Latest News

NAACP Statement on Steve Bannon’s Removal from White House

Commondreams - Fri, 08/18/2017 - 14:19

The NAACP, the nation’s oldest social justice organization, released this statement following the removal of Senior White House Strategist and known white supremacist Steve Bannon from President Trump’s administration. 



Categories: Latest News

Court Upholds New York State’s Rejection of the Constitution Pipeline

Commondreams - Fri, 08/18/2017 - 12:08

Today, The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC)’s decision to block a 124-mile natural gas pipeline project from moving forward in New York State, stating the plaintiffs had “no basis.” 

Categories: Latest News

UltraViolet Statement on the Firing of Steve Bannon

Commondreams - Fri, 08/18/2017 - 11:02

Statement from Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of UltraViolet, in response to news of Bannon’s firing:

"Good riddance Steve. The larger and more urgent crisis however is that a white supremacist sympathizer is the president of the United States."

Categories: Latest News

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Reacts To The Departure Of Steve Bannon From The White House

Commondreams - Fri, 08/18/2017 - 10:57
Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, issued the following statement Friday on the departure of White House chief strategist Steve Bannon:

Categories: Latest News

Civil Society Urges Trade Decision-Makers to Consider the Impacts of NAFTA on Digital Rights

Commondreams - Fri, 08/18/2017 - 09:45
Open Media

As negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) continue in Washington, D.C., more than two dozen civil society organizations from Mexico, Canada and the United States have released a joint statement (English / Español) on transparency, digital rights, and NAFTA.

Categories: Latest News

Court Decision in Louisiana Voting Rights Case Changes the Course of History for Black Voters for the Better

Commondreams - Fri, 08/18/2017 - 09:33
NAACP Legal Defense Fund

Yesterday, a federal district court ruled in favor of the Terrebonne Parish NAACP and four Black voters, represented by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), the law firm of Cozen O’Connor, and longtime Louisiana civil rights attorney, Ronald L. Wilson, in an important voting rights case.

Categories: Latest News

Netherlands Kills 300,000 Hens After Eggs Found Contaminated

Commondreams - Fri, 08/18/2017 - 09:21
Mercy for Animals

More than 17 countries across Europe and in Asia trashed millions of eggs after news broke that the eggs contained fipronil, an insecticide commonly used to kill fleas, lice, mites, and ticks. In the EU it has been banned for use on farms.

Netherlands farmers have already killed more than 300,000 hens. Several million more may be killed at over 150 companies throughout the country.

Categories: Latest News

Analysis: Nevada National Monuments Targeted by Oil and Gas Speculators

Commondreams - Fri, 08/18/2017 - 08:43
Center for Biological Diversity

Oil and gas speculators have aggressively targeted two Nevada national monuments under threat of elimination by President Trump, an analysis released today by the Center for Biological Diversity reveals.

Federal documents show that speculators blanketed Gold Butte and Basin and Range national monuments with requests to have nearly 640,000 acres offered for oil and gas leasing — and hard-rock mining claims — in the years before they were designated by President Obama.

Categories: Latest News

Economic Update: Economics as Deception

Truthout - Fri, 08/18/2017 - 07:27

This week's episode discusses how millennials have fallen behind their parents in wealth, poor US medical outcomes, deepening German car scandals and why a Chinese T-shirt-maker investment in Arkansas teaches frightening economic lessons. The episode also includes an interview with Professor Michael Hudson on "Junk Economics."

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

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Categories: Latest News

Farm-to-School Movement Fights for a Foothold in Corn Belt Cafeterias

Truthout - Fri, 08/18/2017 - 07:10

As the movement for a local and ethical food system continues to gain traction, school food is slowly but surely becoming a focus in the fight for change. 

School districts serve lunch to 30.4 million students a day through the USDA's National School Lunch Program (NSLP). The NSLP provides cash subsidies and USDA foods to enrolled schools, which in turn provide free and low-cost meals for qualifying students. In total, meals served through the NSLP amount to as many as 5 billion per year.

Due to the program's scale and the influence of Big Ag interests, the lion's share of food served through the NSLP has typically been sourced from large-scale producers, transported from afar and heavily processed. The resulting meals are often less than nutritious. In 2009, the ground beef the USDA bought from five major meatpackers and distributed through the program failed to meet the quality standards of most fast food restaurants.

But two initiatives, the farm-to-school movement and the Good Food Purchasing Policy (GFPP), a nonprofit-backed policy initiative, are challenging this lunchroom reality, and working to transform the food chain status quo. 

The numbers look promising: the Chicago Public School Board voted to implement the GFPP in July, the first city district outside of California to do so, and 42 percent of school districts nationwide are participating in farm-to-school programming, according to the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census.

"Farm-to-school looks different in every community," says Helen Dombalis, executive director of the National Farm-to-School Network. "[But] it's a nationwide effort that we need to undertake ... to regionalize supply chains, all the way from production to aggregation to processing to distribution."

Larger school districts have pulled off impressive food purchasing feats in recent years, suggesting that changes to the supply chain are already underway. But on the ground in Corn Belt states like Illinois, where only 6 percent of the food consumed by residents is produced locally, smaller school districts face obstacles to participating in this vision of a regionalized food system. Rural America In These Times spoke with several school food providers and experts about these obstacles, and about the local movement can chip away at corporate power in the food chain.

The Long Road to Local

Getting fresh produce into the cafeteria of the Williamsville-Sherman Community Unit Schools District (WCUSD) has been a challenge, says Pauline Osman, the district's dietician. The district sits 20 miles northeast of Springfield, Ill., and began pushing for substantive changes in the cafeteria in the 2012–13 school year.

Last year, Osman bought directly from a local farmer, but found that the cost was high and the logistics of transportation complicated. "We paid a premium for the farmer's market produce, even though I worked with one farmer and picked up the tomatoes myself," says Osman. Unfortunately, she says, many of the tomatoes spoiled quickly because wet ground delayed the harvest.

Williamsville, Ill. (Map:

For now, the district will look to the high school's brand new greenhouse for tomatoes, and perhaps other vegetables. While the development of a horticultural program at WCUSD is exciting, the produce will likely contribute a negligible portion of the food the cafeteria serves over the course of the year.

The district's main food distributor, Central Illinois Produce, sources much of its produce from farms and vendors in California, and one vegetable farm in Wisconsin -- regional, maybe, but not local. (Their "Illinois products" page, on the other hand, features yogurts, salad dressing, prepared soups, and El Milagro tortillas.) WCUSD has so far been unable to get Michigan-grown apples for a Farm-to-School initiative through its distributor, but hopes that they will be able to in coming years.

Vendors and distributors have the greatest potential to shift purchasing practices, according to some local school food experts. "Vendors have the capacity to purchase in large enough quantities to really shift the supply chain," says the National Farm-to-School Network's Dombalis. Once vendors start making regional bulk purchases, she says, farmers, food hubs, processors and aggregators will catch on, too.

Thirty miles to the west of Springfield, the Jacksonville School District is purchasing 27 percent of its food "locally" through its distributors. In the 2014–15 school year they were able to select regionally produced foods through several different distributors, in addition to purchasing their bread and milk locally.

Jacksonville, Ill., School District 117. (Photo: Jacksonville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau)

Like WCUSD, however, Jacksonville has also encountered difficulties purchasing directly from local farmers. While Jacksonville was once able to purchase some produce through a farm stand, the district's food service director Joyce Hiler says, the stand closed several years ago and they haven't found an alternative.

"Maybe we have more [produce] in our area that people are growing," says Hiler, "but I don't know how close any local providers would be -- as far as getting the product in a timely manner. There's just a lot of logistics to work out."

As distributors and school districts in central Illinois, like Jacksonville and WCUSD, find their footing in a shifting food chain, the National Farm-to-School Network is working to provide districts with support. Education is half the battle, says Lydia Van Slyke, the state lead for the Illinois Farm-to-School Network, particularly getting kids to realize that local produce simply tastes better.

In 2015, the Illinois Network piloted a "Great Apple Crunch" program, which partners schools with apple-producing farms in the larger region. On a designated day in October, the schools have a special celebration, and the kids all crunch into an apple at the same time. "These are all kids who get apples presented to them all the time because they're cheap and easy and usually mealy, and taste terrible and have been sitting in storage in Washington state for a year," Van Slyke says.

Other programs piloted by the Illinois Farm-to-School Network include the "Harvest of the Month," which provides support for schools to partner with farms once a month to get a locally available fruit or vegetable onto kids' plates. The students do "taste tests" of the produce and can visit the source farm to learn about the growing process. The relationships schools establish with farms for this monthly purchase, Van Slyke says, can hopefully serve as a stepping-stone to more regular purchasing from local vendors.

Nurturing Good Will With Corporate Dollars

The Illinois Farm-to-School Network has an ambitious goal of engaging every Illinois school district in a local food event by 2020. As of 2015, around 24 percent of school districts statewide were participating in farm-to-school programming, with 11 percent reporting plans to start in the future. (Thirty-nine percent of districts did not respond to the 2015 USDA Farm-to-School Census, so the percentage of participating schools may in fact be marginally higher.)

But the National Farm-to-School Network is not the only food-oriented group looking to reach rural school districts.

Since 2011, Monsanto has been sinking funds into rural school districts. Through an education fund called "America's Farmers Grow Rural Education," Monsanto lets local farmers nominate rural school districts to receive $10,000 or $25,000 grants toward advancing math and science curricula. By 2014, the fund was giving grants to as many as 15 rural Illinois districts.

Since 2011, as part of its "America's Farmers Grow Rural Education" initiative, Monsanto has been issuing grants in the form of photogenic oversized checks to rural schools across the country. (Photo: The Skyhawk Trail)

Monsanto's funding reaches beyond school districts and into the heart of rural communities. Monsanto also offers agriculture scholarships and directs small grants toward community organizations, like 4-H groups or volunteer fire departments. While such funding is undoubtedly welcomed, Monsanto's underlying intentions should be interrogated. Monsanto has an interest not in helping schools think innovatively about their place within the food system, but in preserving the status quo established in rural regions: intensive large-scale farms, corn and soy monoculture and reliance upon the herbicides and genetically modified seed they manufacture.

In Illinois, upwards of three-quarters of all land under cultivation is planted with corn and soy. Although corn acreage has fallen by one million since 2011, soy acreage has risen by a staggering 1.1 million acres in the same window -- 93 percent of which is grown with genetically modified seed. Approximately three of Illinois' 10 million acres of soybeans are RoundUp Ready 2 Xtend, a dicamba- and glyphosate-resistant soybean. Although illegal to apply to summertime soybean crops, the herbicide Dicamba is seeing heightened usage this year after Monsanto released its new soybean strain. Dicamba drift has damaged 2.5 million acres of soybeans across the Midwest this year -- which will likely force many farmers to switch to the resistant strain in time for next growing season. Furthermore, 44 percent of Illinois grains are grown for export to other countries and most of the money in the agricultural industry does not remain in the community.

Estimates of dicamba-injured soybean acreage as reported by state extension weed scientists (as of July 19, 2017). Official dicamba-related injury investigations by state departments of agriculture, however, have only reported 1,411. (Source:

According to data from Feeding America's Map the Meal Gap project, the most food insecure counties are in the central and southern regions of the state, where corn and soy dominate the landscape. The same counties where school systems are having the most trouble procuring local foods.

An influx of corporate money can influence the ways in which residents think about the food system and the role corporations play in maintaining that system. In northwestern Arkansas, near the corporate headquarters of Tyson and Walmart, food workers and residents have seen firsthand how difficult it can be to garner opposition to harmful corporate practices when the same corporations are supplying much-needed funding for schools and community organizations.

"Tyson and Walmart gave away so much money to the community, to nonprofits, to churches, to schools, to universities, to museums, to everything," says Magaly Licolli, executive director of the Northwest Arkansas Workers Justice Coalition (NWAWJC), based in Springdale, Ark. Like Monsanto, Tyson Foods, the world's second largest chicken processor, has a robust grant program.  "So it was really hard for us to gain the allies here, locally, because people either respected the corporations or they are afraid to stand up to the corporations," she says.

Magaly Licolli, executive director of the Northwest Arkansas Workers Justice Coalition. (Image: YouTube / 40-29 News)

Licolli is leading efforts in Fayetteville, a town near Springdale, to implement the GFPP. The policy provides municipalities with the resources to evaluate the companies from which they source food according to five different criteria: animal welfare, environmental sustainability, nutrition, proximity to distribution site and fair labor practices. While the GFPP applies not just to a city's school districts but also to major municipal institutions, it's school districts that are often a city's largest food purchaser.

The NWAWJC first became interested in the GFPP after it helped to document horrific labor practices in Tyson-operated chicken processing plants. After seeing how different interest groups -- animal welfare groups, workers rights groups and environmental sustainability groups -- came together to secure a promise from Tyson to raise wages and security standards, Licolli thought the GFPP could help other cities gain leverage over large food corporations.

"The good thing about the GFPP is that you force the corporation to follow these standards, because they need to keep the contract [with the school] and they need to keep the profit," says Licolli. "And it's not only Tyson, but all the suppliers the school district gets from."

The GFPP has proven itself a catalyst for change in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the first to implement the policy. Since its adoption in 2012, the school district has increased its local produce purchases (defined as within 200 miles) from 10 percent to between 50 and 72 percent. More recently, the district declined to renew a contract with Tyson because they did not meet the criteria for employee welfare.

But the Golden State grows nearly half of the nation's produce, and the LAUSD is the nation's second-largest public school system -- in other words, they already have purchasing power and a produce network in place. It remains to be seen how the policy could effect change for smaller districts in the Midwest and beyond, where budgets are pinched and fresh produce is not as readily available.

(Source: USDA, Economic Research Service using data from the department's Food and Nutrition Service)

As the NWAWJC gears up for its campaign, however, Licolli is optimistic that their work will begin to lay the foundation for a more equitable food system. "We really want to have people who represent all different values: farmers of color, food workers, environmentalists," she says.

"We are like guinea pigs trying to explore how this campaign will be accepted here in rural areas. A lot of people are working toward all of these values that the campaign embraces, so we just have to make sure that we are working together."

Categories: Latest News

Plantations Were Prisons: An Interview With Law Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell

Truthout - Fri, 08/18/2017 - 06:48

Also see: Will Altering the 13th Amendment Bring Liberation to the Incarcerated 2.3 Million?

On Saturday, Aug. 19, ex-prisoners and activists from across the US will gather in Washington, DC, for the Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March. There will also be solidarity events taking place in states including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas.

Sponsored by the iamWE Prison Advocacy Network, the march will focus on the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, which was ratified in 1865 following the end of the Civil War. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery except for prisoners, stating: "Neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

The march organizers are calling for the 13th Amendment enslavement clause to be amended to abolish legalized slavery. They are also calling for a congressional hearing on the 13th Amendment's enslavement clause and its role in producing the world's largest prison population.

To draw attention to the march and its demands, Angola 3 News published this interview with Angela A. Allen-Bell, a law professor at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and an expert in restorative justice and civil and human rights. Angola 3 News is a project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3, which works to draw attention to human rights abuses at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a former plantation-turned-prison farm operated by the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. The prison was nicknamed "Angola" after the home country of many of the enslaved Africans who worked the plantation.

Bell opens the interview by discussing her recent Mercer Law Review article on Louisiana's criminal jury system, which in some instances allows non-unanimous verdicts that bring sentences of hard labor, and how that relates to institutionalized white supremacy in the US justice system. Oregon is the only other state that allows non-unanimous verdicts in some criminal cases.

"When it comes to African Americans, we have been incarcerated from the time we arrived in this country," Bell says. "Plantations were prisons. The change from incarceration on a plantation, to incarceration in custodial institutions, to incarceration where there are no physical limitations, but where one exists in a state of civic and political oppression, in my view, is nothing more than semantics. Mass incarceration started when slavery started."

Angola 3 News: Your recent article published by the Mercer Law Review, entitled "How The Narrative About Louisiana's Non-Unanimous Criminal Jury System Became a Person of Interest in the Case Against Justice in the Deep South" examines "instances where twelve-person juries are allowed to cast judgement with fewer than twelve individuals voting in favor of a finding of guilt in non-capital, criminal cases involving hard labor sentences."

Can you please explain what your critique of this policy is, and how it relates to your broader critique of institutionalized white supremacy in the US criminal justice system?

Angela A. Allen-Bell: In felony cases that are not death penalty cases, Louisiana seats twelve jurors, but allows a conviction upon the vote of only ten of those jurors.

In 1803, when Louisiana became a territory, unanimous verdicts were required. Non-unanimous verdicts were introduced in Louisiana after slavery ended. This Jim Crow era law made its way to the Constitution of 1898 after a convention of all white males expressed that their:  "mission was … to establish the supremacy of the white race."

The change from unanimity was to: (1) obtain quick convictions that would facilitate the use of free prisoner labor (vis-à-vis Louisiana's convict leasing system) as a replacement for the recent loss of free slave labor;  and (2) ensure African American jurors would not use their voting power to block convictions of other African Americans. In my view, this law:

• Creates an arbitrary system whereby defendants of 48 states are afforded greater 6th Amendment protections than defendants in Louisiana and Oregon, the only two states that allow the use of criminal, non-unanimous juries.

• Establishes an illogical disparity in 6th Amendment protections between state courts and federal courts since all federal courts require unanimous juries (even federal courts in Louisiana and Oregon).

• Contributes to wrongful convictions.

• Ignores the credible research on group thinking, which suggests that unanimous verdicts are more reliable, more careful and more thorough.

• Creates a legal means for prosecutors to discriminate when it comes to jury practices by allowing them to circumvent the US Supreme Court's 1986 Batson v. Kentucky decision, which prohibits prosecutors from using race as a reason not to select someone for jury service. 

• Contributes to the creation of an automated justice system whose aim is speed as opposed to justice and genuine concern for public safety.

• Ignores longstanding 6th Amendment tenants calling for unanimity dating back to the enactment of the 6th Amendment and the time of the Framers.

• Allows different standards between the states and the federal government for the protection of fundamental rights in defiance of the Bill of Rights, which mandates otherwise. 

• Undermines public trust in the judicial system.

• Contributes to the oppression of classes of people.

• Contributes to mass incarceration.

We often think of slavery in racial terms. The scale of slavery is often overlooked. When slavery was abolished, it was the largest financial asset in the American economy. This is significant because it speaks to the coveted nature of the system and hints to the veraciousness of the appetite that would have existed to maintain it.

Laws such as the 13th Amendment and Louisiana's non-unanimous jury law create the appearance of legitimacy in government while simultaneously serving as legal blueprints for the oppression of certain people. They were written to ensure that African Americans could not achieve social or political equality. These laws represent the legislation of oppression and white supremacy. Justice and oppression can't coexist. Therein lies the problem.  

The historical record is replete with examples of this taking form under the cover of law, policy and/or practice. For example, following the end of segregation in Louisiana, the legislature created a Segregation Committee and an Association of Citizens Councils. These bodies were to work in close cooperation with the legislature to preserve white supremacy. One of the things they did was set up programs for parish voting registrars where registrars were trained on how to promote white political control.

Mississippi's legislature created a Sovereignty Commission for using legislation to maintain white supremacy. Alabama added language to its constitution that prevented people from voting if they were convicted of certain enumerated crimes. The crimes that they included in the legislation came from conviction statistics. They used those statistics to select crimes that African Americans were mostly convicted of and then those crimes were put into the constitutional enumeration with the intent of disenfranchising African Americans.

I encourage people to stop viewing these injustices as solitary wrongs. They are so much more than bad laws or bad policies. Justice seekers must view these laws within the context of the system they were designed in. Fixing these laws will accomplish a very narrow goal:  one bad law gone. I discourage a fix. I encourage a solution.

The real issue is the system that plays host to such injustices and human rights abuses. The focus of this generation has to be on systemic change. This is the only way to finally confront the complex layers of institutionalized racism and supremacy in the criminal justice system.

Since the late 1980s, Congressman John Conyers has repeatedly introduced H.R. 40, which calls for the establishment of a "Commission to Study the Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act." What's important about this legislation is the aspect that would create a federal commission to review the institution of slavery, the resulting racial and economic discrimination against African Americans, and the impact of these forces on African Americans who are living today. Studies are routinely done in this country concerning lesser matters. It makes logical sense for the government to devote its resources to fully acknowledging the far-reaching impact that slavery has had on us -- all of us.

Since slavery ended, there have been too many instances of law and policy being used as an agent of repression. And it is law and policy that has defined our economic, political and social existence. At what point have we collectively confronted this reality and what it has done to the infrastructure of our government and our legal system? The upcoming march wisely seeks to confront this void.

What is the current status of the non-unanimous jury rule in Louisiana? Are there currently any challenges to it in the courts or elsewhere?

The law remains in the criminal code and in the state constitution. It continues to be championed and used by many prosecutors on a regular basis. At the same time, there are continuous defense challenges in Louisiana (and Oregon) state courts. Louisiana courts render predictable and ritualistic rulings that maintain the status quo.

On rare occasions when Louisiana courts have agreed to review the merits of non-unanimous jury challenges, they harmoniously declare that the solution to this injustice is to place a toilsome burden of proof on criminal defendants. Notably, on February 9, 2017, in the case of State v. Lee, Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Arthur Hunter ruled that proof of disproportionate impact requires the testimony of a statistician or social scientist who has:

"[P]reformed a peer-reviewed study which looked at raw data concerning jury verdicts. This data would have been divided based on unanimous and non-unanimous juries. The data then would have been analyzed for guilty, not guilty, hung juries, and overturned verdicts. The data would also be teased apart based on race, gender, and even religion…To show disparate impact, the court needs to see a full-scale study which looks at the numbers to provide conclusive demographic data…"

There are ongoing efforts by Oregon and Louisiana defense attorneys to have this issue reviewed by the US Supreme Court (who last spoke on this issue in its flawed, 1972 Apodaca v. Oregon plurality opinion). A mounting grassroots advocacy effort led by the ACLU of Louisiana, the Innocence Project New Orleans, myself and a few other local lawyers and exonerees devoted to the dismantling of this law has also formed.

In your Mercer Law Review article and earlier in this interview, you present the historical context for the non-unanimous jury rule by citing how the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, except for prisoners. The 13th Amendment is a central focus of the upcoming Millions for Prisoners Human Rights March in Washington DC August 19.

In your opinion, in order to understand our present circumstances, how significant are these historical origins of the US prison system? What is the legacy of the laws criminalizing former slaves, known as the Black Codes and the convict lease system that accompanied the 13th Amendment's legalization of slavery for prisoners?

After Abraham Lincoln was elected, Southern states started to secede from the Union.  The Civil War ended in May 1865. The 13th Amendment was ratified in December 1865. The 13th Amendment was an attempt by Congress to get those Southern states back. Thus, the exceptions clause. The primary architect of the legislation was a slaveholder. In his recent book, Slaves of the State, Dennis Childs poignantly describes this legislative charade. He writes:

"The grandest emancipatory gesture in US history contained a rhetorical trapdoor, a loophole of state repression, allowing for the continued cohabitation of liberal bourgeois law and racial capitalist terror; the interested invasion of 'objective,' 'color-blind,' and 'duly' processed legality by summary justice and white supremacist custom; and the constitutional sanctioning of state-borne prison-industrial genocide." 

The legacy is that they all contributed to the continuation of the conditions of slavery.  They collectively ensured that slavery never ended, but merely changed forms. These historical origins help us understand the current state of affairs as much as they underscore the significance of the upcoming march, which seeks to eradicate these structural defects in our "injustice" system.

You write that your Mercer Law Review article "advocates against impersonal, mechanized systems of justice that are built upon defendants, dockets, cases, quotas, formulas and rapidity. This article calls for the justice community to see cases in a highly personal way -- to see cases as stories written about humans."

In this same vein, even human rights activists can perhaps get so caught up in the statistics of injustice (like mass incarceration and the racially discriminatory so-called "war on drugs.") that we can downplay or even forget the human story behind the statistics. What is that story? What do you think is the US prison system's impact on prisoners, prisoners' families, and the broader human community?

Nothing about who we are as a mass incarcerator should be viewed as a current event. When it comes to African Americans, we have been incarcerated from the time we arrived in this country. Plantations were prisons. The change from incarceration on a plantation, to incarceration in custodial institutions, to incarceration where there are no physical limitations, but where one exists in a state of civic and political oppression, in my view, is nothing more than semantics. Mass incarceration started when slavery started. And, since that time, African Americans have experienced some form of imprisonment -- the differences are in the degrees.

The notion of incarcerating people as a form of individual punishment did not always exist. The practice was to convict then punish, not to confine. Death and corporal punishment were used extensively before opposition to the death penalty formed. The practice of using physical structures to separate people from society came as an alternative to this.

These institutions (along with immigrant detention centers) have transcended the Southern racist and exploitative agenda and morphed into incubators for capitalist contrivances. At this moment in America, there are over 2.2 million incarcerated people. Incarceration has increased by more than 500% in the last forty years. My research does not offer justification for such sweeping efforts to lock people up. What it does show is that laws, policies, racism, bias, unjust practices, abuses and a nearly automated judicial system has led to the creation of what I liken to an organized human trafficking system where poor people are ushered through courts on virtual conveyor belts and funneled into the unyielding grip of custodial detention and state supervision.

As people understand this, they will approach conversations about prisons and convictions with caution and begin to develop the capacity to see inmates as something more than just "defendants" or "criminals." This matters because perception and characterization shapes our level of empathy.

In no way am I suggesting that every prisoner is free of culpability and is undeservingly in custody. I don't feel that way at all. I am suggesting that the system is so inherently flawed and so riddled with bias (both implicit and explicit) that it often treats the innocent and the guilty the same and, once in it, the system engulfs a person and often fast-tracks them to becoming their worse self.

Prisons are breeding grounds for sickness, recidivism, exploitation, cruelty and destruction. In their current form, they are not a good use of public dollars. With this appreciation, we can no longer dismiss conversations about prisoners. We can't rest on the notion that inmates put themselves there.

In this same vein, we must fight the overuse and abuse of solitary confinement, both in the general population and on death row. This system affords too much unchecked authority to prison officials. The harms far outweigh the benefits. The situation has been too well studied to be refuted at this point. Prolonged solitary confinement causes anxiety, depression, anger, cognitive disturbances, perceptual distortions, obsessive thoughts, paranoia, psychosis and a host of other medical and emotional challenges. It costs more. It is disproportionately used on minorities and vulnerable populations, such as the mentally ill and members of the LGBT community.

The march organizers are correct when they refer to solitary confinement as torture and torture as a human rights violation. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has declared it to be so.

This march represents a moment for people to see what prisons are as much as what they are not. Certainly, they are needed for public safety in some instances. But the scale of the situation in the United States far exceeds what is necessary for public safety.

Prisons create and ensure an underclass. Prisons provide a free labor base. Prisons destroy families and kill potential in people. Prisons provide profits to those who have a stake in them.

Categories: Latest News

Arsonist in Chief

Truthout - Thu, 08/17/2017 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

Trump's DOJ Demands Personal Info on 1.3 Million Visitors to "DisruptJ20" Inauguration Protest Website

Truthout - Thu, 08/17/2017 - 21:00

The Justice Department is demanding web hosting provider DreamHost turn over 1.3 million IP addresses of people who visited the website, which was used to organize the protests against President Trump's inauguration. The Justice Department is also seeking names, addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses and other information about the owners and subscribers of the website. More than 200 protesters were arrested during the Inauguration Day protests and are now facing decades in prison on trumped-up charges. We are joined by Nate Cardozo, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. His group is assisting DreamHost in its opposition to the government's search warrant.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Anne Frank Center: Trump's Personal Twitter Account Amplifies Hate and Should Be Suspended

Truthout - Thu, 08/17/2017 - 21:00

President Donald Trump continues to face outrage over his response to last weekend's deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where racism and anti-Semitism were on clear display. We speak with Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, which is calling on Twitter to suspend Trump's personal account, after branding him an accomplice to domestic terrorism.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Steve Bannon's Former Site Is the New Monarch of Right-Wing Media

Truthout - Thu, 08/17/2017 - 21:00

Breitbart News merchandise are for sale in the Exhibitor Hub during the first day of the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, February 23, 2017, in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

So in the midst of a national firestorm over neo-Nazis and neo-Confederates coming together under the banner of white nationalism to "Unite the Right" last weekend in Charlottesville, presidential adviser Steve Bannon, former publisher of Breitbart News, the self-proclaimed "platform of the alt-right," decided out of the blue to call up Robert Kuttner of the liberal American Prospect to chew the fat. Kuttner told Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi that he believes Bannon when he says he forgot to say it was off the record and that he really saw it as "a candid strategy talk with a comrade." Kuttner said:

[Bannon] simultaneously tries to make alliances with lefties on economic nationalism, while doubling down on the racist, anti-immigrant stuff, and assumes that people will naively work with him on selected issues and excuse his larger role. It's classic hubris.

If Bannon had been able to persuade his boss to tackle infrastructure right out of the gate when the Democrats were still reeling in disbelief, and if he had distanced himself from the worst elements of the right once he took office, that might even have worked. But that also would have required the boss to be someone other than who he is.

People have been focusing on Bannon's comments that the far right are "losers" who need to be crushed, and his taunting of the left, which he hopes will "keep talking about race" so Team Trumpists can win on economic nationalism. This is disingenuous to say the least. To the extent Bannon truly believes that the neo-Nazis are "losers," it's largely a matter of aesthetics. As Vice reporter Elle Reed explained on MSNBC on Wednesday, the "alt-right" is re-branding itself as the new fascism:

That means getting rid of swastikas because they call that a dead ideology so there's no point in bringing that out. They also want to cut out, as they call it, "white trash." They want to look like a middle-class movement with clean-cut, good-looking men. It's a movement focused on aesthetics. They want to look like successful people so that people want to join them.

When Bannon was the publisher of Breitbart News he oversaw the publication of the manifesto for what Taibbi describes as the" snooty, college-based wing of the racialist right Bannon leads … the thinking man's Nazi movement" called "The Establishment Conservative's Guide to the Alt-Right." Bannon knows which side his swastika is buttered on. Insulting the "low-IQ thugs" of the neo-fascist right may best be seen as his own version of Bill Clinton's Sistah Souljah moment.

Bannon's "outreach" to the American Prospect was a transparent attempt to exacerbate what he sees as the division on the left between economic populism and "identity politics." Perhaps he was under the weather or had had a few cocktails but Kuttner was not born yesterday, and saw through his ploy. Choosing this moment to make such a pitch was ill-timed to say the least.

But if Bannon's stategic prowess is overstated, his propaganda chops are not. At that he is very, very good and extremely influential. On Wednesday Robert Faris, Ethan Zuckerman and a group of scholars at Harvard's Berkman Center and MIT's Media Lab released their full study about the effects of media, particularly online media, on the last election. If there is a superstar among all the media outlets it was Breitbart News.

This is a fascinating finding considering all the money and amplification that Fox News and talk radio -- led by the Big Kahuna, Rush Limbaugh -- had created over the years. But it seems the right was looking for something fresh and found it in Breitbart, which, according to the study, was the single most important information hub for the right wing on the internet during the presidential campaign.

If you are still scratching your head that someone as ill-prepared and outrageously unfit as Donald Trump could get tens of millions of people to vote for his, the study explains why:

Our clearest and most significant observation is that the American political system has seen not a symmetrical polarization of the two sides of the political map, but rather the emergence of a discrete and relatively insular right-wing media ecosystem whose shape and communications practices differ sharply from the rest of the media ecosystem, ranging from the center-right to the left. Right-wing media were centered on Breitbart and Fox News, and they presented partisan-disciplined messaging, which was not the case for the traditional professional media that were the center of attention across the rest of the media sphere. The right-wing media ecosystem partly insulated its readers from nonconforming news reported elsewhere and moderated the effects of bad news for Donald Trump's candidacy.

While we observe highly partisan and clickbait news sites on both sides of the partisan divide, especially on Facebook, on the right these sites received amplification and legitimation through an attention backbone that tied the most extreme conspiracy sites like Truthfeed, Infowars, through the likes of Gateway Pundit and Conservative Treehouse, to bridging sites like the Daily Caller and Breitbart that legitimated and normalized the paranoid style that came to typify the right-wing ecosystem in the 2016 election

Trump pulled off his electoral miracle for a lot of reasons. But the data is clear: He couldn't have done it without Steve Bannon and Breitbart.

According to this New York Times profile of Breitbart editor Alex Marlow, the site is now suffering from growing pains, having lost some of its bigger names over the past year due to controversy over its editorial direction in the Trump era. Marlow wrings his hands over the perception that Bannon is still directing the site's editorial line for his own nefarious purposes to wield power in the White House. He also insists Breitbart is moving beyond the hyper-partisan, bomb-throwing style that got the site where it is and made it so influential.

Perhaps the Breitbart management needs a new slogan. I hear "Fair and Balanced" is available.

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Categories: Latest News

Drop the Charges: Organizing to Protect the Durham Freedom Fighters

Truthout - Thu, 08/17/2017 - 21:00

White supremacy is institutionalized in North Carolina and we have to let them know that we aren't going to let them push their agenda anymore, says an activist involved in mobilizing the protests there. As a labor union leader, he has also been organizing workers to fight the white supremacist anti-union efforts.

Activist Takiyah Thompson speaks at the Durham World Workers Party protest where a statue of a Confederate soldier was pulled down in Durham, North Carolina, August 14, 2017. (Photo: Rodney Dunning)

Since election night 2016, the streets of the US have rung with resistance. People all over the country have woken up with the conviction that they must do something to fight inequality in all its forms. But many are wondering what it is they can do. In this ongoing "Interviews for Resistance" series, experienced organizers, troublemakers and thinkers share their insights on what works, what doesn't, what has changed and what is still the same. Today's interview is the 65th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

In the wake of the white supremacist attacks in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend, protests have sprung up around the country. In North Carolina, a place laden with its own history of white supremacist violence, protesters pulled down a statue of a Confederate soldier outside of the Durham County Courthouse. Arrests and raids on activists' homes followed; so have further protests in solidarity with those who took down the statue, including, on Thursday morning, an attempt by hundreds to march on the jail and turn themselves in to protest the arrests and call for charges to be dropped.

We asked Angaza Laughinghouse, a long-time organizer in the area, to share his thoughts on the protests, the long fight against white supremacy in the South and workers' role in that struggle.

Sarah Jaffe: One of the things that is striking right now is how many people forget how close the history of racial segregation is.

Angaza Laughinghouse: Me, it is my life experience. ... I am a long-time community activist and labor union leader. I'm the former president of North Carolina Public Service Workers Union. I was a founding member of Black Workers for Justice. Engaged in this whole fight against white supremacist actions since we've arrived here. I am from North Carolina. My parents are from Greenville, North Carolina. I grew up around the main streets [near] the demarcation line for apartheid right there in Greenville, North Carolina: Line Street and Boundary Street ... the demarcation line for Blacks and whites.

We had no public libraries in Greenville for the Black community. We couldn't cross over the line on Boundary Street to get to any of the facilities. No equal access to public facilities at all when I was growing up part of my life in Greenville, North Carolina.

In North Carolina, following the events in Charlottesville this weekend, people took it upon themselves to remove the Confederate statue in Durham. Tell us a little bit about what happened and the aftermath of that.

Well, obviously, people were angered Friday night when they saw those people marching around with those torches, those racist, white supremacist chants, and we knew right then and there that that couldn't happen without more people being engaged in this discussion and this fight to challenge this growing right-wing popular movement, this white supremacist movement. Discussion started that weekend. By the time Saturday rolled around, everybody was on the phone -- all the activists were -- [and sending] emails, texts communicating that this cannot stand without us responding to the death of our comrade there who was murdered, people who were injured.

Then, later on, people were communicating about the young Black man that was beaten [when] he went to the parking deck to retrieve his car. In that moment, people began talking about Sunday, that we'd have to mobilize across the State of North Carolina to tell them, to tell the world, that we weren't going to let these fascist Nazis, white supremacists, white nationalists just murder and injure and rally their forces to push this historic white supremacist outlook.

That Sunday we began planning the activity in Durham. We began planning, also, another activity in Raleigh. In Raleigh, we had a candlelight vigil in front of the Martin Luther King statue in the heart of the Black community. Nine hundred people gathered to, number one, mourn the death of our comrade who was murdered and 19 injured people. Durham, as you know, had the other activity. Initially we rallied to show some solidarity in action in terms of the freedom fighters that were attacked. It had a great impact on the community here. We talked about it.

I know for a fact that on December 3 of last year the Ku Klux Klan tried to march in Raleigh to celebrate Trump. Some of them heard about the thousands of people who were gathering in Raleigh and decided to do a quick drive through a small rural town called Roxboro, North Carolina. ... So, we are accustomed here in North Carolina to them raising their ugly heads, ugly hate. There has been a long history of it here in North Carolina.

After the rally in Durham and the statue being pulled down, I understand there have been arrests, that the police have been raiding people's homes. Can you tell us a little bit about what has been happening?

Well, at the press conference which was held the following day after the statue was pulled down, two undercover agents approached Takiyah Thompson of North Carolina Central University, a Black student and also a long-time activist with several of the leading organizations that are a part of building a broader people's assembly. They just came and they asked her, "Are you Takiyah Thompson?" and she said, "Yes." They arrested her for the incident that had occurred. There was a group of people who surrounded her immediately after the press conference and they walked her and told her "We love you and we have got your back" as she approached the undercover car that they put her in after they handcuffed her.

The following day they continued to round up individuals. One is a lawyer, Peter Gilbert, and one is a union organizer, Dante Strobino, and others. They are continuing to round up as we speak, picking them up. We are fortunate that we have a long history of working together in this community. We were able to acquire the legal services of a well-known social justice and criminal lawyer by the name of Scott Holmes. He is helping us get them out and process them as we try to pull together a team of lawyers to represent these freedom fighters that took down the statue.

The governor, who is now a Democrat, said that these statues should come down in the wake of this, right?

Yes. Yesterday, Governor Roy Cooper came out with an actual press statement outlining steps for the removal of all Confederate statues from state property. Under the leadership of the Republican governor, who he defeated, Pat McCrory, under his administration they passed a law that states that they cannot move, replace, relocate any of these historical confederate statues from any state property. The governor wants to repeal this law that was passed by the majority Republican state legislature. ... [The state legislature] successfully [pushed] through the North Carolina House of Representatives a bill that states they will not hold liable any driver driving a vehicle through any [of] these protests. The governor is urging the State Senate not to pass this bill and said that we need to make sure people don't drive through demonstrations, they can find some other route, and that they will be held liable, because otherwise, the bill that was passed by the Republicans will be used to injure other demonstrators and murder people as they turn their vehicles into actual weapons.

You were telling me that you have experienced that when you are organizing, people sometimes try to run you down with a car.

One of the things that we do as a union is we oftentimes go to the workplaces, whether it is street maintenance or it is the sanitation yard, and usually they are in areas where people have to drive down a road to get into their workplace, to pick up their trucks, their sewer trucks or their equipment. While we are handing out the flyers, oftentimes some of the anti-union people, some of the people that have old white supremacist ideas and they are union haters -- "You goddamned union communist organizer" -- they try to hit you. So, it is very important that the governor stop this, make sure people are held liable as criminals when they hit or try to run over people as they hand out flyers in front of workplaces.

It is not just a question of protests and rallies. In the "right-to-work" South, where less than 3 percent of all workers in North Carolina are unionized, there is a lot of anti-union feeling. This white supremacist thinking is institutionalized. It is everywhere: in the history, in the workplace, part of the anti-union "right-to-work" climate. These supremacists ... are now calling the county government telling them to prosecute these folks who pulled down the statue to the fullest extent of the law. It is fully institutionalized, it is systematic, this white supremacy thing. It is not just a few crazies as some people want to write it off.

Could you tell us a little bit more about the history in North Carolina? [Black people] have been confronting this stuff for a long time.

Black people certainly have been confronting this for hundreds and hundreds of years. Whether it was lynchings or whether it was the Wilmington riots of 1898, where there was a populist [movement] down in Wilmington, North Carolina, that's in the history books, where the white supremacists came and they burned down a Black newspaper, Black businesses and murdered and slaughtered Black people.

There has been a long history of white supremacists and their violence, since that is what they have always done. I think back to the stories my grandmother told me [about why] my dad was missing a portion of his chest, about how they robbed my great-grandfather's store way back in the early 1900s (it was around 1920s/'30s down in Greenville, North Carolina) and threw the safe on my father's chest. My dad had a big scar on his chest. He was missing a whole pectoral muscle. As I reflect upon that, peace and blessings be on my dad who passed in 2007. A long history of white supremacist violence.

What brought me back to North Carolina -- although I have been here in North Carolina every summer of my life since I was born in 1952 -- was the murder of those five union organizers, political activists in Greensboro. This was the historic Greensboro Massacre of November 3, 1979, when the Klan came into a Black community known as Morningside Heights and gunned down five community and union organizers who were having a rally there. There is a long history.

Also, there is a lawyer working down rural areas, particularly Newton Grove, Johnson County, more what we call the Black Belt region, where the African Americans live and the farmworkers, there again. It was very apparent the role that these white supremacists played in intimidating the workers. They would cheat them out of their wages, they would work them overtime without paying them, spray the fields with pesticides knowing the workers were still working in the fields -- it shows just how this white supremacist ideology devalues Black lives.

How can people support the folks that were arrested? How can people support your work in North Carolina and the organizing that is still going on in North Carolina?

One of the things we are asking people to do is call the district attorney in Durham County: dial 919-808-3010. We are asking them to tell whoever answers the phone to drop the charges on the freedom fighters that took down the statue. The other thing we are doing is we are asking people to please donate. If they go online to the Durham Solidarity Center Freedom Fighter Bond Fund, they can donate toward the legal representation of the people who took the statues down.

Certainly, we are doing organizing, during community town hall meetings, on a host of other issues that we should take time out to discuss the importance of us all participating in efforts to get these statues down, all these racist monuments to white supremacy. That is a very important role they can play. I think workers, too, have a unique role to play. In light of what is happening in our workplaces, I think we have to take up this discussion of why all workers have to make every effort to defeat white supremacy, this white nationalism and neo-fascist popular [movement] that is developing. The reason why is it keeps workers divided in our workplaces so we can't unionize and win basic rights and better conditions and wages in our workplace. Many of us have heard about the recent loss down in Mississippi with the United Auto Workers Union organizing of the Nissan plant down there in Mississippi. It is just very important to take time out to see how this impacts our workplace.

Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.

Grassroots, not-for-profit news is rare -- and Truthout's very existence depends on donations from readers. Will you help us publish more stories like this one? Make a one-time or monthly donation by clicking here.

Categories: Latest News

When "Free Speech" Kills

Truthout - Thu, 08/17/2017 - 21:00

A chalk mural of Heather Heyer, murdered by a white supremacist hitting her and other anti-racist protesters with his car, adorns the Charlottesville Downtown Mall on August 16, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo: Bored_Grrl)

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The way we were going, this was always going to end in blood. Every person who's ever misused arguments for free speech to defend Nazis or white supremacists  --  just so they could puff out their chests and apocryphally quote Voltaire with smug certitude  --  has some measure of Heather Heyer's blood on their hands.

The road that James Alex Fields Jr. sped down was paved with countless editorials in major newspapers and magazines that positioned student movements or black women on Twitter as existential threats to "free speech." It was paved by those who said they were less afraid of Richard Spencer than the man who punched him. It was paved by countless people saying, "they're just words" or "it's just the internet, it's not real life" in defence of extremists' vitriol, never realizing that such statements are not mere words on the wind: they are promises.

After all, how many times have we seen white people online call for mowing down protesters? What happened in Charlottesville wasn't even the first time someone went out and actually did it. As a recent Slate article notes: "On July 10, 2016  --  the same day a South Carolina fire captain threatened to run over BLM protesters who had shut down Interstate 126  --  an SUV driver in southern Illinois plowed through a group of BLM protesters after yelling 'All lives matter, not blacks, all lives.'"

That was over a year ago, and we should have seen then how quickly hateful social media slogans quickly become action.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of Heyer's murder, a Springfield, MA policeman wrote on Facebook  --  in response to a news article about the terror attack  --  "Hahahaha love this, maybe people shouldn't block roads." He added, to someone trying to argue with him, "How do you know [the driver] was a Nazi scumbag? Stop being part of the problem." An incredible two step: celebrating a woman's murder, and then tut tutting someone who insulted her murderer while retreating behind formless relativism.

The many instances of whites letting loose their hatred online and calling for the mowing down of protesters are wishes being loosed into the ether. Eventually, they'll coalesce into a deed. As I said, they are not just words, they are promises, given force and urgency by the overheated rhetoric that prevails on social media, where even the most extreme racists are given free reign to agitate without limit.

Years ago, a study by the Southern Poverty Law Center made abundantly clear that hate sites like Stormfront were a common denominator for the spate of white nationalist terrorism we've seen on both sides of the Atlantic. The SPLC describes what should now be an all too familiar profile of an angry young white man with internet access:

"Assured of the supremacy of his race and frustrated by the inferiority of his achievements, he binges online for hours every day, self-medicating, slowly sipping a cocktail of rage. He gradually gains acceptance in this online birthing den of self-described 'lone wolves,' but he gets no relief, no practical remedies, no suggestions to improve his circumstances. He just gets angrier.
And then he gets a gun."

This was written in the days before GamerGate and the alt-right co-optation of 4chan, but the analysis readily applies to these larger, more easily accessible echo chambers, which have now claimed whole fiefdoms on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit; their combined reach vastly outstrips that of the two decade-old Stormfront.

It was an important first step that GoDaddy and then Google booted the white supremacist Daily Stormer from their hosting services after the site's role in radicalizing Fields  --  and celebrating his rampage  --  was made abundantly clear. That decisiveness was vital, and an even stiffer moral spine will be needed in the days and weeks to come. The time for pretending this group of white-right terrorists are playing the same game of democratic discourse was over decades ago, but some continue to refuse to wake up and acknowledge this reality.

Sacrificing Lives for Liberal Principle

In truth, we need to add the ACLU to this list of naysayers; they actually defended the Nazi and white supremacist mob, fighting the city of Charlottesville when they tried to move or cancel the march. Now, the rally they fought for  --  because of vague, abstract "free speech" principles grounded in a liberalism allergic to meaning  --  has claimed a life and seriously injured many others.

Liberals like Jonathan Chait, Jon Ronson, and Michelle Goldberg deserve their share of criticism for their spinelessness, and free speech absolutism originates  --  from both Constitutional minimalism and a particular school of liberalism that sees principle as an end in itself  --  but there are leftists who are quite keen on the usual cliched arguments as well.

Glenn Greenwald, for instance, defended the ACLU at length for their choice to defend both the extreme right troll Milo Yiannopoulos and the Charlottesville march. He likens us  --  those who openly criticize the reductive use of the Constitution to support hate crimes  --  to people who attack the ACLU for defending the civil liberties of terror suspects, or who attack the Council on American-Islamic Relations as "terrorists."

Take note of the following, content-free argument I'm sure you've never heard before: "One of the defining attributes of fascism is forcible suppression of views."

(Running over a young socialist woman does indeed suppress her views, but Greenwald is wringing his hands here for her murderers, keep in mind.)

Or this equally vacuous cliche:

"Is it not glaringly apparent that the exact opposite will happen: by turning them into free speech martyrs, you will do nothing but strengthen them and make them more sympathetic? Literally nothing has helped Yiannopoulos become a national cult figure more than the well-intentioned (but failed) efforts to deny him a platform."

As someone who watched Yiannopoulos' rise, I've borne witness to the fact that no one with any real power stood up to him and his abuses; this absence is what abetted his growing popularity. The passive permission granted to him by social media platforms, universities, and the press carried with it an imprimatur of approval and acceptability. The grating noise you heard was the sound of the Overton Window shifting.

Greenwald's words are interchangeable with those of any number of liberals he otherwise abhors and disdains as warmongering crypto fascists  --  a fact I find darkly amusing. But he makes a more novel argument here that's also worth quoting:

"It's easy to be dismissive of this serious aspect of the debate if you're some white American or non-Muslim American whose free speech is very unlikely to be depicted as 'material support for terrorism' or otherwise criminalized."

This is as insulting as it is fantastical. Most of the noble warriors for abstract free speech I've encountered, who especially elevate the speech of Nazis and their ilk to prove their virtuous fealty to a principle, are white. In truth, it's marginalized people, queer/trans people and women of color like myself, who often look askance at the tremendous amount of ink spilled by white men like Greenwald defending the untrammeled rights of people who A) say they want to kill us and take away our rights, and B) do so on a regular basis.

We don't look at Nazis being too scared to march and think "there but for the grace of God go I," but instead think, "good, I can breathe that much easier."

His defense of the ACLU here also makes no note of how their Virginia chapter was apparently trolling the counter-protesters hours before Fields' terror attack, snarkily pointing out how a black counter-protester was carrying a bow and arrow.

Spotted a counter protester with bow and arrow. #Charlottesville

-- ACLU of Virginia (@ACLUVA) August 12, 2017

In addition to functionally narc'ing for the very police state Greenwald claims to abhor, it expresses the same tut tutting of our self-defense and political expression liberals love to indulge in. At the risk of stating the obvious, it wasn't that counter-protester who ended up killing anyone; it was the ACLU's client and object of Greenwald's fetish principle.

There is a difference between defending the civil liberties of someone accused of terrorism (I have no doubt Fields, as a white man, will be accorded every democratic legal courtesy) and saying that a group of people who we know will likely be aggressively violent and bigoted should be permitted to congregate -- with weapons -- in a public square rich with targets.

Further, Greenwald's direct comparison of the defense of Muslims (a vastly diverse group of 1.6 billion people who, in the West, comprise a religious minority routinely subject to discrimination and abuse) to the defense of Nazis (a discrete affinity group united by racial supremacism with murderous intent towards those self-same minorities), and the racism directed at the former to justifiable outrage at the latter, is completely obnoxious.

Much like his comparison between Nazis and left wing activists.

Since Greenwald is so eager to liken us to Dick Cheney, I might point out that this invidious equation of fascists, socialists, and communists is itself a popular right wing talking point. But one need only say this: there are many kinds of socialism and communism that are not Stalinism; there is no expression of fascism but Hitlerism. We can and should be able to make moral judgements accordingly.

Our deaths  --  the deaths of trans folks, POC, and members of other marginalized communities  --  are the true content of Nazi, white supremacist, and neo-Confederate speech. Their rallies are "peaceful" in the way Richard Spencer's promise of "peaceful ethnic cleansing" is peaceful.

Contrary to Greenwald's bizarre fantasy about how all non-whites agree with his absolutism, we understand that reality and organize around it. Securing unlimited rights for Nazis does not guarantee my rights; it forfeits them. Bear in mind who Fields targeted with his car: a group of protesters, many of whom were women and people of colour carrying "Black Lives Matter" signs.

As I was at pains to point out months ago, this vision of untroubled free speech always runs afoul of the fact that there are rights conflicts in any democracy. No one person can have unlimited rights, lest they inevitably interfere with the rights of others. In this case, the privileged indulgence in the rights of Charlottesville's Nazi marchers conflicted quite directly with the right to life putatively enjoyed by the counter-protesters (who all comprise direct targets of Nazi violence).

How many of us must die before liberal and left wing white men realize that they're not the ones being asked to make the ultimate sacrifice so they can hold on to a parlor game principle? Why do they not see that the "free speech" argument creates a moral loophole large enough for these murderers to drive through?

Jeremy Christian, who murdered two men on a light rail train in Portland, OR, reportedly said "Get stabbed in your neck if you hate free speech" to police, days after attending a "free speech rally" in the city that hosted extreme right wing groups. These people are adopting this term for a reason. When we use "free speech" as moral spackle to cover up the true content of these people's' beliefs and deeds, they will take that as a cue and use it accordingly.

This nonsense will keep getting people killed until we grow up as a society and accept that we can make decisive moral judgements about speech acts. Taking action against Nazis is not a slippery slope; it's a sticky floor. It is the ethical ground on which we must stand in order to take our bearings.

A Foolish Consistency

The catastrophic failure of mealy mouthed "both sides"-ism, which Greenwald's editorial is but the liberal version of, was revealed this week when Trump's initial condemnation only blamed nameless "many sides" for violence that had a single source.

To look at how white supremacists, neo-Confederates, and Nazis cheered on that statement, even though it (in some vague, abstract way) condemned them, is instructive. It tells you how and why they thrive on moral ambiguity and relativism, why condemning "both sides" is illusory in its fairness and how it actually emboldens the true culprits by enabling them to skulk in the shadows of namelessness.

One of the last social media posts that Heather Heyer made was the popular slogan "if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention." Her final act was to march with Black Lives Matter protesters and members of the local DSA chapter  --  which has fundraised a storm for Heyer and her family. Meanwhile ten others remain in hospital, like Natalie Romero, a Latina student at UVA who joined the counterprotest.

It didn't have to come to this.

But every inch of permission granted by our liberal thought-leaders, and the leftists who've abetted their arguments, every bit of digital earth ceded by Twitter, Google, and Facebook, every "it's the principle of the thing!" argument made by well-meaning whites in defense of our would-be assassins, brought us closer and closer to the point where Charlottesville was inevitable.

As so many of us pointed out, the Klansmen, Nazis, and neo-Confederates were marching en masse in broad daylight without hoods or masks. That boldness has its origins in the permission granted by powerful institutions and prominent commentators who said the "marketplace of ideas" would crush Nazism, in Twitter's ongoing failure to stamp out the Nazi presence on the platform, in the excuses made by liberal/left commentators eager to score easy points off of student activists rather than do the hard work needed to fight an actual threat to freedom.

All this in the name of that foolish consistency that Emerson excoriated so long ago, as if discernment were not also a moral and intellectual skill.

I could say "the time for illusions is over" or some such thing, but people of color have been dying for decades so that people like Greenwald or Chait could cling to a fantasy of "free speech" that never includes us when we need it most, that privileges the speech rights of our murderers over our right to live. It needs to stop now.

I am not the price to be paid for the hobgoblin of your consistent arguments.

This story originally appears at The Establishment.

Categories: Latest News

Zinke Allows Plastic Water Bottles in National Parks

Commondreams - Thu, 08/17/2017 - 13:25
Sierra Club

Yesterday, the National Park Service reversed bans on disposable water bottles in National Parks-- another reversal of an Obama-era environmental policy. The ban originally was placed as an effort to increase the agency’s sustainability efforts and reduce carbon emissions.

In response, Sierra Club’s public lands policy director Athan Manuel released the following statement:

Categories: Latest News

Veterans Urge Secretary Zinke Not To Expand Offshore Drilling

Commondreams - Thu, 08/17/2017 - 13:22
Sierra Club

Today, a letter signed by 1,669 veterans was delivered to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, expressing opposition to the Trump administration’s plans to revisit the current five-year plan for offshore drilling and urging Zinke to maintain existing protections for our coasts.

Categories: Latest News

Whose Side Are They On: Main Street Consumers or Wall Street Banks?

Commondreams - Thu, 08/17/2017 - 10:48
Public Citizen

One of the major battles in Congress this fall will be a fight over a regulatory repeal measure that will have lasting ramifications for Americans’ constitutional rights. That measure, if it passes and is signed by the president, would take away consumers’ right to challenge wrongdoing by financial companies in court.

This note provides basic information about the consumer right that is at risk and why it matters, the process Congress is using to try to repeal it and the current state of play. Please cover this important issue before a vote takes place.

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