Latest News

Venezuela Must Respond For Deadly Security Operation

Commondreams - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 05:45
Amnesty International

The operation by security forces to arrest the former CICPC (Scientific Investigation Police) official Óscar Pérez and others who had risen against the government, appears to be illegal and raise multiple concerns of grave human rights violations and even crimes under international law, said Amnesty International.

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“If We Don’t Stand Up For Our Rights, Donald Trump and his Right-Wing Allies Will Take Them Away From Us. We Must Get Out The Vote!”

Commondreams - Thu, 01/18/2018 - 05:34
National Organization for Women (NOW)

National Organization for Women President Toni Van Pelt will be among the speakers on Saturday, January 20, Women’s March on Washington 2018.

Women and allies will once again take to the streets of the nation’s capital to make a powerful statement to the current administration and the rest of the world. In a follow-up to the largest demonstration in U.S. history, people from across the country will meet at the Reflecting Pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial at 11a.m., for a rally followed by a march on the White House.

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Trump's New Health Division Embodies Institutional Oppression, Not "Religious Freedom"

Truthout - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 21:00

Fear of discrimination and violence already takes an enormous toll on the health and well-being of so many living under the Trump administration. Today's action denying women, LGBT and non-binary people agency over their own bodies further institutionalizes the ability to reject health care for whole groups of people and will likely lead to devastating health outcomes and death for many.

Sen. James Lankford speaks at a news conference announcing a new division on Conscience and Religious Freedom as Office of Civil Rights Director Roger Severino (center) and Acting Secretary Kevin Hargan (right) lat the Department of Health and Human Services look on, January 18, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Aaron P. Bernstein / Getty Images)

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The Trump administration today announced the creation of what it is calling a "new conscience and religious freedom division" within the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The purpose of this new division is to protect health care workers who object to the treatment of transgender individuals and to the provision of abortion and other reproductive health care, among other things.

Speaker after speaker invoked the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. to defend the expansion of the so-called conscience and religious freedom division.

At a mid-morning press conference, led by HHS OCR Director Roger Severino and a host of other anti-LGBTQ lawmakers and leaders, speaker after speaker invoked the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. to defend the expansion of the so-called conscience and religious freedom division. HHS leaders compared health care workers forced to treat transgender patients or provide reproductive health care against their moral and religious objections to civil rights leaders who spoke out against anti-Black discrimination and violence. They praised the new division as a critical step in the protection of religious freedom.

There is no question that the freedom of religion is a central tenet of US law protected both in the First Amendment to the US Constitution and in federal statutory law. But religious liberty does not permit a health care worker to refuse to treat a transgender patient because that worker does not believe that transgender people should exist. Religious liberty does not permit a doctor to deny life-saving care because the care could result in the termination of a pregnancy or sterilization. Religious liberty cannot be used to widen the door to systemic discrimination against LGBTQ people, women, religious minorities and people of color -- discrimination that already has led and will inevitably lead to pain, suffering and premature death.

Today's action by the Trump administration encourages widespread discrimination in the provision of health care.

Health care discrimination is already all too familiar to transgender people. Many of us avoid the doctor when we are sick to avoid the humiliation we face in waiting rooms, from hospital staff, and from the providers who are supposed to protect and treat our bodies and minds. In the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, of the more than 27,000 transgender respondents, one-third who had seen a health care provider in the past year reported having at least one negative experience related to being transgender. For many of us, these negative experiences characterized any and every visit to the doctor: invasive questions about our genitals when seeking flu shots; refusal to touch our bodies; insistence on calling us by the wrong name and gender pronoun; questions about our sex lives and practices; refusal to provide contraceptive care; and outright refusals to treat us at all.

Rather than encourage medical professionals to treat all patients and ensure that no one is denied care because of who they are, the condition from which they suffer or how their body looks, today's action by the Trump administration instead encourages widespread discrimination in the provision of health care. It sends the message that women, trans people, LGB people and non-binary people do not and should not have agency over our bodies.

Speakers at this morning's press conference, including Severino, cited Martin Luther King Jr. in defense of the newly created division. They likened their proclamation to Dr. King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." Severino also compared requiring doctors to treat trans people to the Nazi practice of forcing Jews to inscribe sacred texts on the soles of their shoes (thus violating their religious laws). The same administration that has systemically targeted and expelled immigrants of color from the United States, attacked Black athletes, expanded the mass incarceration machine, and refused to denounce white supremacist and Nazi activities is invoking Black civil rights leaders to defend their sweeping efforts to undermine the very civil rights laws those leaders died defending.

Perhaps today's speakers forgot to read King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" in its entirety. King wrote of conscience in the context of the pain of systemic anti-Black discrimination and the cost to his family and community:

[W]hen you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky ... then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.

Today's announcement cannot be extricated from the larger policy goals of this administration. These goals include increasing the numbers of white immigrants while targeting immigrants of color for deportation, restricting access to reproductive health careexcluding trans people from public life and legal protection, expanding policing and deportation forcesrestricting voting access, and sending a message to so many of us that we are not a part of or welcome in society.

When our bodies are cast as deviant and our health needs rejected, places of healing become sites of violence.

Fear of discrimination and violence already takes an enormous toll on the health and well-being of so many. Further institutionalizing the ability to reject health care for whole groups of people will inevitably lead to devastating health outcomes and likely death for many people.

When our bodies are cast as deviant and our health needs rejected, we become perilously situated. Places of healing become sites of violence. Preventive care is avoided, and preventative and curable diseases become fatal.

With today's announcement, HHS not only distorts Dr. King's legacy but also further entrenches the very injustices he condemned from the Birmingham jail in the letter that Severino and others invoked today.

This is not a story of religious freedom but of institutional oppression. This is an effort to sanction the rejection of whole groups of people and further institutionalize control over our bodies, our health needs and our lives.

It is dangerous and we will fight back.

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Have you heard...

Truthout - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

How Trump's Deregulatory Push Is Harming Workers, Muzzling EPA Scientists and Unleashing Pollution

Truthout - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 21:00

As President Trump's own chief of staff, John Kelly, calls his boss "uninformed," we will look at how Trump is transforming the nation by slashing taxes on the rich, gutting the nation's regulatory system and muzzling climate scientists. We speak to David Cay Johnston, author of It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: We're speaking to David Cay Johnston, author of the new book, It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America. Let's go back to February. This is President Trump speaking a month after he took office.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're cutting regulations big league. We are really cutting them by massive amounts. The auto industry just left a week ago. They were here in the same room. And they are very happy with what -- what we're doing. And everyone is. I think just about everyone. The financial industry -- we're having a lot of the different industries in. And we're cutting regulations in just about every industry. In fact, I can't think of any that we're not.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So that's President Trump speaking in February. So, could you talk about what Trump has done to different agencies? In your book, you talk about several, but let's start with the EPA.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, EPA is run by Scott Pruitt, who hopes to become a U.S. senator in Oklahoma, who has vowed to destroy the agency. So, staff members are not allowed to use certain words. They're not being allowed to go to scientific conferences. So, once again, the investment the taxpayers have made in expertise and knowledge is being wasted.

In the regulatory environment, they are basically allowing polluters to get away with all sorts of stuff. There was a move by the Obama administration to stop taking the toxic residue, the coal ash, from power plants, turning it into a slurry, with water, and then you put it into a pond next to a river. And as we know, in South Carolina, I think it was, and several other places, some of these old dikes broke and ruined the drinking water, for weeks or months, and killed all the wildlife. The Trump administration basically is saying to polluters, "Go ahead and pollute."

Well, what is pollution? Not only is it a threat to your health and safety, but it's a way to jack up profits, by taking costs you should endure to clean up your mess and spewing them onto everybody else. So, of course, profits for companies like that will go up, because they're being allowed to make you or your children get asthma or have other illnesses because of the pollution. How does that make us better off? That makes us worse off. The problem is, you're not going to get asthma tomorrow. He'll be out of office, even if he had two terms, before you get sick and die.

AMY GOODMAN: We had the headline today about the former photographer with the Department of Energy seeking whistleblower protection, saying he was fired for documenting collusion between the Trump administration and a coal company executive. Simon Edelman says he was fired after he leaked photographs of a March 29th meeting between Energy Secretary Rick Perry and coal magnate Robert Murray, showing the two embracing at a meeting. Murray said he played no role in drafting a Department of Energy rule subsidizing coal and nuclear power plants. But a photo clearly shows a letter drafted by Murray and addressed to Energy Secretary Rick Perry touting an "action plan." And then you have the whole story of FERC, the Trump-appointed panel, that actually ruled against Trump in his subsidizing of coal.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, they did, in this particular case. But there is a chapter in my book about how the electricity markets in America, which, by design, raise prices and don't lower them, are going to continue to worsen. Now, this example that comes from the leaked photographs is very revealing of the fact that truth is a very fungible issue in this administration. And when it comes to electricity prices in this country, I mean, everybody pays for electricity. It's the one -- one of the common things we have, like the weather. This is an administration that is all out for the people who make profits. It isn't interested in consumers. It isn't interested in businesses whose profits are diminished if they have to pay excessive electricity prices.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, this goes to the question that you also point out in the book, that despite -- I mean, we've just been through, you've pointed out, as you do in your book, this litany of policies that Trump has implemented in this first year of his administration, which have actively worked against the so-called forgotten man that he pledged to help. But despite that, you say in the book, he still has the support of a large number of the people who voted for him. So, why do you think that is? And do you think that's likely to change?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, if you only got your news from Breitbart and Fox and similarly mendacious, pseudo news organizations, you would believe that Donald Trump is the great savior, he is a demigod -- not a demagogue, a demigod -- and that the journalists like me want Sharia law, and we hate America, and we should, in the words of Omarosa Manigault, "bend our knee," and that that is the ultimate revenge Trump will have.

AMY GOODMAN: Who has also been thrown out.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Yes, that's true. But we -- you know, we don't bend our knee to the president of the United States. He's our employee. He's our subordinate, who we have temporarily imbued with power.

So, part of the problem is, there's been a 40-year attack on honest journalism in this country, and there are people who bought into that. And unfortunately, what they're relying on are outfits that just make stuff up, that -- Trump, himself, you know, has relied on Soviet propaganda outlets. And so, that's the reason I think people [inaudible].

Now, the second part of this, as I said, Trump, you know, ran for office on the economic platform I had laid out, in which I said anybody who runs on this, they can get elected. Well, it happened. And that is, the bottom 90 percent of Americans made less money in 2012 than they did in 1967, the year I graduated from high school. The bottom 90 percent of Americans have real grievances. They're in debt. They're in trouble. And it's because of these little changes, bit by bit, that take money out of their pockets and put it in the pockets of rich people, that nobody knew about 'til I dug them all out of the law. Donald captured this legitimate anger. But the problem is, he's not helping the forgotten man. He's forgotten the forgotten man.

AMY GOODMAN: What about workers? What about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration? People don't realize how many workers die a year --


AMY GOODMAN:  -- in this country, not to mention injured.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Forty-eight hundred people a year, roughly, die at their job. Many employers operate just as they should. The reason we have regulations is for the bad-conduct people. So, back on August 17th, that's the last date the Trump administration posted on the internet the death of a worker. August 17th. They stopped, for a while, putting up press releases about people dying -- the way to sort of shame companies who had workers who died, because the financial penalties are minimal. In fact, it's often cheaper to have workers die. And we reported that at DCReport, and they put it back up. I don't know if those are connected, but that was the order of events. They've cut the number of safety inspectors. They're clearly corralling the safety inspectors and making it clear that, you know, you want to have a job, you're going to limit your behavior. They've cut wage and hour inspectors. The number of pollution inspectors, by the way, that Congress mandated a minimum number for, they're below it. They're not hiring people.

They are -- Donald Trump took an oath of office to faithfully execute the laws. Well, he's not doing that. He is in violation of his oath of office. I'm not arguing that we need every regulation we have. There are plenty of regulations -- I used to teach regulatory law to third-year law students -- that we can change or get rid of and make better. But that's not what they're doing. They're taking those things that will benefit their friends, especially in the fossil fuels industry, and eliminating or not enforcing the law for those regulations. And that means ordinary workers are going to be hurt.

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David Cay Johnston: Trump Is Determined to Provoke War to Draw Focus From Racist and Erratic Behavior

Truthout - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 21:00

The New York Times reports that the Pentagon is proposing widening the permissible use of nuclear weapons to include responding to cyberattacks and other non-nuclear attacks to US infrastructure. The Pentagon has already outlined this expanded nuclear strategy in a draft document sent to President Trump for approval. It comes amid a series of moves by the Pentagon and President Trump that have escalated the threat of nuclear war. The Wall Street Journal reports the Pentagon is planning to develop two new sea-based nuclear weapons. The New York Times also reports the Pentagon is conducting a series of war games to prepare for a potential war with North Korea. We speak to Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter David Cay Johnston, who has been covering Donald Trump for nearly 30 years. His latest book is just out, titled It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: Uninformed. That was the word White House Chief of Staff John Kelly used to describe his boss, President Trump, on Thursday. According to The Washington Post, Kelly told members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that some of Trump's hardline immigration policies, including his call to build a wall along the entire southern border, were "uninformed." Kelly said, quote, "Certain things are said during the campaign that are uninformed." During the same meeting, Kelly reportedly said, quote, "The president is committed to a permanent solution to DACA," the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

But the president has struck a different tone. On Twitter this morning, Trump wrote, quote, "The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it." In an interview with Reuters, Trump also criticized a proposed bipartisan deal on immigration and border security as, quote, "horrible" and, quote, "very, very weak." This comes as the government could shut down on Friday if a funding deal cannot be reached.

AMY GOODMAN: The possible government shutdown comes as President Trump is preparing to mark his first year in office on Saturday. On that same day, anti-Trump protests will he held in scores of cities across the country to mark the first anniversary of the historic Women's March.

Well, today we spend the hour looking at Trump's first year in office with a journalist who has been covering Donald Trump since 1988. We're talking about the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston, the founder of Last year, Johnston made international headlines when he obtained two pages of President Trump's 2005 tax return. Johnston's reporting on Trump's taxes led the president to say this about him.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I know the reporter is a -- he's a weird dude who's covered me for -- he's been following me for 25 years, so obviously he hasn't done so well. He's been following me in a negative fashion for 25 years, always a hit. And I'm president, so I guess he hasn't done a very good job.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, David Cay Johnston, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, joins us here in our studio, out this week with his new book. It's called It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, David. You have been covering Donald Trump for over 30 years. You heard what he had to say about it: Look where you are, and look where he is today. But you've also been covering President Trump through this first year. Can you talk about, as we move into the first anniversary of his inauguration, what has surprised you most, since this is a man you have known back to his early days as a developer going bankrupt in New York?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, Donald hasn't, frankly, done anything that's surprised me. And I said, and there's lots of video of me saying, before the election, he would be increasingly erratic, his racism would come out, that he would try to find an excuse to use nuclear weapons, because during the campaign, he said, "I'm very good at war. I know more about ISIS than the generals. And of course we're going to use nukes." And, lo and behold, last week, the news breaks that they are loosening up the rules on the use of tactical nuclear weapons -- that is, a nuclear weapon that will take out a block, not a city -- and possibly even authorizing their use for a cyberattack. He's looking for --

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this is amazing. I mean, just to reiterate this --


AMY GOODMAN:  -- using nuclear weapon attack for a cyberattack.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Right. And hopefully, the military will not follow an order to do this. But clearly, he is determined, if he can figure out how to do it, to provoke a war. After all, what helps strengthen your position if you're a dictator-in-waiting, which is what Donald is, but some kind of incident that will stir the public and focus people away from his crazy, racist, uninformed, ignorant behavior?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, why do you think that he needs to strengthen his position? Do you think he feels he needs to strengthen his position because his position is weak?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Oh, yeah, Donald -- the Donald is aware that he has a large audience out there that is not supporting him and that it's growing. And his own base, he's certainly seen the data that it's eroded. And remember, Donald is a man who is this empty vessel. I mean, he's an unhappy human being. Be glad you are not Donald Trump, who will never know a day of joy and contentment in his life. And, you know, he wants us to all recognize Donald Trump is the greatest human being of all times. He wants people like Orrin Hatch -- the greatest president of all times. That's what he's about: adoration.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I mean, you say, in fact, that what distinguishes him from all previous U.S. presidents is that his presidency is about Trump, period, full stop.


AMY GOODMAN: This issue of use of nuclear weapons, you know, going back to the reported meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff as he's briefed on nuclear weapons: "If we have them, why don't we use them?" And The Wall Street Journal reporting, just in the last days, this issue of the Pentagon planning to develop two new sea-based nuclear weapons. The New York Times also reporting the Pentagon conducting a series of war games to prepare for a potential war with North Korea. I mean, this is very interesting. As North and South Korea come closer together, will have a unified team at the Olympics, President Trump is trying to amp up the opposition to and war with North Korea.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Right. And one of the very interesting things about this is, there have been surveys of military officers, and they show that the officer corps of the United States military is very troubled about Trump. You know, good military officers are diplomats who want to avoid war. And they're not supporting him. So that one good piece of news out of this is, I don't think Donald Trump can get the military behind him to take over the country.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But do you think he can get the military behind him sufficiently to carry out a tactical nuclear strike?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, that's the troubling part. What if, for example, somehow we're provoked into something? And he's clearly trying to provoke -- you know, things like "My button is bigger than your button." And understand, Donald Trump --

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But what would constitute a provocation for him, though?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Oh, I don't -- I mean, that, I don't know. It would have to be enough that he could get the military behind him to do something, something we wouldn't expect. But remember, the whole point of nuclear weapons is they're defensive. Nobody invades a country that has nuclear weapons. We would never have invaded Iraq if it actually had had nuclear weapons. And Donald thinks that their purpose is to use them. He doesn't even understand their purpose, that they're defensive.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to go to a break, and then we're going to come back to David Cay Johnston, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, previously with The New York Times, now founder and editor of Johnston's biography of Donald Trump was The Making of Donald Trump. His new book, It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.

And when we come back, what exactly is happening? While the tax bill -- and that's certainly something that Donald -- that David Cay Johnston is an expert about -- has been touted as the one main piece of legislation that Trump has actually successfully gotten passed, what actually did happen in the last year? Tremendous amount when it comes to deregulating the agencies of this country that protect the nation's land, air, sea and people. Stay with us.


Categories: Latest News

Avoiding Armageddon in Korea or Launching a War for the Ages

Truthout - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 21:00

People watch a television broadcast reporting North Korea's test launch of its new intercontinental ballistic missile at the Seoul Railway Station on November 29, 2017, in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo: Chung Sung-Jun / Getty Images)

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Most people intuitively get it. An American preventive strike to wipe out North Korea's nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles, or a commando raid launched with the same goal in mind, is likely to initiate a chain of events culminating in catastrophe. That would be true above all for the roughly 76 million Koreans living on either side of the Demilitarized Zone. Donald Trump, though, seems unperturbed. His recent contribution to defusing the crisis there: boasting that his nuclear button is "bigger and more powerful" than that of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The president's high school locker-room braggadocio provided rich material for comedians. Meanwhile, there remains the continuing danger of a war in the Koreas, whether premeditated or triggered accidentally by a ship seized, an aircraft downed, a signal misread... you get the picture. No serious person could dismiss this scenario, but even the experts who track the evidence closely for a living differ on just how probable it is. In part, that's because, like everyone else, they must reckon with a colossal wild card -- and I'm not talking about Kim Jong-un.

The Pessimists 

On one side are those who warn that President Trump isn't blowing smoke when he talks, or tweets, about destroying North Korea's nuclear warheads and missiles, the infrastructure supporting them, and possibly even the whole country. By now, it's common knowledge that his national security officials -- civilian and military (the distinction having blurred in the Trump era) -- have been crafting plans to strike before that country's nuclear arsenal becomes fully operational.

No one who listened to PBS NewsHour's Judy Woodruff interviewingNational Security Adviser Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster just after the Trump administration released its National Security Strategy in December could simply dismiss the warnings as those of so many Cassandras. McMaster dutifully summarized that document, which included a pledge to "respond with overwhelming force to North Korean aggression and improve options to compel denuclearization." When Woodruff then asked whether he believed war was becoming more likely by the day, he agreed, adding that "the president has asked us to continue to refine a military option, should we need to use it."

Others who should be in the know have offered even scarier prognoses. During an interview with ABC News on the last day of 2017, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen claimed that, while McMaster and Defense Secretary James Mattis had stayed Trump's hand so far, their ability to continue to restrain such a "disruptive" and "unpredictable" president was diminishing. "We're actually closer to nuclear war with North Korea and in that region," he concluded, "than we've ever been."

Then there's Trump himself. He has long since moved from saying, as he did last May, that he would "be honored" to meet Kim Jong-un "under the right circumstances" to warning, in August, that if North Korea threatened the United States, it would "be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen." In September, he upped the ante again in a speech to the UN, declaring that he would "have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea" if that were needed to defend the United States. 

Left unspecified was Trump's definition of "defend." Would additional North Korean nuclear and missile tests pose a sufficient threat for him to order a preventive war? Was his red line a fully operational North Korean nuclear force? Or did he mean that he would retaliate in kind only if Pyongyang were to attack the United States, Japan, or South Korea with nuclear weapons? If either the first or second scenario represents his threshold, then Mullen's dire assessment can't be discounted as hyperbole. If it's the third, the world can breathe a bit easier for now, since there's no conceivable reason for Kim Jong-un to attack a country with nuclear weapons, least of all the United States, except in response to the potential destruction of his state.

In his latest gyration, having failed to scare Kim into denuclearization, Trump has welcomed talks between Seoul and Pyongyang that he had only recently discounted and, predictably, taken credit for a turn of events that has sidelined him. He even suggested that the United States could eventually join the negotiations, meant in part to prevent a conflict during the February Winter Olympics in Seoul, and reacted positively to the possibility that they might continue even after the games end.

Of course, this president can turn on a dime, so such words mean next to nothing and should offer no solace. After all, on two occasions he derided Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's efforts to defuse the crisis through negotiations, declaring, "I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he's wasting his time trying to negotiate with little Rocket Man. Save your energy, Rex, we'll do what has to be done."

The Optimists (Well, Sort of)

On the opposing side of the how-likely-is-war debate are the optimists, a different coterie of journalists, ex-officials, and policy wonks. Their basic point boils down to this: yes, Trump has made fire-and-brimstone statements about North Korea, but chalk up the endless bombast to his problem with impulse control and his desire to feed red meat to his base, while scaring Kim.

Unfortunately, you can't put much stock in this take either -- not once you consider the accompanying caveats. Gideon Rachman, an Asia specialist and Financial Times columnist, is typical of this crew in concluding that war on the Korean peninsula is unlikely -- only to liken the current atmosphere in Washington to the one that prevailed just before the 2003 Bush administration invasion of Iraq. For good measure, he adds that Lindsey Graham -- super-hawk, Trump confidant (to the extent that anyone is), and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee -- believes that war is "inevitable." (This is optimism?) Rachman's fallback suggestion is that Australia, Japan, and South Korea won't support a preventive strike on North Korea. Now ask yourself this: How often does Donald Trump take others' advice? When is the last time you heard him say "multilateralism"?

Jeffrey Lewis, a well-regarded expert on nuclear weapons, discounts the likelihood of war for a different reason. He thinks Trump's bombast is so much bluster, designed to jangle Kim's nerves and drive the North Korean leader to relinquish his nuclear cache lest an out-of-control American president vaporize his regime. Given what we now know about the present occupant of the Oval Office, that might be a modestly convincing thought if Lewis didn't introduce his own qualifiers. He believes Trump's faith that China, in hopes of getting economic rewards from the United States, will eventually persuade (or coerce) Kim to denuclearize is misplaced because Beijing lacks the necessary clout in Pyongyang. Indeed, Kim doesn't trust China and has killed or sidelined those whom he suspects of being pro-Chinese.

Lewis also lays out a range of possibilities, each of which could trigger a spiral toward war. These include North Korea shooting down an American reconnaissance aircraft or sinking a South Korean naval vessel, both of which, he reminds us, Pyongyang has done in the past (the first in 1969, the second in 2010) -- when it still lacked nuclear weapons. So Lewis's American-style optimism doesn't offer any more grounds for cheer than Rachman's British variant.

Where does this lack of consensus on the likelihood of war leave us? The answer: no one can really assess the gravity of the danger, particularly because the man who occupies the White House is arguably the most volatile president we've ever had.

It's no pleasure to quote former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, but when it comes to the probability of war in the Koreas, it's hard not to be overwhelmed by the "known unknowns."

What We Do Know

The inability to fathom just how close we may be to war there doesn't mean we know nothing about the Korean crisis that's worth knowing.

We know that North Korea has long been committed to building nuclear weapons and produced small quantities (six to thirteen kilograms) of weapons-grade plutonium as early as 1992.

We know that North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (which it joined in 1985) in 2003; that it detonated its first nuclear weapon in 2006 during the rule of Kim Jong-il, the father of North Korea's current leader; and that it has conducted five other tests since then in 2009, 2013, 2016 (twice), and 2017 -- four of them after Kim Jong-un took power in December 2011. 

We know that North Korea has been no less dogged in building and testing ballistic missiles, beginning in 1984, and that the Hwasong-15, test-fired last November (with an apogee of 2,800 miles and an estimated range of 8,100 miles), has the capacity to strike the continental United States. And Pyongyang has gone beyond liquid-fuelled missiles (that require prolonged, telltale preparations to launch), testing solid-fueled variants, which can be fired at short notice.

We know that Pyongyang is close to producing, or has already produced, a warhead that can be placed atop an intercontinental ballistic missile and survive the heat and stress encountered on reentering the earth's atmosphere. In other words, North Korea is without question effectively a nuclear weapons state, which means Kim Jong-un's claim, in his 2018 New Year's Day speech, that he has a nuclear button on his desk may not be an idle boast (even if no literal button exists).

Finally, we know that American threats and military maneuvers on and around the Korean peninsula, a series of UN Security Council sanctions since 2006, and behind-the-scenes diplomacy by China and Russia have not induced Pyongyang to change course, even though China, in particular, recently imposed draconian limits on energy exports to that country, which could potentially weaken its struggling economy.

The Denuclearization Fantasy

No one (outside of Pyongyang) could celebrate a nuclear-armed North Korea, but no one could reasonably be surprised by it either. Nuclear weapons have long served as a symbol of exclusivity for great powers and their regional cohorts. It's no accident that all the Security Council's permanent members are nuclear states. Having accorded such weaponry supreme prestige, who could be shocked that other countries, even relatively small and poor ones, would try to acquire them as well and refuse to be cowed by political or economic pressure.

Despite various campaigns for nuclear disarmament, the current nuclear states have not shown the slightest inclination to give them up; so the promise of a nuclear-free world rings hollow and is unlikely to persuade states that really want nukes not to build them. Beyond conferring status, these weapons make attacking a country that has them dangerous indeed, providing a de facto guarantee against regime change.

The North Koreans have made this point more than once, citing the fates of Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, each of whom gave up his country's nuclear program and then was taken down by the United States. The idea that the leaders in Pyongyang can't possibly believe that they face such a threat from the United States (which already fought one war on the Korean peninsula) is preposterous. If you were Kim Jong-un, you'd probably build nuclear weapons.

The upshot: short of a war, there's no chance of denuclearization. That, in turn, means: were Trump and his generals to launch an attack on North Korea's nuclear arsenal and even a single warhead capable of striking the United States survived, Pyongyang might well use it to retaliate. According to the experts who engage in such grisly estimates, a 15-kiloton nuclear weapon (equivalent to "Little Boy," the atomic bomb the US dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945) that lands somewhere in, say, Los Angeles would kill more than 100,000 people immediately and yet more thereafter. To put this in perspective, bear in mind that the estimates of the yield of the warhead North Korea tested last September run as high as 250 kilotons. And don't forget that, even if it couldn't effectively reach the United States, the North could still target either South Korea or Japan, causing a devastating loss of lives and sending shockwaves through the global economy. 

And even if Kim couldn't retaliate with nuclear weapons, he could still order the thousands of artillery pieces his military has trained on the South Korean capital, Seoul, to fire. The metropolis and its satellite towns are home to nearly 25.5 million people, half of the country's total population, so the death toll would be enormous, even taking into account the limitations of the North's artillery. And given that some 28,500 American troops and nearly 137,000 American civilians are based in South Korea, many close to the border, Trump's reported remark to Lindsey Graham that, in the event of such a war, people will "die over there" is not just callous in its disregard for Korean lives, it's ignorant. Even an American commando raid into North Korea could trigger a wider war because the North Korean leadership might reasonably regard it as a prelude to a larger attack.

The bottom line? Trump could fulfill his vow never to allow North Korea to become a nuclear-armed power only by resorting to a preventive war, as Pyongyang hasn't been and is unlikely to be moved to disarm by sanctions or other forms of pain. And a preventive war would be calamitous.

Stopping the War Machine

Here's a prerequisite for avoiding war in Korea: stop believing in the North's denuclearization, attractive and desirable as it might be (if achieved through diplomacy).

It doesn't follow, however, that war can't be avoided. Kim Jong-un and his inner circle are not, in fact, irrational beings immune to deterrence. Their paramount aim is to ensure the survival of the North Korean state. Starting a nuclear war would destroy it. Yes, many people have perished in North Korea (whether due to repression or famine), but deterrence worked in the cases of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and China's Mao Zedong, both of whom enacted policies that killed millions. Mao supposedly even boasted that China could survive a nuclear war because of its huge population. 

Coming to terms with the reality of a nuclear-armed North Korea and trusting in deterrence may not sound like a perfect ending, but under the circumstances it's undoubtedly the best way to avert catastrophe. And that, unquestionably, is the urgent task. There are other ways, down the line, to make the Korean peninsula a better place through dialogue between the two Koreas, by drawing the North into the regional economy and reducing troops and weaponry on both sides of the Demilitarized Zone. These shouldn't be ruled out as infeasible.

For them to happen, though, South Korea would have to separate itself from Trump's war plans by refusing to allow its sovereign space (land, sea, and air) to be used for such a preventive war. The symbolism would be important even if Trump could strike in other ways.

Seoul would also have to build on two recent positive developments that emerged from a surprise January 9th meeting between the Koreas. The first is the agreement on Kim Jong-un's proposal (initially advanced by the South last June) to send a North Korean contingent to the February Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The second flowed from South Korean President Moon Jae-in's follow-up idea of restoring the hotline between the countries and beginning discussions of how to tamp down tensions on the peninsula. (Pyongyang shut down the hotline in February 2016 after South Korea's conservative government closed the Kaesong joint industrial zone located in the North, which then employed more than 50,000 North Koreans.) Moon's suggestion doubtless eased the way for the subsequent agreement to hold future military talks aimed at reducing the risks of war.

There are further steps Seoul could take, including declaring a moratorium on military exercises with the United States -- not just, as now (with Washington's consent), during the February Olympics and the Paralympics that follow and end in March, but without a preset time limit. While such joint maneuvers don't scare Pyongyang, moves like flying American B1-B bombers and F-15C fighter jets in international airspace off North Korea's coast do ratchet up the tension. They increase the chances of one side concluding that the other is about to attack. 

Trump may continue his threats via Twitter and again denigrate the value of negotiations with Pyongyang, but South Korea is a powerful country in its own right. It has a $1.4 trillion economy, the 11th largest in the world (versus North Korea's paltry $32.4 billion one), and ranks sixth in global exports. It also has a formidable military and will spend $34 billion on defense in 2017 -- more than North Korea's entire gross domestic product. It is, in short, anything but the Asian equivalent of a country for which Donald Trump should be able to write the script.

Trump's generals and the rest of the American foreign policy establishment won't welcome independent initiatives by Seoul, typified by the condescending remark of a former official about the hazards of South Korea "running off the leash." Predictably, mainstream warnings have already begun. Cunning Kim Jong-un wants to drive a "wedge" between the United States and South Korea. He's trying to undo the sanctions. Agreeing to talks with Pyongyang will only communicate weakness. The United States must demonstrate its resolve and protect its credibility. And so it goes. 

Policies based on these shibboleths, which portray South Korea as an American dependency, have brought us to the brink of war. Continuing them could push us over the edge. 

Categories: Latest News

Palestinian Teenager Remains Imprisoned Because She "Has No Fear"

Truthout - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 21:00

Ahed Tamimi -- the 16-year-old Palestinian activist who has been imprisoned since her arrest in December for slapping an Israeli soldier -- was denied bail at a January 17 hearing in a military court. Citing the teenager's lack of fear of Israeli soldiers as a reason to penalize her, the judge proved once again that sowing terror in children is an accepted tactic of the occupation.

Sixteen-year-old Ahed Tamimi stands for a hearing in the military court at Ofer military prison in the West Bank village of Betunia on January 1, 2018. Israeli authorities are seeking 12 charges against Tamimi after a video of her slapping and kicking two Israeli soldiers in the West Bank went viral, her lawyer said. (Photo: Ahmad Gharabli / AFP / Getty Images)

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Ahed Tamimi, a 16-year-old Palestinian activist who was arrested in December for slapping an Israeli soldier, was denied bail on Wednesday, January 17, amid calls by human rights groups for her release.

Tamimi is an activist who lives in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, where life has become unbearable because of Israeli occupation. Some of the village's land was illegally annexed by the nearby Israeli settlement, and military checkpoints control their movements in and out of the village.

Tamimi's parents and relatives are principal organizers in the weekly, nonviolent demonstrations protesting the loss of their land that began in 2009.

Children under Israeli occupation don't get any special treatment. They are arrested, injured and killed just like adults.

For their resistance, the Tamimi family has been consistently targeted by the Israeli military with arrests, night raids and violence that has sometimes been fatal.

On December 15, 2017, shortly before the slapping incident, the Israeli army shot Tamimi's 14-year-old cousin in the head during a weekly protest in Nabi Saleh.

"He was in a coma for seven days," 11-year-old Jana Jihad, Tamimi's cousin told Truthout. Jihad is also an activist, and she reports on events in Nabi Saleh, calling herself the "youngest journalist in Palestine."

The soldier that Ahed slapped was in Nabi Saleh as part of an effort to violently disperse Palestinian protests against the nearby Israeli settlement that took control of their land.

"Ahed was angry about that, and we were all very sad about it," Jihad said.

Tamimi was grieving and worried about her cousin and whether he would survive when soldiers tried to enter her house to take over the roof in order to shoot at more protesters, Jihad said.

Tamimi told them to get off of her family's property.

"I think it's a normal thing that Ahed did, because she didn't want her friends to be killed or injured by the soldiers," Jihad said.

Minor scuffles consisting of pushes and shoves took place between Ahed and the soldier before the infamous slap occurred. The soldier slapped Ahed -- and seconds later, she slapped him back.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) did not respond to Truthout's request for comment.

Jihad said she didn't think it was fair that Tamimi was in jail.

"And I think that it's not anybody's right to put her in jail because she's still a child," Jihad said.

But children under Israeli occupation don't get any special treatment. They are arrested, injured and killed just like adults. Already in 2018, 16-year-old Musaab al-Tamimi, a relative of Ahed's in the next village over, was killed by the Israeli military.

"It's not a childhood, and not just in Nabi Saleh -- we're living under occupation," Jihad said. "Our friends are getting injured, our mom is getting injured, our dad is getting arrested...."

Kids in Nabi Saleh are forced to grow up fast. They can show you things like how "rubber bullets" shot by IDF soldiers are actually rubber-coated steel bullets by peeling back the thin layer of rubber. They've likely experienced tear gas, and had a close relative arrested by the Israeli army.

Tamimi's family, including her parents Bassem and Nariman, have been targeted specifically by the Israeli army for their part in planning protests.

Bassem has been arrested by Israeli soldiers many times throughout Ahed's life. Nariman is also active in the weekly protests in Nabi Saleh, and for that was shot in the leg and has been arrested by the Israeli army.

Tamimi's younger brother, Mohammed Tamimi, was targeted by Israeli soldiers during a weekly protest several years ago. The soldier put now 14-year-old Mohammed in a headlock and pinned him against a rock -- sitting on him, despite the boy's arm being in a cast.

Tamimi, her mother and father, and other relatives arrived and tried to pull the soldier off of Mohammed.

In this 2015 incident, Ahed was videotaped being choked by the soldier as she tried to pull him off of her brother. It showed her trying to protect her brother's arm, and trying to bite the soldier in her attempt to get him off of her brother.

Ahed spoke about her fear that something could happen to her family in a 2016 interview.

"All of my family is in danger here. We are at risk of dying at any moment," Tamimi told teleSUR in 2016. "Although I am not afraid of death, I'm always afraid of losing my family, or my loved ones, or my friends."

The stress and hardships the Israeli occupation inflicts on children ruins their childhoods, Tamimi said in the interview. They feel unsafe all the time -- feeling they could be arrested, even killed.

"This feeling cannot be explained or put into words -- those who do not live our suffering cannot understand it, and no one can translate it into words," Tamimi added.

Israeli soldiers have killed three protesters during Nabi Saleh's weekly marches, including Ahed's cousin Mustafa Tamimi. He was shot in the head at close range with a high-velocity tear gas canister.

Ahed's father said experiencing these violent incidents has left Ahed with a negative impression of soldiers, to say the least.

"When you grow up under these conditions and you see, all the time, soldiers -- the image of the soldier in your mind is the same," Bassem Tamimi told Truthout. "For her, this is the soldier who killed her uncle, shot her mom, arrested her brother, arrested her dad, killed Saba (Obaid), Rushdi (Tamimi) and Mustafa (Tamimi) -- this is the image."

Was his daughter expected to give the soldier a rose and welcome him after she had just found out her cousin was shot? Bassem asked.

Three out of four Palestinian children experience some form of physical violence following arrest.

"The occupation has not just put my daughter in the prison; it forced her to grow up earlier," Bassem said. "Earlier, she wanted to be a football [soccer] player, but the occupation destroyed her dream."

Nabi Saleh is in what's known as Area C, which comprises 60 percent of the West Bank and all of the settlements, buffer zones, Israeli military and training sites. It is under full Israeli control. Area A is under the Palestinian Authority's control and Area B is under shared control. These delineations were made in the Oslo Agreement in 1993.

Nabi Saleh is surrounded by Israeli military checkpoints that are often arbitrarily closed, cutting the village off from the rest of the West Bank. Next door is the Halamish settlement.

Israeli settlements are considered illegal under international law because they are built on occupied lands, and activists like Bassem say they are destroying the chance for a two-state solution.

The Halamish settlement is why the village began protesting in the first place.

One day in 2008, villagers found they were simply not allowed to access part of their land, which included al-Qawas spring and agricultural lands. That land was now to be used by settlers only, and that ban would be enforced by the Israeli military.

Ahed Tamimi watched the settlers enjoy the spring she could no longer go to. The settlers had picnics and dips in the water. She saw them enjoy Nabi Saleh's land and swim in pools in the settlement, where they had round-the-clock running water. Villagers in Nabi Saleh receive water only 12 hours out of every day.

Nabi Saleh responded by starting weekly protests. Every Friday, they would attempt to march to their stolen land. And every week, they would be met by the Israeli army.

The army uses heavy dispersal tactics against the nonviolent marchers, and clashes almost always break out. Among the several West Bank villages where weekly protests are held, Nabi Saleh is notoriously dangerous.

Soldiers almost always enter the village, shooting ammunition ranging from high velocity tear gas canisters to live bullets. There is no safe place in the village on Fridays, not even for children.

And if children are arrested, they most likely experience violence, advocates say.

"Three out of four Palestinian children experience some form of physical violence following arrest," Brad Parker, international advocacy officer and attorney at Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-Palestine), told Truthout.

Since 2000, at least 8,000 Palestinian children, or 500-700 children every year, have been arrested and prosecuted in Israeli military detention centers that are notorious for ill-treatment and torture.

The military judge actually cited Ahed's lack of fear of Israeli soldiers as a reason to penalize her.

"Children often give confessions after verbal abuse, threats, physical and psychological violence that, in some cases, amounts to torture," Parker said.

Tamimi has been in prison since she was arrested in December. She faces up to 14 years in prison for the charges against her, which include aggravated assault against a soldier and obstructing a soldier in the performance of his duty.

Bassem said he wasn't surprised.

"This is the occupation and we don't expect them to give us a gift because we are resisting," Bassem said.

"They will punish us," Bassem said. Nariman, his wife, was arrested on charges of incitement for sharing the video of the slap on social media when she went to visit her daughter at the jail.

On his daughter's charges, Bassem said the Israeli military "inflated the charges to make the punishment as high as they could."

Part of the reason behind the severe charges could be the outcry among many Israelis in the days following the video of the slap going viral, saying it "humiliated" the army.

The fact that Tamimi shows no fear and resists the soldiers has caused an outcry in Israel, Amit Gilutz, a spokesperson for B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, said. The military judge actually cited Ahed's lack of fear of Israeli soldiers as a reason to penalize her.

"When an entire system works in unison to humiliate and penalize a 16-year-old on the grounds that 'she has no fear,' it gives us an excellent opportunity to understand its essence," Gilutz wrote in an op-ed for the Times of Israel.

The occupation's courts are not there to seek justice, but to maintain Israeli control over the Palestinian people, Gilutz added.

"Let us state the obvious: If Ahed Tamimi were Jewish, chances of her being arrested would have been negligible; only Palestinians are tried in Israel's military courts in the West Bank; the conviction rate in these courts is almost 100 percent," Gilutz said.

Gilutz forwarded a B'Tselem report to Truthout that details how the Israeli military has violated the rights of demonstrators in Nabi Saleh.

Every Friday, hundreds of villagers are intimidated into staying in their homes for many hours, and their movement is restricted when the military declares the entire village a "closed military zone" most Fridays, the report said.

In one demonstration, "security forces hurled tear gas canisters at a procession of children in costumes who were flying kites," the report said.

The extreme reaction by Israel to a teenage girl shows that fearless resistance to the Israeli occupation won't be tolerated, and not even if it's in the form of a procession of children flying kites.

"It is clear that detaining and prosecuting Palestinian children in Israeli military courts has little to do with justice," Parker, of DCI-Palestine, said.

Categories: Latest News

How Trump's Base Inspired an International Racist Fiasco, Again

Truthout - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 21:00

Steven Miller, Trump's advisor for policy, attends a meeting with Donald Trump and congressional leadership in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on November 28, 2017, where Trump spoke on the intercontinental ballistic missile launch by North Korea. (Photo: Kevin Dietsch-Pool / Getty Images)

In the space of a week, Donald Trump went from embracing immigration reform to shunning it with racist vulgarities, potentially upending the lives of millions while tempting a government shutdown. Why? His base must be placated, because it's all he has left.

Stephen Miller, Trump's adviser for policy, attends a meeting with Donald Trump and congressional leadership in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on November 28, 2017. Trump spoke on the recent intercontinental ballistic missile launch by North Korea. (Photo: Kevin Dietsch-Pool / Getty Images)

"You can fool some of the people all the time, and those are the ones you want to concentrate on."  -- George W. Bush, 25 March, 2001.

Stephen Miller, the administration's latest iteration of Official Screaming Person, flexed his White House muscles last week and made history in all the wrong ways. Everything that has gone down since "Shithole Thursday" -- the collapse of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) negotiations, the real threat of a government shutdown and an eruption of unvarnished racist invective from the president of the United States -- came about because Miller picked up the phone with one priority in mind: Play to the Trump base.

Unspooling this pluperfect fiasco takes some doing. A week ago Tuesday, Donald Trump staged a bit of theater by not being demonstrably incapacitated by incompetence for 90 whole minutes during a meeting with members of Congress on immigration. The White House felt such a performance was necessary after Trump went on Twitter and accused the leader of a volatile nuclear adversary of having a small penis. Editorial pages from sea to shining sea were dusting off the text of the 25th Amendment again, so a good showing with the Congress members was pretty much required.

During the entire Tuesday meeting, Trump was smiling, friendly and coherent. He was open to several legislative proposals offered by Democrats, including one for a clean DACA bill, to which he reacted enthusiastically -- said enthusiasm being later erased "accidentally" from the transcript of the event. The press loved it. That night, most news stations led their evening broadcasts with some permutation of, "Wow, the president didn't humiliate us all today!" 

It was strange because it wasn't a hot mess… and Stephen Miller hated it, for reasons beyond his own gaudy racism. A deal on the status of the Dreamers would be a quantum-level betrayal of Trump's still-hardcore base of political support. His current 33 percent approval is comparable to George W. Bush's 25 percent approval level near the end of his second godawful term. Those voters are The Last Patrol, the true bitter-enders, and if Trump loses them, well… it's the old joke. What do you call a leader with no followers? Just a guy taking a walk.

It has been widely whispered for a while now that Donald Trump often repeats the last thing he heard as if it were his own wisdom. This mess pretty much proves that out.

In order to save Trump from alienating his base by doing the right thing, Miller called in congressional reinforcements before a Thursday meeting Trump had planned with Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin and other members of Congress. Miller's back-up crew -- Freedom Caucusers like Representatives Bob Goodlatte and David Purdue along with hard-line Republican senators like Tom Cotton -- beat feet to the White House and swarmed Trump like maddened wasps before the Durbin meeting began. When they were finished, Tuesday's jovial huckster statesman was gone. The growling muddy-eyed dog was back, baring its yellowed teeth again.

Talk about a turnstile presidency. It has been widely whispered for a while now that Donald Trump often repeats the last thing he heard as if it were his own wisdom. This mess pretty much proves that out. "I'm all for a clean DACA bill." ("No you're not.") "NO I'M NOT." 

Shithole shithole shithole! This is journalism now; thanks again, Don.

My wife can verify that as I watched Calm Don at the Tuesday meeting. I pointed at the TV and said, "There's no way he's going to hold it together." He did… for about 48 hours.

The rest is shithole history, drafted by a shithole president who bragged afterward to his shithole friends that calling Haiti and all of Africa "shitholes" would play really well with his base. Shithole shithole shithole! This is journalism now; thanks again, Don. Watching the news anchors try to slither past the word last Thursday night was better than Cats. It's a good thing TV comes without spam filters, or we'd all be watching the test signal.

Negotiations over DACA and the Dreamers collapsed immediately after the Durbin meeting debacle, and now the threat of a federal government shutdown looms at close of business tomorrow. Congressional Democrats are under heavy pressure to staple DACA to any government spending bill, but are hesitant to deploy this oft-attempted Republican "hostage-taking" tactic themselves. 

They just might do it, and God I hope they do, because the alternative is a shattering disaster. With families included, DACA covers more than a million people now caught in the middle of yet another xenophobic nationalist uprising, one more true American tradition. If the Dreamers are turned out, anyone who calls this a moral, Christian nation should be summarily ejected into space.

The rampant racist aspect, right there in the umbra of the MLK holiday (which Mike Pence celebrated by turning Roll-Tide crimson in his church pew on Sunday when the pastor denounced his boss), was further exacerbated when reports surfaced about Trump's backhanded reaction to legislative input from the Congressional Black Caucus. "You've got to be joking," he reportedly said. CNN's Jon Acosta opened his evening report that night by calling the president of the United States of America a racist while standing in front of the White House.

This regime tailors public policy and comment to please a dwindling cadre of white voters who still enthusiastically support Trump's pan-directional hate.

Then came the spin. The press office obviously couldn't deny Trump said it -- there were multiple witnesses, and the man bragged to his friends about it afterward -- so of course they tried to deny he said it. When that failed, they backpedaled to, "He didn't call Haiti a shithole country, only all of Africa," before trying out the "He-said-shithouse-not-shithole-so-ha!" defense. It didn't fly, so they were left with, "Well, those countries really are shitholes. The president was just telling the truth. He talks like 'regular people' think!" They went with that, because of course they did, because they thought it would play well with the base, again.

For the record: Haiti bears the burden of having shared the hemisphere with the United States during the Cold War. Every president from Eisenhower to Reagan lent US support to the murderous regimes of François "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude, who used their Tonton Macoute militia to butcher and disappear tens of thousands of people while looting the country. Everything since -- the invasion, the coups -- has been political aftermath from the US's Cold War game of thrones with the USSR.

Also, Tropical Storm Jeanne killed 3,000 people in 2004. In 2008, Tropical Storm Fay along with Hurricanes Gustav, Hanna and Ike left 800,000 Haitians in need of humanitarian aid. In 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, killing an estimated 300,000 people and leaving another 1.6 million people homeless. Another 10,000 died after the quake in a massive cholera outbreak caused when a UN peacekeeping base accidentally poisoned Haiti's main river with cholera-infected wastewater. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew tore apart most of Haiti's remaining infrastructure and killed another 3,000 people. The storms of this last hurricane season only exacerbated the crisis further. Nearly a dozen major storms, one massive earthquake and a cholera epidemic in 14 years would undo any nation of similar size -- especially given the lack of sufficient support from its hemispheric neighbors, most emphatically the United States. 

Haiti is a victim of bad luck, but mostly, it's a victim of deliberate policy. So was Ireland, once upon a time, when those who fled British oppression and the Potato Blight were the new scourge of these shores. Most of the immigrants who have come here over the generations were running for their lives from dire circumstances beyond their control. Such is the case today. With a rank racist in the White House, however, all bets are off. This regime tailors public policy and comment to please a dwindling cadre of white voters who still enthusiastically support Trump's pan-directional hate.

This, right here, is what happens when Trump's base is put in the driver's seat. Thanks to Stephen Miller's base-saving phone calls last week, a million innocent people may well have their lives brutally upended with no DACA deal in sight, the despised (by the base) federal government is again on the brink of shutting down and one-sixth of the planet stands racially insulted by a president who works so few hours a day that some think he could qualify for unemployment benefits.

Miller did it for the base. Maybe it's time to stop listening to those people, yeah?

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Categories: Latest News

United States Policing and "Gun Rights" Began With Slave Patrols

Truthout - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 21:00

In Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz details the white supremacist background of the Second Amendment and the perennial National Rifle Association cry of gun rights. Guns were vital tools in the suppression and killing of the Indigenous population and Black people before the Bill of Rights was written.

(Photo: Fstop Images / Getty Images)

In Loaded, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz details the white supremacist background of the Second Amendment and the perennial NRA cry of gun rights. She reveals the irony of the gun lobby's equation of gun ownership with freedom. Guns, after all, she notes, were vital tools in the suppression and killing of the Indigenous population and Black people before the Bill of Rights was written. Get the book now with a donation to Truthout.

In the chapter "Slave Patrol," Dunbar-Ortiz provides the historical context for how militias that killed and oppressed slaves and Indigenous persons became the precedent for the militia cited in the Second Amendment. The following is the full-chapter excerpt.

Following the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles and the development of Cop Watch groups in cities around the United States, along with the widespread incarceration of Black men in the 1990s, what had long been known by scholars, but rarely acknowledged in media or history texts, became increasingly clear on a national level: The origins of policing in the United States were rooted in slave patrols.

In a study of slave patrols in Virginia and the Carolinas in 1700-1865, historian and law professor Sally E. Hadden writes: "People other than masters or overseers had legitimate rights, indeed, legal duties, to regulate slave behavior." Black people escaping to freedom were hunted down to prevent labor loss to their white slavers, and also to send a message to those enslaved who might be strategizing to lose their chains through rebellion or insurrection.

Because chattel slavery was uncommon in the 1500s in England itself, the existing legal system that colonists brought to the early British colonies in North America did not suffice, so nearly all law related to slavery was forged in the colonies, borrowing from existing practices in Spanish, Portuguese, and English Caribbean plantation colonies, and specifically borrowing the use of slave patrols from the Caribbean and adapting them to local conditions on the continent.

The Virginia militia was founded for one purpose: to kill Indians, take their land, drive them out, wipe them out.

The 1661 and 1688 slave codes in the British Carib bean colony of Barbados extended the task of controlling enslaved Africans from overseers and slavers to all white settlers, in effect shifting private responsibility to the public. Any enslaved person outside the direct control of the slaver or overseer required passes and was subject to questioning by a slave patrol, as well as by any member of the European population; free Black men were denied such power. This collective racial policing was in addition to the traditional English constabulary that investigated and detained European residents for infractions of laws.

British slavers from Barbados moved in large numbers to the South Carolina colony after 1670, and brought the slave patrol practice with them. By 1704, the South Carolina colonial government had codified slave patrols and embedded them within the already existing volunteer militias, whose principal role was to repel Native Americans whose land they had appropriated. Members of slave patrols were drawn from militia rolls in every locale. The South Carolina structure of slave patrols was adopted in other colonies by the mid-eighteenth century and would remain relatively unchanged until the Civil War. Following US independence, this structure and practice was applied to what became the Cotton Kingdom, following the US wars against the Muskogee peoples that ended in their forced relocation to Indian Territory.

Virginia was the first of the thirteen English settler colonies in North America, but there were fewer enslaved Africans there, and they were more widely dispersed than in South Carolina, as Virginia settlements were long surrounded by resistant Native communities. The Virginia militia was founded for one purpose: to kill Indians, take their land, drive them out, wipe them out. European settlers were required by law to own and carry firearms, and all adult male settlers were required to serve in the militia. Militias were also used to prevent indentured European servants from fleeing before their contracts expired, in which case they were designated "debtors." Despite militia vigilance, many escaped on ships in ports.

During the 1660s and 1670s, Virginia settlers turned from indenturing Europeans to importing enslaved Africans, and by 1680, the enslaved were required to carry passes. Of course, slave uprisings increased, and in 1705, the Virginia colony enacted its first slave code and established slave patrols. Militia members, focused on attacking Indigenous towns and fields to expand the Virginia colony refused to participate in slave patrols, so the colonial authorities imposed harsh punishments to control the enslaved Africans, such as death for even mentioning rebellion. Colonists prohibited the enslaved Africans from holding meetings or learning how to read. In 1727, the Virginia colony enacted a law requiring militias to create slave patrols, imposing stiff fines on white people who refused to serve.

After 1650, slavers in Virginia began expanding deeper into the territory of the Tuscarora Nation, and were the first English settlers in what became the North Carolina colony in 1729. During the first three decades of Virginia settler incursion, the colony's militia was used solely to attack and burn down Tuscarora towns, incinerate their crops, and slaughter the families who resided there. By 1722, the embattled Tuscaroras joined the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy) and migrated north for protection from settler terrorism, while some communities remained in severely deteriorating conditions.

In 1715, North Carolina's slaver government began requiring passes for enslaved individuals who were in public spaces doing errands or rented out as craftsmen, as many were escaping from bondage to Spanish Florida or marooning in the swamps of Cape Fear. Militias were used for pursuing Africans escaping to freedom, but did not form specific slave patrols as a separate category. In 1753, fearing increasing slave rebellions, the North Carolina colony established what they called "searchers," not drawn from the militias but authorized by courts; later they would be called "patrollers." They were exempt from militia duty as well as from jury duty and taxation, and two decades later, actually were paid salaries.

Public patrols of varying types were established in all the slave colonies, but, significantly, any individual, including free Blacks or Natives, could claim a reward for capturing a person escaping from slavery, a practice that continued until the end of the Civil War. If weapons were found with the captive, the catcher could collect compensation for the weapons or keep them.

After Independence, rapid expansion of slavery into newly conquered Native territories brought a concurrent increase in slave patrols, but the basic structure remained. An 1860 judicial hornbook, The Practice at Law in North Carolina is an example:

The patrol shall visit the negro houses in their respective districts as often as may be necessary, and may inflict a punishment, not exceeding fifteen lashes, on all slaves they may find off their owner's plantations, without a proper permit or pass, designating the place or places, to which the slaves have leave to go. The patrol shall also visit all suspected places, and suppress all unlawful collections of slaves; shall be diligent in apprehending all runaway negroes in their respective districts; shall be vigilant and endeavor to detect all thefts, and bring the perpetrators to justice, and also all persons guilty of trading with slaves; and if, upon taking up a slave and chastising him, as herein directed, he shall behave insolently, they may inflict further punishment for his misconduct, not exceeding thirty-nine lashes.

In Slave Patrols, historian Hadden argues that the notion that slave patrols were made up of impoverished white men, as portrayed in Gone with the Wind and Uncle Tom's Cabin, is false. She cautions against conflating entrepreneurial individual "slave catchers" and slave patrollers. Whether rich or poor, all Euro American males were required to serve in militias and slave patrols, but the commanders of the patrols were property owners and slavers. Impoverished whites were not trusted and would be unable to compensate a slaver for the property loss entailed in a death or injury incurred during an attempted capture.

"Patrollers" were exempt from militia duty as well as from jury duty and taxation, and two decades later, actually were paid salaries.

Writing about slavery in the Cotton Kingdom during the decades before the Civil War, historian Walter Johnson points to the central role horses played in subjugating runaways. Horses were a symbol of power for slavers, not only for show and racing, but as a physical symbol of racial power. "The words 'slave patrol' summon to mind a vision of white men on horseback, an association so definitive that it elides the remarkable fact that the geographic pattern of county governance in the South emerged out of circuits ridden by eighteenth-century slave patrols." It was not only the advantage of height and speed that a horse provided in pursuing a person on the run, but also the nature of the animal itself, its own power, the fear the huge, galloping animal could evoke, and the severe bodily harm it inflicted when it trampled a person or when the patroller tethered a bound captive to the horse.

Another tool was the widely distributed "wanted" flier that alerted the public to be on the lookout, which attracted Euro Americans from hundreds of miles away to hunt freedom-seekers for bounty. And of course, slavers used dogs. Resistant Africans marooned in the swamps, or if fleeing rested there, where horses could not travel and most settlers were afraid to enter. Bloodhounds were trained from pups to identify and hunt Black people. "'Loyal' to their masters (or those to whom their masters hired them) and able to travel more rapidly than any human being across even the most difficult ground, these weaponized dogs were implacable enemies, driven by a purpose beyond that of even their owners."

And above all, there were the guns. Historians Ned Sublet and Constance Sublet write:

Unlike England, Virginia was a gun culture. "Whereas in England, only men with estates valued at above one hundred pounds sterling were allowed to own guns," writes Kathleen M. Brown, "English men in Virginia at all levels of property ownership were expected to own them…." Guns and slavery were intimately associated with each other; all slave-raiding relied on guns, and all slaveholding relied on armed repression.

By the early 1820s, slave-worked plantation agribusiness in Tidewater Virginia waned as the soils were degraded from mono-production and over-production, and investments moved to the Mississippi Valley. Nevertheless, slave patrols actually increased in Virginia, where the main commercial "crop" of the plantations was the enslaved person's body, as farms turned into breeding factories to produce slaves to be sold in the Cotton Kingdom. Thomas Jefferson bragged to George Washington that the birth of Black children was increasing Virginia's capital stock by 4 percent annually. It is estimated that in 1860 the total value of enslaved African bodies in the United States was $4 billion, far more than the gold and silver then circulating nationally ($228.3 million, "most of it in the North," the authors add), total currency ($435.4 million), and even the value of the South's total farmland ($1.92 billion). 

Like slave patrols in the Deep South, the   Texas Rangers -- formed primarily to kill Comanches, eliminate Native communities, and control colonized Mexicans to take their land -- also hunted down enslaved Africans escaping to freedom. They began to operate in the 1820s, even before the population of slavers in the independent province of Texas had seceded from Mexico in 1836, when Mexico formally outlawed slavery. With the new border in place, enslaved Africans in Texas could escape into Mexico, often with the help of armed Seminoles and Kickapoo, who had fled to take refuge in Mexico rather than remain in Indian Territory, where they had been forced to migrate when the United States annexed their lands east of the Mississippi. They created a community west of Rapiers Negros far inside Mexico, and a place for them to live freely. When the United States Army and Marines invaded and occupied Mexico, departing only when Mexico had ceded half its territory to the United States, these maroon communities were vulnerable. Slave hunting escalated, by the Rangers as well as by individual bounty hunters.

The Thirteenth Amendment abolished legal chattel slavery, but the surveillance of Black people by patrols continued, as the occupying Union army took no concerted action against the patrols in most places (depending on the army commander), forcing formerly enslaved Africans to remain and work on plantations. Even with military vigilance, "patrolling" Black people continued as a form of organized terrorism, perpetrated especially by the Ku Klux Klan, which was founded for that very purpose nineteen months after the Civil War ended. The intensive military training and experience over four years of fighting in the Confederate Army produced a militaristic character to the formation of police forces and patrol techniques under Reconstruction; in addition, the Freedmen no longer even had the protection of being valued as property and collateral by former slavers, allowing for extreme forms of revenge violence against them. 

When Republicans were elected to state offices, they attempted to reform local militias requiring all males to serve, regardless of race, but few Anglo-Americans would serve with Freedmen. Freedmen did serve in the state militias, but they also developed their own local volunteer militia groups. Former slavers spread rumors that Freedmen were forming insurrectionary armies to kill white people. White elites formed agricultural cooperatives to maintain economic dominance over Freedmen, a goal one group made clear: "a united and systematic plan with respect to the regulation of our colored population." They also created their own forces to intimidate other Anglo-American farmers and merchants who attempted to trade with Black farmers, often putting white merchants out of business.

It is estimated that in 1860 the total value of enslaved African bodies in the United States was $4 billion, far more than the gold and silver then circulating nationally.

Most ominously, elite white Southerners formed volunteer militias under the guise of private rifle clubs. By 1876, South Carolina had more than 240 such clubs. This allowed thousands of Confederate combat veterans, along with former Confederate guerrillas, to mobilize quickly. Of course, the KKK was the most ominous terrorist organization to emerge from these efforts, its purpose being to subdue the Freedmen and control black labor when slavery ended. But the KKK was not alone. Either by their absence in many places or their actions in others, some of the US Army officers in charge made these developments possible. One that stands out is US General E.R.S. Canby, a Kentuckian who was occupation commander of the Carolinas. Canby refused to make use of his own soldiers, and instead relied on white Southern law enforcement to maintain order. He had to have known what would happen. Like many US Civil War commanders assigned to the occupation army of the former Confederacy, in 1872 he soon reassigned to the Army of the West, where he commanded troops to round up several dozen Modoc families in Northern California who refused to be forced into an Oregon reservation. The Modocs waged a year-long resistance to the Army's counterinsurgency, finally killing General Canby. One of the reasons troops were pulled out of the South prematurely was to fight in the dozens of wars the United States was initiating against Indigenous Nations in the Northern Plains, the Southwest, and the West.

The Thirteenth Amendment abolished legal chattel slavery, but the surveillance of Black people by patrols continued.

As Hadden points out, Southern settlers had long relied on "self-help" measures to enforce slavery leading up to the formalized slave patrols, which had continued where possible during the Civil War. What was different after the abolition of slavery was the tons of technologically advanced guns and ammunition, and the tens of thousands of militarily seasoned and violent men who made ideal candidates for the Klan. Particularly, when the Confederate war hero Nathan Bedford Forrest joined the Klan, it gained a chivalric image that attracted other war heroes. Congress enacted laws forbidding secret groups, but the laws were rarely enforced.

Elite white Southerners formed volunteer militias under the guise of private rifle clubs.

In fact, the United States never broke with the slaveocracy, as exemplified in the career of Nathan Bedford Forrest. He lost his parents and economic security at seventeen, but became a slave trader, land speculator, and finally a wealthy slaver with his own large plantation. He was the epitome of the "self-made" man that was the vaunted ideal of white supremacy. In the Civil War, Forrest was a cavalry officer for the Confederate Army, infamous for having led the massacre of hundreds of Black Union soldiers in 1864, a war crime. Yet President Andrew Johnson granted Forrest a presidential pardon in 1868. 

The Klan, illegal as it was, operated like a huge slave patrol, requiring Freedmen to have written permission to travel from the plantations where many continued to work. The Klan established curfews for gatherings of African Americans, as well as limits on the number who could gather. The Klan burned homes, confiscated the guns of Freedmen, and, of course, inflicted punishment similar to slave patrols' beatings, but also had far more freedom to torture and murder, since the Black body no longer carried monetary value that the murderer would have to compensate for. Of course, Black people resisted, as they had resisted the slave patrols. However, the Klan was a private terrorist organization, not a public force, and had no legal status or accountability. Some Klansmen were put on trial, but none was ever convicted. Occasionally, the US Army would declare martial law, but as one army commander said in 1871, "The entire United States Army would be insufficient to give protection throughout the South to everyone in possible danger from the Klan."

The language of slave patrols is still employed in police work in the twenty-first century.

From the perspective of African Americans who survived the organized violence, there was no distinction between patrollers, Klan, and white policemen, whether rural, in towns, or in the cities. In nineteenth-century criminal digests, arrests made by slave patrollers before the Civil War continued to be used as legal precedents in the 1880s.

Hadden notes that the language of slave patrols is still employed in police work in the twenty-first century, "patrol" being the most obvious, but also "beat." More disturbingly, techniques were folded into police practices, such as surveillance methods like the stakeout. And until the 1960s pushback, police had little supervision and routinely brutalized and confined suspects without consequences; even in the twenty-first century, when police torture or murder Black people, juries rarely find the involved officers guilty of any crime. 

In the first four decades of the twentieth century, around 6 million African Americans left the South. With World War II, 1.5 million more left the South between 1940 and 1950, many to work in the war industry in California. More than 300,000 Black Southerners migrated to the greater Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas during that decade. And, during the Depression and droughts of the 1930s, a wave of some 400,000 mostly Anglo Oklahomans, Texans, Arkansans, and Missourians poured into California, followed by another wave to work in the war industry in the 1940s.

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In 1950, William Parker became chief of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) for the following decade and a half, ending after the 1965 Watts Uprising. The LAPD was already virtually all white and solidly racist, with mainly Mexicans making up the oppressed and controlled target community.

With the goal of controlling the increasing African American blue-collar population in South Central Los Angeles, Parker began recruiting Anglo veterans from the South and Southwest who had settled in Southern California after the Dust Bowl migrations or military service. The new technology of television brought the series Dragnet to homes all over the country, extolling the LAPD and attracting recruits, as well as influencing other urban police forces all over the country. During this time, the LAPD became the most notorious racist police operation ("police culture") in the country, with nearly every aspect of the Southern tradition of slave patrols woven into the system. A similar police force was formed in Oakland, where many Black veterans and war-industry workers had settled. At the same time, the Civil Rights movement was making widespread gains, with school integration mandated by law and growing Black resistance to police violence in the South, in Northern cities, and in Los Angeles and Oakland.

In an article for The Atlantic, liberal writers Saul Cornell and Eric M. Ruben make a strong argument for the slave-state origins of modern gun rights. Certainly, any inquiry into the institutionalization of slave patrols in those colonies/states reveals the connection with the Second Amendment. However, this does not explain why the N.R.A. and gun rights are so popular in other parts of the country. Armed slave patrols comprise half the story in the Second Amendment; the whole story implicates more than the slave states. While the "savage wars" against Native Nations instituted brutal modes of violence for the US military, and slave patrols seamlessly evolved into modern police forces, both have normalized racialized violence and affinity for firearms in US society.

Copyright (2017) by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. Not to be reposted without permission of the publisher, City Lights Books.

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Private Market Fail -- US Indefinitely Reliant on Russian Government for Space Travel

Truthout - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 21:00

Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft prepares for the launch to ISS with two American astronauts and one Russian cosmonaut on September 10, 2017, in Tyuratam 3 Airport, Qyzylorda, Kazakhstan. (Photo: Ninara)

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The US's future in space is largely in the hands of private companies whose work continues to be delayed and filled with uncertainty, a government watchdog testified on Wednesday.

NASA contractors Boeing and SpaceX were supposed to have commercial crew transport systems ready to be certified for launch by 2017, providing the US with its own manned space flight system for this first time since the Space Shuttle program was retired in 2011.

But those time schedules have since shifted. The certification date is now 2019. And that goal won't likely be reached until next decade, according to the Government Accountability Office.

In a report furnished as testimony on Wednesday before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, the GAO warned that "uninterrupted access" to the International Space Station (ISS) is in danger due to the contractors' ongoing schedule overruns.

The delays also "lessen NASA's return on investment with the contractors," the oversight agency reported.

SpaceX and Boeing both received multi-billion dollar contracts from NASA in 2014 to build crew transportation systems to shuttle US astronauts to and from the ISS. Boeing garnered a $4.2 billion contract, while SpaceX pulled in $2.6 billion.

Since the inception of the agreement, however, the project has been plagued by contractor tardiness. In twelve quarterly reviews since 2014, "Boeing has reported a delay six times and SpaceX has reported a delay nine times."

The watchdog concluded that the contractors promises were overly "aggressive" from the beginning, and that "anticipated schedule risks have now materialized."

Each delay forces NASA to purchase seats on Russian rocket ships in order to send US astronauts to the ISS for routine activities.

GAO warnings about schedule delays in February 2017 prompted NASA to plan ahead and purchase seats aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Five seats were bought from the Russian Federal Space Agency for $410 million.

GAO's report on Wednesday stated that "if the Commercial Crew Program experiences additional delays, NASA may need to buy additional seats from Russia to ensure a continued US presence on the ISS." The agency provided no further recommendations to NASA.

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Reaching Rural America With Broadband Internet Service

Truthout - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 21:00

All across the US, rural communities' residents are being left out of modern society and the 21st century economy. With an upcoming Federal Communications Commission vote on whether cellphone data speeds are fast enough for work, entertainment and other online activities, Americans face a choice: Is modest-speed internet appropriate for rural areas, or do rural Americans deserve access to the far faster service options available in urban areas?

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All across the US, rural communities' residents are being left out of modern society and the 21st century economy. I've traveled to Kansas, Maine, Texas and other states studying internet access and use -- and I hear all the time from people with a crucial need still unmet. Rural Americans want faster, cheaper internet like their city-dwelling compatriots have, letting them work remotely and use online services, to access shopping, news, information and government data.

With an upcoming Federal Communications Commission vote on whether cellphone data speeds are fast enough for work, entertainment and other online activities, Americans face a choice: Is modest-speed internet appropriate for rural areas, or do rural Americans deserve access to the far faster service options available in urban areas?

My work, which most recently studies how people use rural libraries' internet services, asks a fundamental set of questions: How are communities in rural regions actually connected? Why is service often so poor? Why do 39 percent of Americans living in rural areas lack internet access that meets even the FCC's minimum definition of "broadband" service? What policies, beyond President Donald Trump's new executive orders, might help fix those problems? What technologies would work best, and who should be in control of them?

The Wide-Ranging Rural Internet Problem

Since the dawn of the internet, rural areas of the US have had less internet access than urban areas. High-speed wired connections are less common, and wireless phone service and signals are weaker than in cities -- or absent altogether. Even as rural America's wired-internet speeds and mobile-phone service have improved, the overall problem remains: Cities' services have also gotten better, so the rural communities still have comparatively worse service.

National standards have not helped: As people, businesses and governments need and want to do more online, the FCC-set minimum data-transmission speeds for broadband service has climbed. The current standard -- at least 25 megabits per second downloading and 3 megabits per second uploading  -- is deemed "adequate" to stream video and participate in other high-traffic online activities

But those speeds are not readily available in rural areas. The FCC is actually considering reducing the standard, which critics say may make the rural digital divide disappear on paper, but not in real life.

Rural residents have few choices of internet service providers  -- or none at all. They pay higher prices for lower quality service, despite earning less than urban dwellers.

A related issue is that fewer rural Americans are online: 39 percent of rural Americans lack home broadband access -- in contrast to only 4 percent of urban Americans. And 69 percent of rural Americans use the internet, compared to 75 percent of urban residents. That means less participation in the culture, society, politics and economic activity of the 21st century.

Building a Nationwide Internet Structure

The basic problem is that high-speed internet has not yet reached huge swathes of rural America. There are two main ways to fix this problem: with wires, and without wires. 

Smaller towns in rural areas typically have two options for wired connectivity. About 59 percent of all fixed broadband customers use internet provided by the local cable company. Another 29 percent get their internet over phone lines, often called digital subscriber line service, or DSL. However, older systems in rural areas aren't upgraded as often, making them slower than those in metro areas.

A few small rural towns have fiber optic networks that are much faster, but they are exceptions.

One reason rural wired service is less available and less advanced is cost, which relates to population density. In urban communities, a mile-long cable might pass dozens, or even hundreds, of homes and businesses. Rural internet requires longer wires -- and often special signal-boosting equipment  -- with fewer potential customers from whom to recoup the costs. Rural homeowners who complain to me that they can't get DSL, but say the farm down the road can, are probably just a bit too far from the phone company's networking equipment. That's much less common in cities and towns.

Wireless Options

Covering these longer distances may be easier with wireless technologies, including satellite broadband, short-distance radio links and mobile-phone data. 

Satellite broadband -- where a customer has an antenna that connects with an orbiting satellite linked to a faster internet connection back on Earth -- is technically available anywhere in the country. But it is slower, and often more expensive, than wired broadband connections. And its connections are vulnerable to bad weather.

Radio connections can vary significantly. One type, called "fixed wireless," requires customers to be within sight of a service tower, much like a cellphone. Speeds can be up to 20 megabits per second. Satellite broadband and fixed wireless are used mostly in rural areas, but account for less than 3 percent of the US fixed broadband market.

Other options just being explored involve frequency ranges that are newly available. An approach using "white space" signals would transmit data on channels previously used by analog television broadcasters. Its signals, like TV broadcasts, can travel several miles, and are not blocked by buildings.

Another frequency range around 3.5 GHz, called "Citizens Broadband Radio Service," could let rural internet companies use frequencies previously reserved for coastal radar -- even in places far inland. But the FCC may be changing the rules to favor large telecommunications companies instead.

Mobile Wireless

The fourth type of wireless internet is already quite widespread -- it's on people's smartphones nationwide. Many people have higher-speed connections at home and use mobile data on the go. However, people who don't have access to, or can't afford, other internet service, often use mobile wireless service as their primary internet connection.

US wireless companies' coverage maps can be deceptive. Just because a carrier has a cell tower along an interstate highway does not mean the rest of the surrounding county also has good coverage.

In our group's research trips to Maine in 2016 and 2017, four people had phones with four different carriers, but there were plenty of places where not a single cell service was working. We have heard tales of small towns that have acceptable signals only in very specific spots -- like in the middle of a side street.

Mobile phone data service has different speeds, and is often priced by how much data and how fast it travels -- though even plans labeled "unlimited data" may slow down traffic after a customer transmits or receives a certain amount. Many companies promote their fourth-generation, or 4G, networks for their potential download speeds of around 20 megabits per second. But 5 to 12 megabits per second may be far more common, especially in rural regions -- making it more comparable to DSL. 

Mobile companies built massive networks to serve densely populated cities, leaving less populous rural markets without comparable improvements. Some hold out hope for the next wireless-data standard, the even faster fifth-generation 5G system -- but rural America may not see that service for a while.

Bringing High Speeds to Remote Places

In our work, we have found a lot of people on tight budgets figuring out how to use local Wi-Fi connections to download content onto their phones, so they use (and pay for) less mobile data. Public libraries, which generally have fast and free Wi-Fi, are popular options in rural areas. Many rural librarians have told us about people in their parking lots after hours simply using the library Wi-Fi. Those connections aren't always the fastest, but are a testament to the efforts of public libraries over many years to provide their communities' residents with computer and internet services.

The policy debates in Washington provide the US with the opportunity to choose to provide equal access to high-speed internet all across the country, or to relegate rural users to their smartphones, library parking lots and slow home connections. Real high-speed internet could change the lives of rural Americans: The FCC itself has reported that people use fixed broadband differently, and get more benefits from it than mobile data.

Fundamentally, it is a question of values. In the 1930s and '40s, the public sentiment was that the nation would be better off if everyone had reasonably comparable electricity and telephone service. As a result, the federal government established a system of loans and grants to ensure universal access to those key utilities. To help, the FCC set up a system to charge businesses and urban customers slightly higher fees to subsidize the higher costs associated with bringing phone lines to rural areas. 

The question facing the FCC and Congress -- and really, the US as a whole -- is whether we are willing to invest in providing broadband service equitably to both urban and rural Americans. Then we need to make sure it is affordable.

Disclosure statement: Sharon Strover receives funding from The Robin Hood Foundation in New York (for research on New York's public library system hotspot program) and the federal agency Institute for Museum and Library Services (for a research project looking at rural libraries). She has worked with several federal agencies and foundations on projects relating to communication policy topics over my 30-year career.

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New York Rescinds Controversial Prison Books Policy

Truthout - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 21:00
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Getting books behind bars is no easy task. Correctional systems across the country have strict rules about which books prisoners can read and how they must be shipped -- and these rules are constantly changing.

In New Jersey, for example, a ban on "The New Jim Crow" was just lifted in response to public outcry. Last month, Texas banned 10,000 books from the prison system, and the ban remains in place.

And for a brief time in New York, a pilot program limited acceptable reading material at three facilities to less than 100 items. 24 of them were coloring books. It came in the form of a new directive from the New York State Department of Corrections, which limited the number of vendors allowed to send items to the prisons. That meant that people who wanted to send books had to pick from a pre-approved and very short list.

Prison officials argue that restrictions on reading material like these are necessary to prevent unrest -- for example, all books have to be shipped new in order to eliminate any secret messages or prohibited supplies from also being included. The distribution of pornographic and violent books is also disallowed. Censorship is permissible in this context, they claim, because without it, prisoners might be difficult to manage.

But for as long as prisons have been censoring, prisoners and advocates have been speaking out.

Depriving people of reading material feels especially inhumane for people trapped behind bars without other sources of enrichment or escapism. And sometimes those "controversial" reading materials contain important lessons about history and culture -- like the critical race theory in "The New Jim Crow" that explores inequality in the prison system.

The advocacy group Books Through Bars NYC warned that restricting inmate packages to pre-approved vendors effectively gave for-profit companies free rein in this particular domain. Families who wanted to send and bring gifts had to go through these vendors, no matter whether they provided the necessary products -- and regardless of the price. This isn't the only example of profiting off the prison system: The prison phone industry is infamous for this.

For families struggling to support incarcerated loved ones, this policy change could have a huge impact. Meanwhile, groups like Books Through Bars, which sends free books to prisoners across the US upon request, wouldn't have been able to serve their community.

A prison system concerned about rehabilitation should be delighted that prisoners want to read, expanding access to prison libraries and encouraging prisoners to request books when the library doesn't meet their needs. These kinds of policies often go into effect very quietly -- if you don't know your state's policies on books for prisoners, it's worth asking for more information. You might be surprised by what you learn.

Take Action!

You can join Care2 activists in telling Texas that inmates deserve "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and numerous other books inexplicably banned by the state.

Access to reading material isn't the only fight for prisoners: at the infamous Rikers facility in New York, where prisoners endure deplorable conditions, the injustice isn't limited to the prisons. Guards are also sexually assaulting visitors via invasive strip searches, and tens of thousands of Care2 activists think that should stop. Join them!

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ACLU Comment on Trump Administration’s Attempt to Repackage Failed Immigration Detainer Policies

Commondreams - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 12:35

Tom Homan, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and representatives of the National Sheriffs’ Association and Major County Sheriffs of America today announced a plan under which 17  local jails in Florida will keep people in custody for ICE after they should be released, on ICE’s request and without judicial warrant or approval. 

Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, had this reaction:

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President Trump Must Reject Plan to Use Nuclear Arms Under Any Circumstances

Commondreams - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 11:57
Amnesty International

According to reports, President Trump is considering a plan drafted by the Pentagon that would permit the use of nuclear weapons to respond to cyberattacks, including attacks on U.S. infrastructure like a power grid or communications. Daphne Eviatar, director of security with human rights at Amnesty International USA, issued this statement:

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Israeli Authorities Must Release Ahed Tamimi Immediately

Commondreams - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 10:01
Amnesty International

Responding to the ruling today by an Israeli court that 16 year-old Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi, charged with aggravated assault of soldiers and incitement, will remain in custody until the end of her trial, Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International said:

Categories: Latest News

Common Cause Urges Supreme Court to Reject Stay Request for Order to Redraw North Carolina Congressional Districts

Commondreams - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 09:34
Common Cause

Today, Common Cause filed a brief in Common Cause v. Rucho urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reject a stay request of a federal court ruling which ordered that the North Carolina Legislature redraw the state’s unconstitutionally gerrymandered congressional districts by January 24. The U.S.

Categories: Latest News

U.S. Gun Death Rate Jumps 17 Percent Since 2008 Supreme Court District of Columbia v. Heller Decision Affirming Right to Own a Handgun for Self-Defense

Commondreams - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 09:14
Violence Policy Center

Gun deaths in the U.S. have jumped 17 percent since the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that there is a right to keep a handgun in the home for self-defense, according to a new analysis by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) of just-released 2016 data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention.

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‘Trump Not Welcome’ Petition Reaches 10,000 Signatures In Four Days

Commondreams - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 09:11
Council of Canadians

A new online petition to keep Trump out of Canada has already gathered over 10,000 signatures since it was launched on Saturday by the Council of Canadians.

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Women Would Be Most Affected By “Tip Stealing” Rule

Commondreams - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 09:04
Economic Policy Institute

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently proposed a rule that would make it legal for employers to pocket the tips of their tipped workers, as long as they pay their workers the minimum wage. EPI previously estimated that if this “tip stealing” rule is finalized, workers will lose $5.8 billion every year, as tips are shifted from workers to employers.

Categories: Latest News


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