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How Our Protests Won Marriage Equality

Truthout - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 21:00

Gay marriage leads to "the deterioration of marriage and the family" and "societal collapse." Keeping same-sex couples from marrying isn't discrimination, but simply enforcing "God's idea." These are just a few of the ugly statements by Vice President and religious bigot Mike Pence about marriage equality.

And it doesn't stop there. In 2015, Trump's second-hand man signed a "religious freedom" law as governor of Indiana that gave permission to businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

During his short time in office, Trump has already come close to implementing a similar executive order, but he was forced to back down after a series of humiliating defeats on other issues and pressure from LGBTQ organizations.

With Trump and Pence controlling the White House and a Republican majority in Congress, it's understandable that millions of LGBTQ people, their family, friends and supporters are fearful that rights won in recent years will be rolled back.

There's no predicting what will happen in the next four years, but with LGBTQ rights under threat in the Trump era, it's important to look back at how marriage equality was won -- and generalize the lessons for the struggles ahead.

***

It's hard to overstate how profoundly social attitudes and legal rights for LGBTQ people in the US have advanced in the past 20 years. In order to understand where we've come from and how we've gotten here, some history is in order.

In 1992, in response to pressure from the gay and lesbian movement and AIDS activists, Democratic President Bill Clinton ran on a platform of supporting gay rights. But on February 1994, only a year into his first term, Clinton turned his back on the LGBT community and caved to the religious right, instituting the military's "don't ask, don't tell policy that prohibited gays and lesbians from coming out in the country's largest employer.

Then, in September 1996, in response to a ruling by the Hawaii Supreme Court opening the door to legalizing same-sex marriage, Clinton signed the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage for federal purposes as a union between a man and women. DOMA also allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriage granted in other states. It passed the House and Senate by veto-proof, bipartisan majorities.

The LGBTQ movement encountered major setbacks in the 1990s with these policies and laws that were supported by a supposed Democratic "ally."

But important social and cultural shifts were underway during the late 1990s and early 2000s that couldn't be reversed: More people, especially millennials, were coming out. As time went on and more and more Americans now knew someone who was LGBT, the future of discriminatory laws became more and more untenable.

On November 18, 2003, history was made when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage.

In the case of Goodridge v. Health Department, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples had the right to marry. The court's ruling stated in unambiguous terms that separate was not equal:

The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens...We declare that barring an individual from the protections, benefits and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution.

Despite attempts to delay implementation of the ruling by anti-gay Republican Gov. Mitt Romney -- later the Republican candidate for president -- and homophobic state legislators of both parties, the movement beat the bigots. On May 17, 2004, the first marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples in Massachusetts.

Over time, more people realized that far from leading to "societal collapse," marriage equality was a guarantee of basic civil rights.

The victory in Massachusetts inspired a wave of protests for marriage equality in towns and cities across the country.

In San Francisco, thousands of couples lined up for marriage licenses when Mayor Gavin Newsom defied California's discriminatory state law banning gay marriage and ordered the county clerk's office to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples. This continued until the state Supreme Court stepped in.

But beyond exceptions like Newsom, the Democratic Party worked to shut down the new movement for same-sex marriage. Marriage equality activists were accused of being divisive and told to get behind John Kerry's unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2004, despite the fact that Kerry opposed marriage equality.

The best-known openly gay member of Congress, Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, told couples in San Francisco that the "timing wasn't right." "When you're in a real struggle, San Francisco making a symbolic point becomes a diversion," he lectured.

Not only did Kerry lose to Bush in the 2004 election, but 11 states passed constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage in that vote, taking the total number of states with anti-gay marriage laws to 38. Once again, the strategy of relying on the Democratic Party proved to be an enormous failure.

***

Four years later, the fight for marriage equality entered a new phase.

In June 2008, the California Supreme Court overturned its previous ruling and legalized same-sex marriage. Thousands of couples began receiving marriage licenses.

But the victory was short-lived. On Election Night in November, as the country was celebrating the election of the first African American president, Californians learned that Proposition 8, a ballot measure funded by the Religious Right and Mormon Church, had passed, overturning the state Supreme Court ruling and once again banning same-sex marriage.

This time, though, the response was immediate and overwhelming. Starting on Election Night itself, hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands poured into the streets in cities across California and around the country for the largest protests for marriage equality yet.

Young LGBTQ activists new to organizing took the lead, and the movement spread largely through the Internet. Generation Stonewall 2.0 took matters into their own hands, motivated by the gap between increasing social acceptance of LGBTQ people on the one hand and the persistence of legal discrimination on the other.

In the face of spreading protests, Barack Obama came out against Prop 8, but maintained his shameful opposition to gay marriage. Obama, the son of an interracial couple, hypocritically declared that marriage was a "state's rights" issue, using the same rhetoric once spouted by segregationists to oppose civil rights for African Americans.

The established LGBT organizations were ill-equipped to respond to the task at hand -- and caught completely caught off guard by the outpouring of protests against Prop 8. To fill the vacuum, new activist groups emerged, like Join the Impact, and became centers of grassroots organizing where new people could plug into the movement and participate in democratic debates and discussions about its direction.

The wave of protests built and built, culminating in the call by veteran LGBT activist and union organizer Cleve Jones and others for the National Equality March in Washington, DC, on October 11, 2009.

Organized by the new generation of activists and on a shoestring budget, the march drew over 250,000 people to the first national demonstration for LGBT rights in over 15 years. Organizers intentionally broke from Gay Inc.'s myopic politics and emphasized the importance of solidarity, incorporating a wide spectrum of LGBT issues, including transgender rights, into the March's platform.

That platform came down to a simple demand: full LGBT equality now!

Speakers were a diverse group, including the parents of murder victim Matthew Shepard, same-sex couples, undocumented immigrants, union militants, queer and trans activists of color, youth organizers, open socialists, Broadway performers, poets and artists, and, yes, even Lady Gaga.

The call for the repeal of Prop 8 was in the spotlight, but marchers challenged "don't ask, don't tell" and DOMA as well and called for federal protections in employment and housing and full equality for trans people.

Only at the last minute, when it became clear that the march was gaining momentum, did mainstream LGBT organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force sign on to endorse the march, after initially opposing it.

But Barney Frank showed his disdain for grassroots activism yet again, lecturing that the National Equality March would be a "waste of time at best" that would do little to make change. "The only thing they're going to be putting pressure on is the grass," Frank smirked. History proved him wrong.

***

The level of protests as well as grassroots organizations ebbed in the following years. The movement became dominated by a legalistic strategy that emphasized court battles over bottom-up organizing. But the eruption of anger after Prop 8 leading to the National Equality March marked a turning point in the battle for marriage equality and LGBT rights.

Over the next six years, the victories rolled in as laws codifying discrimination and second-class citizenship were torn down.

In September 2011, Congress repealed "don't ask, don't tell." In June 2013, in the landmark United States v. Windsor case, the US Supreme Court ruled DOMA was unconstitutional.

Between 2008 and 2012, seven states legalized gay marriage; in 2013, eight more were added their names to the list; and in 2014, 19 joined the ranks. By 2015, there were 37 states -- three quarters of the total, accounting the vast majority of the US population -- where same-sex marriage was legal. In October 2012, responding to the accumulated pressure, Obama reversed himself to become the first sitting president to come out for marriage equality.

Then, on June 26, 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that the right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples under the 14th Amendment. Gay marriage became law of the land in all 50 states.

In the matter of 10 years, same-sex marriage went from being a "wedge issue" that the right wing could count on to mobilize their base and win referendum victories to a widely supported civil right -- because an ascending movement flipped public opinion, secured legal victories and forced Republican and Democratic politicians alike to change their tune.

The demonstrations after Prop 8, leading to the National Equality March, were central to breaking the debate about marriage equality out of the confines of a narrow state-by-state issue and into the national arena. Protest gave confidence and momentum to legal battles by challenging and changing public opinion until marriage equality was the majority opinion.

This sea change in popular consciousness put pressure on politicians and judges, altering altered the landscape in which legal campaigns were taking place.

Court battles were important to winning marriage equality, but it was the pressure from below, created by masses of ordinary people participating in a grassroots movement, that drove the struggle forward to victory.

That's the lesson to take with us in the struggles ahead as we tell Trump and his legion of bigots and reactionaries that we won't go back.

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Disabled Protesters Just Showed Senate Democrats How It's Done

Truthout - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 21:00

Watching disabled people protesting Trumpcare outside Mitch McConnell's office being bloodied and dragged away was deeply disturbing. But their courage was also a reminder of what this moment demands of us -- all of us -- especially those Democratic senators who have so proudly dubbed themselves "The Resistance."

A disabled demonstrator is dragged from her wheelchair outside of the offices of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as people gathered to protest Medicaid cuts, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC, June 22, 2017. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)

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In a moment that profoundly encapsulated what the Trumpcare is all about, more than 40 people, including disabled protesters, were dragged from a Senate office hallway in Washington, DC on Thursday, leaving streaks of blood on the hallway floor. The scene was deeply disturbing, but it's one we should all feel compelled to confront, because it is the truth of what 24 million people could be up against, as of next week.

The protest was organized by ADAPT, a group focused on the direct-action efforts of disabled people. The group noted in its press release that the action was staged on the 18th anniversary of Olmstead v. L.C., a Supreme Court decision that affirmed the right of disabled people to live in the community. As the die-in commenced, outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office, participants chanted, "I'd rather go to jail than die without Medicaid."

Tense situation outside McConnell's Russell office as protesters gather. Capitol Police blocking off hallway pic.twitter.com/48H3KUipfK

— Andrew Desiderio (@desiderioDC) June 22, 2017

Forty-three people were arrested, shortly after the GOP finally released the text of a bill that predictably outlined provisions that would destroy or end the lives of a great many people. The hallway strewn with empty wheelchairs, after disabled protesters were dragged from the premises, stood as a gut-wrenching reminder of what's at stake over the next week. The courage of those who were removed from that hallway on Thursday was a reminder of what this moment demands of us.

But here's the thing: The majority of those making sacrifices, and taking chances, are those who can least afford to do so: disenfranchised people, disabled people and those living on a fixed income. Have we chosen to be a society where, across the board, those most impacted by the issues we claim to care about are solely responsible for their own survival? Have we become so consumed by the American cult of self-oriented politics that we're incapable of fighting for each other's lives? If so, we have rendered ourselves incapable of forming any front wide or strong enough to save anyone.

So, as we make demands of the senators who have a voice in what happens next, let's remember to demand that they also answer these tough questions, both in words and in action. After watching those disabled individuals being dragged from their wheelchairs, chanting as they were hauled from their legislative halls of decision, the question screaming in my mind was both rageful and clear: Where are the Democratic senators who have proudly dubbed themselves "The Resistance"?

Last year, Democratic Congress members sat in on the House floor in an effort to bring a law about gun control to a vote, in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting. The bill at issue would have had no significant impact on gun violence in the US, but the gesture was nonetheless applauded as having signified that our elected representatives were "doing something."

It's time to make clear that the broad category of "something" is not enough.

Stating one's position in opposition to Trumpcare is not enough.

Symbolically holding the Senate floor on Monday was not enough. 

Voting against the bill is not enough. 

These senators have the opportunity to throw themselves in the path of what's coming, and they should be held to a standard of resistance that is commensurate with the harm with which we are all being threatened. 

As I reflect on the chanting and singing of House Democrats, who mocked their Republican opponents as Trumpcare passed the House, I am reminded of the reality of US politics: Those in power think it's a game, and they think it's a joke. If they thought otherwise, they would be throwing down as hard as disabled people did in the Senate hallways on Thursday.

We all have roles to play, and some of us have numerous roles to play. We can make phone calls and apply pressure through direct action, rallies, vigils and more. We can make ourselves heard in any number of venues, if our voices are forceful. But when we call Democratic senators, what is our demand? It can't be limited to their votes. If they want a place in history that removes them from this crime against marginalized people, they must engage in genuine resistance. They have much less to lose by doing so than many of us. They would be handled much more gently by police for sitting in, blocking traffic, or nearly any other stunt or action they might pull, and they have been duly elected by the people to protect our interests.

I don't believe in this system, and I expect very little from politicians, but expectations cannot govern demands if we have any hope of seeing justice in this world. There is no moral position, in the face of this legislation, but resistance and obstruction -- and after what happened Thursday, any senator that doesn't embrace resistance and obstruction should be ashamed. No one should be allowed to say they are acting in solidarity with the marginalized while enjoying a secure position of comfort and safety. There is simply no excuse for that level of submission to "the order of things."

I don't say this with any lack of awareness about the vast distinctions between Democrats. Some have expressed a strong belief in health care as a human right. Some have even taken to the streets, at some point in their lives. But what I am saying to you right now, is that even you admire those people, it must be made clear to them that, in this moment, talk is cheap. There was blood streaked across the floor outside their offices on Thursday -- the blood of disabled people -- and that calls for more than a verbalization of solidarity. It is a challenge being leveled by those living in the margins. It is a bar that's been set, and we have every right to demand that they follow the lead of those brave individuals.

And while we are on the subject of bravery, I want to speak to what that word means, in a time when people sometimes conflate a statement of belief with concrete action.

There is a reason we refer to brave people as having the courage of their convictions, rather than the courage of their beliefs. There is nothing inherently courageous about our beliefs or positions. Our beliefs can be tucked away, to afford us safety, or bandied about in settings where they prove more fashionable. Your belief in my right to survive is unimpressive unless your actions back up that belief.

Your political perspective, by itself, is about as relevant as what I had for breakfast -- which, by the way, was nothing.

Our actions in the world define us, and until our convictions are tested, our words are purely theoretical, and establish nothing about who we are in the world. So, when you call your Democratic senators, remind them of that. Remind them that their obligations are not limited to obstructive parliamentary maneuvers -- which we should all encourage -- but also encompass the demands of a higher law, one that defines our view of humanity. That higher law, grounded in fundamental human rights, should inform any notion of why government exists. Because regardless of rules of procedure, power that cannot justify itself should be upended and undone, and if those in power will not defend our lives with every tool at their disposal, then there should be hell to pay.

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Dark Money Turns Elections Into Trench Warfare

Truthout - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 21:00

Republican candidate Karen Handel during her viewing party on the day of the special election for Georgia's 6th Congressional District, at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta Perimeter, in Atlanta, June 20, 2017. (Photo: Kevin D. Liles / The New York Times)

In 1920 journalist Walter Lippmann wrote in Liberty and the News, of World War I, "[n]obody, for example, saw this war. Neither the men in the trenches nor the commanding general. The men saw their trenches, their billets, sometimes they saw an enemy trench, but nobody, unless it be the aviators, saw a battle." Dark money in our elections leads to similar myopia where the public can't tell what's really going on as they are asked to do their civic duty and cast their ballots.

On Tuesday, there was a special election to replace Rep. Price who was elevated to become the Secretary of Health and Human Services in Georgia's 6th District. In the end Karen Handel (R) won the open seat against Jon Ossoff (D). This special election turned into the most expensive congressional race in American history. As of Election Day, reported spending by the candidates alone clocked in at $27.5 million. The total cost including outside spending is estimated to be roughly $55 million.

But the Georgia's 6th District race was also notable because of the amount of dark money spent in the race. By "dark money," I mean money spent in an election which is untraceable for voters. Most dark money becomes dark by being routed through opaque nonprofits such as 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations or 501(c)(6) trade associations.

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Among the dark money in the special election supporting the Republican candidate was $1.5 million from America First Policies a secretive group created by Trump advisers including one Brad Parscale who has been in the news recently as being a person that the House Intelligence Committee wants to interview in its investigation into the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The FEC has zero information about America First Policies so far.

Another source of Republican dark money was a group called Ending Spending, which spent $1.2 million. Ending Spending was created by TD Ameritrade founder and billionaire Joe Ricketts. If that name rings a bell, it could be because his children own the Chicago Cubs. While Ending Spending has not reported its spending for 2017 yet, its FEC reports for 2016 show $2.6 million in spending and zero contributors. This isn't a typo. This is the problem with dark money. We can tell it is being spent at high levels but we can't tell where the heck the money really came from.

A third big source of Republican dark money was the trade association the US Chamber of Commerce which provided $1.1 million. This is par for the course for the Chamber, which has been one of the largest sources of dark money since the Supreme Court's Citizens United v. FEC in 2010. They have already spent $29 million in dark money nationwide in 2016-2017. The Chamber's independent spending in the two weeks before the Georgia 6th election included "Voter file purchase supporting Karen Handel."

And then there's a daisy chain of dark money that flowed into the race, including $1.5 million from American Action Network to Congressional Leadership Fund on April 17, 2017. American Action Network was created in 2010 by Fred Malek and AAN is chaired by former Sen. Norm Coleman and and ex-GOP-congressmen Vin Weber, Jim Nussle, and Tom Reynolds sit on the board. And if there is any question if this is a dark money group, look at its FEC filing for 2016, which lists $5.5 million in expenditures and zero donors.

The Democratic candidate was also supported by dark money. The largest spender was Planned Parenthood Action Fund for $800,000, including money for staff time and travel time for direct voter contact in the two weeks before the election. Now to be fair, Planned Parenthood Action Fund is not a completely dark group like the ones listed above on the right. Some of their donors are disclosed and can be tracked on the FEC. But they also fail to disclose all of their donors.

So who cares? Well, voters for one. Often busy voters rely on cues to navigate who deserves their votes. And a key cue is who is funding each candidate. But with millions of dark money in elections no one gets a clear picture of what interests are pulling the strings in the election. And thus voters are like the soldiers in the trenches in World War I. They can see bombs flying above the trench, but they cannot see the whole battle.

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Categories: Latest News

Javier Valdez and the Drug War That Killed Him

Truthout - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 21:00

One month ago today a burly, middle-aged reporter set out from the offices of the news weekly Riodoce that he co-founded some fourteen years ago, walking toward his car at high noon. In the preceding days, the internationally renowned journalist had admitted to people close to him that he felt anxious about his safety.

He had just penned what would be his last column that morning when his life was brought to an abrupt end by two unknown assassins using a silencer. The killers reportedly dragged him from his car and shot as many as 13 rounds into his body, in the middle of a city street.

To the shock of the nation and his many readers, fellow journalists and admirers in Mexico and abroad, Javier Valdez Cárdenas was murdered openly in his hometown of Culiacan, Sinaloa -- a capital city notorious for being located in the middle of a fierce drug war.

The reason behind the shock was not that hit men struck a journalist. There have been eight journalists assassinated in Mexico this year alone, a record-breaking statistic that has propelled the nation to the top of the list of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to practice journalism, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The reason for the shock was also not because Valdez covered a safe beat. He didn't. His reporting, along with others at Riodoce, focuses on the politics and on-the-ground realities of the drug war.

The reason the murder shocked so many people out of complacency is that Valdez was arguably the most recognized journalist yet to have been assassinated in Mexico's long and sordid history of impunity.

Valdez was a prolific and widely read author. In the span of his 50 years he published seven books and earned numerous national and international awards. Riodoce has been an invaluable news source due to its incisive reporting and commentary on the drug war, a rarity in the region where many other news outlets have shuttered because of safety concerns. Valdez was also the Sinaloa correspondent for La Jornada, a nationally-distributed daily.

Previously, Mexico-based journalists believed that a high profile gained by publishing in high-circulation outlets or racking up awards would serve as a measure of protection. Several years ago when I met Valdez and asked him about reporting on sensitive drug war-related material, he advised me to seek outlets with as major a circulation as possible. Many journalists thought 2017 couldn't get any worse, following the murder of the La Jornada correspondent in another drug war-infested area (Chihuahua) this past March, and now they were confronted with a nightmare scenario: Who could truly be safe if they could assassinate someone as famous as Javier Valdez in broad daylight?

Marcos Vizcarra, a reporter for the newspaper Noroeste in Culiacan, told the Associated Press that reporters across the country "don't know what to do," following the Valdez murder and felt, "nervous, unsettled."

Despite the widespread outcry that came in the aftermath of Valdez's assassination, authorities have not made a single arrest in the case. An examination of official developments and the concerns behind those who most closely monitor journalism safety and the lack of justice in Mexico helps shed light on where matters have gone and how they are expected to progress.

"We Had Never Interviewed a Drug Lord"

Javier Valdez was born, raised and seasoned as a journalist in his native Culiacan, Sinaloa. Sinaloa serves as the operating hub of the world's largest and most powerful drug cartel, the Sinaloa Cartel, which produces and transits methamphetamine, marijuana and heroin almost exclusively bound for the US market. Unsurprisingly then, Sinaloa also breeds and hides many of the country's most powerful drug lords.

Valdez's path diverged from that of other journalists covering the narco beat who aspired, and sometimes succeeded, to venture into the highlands of Sinaloa to make contacts with and interview drug lords. Instead, Valdez wielded his craft from the bars, cafes and street-side seafood stalls of Culiacan. He often left out names, dates and places, but the information coming from Valdez's columns were chock full of on-the-ground information based on sources cultivated over many years of street-beat journalism.

Ismael Bojorquez, the other co-founder of Riodoce and Valdez were both there when someone hurled a grenade into the offices of Riodoce in 2009. Miraculously, no one was hurt.

This year, however, Valdez did something different. He interviewed a drug lord. When an important Sinaloa cartel representative acting on behalf of a kingpin whose importance had recently risen came knocking, Valdez decided to do the interview.

"We had never interviewed a drug lord. We did it now and it cost us big," wrote the co-founder Bojorquez, following Valdez's killing.

In what was probably the most embarrassing moment for any Mexican President in recent memory, on July 15, 2015, Sinaloa cartel and drug kingpin leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman escaped from prison through a multi-million dollar tunnel nearly a mile long that he built in captivity. This being the second time that Guzman escaped, the international humiliation forced a heightened effort to recapture him. Less than half a year later he was caught, but not before he gave an interview to Sean Penn that was published in Rolling Stone. This past January, just a year after El Chapo's recapture, he was extradited to a prison in New York City, where he continues to be held.

Guzman wielded absolute power over the cartel he led, matched only by his partner, Ismael "Mayo" Zambada. It was not long before Mexican news outlets started reporting on a power struggle between "El Chapo's" right-hand man Dámaso López Núñez (nicknamed "El Lienciado") and Chapo's sons, including one particularly violent incident in Tijuana this past February, among others. López sent a representative to Riodoce's offices to dispel notions of him being an enemy of El Chapo or his sons.

"Chapo's sons found out that we had interviewed Damaso and they pressured Javier (Valdez) not to publish the story," wrote Boroquez in his column after the assassination of his friend and coworker. The paper denied the request. Boroquez said the representative offered to buy up the entire edition, but that was also denied. Valdez also went on to publish about the incident for La Jornada.

Like in the gangster movies from the Al Capone era, as soon as the batches of weekly newspapers were dropped off at newsstands throughout Culiacan, they were snatched up by cars following close behind the delivery trucks. The entire print run was brought up before nearly anyone else in Culiacan could even read it.

This was an unprecedented action and Valdez knew something was up and stated as much to the Spanish daily, El Pais. He described the situation as "fucking hot."

Prompted by advice from his friend and colleague, Carlos Lauria, the program director of the Mexico chapter of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Valdez left Culiacan for two weeks. Then on May 2, the authorities arrested López in Mexico City. Valdez returned to Culiacan to continue his life's work in his native city and longtime stomping grounds.

"When I visited Culiacán last week to attend Javier's funeral, many of his colleagues said they believed there was no longer any immediate danger to Javier and other reporters [following the arrest of López]," wrote Lauria in an op-ed for The New York Times.

But that assumption was a mistake. Drug kingpin arrests often destabilize the cities where they take place. Lauria also wrote that Valdez spoke to him of continued concerns following the arrest and his decision not to speak publicly about cartel-related violence.

Presidential-Led Reforms Fail to Crack Impunity

Before Valdez was killed in Culiacan, the murder of La Jornada and Chihuahua-based correspondent Miroslava Breach on March 19 sparked demonstrations of journalists calling for protection and justice. President Enrique Peña Nieto launched a series of initiatives to reform protection services and attempt to prevent additional journalist killings.

Following a meeting with a visiting delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists, Peña Nieto announced measures on May 4 to combat impunity. He promised to refund a federal protection mechanism that was slated to end by October of this year.

The federal mechanism's roots date back to 2012 when it was first started as a program called the Federal Mechanism for Protecting Human Rights Defenders and Journalists. Services included providing journalists under threat with police escorts, surveillance cameras, and even portable panic buttons to alert authorities of an emergency or an attack. However, many journalists complained that none of these measures were effective in helping them remain protected and in some cases they hindered them in being able to carry out their jobs.

Data from the program reveals a dark side of the narco-state: journalists fear violent reprisals from public officials as much as from any other sector. The Washington Office of Latin America (WOLA) and Peace Brigades International found that of 316 requests for protection, 38% of the alleged aggressors were public servants -- the largest single group of attackers.

Peña Nieto also promised to replace Ricardo Nájera as the lead prosecutor for Crimes Committed Against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE). Since 2010, FEADLE has only managed to achieve three convictions and has often refused cases, while a recent investigation by Reporters Without Borders found that the program did not have the necessary resources to secure the safety of journalists, and lacked the "political will" to do so.

According to Edgar Corzo Sosa, a Mexican official and inspector general with Mexico's National Human Rights Commission, conviction rates for journalist killings hover around 10 percent. Of the 114 journalist murders that have occurred in Mexico since the turn of the century, the special prosecutor's office has investigated just 48 since 2010.

"To be a journalist in Mexico seems like more of a death sentence than a profession," wrote Tania Reneaum, the director of Amnesty International Mexico, in a press release. "The continuing bloodshed that the authorities prefer to ignore has created a deep void that is damaging the right to freedom of expression in the country," added Reneaum.

Attorney General Raul Cervantes Andrade appointed Attorney Ricardo Sanchez Perez del Pozo as the new head of FEADLE.

"He will review each case currently under investigation, maintain permanent contact with all organizations of civil society and journalists, propitiating a permanent and transparent dialogue with society and reinforce coordination with authorities from the three levels of government," the official statement read.

These actions happened before the Valdez killing, prompted by the prior assassinations of the year and civil society pressure. In addition to the demonstrations, the Committee to Protect Journalists met with the president and other officials and released a searing report entitled, "No Excuse: Mexico Must Break Cycle of Impunity in Journalists' Murders." The international organization released the report at another drug war-torn area -- the eastern port city of Veracruz in what the CPJ dubs as the most deadly region for journalists in the Western hemisphere.

After the Valdez killing, the government offered a reward of up to 1.5 million pesos ($83,000 USD) for information leading to the arrests of those responsible for the murders of five of the Mexican journalists killed this year, including Valdez, as well as an attempted murder of a sixth journalist.

Journalist advocates remain skeptical of these measures, especially in light of the failure to make arrests and prosecute in the cases of the eight journalist assassinations this year alone. In this vein, Lauria told PBS that "any reforms that Mexico decides to carry out are going to be impossible if journalists continue to be killed with total impunity."

Journalists Take the Initiative

Many journalists have little faith that the reward or the Mexican government's reforms will make them safer. They organized a conference in Mexico City this week and expect thousands to attend. More than 50 national and international media organizations have come together with about 360 journalists in a group called the Journalists' Agenda. The group's website vows to construct "an agenda with short and medium-term goals to protect journalists," in light of a "context of systemic violence against journalists."

Mexican journalists, usually a disparate bunch, have risen up since the murders of Beach and Valdez. Foreign governments have joined journalists, and human rights groups and freedom of expression watchdog organizations to call the Mexican government's attention to the urgent situation. The president has promised to directly address their demands.

Will the promise be kept? Mexico-based journalists aren't holding their breath. But one thing is certain -- society and especially organized journalists are demanding protection and an end to impunity louder than ever before.

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Ruthless, Soulless, Vicious: Three Reasons the Senate GOP's ACA Replacement Is a Disgrace

Truthout - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 21:00

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell departs a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC, June 22, 2017. Senate Republicans took a major step Thursday toward repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, unveiling a bill that would make deep cuts to Medicaid and leave possibly millions of people without health insurance. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)

The fate of millions now stands upon the fulcrum of the coming week. This reconciliation was drafted in total secrecy, and in the light of day stands as little more than a smash-and-grab robbery favoring the wealthy and powerful. That this bill exists at all is an embarrassment to the nation.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell departs a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC, June 22, 2017. Senate Republicans took a major step Thursday toward repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, unveiling a bill that would make deep cuts to Medicaid and leave possibly millions of people without health insurance. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)

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The Senate's answer to the House bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act -- cheerily titled "The Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017" -- hit my desk like a bag of dung late Thursday morning. As I read through its largely inscrutable text, I started flashing back to junior high school and the first time I tried to read Shakespeare in the raw. Take, for one example, this nugget from p. 74, sec. 1903A, lines 18-24: "1903A ENROLLEE. -- The term '1903A enrollee' means, with respect to a State and a month and subject to subsection (i)(1)(B), any Medicaid enrollee (as defined in paragraph (3)) for the month, other than such an enrollee who for such month is in any of the following categories of excluded individuals …"

Clear as mud, Mr. McConnell. After a couple of false starts, I found my groove and with slowly dawning horror realized I was reading one of the most ruthless, soulless, vicious documents ever put to print. While not as bloodthirsty as the House version it seeks to correct, the Better Care Reconciliation Act is a genuinely cruel piece of work that will deliver millions of people to the gutter or the grave.

1. The Dismantling of Medicaid

Let's start with a baseline: Some 20 percent of Americans are enrolled in Medicaid; 39 percent of children in the US are enrolled in Medicaid; 49 percent of births are covered by Medicaid; and a full 64 percent, or nearly two-thirds of nursing home patients, are covered by Medicaid.

Here's the treatment Medicaid gets in this reconciliation bill: "Beginning with fiscal year 2020, any State (as defined in subsection (e)) that has an application approved by the Secretary under subsection (b) may conduct a Medicaid Flexibility Program to provide targeted health assistance to program enrollees."

And: ''(A) FEDERAL PAYMENT. -- Subject to sub-paragraph (D), the Secretary shall pay to each State conducting a Medicaid Flexibility Program under this section for a fiscal year, from its block grant amount under paragraph (2) for such year, an amount for each quarter of such year equal to the Federal average medical assistance percentage (as defined in section 1903A(a)(4)) of the total amount expended under the program during such quarter, and the State is responsible for the balance of the funds to carry out such program."

The Better Care Reconciliation Act is a genuinely cruel piece of work that will deliver millions of people to the gutter or the grave.

In short, control of Medicaid will devolve to the states, essentially ending the program as we have known it. States will not be allowed to expand Medicaid after three years, a large sticking point for several GOP senators who are still on the fence. States will be responsible for at least a portion of the costs beyond what is provided by a federal block grant, and as described in later language, can opt out of the whole thing whenever they choose. The amount of that block grant will diminish over time after 2021, which lessens the immediate impact on Medicaid but does far more damage to the program in the long run. Medicaid itself will essentially cease to exist after 2025.

That last piece is a clever bit of sleight-of-hand often practiced on 42nd Street in New York City by guys with three nutshells and a pea: Stretching out the attack on Medicaid over a longer time period leavens the headline-grabbing conclusions that will be reached by the Congressional Budget Office's score, which is slated to be released on Monday. Any way you slice it, tens of millions of people will take it right in the teeth, and many of them are the poorest and neediest among us.

2. Attacks on Elderly People, Women and Working People

Under this new reconciliation, insurers will be allowed to charge older policyholders as much as five times more than younger policyholders. Tax credits for insurance will be based on age, geographic location and income, but will only be applied to the shabbier plans available, and will end in 2020 if President Trump doesn't cancel them sooner, which he will have the power to do. States will be allowed to alter the definition of an "essential health benefit," so services like emergency care and prenatal care could face the chopping block.

In the bill, Planned Parenthood is stripped of federal funding, a direct attack on basic, necessary reproductive health care. This amounts to yet another front in the GOP’s long-standing quest to relegate women to second-class status in the US, and if successful, will represent a huge victory for the anti-choice right wing. Planned Parenthood, crucially, offers abortion, but it also addresses many other needs. It performs cancer screening and offers birth control, along with a wide assortment of other health care services, often for women who cannot afford health insurance or OBGYN care. If this provision is allowed to stand, it will be a devastating blow.

Medicaid itself will essentially cease to exist after 2025.

One woefully under-reported aspect of this bill is the fact that the employer mandate to provide insurance is gone. This has the potential to do grave damage to the middle-class and working-class families who depend on employer-provided insurance. With no financial incentive to provide employee coverage, and plenty of financial incentive to denude or do away with employee coverage entirely, look for a grim number of businesses, large and small, taking advantage of this provision to the detriment of millions.

3. The Loot

And then, of course, there is the loot. Beyond the $800 billion that will be stripped from Medicaid over time and shuttled to the rich, the guts of this reconciliation bill are bursting with repealed taxes that will favor the wealthy and the health care industry itself. To the delight of John Boehner and presumably Trump as well, p. 29, line 17, sec. 118 repeals the "Tanning Tax," but a whole battalion of other tax repeals follow like the tolling of a dinner bell for the ravenous few.

This reconciliation bill is so ruthless that it inspired former President Obama to denounce it in a large Facebook missive on Thursday afternoon. "Simply put," he wrote, "if there's a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family -- this bill will do you harm. I still hope that there are enough Republicans in Congress who remember that public service is not about sport or notching a political win, that there's a reason we all chose to serve in the first place, and that hopefully, it's to make people's lives better, not worse."

The latter sentiment reminded me of a recent comment by Charles P. Pierce regarding President Obama and the Republicans: "This may be the final example of the worst part of the Obama presidency," wrote Pierce, "namely, his persistent, unfounded belief in the rationality of his political opposition." Anyone who reads and comprehends the core nature of this bill must, I fear, be forced to agree. Nice people did not draft this thing, and the tiny slice of the public the drafters are serving with it couldn't give less of a damn about the damage that will be done by it -- in fact, many of them will benefit from it.

Will It Fly?

Now that the cat is finally out of the bag, the central question remains: Will this thing fly? McConnell has bet every chip he has that moderate Republicans who are wary of the Medicaid restrictions and conservative Republicans who see this as too much like the ACA will eventually fall in line, lest the whole thing collapse in ignominy and wind up around their necks like a rancid albatross in 2018. McConnell has already made it abundantly clear that if this reconciliation fails, he intends to move on to other matters.

One woefully under-reported aspect of this bill is the fact that the employer mandate to provide insurance is gone.

It's a very tall gamble. Conservatives like Rand Paul have already attacked the thing, and moderates like Shelley Capito, Rob Portman and Susan Collins remain very leery over the current version of the bill. As of Thursday evening, Paul, along with fellow senators Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson and Mike Lee, had voiced their grave displeasure with the bill as currently constituted and threatened to vote "No" on anything they deem to be "Obamacare Lite." They may mean it, or they could just be positioning themselves for negotiations on the final language that are almost certainly already underway.

McConnell has 52 Republican senators in his caucus and needs 50 votes, with Vice President Pence waiting in the wings to cast a tie-breaking vote if need be. He can't lose more than two. It will be a close shave. The CBO scoring will hit on Monday, and McConnell has vowed to bring the bill to the floor next week whether or not he has the votes.

Bear in mind, of course, that in this day and age, the words "moderate" and "Republican" seldom find each other comin' through the rye. A "moderate" Republican today is akin to the snipe, a mythical creature that has been hunted by millions to no avail. Provisions to address the opioid crisis and to elongate the assault on Medicaid both made it into the bill as a sop to these wavering "moderates." There's a lot of talk coming from that quarter right now, but I suspect these fence-sitters will eventually line up with the majority leader. It will likely be the hard-liners like Paul who will decide if this thing lives or dies. The margin is indeed miniscule if, as expected, no Democrats vote in favor.

It will likely be the hard-liners like Paul who will decide if this thing lives or dies.

The fate of millions now stands upon the fulcrum of the coming week. This reconciliation was drafted in total secrecy, and in the light of day stands as little more than a smash-and-grab robbery favoring the wealthy and powerful at the brutal expense of the poorest and weakest among us. With the removal of the employer mandate, middle-class and working-class families likewise face a future of uncertainty and pain. That this bill exists at all is an embarrassment to the nation. The "Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017" must be cast out with the refuse like the bag of dung it is.

Categories: Latest News

Economic Update: Capitalism's Self-Destruction

Truthout - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 21:00

 

This week's episode discusses the declining California State University system, Trump vs. coal industry realities, Hudson Yards for the mega-rich vs. New York's social needs, and how lotteries and legalizing pot have the same economic motives. Also included are major discussions on politics and economic betrayal, Trump's new austerity budget and why worker co-ops deserve government support.

To see more stories like this, visit Economic Update: Your Weekly Dose of Revolutionary Economics

To listen in live on Saturdays at noon, visit WBAI's Live Stream

Economic Update is in partnership with Truthout.org

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Permission to reprint Professor Wolff's writing and videos is granted on an individual basis. Please contact profwolff@rdwolff.com to request permission. We reserve the right to refuse or rescind permission at any time.

Categories: Latest News

Indivisible Statement on Senate TrumpCare Bill

Commondreams - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 12:39
Indivisible Guide

Today, Angel Padilla, policy director at the Indivisible Project, released the following statement on the “Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017,” Senate Republicans’ version of TrumpCare.

Categories: Latest News

Patriotic Millionaires on Senate Health Care Bill: "Morally Bankrupt"

Commondreams - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 10:41
Patriotic Millionaires

This morning, following the Senate's release of its secretive health care bill, the Chair of the Patriotic Millionaires Morris Pearl, former managing director at BlackRock Inc., issued the following statement:

Categories: Latest News

Senate Version of Trumpcare Would Devastate Communities of Color

Commondreams - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 10:24
The Greenlining Institute

The draft Senate health care bill that surfaced Thursday would be a disaster for Americans of color, health policy experts at The Greenlining Institute said today.

Categories: Latest News

ACLU Comment on Senate Health Care Bill

Commondreams - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 10:03
ACLU

Senate Republicans today finally released a discussion draft of their Obamacare repeal bill after weeks of secret internal negotiations.

American Civil Liberties Union National Political Director Faiz Shakir had the following reaction:

Categories: Latest News

Senate Health Care Bill is not Worthy of this Great Nation

Commondreams - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 08:44
League of Women Voters

The League of Women Voters president, Chris Carson today issued the following statement on the "Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017" unveiled by Senate leadership:

The Better Care Reconciliation Act is even worse than the version we saw pass in the House of Representatives and is not worthy of this great nation. The cuts to Medicaid will be massive and will destroy the system that so many Americans rely on. This is a nasty bill that will hurt millions of Americans and we urge Senators to reject it.

Categories: Latest News

Civil and Human Rights Coalition Welcomes Reintroduction of Voting Rights Advancement Act

Commondreams - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 08:29
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, issued the following statement on the reintroduction of the Voting Rights Advancement Act by Senator Patrick Leahy and Congresswoman Terri Sewell:

Categories: Latest News

ACLU Statement on Reintroduction of Voting Rights Advancement Act

Commondreams - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 08:21
ACLU

Congress reintroduced the Voting Rights Advancement Act today. The legislation is meant to strengthen voting rights by responding to the unique, modern-day challenges of voting discrimination, including expanding the federal government’s ability to monitor state election procedures. The bill was reintroduced by lead sponsors Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

Jennifer Bellamy, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said:

Categories: Latest News

Republican Sens.Targeted with Anti-Trumpcare Billboards

Commondreams - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 08:10
Credo Action

CREDO is placing #ResistTrumpcare billboards in strategic locations near airports in Arizona and Nevada pressuring Sens. Flake and Heller to oppose Trumpcare.

The billboards depict each senator alongside pictures of Donald Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan with the text “Tell Sen. LASTNAME: #ResistTrumpCare. Don’t gut our health care.”

Categories: Latest News

Increased Reliance on Natural Gas Risks an Emissions Lock-In

Commondreams - Thu, 06/22/2017 - 07:40
Climate Action Tracker

The future of natural gas is limited, even as a bridging fuel. Continued investments into the sector create the risk of breaching the Paris Agreement’s long-term temperature goal and will result in stranded assets, the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) said today.

Categories: Latest News

Empire Files: Venezuela Economy Minister -- Sabotage, Not Socialism, Is the Problem

Truthout - Wed, 06/21/2017 - 21:00

Today in the corporate media, Venezuela's economic problems are used to paint the country as a failed state, in need of foreign-backed regime change.

To get the Bolivarian government's side of the crisis, Abby Martin interviews Venezuela's Minister of Economic Planning, Ricardo Menéndez. They discuss shortages, oil dependency, the role of the US-backed opposition movement and more.

The Empire Files joined him in Cojedes, Venezuela, where he was speaking to mass community meetings, organizing the population to fight against what he calls an economic war.

Categories: Latest News

Trump's Plan for Drug Pricing Executive Order Is a Big Pharma Wish List

Truthout - Wed, 06/21/2017 - 21:00

Those who expected Trump to keep his promise to bring drug prices "way down" are in for a shock. His planned executive order on drug pricing reads like a Big Pharma wish list of eased regulation and extended monopolies. It even calls for restricting the discounts that pharma companies benefiting from the lucrative Medicaid market currently offer providers that serve low-income patients.

(Photo: TBIT; Edited: LW / TO)

Raise your hand if you believed Donald Trump's repeated promises to take on Big Pharma. What about the presidential boast that drug prices for the American people "will come way down?"

Anyone?

Sadly, skepticism about the true impact of Trump's populist posturing on drug pricing has proven to be well justified. As a worried nation focuses on the looming danger of the Senate vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the pharmaceutical industry has joined hands with the president who once said its corporate members are "getting away with murder."

This week, the New York Times obtained a draft of a planned President Trump executive order on drug pricing. As Patients for Affordable Drugs founder and cancer patient David Mitchell told the Times, the text indicates that "Pharma has captured the process."

The order, which appears likely to be rolled out after the dust settles on the Affordable Care Act repeal effort, was reportedly written largely by Trump budget staffer Joe Grogan, who was hired by the administration fresh from his role as a drug industry lobbyist. But Grogan is certainly not the only one carrying Big Pharma's interests into the Trump administration. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price has been a heavy investor in the pharma industry, and FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb spent years collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees from pharma companies. Predictably, Trump's team has written an executive order that reads like a Big Pharma wish list of eased regulation and extended monopolies.

Conspicuously absent from the proposed Trump order are the most logical and popular reform proposals, including allowing the Medicare program to use its massive purchasing power to negotiate lower drug prices. Trump has explicitly endorsed Medicare negotiation in the recent past, and the shackles on Medicare are a key contributor to patients in the US paying the highest medicines prices in the world. But there is no mention of Medicare drug price negotiation in the draft order.

Also missing is any embrace of the movement to allow US patients to import their medicines from Canada or other nations with far cheaper prices. Nor are there provisions to take advantage of the government's extensive legal rights to allow generic drug production and break the monopolies of over-priced patented drugs, especially the many critical drugs that were developed thanks to taxpayer funding. A majority of states are considering legislation to require increased drug price transparency and justification for large price increases, and some have passed such legislation -- but the Trump administration's draft order does not enhance transparency.

Instead, in an audacious example of blaming the victim, the draft order takes aim not at the industry whose profits rival those of banks and oil companies, but at low-income patients, both in the US and in developing countries. The proposal calls for restrictions on the 340B Drug Pricing Program, in which pharma corporations that benefit from the lucrative Medicaid market for their drugs are required in return to give some discounts to hospitals and clinics that serve low-income patients. And the order pushes for ramped-up trade pressure on developing countries that try to reduce the duration of drug monopolies that make medicines unaffordable for their citizens.

Not only are such measures mean-spirited, they would also be completely ineffective at reducing medicine prices for US patients. Rolling back limited drug price discounts for the poor would only increase revenue for pharmaceutical corporations that have a proven track record of directing their dollars into marketinglobbying and breathtakingly high CEO pay, not lowered prices.

The argument that lower drug prices outside the US are hurting medicine research has been thoroughly debunked: High US prices have been proven to be fueling corporate profits, not industry research. Even if the Trump administration harbors legitimate concern that other countries are getting a free ride on US research investments, extended monopolies are not the answer. Knowledge Ecology International's Jamie Love and others have proposed several ways the Trump administration could make increased medicine research contributions part of its ongoing trade negotiations with other nationsg -- a far more effective way to spur increased research than hiking drug prices overseas.

As Public Citizen's Peter Maybarduk says of the executive order, "The way to reduce medicine prices in the United States is to reduce them in the United States. Making medications more costly for the world's poor won't make them more affordable in the US, and won't help Americans who are forced to choose between paying for their health care and paying the rent."

But making medications even more expensive than they already are is precisely what Big Pharma wants. And President Trump appears determined to give it to them, all promises to the contrary be damned.

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Categories: Latest News

From War to Cholera, Yemen Is Facing World's Largest Humanitarian Crisis

Truthout - Wed, 06/21/2017 - 21:00

More than 10,000 people have died amid the ongoing U.S.-backed, Saudi-led war in Yemen, which has also destroyed the country's health, water and sanitation systems, sparking a deadly cholera outbreak. The cholera death toll has risen to 1,054. The United Nations warns some 19 million of Yemen's 28 million people need some form of aid, with many of them at risk of famine. We speak to Kristine Beckerle of Human Rights Watch.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Myths of Globalization: Noam Chomsky and Ha-Joon Chang in Conversation

Truthout - Wed, 06/21/2017 - 21:00

Author Ha-Joon Chang. (Photo: New America; Edited: LW / TO)

Income inequality is not caused by globalization itself but rather by economic policies that, since the 1980s, have increasingly been set by transnational corporations, Ha-Joon Chang and Noam Chomsky point out. But globalization during the era of industrial capitalism has always enhanced dependence, inequality and exploitation, often to horrendous extremes.

Author Ha-Joon Chang. (Photo: New America; Edited: LW / TO)

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Since the late 1970s, the world's economy and dominant nations have been marching to the tune of (neoliberal) globalization, whose impact and effects on average people's livelihood and communities everywhere are generating great popular discontent, accompanied by a rising wave of nationalist and anti-elitist sentiments. But what exactly is driving globalization? And who really benefits from globalization? Are globalization and capitalism interwoven? How do we deal with the growing levels of inequality and massive economic insecurity? Should progressives and radicals rally behind the call for the introduction of a universal basic income? In the unique and exclusive interview below, two leading minds of our time, linguist and public intellectual Noam Chomsky and Cambridge University economist Ha-Joon Chang, share their views on these essential questions. 

C. J. Polychroniou: Globalization is usually referred to as a process of interaction and integration among the economies and people of the world through international trade and foreign investment with the aid of information technology. Is globalization then simply a neutral, inevitable process of economic, social and technological interlinkages, or something of a more political nature in which state action produces global transformations (state-led globalization)?

Ha-Joon Chang: The biggest myth about globalization is that it is a process driven by technological progress. This has allowed the defenders of globalization to brand the critics as "modern Luddites" who are trying to turn back the clock against the relentless progress of science and technology.

However, if technology is what determines the degree of globalization, how can you explain that the world was far more globalized in the late 19th and the early 20th century than in the mid-20th century? During the first Liberal era, roughly between 1870 and 1914, we relied upon steamships and wired telegraphy, but the world economy was on almost all accounts more globalized than during the far less liberal period in the mid-20th century (roughly between 1945 and 1973), when we had all the technologies of transportation and communications that we have today, except for the internet and cellular phones, albeit in less efficient forms.

The reason why the world was much less globalized in the latter period is that, during the period, most countries imposed rather significant restrictions on the movements of goods, services, capital and people, and liberalized them only gradually. What is notable is that, despite [its] lower degree of globalization … this period is when capitalism has done the best: the fastest growth, the lowest degree of inequality, the highest degree of financial stability, and -- in the case of the advanced capitalist economies -- the lowest level of unemployment in the 250-year history of capitalism. This is why the period is often called "the Golden Age of Capitalism."

Technology only sets the outer boundary of globalization -- it was impossible for the world to reach a high degree of globalization with only sail ships. It is economic policy (or politics, if you like) that determines exactly how much globalization is achieved in what areas.

The current form of market-oriented and corporate-driven globalization is not the only -- not to speak of being the best -- possible form of globalization. A more equitable, more dynamic and more sustainable form of globalization is possible.

We know that globalization properly began in the 15th century, and that there have been different stages of globalization since, with each stage reflecting the underlying impact of imperial state power and of the transformations that were taking place in institutional forms, such as firms and the emergence of new technologies and communications. What distinguishes the current stage of globalization (1973-present) from previous ones?

Chang: The current stage of globalization is different from the previous ones in two important ways.

The first difference is that there is less open imperialism.

Before 1945, the advanced capitalist countries practised [overt] imperialism. They colonized weaker countries or imposed "unequal treaties" on them, which made them virtual colonies -- for example, they occupied parts of territories through "leasing," deprived them of the right to set tariffs, etc.

Since 1945, we have seen the emergence of a global system that rejects such naked imperialism. There has been a continuous process of de-colonialization and, once you get sovereignty, you became a member of the United Nations, which is based upon the principle of one-country-one-vote.

Of course, the practice has been different -- the permanent members of the Security Council of the UN have a veto and many international economic organizations (the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank) are run on the principle of one-dollar-one-vote (voting rights are linked to paid-in capital). However, even so, the post-1945 world order was immeasurably better than the one that came before it.

Unfortunately, starting in the 1980s but accelerating from the mid-1990s, there has been a rollback of the sovereignty that the post-colonial countries had been enjoying. The birth of the WTO (World Trade Organization) in 1995 has shrunk the "policy space" for developing countries. The shrinkage was intensified by subsequent series of bilateral and regional trade and investment agreements between rich countries and developing ones, like Free Trade Agreements with the US and Economic Partnership agreements with the European Union.

The second thing that distinguishes the post-1973 globalization is that it has been driven by transnational corporations far more than before. Transnational corporations existed even from the late 19th century, but their economic importance has vastly increased since the 1980s.

They have also influenced the shaping of the global rules in a way that enhances their power. Most importantly, they have inserted the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism into many international agreements. Through this mechanism, transnational corporations can take governments to a tribunal of three adjudicators, drawn from a pool of largely pro-corporate international commercial lawyers, for having reduced their profits through regulations. This is an unprecedented extension of corporate power.

Noam, are globalization and capitalism different?

Noam Chomsky: If by "globalization" we mean international integration, then it long pre-dates capitalism. The silk roads dating back to the pre-Christian era were an extensive form of globalization. The rise of industrial state capitalism has changed the scale and character of globalization, and there have been further changes along the way as the global economy has been reshaped by those whom Adam Smith called "the masters of mankind," pursuing their "vile maxim": "All for ourselves, and nothing for other people."

There have been quite substantial changes during the recent period of neoliberal globalization, since the late 1970s, with Reagan and Thatcher the iconic figures -- though the policies vary only slightly as administrations change. Transnational corporations are the driving force, and their political power largely shapes state policy in their interests.

During these years, supported by the policies of the states they largely dominate, transnational corporations have increasingly constructed global value chains (GVCs) in which the "lead firm" outsources production through intricate global networks that it establishes and controls. A standard illustration is Apple, the world's biggest company. Its iPhone is designed in the US. Parts from many suppliers in the US and East Asia are assembled mostly in China in factories owned by the huge Taiwanese firm Foxconn. Apple's profit is estimated to be about 10 times that of Foxconn, while value added and profit in China, where workers toil under miserable conditions, is slight. Apple then sets up an office in Ireland so as to evade US taxes -- and has recently been fined $14 billion by the EU in back taxes.

Reviewing the "GVC world" in the British journal International Affairs, Nicola Phillips writes that production for Apple involves thousands of firms and enterprises that have no formal relationship with Apple, and at the lower tiers may be entirely unaware of the destination of what they are producing. This is a situation that generalizes.

The immense scale of this new globalized system is revealed in the 2013 World Investment Report of the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development. It estimates that some 80 percent of global trade is internal to the global value chains established and run by transnational corporations, accounting for perhaps 20 percent of jobs worldwide.

National wealth by conventional measures has declined. But US corporate ownership of the globalized economy has exploded.

Ownership of this globalized economy has been studied by political economist Sean Starrs. He points out that the conventional estimates of national wealth in terms of GDP are misleading in the era of neoliberal globalization. With complex integrated supply chains, subcontracting and other such devices, corporate ownership of the world's wealth is becoming a more realistic measure of global power than national wealth, as the world departs more than before from the model of nationally discrete political economies. Investigating corporate ownership, Starrs finds that in virtually every economic sector – manufacturing, finance, services, retail and others -- US corporations are well in the lead in ownership of the global economy. Overall, their ownership is close to 50 percent of the total. That is roughly the maximum estimate of US national wealth in 1945, at the historical peak of US power. National wealth by conventional measures has declined from 1945 to the present, to maybe 20 percent. But US corporate ownership of the globalized economy has exploded.

The standard line of mainstream politicians is that globalization benefits everyone. Yet, globalization produces winners and losers, as Branko Milanovic's book Global Inequality has shown, so the question is this: Is success in globalization a matter of skills?

Chang: The assumption that globalization benefits everyone is based on mainstream economic theories that assume that workers can be costlessly re-deployed, if international trade or cross-border investments make certain industries unviable.

In this view, if the US signs NAFTA with Mexico, some auto workers in the US may lose their jobs, but they will not lose out, as they can retrain themselves and get jobs in industries that are expanding, thanks to NAFTA, such as software or investment banking.

You will immediately see the absurdity of the argument -- how many US auto workers do you know who have retrained themselves as software engineers or investment bankers in the last couple of decades? Typically, ex-auto-workers fired from their jobs have ended up working as night-shift janitors in a warehouse or stacking shelves in supermarkets, drawing much lower wages than before.

The point is that, even if the country gains overall from globalization, there will always be losers, especially (although not exclusively) workers who have skills that are not valued anymore. And unless these losers are compensated, you cannot say that the change is a good thing for "everyone".…

Of course, most rich countries have mechanisms through which the winners from the globalization process (or any economic change, really) compensate the losers. The basic mechanism for this is the welfare state, but there are also publicly financed retraining and job-search mechanisms -- the Scandinavians do this particularly well -- as well as sector-specific schemes to compensate the "losers" (e.g., temporary protection for firms to promote restructuring, money for severance payments for the workers). These mechanisms are better in some countries than others, but nowhere are they perfect and, unfortunately, some countries have been running them down. (The recent shrinkage of the welfare state in the UK is a good example.)

In your view, Ha-Joon Chang, is the convergence of globalization and technology likely to produce more or less inequality?

Chang: As I have argued above, technology and globalization are not destiny.

The fact that income inequality actually fell in Switzerland between 1990 and 2000 and the fact that income inequality has hardly increased in Canada and the Netherlands during the neoliberal period show that countries can choose what income inequality they have, even though they are all faced with the same technologies and same trends in the global economy.

There is actually a lot that countries can do to influence income inequality. Many European countries, including Germany, France, Sweden and Belgium are as unequal as (or occasionally even more so than) the US, before they redistribute income through progressive tax and the welfare state. Because they redistribute so much, the resulting inequalities in those countries are much lower.

Noam, in what ways does globalization increase capitalism's inherent tendencies toward economic dependence, inequality and exploitation?

Chomsky: Globalization during the era of industrial capitalism has always enhanced dependence, inequality and exploitation, often to horrendous extremes. To take a classic example, the early industrial revolution relied crucially on cotton, produced mainly in the American South in the most vicious system of slavery in human history -- which took new forms after the Civil War with the criminalization of Black life and sharecropping. Today's version of globalization includes not only super-exploitation at the lower tiers of the global value chains system but also virtual genocide, notably in Eastern Congo where millions have been slaughtered in recent years while critical minerals find their way to high-tech devices produced in the global value chains.

But even apart from such hideous elements of globalization ... pursuit of the "vile maxim" quite naturally yields such consequences. The Phillips study I mentioned is a rare example of inquiry into "how inequalities are produced and reproduced in a [global value chains] world [through] asymmetries of market power, asymmetries of social power, and asymmetries of political power." As Phillips shows, "The consolidation and mobilization of these market asymmetries rests on securing a structure of production in which a small number of very large firms at the top, in many cases the branded retailers, occupy oligopolistic positions -- that is, positions of market dominance, and in which the lower tiers of production are characterized by densely populated and intensely competitive markets…. The consequence across the world has been the explosive growth of precarious, insecure and exploitative work in global production, performed by a workforce significantly made up of informal, migrant, contract and female workers, and extending at the end of the spectrum to the purposeful use of forced labour."

These consequences are enhanced by deliberate trade and fiscal policies, a matter discussed particularly by Dean Baker. As he points out, in the US, "from December 1970 to December of 2000, manufacturing employment was virtually unchanged, apart from cyclical ups and downs. In the next seven years, from December of 2000 to December of 2007, manufacturing employment fell by more than 3.4 million, a drop of almost 20 percent. This plunge in employment was due to the explosion of the trade deficit over this period, not automation. There was plenty of automation (a.k.a. productivity growth) in the three decades from 1970 to 2000, but higher productivity was offset by an increase in demand, leaving total employment little changed. This was no longer true when the trade deficit exploded to almost 6 percent of GDP in 2005 and 2006 (more than $1.1 trillion in today's economy)."

These were substantially consequences of the high-dollar policy and the investor-rights agreements masquerading as "free trade" -- among the political choices in the interests of the masters, not the results of economic laws.

Ha-Joon Chang, progressives aim to develop strategies to counter the adverse effects of globalization, but there is little agreement on the most effective and realistic way to do so. In this context, the responses vary from alternative forms of globalization to localization? What's your take on this matter?

Chang: In short, my preferred option would be a more controlled form of globalization, based on far more restrictions on global flows of capital and more restrictions on the flows of goods and services. Moreover, even with these restrictions, there will inevitably be winners and losers, and you need a stronger (not weaker) welfare state and other mechanisms through which the losers from the process get compensated. Politically, such a policy combination will require stronger voices for workers and citizens.

I don't think localization is a solution, although the feasibility of localization will depend on what the locality is and what issues we are talking about. If the locality in question is one village or a neighborhood in an urban area, you will immediately see that there are very few things that can be "localised." If you are talking about a German land (state) or US state, I can see how it can try to grow more of its own food or produce some currently imported manufactured products for itself. However, for most things, it is simply not viable to have the majority of things supplied locally. It would be unwise to have every country, not to speak of every American state, manufacture its own airplanes, mobile phones, or even all of its food.

Having said that, I am not against all forms of localization. There are certainly things that can be more locally provided, like certain food items or health care.

One final question: The idea of a universal basic income is slowly but gradually gaining ground as a policy tool in order to address the problem of poverty and concerns over automation. In fact, companies like Google and Facebook are strong advocates of a universal basic income, although it will be societies bearing the cost of this policy while most multinational firms move increasingly to using robots and other computer-assisted techniques for performing tasks traditionally done by labor. Should progressives and opponents of capitalist globalization in general support the idea of a universal basic income?

Chang: Universal basic income (UBI) has many different versions, but it is a libertarian idea in the sense that it puts emphasis on maximizing individual freedom rather than on collective identity and solidarity.

All citizens in countries at more than middle-income level have some entitlements to a basic amount of resources. (In the poorer countries, there are virtually none.) They have access to some health care, education, pension, water and other "basic" things in life. The idea behind UBI is that the resource entitlements should be provided to individuals in cash (rather than in kind) as much as possible, so that they can exercise maximum choice.

The right-wing version of UBI, supported by Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman, the gurus of neoliberalism, is that the government should provide its citizens with a basic income at the subsistence level, while providing no (or little) further goods and services. As far as I can see, this is the version of UBI supported by the Silicon Valley companies. I am totally against this.

There are left-wing libertarians who support UBI, who would set its level quite high, which would require quite a high degree of income redistribution. But they too believe that collective provision of "basic" goods and services through the welfare state should be minimized (although their "minimum" would be considerably larger than the neo-liberal one). This version is more acceptable to me, but I am not convinced by it.

First, if the members of a society are collectively provisioning some goods and services, they have the collective right to influence how people use their basic entitlements.

Second, provision through a citizenship-based universal welfare state makes social services like health, education, child care, unemployment insurance and pensions much cheaper through bulk purchases and pooling of risk. The fact that the US spends at least 50 percent more on health care than other rich countries do (17 percent of GDP in the US compared to at most 11.5 percent of GDP in Switzerland) but has the worst health indicators is very suggestive of the potential problems that we could have in a system of UBI combined with private provision of basic social services, even if the level of UBI is high.

Chomsky: The answer, I think, is: "it all depends" -- namely, on the socioeconomic and political context in which the idea is advanced. The society to which we should aspire, I think, would respect the concept "jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen": to each according to their needs. Among the primary needs for most people is a life of dignity and fulfillment. That translates in particular as work undertaken under their own control, typically in solidarity and interaction with others, creative and of value to the society at large. Such work can take many forms: building a beautiful and needed bridge, the challenging task of teaching-and-learning with young children, solving an outstanding problem in number theory, or myriad other options. Providing for such needs is surely within the realm of possibility.

In the current world, firms increasingly turn to automation, as they have been doing as far back as we look; the cotton gin, for example. Currently, there is little evidence that the effects are beyond the norm. Major impacts would show up in productivity, which is in fact low by the standards of the early post-World War II era. Meanwhile there is a great deal of work to be done -- from reconstructing collapsing infrastructure, to establishing decent schools, to advancing knowledge and understanding, and far more. There are many willing hands. There are ample resources. But the socioeconomic system is so dysfunctional that it is not capable of bringing these factors together in a satisfactory way -- and under the current Trump-Republican campaign to create a tiny America trembling within walls, the situation can only become worse. Insofar as robots and other forms of automation can free people from routine and dangerous work and liberate them for more creative endeavors (and, particularly in the leisure-deprived US, with time for themselves), that's all to the good. UBI could have a place, though it is too crude an instrument to achieve the preferable Marxist version.

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The Honest Cabinet

Truthout - Wed, 06/21/2017 - 21:00
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