne Walters. Next stop: California, where hundreds of wells have been contaminated with 1,2,3-TCP, a Big Oil-manufactured chemical present in pesticides. Travel to the East to see the significant amounts of 1,4-dioxane, an industry solvent stabilizer that continue to pollute the waters belonging to North Carolina's Cape Fear River Basin. In New York and Pennsylvania, residents are contending with outbreaks of waterborne Legionnaires' disease (the bacteria grow easily in water distribution systems and often hide in the biofilm of aging pipes). Meanwhile, in June 2016, kids in Hoosick Falls, New York, protested in the streets with placards around their necks that featured PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid, a man-made chemical used in Teflon) levels to denote how much has infiltrated their blood through tainted water. Drop to Houston, Texas, where high levels of hexavalent chromium, the cancer-causing chemical made infamous by Erin Brockovich, are turning up in tap water while thousands of fracking poisons overrun imperiled communities and Indigenous reservations. And, to add to the cesspit, just four days after Trump was sworn in, he sanctioned the $3.8 billion, 1,170-mile Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) that will create underground contamination.
Yes, indeed, the story of water in America is dirty and deep. The tale took a toxic turn in the 1930s, during the dawn of the chemical industry, when many horrifying toxins were first being introduced into our landscape. Quality reports on what flows out of American faucets today read like a description for liquid cancer.
And the water we do have isn't enough. Since 2008, nearly every region of the US has experienced a water shortage.
And since 2015, at least 40 states have been anticipating local, regional or statewide water shortages within the next 10 years, even under non-drought conditions.
"Houston. We. Have. A. Problem," says environmental activist Erin Brockovich in reference to the nation's water supply. Brockovich should know. She's been at it for more than 25 years, ever since her investigation uncovered that Pacific Gas & Electric was poisoning the small town of Hinkley, California, by adding the cooling water biocide Chromium 6 Cr(VI) into the water supply for more than 30 years. The adverse health effects associated with Cr(VI) exposure include occupational asthma, eye irritation and damage, perforated eardrums, respiratory irritation, kidney damage, liver damage, pulmonary congestion and edema, upper abdominal pain, nose irritation and respiratory cancer.
"It's not just one Flint. It's hundreds of Flints," Brockovich, who became a household name in 2000 when Julia Roberts portrayed her in an Oscar-winning film, tells me in an interview. "We've already slipped and we're on the cusp of Third World conditions when it comes to our water supply."
According to an Environmental Working Group's analysis of federal data from nationwide drinking water tests, Chromium 6 alone, which remains unregulated to this day, contaminates the water supplies of more than 200 million Americans in all 50 states. That's roughly two-thirds of the population.
The Larger Toxic Soup
Brockovich learns about water toxins via the thousands of emails she receives from around the country. Just consider her the Dear Abby of Dirty Water. For instance, in January 2015 Melissa Mays, a mother of three alerted Brockovich about Flint, long before mainstream media learned the news. A month later, Brockovich's partner in crime, environmental investigator Bob Bowcock visited the community. He then wrote a report to the mayor outlining exactly what they needed to do to fix the problem.
These days, the correspondence never ceases. At the time of our interview, Brockovich was heading to Hannibal, Missouri, where people are grappling with high levels of lead and the dangerous byproduct chloramine. She has also begun an investigation in Waycross, Georgia, to understand why there's a high incidence of cancer among the town's children, and she'll eventually visit Tyler, Texas, to probe its connection with the cancer-causing disinfectant haloacetic acids (HAA5).
It's come to the point where Brockovich sees the country by chemical, not by state. Give her a poison, and she'll tell you which state you can find it in. She can easily cite 40 states coping with water contamination from lead and hexavalent chromium, among other substances.
Distilling Toxins for Truth
Despite the facts, politicians have failed to recognize that clean water should be a national security priority. How close do the dots have to be before they can be connected?
"I think everyone is waking up," says Brockovich. "Whatever agency on the Hill they think is keeping tabs ... that's not really what's happening."
In other words, regardless of the administration, the EPA has protected industry-backed efforts at the expense of our health.
"There are well-meaning, intelligent scientists and engineers ... but it's such a cluster mess. They don't know where to go. They are held back," Brockovich says. "This is an agency that is overburdened, broke."
It doesn't help that the country doesn't abide by the "precautionary principle," which would require us to prohibit products or processes with questionable effects from entering into existence without further investigation for sake of protecting the people and planet. According to a March 2005 publication from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the precautionary principle can be summed up in this way: "When human activities may lead to morally unacceptable harm that is scientifically plausible but uncertain, actions shall be taken to avoid or diminish that harm."
Long before Trump, the Overton window -- the range of ideas that the public finds acceptable to consider within the sphere of public discourse -- shifted and we decided toxic chemicals were actually safe unless proven harmful. This normalization of pathology is ever-present in our current world.
With a climate denier as president and an EPA leadership that seems intent on dismantling the EPA, the Trump administration has arguably just made it more obvious and official that the almighty dollar rules. The administration is already rolling back Obama-era regulations on coal-burning power plants and climate change. The "Green Blob," aka the EPA, is now being run by Scott Pruitt, best known for suing the agency 14 times while he was attorney general of Oklahoma. Pruitt's suits against the agency even included motions to block regulations on clean water. While he was attorney general, Pruitt's official biography described him as a "leading advocate against the EPA's activist agenda."
Despite findings by the Government Accountability Office that as many as 15 percent of localities lack the resources to address environmental challenges, the current administration's budget proposal hopes to cut the EPA's funding by 31 percent by focusing on killing climate change programs, arguably dismantling the agency's ability to protect the health of people in the US.
"The fundamental issue is lack of funds, particularly in areas where population is declining as America's demographics change," writes Deborah Seligsohn, who researches environmental governance at the University of California at San Diego.
On Tap: The United Corporation of America
The extent to which companies control government has never been more blatantly obvious. For decades, toxic-waste sites and irresponsible industries have managed to discharge hundreds of toxic chemicals, pharmaceuticals, disinfection byproducts, plastics and heavy metals into the water supply either without repercussion or with penalties that are too slight to change business practices.
Put simply, water today has become a repository for industrial waste, explains water quality specialist Dr. Roy M. Speiser of Clean Water Revival.
"People are being misled to believe that drinking water is safe because it meets government standards," Speiser told Truthout. "The notion that the EPA's allowable concentration levels of toxic contaminants in your drinking water is 'safe' is a myth. If a certain chemical or heavy metal, such as arsenic, is present in trace amounts, and you drink this water over an extended period, it accumulates in your body, which contributes to a chronic health disorder."
Unfortunately, it's insidiously difficult to track cumulative effects on health unless there is acute exposure, and Western medicine often fails to acknowledge the idea that toxic chemicals accumulate in our blood, fatty tissues and other parts of our bodies, and that this overload of toxins in our bodies can affect our risk for certain diseases. The corporations that create the pesticides, cosmetics, plastics and other products that expose us to these toxins know that they are unlikely to be prosecuted for their effects, since symptoms can take 10 or 20 years to pronounce themselves.
"The amount of chemicals in our air, water, waterways and soil is one of the most frustrating things about how EPA regulates chemicals in the environment," says Bowcock, whom Brockovich fondly calls "Bill, the Science Guy." "They don't take into account all the various pathways you are exposed to -- drinking, cooking, swimming, showering, brushing teeth -- from just one medium: water."
According to a study in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, "non-genetic, environmental exposures are involved in causation, in some cases probably by interacting with genetically inherited predispositions. Strong evidence exists that industrial chemicals widely disseminated in the environment are important contributors to what we have called the global, silent pandemic of neurodevelopmental toxicity."
The Safe Drinking Water Act, which was originally enacted into law in 1974, was supposed to focus on ensuring that public drinking water meets appropriate safety standards; in contrast, the 1972 Clean Water Act theoretically regulates pollution in our nation's lakes, rivers and other bodies of water.
But when it comes to water health, the EPA has operated at a glacial pace.
The Environmental Working Group's tests and a petition from environmental groups pushed the EPA to add chromium-6 to the chemicals local utilities must test, under the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule. The Safe Drinking Water Act requires the EPA to review each national primary drinking water regulation at least once every six years and revise them, if appropriate. The 1996 amendments, meanwhile, require the EPA to select up to 30 previously unregulated contaminants for testing every five years, according to the Environmental Working Group.
Yet, in two decades, the EPA has ordered testing for only 81 contaminants out of thousands, and moved forward on setting a regulation for a mere one: the rocket fuel ingredient perchlorate. The implementation of that regulation is two years behind schedule.
"For an agency to be unable to adopt a single standard (for water contaminants) in 20 years is inexcusable," Erik Olson, health and environment program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) told the Washington Post. "It's a combination of a bad law and very bad implementation."
According to Brockovich, a lack of regulations isn't the issue.
"Any regulation without enforcement and oversight is moot.... We have a Clean Water Act implemented by none other than the Nixon administration that everyone wants to dodge and not follow, and that's why we're in the trouble we're in. We have some really good laws on the books. Let's just enforce them and we can begin to make headway," says Brockovich.
Drops of Hope
Despite Pruitt's track record, the Flint crisis was so egregious and well-publicized (thanks largely to the work of local activists) that the EPA is taking steps to improve that situation. The agency awarded a $100-million grant to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, approved by Congress and former President Barack Obama late last year, to fund drinking water infrastructure upgrades in Flint. Pruitt has also expressed interest in allotting $20 million to the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program (WIFIA).
"EPA will especially focus on helping Michigan improve Flint's water infrastructure as part of our larger goal of improving America's water infrastructure," Pruitt said in a press release issued by the EPA on March 17, 2017.
According to the agency, The WIFIA funding supplements EPA's Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which has reportedly provided more than $32.5 billion to states for infrastructure upgrades through the years.
And yet, according to the New York Times, Pruitt also began the complicated legal process of rewriting the sweeping 2015 rule known as the Waters of the United States, which allows the federal government authority to limit pollution in major bodies of water. It falls under the Clean Water Act.
Because the water protection rule was finalized under existing laws, the legality to alter the rule after this fact is under question. It cannot simply be rewritten, legal experts in both the Obama and Trump White House have stated.
Frack This: The Halliburton Loophole
Despite the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA does not regulate the injection of fracking fluids. Today, oil and gas companies can -- and do -- dump whatever they want into the nation's water supplies, carte blanche, due to the "Halliburton Loophole."
In 2005, a national energy bill included the exemption of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) from the Safe Drinking Water Act. At the time, Dick Cheney was vice president and also the former CEO of Halliburton, the company that patented hydraulic fracturing in the '40s.
"Of course, politics were involved and at play in exempting the oil and gas industry from the Drinking Water Act and Safe Water Act," says Kandi Mossett of North Dakota, a leading voice in the fight to bring visibility to the impacts that climate change and environmental injustice are having on Indigenous communities across North America.
Even though common sense suggests fracking is linked to the environmental assault we're witnessing, companies are protected because of regulations that prevent them from having to detail and report their chemical dumps, because in a court of law you cannot directly connect corporations with any chemical, Mossett told Truthout.
"[Companies] didn't need to tally the chemicals and toxins they were using in their processes and that's when everything really began raging around the country when it came to fracking," says the 37-year-old, who also serves as the Indigenous Environmental Network lead organizer on the Extreme Energy and Just Transition campaign.
"Every frack job they do on a single rig uses a minimum of 6 million tons of water. And it has to be pristine water because it has less contaminants that will interact with their water, which involves up to 2,000 chemicals," explains Mossett.
A 2011 EPA report estimated that 70 to 140 billion gallons of water are used to fracture 35,000 wells in the United States each year. This is equivalent to approximately the annual water consumption of 40 to 80 cities, each with a population of 50,000, according to Earthworks.
This extraction of so much water for fracking has raised many concerns about the ecological destruction of aquatic resources, as well as the dewatering of drinking water aquifers.
"It has also been estimated that the transportation of a million gallons of water (fresh or waste water) requires hundreds of truck trips, increasing the greenhouse gas footprint of oil and gas and contributing to air pollution," reports Source Watch.
In 2015, Mossett's community, the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, home of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes, experienced a 1 million gallon spill.
Although the EPA was responsible for cleaning up the mess, that never really happened.
"It was more like they poured water on it, and let it go down the hill and down the creek and into the Missouri River," says Mossett. "So again, you have the US Army Corps of Engineers messing with waterways and causing contaminants."
Meanwhile, mainstream media outlets have described these various spills associated with the multibillion-dollar fracking industry as "brine," a simple euphemism that turns a toxic event into something that sounds commonplace and benign.
Standing Rock: "And the Pipes Build On"
A Lakota prophecy describes a "black snake" that warns of the destruction of Mother Earth. Some Lakota and others believe the Dakota Access Pipeline, which encroaches on treaty rights and is headed straight for ancestral lands and waters, fits the bill.
On February 23 the US Army Corps of Engineers allowed an easement, allowing pipeline construction to move forward despite environmental risks and protests. While a total of 700 Water Protectors were arrested, and legal aid for court cases is still needed, the movement served to mobilize people into solidarity, from Sweden to Venezuela.
"We're not going to just let it go," says Mossett, who was at Standing Rock for the entire duration of the protests, from April 2016 to February 2017. "Pipelines are toxic and an illegal violation of human rights and Indigenous sovereignty."
To add salt to the wound, the Trump administration also issued a permit allowing construction companies to move forward with the Keystone XL Pipeline, although the route is still being litigated in the states, and Indigenous tribes and landowners have joined environmental groups in opposing the pipeline, whose carbon-heavy tar sands contribute to global warming.
Around the end of March, environmental groups filed two federal lawsuits to block construction despite Trump's recent approval, citing that "outdated and incomplete environmental impact statement[s]" were used, according to Reuters.
A court hearing wasn't expected until at least April, after operations are expected to begin.
Water Wars: Superman Isn't Coming
We the people can no longer convince ourselves that federal agencies will protect us from threats to our health and our environment.
In light of a broken system that allows industrial chemicals to be used with abandon, without any significant testing for safety, and with the imminent slashing of the federal agency's budget, we are headed toward more illnesses and deaths.
"Superman is not coming," says Brockovich. "We have to stop thinking it's going to trickle down from the top. It's going to have to begin with you in your backyard, at your city council. The change is going to come from the people, just like it has in Flint and Hannibal."
For instance, the first thing people can do is call their municipality and ask for a water quality report to figure out what filters may or may not work to purify drinking water and protect against toxicity.
In 2016, President Barack Obama signed off on Trevor's Law. Part of a larger toxic substances reform bill, its goal is to protect children and communities from areas where disease clusters have been identified. Part of the vision included a federally run national registry but rather than wait for the government, Brockovich and her team created the Community Health Book. Banking on online user activity, this invaluable interactive map allows for self-reporting, helping us locate and identify disease cluster outbreaks and monitor migratory pathways for the first time.
Since going live a few months ago, the site has generated about 150 new reports a week.
"It's a scary scenario, but we always stay hopeful and positive," says Brockovich. "When the people get more informed, they get stronger, and then changes can start to happen. The very first step is getting people to wake up."
A Mexican immigrant named Arturo Hernandez Garcia was arrested Wednesday morning by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Hernandez Garcia had sought sanctuary from deportation at the First Unitarian Society church for nine months until July 2015, when he was told he was no longer a priority for deportation. Supporters of Hernandez Garcia say he has been targeted in part because of his immigration activism. We re-air our interview from Hernandez Garcia in 2015 and speak to Jennifer Piper, interfaith organizer for American Friends Service Committee in Denver and coordinator for the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition.
Please check back later for full transcript.
The White House has outlined a plan to give the nation's millionaires and billionaires a massive tax break while adding trillions of dollars to the U.S. deficit. The plan would lower the corporate tax rate to 15 percent, end the estate tax and end the alternative minimum tax -- a move that would solely benefit the richest Americans, including President Trump. A leaked 2005 tax return shows Trump paid out $36.6 million in federal income taxes that year -- most of it due to the alternative minimum tax. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich described Trump's tax plan as a form of class warfare. The tax plan was unveiled on Wednesday by two former executives at Goldman Sachs -- Trump's chief economic adviser Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin -- who hailed the tax cuts. We speak to economist James Henry of the Tax Justice Network.
Please check back later for full transcript.
Senegalese Armed Forces soldiers attack an objective at a live fire range near Thies, Senegal, February 11, 2015. With the Trump administration escalating its wars in Africa and the Middle East, there's every reason to believe the US military's footprint on the continent will continue to evolve, expand and enlarge in the years ahead. (Photo: US Army Africa)
General Thomas Waldhauser sounded a little uneasy. "I would just say, they are on the ground. They are trying to influence the action," commented the chief of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) at a Pentagon press briefing in March, when asked about Russian military personnel operating in North Africa. "We watch what they do with great concern."
And Russians aren't the only foreigners on Waldhauser's mind. He's also wary of a Chinese "military base" being built not far from Camp Lemonnier, a large U.S. facility in the tiny, sun-blasted nation of Djibouti. "They've never had an overseas base, and we've never had a base of... a peer competitor as close as this one happens to be," he said. "There are some very significant... operational security concerns."
At that press conference, Waldhauser mentioned still another base, an American one exposed by the Washington Post last October in an article titled, "U.S. has secretly expanded its global network of drone bases to North Africa." Five months later, the AFRICOM commander still sounded aggrieved. "The Washington Post story that said 'flying from a secret base in Tunisia.' It's not a secret base and it's not our base... We have no intention of establishing a base there."
Waldhauser's insistence that the U.S. had no base in Tunisia relied on a technicality, since that foreign airfield clearly functions as an American outpost. For years, AFRICOM has peddled the fiction that Djibouti is the site of its only "base" in Africa. "We continue to maintain one forward operating site on the continent, Camp Lemonnier," reads the command's 2017 posture statement. Spokespeople for the command regularly maintain that any other U.S. outposts are few and transitory -- "expeditionary" in military parlance.
While the U.S. maintains a vast empire of military installations around the world, with huge -- and hard to miss -- complexes throughout Europe and Asia, bases in Africa have been far better hidden. And if you listened only to AFRICOM officials, you might even assume that the U.S. military's footprint in Africa will soon be eclipsed by that of the Chinese or the Russians.
Highly classified internal AFRICOM files offer a radically different picture. A set of previously secret documents, obtained by TomDispatch via the Freedom of Information Act, offers clear evidence of a remarkable, far-ranging, and expanding network of outposts strung across the continent. In official plans for operations in 2015 that were drafted and issued the year before, Africa Command lists 36 U.S. outposts scattered across 24 African countries. These include low-profile locations -- from Kenya to South Sudan to a shadowy Libyan airfield -- that have never previously been mentioned in published reports. Today, according to an AFRICOM spokesperson, the number of these sites has actually swelled to 46, including "15 enduring locations." The newly disclosed numbers and redacted documents contradict more than a decade's worth of dissembling by U.S. Africa Command and shed new light on a constellation of bases integral to expanding U.S. military operations on the African continent and in the Middle East.
A map of US military bases -- forward operating sites, cooperative security locations, and contingency locations -- across the African continent in 2014 from declassified AFRICOM planning documents. (Credit: Nick Turse / TomDispatch)
A Constellation of Bases
AFRICOM failed to respond to repeated requests for further information about the 46 bases, outposts, and staging areas currently dotting the continent. Nonetheless, the newly disclosed 2015 plans offer unique insights into the wide-ranging network of outposts, a constellation of bases that already provided the U.S. military with unprecedented continental reach.
Those documents divide U.S. bases into three categories: forward operating sites (FOSes), cooperative security locations (CSLs), and contingency locations (CLs). "In total, [the fiscal year 20]15 proposed posture will be 2 FOSes, 10 CSLs, and 22 CLs" state the documents. By spring 2015, the number of CSLs had already increased to 11, according to then-AFRICOM chief General David Rodriguez, in order to allow U.S. crisis-response forces to reach potential hot spots in West Africa. An appendix to the plan, also obtained by TomDispatch, actually lists 23 CLs, not 22. Another appendix mentions one additional contingency location.
These outposts -- of which forward operating sites are the most permanent and contingency locations the least so -- form the backbone of U.S. military operations on the continent and have been expanding at a rapid rate, particularly since the September 2012 attack on the U.S. Mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The plans also indicate that the U.S. military regularly juggles locations, shuttering sites and opening others, while upgrading contingency locations to cooperative security locations in response to changing conditions like, according to the documents, "increased threats emanating from the East, North-West, and Central regions" of the continent.
AFRICOM's 2017 posture statement notes, for example, a recent round of changes to the command's inventory of posts. The document explains that the U.S. military "closed five contingency locations and designated seven new contingency locations on the continent due to shifting requirements and identified gaps in our ability to counter threats and support ongoing operations." Today, according to AFRICOM spokesman Chuck Prichard, the total number of sites has jumped from the 36 cited in the 2015 plans to 46 -- a network now consisting of two forward operating sites, 13 cooperative security locations, and 31 contingency locations.
Location, Location, Location
AFRICOM's sprawling network of bases is crucial to its continent-wide strategy of training the militaries of African proxies and allies and conducting a multi-front campaign aimed at combating a disparate and spreading collection of terror groups. The command's major areas of effort involve: a shadow war against the militant group al-Shabaab in Somalia (a long-term campaign, ratcheting up in the Trump era, with no end in sight); attempts to contain the endless fallout from the 2011 U.S. and allied military intervention that ousted Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi (a long-term effort with no end in sight); the neutralizing of "violent extremist organizations" across northwest Africa, the lands of the Sahel and Maghreb (a long-term effort with no end in sight); the degradation of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin nations of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad (a long-term effort -- to the tune of $156 million last year alone in support of regional proxies there -- with no end in sight); countering piracy in the Gulf of Guinea (a long-term effort with no end in sight), and winding down the wildly expensive effort to eliminate Joseph Kony and his murderous Lord's Resistance Army in Central Africa (both live on, despite a long-term U.S. effort).
The U.S. military's multiplying outposts are also likely to prove vital to the Trump administration's expanding wars in the Middle East. African bases have long been essential, for instance, to Washington's ongoing shadow war in Yemen, which has seen a significant increase in drone strikes under the Trump administration. They have also been integral to operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, where a substantial (and deadly) uptick in U.S. airpower (and civilian casualties) has been evident in recent months.
In 2015, AFRICOM spokesman Anthony Falvo noted that the command's "strategic posture and presence are premised on the concept of a tailored, flexible, light footprint that leverages and supports the posture and presence of partners and is supported by expeditionary infrastructure." The declassified secret documents explicitly state that America's network of African bases is neither insignificant nor provisional. "USAFRICOM's posture requires a network of enduring and non-enduring locations across the continent," say the 2015 plans. "A developed network of FOSes, CSLs, and non-enduring CLs in key countries... is necessary to support the command's operations and engagements."
According to the files, AFRICOM's two forward operating sites are Djibouti's Camp Lemonnier and a base on the United Kingdom's Ascension Island off the west coast of Africa. Described as "enduring locations" with a sustained troop presence and "U.S.-owned real property," they serve as hubs for staging missions across the continent and for supplying the growing network of outposts there.
Lemonnier, the crown jewel of America's African bases, has expanded from 88 acres to about 600 acres since 2002, and in those years, the number of personnel there has increased exponentially as well. "Camp Lemonnier serves as a hub for multiple operations and security cooperation activities," reads AFRICOM's 2017 posture statement. "This base is essential to U.S. efforts in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula." Indeed, the formerly secret documents note that the base supports "U.S operations in Somalia CT [counterterrorism], Yemen CT, Gulf of Aden (counter-piracy), and a wide range of Security Assistance activities and programs throughout the region."
In 2015, when he announced the increase in cooperative security locations, then-AFRICOM chief David Rodriguez mentioned Senegal, Ghana, and Gabon as staging areas for the command's rapid reaction forces. Last June, outgoing U.S. Army Africa commander Major General Darryl Williams drew attention to a CSL in Uganda and one being set up in Botswana, adding, "We have very austere, lean, lily pads, if you will, all over Africa now."
CSL Entebbe in Uganda has, for example, long been an important air base for American forces in Africa, serving as a hub for surveillance aircraft. It also proved integral to Operation Oaken Steel, the July 2016 rapid deployment of troops to the U.S. Embassy in Juba, South Sudan, as that failed state (and failed U.S. nation-building effort) sank into yet more violence.
Libreville, Gabon, is listed in the documents as a "proposed CSL," but was actually used in 2014 and 2015 as a key base for Operation Echo Casemate, the joint U.S.-French-African military response to unrest in the Central African Republic.
AFRICOM's 2015 plan also lists cooperative security locations in Accra, Ghana; Gaborone, Botswana; Dakar, Senegal; Douala, Cameroon; Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; and Mombasa, Kenya. While officially defined by the military as temporary locales capable of being scaled up for larger operations, any of these CSLs in Africa "may also function as a major logistics hub," according to the documents.
The formerly secret AFRICOM files note that the command has designated five contingency locations as "semi-permanent," 13 as "temporary," and four as "initial." These include a number of sites that have never previously been disclosed, including outposts in several countries that were actually at war when the documents were created. Listed among the CLs, for instance, is one in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, already in the midst of an ongoing civil war in 2014; one in Bangui, the capital of the periodically unstable Central African Republic; and another in Al-Wigh, a Saharan airfield in southern Libya located near that country's borders with Niger, Chad, and Algeria.
Officially classified as "non-enduring" locations, CLs are nonetheless among the most integral sites for U.S. operations on the continent. Today, according to AFRICOM's Prichard, the 31 contingency locations provide "access to support partners, counter threats, and protect U.S. interests in East, North, and West Africa."
AFRICOM did not provide the specific locations of the current crop of CLs, stating only that they "strive to increase access in crucial areas." The 2015 plans, however, provide ample detail on the areas that were most important to the command at that time. One such site is Camp Simba in Manda Bay, Kenya, also mentioned in a 2013 internal Pentagon study on secret drone operations in Somalia and Yemen. At least two manned surveillance aircraft were based there at the time.
Chabelley Airfield in Djibouti is also mentioned in AFRICOM's 2015 plan. Once a spartan French Foreign Legion post, it has undergone substantial expansion in recent years as U.S. drone operations in that country were moved from Camp Lemonnier to this more remote location. It soon became a regional hub for unmanned aircraft not just for Africa but also for the Middle East. By the beginning of October 2015, for example, drones flown from Chabelley had already logged more than 24,000 hours of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions and were also, according to the Air Force, "responsible for the neutralization of 69 enemy fighters, including five high-valued individuals" in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
AFRICOM's inventory of CLs also includes sites in Nzara, South Sudan; Arlit, Niger; both Bamako and Gao, Mali; Kasenyi, Uganda; Victoria, the capital of the Seychelles; Monrovia, Liberia; Ouassa and Nema, Mauritania; Faya Largeau, Chad; Bujumbura, Burundi; Lakipia, the site of a Kenyan Air Force base; and another Kenyan airfield at Wajir that was upgraded and expanded by the U.S. Navy earlier in this decade, as well as an outpost in Arba Minch, Ethiopia, that was reportedly shuttered in 2015 after nearly five years of operation.
A longtime contingency location in Niamey, the capital of Niger, has seen marked growth in recent years as has a more remote location, a Nigerien military base at Agadez, listed among the "proposed" CSLs in the AFRICOM documents. The U.S. is, in fact, pouring $100 million into building up the base, according to a 2016 investigation by the Intercept. N'Djamena, Chad, the site of yet another "proposed CSL," has actually been used by the U.S. military for years. Troops and a drone were dispatched there in 2014 to aid in operations against Boko Haram and "base camp facilities" were constructed there, too.
The list of proposed CLs also includes sites in Berbera, a town in the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, and in Mogadishu, the capital of neighboring Somalia (another locale used by American troops for years), as well as the towns of Baidoa and Bosaso. These or other outposts are likely to play increasingly important roles as the Trump administration ramps up its military activities in Somalia, the long-failed state that saw 18 U.S. personnel killed in the disastrous "Black Hawk Down" mission of 1993. Last month, for instance, President Trump relaxed rules aimed at preventing civilian casualties when the U.S. conducts drone strikes and commando raids in that country and so laid the foundation for a future escalation of the war against al-Shabaab there. This month, AFRICOM confirmed that dozens of soldiers from the Army's 101st Airborne Division, a storied light infantry unit, would be deployed to that same country in order to train local forces to, as a spokesperson put it, "better fight" al-Shabaab.
Many other sites previously identified as U.S. outposts or staging areas are not listed in AFRICOM's 2015 plans, such as bases in Djema, Sam Ouandja, and Obo in the Central African Republic that were revealed, in recent years, by the Washington Post. Also missing is a newer drone base in Garoua, Cameroon, not to mention that Tunisian air base where the U.S. has been flying drones, according to AFRICOM's Waldhauser, "for quite some time."
Some bases may have been shuttered, while others may not yet have been put in service when the documents were produced. Ultimately, the reasons that these and many other previously identified bases are not included in the redacted secret files are unclear due to AFRICOM's refusal to offer comment, clarification, or additional information on the locations of its bases.
"Just as the U.S. pursues strategic interests in Africa, international competitors, including China and Russia, are doing the same," laments AFRICOM in its 2017 posture statement. "We continue to see international competitors engage with African partners in a manner contrary to the international norms of transparency."
Since it was established as an independent command in 2008, however, AFRICOM itself has been anything but transparent about its activities on the continent. The command's physical footprint may, in fact, have been its most jealously guarded secret. Today, thanks to AFRICOM's own internal documents, that secret is out and with AFRICOM's admission that it currently maintains "15 enduring locations," the long-peddled fiction of a combatant command with just one base in its area of operations has been laid to rest.
"Because of the size of Africa, because of the time and space and the distances, when it comes to special crisis-response-type activities, we need access in various places on the continent," said AFRICOM chief Waldhauser during his March press conference. These "various places" have also been integral to escalating American shadow wars, including a full-scale air campaign against the Islamic State in Libya, dubbed Operation Odyssey Lightning, which ended late last year, and ongoing intelligence-gathering missions and a continued U.S. troop presence in that country; drone assassinations and increased troop deployments in Somalia to counter al-Shabaab; and increasing engagement in a proxy war against Boko Haram militants in the Lake Chad region of Central Africa. For these and many more barely noticed U.S. military missions, America's sprawling, ever-expanding network of bases provides the crucial infrastructure for cross-continental combat by U.S. and allied forces, a low-profile support system for war-making in Africa and beyond.
Without its wide-ranging constellation of bases, it would be nearly impossible for the U.S. to carry out ceaseless low-profile military activities across the continent. As a result, AFRICOM continues to prefer shadows to sunlight. While the command provided figures on the total number of U.S. military bases, outposts, and staging areas in Africa, its spokespeople failed to respond to repeated requests to provide locations for any of the 46 current sites. While the whereabouts of the new outposts may still be secret, there's little doubt as to the trajectory of America's African footprint, which has increased by 10 locations -- a 28% jump -- in just over two years.
America's "enduring" African bases "give the United States options in the event of crisis and enable partner capacity building," according to AFRICOM's Chuck Prichard. They have also played a vital role in conflicts from Yemen to Iraq, Nigeria to Somalia. With the Trump administration escalating its wars in Africa and the Middle East, and the potential for more crises -- from catastrophic famines to spreading wars -- on the horizon, there's every reason to believe the U.S. military's footprint on the continent will continue to evolve, expand, and enlarge in the years ahead, outpost by outpost and base by base.
Neither of the established political parties is going to offer anything to everyday people, so it's time for social movements to lead, says Maria Poblet, outgoing executive director of Causa Justa :: Just Cause, a grassroots organization in the Bay Area. Trump's election has ushered in an era in which defending civil liberties must necessarily include fighting for immigrant rights and resisting gentrification and displacement.
Maria Poblet speaks outside the Lake Merritt Bart Station in Oakland, California, during an October 2013 Bay Area Rapid Transit workers strike. (Photo: Josh Warren White)
Since election night 2016, the streets of the US have rung with resistance. People all over the country have woken up with the conviction that they must do something to fight inequality in all its forms. But many are wondering what it is they can do. In this ongoing "Interviews for Resistance" series, experienced organizers, troublemakers and thinkers share their insights on what works, what doesn't, what has changed and what is still the same. Today's interview is the 33rd in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.
Today we bring you a conversation with Maria Poblet who has been working in base building and community organizing in the Bay Area for 18 years, building Causa Justa :: Just Cause, a democratically held grassroots organization where she is currently transitioning out of the role of executive director.
Sarah Jaffe: What have you been working on for your last couple of weeks/months at Causa :: Justa?
Maria Poblet: I have been supporting the team of community organizers and the internal leadership in trying to understand the new political moment and the impact we could have. Some of what we have been working on is really reclaiming democracy as a value that comes from communities of color and benefits communities of color and benefits society as a whole.
We are one of the few spots in the country that on November 9 had something to celebrate, which was the vast expansion of tenant protections that we won kind of against all odds in the area that is controlled by tech corporations and their interests. We won these huge protections for the tenants that are threatened by displacement. It is because of the long-term organizing and the ability that organizing builds to lead society as a whole, which is really necessary at this moment.
We have been talking internally about that struggle for democracy, even though we come from a sector of society that doesn't have that many illusions about how democracy works and doesn't work. Many of us can't vote and have been pushed out of voting and have been pushed out of parties that say they defend our interests. We are trying to build a new kind of relationship to democracy and are really trying to defend civil liberties as we advance immigrant rights, as we fight gentrification and displacement. As I am exiting [the role of executive director], I am trying to figure out how to support the next crop of leaders because they are up against enormous challenges.
We are in Oakland, here in the Bay Area. The Bay Area is this complicated thing -- on one hand it is the most progressive part of the country. You have got some of the first places to get the $15 an hour minimum wage, really impressive protections for retail workers, and on the other hand, there is all this tech money and there is all this gentrification and there is sort of the kind of liberalism that dresses itself up very nicely, but is also supporting policies and economic growth that displaces the people who have always been here. Talk about the Bay Area and what it is like to be in this weird world.
I think we are in Detroit in the 1960s. This is a boom town. What you have in the boom town is the most powerful people, the most powerful corporations in the world, and you also have some of what could be the most powerful movements if they were linked with other movements and if they were building this broader agenda. That is what we are trying to do. When you look at Detroit, when the auto industry left, Detroit has suffered for decades with massive disinvestment, massive unemployment. But, all of that came after this period of massive expansion and growth and venture capital and this feeling that it was invincible.
That is where we are. We are at the top of the bubble. The contradictions are starting to show. These tech corporations that are driving displacement are having to contend with the anti-immigrant sentiment that is inside their culture, that is maybe against their culture. They are kind of having to choose sides and what is really interesting is how they relate to the grassroots. What can we do to build a movement much broader than our base? Our base traditionally has been Black and Latino families. We were the ones at the airport fighting against the Muslim ban in coalition and solidarity with people we have known 20-30 years, but also the CEO of Google was there. It is so great that he was there. What are we going to do with that?
That is a really interesting thing because the response to the airport protests -- a lot of people were like, "Oh, this is this spontaneous thing." For some people it was spontaneous. For the CEO of Google being there, it was pretty spontaneous. But, for y'all, this is what you do.
Yes. I think there is a danger when you have been in community organizing in grassroots communities that have been marginalized for a long time to say to everybody else, "Well, where have you been all this time?" That is a completely understandable emotional response, but politically ... politically, it is a huge opportunity to say, "These are problems that you never even knew were problems. We have been fighting to resolve these problems for 20 years, 30 years, 40 years. Come along. Let's tell you what we have learned so far. You tell us what you have to contribute." It is a different posture of leadership, which our movements need to take on at this point. It is a time of polarization. Neither of the established parties [is] really going to offer anything to everyday people. It is a time for social movements to lead.
Demonstrators march through the San Francisco Financial District on Inauguration Day in 2017. (Photo: Hunter King)
It has been a few months since the election and inauguration. What has it been like? Have you been bringing in a lot of new people? Have people been showing up and saying, "What can we do here? Maria, tell us what to do here?"
A lot of people and organizations who sort of believe that things were generally working turned around in this moment and said, "Wait a minute. It doesn't seem like things are working, and you guys have been saying this, this whole time. So, what should I do?" It is a very interesting moment. Part of what we did in response was to, with a lot of other organizations, help start Bay Resistance which is -- I think now we are 50 organizations building a network of individuals who aren't part of our base. They aren't service workers in SEIU. They aren't Black and Latino families fighting displacement at Causa :: Justa. They aren't Asians fighting pollution in Richmond that are in the Asian Pacific Environmental Network. They are people that haven't joined organizations before and they want to take action now.
We built this text loop, this mobilization machine, turned all those people out, and now we are trying to figure out how that connects to long-term strategy. How do those folks start to get connected to the strategy that has been developing at the grassroots, and how do they influence the strategy, as well? They have a different position to play in the game.
And, when you think about it from a movement-building perspective, the question isn't, "Do I have a role?" The question is "What role?" Most of us haven't been trained to answer that. We have been trained to do one piece of the project and not look at the project as a whole. That is what is keeping us back when you think about being drivers of a really revolutionary change. It is looking at the whole picture, which most of us haven't been trained to do.
Globally, the center is collapsing, so now people are looking to the left, looking to people who have been doing this kind of organizing for a long time and saying, "What can you teach us?" But in terms of broad politics, there is still this weird binary of Democrats versus Republicans that in so many ways is not even the conversation we should be having. For so long, so many people have been doing their part of the thing, doing their part of the puzzle, trying to maintain some space for radical ideas. Now there is a lot more space for those ideas, but also there are these constant horrors coming from Washington. I wonder if you have advice for people who are trying to expand the way they look at the world and the way they think about the world to meet this moment.
It is interesting, when it comes to that -- it is both something we have never experienced and something societies have experienced forever. We are in a massive moment of transition. What is going to come next is a different economic system than capitalism. The question is "Is it going to be more democratic and offer more equity or is it going to be less democratic and more unequal?" We can't control every part of it. This isn't like you go into a room and make a plan. That is not how history works, but can we build forms of organization and political vision that really drive toward a more democratic, more egalitarian society?
What is really interesting is this moment of polarization where everything feels unfamiliar, that is actually the space that we needed to make the arguments that we have been wanting to make, because limiting politics to "You are either a Republican or you are a Democrat" misses the vast majority of people and the vast majority of their experience and certainly their longing, their vision, what they want for their own families or their children. My kid is going to be growing up in a world after Trump shaped the economy. Oh man! A lot of us are thinking about that. What are we going to do that sets the stage for who is next? When you think about young people -- my kid is two. He is not a good example right now. He is very young. But, their vision is really different. Their criticism of capitalism is much deeper than anybody's before.
The question is "What are we for?" In the United States, we have been really good in the progressive movement about listing very explicitly everything that we are against and why. What are we for? That is a huge risk.
Maria Poblet raises awareness for Measure JJ -- an Oakland renters protection ordinance that was voted into effect in November 2016 -- near Oakland's Lake Merritt in October 2016. (Photo: Josh Warren White) Often people have had to say very specifically what we are against because we can't broadly say what we are against. You couldn't say, "No, we just are against capitalism." You have to say, "We are against displacement.... We are against this, this.... " You couldn't say, "This system is killing us." That is where we are now.
I think what is interesting about this moment is that a lot of people are saying there are systemic problems. If somebody could run for president and get millions of votes and say, "I am a socialist" then conditions are new. Conditions in people's minds and hearts and in our communities are new. How is our organizing going to address those new conditions?
That brings us to LeftRoots. Tell us what LeftRoots is and where it came from.
LeftRoots comes out of people doing community organizing, long-term committed organizers in communities of color who have been fighting around issues of pollution and displacement and expulsions in schools, issues that are visceral in people's lives and that mainstream progressives often didn't care about. We are trying to build the capacities of that group of people for long-term strategy for really transformational change in our society. LeftRoots is kind of a capacity-building project, really.
In these conditions, we can't avoid the question of some strategic realignment. Everybody is in strategic realignment. There are people who had some shades of difference among progressives that are now building long-term partnerships together because of the conditions. There is a lot of opportunity for people who came into this work that is about concrete reforms. But really, they weren't in it for the reforms. It was important to have a new stoplight. It was important to have rent control. It was important to have a higher minimum wage. But, I wasn't in it for the higher minimum wage. I was in it because I thought exploitation was wrong. So, what am I doing about that initial commitment, that value that I held? How is it that value doesn't have organizational form? LeftRoots is trying to create the network of relationships that can give that value organizational form.
We have been talking about how there is that space for that now. People are looking for that now. People are looking for the thing that says, "This is my political home and this expresses my political values as a whole." We have seen a lot of growth of different organizations since this election. My short question is: What is next?
I think what is next is a real reckoning with where we made mistakes. Really, in the US, in communities of color and community organizing, actually, in organizing in general it is easy to say, "Well, that was them. Democrats made this mistake," It is true and it is not true. All of us have a family member who voted for Trump. Given that reality, what are we going to do to address that? We weren't built to organize those people. What do we need to build to organize those people? What is the new scale? What is the new campaign?
There are promising possibilities around universal health care in California, single payer in California. There are the possibilities of a sanctuary state in California. California is a really interesting place because we have been majority people of color for a long time and it hasn't always meant progressive change. In fact, what you have had is people of color and women who "represent" progressive change by their standing in leadership, but not by their exercising of leadership. The difference between standing in the leadership position and being from a marginalized community and acting on behalf of marginalized communities is the organizing of those communities, which is stronger than it has ever been.
There is this trend that says, "California and New York should secede." But, on the other hand, there is the possibility for California to pass really incredible progressive legislation and lead the rest of the country.
Absolutely. When the Bay Area with the most progressive policy ideas that come from the most progressive grassroots organizing leads California, California can lead the nation. Instead of disengaging from the nation, you could have California say, "We are not going to pay our taxes unless these values that we hold core around diversity, inclusion and this vision of what a majority of people of color in the nation looks like get met." That would be amazing. We are far from that at this point, but we are a lot closer to that than we were just two years ago.
I was involved in this fight to create the sanctuary policies in San Francisco applying to economic refugees instead of political refugees. That was in the 1990s and 2000s. There was no way that was going to pass on the state level. We had no shot at all. There was nobody who would talk to us about it. After Trump got elected, the governor was saying, "I am for a sanctuary state." "I have no idea what it means" is what he was saying to himself on the side, but "All of a sudden I need to stand for immigrants and I don't know what that means and I have to reach all the way to the grassroots to grab a policy to tell me what that means." Well, that is a huge opportunity for us.The center road is bombed out. You either have to make a hard left or a hard right.
Whether or not that is real depends on the level of organizing, how much we push. When the federal government comes down, however they come down, are [California politicians] going to stand in defense of immigrant communities and against exploitation or not? That depends on the level of organizing. The rise of the right has created all of these opportunities for the left because ... the center road is bombed out. You either have to make a hard left or a hard right. We are like, "Hard left! We are over here! Put me in, Coach!"
How can people keep up with you and your work?
I am at @mariadelpueblo on Twitter. We will see where my work is next. I am trying to build an independent political organization.
Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.
Trump promised to be a transformational leader. It wasn't an idle threat. He has assembled an unprecedented governmental wrecking crew. This is the third installment on Trump's unique combination of kleptocracy and kakistocracy that is reshaping America in ways that most of voters won't like.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
Don't let the symbolic American missile strike on a Syrian airfield, dropping the "Mother of All Bombs" on tunnels in Afghanistan or threats directed at North Korea distract from a central fact: Trump is Putin's president. Former ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson is a player in the resulting saga. After Trump announced his choice for secretary of state, former Russian Energy Minister Vladimir Milov said that Tillerson was a "gift for Putin." Indeed he is.
First, Tillerson announced that he'd miss his initial meeting with all NATO ministers and see Putin before visiting America's staunchest allies. That move exacerbated strains that Trump had created within the Western alliance. After NATO ministers changed the meeting dates to suit Tillerson's schedule, he reiterated Trump's demand that participating countries pay a greater share of NATO's costs. At a Group of Seven (G-7) foreign ministers meeting of European allies on April 11, Tillerson posed this unsettling question: "Why should US taxpayers be interested in Ukraine?" That was only days after America's ineffectual missile strike on Syria and tough talk about Russia's failure to prevent Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons.
Perhaps Tillerson knew when he took the job that he would preside over the marginalization of the State Department so Trump's son-in law Jared Kushner could run American foreign policy. In December, Kushner met at Trump Tower with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and, at Kislyak's request, an executive at a Russian bank subject of US sanctions over Ukraine. In February, he orchestrated a call with China's president to smooth Trump's diplomatic blunder by speaking with Taiwan's president. In April, Kushner met with Iraq's prime minister to discuss the future of ISIS battles.
In fact, Tillerson is presiding over the decimation of the State Department. He spoke no public word of resistance to Trump's proposal to cut its budget by 37 percent. He has accepted Trump's rules: Trump can overrule Tillerson's staffing proposals for key positions, including deputy secretary of state. As career policy personnel have departed en masse, replacements have not been forthcoming. Heading into March, the list of openings at the deputy, undersecretary and assistant secretary of state level was stunning. As of April 12, 2017, Trump had yet to nominate anyone for 478 out of more than 533 crucial appointments across the entire executive branch.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson
During the campaign, Trump accused Ben Carson of having a "pathological temper." After the election, Carson put out the word that he wasn't qualified to run a federal agency. Now he presides over HUD.
Trump's proposed budget would reduce the department's funding by 13 percent, in part by eliminating the Community Development Block Grant Program that funds Meals on Wheels, housing assistance and other community assistance efforts. When asked during his confirmation hearing about the department's housing programs, Carson couldn't rule out the possibility that money would go to the Trump Organization, which owns a stake in an enormous government-subsidized housing project in Brooklyn.
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke
The person who runs the department charged with preserving federal lands for future generations has sided consistently with coal, oil and natural gas industry efforts to exploit them. Zinke's lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters is 4 percent (out of 100). On his first day in office, he signed an order creating more access to public land for hunters. Within two weeks of his confirmation, Ryan Zinke opened 73 million offshore acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil exploration leasing.
Zinke's professed desire to improve conservation efforts and national park infrastructure is impossible to square with Trump's proposed budget, which would cut Interior Department funding by 12 percent. But Donald Trump Jr. likes Zinke, and that's what matters most.
Who better to craft a Trump tax reform plan and frame national economic policy than billionaire Steve Mnuchin, Trump's former national campaign finance chair? He's a former Goldman Sachs partner who made a fortune from his purchase of a predatory lender that foreclosed on homeowners during the financial crisis. As nominee for Treasury secretary, he failed to disclose nearly $100 million of his assets on Senate Finance Committee disclosure documents, while forgetting to mention his role as a director of an investment fund located in a tax haven.
Over at the Food and Drug Administration, Scott Gottlieb's ties to the pharmaceutical industry caused Harvard Professor Daniel Carpenter to describe "the least problematic of a very sorry pool of candidates" as "the most interest-conflicted commissioner in American history, by far."
Another key Trump appointee, former South Carolina congressman Mick Mulvaney, rode into office on the 2010 tea party wave and became a charter member of the radical "House Freedom Caucus." The anti-government ideologue dedicated his career to sabotaging the nation's ability to govern. Now he's the director of the Office of Management and Budget. Here's a list of agencies that would disappear immediately under the proposed budget he and Trump crafted:
* African Development Foundation ("supports and invests in African-owned and led enterprises which improve lives and livelihoods in poor and vulnerable communities in Africa")
* Appalachian Regional Commission ("innovates, partners and invests to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia")
* Chemical Safety Board ("an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents")
* Corporation for Public Broadcasting ("steward of the federal government's investment in public broadcasting and the largest single source of funding for public radio, television and related online and mobile services")
* Delta Regional Authority ("works to improve regional economic opportunity by helping to create jobs, build communities and improve the lives of the 10 million people who reside in the 252 counties and parishes of the eight-state [Mississippi] Delta region")
* Denali Commission ("providing job training and other economic development services in rural communities")
* Institute of Museum and Library Services ("inspires libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning and cultural and civic engagement")
* Inter-American Foundation ("development assistance directly to the organized poor in Latin America and the Caribbean")
* US Trade and Development Agency ("helps companies create US jobs through the export of US goods and services for priority development projects in emerging economies")
* Legal Services Corporation ("promotes equal access to justice in our nation and provides high-quality civil legal assistance to low-income persons")
* National Endowment for the Arts ("supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America's rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America")
* National Endowment for the Humanities ("serves and strengthens our republic by promoting excellence in the humanities and conveying the lessons of history to all Americans")
* Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation ("affordable housing and community development")
* Northern Border Regional Commission ("partnership for economic and community development within the most distressed counties of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York")
* Overseas Private Investment Corporation ("helps American businesses invest in emerging markets")
* US Institute of Peace ("strengthens US security by reducing violent conflict")
* US Interagency Council on Homelessness ("coordinates and catalyzes the federal response to homelessness")
* Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars ("nation's key nonpartisan policy forum for tackling global issues through independent research and open dialogue to inform actionable ideas for the policy community")
It Will Get Worse
The current Trump rogue's gallery is only the beginning. Legal scholars Eric Posner and Emily Bazelon observe that Trump's first US Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, "embraces a judicial philosophy that would do nothing less than undermine the structure of modern government -- including the rules that keep our water clean, regulate the financial markets and protect workers and consumers. In strongly opposing the administrative state, Gorsuch is in the company of incendiary figures like the White House adviser Steve Bannon, who has called for its 'deconstruction.'"
Trump's lifetime appointments to the judiciary could inflict the most lasting damage on the country. During the final year of the Obama administration, the intransigence of Senate Republicans gave Trump 124 federal judgeships to fill, including 19 appellate positions. In his first term, retirements and other departures could give Trump the opportunity to name 40 percent of the nation's federal bench -- more than any first-term president in 40 years. Think about that as he rails against the federal judges who have dared to cross him on his unconstitutional travel ban.
Across the federal government, Trump is determining the country's fate. The first 100 days of deconstruction set the stage for 1,360 that will follow. Make no mistake: he and his minions are playing for keeps.
Today in rape culture: a Louisiana district attorney who thinks that traumatized rape victims should be punished for refusing to testify.
Leon Cannizzaro, who has served as the district attorney for Orleans Parish since 2008, stands accused of compelling material witnesses to crimes, including rape, to testify -- or face jail time. When Cannizzaro responded to the accusations, it was only to double down.
Court Watch NOLA, which promotes transparency in the judicial process, organizes court observers to routinely watch how cases are handled. One emerging trend they've observed is the practice of issuing material witness warrants, which require people to testify, in cases of sexual assault and intimate partner violence.
It can be easier to prosecute such cases when the survivor takes the stand, adding valuable context and evidence, but doing so can also threaten the well-being of survivors who are dealing with the psychological aftermath of rape.
In addition to running the risk of being jailed -- despite having committed no crime -- there's no guarantee of legal counsel for people arrested on material witness warrants. The county simply isn't required to appoint an attorney for those who cannot access legal assistance by other means.
While issuing warrants for uncooperative witnesses isn't unheard of in many regions of the country, many district attorneys and experts argue that sexual assault and intimate partner violence should be handled differently. These are intimate, traumatizing crimes, and when survivors opt against testimony, it's usually because they're afraid of what might happen in court.
Some may fear "revictimization," in which they're forced to relive a painful and deeply upsetting experience. Others are worried about encountering side effects of rape culture like victim blaming, judgmental attitudes or aggressive cross-examination from the defense. And others just want the situation to be over, even if it doesn't end with jail time for their assailant. For intimate partner violence survivors, retaliation may also be a concern.
One rape survivor was jailed for eight days in 2016, according to Court Watch.
Cannizzaro's response? "If I have to put a victim of a crime in jail, for eight days, in order to…keep the rapist off of the street, for a period of years and to prevent him from raping or harming someone else, I'm going to do that," he explained.
This is, to say the least, a rather limited view, and a reminder that rape is treated as a crime against the state, with the victim's body considered evidence. The experience of rape can be intensely dehumanizing on its own, but interacting with the justice system can be even more traumatic -- whether someone is dismissed by law enforcement, humiliated by defense attorneys or, apparently, jailed for being unwilling to serve as a witness.
Jailing victims seems like a strange approach to pursuing justice. At least one district attorney, Kimberly Ogg of Houston, has a specific department policy of refusing to obtain material witness warrants for victims of violent crime like rape. Ogg instituted that policy after her predecessor in the office compelled someone to testify, and the victim had a breakdown in court when faced with her accused assailant.
The advocacy group only identified one case where a rape survivor was jailed because she refused to cooperate with authorities, but they argue that even one case is too much.
Barring the practice isn't just humane, but it could also make rape survivors more willing to come forward, knowing that the district attorney's office will support them if they're ultimately uncomfortable with a call to testify in the case. That, in turn, could lead to more rape prosecutions -- and a much safer city.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, left, and Gary Cohn, chief economic advisor to Donald Trump, speak at the White House in Washington, April 26, 2017. The Trump administration on Wednesday proposed sharp reductions in corporate income tax rates, cutting the number of individual tax brackets and slashing taxes on the rich. (Stephen Crowley/The New York Times)
After eight years of complaining about "Obama deficits," Republicans are proposing huge, dramatic, unprecedented tax cuts, especially for corporations.
President Trump wants the corporate tax rate cut from 35 percent down to 15, denying the government $2 trillion of revenue over the next decade. He is also proposing dramatic cuts to personal income tax cuts that will especially benefit billionaires like him.
Republicans call corporate tax cuts "pro-growth," saying they will give the economy a boost. Trump's Treasury Secretary says the plan will "pay for itself with economic growth."
So now they're for "stimulus"?
But here's the real question: do tax cuts actually boost economic growth?
What Tax Cuts Actually Do
In 2012, the Congressional Research Service looked at data from past tax cuts and the effect they had on the economy, and issued a report titled Taxes and the Economy: An Economic Analysis of the Top Tax Rates Since 1945. What did the study find?
There is not conclusive evidence, however, to substantiate a clear relationship between the 65-year steady reduction in the top tax rates and economic growth. Analysis of such data suggests the reduction in the top tax rates have had little association with saving, investment, or productivity growth. However, the top tax rate reductions appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution.
In fewer words: There is no evidence that tax cuts bring economic growth, but they do cause income to concentrate at the top.
That may sound bad, but, it's even worse than that. Tax revenues build roads, bridges, airports, rail and and water systems. Taxes educate the population, conduct scientific research, run the courts, enforce regulations, standardize and enforce weights and measures, and about a million other things that make businesses prosper.
If you cut taxes, over time the business environment necessarily gets worse because those roads deteriorate, people are not as well educated, scientific research declines, courts clog up, regulation enforcement declines, along with about a million other things businesses rely on.
If you can't get educated employees, can't move goods on crowded and deteriorated roads and your competitors can get away with cheating, your business just isn't going to do as well as it could.
Tax cuts defund all of those things that boost the economy and make our lives better. Over time the economy necessarily gets worse.
Are Taxes Theft?
Republicans say "taxes are theft." They say "taxes take money out of the economy." They say it "takes from those who work and earn and giving to those who don't." They say taxation "extracts wealth."
The idea behind this pithy phrase is that government is illegitimate and "uses force' to "take people's money" so "they" can have it instead. They argue there are "producers" and "moochers" and the moochers outnumber the producers and take from them.
These are all actually arguments against democracy. Substitute the words "We the People" for the word "government" in their arguments and you'll see how this works.
The "they" in their arguments isn't some "other" person that grabs our money. It's We the People.
The whole idea of democracy is that We the People govern ourselves, so we're the ones who decide how to allocate the resources of our economy to make our lives better. How do we allocate our resources? We tax and spend.
Democracy is taxing and spending. And in a functioning democracy, we spend on things that make our lives better.
Are tax cuts theft? Or are they really about theft of democracy from We the People?
I explored the origins of this idea in my 2012 post, Tax Cuts Are Theft:
The American Social Contract: We, the People built our democracy and the empowerment and protections it bestows. We built the infrastructure, schools and all of the public structures, laws, courts, monetary system, etc. that enable enterprise to prosper. That prosperity is the bounty of our democracy and by contract it is supposed to be shared and reinvested. That is the contract. Our system enables some people to become wealthy but all of us are supposed to benefit from this system. Why else would We, the People have set up this system, if not for the benefit of We, the People?
… The American Social Contract is supposed to work like this:
… But the "Reagan Revolution" broke the American Social Contract. Since Reagan, the system is working like this:
Tax cuts, like the ones Trump now proposes, eat the seed corn of our prosperity.
We've been down this road before. We shouldn't fall for yet another Republican con, this time from the con-man in chief.
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Ivanka Trump has again proven that where business, money-making and worker exploitation are concerned, it's like father, like daughter. Workers at a factory in China that makes clothes for the Ivanka Trump clothing line and other labels made roughly $1 an hour, according to a new audit cited by the Washington Post. The workers toiled 60 hours a week to produce clothing they could never afford, such as the "brand's $158 dresses [and] $79 blouses" -- but low wages weren't the only difficulty they endured. According to the Post, "inspectors with the Fair Labor Association...found two dozen violations of international labor standards during a two-day tour of the factory in October, saying in a report that workers faced daunting hours, high turnover, and pay near or below China's minimum wage."
Laborers at the G-III factory, which is exclusively licensed to produce the Ivanka Trump line, also manufactured clothing for Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger. The Post reports auditors found workers were mandated to work 57 hours a week, and many far exceeded the maximum legal overtime limit of 35 hours per month, reaching an astounding 82 hours on the job every month. For their work, the Post notes, factory workers were paid half as much as "the average manufacturing employee in urban China."
Fewer than a third of the factory's workers were offered legally mandated coverage under China's "social insurance" benefits, including a pension and medical, maternity, unemployment and work-related injury insurance, inspectors found. The factory also did not contribute, as legally required, to a fund designed to help workers afford housing, inspectors said.
Inspectors also cited the factory for a number of workplace safety concerns. It did not train loading workers on safety techniques or provide employees with equipment that could reduce injury, including lifting belts or seats with backrests.
The Post discovery comes just days after reports that one retailer has taken to secretly rebranding and selling Trump's clothes under the label "Adrienne Vittadini."
Though the Trumps have given lip service to being pro-labor, in actuality they've consistently been anything but. Donald Trump is notorious for business practices that include cheating business partners and contractors, particularly small businesses, out of money owed, driving a number of companies into bankruptcy. Madison Avenue Diamonds LLC, which does business as Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry, reportedly refuses to pay $2 million owed to a supplier, despite a court order. Ivanka Trump's clothing company does not pay interns, and a former worker claims that for all her empty talk about #WomenWhoWork, Ivanka initially refused to offer paid maternity leave.
Along with her father, the first daughter and nepotistic White House appointee has publicly embraced a "buy American, hire American" stance. Privately, just like her dad, she continues to have her clothes manufactured abroad, where it's easier to work around labor protections and workers can be underpaid.
The Trumps have used the White House and the presidency for wheeling and dealing, selling access to the president to the highest bidder and leveraging their position for profit. Just weeks ago, after a meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping, Ivanka was suddenly granted three new trademarks for her clothing brand. An Agence France-Presse report from March noted that as Trump delivered a speech touting American workers and industry, "at least eight shipments of Ivanka Trump-branded shoes, bags and clothes -- more than 53.5 tons -- were steaming towards American ports from China, according to US Customs bills."
Ivanka is currently on a European tour. On Wednesday, Axios reported she has launched a new fund "to benefit female entrepreneurs around the globe." She has thus far taken money from numerous foreign benefactors, a practice the Trump campaign criticized Hillary Clinton for during the campaign. According to Axios, "President Trump is a huge supporter of his daughter's idea."
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim (left) with Ministry of Economy and Finance of Peru Segura Vasi (center) and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde (right) at the 2015 Spring Meetings in Washington, DC, on April 16, 2015. (Photo: Dominic Chavez / World Bank)
Disaster, poverty and misfortune have become great ways to make a fortune. From Afghanistan to Haiti, Pakistan to Papua New Guinea, the United States to the UK, and from Greece to Australia, journalist Antony Lowenstein uncovers how companies cash in on organized misery in Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe. Order your copy by making a donation to Truthout today!
In the following excerpt from Disaster Capitalism, Antony Lowenstein examines how the success of modern day capitalism "guarantees unfairness and rewards greed," threatening society and the planet.
"Sometimes we win the skirmishes, but the war continues." -- Rebecca Solnit, 2011
Back in 1972 Jørgen Randers, today the professor of climate strategy at the Norwegian Business School, published a book called The Limits to Growth. He warned of the devastating impact of population and economic growth on a world of limited resources. Revisiting that prognosis in a 2004 essay, he found that his predictions were correct and that global leaders had been much remiss in ignoring the urgent need to battle unsustainable development.
Randers' key argument was a challenge to the inherent rules of capitalism. By 2015, he was pessimistic that the current financial order was capable of -- or even had any interest in -- reducing the devastating effects of climate change. "It is cost-effective to postpone global climate action," he wrote.
It is profitable to let the world go to hell. I believe that the tyranny of the short term will prevail over the decades to come. As a result, a number of long-term problems will not be solved, even if they could have been, and even as they cause gradually increasing difficulties for all voters.
To encourage a country such as Norway to tax every citizen, his suggested solution was for people to pay an extra 250 euros every year for a generation, thereby drastically cutting greenhouse gases and providing an example to other industrialized nations. The idea never got off the ground.
"The capitalist system does not help," Randers explained.
Capitalism is carefully designed to allocate capital to the most profitable projects. And this is exactly what we don't need today. We need investments into more expensive wind and solar power, not into cheap coal and gas. The capitalistic market won't do this on its own. It needs different frame conditions -- alternative prices or new regulation.
Although Randers pushed the worrying idea of "enlightened dictatorship" -- "for a limited time period in critical policy areas" -- his thesis strikes at the heart of why wealth is concentrated in so few hands in today's world: there is little incentive to advocate for a more equitable planet. The market system guarantees unfairness and rewards greed.
Such debates are starting to emerge even among the class who most benefits from such inequality. During the annual conference in Davos, Switzerland, in 2015, where the world's business and political leaders gather to congratulate themselves, some sessions concluded that inequality was a serious problem facing the globe, and participants were pessimistic about solving it.
Such talk was a start, but hardly enough when the dictator Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Egyptian president -- a man responsible for the death of thousands of his own people -- was warmly welcomed in Davos and allowed to pontificate about his vision for "sustainable development." Human rights and economic freedom must not be mutually exclusive concepts.
The figures speak for themselves. The share of wealth in the US owned by its richest 0.01 percent has quadrupled since the eve of the Reagan Revolution. The top 1 percent of the world's population owns 46 percent of all global assets. US cuts in food stamps have left the nation's largest food bank, in New York, struggling to cope with demand. Around 16.5 percent of the state's population requires emergency food assistance. In 2013, roughly 14 percent of the country's population "lacked access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members," according to the US Department of Agriculture -- a 30 percent increase since 2007. The US middle class, long viewed as the globe's most successful, now suffers growing income inequality. A crucial factor in this decline has been the failure of educational attainment to progress as successfully as in other industrialized states.
The system is rigged. During the global financial crisis, Bank of America nearly crashed. One of the largest financial institutions in the nation, it was nevertheless granted £45 billion by President Barack Obama to prevent its collapse. Since then, Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi explains,
the Obama administration has looked the other way as the bank committed an astonishing variety of crimes … ripp[ing] off almost everyone with whom it has a significant business relationship, cheating investors, insurers, depositors, homeowners, shareholders, pensioners and taxpayers. It brought tens of thousands of Americans to foreclosure court using bogus, 'robosigned' evidence -- a type of mass perjury that it helped pioneer. It hawked worthless mortgages to dozens of unions and state pension funds, draining them of hundreds of millions in value.
This is the modern definition of capitalism. As Taibbi told those attending an Occupy Wall Street day of action in 2012, "this gigantic financial institution is the ultimate symbol of a new kind of corruption at the highest levels of American society: a tendency to marry the near-limitless power of the federal government with increasingly concentrated, increasingly unaccountable private financial interests." Wall Street bankers were happy. The sum of all executive bonuses in 2014, averaging roughly $173,000 each, came to around double the earnings of all Americans working full-time on the minimum wage.
It is an ideology that thrives despite guaranteeing social disharmony. The US model of reducing the role of government while increasing the influence of largely private power has never been so rapacious, though the problem is global. For-profit colleges burden students with huge debts and worthless credentials while receiving federal student aid. Goldman Sachs, a firm with a large measure of responsibility for the economic meltdown in 2008, now invests in social-impact bonds -- a system that enriches the company if former prisoners stay out of jail but reduces the accountability of governments and prioritizes private profit. The corporation also makes money from higher education, pressuring underprivileged students to take on debt while giving scant attention to the standard of teaching.
Republicans in Michigan have pushed for the privatization of public school teachers, using a skewed logic that advocates cutting public schools and selling off facilities at the lowest price. Many tolls operating on public roads and highways in the US service the bottom lines of local and multinational companies. Public libraries have been outsourced, reducing employee salaries or eliminating jobs.
In Europe, many corporations and lawyers shamelessly exploit international investment deals to derive profits from suing crisis-ridden nations. Market speculators pressurize fragile nations such as Greece, whose citizens are forced to survive with fewer public services. British citizens living on the margins face eviction or spiraling rent increases because global fund managers, such as Westbrook -- based in the United States -- purchase homes as assets to be milked for profit.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) traverses the world with the backing of Western elites, strong-arming nations into privatizing their resources and opening up their markets to multi- nationals. Resistance to this bitter medicine is only one reason that large swathes of Latin America have become more independent since the 2000s. The mass privatization that results -- a central plank of US foreign policy -- guarantees corruption in autocracies. Wikileaks' State Department cables offer countless examples of this, including in Egypt under former president Hosni Mubarak. The World Bank is equally complicit and equally unaccountable. In 2015 it admitted that it had no idea how many people had been forced off their lands around the world due to its resettlement policies. The story barely made the news and no heads rolled.Truthout Progressive Pick
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One Californian town, Maywood, took the privatization memo a bit too seriously. It literally outsourced everything in 2010, sacking all municipal workers, including the police department, due to budgetary pressure. "We will become 100 percent a contracted city," said Angela Spaccia, Maywood's interim city manager.
Decades of anti-government rhetoric claiming that taxpayer money is always wasted have convinced many voters that the corporation knows best, which is why a sustained campaign against predatory capitalism is so hard to keep up -- not helped by the fact that 90 percent of Americans rely on information from media outlets owned by only six multinationals, including News Corporation, Comcast, and Viacom. Rupert Murdoch tried to acquire Time Warner in 2014; had he succeeded, the market would have shrunk even further. In this environment, the fact that movements such as Occupy are born and thrive, albeit briefly, is a remarkable achievement. Indian writer Arundhati Roy saluted the power of this movement in a speech at the People 's University in New York's Washington Square Park in November 2011: "What you have achieved … is to introduce a new imagination, a new political language into the heart of empire. You have reintroduced the right to dream into a system that tried to turn everybody into zombies mesmerized into equating mindless consumerism with happiness and fulfillment."
Although Occupy was dismissed as an irritant and irrelevant by many on Wall Street and in the corporate media, police unleashed a sophisticated surveillance operation to disrupt the protestors. They recognized the danger represented by the threat of a good idea. The challenge faced by opponents of rampant capitalism was how to focus their rage coherently against increasingly pervasive forces. The study of capitalism is soaring at universities across America, indicating the desire on the part of tomorrow's graduates to understand the tenuous connection between democracy and the capitalist economy.
The phenomenal success of French economist Thomas Piketty's book Capital in the Twenty-First Century -- a work arguing that social discord is the likely outcome of surging financial inequality -- indicates that the public knows there is a problem and is in search of clear accounts of it. Piketty advocates a global system of taxation on private property. "This is the only civilized solution," he told the Observer newspaper.
In 2014, even the world's leading economic think-tank, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, urged higher taxes for the rich to help the bottom 40 percent of the population. When establishment magazine Foreign Policy publishes an article by the US managing editor of the Financial Times, Gillian Tett, which closes expressing a wish for an "honest debate" about "wealth redistribution," it is clear that the world has gone a little mad.
Copyright (2017) by Antony Lowenstein. Not to be reprinted without permission of the publisher, Verso.
Following news that Ann Coulter cancelled her appearance at the University of California, Berkeley, American Civil Liberties Union National Legal Director David Cole had this reaction:
Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), a group of 21,000 physicians, medical students and health professionals, announced today that H.R. 676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act has reached a record number of co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, now totalling 104.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn appeared at a White House press briefing today to outline President Donald Trump’s tax plan.
Public Citizen president Robert Weissman said:
President Trump today launched a new attack on 27 national monuments around the country — more than 1 billion acres of natural and cultural wonders on public lands and oceans that have been protected by presidents of both political parties.
Trump’s executive order directs the Department of the Interior to review the designation of every monument larger than 100,000 acres protected since 1996. The initiative is widely expected to trigger dramatic changes in protections or boundaries for monuments to accommodate special interests like coal, oil, gas and logging industries.
The New York Times is reporting: “Fearing Korean Nuclear War, Women of 40 Nations Urge Trump to Seek Peace.”