Latest News

Ahead of Peoples Climate March, Groups Condemn Trump’s Executive Order Stripping Protections for Public Lands

Commondreams - Wed, 04/26/2017 - 08:25
350.org

Ahead of the Peoples Climate March, the Trump administration is issuing an executive order today directing the Department of the Interior, led by Ryan Zinke, to review previous monument designations allowed under the 1906 Antiquities Act. According to White House officials, the review could bring “changes or modifications” that could open more public lands to fossil fuel extraction.

Categories: Latest News

Science-Based Public Health, Safety Protections Would Be Devastated By RAA

Commondreams - Wed, 04/26/2017 - 08:20
Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)

The Senate has introduced a new version of the “Regulatory Accountability Act”—a bill that would cripple the ability of federal agencies to enforce laws that protect our health and safety, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Below is a statement by Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“This bill is a weapon aimed right at public health and safety protections. It would make it nearly impossible for agencies to use the best science to make decisions.

Categories: Latest News

New “State of the Swamp” Report Focuses on Trump’s First 100 Days

Commondreams - Wed, 04/26/2017 - 08:14
Common Cause

President Trump “has presided over the most corrupt first hundred days in the history of the American presidency,” Common Cause asserts in a report released today.

“State of the Swamp: Ethics In President Trump’s First 100 Days,” details a long, jarring list of the new administration’s ethical shortcomings. Trump’s pugnacious refusal to release his tax returns and divest his business holdings is part of a pattern of ethical evasions and outright violations that pervades his presidency, it suggests.

Categories: Latest News

Harvard “Pauses” Fossil Fuel Investment in Natural Resources Portfolio; Students Celebrate Step Toward Divestment

Commondreams - Wed, 04/26/2017 - 08:03
350.org

After years of escalated pressure from students, faculty and alumni, Harvard University is taking a significant step toward fossil fuel divestment. Earlier this week, at a Climate Week event entitled, “How Harvard’s Endowment is Thinking About Climate,” Colin Butterfield, Harvard Management Company’s (HMC) Managing Director of the Committee of Natural Resources said that HMC is “pausing” direct investments in oil, gas, and coal in the natural resources portfolio.

Categories: Latest News

In Effort to Significantly Reduce U.S. Jail and Prison Population, ACLU Launches New Initiative to Overhaul Prosecutorial Practices, Seeking to Establish More Accountability, Transparency in Criminal Justice System

Commondreams - Wed, 04/26/2017 - 07:24
ACLU

As part of its effort to achieve a 50 percent reduction in the U.S. jail and prison population, the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice today announced a new multi-year initiative to overhaul the power wielded by prosecutors. District attorneys are major drivers of mass incarceration, lacking accountability and transparency, and posing obstacles to criminal justice reform.

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Trump Antiquities Act Executive Order

Commondreams - Wed, 04/26/2017 - 06:59
Friends of the Earth

Donald Trump is expected to sign an Executive Order this morning, initiating a review of public lands recently deemed as National Monuments under protection through the Antiquities Act. The order could allow fossil fuel companies access to millions of acres for new drilling.  

 Lukas Ross, climate and energy campaigner with Friends of the Earth, issued the following statement:

Donald Trump’s latest Executive Order furthers his vision for our public lands: a polluted wasteland crammed with oil rigs and strip mines as far as the eye can see.

Categories: Latest News

Fight for $15 Statement on Federal $15 Bill

Commondreams - Wed, 04/26/2017 - 06:55
Fight for $15

“Think back to five years ago: President Obama had yet to call for even a $9 an hour federal minimum wage, and the two members of Congress brave enough to call for $10.10 an hour were considered crazy. Then something crazier happened: 200 fast-food workers walked off their jobs in New York City, sparking a movement for $15 an hour and union rights that spread across the country. Twenty-two million Americans now have won raises, totaling $62 billion. We’ve gone from laughable to inevitable. With today’s announcement, it’s clear that our Fight for $15 has set a new standard.

Categories: Latest News

Trump Takes Aim at Libraries

Truthout - Wed, 04/26/2017 - 06:09

Donald Trump's "America First" budget proposal for 2018 puts working-class communities last, calling for the elimination of several federally supported, independent, cultural institutions, including the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

IMLS helps fund literacy and technology programs in 123,000 libraries and about 35,000 museums across the US -- all with a budget of just $230 million, which is about .05 percent of the entire federal budget.

IMLS is currently funded through a continuing resolution that expires on April 28, 2017, and additional legislation must be passed for funding to continue.

If Trump's budget passes, the cuts will have a devastating impact on those who utilize public libraries in rural areas and poor urban communities in particular.

IMLS funds libraries through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) Grants to States program. It allots a base amount of $680,000 to each state plus an additional amount based on population.

The money goes toward library programming directed at underserved patron populations -- teens, senior citizens, immigrants, adults learners for instance. There is also a focus on the maintenance and expansion of technology in libraries.

For many rural populations, the library is the only place to access the internet. In an official statement against Trump's America First budget, IMLS director Kathryn Matthews explained:

We've invested in rural and smaller communities by supporting basic infrastructure and by developing libraries as local community hubs for broadband connectivity and digital literacy training -- helping many residents gain job-related skills and, in many cases, find employment...our grants and programs support libraries and museums as essential contributors to improving Americans' quality of life.

***

For urban areas and poorer towns in states like Massachusetts, IMLS money goes toward projects that enhance access to information for working-class families who aren't necessarily connected to universities and the databases they may use.

Things like the Commonwealth Catalog, a system that supports interlibrary loan throughout the state, and the Digital Commonwealth, an organization that houses digitized material from libraries, museums and historical societies from around the state, provide access to faraway materials to anyone with a library card and internet access.

Furthermore, families that can't afford to place their kids in summer programs look forward to the Statewide Summer Library Program, which helps build reading skills and interest during summer break through prizes and activities at the library.

Despite the fact that IMLS provides the only federal funding for libraries, it's regularly threatened with cuts or elimination. The 2017 budget was actually slightly increased, a small relief from the deep and destructive cuts suffered in 2012 and 2013 under the Obama administration. Just in the last fiscal year, Sen. Paul Ryan proposed getting rid of IMLS entirely.

The way the money is distributed to state entities also undermines libraries' sustainability. State governments can choose to spread the money to localities through state programs or competitive grants. This is partially why public libraries often run on shoestring budgets. Government funding, which could be the most stable, is at best inconsistent.

A look at where Trump's budget plan proposes cuts and where it proposes increases underlines how the administration prioritized corporate profits over the resources workers need. It's the only way to explain why libraries are being forced to sacrifice with a minuscule budget while the Defense Department could see a 9 percent increase.

***

Even before these proposed budget cuts, librarians have been on the front lines of the fight against Trump's attacks.

The most visible and expansive mobilization has been against the administration's ban on travelers from Muslim-majority countries, in which school and public librarians posted signs that read "All are welcome" or "Libraries are for everyone" on their front doors or information desks.

Public librarian Rebecca McCorkindale created these images which spread like wild fire internationally on library social media.

"Libraries are the heart of a community, for anyone and everyone that lives there, regardless of their background," explained McCorkindale, who is assistant library director at the Gretna, Nebraska, public library. "And so we strongly believe that libraries are not neutral. We stand up for human rights."

This is a growing sentiment among librarians. And of course, news about the potential cut in federal funding for libraries has again activated library professionals who are trying all the more to organize librarians.

The hashtag #LibrariesResist has become a way for librarians to share resources for patrons facing discrimination -- from immigrants to trans youth -- and to connect people with activist organizing.

While much of the calls to action around the cuts to IMLS have been appeals to contact legislators, the fact that librarians see it as part of their actual job to resist Trump's attacks on the most vulnerable in this society is encouraging.

The resistance to Trump in broader society is being reflected in the libraries, and this can have a real impact on library worker's ability to demand funding for these necessary services, beyond the fiscal budget vote.

The Trump administration has something to fear in the potential alliance of librarians, library workers and the communities they serve.

Categories: Latest News

Building on the Tax Marches

Truthout - Wed, 04/26/2017 - 06:09

As the deadline to mail checks to the IRS approached, organizers in New York were still protesting, and this time not only about President Donald Trump's tax returns. Activists with the grassroots organization New York Communities for Change and other progressive groups held a rally on April 18 in front of Goldman Sachs's headquarters in New York City to confront the world's most powerful bank for dodging taxes and taking resources away from working people.

In the eight years between 2008 and 2015, Goldman avoided paying $5.5 billion in taxes by using various loopholes, billions that could have been used for public housing, healthcare, education, and many other vital programs and services. That's around $21.60 per second in tax avoidance. At that rate, Goldman will have dodged about $4,000 in taxes by the time you finish reading this, about half the federal income taxes paid by the average American family.

While Goldman's tax avoidance wizards worked their magic in the years following the crisis, it wasn't because the cupboards were bare. In fact profits rose, and its net revenue in 2015 was $33.8 billion.

The fact is, most Americans don't mind paying taxes. What ticks people off is when rich people don't pay their fair share. This year, longstanding tax avoidance by the most powerful individuals and corporations got people off their chairs and into the streets in protest.

Saturday's tax rallies across the country helped refocus America's outrage at Trump's refusal to make his tax returns public as every President since Richard Nixon has done. The rally at Goldman Sachs was a reminder that the demand for transparency is only the tip of the iceberg. For the protesters at Goldman Sachs chanting "Stop Looting America!", the fight for tax justice is every bit as important.

Despite its misconduct and role in the 2008 financial crisisGoldman Sachs received over $10 billion in bailout money from American taxpayers. Adding insult to injury, Goldman Sachs does not exactly have a clean record when it comes to legal compliance.

Protesters descended upon Goldman Sachs demanding not only that they pay up, but also stop robbing wealth from communities, which they have done by continuously investing in companies that move jobs overseas (they have moved their own jobs, too), playing a major role in the foreclosure crisis, creating the first "social impact" bond that would make the company millions off of the private prison industry, and privatizing water systems across the United States.

Protesters' concerns with Goldman didn't end there. They lambasted Trump for filling his cabinet and senior adviser positions with Goldman alumni (six to date), aptly nicknaming his administration "Government Sachs."

These include Trump's treasury secretary, long-time Wall Street insider Steve Mnuchin, who aggressively foreclosed on thousands of people during the financial crisis and made millions in the process, and National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, former CEO of Goldman Sachs who received more than $100 million in bonuses and options from Goldman Sachs as a parting gift before assuming a key role in Trump's administration.

With the two of them as likely architects of Trump's tax plan, you can be sure Goldman Sachs will get a fantastic return on that "investment."

Finally, having surrounded himself with Goldman Sachs alums to advise him on economic policy, Trump nominated Wall Street bailout lawyer Jay Clayton to be Wall Street's top cop as Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Big banks and Wall Street billionaires have been dodging taxes since long before Trump was President, and Goldman Sachs is hardly alone among financial industry tax dodgers. But Trump's tax reform plan -- for all the tough talk on the campaign trail -- would blow existing loopholes wide open. And no one is better situated to help shape and push for this plan than Goldman Sachs. Here's an overview of how Trump's plan would be a giveaway to Wall Street:

  • Trump's plan would slash the corporate tax rate from 35 to 15 percent, and House Republicans are considering a 20 percent rate. That would mean that big banks and corporations would pay a lower rate than working people, meaning billions of dollars lost in revenue needed for vital programs.

  • Banks that have been stashing huge piles of profits offshore would get a huge tax cut. Fortune 500 companies owe but have not paid about $750 billion in taxes on $2.6 trillion in profits they have stashed offshore, and would be able to bring them back at a tax rate of 10 percent.

  • Hedge fund owners could get as much as a two-thirds cut on their individual tax rates. This would be a $1.5 trillion giveaway in 10 years, according to the Tax Policy Center, which would mostly go to Wall Street billionaires and the richest 1 percent -- the same people Trump once said were "getting away with murder."

  • Heirs to Wall Street fortunes would enjoy a massive cut in estate taxes, an effective estate tax rate of about 16.6 percent, which would funnel about $81 billion into the pockets of Wall Street titans' heirs.

Benjamin Franklin once said that "in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." Unless, of course, you're a Wall Street bank. Indeed, "death and taxes" is a fitting description for what the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress are cynically trying to serve working people, while aspiring for immunity for the 1 percent.

Goldman Sachs is emblematic of the greed and recklessness that blew up our economy in 2008, and of a system that not only coddles billionaires and big banks, but allows them to set the rules of the game, at the expense of millions of people.

While working people face stagnant wages even as productivity increases, the Trump administration and their billionaire buddies on Wall Street and in Congress continue to contrive ways to squeeze workers in order to fund corporate welfare.

Citizens are not taking this sitting down. Not only are they rejecting this preposterously unfair agenda, they are going a step further: demanding the cheaters and looters pay up -- demanding that Wall Street pay its fair share in taxes. Complementing this month's actions, the Take On Wall Street coalition is rallying around a series of reforms supported by citizens from across the political spectrum that would help ensure Wall Street pays its fair share, and would generate almost $1 trillion over 10 years. When it comes to patriotism, it's time Trump puts his money where his mouth is and support proposals for the 1 percent to pay its fair share.

Despite Trump's tweeted dismissal, this month's marches demonstrated there is real concern out there about his tax returns. It'd be foolish for him to ignore the fact that this concern is not about an isolated case, but rather stems from a deeper outrage over his plans to let banks like Goldman Sachs and billionaires like himself continue to rig the tax code for their benefit.  

Categories: Latest News

Govt Secrecy Over UK Strikes ‘Profoundly Disappointing’, Say MPs

Commondreams - Wed, 04/26/2017 - 06:07
Reprieve

Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has criticised the Government for refusing to disclose information about the intelligence behind a 2015 UK drone strike in Syria, calling the lack of Parliamentary scrutiny "profoundly disappointing."
 

Categories: Latest News

The High Costs of US Warmongering Against North Korea

Truthout - Tue, 04/25/2017 - 21:00

In a photo released by the US Navy, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson navigates the Indian Ocean on April 15, 2017. The Vinson is now drawing near to the Korean peninsula, even as the USS Michigan submarine has docked in South Korea. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Matt Brown / US Navy, via The New York Times)

In line with Vice President Pence's announcement that the "era of strategic patience is over," the Trump administration has deployed a nuclear-powered, guided-missile submarine to the Korean peninsula, heightening tensions in the region. But those familiar with US history question whether amped-up tensions with North Korea are mainly being used as a justification to increase the US military budget.

In a photo released by the US Navy, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson navigates the Indian Ocean on April 15, 2017. The Vinson is now drawing near to the Korean peninsula, even as the USS Michigan submarine has docked in South Korea. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Matt Brown / US Navy, via The New York Times)

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Today, the White House is convening a rare briefing for 100 senators on North Korea with Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is planning to chair a special meeting at the UN Security Council on North Korea this Friday.

Given the Trump administration's wide-ranging Korea policy spanning from "maximum pressure" to "engagement," the administration could announce anything from "new" intelligence justifying military action to calling for more sanctions, including placing North Korea back on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

What has most people on edge and in a state of alarm is that these briefings take place amid dangerous tensions and brinkmanship on the Korean peninsula. North Korea is conducting live fire drills off its east coast, and some speculate that it may test its sixth nuclear weapon timed with the 85th anniversary of the Korean People's Army. Meanwhile, Washington has deployed the USS Michigan, a Trident submarine and the most destructive nuclear weapon in the arsenal. In short, tensions on the Korean peninsula have reached a boiling point, with many fearing Trump will use military force on North Korea.

The two forces reining in the Trump administration are China and South Korea. In an editorial, the Global Times warned, "The game of chicken between Washington and Pyongyang has come to a breaking point. If North Korea carries out a sixth nuclear test as expected, it is more likely than ever that the situation will cross the point of no return." It called on Pyongyang to "take a small step back" to make the conflict easier to solve, which doesn't "mean being a coward, but being courageous to face the challenge in a different way."

Given that their country would be in the direct line of North Korean fire, South Koreans, too, are calling for restraint. "There is no South Korean leader who thinks the first strike by the US is okay," said Suh Choo-suk, a Senior Research Fellow at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. "The Security of South Korea is as important as that of the US," said Moon Jae-in, the leading South Korean presidential candidate. 

On April 18, as millions of Americans filed their taxes, MSNBC news host Rachel Maddow covered a Defense News story that the USS Carl Vinson, the nuclear aircraft carrier that the Trump administration allegedly rerouted from Australia to the Korean Peninsula, was in fact "3,000 miles away, steaming south, in the opposite direction." By that time, however, the alleged rerouting of the flotilla had already stoked fears across East Asia that the US was considering a preemptive military strike if North Korea conducted a nuclear test on the 105th birth anniversary of its founder Kim Il Sung.

Whether intended to mislead North Korea into believing the US was preparing for a first strike or the result of a serious internal communications blunder, the incident highlighted how the Trump administration is aggressively pursuing a showdown with North Korea. Such a conflict would threaten not only 22 million North Koreans and the 44 million South Koreans, but could also engulf the United States, Japan, China and Russia in a nuclear war.

In its first 100 days, the Trump administration has deployed Secretary of Defense General Mattis, Secretary of State Tillerson, and now Vice President Pence to South Korea and Japan. Speaking at the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), Pence stated that "the era of strategic patience is over" and threatened that "if China is unable to deal with North Korea, the United States and our allies will."

Yet, by all indications, Trump is continuing strategic patience, which includes the heavy use of sanctions to further isolate the North Korean regime and aggressive military posturing, including US-Republic of Korea military exercises rehearsing the invasion and "decapitation" of North Korea's political leadership. In its spring war games, the Trump administration turned it up a few notches by deploying the team of US Navy SEALS that killed Osama bin Laden.

Contrary to Trump's campaign rhetoric that he "would be very, very cautious" and not be a "happy trigger" compared to Hillary Clinton, the Trump administration has mercilessly and without coherence dropped massive US bombs throughout the Middle East. With regards to Korea, the Trump administration has said that all options are on the table, including military action. Trump announced that the US launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on Syria over dinner with President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago in a clear message to China that it must either rein in North Korea, or the United States will take unilateral action. It was soon after that Donald Trump told the world that the US was "sending an armada, very powerful" toward North Korea, even though it wasn't. 

A Long History of US Military Brutality Against Korea

But North Koreans don't need to look at Syria or Afghanistan, or at Libya or Iraq, to understand the sheer brutality of US military power. They have their own history of surviving indiscriminate US bombing during the Korean War that destroyed 80 percent of North Korean cities and claimed one in four relatives.

More bombs were dropped on Korea than on all of Asia and the Pacific islands during World War II. According to the memoir Soldier by Anthony Herbert, the most decorated veteran of the Korean War, in May 1951, one year into the war, General MacArthur offered this testimony before Congress:

The war in Korea has already almost destroyed that nation of 20,000,000 people. I have never seen such devastation. I have seen, I guess, as much blood and disaster as any living man, and it just curdled my stomach.... After I looked at that wreckage and those thousands of women and children and everything, I vomited.... If you go on indefinitely, you are perpetuating a slaughter such as I have never heard of in the history of mankind.

Curtis LeMay, who took over for MacArthur, later wrote, "We burned down just about every city in North Korea and South Korea both ... we killed off over a million civilian Koreans and drove several million more from their homes."

While all parties to the Korean War, including the North Korean People's Army, committed heinous acts, Americans must remember this tragic history because it very much underlies the North Korean mindset and their enormous will to survive, underscoring how counterproductive "strategic patience" is.

According to Korea expert John DeLury,

Thinking that it's a matter of making North Korea hurt enough, shows a fundamental misunderstanding of a key attribute of the [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] state and society which has an extraordinary capacity to absorb pain. They have maybe suffered more than anyone since 1945. They're like a boxer, they'll never beat you but you can never knock them down. No matter how hard you hit them, they get back up. 

And the sober lesson that the Obama, Bush and Clinton administrations ultimately arrived at was that there was no military option. In 1994, President Bill Clinton considered a preemptive strike on North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear reactor, but the Pentagon concluded that even limited action would claim a million lives in the first 24 hours -- and this was well before Pyongyang possessed nuclear weapons. President Obama, too, considered surgical strikes, but as David Sanger reported in the New York Times, obtaining such timely intelligence was nearly impossible and "the risks of missing were tremendous, including renewed war on the Korean peninsula." Any military action by Washington will undoubtedly trigger a counter-reaction from Pyongyang that could instantly kill a third of the South Korean population.

To most Americans, Korea is a problem "over there." It's not. The situation on the Korean Peninsula has for 70 years been dictated by US foreign policy. In 1945, at the end of WWII, the United States, along with the Soviets -- as victors over Japan in the Pacific Theater -- divided the Korean peninsula. Two young officers in the State Department literally tore a page out of the National Geographic and drew a line across the 38th parallel, taking Seoul and giving Pyongyang to the Soviets.

The Korean people, who were preparing for their liberation from 35 years of Japanese colonial rule, had organized one of the most vibrant grassroots democratic people's committees in history. Instead of liberation, they got two military occupations and became the front line of the Cold War. The division of Korea led in 1948 to the creation to two separate states: the Republic of Korea in the south, and the Democratic People's Republic in the north, which ultimately led to the 1950-53 Korean War.

The atrocious war was temporarily halted on July 27, 1953, when US Army Lieutenant General William Harrison, representing the UN Command, and North Korean General Nam Il, representing the Korean People's Army and the Chinese People's Volunteers, signed the Armistice Agreement. Article IV, paragraph 60, called for the official end of the Korean War by replacing the Armistice with a peace treaty.

Hopes for Diplomacy and Peacebuilding

Today, the US still has wartime operational control over South Korea and jurisdiction over half the DMZ. There are 28,500 US troops across South Korea, and it's the US missile defense system, THAAD, which has prompted massive protests across South Korea and is straining Seoul's relations with Beijing. The rapid deployment of THAAD -- ahead of schedule and pushed during the political vacuum in South Korea -- is just the latest example of US intrusion into Korean affairs to further its own geopolitical interests. 

But just as the security of Korean peoples is tied to US policy, Korea has very much influenced human security in the United States. Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. presciently noted, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." In fact, Korea has been the justification for US military expansion in the Asia Pacific, and inaugurated the military-industrial complex and massive spending that has built the greatest war-making force in world history. According to University of Chicago historian Bruce Cumings, "It was the Korean War, not Greece or Turkey, or the Marshall Plan or Vietnam that inaugurated big defense budgets and the national security state that transformed a limited containment doctrine into a global crusade that ignited McCarthyism just as it seemed to fizzle, and thereby gave the Cold War its long run."

Sadly, the conflict with North Korea is being used as further justification to increase the US military budget. In February, President Trump requested an additional $54 billion for the military -- a 10 percent increase -- while making drastic cuts to social welfare programs. This is on top of the already bloated $598 billion US military budget, which is the world's largest and more than the next seven highest-spending countries combined. "The Pentagon spends an estimated $10 billion a year on overseas bases," according to the Los Angeles Times. "More than 70% of the total is spent in Japan, Germany and South Korea, where most US troops abroad are permanently stationed."

The good news is that on May 9, South Korea will be holding a snap presidential election after the impeachment and imprisonment of its corrupt politician Park Geun-hye, whose hardline policy against North Korea strained inter-Korean relations. The leading candidate, Moon Jae-in, has pledged to improve relations with Pyongyang, noting that diplomatic relations are the best bet to ensure South Koreans' security. As South Koreans work to improve peace on the Korean Peninsula, our job here in the United States is to strengthen the connection between the struggles for democracy, justice and liberation throughout the Asia Pacific, including South Korea, Okinawa and the Philippines, which are very much tied to our struggle for a just world built on food, land, water, health care and education.

Categories: Latest News

The State of Capitalism -- When and Why Will It End?

Truthout - Tue, 04/25/2017 - 21:00

In this educational video Professor of Economics Emeritus (University of Massachusetts), Marxist economist and founder of Democracy at Work, Richard Wolff, talks about capitalism's current and future state. Prof. Wolff also explains how changes in how the workplace is organized can play a transformative role from capitalism into a more humane and rational system.

The following questions are addressed in this educational video:

  • When will capitalism end?
  • What condition is capitalism in today and what factors are driving its demise?
  • Is there an historical connection between the cutback of social welfare (austerity measures) in Europe and North America today and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 as well as the  economic reforms of China that began in the late 1970s?
  • How are the wealthiest 1% coping with the decline of capitalism? What techniques are they employing to control policies of the state and what effects does this have on people?
  • Can capitalism be saved or reformed? Are there any viable alternatives?
  • Why does the Left today have to be critical of the traditional understanding and practice of socialism?
  • Why and how do we have to change our workplace in order to make a transformation away from capitalism?
Categories: Latest News

Chomsky on Syria: We Must Help Fleeing Refugees and Pursue Diplomatic Settlement

Truthout - Tue, 04/25/2017 - 21:00

Content Warning: some graphic imagery

The journalistic monitoring group Airwars says 17 civilians, including nine children, reportedly died in US-led coalition airstrikes on the Syrian city of Tabqa in Raqqa province on Monday. The victims reportedly included the 6-month-old baby Abd al-Salam and the toddler Ali Abu Aish, along with their entire family. Meanwhile, two Democratic lawmakers -- Virginia Senator Tim Kaine and California Congressmember Adam Schiff -- sent a letter to the White House Tuesday demanding President Trump provide a legal justification for the US attack on the Shayrat air base earlier this month. On Monday night, Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman spoke to world-renowned linguist and dissident Noam Chomsky at the First Parish Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and asked him what he thinks the US should do about Syria.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Brace for Government Shutdown as Republicans Face Impossible Tasks

Truthout - Tue, 04/25/2017 - 21:00

House Speaker Paul Ryan at a news conference following a House Republican caucus meeting on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC, April, 26, 2017. With the deadline to avert a government shutdown looming, lawmakers are negotiating a spending bill that would supply no money for a border wall but would increase funding for the military and other border security measures. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)

Can President Donald J. Trump and the Republicans actually govern? As we near the 100th day mark the answer has been a loud "no." So far. This week the Congress and the president will once again try for wins to fund the government, repeal the Affordable Care Act, extra money for Defense, and to construct a wall on the southern border. A nearly impossible order.

The House of Representatives does not have a governing coalition. There remains, essentially, three parties: Republicans, Democrats, and the Freedom Caucus. Two of these three groups must work together in order to pass any legislation. And to complicate the politics even more, many of the Republican members are already worried about their own re-election, so they might not support their own party's leaders. Especially if that deal is sanctioned by the Freedom Caucus.

Yet Speaker Paul Ryan told his caucus Saturday that funding the government is the priority. The president was equally optimistic. "I think we're in good shape," President Trump said.

There are two budgets at issue. First there is the one proposed by the White House, "America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again." That budget would not begin until October and would result in a dramatic restructuring of the federal government. Many members of Congress have said there is no chance this budget will be enacted as proposed.

But this week there is another budget problem. Congress must pass budget extension for this year by April 29 or there will be another government shutdown.

Shutting the government has become too common: On Indigenous People's Day in 1990 (Ok, back then it was called, Columbus Day) President Bush sent workers home after Congress failed to enact a spending bill. Then during the Clinton years there was a five-day closure in 1995 and another three-week shutdown in 1996. There was a 16-day shutdown in 2013, followed by the double-whammy of sequestration. Tribal governments were impacted almost immediately and had to suspend nutrition programs, foster care, law enforcement, schools and health care. Some tribes had to temporarily layoff workers.

A policy report by the National Congress of American Indians put this in perspective: "For many tribes, a majority of tribal governmental services is financed by federal sources. Tribes lack the tax base and lack parity in tax authority to raise revenue to deliver services. If federal funding is reduced sharply for state and local governments, they may choose between increasing their own taxes and spending for basic services or allowing their services and programs to take the financial hit. On the other hand, many tribes have limited ability to raise substantial new revenue, especially not rapidly enough to cover the reduction in services from the across the board reductions of the FY 2013 sequestration."

That could be the good old days. The prospect of a serious meltdown is a far greater possibility in 2017 than it was four years ago.

First of all the White House is incompetent. Instead of laying out a plan that will lead to a working majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate it has offered nonsense. "I think we've made it very clear that we want border wall funding, we want greater latitude to deny federal grants to sanctuary cities," Press Secretary Sean Spicer said last week. "We want hiring of immigration agents, and we want $30 billion to infuse the military budget. Those are our priorities."

That adds up to a blank check for the wall and immigration control, at least $30 billion for Defense, and a cut of at least $18 billion to domestic spending.

Those priorities are not possible without at least a few Democratic votes in the Senate (unless the rules are changed) because it takes 60 votes to approve any new Continuing Resolution. There are only 52 Republicans. So which Democrats are going to favor punishing sanctuary cities? How about none. And that's only point one. Leaders in the House will need nearly every Republican to vote yes as well, something that's always unlikely.

(Building a coalition with Democrats is even more important when you consider that Congress must soon raise the national debt limit, something that many Republicans always oppose without conditions that are unacceptable to Democrats.)

But this week what makes a government shutdown even more likely is that the White House, Republicans, and Democrats, are all staking out claims on a variety of issues.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said he would not vote for another budget extension unless it increases military funding. In the past, Democrats have gone along with that notion as long as there is a mechanism to protect domestic programs budget cuts, including those that serve American Indians and Alaska Natives.

But the Trump administration (here is that competence thing) is already acting if its stingy budget is the law, telling agencies to shrink and reduce the number of federal employees.

An April 12 memo from OMB Director Mick Mulvaney says: "The president's FY 2018 Budget request to Congress will propose decreasing or eliminating funding for many programs across the federal government, and in some cases redefining agency missions. The president's FY 2018 Budget should drive agencies' planning for workforce reductions and inform their Agency Reform Plans, consistent with final 2017 appropriations and current applicable legal requirements. OMB and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will work with agencies to facilitate reductions in the size of their workforce and monitor progress."

Congress is unlikely to go along with President Trump's budget plan. Unlikely is too strong a word. How about? There is absolutely no way to get 216 votes for such a radical restructuring of the entire federal government. But programs that serve American Indians and Alaska Natives could be hit hard if there is another government shutdown.

Yet there is no way Congress will agree with the restructuring of the federal government as proposed. The votes are not there. But the OMB is basically moving forward anyway, directing agencies to "begin implementing some reforms immediately while others will require congressional action."

The White House message is stick it in your eye, Congress. (Oh, by the way, we still need your votes.)

So how does the White House move the ball forward? By threatening Democrats over the Affordable Care Act by proposing an exchange one dollar of funding for health care for every dollar spent on the wall. That took Democrats a few seconds to well, uh, no.

And coming next week the president said on Twitter that he will announce "big tax reform and tax reduction."

That will subtract a few more votes for everything else that needs to happen this week.

Of course there is a way of out of this mess. The White House could work with Democrats and spend money on their priorities. It's the basic formula that has led to enactments of budgets for the past 8 years. The bargain would mean continued spending for domestic programs as well as add money to the military. The wall? No. Cutting support for Planned Parenthood? Get serious. And health care funding? That's why it's called the art of the deal.

There are three doors on the governing stage. Door number one: An impasse and a government shutdown. Door number two: A deal with Democrats. And door number three: A short-term budget extension so the debate can go on. And on. And on.

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Categories: Latest News

Why Does Trump Tweet so Slowly?

Truthout - Tue, 04/25/2017 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

Monuments to White Supremacy Are Finally Falling in New Orleans

Truthout - Tue, 04/25/2017 - 21:00

A statue of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee sits atop a large monument at the center of Lee Circle in the Central Business District of New Orleans, Louisiana. The monument is one of four being removed after years of protest by racial justice activists. (Photo: Mike Ludwig)

New Orleans -- On May 7, 1954, thousands of Black activists, students and teachers in New Orleans boycotted "McDonough Day," an annual dedication to an early patron of the city's public schools. Every year, white students would line up to pay their respects to a statue of the 19th century philanthropist John McDonough while Black students waited to participate in a second ceremony afterward, sometimes waiting hours in the hot southern sun.

In 1954, more than 30,000 Black students refused to show up to McDonough Day, marking one of the first major protests of the civil rights movement. Less than two weeks later, the Supreme Court declared segregation in schools to be unconstitutional, overturning Plessey vs. Ferguson, the famous "separate but equal" case that stemmed from Homer Plessey's act of civil disobedience in New Orleans 60 years earlier.

Malcolm Suber is a longtime activist in New Orleans and a spokesman for Take 'Em Down NOLA, a racial justice group that is pushing the city to remove symbols of white supremacy from public spaces. He says the McDonough Day Boycott marked the birth of a movement that has continued for decades, and that movement is celebrating this week as New Orleans begins the process of removing four monuments dedicated to heroes of Confederate efforts to uphold white supremacy.

"It's big victory for our movement … the Black community has been protesting these white supremacy monuments viscerally since 1954," Suber told Truthout.

The city took down the first of four monuments slated for removal from public spaces early Monday morning. This monument was an obelisk dedicated in 1891 to the Crescent City White League, a group of white supremacists and Confederate veterans who, in 1874, fought the Battle of Liberty Place, a Reconstruction-era insurrection against an integrated city police force and state militia.

Workers removing the monument wore protective vests and masks to conceal their identities. In a statement, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said the city would not be making public its plans for taking down the three remaining monuments because contractors bidding on the work have received death threats.

Both opponents and supporters of removing the monuments are demanding that the city be more transparent. Suber said racial justice activists want the city to make a stronger stand against the racist groups assumed to be behind the threats of violence.

"The mayor has not vigorously denounced these actions from these terrorists," Suber said. "If we on the left had been doing the same thing, they would have come after us and put us in jail, and that's another example of the power of the rich white folks who support the maintenance of these statues."

The obelisk taken down on Monday is steeped in efforts to maintain white supremacy. A plaque added to the monument in 1932 explicitly honored the White League for fighting to preserve "white supremacy in the South," and white supremacist groups have long used it as rallying point. Suber said racial justice activists clashed with Klu Klux Klan members during their annual marches to the monument in the 1980s. Police often stepped in to protect the Klan.  

The city tried twice to permanently remove the monument in the 1980s and early 1990s, but agreed to place it behind a mall in the upper corner of the French Quarter, largely out of sight, after facing a legal challenge in 1992.

The removal of the obelisk has faced controversy, but there is greater public opposition to dismantling the remaining monuments that are set to be taken down: three statues dedicated to the Confederate generals Jefferson Davis, P.G.T. Beauregard and Robert E. Lee, which are located at the center of major throughways in the city.

A concrete platform is all that remains at the former site of a monument dedicated to the Crescent City White League, a group of Confederate veterans and white supremacists who fought a Reconstruction-era battle against integrated police forces in 1874. (Photo: Mike Ludwig)

The push to remove Confederate monuments was renewed in 2015 as the Black Lives Matter movement rose and calls to remove public symbols of white supremacy grew, particularly in the wake of the mass murder of Black churchgoers by a racist gunman in Charleston, South Carolina.

The debate over the statues became a divisive one in New Orleans, a majority-Black city with a legacy of white supremacy, challenged first by revolting slaves and later by civil rights activists. As politicians debated the statues, opponents and supporters held regular rallies across the city. When anti-racist graffiti went up on a statue, volunteers bearing Confederate flags would gather to scrub it off. The city council agreed to remove the statues in December 2015, but the work has been delayed by legal challenges.

Outright racists have come to the defense of the statues -- for example, activists faced off with avowed white nationalist David Duke during a protest last year -- but other supporters contend that they are not white supremacists, and are just interested in preserving the monuments' historical value. However, racial justice activists say that, for the city's Black and Brown residents, the statues are a vivid reminder of southern legacies that terrorized their ancestors. 

"As long as these statues are allowed to remain in the public square, they are presentations of the continued rule, real and imagined, of white supremacists and the white ruling class," Suber said.  

White supremacy is visible in New Orleans, and not just in the symbolic sense portrayed by a Confederate general on a concrete column. For example, David Duke polled well enough in a recent race for US Senate to qualify for a debate held last year at Dillard University, a historically Black college. Several activists were arrested as students attempted to shut the debate down.

Suber pointed to Louisiana's prisons, which are disproportionately filled with Black and Brown people in a state that has the highest rate of incarceration in the country. Many workers live on low wages in the New Orleans tourist economy, and the city's wealthier neighborhoods tend to be much whiter than the rest, many of which are under pressure from gentrification.

Suber said removing symbols of white supremacy from public spaces is part of a natural, democratic progress occurring in a city where Black people are in the majority. He added that another indicator of this progress would be the replacement of Confederate statues with public symbols that "celebrate Black culture and Black freedom and the struggle for democracy in this country."

Suber said Take 'Em Down NOLA's work is far from finished. The group is demanding that the city remove a number of other monuments, including statues dedicated to historic figures that supported slavery or segregation and worked to repress Black political power.

As for the four monuments that are now being removed, they will be put in storage and eventually moved to a museum or similar facility, according to the mayor's office.

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Categories: Latest News

Trump's Threat to Libel Law: How the President Seeks to Silence Critics

Truthout - Tue, 04/25/2017 - 21:00

Trump has perfected the technique of using libel lawsuits as a tool of repression without ever winning a case. With Supreme Court appointees like Gorsuch, it's quite likely that Trump will succeed in weakening libel law, making timid media corporations even more nervous about critical coverage.

The shadows of President Donald Trump and Tom Price, secretary of health and human services, are cast on a wall as they head to a congressional republicans conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 21, 2017. "Change libel Laws?" President Trump asked in a recent tweet, returning to a favorite theme on the campaign trail. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)

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One of Donald Trump's biggest attacks on civil liberties comes from his regular threats to sue reporters for libel if he doesn't like what they write. Trump has repeatedly promised to use his power as president to suppress the freedom of the press, saying, "We're going to open up those libel laws...." On March 30, Trump reiterated his promise in a tweet attacking the "failing" New York Times that ended with, "Change libel laws?"

Unfortunately, the mainstream media have tended to dismiss Trump's threats as empty rhetoric. Politico reported the view of an ACLU attorney that "there are virtually no steps within the president's power to 'open up libel laws' as Trump has suggested." But in reality, the president has enormous power to change libel laws by appointing Supreme Court judges who can alter constitutional protections.

Callum Borchers of The Washington Post wrote, "Trump's latest suggestion that he might 'change libel laws' might sound good to his supporters, but it's clear from his Supreme Court pick that it is just talk." This view, however, seems overly rosy.

Gorsuch on Libel

Trump's Supreme Court appointee, Neil Gorsuch, has not shown himself to be a strong defender of freedom of the press against libel law. During his Senate hearing, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) asked Gorsuch whether he believes "that the First Amendment would permit public officials to sue the media under any standard less demanding than actual malice." Gorsuch responded, "That's been the law of the land for, gosh, 50, 60 years. I could point you to a case in which I've applied it and I think might give you what you're looking for, Senator, in terms of comfort about how I apply it: Bustos v. A&E Network."

However, Gorsuch's ruling in Bustos v. A&E never mentioned the "actual malice" standard because it didn't involve a public figure. Discussing the age of a precedent in a deceptive answer doesn't mean Gorsuch will support all of it. The ruling in New York Times v. Sullivan established requirements for defamation that the information was false, damaged a reputation, and, for public figures, that it was published with "actual malice" -- "with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not." Gorsuch may not overturn the entire Sullivan precedent, but he could seek to narrow its application to public figures, such as Trump.

In Bustos v. A&E, Gorsuch bent over backward to protect the media, not because he believed in freedom of the press, but instead because he openly disparaged the person who brought the lawsuit claiming that the network had falsely called him a member of the Aryan Brotherhood gang, when in reality, he was a drug dealer who merely conspired with the Aryan Brotherhood in a criminal enterprise.

The fact that Gorsuch ruled against a dubious libel suit from a prisoner does not prove he's a paragon of the First Amendment who will stand up against the interests of powerful politicians like Trump.

In Bustos v. A&E, Gorsuch also espoused an unprecedented "good plaintiff" rule for libel law: "In American law, defamation is not about compensating for damage done to a false reputation by the publication of hidden facts. It's about protecting a good reputation honestly earned."

Gorsuch's belief that the law only protects "good" people reflects the strong prejudices that he generally holds. And it could lead Gorsuch to weaken the Sullivan "public figure" standard with this new "good figure" standard.

One analysis of judges predicts that Gorsuch will be slightly more conservative than Scalia. The Never-Trump National Review praised Gorsuch as "remarkably similar" to Scalia and called him "like Scalia, a textualist and an originalist." Libel law is especially vulnerable to textualists and originalists. There is no evidence that the framers of the Constitution wanted to limit libel law, and the details of the Sullivan ruling were invented by the Supreme Court, rather than being based on the text of a law. In Bustos v. A&E, Gorsuch was very deferential to Colorado's libel laws, which set a high standard. But if Gorsuch defers to state law in conservative states with low standards for libel, it would be a disaster for press freedom.

The plagiarism scandal surrounding Gorsuch shows that he's not much of an original thinker, preferring to cobble together other people's work. Gorsuch praised Scalia as a "lion of the law" and was chosen by Trump explicitly as a follower of Scalia's ideas. And Scalia was the leading jurist in the country to criticize constitutional protections for the press against libel lawsuits.

In 2011, Scalia told the Aspen Institute 2011 Washington Ideas Forum that traditional libel law protected people against false statements, but "New York Times v. Sullivan just cast that aside because the Court thought in modern society, it'd be a good idea if the press could say a lot of stuff about public figures without having to worry."

In 2012, Scalia told Charlie Rose, "One of the evolutionary provisions that I abhor is New York Times v. Sullivan" because "that's not what the people understood when they ratified the First Amendment." According to Scalia, "Nobody thought that libel, even libel of public figures, was permitted, was sanctioned by the First Amendment."

The protections for the press against libel suits in the US seem like a formidable foundation, but they are actually quite imperiled. If the Supreme Court backtracks at all on libel law, then state laws on defamation will prevail, and plaintiffs like Trump, who hate the media, can go venue shopping, finding the most conservative state with the most lenient laws and judges. Gorsuch may be only the first of Trump's judicial appointees who will undermine these protections for freedom of the press.

The most important threat to freedom of the press comes from libel lawsuits, not legal victories, and Trump has perfected the technique of using libel suits as a tool of repression without ever winning one of them.

How Trump Uses Libel

Trump has used the threat of libel suits to intimidate reporters for most of his life. Early in his career, Trump bragged to reporter Wayne Barrett in 1978, "I've broken one writer. You and I've been friends and all, but if your story damages my reputation, I'll sue." In 1984, Trump sued the Chicago Tribune and its architecture critic Paul Gapp for $500 million after Gapp called Trump's plan to build the world's tallest building in Manhattan "one of the silliest things anyone could inflict on New York or any other city."

Trump's reputation for suing anybody who criticizes him has a powerful intimidating effect. When a casino industry analyst publicly stated how unlikely it was for the Taj Mahal to be profitable, Trump threatened "a major lawsuit" and got the analyst fired. Though the analyst was completely right, Trump has the money to pay lawyers for suits designed to silence any critics. It took more than two decades for the critical documentary "Trump: What's the Deal?" to be released because Trump's threat of lawsuits scared away broadcasters.

To Trump, libel lawsuits are simply a tool for negotiating better media coverage. When ABC planned a TV movie about the Trump family, Trump announced he would "definitely" sue before he ever saw it. However, he added, "But as long as it's accurate, I won't be suing them."

Defamation suits are also one of Trump's favorite mechanisms for revenge, since they are the only way he can sue people who haven't signed a contract with him. Trump sued reporter Timothy O'Brien for $5 billion because his 2009 book TrumpNation cited three unnamed sources who estimated Trump's net worth at only $150 million to $250 million. Trump openly explained his approach to libel in one of his books: "I don't need the money from winning the case -- I need to set the record straight and maybe make it harder for other disreputable writers to knock people for the fun or profit of it."

In 2006, Trump threatened to sue Rosie O'Donnell after she said he was bankrupt. Trump also threatened to sue MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell for suggesting he was worth less than $1 billion. Trump threatened to sue USA Today in 2012 because Al Neuharth wrote a column calling Trump a "clown."

Even parodies of Trump can spark legal threats. In 2013, the satirical newspaper The Onion printed a fake opinion piece authored by "Donald Trump" titled, "When You're Feeling Low, Just Remember I'll Be Dead in About 15 or 20 Years." A Trump attorney wrote, "This commentary goes way beyond defamation and if it is not removed I will take all actions to ensure that your actions will not go without consequences. Guide yourself accordingly."

After the Daily Beast published a July 2015 piece accurately reporting that "Ivana Trump once accused the real-estate tycoon of 'rape,' although she later clarified: not in the 'criminal sense,'" Trump lawyer Michael Cohen threatened to sue: "I will take you for every penny you still don't have.... I'm warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I'm going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting.... You write a story that has Mr. Trump's name in it, with the word 'rape,' and I'm going to mess your life up." When the Daily Beast was doing a story about one of his company's bankruptcies, Trump himself threatened them: "If you write this one, I'm suing you." Trump also indicated that he wanted to sue Rolling Stone and The Huffington Post to "put them out of business."

For the Trump family, libel suits have proven to be lucrative and effective. In April 2017, Melania Trump settled a libel suit with the Daily Mail, receiving a retraction and millions of dollars in a settlement after the newspaper claimed that she worked as an escort.

Evan Mascagni, policy director at the Public Participation Project, noted: "Donald Trump has repeatedly attempted to silence his critics over the years through frivolous lawsuits." The status quo of libel law is already a threat to freedom of press, giving rich celebrities the opportunity to punish the press even if few libel verdicts are ever upheld. Trump has mastered the technique of using the threat of libel lawsuits to silence his critics, despite never winning one.

Gorsuch (and the other conservatives who will form a majority on the Supreme Court) may not go as far as Scalia who wanted to overturn Sullivan and open up libel laws. But one Supreme Court decision casting doubt on wide parameters of "actual malice" for public figures could have a devastating effect on freedom of the press in practice. If the Sullivan precedent can be weakened, it would only take one conservative state to pass restrictive libel laws and become a center for "libel tourism."

It won't take a revolution in libel law to create a chilling effect. It will only take a little more legal uncertainty to make timid media corporations even more nervous about critical coverage and investigative reporting. There is no public policy issue where Trump has shown a more consistent and committed position than his desire to suppress freedom of the press by weakening libel law.

Categories: Latest News

One Hundred Days of Deconstruction: Part 2

Truthout - Tue, 04/25/2017 - 21:00

Beware of the enemy within. With respect to the US government, the ultimate inside job is well underway. Through key Cabinet appointments, Trump is gutting federal agencies that have improved citizens' daily lives in ways that most Americans will no longer take for granted. 

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

In her confirmation hearing, billionaire Betsy DeVos made the world painfully aware that she isn't an educator or expert in curriculum. She's not familiar with the decades-old Individuals with Disabilities Act, or the fraudulent for-profit colleges and graduate schools that exploit their students. She seems unconcerned about the funding crisis that confronts public education in America. But she has all of the credentials required to serve in the Trump administration: She's a billionaire with a mission to destroy the federal department she now heads.

To see more stories like this, visit Moyers & Company at Truthout.

Keeping Trump controversies in the family, DeVos' brother Erik Prince is the founder of the infamous Blackwater private security firm and was a $250,000 donor to the Trump campaign. In January, Prince met secretly in the Seychelles Islands with a Russian close to Putin. Russia's goal in the meeting, according to The Washington Post, was to establish a back-channel line of communication with the Trump administration.

As a lobbyist through her organization -- the nonprofit American Federation for Children -- DeVos led the effort to privatize public education in Michigan. The result: widespread abuses, dismal performance and no accountability for taxpayer funds flowing into the coffers of for-profit charter schools and management companies. In Michigan, DeVos helped to create a system that "leads the nation in the number of schools operated for profit, while other states have moved to curb the expansion of for-profit charters, or banned them outright," the Detroit Free Press observes. "[Michigan is] a laughingstock in national education circles, and a pariah among reputable charter school operators, who have not opened schools in Detroit because of the wild West nature of the educational landscape here."

Likewise, the Obama administration put pressure on for-profit colleges that exploit students and leave them burdened with debt. Trump, on the other hand, promised to reduce government intrusions and allow schools like Trump University to thrive. After Nov. 8, the stock of for-profit schools soared. DeVos is now fulfilling Trump's campaign promises

Among her advisers is Robert S. Eitel, a lawyer on unpaid leave of absence from his job at Bridgepoint Education, Inc. Bridgepoint, a for-profit college operator whose stock is up 40 percent since Nov. 9, faces multiple government investigations. One ended recently in a $30 million settlement with the federal Consumer Finance Protection Bureau over deceptive student lending.

Another DeVos adviser is Taylor Hansen, a former lobbyist for the for-profit sector's trade association that fought Obama's "gainful employment" rule, which imposes minimal accountability on for-profit colleges. On March 6, 2017, the Education Department delayed the gainful employment rule deadline. Ten days later, DeVos rescinded an Obama administration rule that prevented student guaranty agencies from charging exorbitant interest rates. Until Jan. 1, the largest such guaranty agency was United Student Aid Funds Inc., whose president and chief executive officer is William Hansen, Taylor's father. In a letter to DeVos, Sen. Elizabeth Warren cited ProPublica's report on Taylor's conflicts. On March 17, he resigned.

On April 11, DeVos reversed Obama administration guidelines aimed at protecting student borrowers and penalizing abusive loan servicing companies. Meanwhile, DeVos' agenda to clear the field for private education profiteers revealed itself in Trump's proposed budget: It would reduce Department of Education funding by 14 percent. Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, lamented, "This budget takes a meat cleaver to public education."

Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price

Tom Price is an orthopedic surgeon who seems to have forgotten his profession's seminal creed, "First, do no harm." As a Georgia congressman, Price was among the most prominent critics of Obamacare, which has provided more than 20 million citizens with health insurance that they otherwise would not have. As the Secretary of Health and Human Services, he is now working to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

On March 7, Price wrote Congress to express support for the Republican repeal effort. By then, Trump's campaign promise of "health insurance for all" had devolved into Rep. Paul Ryan's notion of "universal access" in the form of subsidies that would cover only a fraction of the premium cost for those most in need. (But it did have a nice tax break for the wealthy.) The Congressional Budget Office estimated that under the Ryan/Trump/Price plan, 14 million Americans would lose coverage immediately; by 2026, the total would rise to 24 million.

Trump, Price and Ryan failed in their first assault on the Affordable Care Act, but they'll be back. Watch for Price to issue rules and regulations that try to push Obamacare over a cliff. He'll work at accomplishing administratively what Trump and Ryan could not achieve legislatively. Meanwhile, they and fellow Trump Party members push false narratives about "exploding premiums" when only 3 percent of Americans experience the individual rate increases they cite. They talk about Obamacare's "implosion" due to insurers are leaving markets, but don't mention that the Republicans -- especially Sen. Marco Rubio -- sabotaged the "risk corridor" program that reimbursed insurer losses for high-risk citizens. And they don't acknowledge the latest studies showing that their "death spiral" rhetoric is simply a lie -- unless Trump's policies make it happen.

The Trump/Price impact on women's health issues is becoming clear. On April 13, Trump signed a law aimed at eliminating federal funding for Planned Parenthood (after Vice President Mike Pence had cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate). As for medical research, forget it. Trump's proposed budget would cut HHS funding (and its National Institutes of Health) by almost 20 percent.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Jeff Sessions is just the person to send the federal agency charged with the pursuit of justice on a one-way ride back to a time of unspeakable injustice. In 1985 he led the prosecution of three African-American voter rights activists for voter fraud. As the US attorney for the southern district of Alabama, Sessions lost that case. Ruling that his theory was contrary to election law and the Constitution, the judge threw out many of the counts and a jury acquitted the defendants of everything else. A year later, even the Republican-controlled Senate considered Sessions too racist to become a federal judge after President Reagan nominated him.

In December 2016, a Trump transition team member told The New York Times that if Sessions had it to do over, he'd bring the 1985 voter rights case again. In his January 2017 confirmation hearing, he echoed that sentiment in response to Sen. Al Franken's questions about Trump's bogus voter fraud claims about millions of illegal votes for Hillary Clinton. Sessions equivocated, but the "voter fraud" mantra has now become an excuse for a new round of voter suppression efforts.

Once confirmed, Sessions went to work quickly on his mission to turn back the clock. On Feb. 22, his department coordinated with Devos' to rescind the Obama administration's restroom rule protecting transgender students. Shortly thereafter, the US Supreme Court reversed its earlier decision to hear a case on transgender rights and returned it to the lower courts in light of the Trump administration's new guidance.

On Feb. 23, Sessions issued a memo reversing the Obama administration's directive to phase out privately run prisons. Obama's order had come after a scathing government audit highlighting safety and security problems in private prisons. Sessions's move was good news for the corporations that run those institutions, which have been reliable Republican campaign donors.

On Feb. 27, the Department of Justice reversed the Obama administration's six-year challenge to Texas' voter-ID law. In 2016, a federal appeals court had ruled that the law discriminated against minority voters. But under Sessions, the Justice Department did a 180-degree about-face.

On March 17, the Justice Department filed a brief seeking to restructure the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which secured a $30 million settlement against for-profit college operator Bridgepoint (the same firm whose chief compliance officer is now on unpaid leave as a Betsy DeVos adviser). Trump now seeks unrestricted power to fire the CFPB director.

On March 31, Sessions ordered a review of all reform agreements with troubled police departments nationwide. The Justice Department's former chief of special litigation, which oversaw investigations into 23 police departments including New Orleans, Cleveland, and Ferguson, Missouri, called Sessions' announcement "terrifying" because it raised "the question of whether, under the current attorney general, the Department of Justice is going to walk away from its obligation to ensure that law enforcement across the country is following the Constitution."

On April 11, Sessions declared the dawn of "the Trump era" in immigration. In addition his earlier threat to deprive sanctuary cities of federal funds, he has ordered the hiring of "border security coordinators" for all 94 US attorneys offices, emphasized deportation for non-violent offenses, and promised a surge in the appointment of immigration judges to accelerate the flow of immigrants out of the country. Never mind that fewer than 3 percent of the undocumented have committed felonies -- less than the 6 percent for the overall population.

Categories: Latest News

Internet Activists Will Fight Team Cable’s Puppet FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Defend Net Neutrality

Commondreams - Tue, 04/25/2017 - 10:39
Fight for the Future

Several media outlets report that Ajit Pai, former Verizon lawyer and new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), will announce his plan to ignore the voices of nearly 4 million people and slash the Title II based net neutrality protections that prevent Internet Service Providers from discriminating against, censoring, or slowing down websites.

Categories: Latest News

The Flint Water Crisis: Three Years Too Long

Commondreams - Tue, 04/25/2017 - 10:31
Progress Michigan

Today marks the three-year anniversary of the switch to the Flint River as a water source, which was part of bottom-line focused emergency management that contributed to the Flint Water Crisis. For three years, little has been done for the residents of Flint, who continue to struggle without access to clean, safe, and affordable water, because of callous indifference from the state’s elected officials.

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