A large delegation of 50 volunteer registered nurses from across the U.S. returns this week from Puerto Rico after a two-week disaster relief effort in the wake of Hurricane Maria, describing an ineffective federal response that has led to deadly conditions including extreme lack of food, water and medicine; people living in houses infested with black mold; and water-borne illnesses such as leptospirosis that are already claiming lives.
If Alex Azar Is Confirmed as HHS Secretary, Big Pharma’s Coup of Health Care Sphere Will Be Virtually Complete
Just days after denouncing “out-of-control” drug prices, President Donald Trump appears set to show he doesn’t mean it by naming a former pharmaceutical company executive to run the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. If Alex Azar is nominated and his nomination confirmed, then Big Pharma’s coup d’etat in the health care sphere will be virtually complete.
One Month After Hurricane Maria, Federal Government Must Answer for Recent Decline in Access to Safe Drinking Water in Puerto Rico
“It’s been nearly one month since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, and yesterday, official numbers on drinking water access inexplicably declined from 72% to 65%. The Federal government must answer for this apparent set back in an already dire situation. The number has crept up to only 69% today, when we should be seeing much more significant progress.
More than 530,000 Rohingya men, women and children have fled northern Rakhine State in terror in a matter of weeks amid the Myanmar security forces’ targeted campaign of widespread and systematic murder, rape and burning, Amnesty International said today in its most detailed analysis yet of the ongoing crisis.
The Yellowstone caldera has a lot of people on edge this week, apparently for good reason. For those not in the know, a caldera is the depression left in the ground after a supervolcano erupts. Yellowstone did so about 630,000 years ago, and the violence of that mighty explosion -- the likes of which have never been seen by human eyes -- made that gorgeous national park what it is today.
If Yellowstone decides to erupt, well, buy canned goods. An eruption won't be the continent-obliterating event depicted in the disaster flick 2012 (I'm sure Woody Harrelson will be fine), but it would be quite completely bad. Every crop within 500 miles in all directions at least will be buried in ash, and the sky will be last-book-in-the-Bible black until a good, stiff breeze picks up the ejecta cloud and drags it out over the Atlantic.
The good folks at the United States Geological Survey tell us not to worry, but people are worried anyway. An eruption at the Yellowstone caldera would be preceded by one if not several earthquakes, and there have been something like 800 earthquakes around the caldera in the last couple of weeks. Lots of smart people are saying no big deal, but if you hear a loud thud from the upper left corner of Wyoming, don't say you weren't warned.
Lately, when I think of Yellowstone exploding, I think of former White House adviser Steve Bannon's nascent "revolution." Like the caldera, it'll be something else indeed. If he fails, he could unleash chaos. If he succeeds, the very survival of the nation could be cast into doubt.
Steve Bannon's curiously corkscrewed path through this life has been well-documented. His husbanding of the far-right racist, misogynist, Islamophobic "news" site Breitbart landed him on the Trump presidential campaign and put him in the White House as chief strategist for a small slice of time, but it is his gleeful wrecking ball enthusiasm that has him in the news lately.
"I want to bring everything crashing down," he told Ronald Radosh of The Daily Beast in August of last year, "and destroy all of today's establishment." The establishment he has his eyes set on today belongs, as it happens, to the Republican Party. At the Values Voter Summit last weekend, he whipped the crowd into a delirious froth at the prospect of running primary challenges at any GOP officeholder who draws his ire by not living up to his white supremacist standards. "This is not my war, this is our war," he declared. "And you all didn't start it, the establishment started it. I will tell you one thing -- you all are gonna finish it."
Republican Senators Mitch McConnell, Orrin Hatch, Bob Corker, John Barasso, Dean Heller and Deb Fischer all were splashed with Bannon's mark of Cain, worthy of being overthrown and tossed aside because, in some form or fashion, they displeased or defied the president. Few will shed tears if these loathsome establishment Republicans lose their seats; they have harmed the country beyond measure. Yet if Bannon gets his way, it's possible they will be replaced with Roy Moore clones seeking to unmake the country even as they pledge their loyalty to Trump. Either way, there's no cause for celebration in sight.
The details behind the infrastructure of this insurgency remain murky, but here's the grim part: Bannon has the perfect partner in Donald J. Trump, whether or not the two are seen actually working together. The president has been a demonstrable catastrophe in office, but don't tell him that. "I'm not going to blame myself," said Trump before a meeting with McConnell this week. "I'll be honest; they are not getting the job done."
Trump blames Congress. Bannon blames Congress. Congress is Republican to all intents and purposes, so it's war on the Republicans on two fronts, and hats over the windmill.
The reality of this is ruthless in its irony. This whole bent, benighted situation has come to a boil exactly and precisely because the Republican Party set it up to be this way over the long course of many deliberate years. They created this scenario, and then totally lost control of it.
Take a large voting block and steal from them reason, science and expertise in the name of nonsense economic theories and a narrow-minded Jesus who offers absolution for irresponsible hate. Inculcate them with abhorrence for immigrants and Black and Brown people after you send their jobs overseas for your profit, because they'll need someone to blame when the factories close down. Make facts frightening, a cozen meant to steal from them what little they have even as the voracious ocean laps at their shoeless toes. Offer them enemies. Turn them loose.
That is the story of the Republican Party as brought to you by John Birch, first voiced in clarion call by Barry Goldwater in 1964, massaged into landslide victory by Nixon's brazenly racist "Southern Strategy" before being embraced and successfully marketed by Ronald Reagan. The rest is aftermath compounded by aftermath, resulting in a muscular voting bloc numbering in the millions which has gone from being "values voters" to Trump loyalists.
Steve Bannon and Donald Trump are opportunistic peas in a pod, the perfect symbiotic relationship. They are not publicly working together, but Bannon is firing up the only people Trump has left. They're both attacking the GOP leadership in Congress. They're both stoking the base for their own purposes. Bannon is using Trump, and Trump is all too happy to be used if it gets him in front of those cheering crowds. The two men seek approval from the exact same people. It isn't a spoken alliance, but there has been no public break between the two. Bannon is a Trump guy, using Trump for Bannon's sake.
Bannon is also a wrecker of the purest stripe, a white supremacist, an Islamophobic xenophobe, an anti-Semite, a racist and a misogynist pretending to be a cultural revolutionary. Trump, who shares many of these characteristics, mainly seeks cheering crowds. A rudderless GOP base makes for a perfect audience, and a better army. Bannon sets them up, Trump knocks them down, and the GOP establishment cowers in a corner dumbfounded at what they have wrought while still pining away for that billion-dollar tax cut their paymasters so desperately desire. It is the perfect storm.
This "revolution," like Trump's whole administration to date, is a scrambled and incoherent thing. Let that caldera crack, however, and we will be presented with a scenario unprecedented in modern US politics. The best-case outcome -- Bannon and Trump cause the complete collapse of the GOP -- would still be extremely dangerous and deeply destabilizing. The two (and those who think like them) might well retain control over a segment of the populace capable of wreaking terrible havoc both in and out of politics.
Or they could win, and find themselves in control of a dreadnought party set to make total war on everyone who is not white hetero Christian, anyone who ever crossed them, anyone and everyone simply because they can. That party in charge of all three branches of government, with the looming ability to nominate several Supreme Court justices, would signal the end of the country once and for all.
"I want to bring everything crashing down," Bannon said. He is going to try, he is in the process of trying, and one way or another, you'll be able to see the smoke for miles around.
(Photo: Rainer Vandalismus)
Even as he talks about declaring the opioid crisis a national emergency, Trump is actively seeking to cut Medicaid and undermine the Affordable Care Act, which extended access to addiction treatment for millions. It's time Congress acted to push government toward public health solutions for the US's drug problems rather than pouring money into failed law enforcement policies.
(Photo: Rainer Vandalismus)Want to see more coverage of the issues that matter? Make a donation to Truthout to ensure that we can publish more original stories like this one.
Last year, the Drug Enforcement Agency's marijuana eradication program confiscated 5.3 million marijuana plants in operations nationwide, a 20 percent increase from the year before and by far the heaviest haul since President Obama's first term in office. The DEA pulled 3.5 million plants in California, more than any other state by a long shot, even as Californians voted to legalize cannabis for recreational use.The DEA still spends millions of dollars every year aggressively searching rural communities for marijuana grown outside the law.
Most of the plants were confiscated from outdoor plots, and there's little doubt that expensive helicopter rides, tactical gear and backwoods excursions were needed to find them. Agents seized some $52 million in weed and assets, but that won't make much of a dent in a market worth $53 billion a year. Marijuana legalization has spread to states across the country and enjoys the support of a majority of voters. However, the DEA still spends millions of dollars every year aggressively searching rural communities for marijuana grown outside the law.
Now that marijuana is legal for recreational use in eight states and as a medicine in 29, the mass marijuana eradication program may seem like a drug war relic and a waste of taxpayer dollars. Yet the media hardly noticed when the DEA released the results of its 2016 eradication campaign earlier this month. Meanwhile, the DEA would soon be making headlines over another type of drug that authorities have spent decades trying to control: opioids.
The Washington Post and "60 Minutes" published a high-profile series of reports this week featuring Joseph Rannazzisi, a former DEA official. Rannazzisi blamed a law passed by Congress in 2016 for robbing his division of its best weapon for disrupting the supply of prescription painkillers fueling the nation's opioid woes. Fingers pointed at Rep. Tom Marino, a Pennsylvania Republican who championed the legislation despite opposition from the DEA and a spat with Rannazzisi, who resigned under pressure from Marino and other lawmakers.
Marino also happened to be President Trump's nominee for director of the National Office on Drug Control Policy, a position commonly known as "drug czar." Marino's nomination was already controversial, and Trump is currently under fire for doing little to address the opioid epidemic despite tough talk on the campaign trail. On Tuesday, Trump announced that Marino was withdrawing his nomination.
Rannazzisi, who is now a consultant for attorneys suing pharmaceutical companies over their role in the overdose epidemic, said the 2016 legislation made it harder for the DEA to justify crackdowns on companies distributing painkillers to areas where agents believe the drugs are diverted to people without prescriptions. The pharmaceutical industry pushed hard for the legislation and lined Marino's pockets with $100,000 in donations. The bill sailed through Congress and was signed by President Obama.
It's no secret that Big Pharma spends more on lobbying than any other industry, or that pharmaceutical companies have profited from rising rates of opioid misuse over the past two decades. Democrats in Congress have already pounced on the news and are pushing for a repeal of Marino's 2016 legislation, but experts say lawmakers should be looking much deeper into the issue. The DEA has always sought to cut off access to drugs at their source, and if its marijuana and opioid campaigns are any evidence, those efforts have failed.The DEA has been attacking the supply of illegal opioids for decades, but drugs continue to be readily available.
Sanho Tree, director of drug policy at the Institute for Policy Studies, said that opioids and addiction reflect complex social and public health challenges, but the DEA's answer has always been to get "a bigger hammer" because everything looks like a nail.
"[DEA agents] only have a once-size-fits-all solution, which is 'how much more force do we have to assert [there to] get our results,'" Tree said in an interview.
Tree said the problem with the Washington Post's story is that it paints the DEA as a hero in the effort to combat opioid addiction, even as it's becoming increasingly clear that drug problems are not solved by relying on law enforcement to make arrests and cut off the supply. The DEA has been attacking the supply of illegal opioids -- and marijuana, for that matter -- for decades, but drugs continue to be readily available in every corner of the United States.
A community does not automatically recover from opioids simply because the DEA cuts a corrupt doctor or pharmacy off from a supplier. Opioid addiction often requires medical treatment, and when people with opioid disorders can no longer access prescription painkillers, they are likely to turn to dangerous street drugs like heroin and fentanyl, particularly in areas where painkillers created a black market in the first place, according to Tree.
"The simplistic DEA solution, which is just cut off the supply and prohibit use, is really shortsighted," Tree said. "But that's how they've always operated."
Tree said that solving the opioid problem requires taking a "cold hard look" at why so many people decide to self-medicate with painkillers in the first place. Many areas hard hit by opioid misuse lack economic opportunity and health care options.
"If you overlay a map where Trump did well, and where the opioid crisis is hitting hardest, there is a pretty stunning correlation," said Tree, adding that regions such as Appalachia that have suffered from declines in manufacturing tend to have high rates of opioid misuse. "Opioids are a very effective way of numbing your pain and reliving, if you will, your past days or better days."
Tree said public dollars should go to drug misuse treatment and prevention before anything else. With support from President Obama, Congress allocated nearly $1 billion in 2016 for combating the opioid epidemic over a two-year period, largely through grants to expand access to treatment and recovery services. The Trump administration is now in charge of handing out a large chunk of the money, even though its policy toward opioids is still taking shape.
Under pressure to respond to the criticism flying around his former drug czar nominee, Trump has promised to declare the opioid epidemic a "national emergency" and roll out policy objectives by next week. He has made similar promises in the past, but has so far failed to keep them.As long as marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the DEA will fly helicopters across the countryside in search of secret plots.
Trump must also find someone to replace Marino and the chief of the DEA, who stepped down in September over disagreements with the White House. These picks could have lasting impacts on how the government responds to drugs, and the Trump administration has already indicated that it prefers an alarmingly authoritarian approach.
If the policies rolling out under Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, are any indication, it appears that law enforcement will still have plenty of resources to continue waging a dangerous war on the supply chain. Trump has also supported large cuts to Medicaid and is working to undermine the Affordable Care Act, which expanded access to addiction treatment for millions of people.
Ultimately, it will take acts of Congress to defang the DEA and push the government toward public health solutions to the nation's drug dilemmas. As long as marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the DEA will fly helicopters across the countryside in search of secret plots, even in states where the drug is legal. As long as budgets are stretched to support the drug warriors in law enforcement, taxpayer dollars will go to making arrests instead of health care and economic initiatives that help people and communities stay healthy and whole.
"What does it take to build a healthy individual and healthy society?" Tree said. "That's the deeper question."
As raging wildfires in California scorch more than 200,000 acres -- roughly the size of New York City -- more than 11,000 firefighters are battling the blazes, and a number of them are prisoners, including many women inmates. We speak to Romarilyn Ralston with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners-Los Angeles Chapter, who is the program coordinator for Project Rebound at Cal State University. Romarilyn experienced 23 years of incarceration, and while she was incarcerated, she was a fire camp trainer and a clerk for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Reporter Jaime Lowe also joins us to discuss her New York Times Magazine report, "The Incarcerated Women Who Fight California's Wildfires."
Please check back later for full transcript.
One month after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, we hear from longtime Puerto Rican independence activist Oscar López Rivera, who was released in May and is now in San Juan to visit with community members affected by Hurricane Maria. Until earlier this year, Rivera had been in federal prison for 35 years -- much of the time in solitary confinement -- after he was convicted on federal charges of opposing U.S. authority over the island by force. President Obama commuted his sentence in January.
Please check back later for full transcript.
Gregory Katsas, nominee to be United States Circuit Judge for the District of Columbia Circuit, is sworn in during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, October 17, 2017. (Photo: Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)
President Trump's first nominee to serve on the second most powerful federal court refused to unequivocally describe waterboarding as "torture."
Gregory Katsas -- picked to fill a vacancy on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals -- told Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Tuesday that the coercive technique was "likely torture, in many circumstances."
"I hesitate to answer the question in the abstract not knowing the circumstances or the nature of the program," Katsas told Durbin at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He noted that waterboarding "has been abandoned."
Durbin shot back, claiming that it wasn't abstract and that the McCain Amendment, which was passed in 2006, expressly prohibited waterboarding.
President George W. Bush authorized the interrogation tactic, after launching the War on Terror, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The technique involves pouring water over a cloth placed on a blindfolded detainee's open mouth. It is designed to simulate drowning.
The so-called Senate Torture Report, overseen by Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), said in 2014 that the Bush waterboarding program "was physically harmful," and caused "convulsions and vomiting." One detainee was rendered "completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth."
"Internal CIA records describe the waterboarding of [alleged 9/11 mastermind] Khalid Shaykh Mohammad as evolving into a 'series of near drownings,'" the report also states.
Believing waterboarding was no longer up for legal discussion, Durbin asked Katsas: "Why is this still a matter in doubt?"
Katsas replied that the McCain Amendment didn't specifically bar waterboarding, but rather "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment."
"It clearly could be, no question about it," Katsas said, when asked if waterboarding was "cruel, inhuman or degrading."
Durbin said he was "surprised by the exchange."
"There clearly is uncertainty in your answer," the liberal senator remarked.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who followed Durbin, was satisfied with Katsas' reply, seizing on the jurist's reluctance to comment "in the abstract."
"It's fair to say you'd look to whatever Congressional statutes spoke to the issue, and any federal and congressional definition of torture," Cruz said, echoing Katsas' claim that specifics matter.
The DC Circuit has unique oversight power. It is the only appellate court with nationwide jurisdiction, and it almost exclusively rules on federal agencies' activities.
While on the campaign trail last year, President Trump promised to bring back waterboarding "and a hell of a lot worse." Trump has since said he would defer to cabinet officials who have advised against such a move.
Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch was asked about the practice, during his confirmation hearing earlier this year. Gorsuch told the Senate Judiciary Committee that "no one is above the law -- including the President," when asked about Trump's campaign vow.
"[T]orture, as well as cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, is expressly prohibited by law," Gorsuch said in a questionnaire submitted to the committee. During his confirmation, Gorsuch also noted that the McCain Amendment outlawed waterboarding. Both Gorsuch and Katsas served in the Bush Administration at the Justice Department.
Another one of the President's more hardline campaign trail promises came up in an April confirmation hearing, when CIA General Counsel nominee Courney Elwood was asked about Trump's pledge "to take out their families," referring to civilians related to Islamic State fighters.
Elwood said such rules of engagement "would implicate a variety of laws" and that it would target "persons who are not otherwise lawful targets under existing law." But she did not state that the deliberate targeting of families was explicitly illegal.
"If confirmed, I will work to ensure that all activities of the CIA fully and faithfully comply with the Constitution and US law," she said.With everything going on in the White House, the media must maintain relentless pressure on the Trump administration. Can you support Truthout in this endeavor? Click here to donate.
Maine is developing a well-deserved reputation for cutting-edge progressive ballot initiatives. In 2016, voters approved proposals to raise the state's minimum wage, raise taxes on the wealthy to fund education, introduce ranked choice voting, and legalize marijuana.
The key force behind the state's progressive ballot initiatives, the Maine People's Alliance, has just launched a campaign to put another landmark issue on the 2018 ballot: universal home care for the elderly and disabled.
There's no question that such services are sorely needed -- particularly in Maine, the state with the country's highest median age. Caring for this rapidly aging population is extremely costly. The median annual cost for home care is now more than $50,000. That's about on par with Maine's median income for an entire household.
Medicare does not cover the costs of in-home care and Medicaid reimbursement rates are so low that employers have difficulty finding workers willing to do this tough work for the meager wages they offer.
Universal home care would be a huge relief for family members facing impossible choices between paying bills for basic needs versus covering the exorbitant cost of services for their loved ones.
The big question is: how to pay for it?
The Maine People's Alliance proposal would raise the needed $132 million through a payroll tax increase of 1.9 percent on annual salaries and wages over $127,000 and a 3.7 percent tax on investment income above that same threshold.
In part, these taxes are designed to address the unfairness of the current cap on income subject to Social Security tax. That cap is now about $127,000, and so people who earn $1 million or even $100 million a year contribute no more to the nation's pension fund than those making $127,001.
The ballot initiative proposal would also address the fact that in Maine, as in many other states, the wealthy pay a smaller share of their income on state and local taxes than low-income residents. Because of regressive sales and property taxes, Maine's top 1% of earners pay only 7.5 percent of their income in state and local taxes, compared to 9.4 percent for families in the bottom 20% of the income scale, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
Another innovative aspect of the Maine proposal is that it would be overseen by a board elected by home care services users and home care business owners and workers. It also stipulates that service providers receiving financing from the universal home care trust fund would be required to pay 77 percent of the money directly to workers. This measure is aimed at ensuring managers can't use public funds to reward themselves with outsized paychecks.
Maine's ballot campaign has drawn support from an array of national groups, including the Caring Across Generations campaign, which is co-led by Jobs With Justice and the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA).
NDWA Executive Director Ai-Jen Poo said in an interview that the Maine model could be a "blueprint for the nation" as we grapple with the aging of the US population. "Some call this demographic change a 'silver tsunami,'" Poo said. "At Caring Across Generations, we call it an 'elder boom' because of the opportunity it affords to fundamentally reform our care system in a way that's long overdue."
Earlier this year, the Caring Across Generations campaign had a major breakthrough in Hawaii, where state lawmakers approved the nation's first law to provide financial support to working family caregivers, no matter their income. "The Maine campaign for universal in-home care could be the next big thing in the care movement," Poo said.
One of the key long-term goals of the Caring Across Generations campaign is universal family care. Through a state-based social insurance fund, families would receive support not only for home care for the elderly, but also child care and paid family medical leave. According to the campaign website, "Our families deserve the care we need to live full and healthy lives, whether we're caring for an infant or child, a loved one with a disability, or an aging parent."
If Maine activists manage to get their universal home care proposal passed by voters in November 2018, it would be a significant step towards extending affordable caregiving across the age spectrum.Far more people read Truthout than will ever donate -- but we rely on donations to keep our publication running strong. Support independent journalism by making a contribution now!
The contest to win Amazon's second headquarters is beginning to look uncannily like an episode of "The Bachelor." As the Oct. 19 deadline to submit proposals nears, mayors across North America are ardently wooing the retail and tech giant, with offerings ranging from video love notes to a giant saguaro cactus (one assumes that the traditional bouquet of roses would not have sufficed). Stonecrest, Georgia, has even offered Amazon its very own town.
Tulsa, Oklahoma's, offer is in keeping with what many cities appear to be saying: "Whatever it takes." By dangling 50,000 new jobs and $5 billion in economic investment, Amazon's "HQ2" is expected to draw over a hundred proposals, despite a price tag likely to exceed $3 billion.
However, several cities are opting out. In a Wall Street Journal editorial, San Jose, California, Mayor Sam Liccardo calls incentives a "bad deal for taxpayers," noting that often their expense is not recouped by the revenues they generate. The state of Minnesota plans to bid, but Governor Mark Dayton is reluctant to offer up much more than the Twin Cities' strong local workforce. Officials in Toronto also plan to promote the city's existing assets rather than giving cash, noting that subsidizing Amazon would be unfair to businesses that have set up shop without incentives.
For cities doing their homework, this question is at the forefront: Are giant subsidies the best and highest use of economic development dollars?
Good Jobs First, the nation's leading watchdog on corporate subsidies, estimates that state and local governments spend $70 billion a year on cash handouts and tax abatements, mostly to big businesses. It's an inefficient investment. Their report Smart Skills versus Mindless Megadeals finds that small business cluster development initiatives, workforce development programs, and entrepreneurial assistance create jobs at a fraction of the cost of giant subsidies, and that the economic returns of those initiatives remain in communities even if one company departs.
Multiple studies have shown that economic growth and stability are highly correlated with the presence of many small, entrepreneurial employers, not a few big ones, and one study from Economic Development Quarterly said the presence of large nonlocal businesses had a negative effect on incomes.
Job growth comes primarily from start-up and small businesses. Areas that have more small, locally owned businesses see greater per-capita income growth than those with a few large entities, and locally owned, privately held firms recirculate two to three times more money back into local economies and contribute more taxes than non-locals.
Chicago is considered to be one of the top contenders for Amazon, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel has gathered a committee of 600 business and civic leaders to assemble the incentive package. But we know that these deals are inefficient. A 2017 Illinois Economic Policy Institute study found that if the state and its cities had directed their $288.5 million in average annual business subsidies to local initiatives such as infrastructure and education, Illinois would have created or saved more than nine times as many jobs.
Those jobs would also have been more secure. Having lured Boeing's headquarters with a $60 million relocation package, Chicago is well aware that businesses that chase incentives are not stable tenants. Washington state had previously given Boeing nearly $12 billion in subsidies, but that didn't stop the company from moving away and pulling 1,000 jobs from Seattle.
Perhaps the most important consideration is who benefits from economic development. Amazon's presence in Seattle has spurred some of the highest housing costs in the world. Rather than getting dazzled by the prospect of a "win," cities would do well do ask "for whom?" Will the investment improve the lives of people who live there now? In Chicago, the highest need isn't high-paying tech jobs, it's economic opportunities for the 27 percent of residents living in poverty, and serious investment in public schools to retain residents across all economic strata.
We know how to do economic development well. Let's hope that cities run the numbers before committing billions of dollars to a deal that may offer high-publicity bragging rights but little else.Truthout takes zero advertising money -- instead we rely on readers to sustain our site. Will you join the thousands of people who fund our work? Make a donation by clicking here!
In March of this year, State Street Global Advisors unveiled the "Fearless Girl," a statue of a little girl installed to face Wall Street's famous "Charging Bull" statue. Her defiance was aimed at financial culture's historical exclusion of women in the financial industry, especially in leadership positions.
In early October, its parent company, State Street Corporation, quietly settled allegations that it had been paying female employees less than their male counterparts, agreeing to award US$5 million in back pay.
Then, a week later, a series of explosive articles revealed that Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein may have engaged in a decades-long pattern of abusing and harassing women. Weinstein, the reports noted, had been a prominent donor to causes that address gender inequality, especially in the entertainment industry.
In both cases, a public-facing feminism ended up essentially serving as a front, a superficial sheen that distracted from systemic sexism. What does feminism mean if it functions as an alibi for structural discrimination? And how powerful are the forces that oppose it?Popular Feminism and Popular Misogyny
Popular feminism refers to a sort of mainstream, corporate-friendly feminism. It announces itself on self-help blogs that implore women to "be confident in the workplace" and on aspirational Tumblr pages that remind women that they are beautiful despite societal norms that tell them that they're not. In this way, popular feminism is "safe" -- it implicitly encourages more women to work within a system that is already designed to devalue (and underpay) the labor of women.
Like popular feminism, popular misogyny is expressed and practiced on multiple media platforms. Yet its primary goal is to dehumanize and devalue women.
Every time feminism gains broad traction -- that is, every time it spills beyond niche feminist enclaves -- the forces of the status quo lash back. Skirmishes ensue between those determined to change the normal state of things and those determined to maintain it, who frame the challenges to the status quo as a set of risks that must be contained.
This happened with suffrage and abolition. More recently, it happened to the women who sought to assert themselves within the male-dominated world of video games (the "Gamergate" controversy).
We also see this dynamic in the stories of the Fearless Girl and Harvey Weinstein.A Sanitized Version of Feminism
The "Fearless Girl" statue was installed in the middle of the night in lower Manhattan on March 7, 2017, on the eve of International Women's Day.
It faced the well-known "Charging Bull" statue, which, since 1987, has been a global symbol of Wall Street. The bull was intended to be a sign of American "virility and courage" -- an "antidote," in the artist's words, for the stock market crash of 1986. The bull's allusions to manliness and a strong sex drive continue to be acknowledged in the popular tourist practice of taking a picture next to (or touching) the bull's huge testicles.
On the surface, the appearance of a statue that appears to directly challenge the bull is a striking symbol of empowerment.
But let's not forget that "Fearless Girl" was intended as an advertisement. State Street's new index fund sought to signal itself as a collection of "gender-diverse" companies, meaning that they have a higher percentage of women among their senior leadership than most global investment companies. (Its NASDAQ ticker symbol is "SHE.")
To be clear: I believe it is important to praise those companies that hire women in leadership. It is equally important to have women directors behind the camera in the entertainment industries.
At the same time, the recognition of gender inequality in leadership positions is a familiar trope of popular feminism. The remedy is thought to be simple: Have more women "sit at the table." This is Weinstein's brand of "feminism" as well: to talk about the importance of hiring more female directors or giving more opportunities to female actors.
But where are the results? Why is it that, despite widespread acknowledgment of gender and racial exclusion in the technology industries, women and people of color remain in the vast minority? Why is it that, despite Harvey Weinstein's vocal support for feminist causes, just 4 percent of directors of the 100 top-grossing films between 2007 and 2016 were female?
Harvey Weinstein's public support of gender issues in Hollywood and of female politicians easily gained traction and praise. But in reality, it could have worked to distract people from his behavior and a culture of sexual assault and gender discrimination that undergirds Hollywood.Popular Misogyny Takes Aim
What does the "Fearless Girl" distract us from?
The plaque below the statue originally read, "Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference." (The plaque has since been removed and replaced.)
The presumption here is that putting more women in leadership positions is a catch-all solution to gender inequality. But what if it's simply a statement about women becoming better workers?
The artist, Kristen Visbal, admitted that the artwork isn't meant to alienate, but to accommodate.
"I made sure to keep her features soft," she explained. "She's not defiant, she's brave, proud and strong, not belligerent." (This is one way that popular feminism transfigures other feminist movements, which, historically, have been mobilized by defiance and belligerence, while directly confronting patriarchy.)
Yet the accommodating tone didn't matter to the forces of misogyny.
Even the suggestion that women should participate more visibly within capitalism -- an economic system that depends, after all, on a gendered division of labor -- incurred a misogynistic backlash.
The creator of the Charging Bull, Arturo Di Modica, has asked for the Fearless Girl to be removed, claiming that she was "attacking the bull" and that he objected to her "political messaging" (as if symbolizing capitalist America's resilience was somehow not political).
Other reactions were more pronounced than Di Modica's. Alongside hundreds of photos and selfies of girls and women with Fearless Girl, pictures also circulated in social media featuring men simulating sex with the statue. In May 2017 another artist, Alex Gardega, installed a statue of his own: "Pissing Pug," a small dog urinating on "Fearless Girl."
Even a "soft" corporate feminism poses a threat to masculinity -- so much so that it becomes a target of degradation and sexual violence.
Apparently, the Fearless Girl injures masculinity simply by existing in the first place.The Perils of Popular Feminism
The pervasiveness of popular misogyny can appear in subtler ways, whether it's political campaigns centered on taking away reproductive rights for women, or denying women and girls opportunities in the workplace.
Others join "Pissing Pug" in the not-so-subtle category, like Weinstein's alleged tactics of forcing women to perform sexual acts in order to earn his approval.
The years-long silence of Weinstein's many female accusers -- or of the many men and women who were aware of what was happening -- is all, in my view, about the power of popular misogyny. Women are rarely believed when they report sexual assault, while public shaming can ensure that future opportunities to do so can dry up.
In the aftermath, misogynistic backlash has already emerged. Those who came forward are being questioned about what they were wearing and why they let themselves be alone with him -- how they "invited" the assault.
But while popular misogyny can silence in very visible ways, popular feminism can also work to silence dissent. Through building statues, appointing a woman to the board of a company and paying celebrity feminist spokespeople, this soft, corporate version of feminism signals that by being accommodating and safe, the problem will go away.
Popular feminism might dispense a vision of progress. But don't let it distract from the structural gendered violence that persists, unabated, in so many aspects of American society.
In spite of the fact that the UN International Atomic Energy Agency has certified eight times that Iran is meeting its obligations under the nuclear deal, Trump refused to certify Iran was in compliance, and he has decided the Iran deal is not in the United States' national security interests. Meanwhile, Trump is heavily influenced by Israel's government.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with President Donald Trump prior to the President's departure from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv on May 23, 2017, in Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo: Kobi Gideon / GPO via Getty Images)
During his presidential campaign and throughout his nine-month presidency, Donald Trump has been fixated on ending the Iran nuclear deal, which he called "one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into."
Under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran agreed to curtail its nuclear program and in return, it received billions of dollars of relief from punishing sanctions.
Iran has allowed 24-hour inspections by officials from the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). "Iran has gotten rid of all of its highly enriched uranium," Jessica T. Mathews wrote in the New York Review of Books. "It has also eliminated 99 percent of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.... All enrichment has been shut down at the once-secret, fortified, underground facility at Fordow ... Iran has disabled and poured concrete into the core of its plutonium reactor -- thus shutting down the plutonium as well as the uranium route to nuclear weapons. It has provided adequate answers to the IAEA's long-standing list of questions regarding past weapons-related activities."
Yukiya Amano, director general of IAEA, refuted Trump's allegation that Iran had kept IAEA weapons inspectors from entering military bases. Amano said, "So far, IAEA has had access to all locations it needed to visit. At present, Iran is subject to the world's most robust nuclear verification regime."
But in spite of the fact that the IAEA has affirmed eight times -- most recently in August -- that Iran is meeting its obligations under the deal, Trump refused to certify Iran was in compliance and he decided the deal is not in the US national security interests.
The US Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act requires the president to determine every 90 days whether Iran remains compliant with the JCPOA and whether the agreement still serves US interests. Trump reluctantly certified Iran's compliance in April and July. But on October 13, to the consternation of his secretary of state, secretary of defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he refused to certify Iran's compliance with the deal.
France, Britain, Russia, China, Germany, the United States and Iran are parties to the historic agreement. After Trump's October 13 announcement, the leaders of Britain, France and Germany said in a joint statement that retaining the Iran deal "is in our shared national security interest." They stated, "The nuclear deal was the culmination of thirteen years of diplomacy and was a major step towards ensuring that Iran's nuclear program is not diverted for military purposes."Trump Walks in Lockstep With Netanyahu
Trump walks in lockstep with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has consistently opposed the Iran deal. The Christian Zionists, who await Christ's second coming in Israel, constitute a significant portion of Trump's base.
After his election but before inauguration, Trump inserted himself into US foreign policy by criticizing Barack Obama for refusing to veto a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel's illegal settlement-building.
In 2015, before the US joined the JCPOA, Netanyahu staged an end-run around then-President Obama and directly addressed the US Congress, prevailing upon them to oppose the deal. "That deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons," Netanyahu told Congress. "It would all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons -- lots of them."
Netanyahu was thrilled with Trump's refusal to recertify Iran's compliance with the JCPOA. "It's a very brave decision, and I think it's the right decision for the world," Netanyahu said on CBS's "Face the Nation." The American Israel Public Affairs Committee also heralded Trump's attack on the JCPOA.
The White House fact sheet outlining Trump's new Iran policy accuses Iran of "unrelenting hostility to Israel." In his speech announcing his refusal to recertify Iran's compliance with the deal, Trump stated that Iran "remains the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provides assistance to al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist networks."
In fact, Iran and al Qaeda, representing different sects of Islam, are sworn enemies. And after JCPOA was agreed upon in 2015, Noam Chomsky wrote in TomDispatch:
Other concerns about the Iranian threat include its role as "the world's leading supporter of terrorism," which primarily refers to its support for Hezbollah and Hamas. Both of those movements emerged in resistance to US-backed Israeli violence and aggression, which vastly exceeds anything attributed to these villains, let alone the normal practice of the hegemonic power whose global drone assassination campaign alone dominates (and helps to foster) international terrorism.
Trump's refusal to recertify Iran's compliance with the JCPOA came one day after the US announced it would withdraw from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The United States accused UNESCO -- which promotes worldwide literacy, clean water, women's equality, cultural heritage and sex education -- of "anti-Israel bias." Israel said it would pull out of UNESCO as well.
UNESCO incurred the wrath of Israel and the United States in July when it declared the core of Hebron, a city in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, an endangered Palestinian World Heritage site. In 2011, UNESCO was the first UN agency to allow Palestine to become a member, which led to Palestine's upgraded legal status at the General Assembly the following year.
In 2015, UNESCO passed a resolution "strongly" condemning "Israeli aggressions and illegal measures against the freedom of worship and Muslims' access to their holy site." The resolution condemned the "continuous negative impact of the Israeli military confrontations" in Gaza as well.
October 12 was also the day that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which control Gaza and the West Bank respectively, announced they were forming a unity government. Netanyahu opposes Palestinian unity. Iran is the only major power in the Middle East calling for the creation of a Palestinian state.
"President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu are united in a shared agenda of escalation with Iran, with the goal of enabling increased US and Israeli military aggression," Jewish Voice for Peace's Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson wrote in a statement. "Trump's hypocrisy is evident when he talks about caring about everyday Iranians, yet continually tries to ban them from entering the US."Trump Punts to Congress
After he drove a stake through the heart of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and later, the Affordable Care Act, Trump punted those issues to Congress to clean up the messes he made. On October 13, he followed suit with JCPOA.
Trump did not urge Congress to reinstate sanctions on Iran, which would completely scuttle the JCPOA. But he placed the onus on Congress to add new terms not covered by the JCPOA, including sunset clauses and ballistic missiles.
If Congress fails to so act, Trump threatened that "the agreement will be terminated ... and our participation can be canceled by me, as president, at any time."
In order to enact Trump's requested legislation, GOP senators would have to muster 60 votes, including eight Democrats, which is unlikely.
Former Secretary of State John Kerry, who spearheaded US diplomacy with Iran, called Trump's decision "a reckless abandonment of facts in favor of ego and ideology from a president who would rather play a high-stakes game of chicken with Congress and with Iran than admit that the nuclear agreement is working."
"Breaking the Iran agreement would not only free Iran from limits placed on its nuclear program," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) said, "it would irreparably harm America's ability to negotiate future nonproliferation agreements. Why would any country in the world sign such an agreement with the United States if they knew that a reckless president might simply discard that agreement a few years later?"
This is particularly disturbing in light of the volatile standoff between the United States and nuclear-armed North Korea.
Iran's compliance with the JCPOA has made the world a safer place. We must apply pressure on both Congress and the White House to retain the Iran deal.Truthout won't back down from taking Trump and his cronies to task. Click here to support journalism that holds those in power accountable!
Scholars and historians have argued for years about whether the US's own regime of racial oppression in any way inspired the Nazis. In this interview, author James Whitman discusses the meticulous record of a meeting of top lawyers in Nazi Germany, which revealed a deep interest in American race policies.Pledge your support for ethical, insightful independent media: Make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout and choose the "monthly" option at checkout.
To get to the core of race in America today, read this new book by James Whitman. Whitman is the Ford Foundation Professor of Comparative and Foreign Law at Yale Law School. Prepare to be as startled as this respected legal scholar was when he came upon a meticulous record of a meeting of top lawyers in Nazi Germany after Hitler's rise to power. Not only did those lawyers reveal a deep interest in American race policies, the most radical of them were eager advocates of using American law as a model. Scholars and historians have argued for years about whether American's own regime of racial oppression in any way inspired the Nazis. Not only does Whitman throw a bright light on the debate, to this reader he settles it once and for all. Carefully written and tightly reasoned, backed up every step of the way with considered evidence and logic, Whitman reminds us that today is yesterday's child, and that certain strains of DNA persist from one generation to another.
Bill Moyers: You begin the book with a meeting of Nazi Germany's leading lawyers on June 5, 1934, which happens, coincidentally, to be the day I was born.
James Whitman: Oh boy, you were born under a dark star.
To be sure. Adolf Hitler had been chancellor of the Reich for a year and a half. Nazis were rapidly consolidating their hold over Germany. And this was no gathering of everyday, garden-variety lawyers.
No, it wasn't. It was chaired by Hitler's minister of justice and attended by the leading figures among Nazi lawyers.
Why had they gathered? What was their mission?
They were there to begin crafting what would eventually become the notorious Nuremberg Laws, which were promulgated a little bit more than a year later, in September of 1935. Those laws would be the culmination of the first phase of the Nazi program of persecution directed against German Jewry. And they were there to respond to the demands of radical Nazis for the creation of a new kind of race state in Germany.
And the Nuremberg Laws would embody the full-scale creation of a racist state.
You bet. They did. And that's how we remember them today.
A stenographer was present to record a verbatim transcript of that meeting. Reading that transcript you discovered a startling fact.
Yes -- the fact is that they began by discussing American law. The minister of justice presented a memorandum on American race law that included a great deal of detailed discussion of the laws of American states. American law continued to be a principle topic throughout that meeting and beyond. It's also a startling fact that the most radical lawyers in that meeting -- the most vicious among the lawyers present -- were the most enthusiastic for the American example.
And the laws they were creating --
There were three Nuremberg Laws eventually promulgated in 1935. The two that most concern us are usually called the citizenship law and the blood law. The citizenship law reduced Jews to second-class citizenship status in Germany. The blood law banned, and in fact criminalized, interracial marriage and sex. But there was a third as well, which was called the flag law for the Reich, the purpose of which was to install the swastika as the exclusive flag of Germany.
What were they interested in learning about American law?
American law, hard though it might be for us to accept it now, was a model for everybody in the early 20th century who was interested in creating a race-based order or race state. America was the leader in a whole variety of realms in racist law in the first part of that century. Some of this involved American immigration law, which was designed to exclude so-called "undesirable races" from immigration. In 1924 American immigration law in particular was praised by Hitler himself, in his book Mein Kampf.
But it wasn't just about American immigration law. There was also American law creating forms of second-class citizenship -- for African-Americans, of course, but also for other populations including Asians, Native Americans, Filipinos and Puerto Ricans. Not least, there were statutes in 30 American states forbidding and sometimes criminalizing interracial marriage. Those were of special interest to the Nazis.
And these lawyers saw America's "Negro problem" as similar to their "Jewish problem?"
You bet they did.
American law did not specifically target Jews, but --
But it certainly had a highly developed body of law targeting other groups. And the Nazis, although it is true they were unhappy with the lack of American interest in targeting Jews and deplored some aspects of American society, were quite interested in learning from what Americans did in targeting these other populations.
The Nazis believed American blacks were multiplying so significantly they would eventually overwhelm the US. There are photographs in your book from a Nazi magazine with images of American blacks at the time, and the caption reads: "The Negros are multiplying significantly more strongly than the white population of the United States. Their constantly growing numbers are a source of great concern to American statesmen."
It's certainly the case that there were American statesmen, if you want to call them that, especially in the South, who were concerned about the birthrate in the black population. And it's certainly the case that the Nazis, when they encountered American uneasiness of that kind with regard to the black population, were seeing concerns akin to their own.
And that same Nazi magazine showed pictures of the world champion American boxer Jack Johnson, who was not permitted to return to the US because he had married a white woman in Paris. The caption reads, "Mixed marriage between white and black are forbidden in most states of the union." This ban appealed to the Nazis, didn't it?
It sure did. It was one of the great demands of the Nazis -- and again, especially of the radical Nazis -- that interracial marriage should be not only prohibited, but criminalized. When they looked for models around the world for the criminalization of interracial marriage, though, they only found one example -- well, really 30, because there were 30 American states with anti-miscegenation statutes. And it was to these statues that the Nazi lawyers turned.
I was taken with the revelation that to these German lawyers, American blacks "were not a desperately oppressed and impoverished people, but a menacing alien race of invaders that threatened to get the upper hand and therefore had to be thwarted." There were Americans who believed the same thing in that regard as those German lawyers believed -- that blacks were a threat to white rule. Still are.
They sure did. Of course, this is the idea and the background of the notorious film Birth of a Nation, screened, as we all know, by President Wilson in the White House. What an awful thought! There were believers in this bizarre interpretation of the American race situation all over the country. Not just in the South, but in places like Columbia University. It was commonplace [for people to think] that America was threatened by this kind of takeover.
You quote the German writer Wahrhold Drascher, whose book was titled Supremacy of the White Race: "Americans took care to guarantee that the decisive positions in the leadership of the state would be kept in the hands of Anglo-Saxons alone."
Yeah, that's what he said. And the Nazis, in their interpretation of the American theme, thought that they were seeing concerns parallel to their own in Germany. What they were worried about in the early stages was precisely that Jews might take over Germany, so the Jews had to be kept out of government, out of the legal profession, and out of any other situation in which they might exercise what the Nazis always called influence. The Nazis used exactly the same language in discussing the situation of American blacks.
You quote one prominent Nazi lawyer who admired the Democratic Party of the South for using "racist election law" to build a one-party system.
Yes. And the Nazis weren't the only ones to notice this. Other observers too, including much more palatable ones, looked at the South and saw what they thought was the creation of a one-party system very similar to what was emerging in fascist Europe.
So what did those German lawyers meeting in 1934 see when they looked at America in the early 1930s?
It has to be said that there was a kinship when it came to the writing of racist laws. There was especially, but not exclusively in the South, a tremendous interest among American legislators and American judges in guaranteeing what was sometimes called the Anglo-Saxon or white character of the country at the time. And American lawyers were quite ingenious, as American lawyers often are, in devising law that was intended to serve that end. The first thing that the Nazi lawyers saw to admire was precisely that ingeniousness, that innovativeness of American law, that willingness to look beyond the traditions of equality that we find in the law for new solutions to guarantee what they regarded as the proper racial purity of the United States.
There were many other currents, some very admirable currents that are still with us in the United States, that the Nazis saw and deplored. They were sort of mystified at how a country so clearly dedicated to white supremacy could also [have] something like the 14thAmendment to the Constitution, which guarantees equal rights to American citizens -- among whom, [after] the Civil War, were to be counted the freed black people of the South.
And how did the Nazi lawyers square that with their admiration 50 years later of American racist laws?
Well, many of them said exactly what American observers still say today, what political scientists will say today -- that there were two competing currents in American law: on the one hand, a commitment to universal equality, but on the other hand, a deeply racist tradition, which the Nazis often called the realistic racism of the United States. They liked to think of themselves as realists and they admired the realist racism of the United States too.
The racism that existed and was practiced irrespective of law.
That's it exactly. Realism from their point of view meant grappling not only with the world, with the real problems of the world as they presented themselves, rather than formalistic legal abstractions, but also giving effect to the deeply rooted, intuitive racism of the American population in general.
So what those Nazi lawyers creating the Nuremberg Laws saw and admired was the United States going about the political construction of race. Americans were using politics to shape laws that would result in a political system organized around race, despite the absence of any meaningful scientific definition of race.
That's it exactly. And of course the problem that they faced involved precisely the difficulty in finding meaningful, reliable scientific definition according to which you could determine who belonged to which race. There were some moderate Nazis involved in the meeting on June 5 who claimed that you couldn't have criminal statutes targeting Jews because it was impossible to define who counted as a Jew. The response of the radicals is exactly the response you mention: "Ah, but there's a political imperative to construct some conception of race by which we can persecute Jews, even if it's not clearly scientifically justifiable."
And they saw America doing that in regard to people of color, particularly black people.
Boy, did they ever. In fact, they saw America doing it in a more radical fashion than any of the Nazis themselves ever advocated. I mentioned earlier the demands of the radicals during the early Nazi period in 1933, which were embodied in something called the Prussian Memorandum. Kind of a sinister name, but that's what it was. The Prussian Memorandum specifically invoked Jim Crow as a model for the new Nazi program, and here's the irony: The Prussian Memorandum also insisted that Jim Crow went further than the Nazis themselves would desire to go. They were planning to ban offensive socialization between the races if it took place in public but not in private. They went on to observe that the Americans went even further than that, banning interactions even in private. As Nazi debates continued, however, there was a great deal of disagreement over whether anything like Jim Crow segregation was appropriate for Nazi Germany. In fact, if you read the stenographic transcript of that meeting we're talking about, you'll come across a leading Nazi radical who denied that segregation would work in Germany. As he put it, "The Jews are just much too rich and powerful. Segregation of the Jim Crow kind could really only be effective against a population that was already oppressed and impoverished," like the African-American population in America.
You point out that Germans defined sexual relations between a German and a member of a foreign race sexual intimacy as "race treason."
Yes, they did. They had a bunch of terms for it, but "race treason" was certainly one of them. Race treason was the betrayal of one's loyalty to the Aryan race as the Germans conceived it by engaging in sexual relations -- particularly ones that might produce a child -- with a non-Aryan, and especially with a Jew.
And Adolf Hitler writes in Mein Kampf: "The racially pure and still unmixed German has risen to become master of the American continent and he will remain the master as long as he does not fall victim to racial pollution."
That was Hitler, alright. And he was not the only one. Other authors and political leaders on the far right spoke in similar terms. One Nazi writer described the founding of the United States as "the fateful turning point in the Aryan struggle for world domination."
So to the Nazis, America had become the fountainhead for the worldwide rise of white supremacy.
America was the leader from their point of view. Now, many of the representatives of this far right wing thought that the US was doomed to decay on account of race mixing. Hitler himself, as it turns out, was relatively optimistic about the future of the United States, at least in the late 1920s and through the early 1930s. His views began to change later on, after clear hostilities with the United States took hold in the latter part of the 1930s. But in the late 1920s, he expressed some real optimism about the future of the US as a race state. Alternatively, sometimes he regarded the US as representing a major competitive threat to European countries that didn't follow America's lead in establishing the kind of racial purity that American law was designed to establish.
It's important to emphasize too that when Hitler spoke of the American conquest of an entire continent, he was setting a tone for something that Nazis would continue to say down into the 1940s -- this is something that ought to make us all really uncomfortable. It involves research that's not mine but the research of others. As the Nazis rolled east to conquer other lands -- in Ukraine and elsewhere -- they often invoked the example of the American conquest of the West, even speaking of the Jews of Eastern Europe as Indians. As early as 1928 Hitler was speechifying in admiration of Americans who had "gunned down the millions of redskins to a few hundred thousand, and now keep the modest remnant under observation in a cage."
Yes. Now, we want to be very, very careful in interpreting Nazi invocations of the US. Many German historians have remarked on the fact that the Nazis often invoked the American example. It's hard to miss when you look at the sources. Still, we really must not make this a story of causation in which the Nazis would never have committed the crimes they committed unless they had been able to draw inspiration from the United States. There were too many other sources for the evil crimes of Nazism. One wants to soft-pedal this a little bit. And yet it's there. That's what Hitler did say in l928. You can't read this stuff without shuddering today.
So let's pause there for a moment. You acknowledge in your book that none of this is easy to talk about, that it's hard to digest the idea that American law might have exerted any sort of direct influence on the Nazi program of racial persecution and oppression. And no one, as you yourself say, wants to imagine that America provided any measure of inspiration for Hitler. So you conclude that it would be wrong to say that the Nazis directly borrowed from the Americans, that this is not a story of an exact transplant from one legal culture to another.
In fact, you tell this story very cautiously, with careful qualifications -- the American and Nazi regimes were not the same. But you nonetheless conclude that from Hitler's Mein Kampf on, the Nazis lionized American white supremacy and rummaged, as you put it, in American immigration and citizen laws. The National Socialist Handbook for Law and Legislation even described America as the country that had achieved a fundamental recognition of the historic racist mission that Nazi Germany was now called to fulfill. And we keep saying you can't escape this as we go through the history. We cannot escape it.
Yes, that's exactly right. I should say that I didn't expect to write the book. I didn't know I would find what I found. The universal view among American historians is that there had been no influence or no meaningful influence of American law on the Nazis. There patently was. I think that we hadn't understood it, not only because it's difficult for Americans to talk about it, but more importantly, in some way, it's difficult for Germans to talk about it. The one thing that you want to avoid, if you want to make an honorable, reputable career in the German academic world, is to say anything that might seem to represent an apologetic for the Nazis or to deny German responsibility for Nazi crimes. That makes it hard for Germans who are really the natural scholars to work through this material to do so. You have to read an awful lot of German material. You have to read a lot of technical law, and you have to have some training in order to do it. And there are a lot of reasons not to want to do it. But boy, when you do start digging, and you find the stuff there, it's exactly as you say -- it's painful. You mentioned The National Socialist Handbook for Law and Legislation -- well, it indeed described the US as the country that had arrived at the fundamental recognition of the need for creating a race state, and then went on to explain that it was now the turn of Nazi Germany to do a more rigorous and efficient job of what the Americans had begun. That's a characteristically German view of all of this.
Hitler himself, in Mein Kampf, described the US as the one state that had made at least some progress for creating the kind of race order he wanted to create in Germany. In fact, that's how I started the research. I pulled Mein Kampf off the shelf, saw that phrase, and thought, "Maybe there's something more here."
Had you started to write this book before then?
No, that was how I started.
Reading Mein Kampf?
Yes. It's obvious that American and the Jim Crow era had a race-based or racist regime that resembled what emerged in Germany, so the question of whether there was some influence was a natural one, or at least some resemblance. And I thought I'd just take a look to see what I found and once I began looking, I found a lot.
You quote the Nazi author of The Supremacy of the White Race, Drascher, who said that were it not for the contribution of the Americans, a conscious unity of the white race would never have emerged. Reading just that sentence, I can feel rumbles from American politics today, and it's chilling.
It sure is. I didn't expect to produce a book that would be timely in the way this one has turned out to be timely. But over the past year, the continuities in American history seem to have revealed themselves.
Let's go back to these German lawyers and jurists in that meeting on June 5, 1934. Some historians have suggested that at around that time, Germany and the American South had the look of a mirror image. They were both unapologetically racist. At that time, the Jews of Germany were hounded, beaten and sometimes murdered by mobs and by the state alike and in the same years the blacks of the American South were hounded, beaten and sometimes murdered as well. There are parallels so powerful in our mutual histories that you just have to shake your head.
Yes, you do. I don't know what to say. It's hard for us to digest in the US. There's a lot that we would prefer to forget. And I will say, not just that we would prefer to forget when it comes to our own history, but that we'd prefer to forget about American influence abroad because our example has not always been one for good in the rest of the world.
I watched the mayoral debate on Oct. 10 here in New York City. It was a noisy, raucous affair, and I remembered your writing that the Nazis didn't like New York City. They saw it as a place where "the representatives of the races" gathered to create "a mishmash of ideas and people," a place marked by a great influence of the Jews, which made institutions like Columbia University centers of radicalism, and they thought that the true America by contrast was Anglo-Saxon and Protestant.
That's what they said. I'm sure New York was a fun place to visit regardless. Even if you were a Nazi. But it's true, they regarded the city of New York as just a hotbed of what Hitler called "Jewish elements" and were very, very suspicious of that same brash New York culture you've just described in the debate.
Those particular quotes, which were typical, I should say, of the far-right wing in Germany -- far-right wingers have been saying things like that about New York for a long time -- were from a Nazi book written in praise of Franklin Roosevelt as someone whom the Nazis at first thought exemplified some of the same virtues of their Führer in the early 1930s. That's another uncomfortable piece of this story.
They often described him as a dictator. So did Mussolini, in fact. They thought that New Deal policies, intended of course to address the horrors, or the economic difficulties let's call them, of the Great Depression, resembled Nazi efforts to do the same thing, which in fact they did. I mean, these were in some ways similar programs, as historians have shown. Some of the Nazi literature at the time said Roosevelt obviously aspired to do the same sorts of things Hitler was doing but who lacked the sort of paramilitary organization, a party army, that was used in Germany to support Hitler's efforts. This was a pretty widespread impression. The Italian fascists thought similar things of the early New Deal.
So take the first programs of 1933 and 1934 -- in particular what was called the National Recovery Administration, eventually struck down by the Supreme Court -- when Mussolini was shown the plan for it, he said, "É un dittatore." "That's a dictator." The perception that Roosevelt really was moving in the same direction as Central European dictators was pretty widespread in those countries in the early 1930s. Later on it became clear that it wasn't the case. But, again -- we don't like to remember it, but especially in the early years of the New Deal, the Roosevelt administration depended very, very heavily on the support of the segregationist South. Roosevelt was very careful not to cross those Southern Democrats and that may also have contributed to the impression in Nazi Germany and elsewhere that there was something kindred in the New Deal regime to what they were doing.
There was traffic back and forth between Germans and Americans who promoted eugenics -- you know, the sterilization of the mentally defective and the exclusion of immigrants said to be genetically inferior. You quote a German author who declared in 1935, "The Americans have begun to think about the maintenance of race purity and thus to ask not only about eugenics, but also about membership in individual races. It can be seen in their immigration laws, which completely forbid the immigration of yellows" -- meaning Asians -- "and place immigration from European countries under sharp supervision. The American knows very well who made his land great. He sees that the Nordic blood is drying up and seeks to refresh that blood through his immigration legislation."
Yes, the passage you quote is from a Nazi-sympathizing doctor in 1935, saying things that Nazis frequently said at the time. American immigration law had been admired on the European far right wing for a long time, including in particular in a book called The Handbook of the Jewish Question. This was a kind of a minor bible of the Nazi movement, going back to the late 19th century, because already by then the US was restricting immigration in ways that inspired radical Nazis.
And yes, you are absolutely right in saying that eugenics, American eugenic theories played a big role in all of this. Other historians have shown this. American eugenic theories were influential in many parts of the world, not just in Nazi Germany. Eugenic approaches at the time, as difficult as it is for us to imagine now, were respectable. Sweden, for example, was a center of eugenics legislation. So the eugenics business didn't just involve the Nazis and the US, but it is absolutely true that the Nazis were great admirers of American eugenic theories. There was a lot of back and forth as you say. American eugenicists went to Germany. German eugenicists came to the US. They conferred and discussed and compared notes.
So that in the early '30s, when these Nazi lawyers were engaged in creating a race law founded in part on anti-miscegenation law and race-based immigration, they came looking for foreign models and found some in the US.
Yes, and studied them very, very carefully. That's not only true of anti-miscegenation law. The passage that you just quoted earlier on about American immigration law was the product of a lot of very careful study of that law. They worked hard to learn what was going on in the US. And in particular, as you say, they worked very hard trying to understand or to master American anti-miscegenation law. Thirty American states had anti-miscegenation statutes. These were by no means limited to the American South. They were found all over the country. They didn't target only blacks. They were also particularly devoted to banning and sometimes criminalizing marriages and sex between Caucasians and Asians, Caucasians and Native Americans -- it goes on and on. Anti-miscegenation laws were a national phenomenon. At the meeting on June 5, 1934, the memorandum discussed by the minister of justice was accompanied by a list which detailed the anti-miscegenation provisions found in all 30 of the states that had them. And the law of those states was discussed in detail -- I would almost say excruciating detail. They were really looking to see what they could learn from the US.
You have a quote from that transcript of this meeting. One Nazi says to the state secretary, "I'm reminded of something an American said to us recently. He explained, 'We do the same thing you Germans are doing, but why do you have to say it so explicitly in your German laws?'" And the state secretary answered, "But the Americans put it in their own laws even more explicitly." Was he right?
He was. It's quite a memorable exchange, I have to say.
You write that the Nazis were obsessed with the state enforcement of racial and sexual purity. Mixed marriages and mixed sex could lead to imprisonment. They included in the Nuremberg Laws "a blood law," and you write, "It is with the blood law that we discover the most provocative evidence of direct Nazi engagement with American legal models and the most unsettling signs of direct influence." Would you elaborate on that?
Sure. So again there were two principle Nuremberg Laws apart from the flag law that we mentioned before. The first we usually call the citizenship law -- the creation of second-class citizenship for Jews was the object of that law. The second law -- what we call "the blood law" -- was precisely the law about interracial sex and marriage. When it came to the first, the citizenship law, there was plenty of inspiration the Nazis could find in a general way in the United States. But only in a general way, because although the US had no shortage of legal provisions effectively depriving American blacks of voting rights for example and other pertinences of citizenship, and although the US created a special kind of second-class citizen status for certain populations, notably the Filipinos, Puerto Ricans, Native Americans, those aspects of American law for the most part involved legal subterfuges. You couldn't actually come into court in the US and say blacks are not citizens because after the Civil War the citizenship of blacks was guaranteed in the US, so you had to find tricks. The Nazis were of course not going to use tricks. They were simply going to say openly that Jews are not citizens. They didn't have any difficulty saying that at all and for that reason when it came to their citizenship program they weren't going to borrow directly from the United States.
Matters were very different when it came to banning interracial marriage and sex because, as we just said, American anti-miscegenation statutes were completely unapologetic and open about race-based aims. They said "no sex or marriage" between Caucasians and Africans, as they often called them, or between Caucasians and Mongols -- that was a typical term for Asians -- and so on and so forth. The Nazis had something from which they did not hesitate to borrow and they studied these laws very, very carefully.
You write that the US Supreme Court entertained briefs from southern states whose arguments were indistinguishable from those of the Nazis.
They were. The sorts of things the Nazis said, often using terms like mongrelization and bastardization of the population were also often said by Southern racists. It was exactly the same vocabulary.
Let me read to you. Here's a quote from a Maryland statute in 1957 -- 1957! -- that you include in the book:
All marriages between a white person and a Negro, or between a white person and a person of Negro descent, to the third generation, inclusive, or between a white person and a member of the Malay race or between a Negro and a member of the Malay race, or between a person of Negro descent, to the third generation, inclusive, and a member of the Malay race, or between a person of Negro descent, to the third generation, inclusive, and a member of the Malay race or between a Negro and member of the Malay race, or between a person of Negro descent, to the third generation, inclusive, are forever prohibited and shall be void; and and any person violating the provisions of this section shall be deemed guilty of an infamous crime and be punished by imprisonment in the penitentiary for not less than eighteen months or more than 10 years.
That was Maryland law.
Yes, and it wasn't the only one. Laws of that kind weren't ruled unconstitutional until 1967 by the Supreme Court in the famous case of Loving v. Virginia. You could find them all over the United States and they were of great interest to the radical Nazis. The idea that racially mixed marriage was somehow objectionable was pretty widespread in the world in the early 20th century. Racism was something you found everywhere. But criminalization of the American kind was something that you just couldn't find elsewhere, particularly criminalization of such harshness as to threaten 10 years of imprisonment. That was was of tremendous interest to radical Nazis who wanted exactly the same thing for Germany.
Some of them talked about how America's long history of sexual relations between masters and slaves left the US "groaning under the weight of an enormous mass of mongrels." Which brings us to Sen. Theodore Bilbo from Mississippi, one of the most powerful of all Southern politicians.
He figures in my book as he does in some other very important work by Ira Katznelson. Sen. Bilbo was a dyed-in-the-wool racist and a great pillar of the New Deal government in the early 1930s and thereafter. You're absolutely right -- the huge mass of "mongrels" was something the Nazis recognized in the United States. That's a German phrase, it's not a Nazi one, but it's a German phrase for describing the American situation. One of the shocking things about my research was to come to terms with the fact that American definitions of who counted as black or members of other races were much more far-reaching and draconian than anything the Nazis themselves came up with.
Bilbo said, "One drop of Negro blood placed in the veins of the purest Caucasian destroys the inventive genius of his mind and palsies his creative faculty." Is it true that the Nazis thought the one-drop rule too extreme?
They did indeed. They never proposed anything nearly as extreme as the one-drop rule. In fact the standard, the most far-reaching Nazi definitions of who counted as a Jew, matched the least far-reaching ones to be found in the American states. Virtually all American definitions of who counted as a black were far more draconian than anything found in any Nazi proposal. At the same time, the Nazi literature expressed real discomfort about the so-called one-drop rule, which, I have to say, was not found in every American state, as there were a variety of approaches in the US. But it was understandably notorious. The Nazis, difficult as it is to imagine, described the one-drop rule as inhuman, as "involving human hardness that's going much, much too far, you couldn't do that kind of thing," they said. And their own definitions for who counted as a Jew, especially those that were ultimately attached to the Nuremberg Laws, were more restricted than anything to be found in American states at the time.
Talk about The Cable Act of 1922. I never heard of it until I read your book.
The Nazis were interested in it. The Cable Act was the American version of something found throughout the world at the time -- certainly in Europe and the United States. The Cable Act dealt with a standard problem in the law of the day. According to traditional legal definitions in the 19th century, a married woman acquired the citizenship of her husband and lost her native citizenship. That was part of the general submersion of a wife's legal personality into the personality of her husband. That rule was being abrogated everywhere in the early 20th century and it was abrogated in the United States, too, but the Cable Act included an exception. It said, "Although women retain their American citizenship ordinarily when they marry a non-American citizen, if they stoop so low as to marry a Japanese person or an Asian, they have to be deprived of citizenship in that case."
It's one of a few examples the Nazi lawyers talk about that I think may have played a role in the formation of the ultimate regulations implementing the Nuremberg Laws. In determining who counted as a Jew, the Nazis decided that anybody with two Jewish grandparents would only count as a Jew if that person practiced the Jewish religion or married another Jew. This idea of who counted as a member of a given race depending on their marital history was something for which we could find a bunch of examples in American law and the examples are discussed in the Nazi literature.
The Prussian Memorandum we discussed earlier declared that causing harm to the honor of the race could also be made criminally punishable. When I read your take on this, I thought of the current debate over athletes taking a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance or the national anthem. There are people on the right, including the president of the United States, who say they are dishonoring the flag, dishonoring the history of the country. How little they know of our history. We're still fighting over legacies from the past.
Yes. I handed in the corrected proofs of this book the day before Election Day, so although I knew that some of these undercurrents in America were erupting once again, I didn't understand how much that was the case. What you say is quite true. Things obviously have improved immeasurably. We're not back in the 1930s and I wouldn't want anyone to read my book as suggesting we are. We're certainly not. There are nevertheless obvious resemblances and obvious continuities. and it's interesting that you mention the controversy over the national anthem and the flag. It's worth emphasizing that the swastika flag played a big role in the Nuremberg Laws as well. The Nazis were very, very concerned with demanding obeisance to the symbols of the regime. They even discussed how people might be required to show respect for the heroes of the Nazi movement and of German history; that discussion played a role in that June 5, 1934 meeting. But these kinds of things mattered to them just as they matter now on the American right wing.
White supremacists have been emboldened by Trump. There were the storm troopers marching through Charlottesville searching for Jews. The far right gains support over issues such as immigration, identity, nationality, even greatness: "Make America Great Again." All reverberations from our past.
At that Charlottesville rally, people were chanting, "Blut und Boden," which is "Blood and soil" -- that's the Nazi slogan. Obviously consciously borrowing it from the Nazis and displaying flags that barely alter the swastika symbol. There's no question that they at least want to trumpet their sense of kinship with the Nazi movement. How much they really know about it, I don't know. But in researching for this book I learned that it's not just a matter of Americans borrowing from Nazis; the Nazis were borrowing from the Americans too. A lot of this unfortunately got started in our country.
So tell me about Heinrich Krieger. He's one of the most fascinating personalities to appear in your book.
Yes, he was a young Nazi lawyer who somehow in the year 1933–34 found himself an exchange student in Arkansas. He obviously loved international travel. He was particularly interested in indigenous legal traditions so he worked on American Indian law. Published a perfectly good article on American Indian law in an American law review, one that was certainly written from a Nazi point of view but that showed real mastery of the law and said some intelligent things about American Indian law. I hope I don't offend anybody in observing that there were smart and gifted people who were Nazi lawyers. He returned to Germany where somebody in the justice ministry heard about this kid off in Dusseldorf who knew something about American law. He then wrote a memorandum describing American law and displaying real mastery of American law and American race law. He followed that with a thick book called Race Law and the United States, which is a Nazi book but a Nazi book full of acute observations. You don't want to say anything good about any Nazi scholars but the truth is that Nazis were able to see things in America, precisely because they were looking at them from a Nazi point of view.
His heroes were Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. Explain that.
Isn't it hard to take? Well, so it's important here as background to explain the aims of the early Nazi program. When the Nazis first came to power, the Holocaust was not yet on the horizon. Hitler, as we've seen, had spoken of the Americans gunning down the millions of redskins. But despite that, the idea of mass murder wasn't really practical or much discussed. The early aim of the Nazi program was to force the Jews to emigrate. It was to expel the Jews as had been done in Europe in the Middle Ages or to make life so miserable for them in Germany that they would flee.
Here is the hard part in talking about American history: The reason that Heinrich Krieger admired Jefferson and Lincoln is that both Jefferson and Lincoln repeatedly said that the only real hope for the US lay in resettling the black population somewhere else. And he quoted both Jefferson and Lincoln to that effect. His view of American history was that if only Lincoln hadn't been assassinated Lincoln would have instituted something like the order the Nazis wanted -- that is, he would have found some way to resettle the black population, now freed, in the United States. In particular there was some contemplation of establishing a colony in Central America. He said, "If only Lincoln had survived, then America would be the kind of place that Nazi Germany aimed to be as well." I tell you, it's a shock to read these things but that is what he said.
He was fond of Jefferson's declaration in 1821 on the impossibility of racial coexistence: "It is certain that the two races equally free cannot live in the same government."
Yes, that's just one quote from Jefferson, he said similar things earlier on as well. So you know, they remain our heroes but their world and their mindset were sometimes difficult for us to approve of.
In your book you write: "Sometimes the American democratic political process produces admirable legislation but to have a common-law system like that of America is to have a system in which the traditions of the law do indeed have little power to ride herd on the demands of the politicians and when the politics is bad, the law can be very bad indeed." You go on: "The resulting dangers have not vanished and it would be wrong to close this book without pointing to at least one contemporary realm of American law in which those dangers are still making themselves felt. The realm is American criminal justice. American criminal justice is spectacularly and frighteningly harsh by international standards. It includes practices that are sometimes uncomfortably reminiscent of those introduced by the Nazis."
What is it that makes contemporary American justice so exceptionally harsh?
Oh boy! Certainly one critical answer is the sheer capacity of American politics and politicians to shape American criminal law and American criminal justice. Politicians in the US run on tough on crime platforms. It has to be added as well that both judges and prosecutors are elected officials in much of the US. That's something unheard of in the rest of the world. And frankly, more humane traditions of the law do very little to stand in the way of translating the demands of politicians into law. In that respect, the situation in the US is really quite different from what we find now in Europe, where professional lawyers, professional criminologists and the like still manage criminal justice. I simply have to say it: the accessibility of the legal system to political influence was exactly what the radical Nazis admired most about America in the 1930s and that's still doing tremendous damage to our criminal justice system today.
Thank you so much, James Whitman.
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