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Why Won't Trump Judicial Nominee Wendy Vitter Support the Landmark Desegregation Case "Brown vs. Board of Education"

Truthout - Tue, 04/17/2018 - 21:00
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Last week, during Wendy Vitter's confirmation hearing for a Louisiana district court judgeship, the Donald Trump appointee (and wife of former Republican senator David Vitter) refused to say whether she supported Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case that barred racial discrimination in public schools.

"I don't mean to be coy," Vitter said when asked about it by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., "but I think I can get into a difficult, difficult area when I start commenting on Supreme Court decisions -- which are correctly decided and which I may disagree with."

As is standard these days, the comment set off a firestorm of debate over whether or not Vitter was "really" being racist.

“It is shocking that, in the year 2018, Ms. Vitter refused to say whether the Supreme Court, a unanimous Supreme Court, did the right thing when it struck down segregation and legal apartheid in America’s schools," Kristine Lucius of the Leadership Conference said in a Monday press call. 

NAACP head Derrick Johnson, during the same call, said that Vitter had joined "a growing roster of Trump nominees" who exhibit "documented hostility regarding the rights of communities of color."

Tim Morris of NOLA.com disagreed with that analysis, saying that Blumenthal "was trying to set a trap by coaxing Vitter to comment on one Supreme Court ruling that would then open the door to the case he really wanted to get to, the abortion right the court found in Roe v. Wade.

"Did Blumenthal have any reason to believe that Vitter disagreed with the court ruling or that she would be looking to overturn 64 years of precedent by deciding that 'separate but equal' was constitutional?" Morris asked.

Morris' readers are clearly invited to believe that it's preposterous to suggest that a conservative Republican from the South would oppose desegregation. It's not. Vitter has already been exposed as holding radical opinions on other matters, such as her endorsement of the belief that birth control, something nearly all women have used, is dangerous and unnatural.

But the far grimmer truth is that school desegregation is not nearly as uncontroversial as Morris would have his readers believe. In many ways, racial discrimination in public schools is alive and well. While most people would formally agree that Brown v. Board was correctly decided, in practice American schools are still segregated by race, and in many places black students are treated as second-class citizens.

"America's school-age population is more diverse than ever before, reflecting the demographic shift rapidly taking place in our country," wrote Beverly Daniel Tatum in a Los Angeles Times op-ed last September. "America's schools, however, are more segregated than they have been for decades."

In a 2014 report for the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Boardthe UCLA Civil Rights Project found that in the 11 Southern states that had their segregation laws overturned by the Brown decision, there has been a strong decline in integration after the Justice Department of the Reagan and George H.W. Bush years undermined desegregation efforts and the Supreme Court terminated desegregation orders in 1991.

"At the peak, 44% of black southern students were in majority-white schools, the kind of schools that provided strong potential opportunities for diverse learning experiences," the report reads. "By 2011, that number had declined to 23%, a drop by nearly half, and the decline has accelerated in recent years."

White parental choices help accelerate these trends. “New Orleans has a relatively diverse city population, but white parents in New Orleans disproportionately send their kids to private schools," Jon Valant of the Brookings Institution told Salon. "So the public school system looks very different, demographically, from the city as a whole." Tulane's Education Research Alliance for New Orleans released a study last year demonstrating that efforts to overhaul the education system in the city, after Hurricane Katrina, did little to reverse this trend. 

As Nikole Hannah-Jones reported in 2014 for ProPublica, 12 percent of black students in the South now attend what are deemed "apartheid schools," where less than 1 percent of the school's population is white. That problem isn't limited to the South. ProPublica tracked a similar surge in segregation in Midwestern swing states like Ohio and coastal blue states like New York and California as well.

Even when schools are technically integrated, black students often face discrimination. Many schools use "tracking" systems that function as an intra-school method of segregation. While such systems are ostensibly merit-based, channeling high-achieving kids more challenging classes, in practice they often have discriminatory effects.

"Parents who are able to secure high-track placement for their children are disproportionately likely to be white, well-educated and politically vocal," a 2013 report from the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado explains. These parents use the system to keep their children "apart from students of lower wealth, students of color, or both." That report also shows that there's no real evidence that tracking improves educational outcomes, but it does exacerbate inequality.

Then there's the unequal treatment students experience on a daily basis in schools, especially when it comes to discipline. As Valant of Brookings argues, although it's difficult to get rigorous data that isolates the effects of racial discrimination in school discipline, there is "reason to worry that students of color are being punished too harshly in many schools across the country."

Valant was part of a team at the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans that found large disparities in disciplinary actions at Louisiana schools, with black students twice as likely to be suspended as white students. They looked specifically at discipline in cases where white and black student got into fights with each other and found clear disparities.

"For fights involving one white student and one black student, black students receive slightly longer suspensions than white students," the report reads. "This disparity is evident even after accounting for students’ prior discipline records, background characteristics, and school attended."

All of this means it's not preposterous at all to wonder why Vitter was so hesitant to agree that Brown v. Board of Education was a good decision. In many ways, subtle and otherwise, many white people in America have resisted school desegregation every step of the way. That resistance remains strong, even if it's not expressed as overtly as it once was. As long as Donald Trump is in the White House, there's no reason to believe this situation will improve.

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Taking Aim at Corporate Impunity, Sanders' Bill Would Hold Big Pharma Execs Behind Opioid Crisis Accountable

Truthout - Tue, 04/17/2018 - 21:00

Sen. Bernie Sanders attends a Senate Budget Committee hearing on February 13, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call)

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While President Donald Trump attempts to place blame for the enduring opioid addiction crisis on immigrants, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) announced Tuesday that he would introduce legislation to take aim at those who drug policy experts agree are truly behind the epidemic that kills tens of thousands of Americans per year -- pharmaceutical companies and executives.

"At a time when local, state and federal governments are spending many billions of dollars a year dealing with the impact of the opioid epidemic, we must hold the pharmaceutical companies and executives that created the crisis accountable," said Sanders in a statement.

The bill (pdf) would threaten Big Pharma executives with at least 10 years in prison should their companies be found guilty of contributing to the opioid crisis through manipulative marketing practices. Executives would also face fines equal to their total compensation packages, while companies would be fined $7.8 billion -- one-tenth of the annual cost of the public health epidemic, according to government estimates.

Under the legislation, companies would be required to clearly state that opioids are addictive in any marketing materials for the drugs, which include popular brands including OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet.

The roots of the opioid crisis are traced back to the 1990s, when Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, began marketing the drug as safe for long-term use for chronic pain, denying that prescription opioids -- which are chemically similar to heroin -- had highly addictive properties.

After opioid painkiller prescriptions skyrocketed as a result, the rate of overdose began to rise as well, with opioid overdoses killing at least 63,000 Americans in 2016.

In Ohio next year, Purdue is one of several drug companies that will face a jury trial over a lawsuit accusing them of "deceptively marketing opioids" and alleging distributors "ignored red flags indicating the painkillers were being diverted for improper uses."

But Sanders noted that no company has truly been held liable for the epidemic, which Purdue alone has make tens of billions of dollars off of in recent years:

In 2007, Purdue Pharma...pled guilty and agreed to pay more than $600 million in fines for misleading the public about the risks of the drug. But the company still made $22 billion off of the drug in the past decade.

"We know that pharmaceutical companies lied about the addictive impacts of opioids they manufactured," said Sanders. "They knew how dangerous these products were but refused to tell doctors and patients. Yet, while some of these companies have made billions each year in profits, not one of them has been held fully accountable for its role in an epidemic that is killing tens of thousands of Americans every year."

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How the Working Families Party Intends to Shake Up the 2018 Elections

Truthout - Tue, 04/17/2018 - 21:00

There's a new energy in voters and they are more open than ever to big ideas about the kind of change we need, says Joe Dinkin, national communications director of the Working Families Party (WFP). From chasing Paul Ryan out of the race in Wisconsin, to challenging New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for failing to deliver on his promise of a progressive budget, WFP is shaking up the 2018 midterms.

(Photo: Hill Street Studios / Erik Isakson / Getty Images)

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We're now more than a year into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators not only about how to resist but also about how to build a better world. Today's interview is the 118th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with Joe Dinkin, the campaigns and communications director at the Working Families Party (WFP). Dinkin discusses how Paul Ryan's exit is indicative of the trouble the Republican Party is in and how WFP plans to organize people around the 2018 midterms.

Sarah Jaffe: I want to start out with some of the good news. Tell us about what your reaction was to hearing that Paul Ryan was no longer going to run for his seat?

Joe Dinkin: There had been rumors swirling for a while that Paul Ryan might get out of the race as Randy Bryce's campaign picked up steam.... It turned out that the rumors were true and Paul Ryan quit before he could be fired, because Randy Bryce, the union ironworker and Working Families Party activist ... was going to give Paul Ryan the run of his life; it turned out we were right.

Randy Bryce, from the beginning said he wanted to "repeal and replace" Paul Ryan. We've gotten the first half of that done. We've repealed Paul Ryan; he'll be out of Congress. It's pretty satisfying to say that. This is a guy who has talked about dreaming of slashing Medicaid and the social safety back ... dreaming about making poor people suffer is just so infuriating that I couldn't be happier to see him exit public life.

Unfortunately, he'll probably end up with a lucrative lobbying contract of some kind, but he won't be in the same capacity -- able to inflict the kind of direct harm on people that he was able to do by ushering through the passage of the monstrous Republican tax plan.

This is the person who was the author of many tax reform plans; this one is the one that actually succeeded. Is this a sign that this particular wing of the Republican Party -- not just the Trumpist fake-populist racist wing, but the "We want to drown the government in the bathtub" wing -- is also in deep trouble?

I think they're in huge trouble. I think that what Paul Ryan realized is that what he did is politically indefensible. There's no way to take that record back to voters in any part of [the US] and justify what he did as anything other than theft in the name of governance, on behalf of some of the richest people who've ever lived -- something that will cause immense suffering to millions of Americans of modest means. It's morally indefensible and politically indefensible, and I think he saw the writing on the wall that he couldn't run on that record and win.

In that way, I think Paul Ryan is the tip of the spear, and I think a lot of other Republicans are going to realize that that vote was a deeply toxic one -- not just a stain on their conscience, but also damaging to their political standing. There was just a special congressional election in [Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district] where a Democrat won this ... sort of archetypal working-class white district, where the Republicans were running ads trying to kind of buck up the Republican tax plan. The ads weren't moving the needle and they abandoned that ad a couple of weeks before Election Day because it wasn't working and there's no way they can hide from that.

Paul Ryan kind of represented an archetypal working-class district, and so you found an archetypal working-class dude who in many ways is not just that. The thing that I find interesting about Randy Bryce, watching him for several months, is that he's not just running on being the "manly-man" ironworker. This is a guy who ran on caring for his sick mother; this is a guy who's gotten arrested with DREAMers; this is a guy who's not only calling for marijuana legalization but marijuana amnesty. He seems to be smart on a lot of things that are not the sort of white, working-class bread-and-butter issues that we hear a lot that "the Democrats have to return to or else they'll lose to Trump forever."

I think people like Randy Bryce -- which is to say working-class people -- have been used as an icon and a symbol in politics for a long time, but it's really pretty rare that somebody from a union household -- a union worker with family troubles and health problems -- is himself seen as a real political actor and not just an icon or a symbol. And I think what you're seeing with Randy is that people are actually a lot more complicated than the single stereotype. Randy is not just running on what might most immediately appeal to a pollster stereotype of the hard-hat, white working class. He's running on health care for all and the care agenda and he's been unbelievably vocal about defending the rights of immigrants and the DREAM Act and criminal justice reform and marijuana legalization and, as you pointed out, marijuana amnesty for people that have been convicted of something that really should never have been a crime.

He's running on a bold and progressive agenda that is a populist agenda that speaks to people's economic needs and also understands that there are special kinds of difficulties and oppressions that fall on people who are more marginalized.

Certain parts of the working class, we might say.

That's right. And I think the wisdom of the DC-based consultant class has been that the only way to win a swing district or even a Republican-leaning district like this one has been to run as a moderate, and it turns out that exactly the opposite is true. The only way that we're able to make that race competitive is to have somebody run on his life story, on the things that's impacted him and people he cares about and on what he believes in, which is to say, to run on this bold, multiracial populism.

Tell us about Randy Bryce's history with the Working Families Party.

Randy is somebody who was involved in the founding of the Wisconsin Working Families Party; he's been a member since the very beginning. In the moment of resistance to Trump, we started planning a series of protests all over the country, as Paul Ryan traveled the country avoiding his constituents....

At the same time, he was traveling around and doing high-dollar fundraisers ... because he was refusing to hold town hall meetings where his constituents could give him a piece of their mind about, at the time, the Republican health care plan and some of the nomination fights. We ran a series of protests ... in the places where he was going to go visit wealthy donors instead of his constituents. We would organize protests and they would use their cell phones to make video calls out to ordinary people back in Wisconsin who didn't get the chance to ask Paul Ryan a question. They would FaceTime, basically, into these protests all around the country, and one of the activists participating in those protests from back home was Randy Bryce.

So a couple of months later, when it came time to start looking at a candidate to really take the fight directly to Paul Ryan electorally, Marina Dimitrijevic, director of the Wisconsin Working Families Party, along with the Wisconsin WFP political director, sat down with Randy in a coffee shop and asked him point blank, "We need people in Congress who can represent working families, and who better than a real working-class person with a working family to be the standard-bearer for that movement and tell the truth about Paul Ryan's record?"

It took a little convincing, but Randy ultimately agreed to do it and we've been unbelievably proud of his success....

Do we know who the Republicans are that are going to step up now that Paul Ryan is not running for re-election?

It's not entirely clear. There's one sort of far-right-wing, "alt-right" white nationalist candidate in the race already; my guess is they'll recruit another sort of more polite Republican into the race as well. The filing deadline is a couple of more weeks out, so we'll have to see how it shakes out. In some ways, the Republicans are realizing their vulnerability with Ryan's record -- they get to back somebody who's never been in Congress, who would have voted exactly the same way but doesn't have it on their record and they think that will excuse them....

In other big news this week, the never-ending question for the Working Families Party has always been Andrew Cuomo and the governor's race in New York.... Andrew Cuomo has largely gotten what he wanted in those eight years, including a couple of Working Families Party nominations. What changed this time?

Four years ago, the majority of the Working Families Party state committee voted for Andrew Cuomo after he promised to pass a raft of progressive legislation and work hard to win a Democratic majority in the state senate and end the Independent Democratic Conference as a separate conference and create a Democratic majority that, in a blue state like New York, ought to actually be able to pass a lot of items on the progressive agenda -- from economic justice to reforming our democracy to ... a real plan on climate change, to criminal justice reform.

He promised a broad suite of progressive issues and he promised to elect Democrats to the state senate.,,, A little bit of background for people who aren't from New York, there has been a breakaway faction of the state senate Democrats, they call themselves the "Independent Democratic Caucus," and for the last six budgets, they have sided with Republicans and led to Republican budget after Republican budget.

Budgets are a moral document, that's where we get to fight about what's important to our society and who pays and who gains ... Andrew Cuomo in 2014 promised that he would end that unholy arrangement that was artificially keeping the New York State Senate from passing the progressive agenda. He promised he would end it, he promised he would pass the progressive agenda, he mostly broke those promises entirely....

I was at this meeting and I was really struck because there had been a lot of threats made that week. Andrew Cuomo did not go gently into that good night; he threatened the unions in order to threaten the funding of community organizations that were backing Cynthia Nixon. I was struck by the way that people in that room seemed like they weren't scared of Andrew Cuomo anymore.

Turns out organizing works. People got together and built a shared vision and said, "We're not going to be bullied by this guy." There was a sense of defiance, even.

Definitely. I think there were a couple of votes for "Hell yes" and even "Fuck yes" for Cynthia Nixon. How does this connect to the more national strategy that is now really in earnest for you? How does the choice to challenge Andrew Cuomo connect to the success of a Randy Bryce?

Here's how I would say: I think especially with Trump in the White House, with a cabinet and an administration composed of billionaires and avowed white nationalists who've been running the country, the urgency for our kind of values is felt more deeply and more broadly than ever before. People who are the opponents of that progressive agenda -- whether they're Republicans or whether they're Democrats -- are really feeling the heat right now.

And it's emboldened people to pay closer attention to politics.... It took until the election of Donald Trump for people to really wake up to the politics, pay attention to the news in a deeper way, look around and say, "Well, why can't New York pass the DREAM Act here, pass health care for all to ensure that if Trump guts Obamacare people are still covered, pass the Reproductive Health Act, and all of these measures of the progressive agenda that people deeply needed -- why can't we do that?"

It was because of these state senators who were caucusing with the Republicans, and people got active and people got mad. I think that kind of thing has happened all over the country where there is this new, activated -- almost radicalism -- there's a new energy in voters who are hungry for serious change and are really more open than ever to big ideas about the kind of change we need.

It separates you a little bit from the old model, which was very much based in New York -- unions and community groups and the fusion voting strategy. That still matters, but it's not quite the center of the WFP strategy anymore.

We have always been built on a base that includes unions, community organizations and grassroots activists, and what we've seen since the election of Trump especially -- but even going back before that, to the Bernie Sanders campaign, to the rise of some of the social movements over the last couple of years -- is that that grassroots base, the individual activists are on fire.

Unfortunately, that has meant that some of the unions, both four years ago and this year, are deciding to -- at least for now -- back away.

That's right. I think they're in a difficult position. I feel for them. I think they made a difficult decision, but I get why it happens. We are 100 percent committed to unions, to the labor movement, to workers' rights, and that's never going to change. We're always going to be there fighting for working people -- the ones in unions, the ones who deserve and don't have the protection of a union, and people piecing together work in the gig economy and those who are unemployed. Those are all working families and we're going to fight as hard as we can for each of them.

Another thing just announced about the WFP is that you have a new director. Tell us about him and the vision that he embodies for the party.

His name is Maurice Mitchell. I couldn't be more excited. I've known him for a while and he's always impressed me as an unbelievable organizer, strategist and leader.... He's spoken really eloquently in the media in the last couple of days about his vision for where we're going, which is a vision that kind of ends the false dichotomy between the fights for economic and racial justice, and says we need both of those things and a vision that embraces the rise of some of the social movements that have sprung up over the last couple of years -- from Occupy to the climate movement to the DREAMers to the Movement for Black Lives -- and says there's all these people in the streets, all the way up to the most recent youth-led movement against gun violence, and says these are people who are fired up and need a new political home, and we could be that home.

And there was one other thing going on for y'all this week.

One other thing -- actually, there's a few other things. We won paid sick days in New Jersey this week. But the one other thing I was going to talk about was, we also had 75 people in Las Vegas at our ... growing political education program ... for an intense, three-day-long political education program that was built on a big analysis about helping people develop their ideology, on class exploitation, on structural racism, on the reinforcement of gender roles in our society and on a broken democracy that has failed to really transform and overcome those challenges that we're facing.... It's a pretty cool model that we're trying out that we've been growing around the country.

How can people get involved with any and all of the things we've talked about today?

People can go to our website at WorkingFamilies.org and sign up.... And also follow us on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and all the social media if that's how you stay engaged -- you can find us there, too.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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

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Under Louisiana Bill, Peaceful Protesters Could Face 20 Years in Prison

Truthout - Tue, 04/17/2018 - 21:00

The environmental group 350.org's "Draw the Line on Tar Sands and the Keystone XL pipeline" protest took the form of a second line parade as it made its way through the french quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana, on September 21, 2013. Under a proposed Louisiana law, peaceful protests against pipeline infrastructural projects bear the possibility of prison sentences as long as 20 years, or fines of up to $10,000. (Photo: Julie Dermansky / Corbis via Getty Images)

With House Bill 727, Louisiana has joined a growing number of states that are criminalizing nonviolent civil disobedience actions at "critical infrastructure" sites, which typically include pipelines, refineries and electrical power facilities. Financed by Big Oil, the Louisiana bill makes even discussing a possible trespass action punishable with prison sentences of five years and fines up to $10,000.

The environmental group 350.org's "Draw the Line on Tar Sands and the Keystone XL pipeline" protest took the form of a second line parade as it made its way through the french quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana, on September 21, 2013. Under a proposed Louisiana law, peaceful protests against pipeline infrastructural projects bear the possibility of prison sentences as long as 20 years, or fines of up to $10,000. (Photo: Julie Dermansky / Corbis via Getty Images)

On April 12, 2018, in the chambers of the Louisiana State House of Representatives, Rep. Major Thibaut Jr. stepped up to the microphone before the Speaker to introduce seemingly benign House Bill 727. According to his testimony, the bill was humble -- almost technical -- in scope and aimed primarily to add "pipelines" to the list of what the state considers "critical infrastructure." It had faced no opposition in committee, Thibaut added, and had "over sixty-something authors."

The bill would impose severe penalties on peaceful protesters engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience actions at sites considered "critical infrastructure".

"It's a good bill," he said, then motioned for favorable passage. Ninety-seven legislators voted yay, three voted nay, and just like that, all 4.6 million residents of Louisiana took a step toward losing their First Amendment rights. Should the bill become law, it would impose severe penalties on peaceful protesters engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience actions at sites considered "critical infrastructure" by Thibaut's bill. In fact, simply planning to take such an action, considered "conspiracy" by HB 727, could be punishable by fees of up to $10,000 and prison sentences as long as 20 years.

With the crack of a gavel, Louisiana joined the growing number of states across the nation with similar "critical infrastructure" bills moving swiftly through the courts and onto governors' desks.

The first appeared in Oklahoma in May 2017. According to the bill's author, Rep. Mark McBride, it was an attempt to keep Oklahoma from paying costs related to any Diamond Pipeline protests. The law beefed up penalties for protesters who trespassed on property containing a "critical infrastructure facility." The definition of such facilities varies by state but tends to include energy-industry sites like pipelines, refineries and electrical power facilities.

Since the ALEC Summit, bills like Louisiana's HB 727 have cropped up all over the country.

Shortly after Oklahoma signed the bill into law, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-funded group that holds annual meetings with state legislators and lobbyists to vote on "model" legislation, took the measure up itself at its summit in Nashville, Tennessee, in December 2017. ALEC calls its model bill "The Critical Infrastructure Protection Act," claiming the bill drew its "inspiration" from laws enacted in 2017 by the State of Oklahoma.

Since the ALEC Summit, bills like Louisiana's HB 727 have cropped up all over the country. In Ohio, where construction on the Rover pipeline resulted in repeated spills of toxic drilling materialSenate Bill 250 suddenly appeared. Its language reflects the ALEC-inspired bill, aiming to "prohibit criminal mischief ... on a critical infrastructure facility." It would also impose fines on organizations "complicit" with said activity.

In Iowa, Senate Study Bill 3062 penalizes those who'd commit "sabotage" of critical infrastructure facilities with fines of up to $100,000 and 25 years in jail.

In March 2018, lawmakers in Minnesota introduced HF 3693, which would, among other things, criminalize anyone who "recruits, trains, aids, advises, hires, counsels, or conspires with" a trespasser at an infrastructure site. Minnesota courts could use the law to punish these "conspirator" groups or individuals with a full year in jail and/or a $3,000 fine.

Louisiana House Bill 727, introduced in late March, is even more severe than the original ALEC-inspired legislation. If enacted, the law could potentially penalize people who never even set foot on one of its protected sites. Under the bill as written, simply discussing a possible trespass action could result in prison sentences of five years and fines up to $10,000. Actually damaging pipeline infrastructure could lead to 15 years in jail, and it could lead to 20 years if the damage interrupts construction site operations or endangers human life.

It remains unclear how the conspiracy clause of this bill would be enforced in Louisiana, should the measure become law. In a phone interview with Truthout, Alicia Cooke of the volunteer climate activist group 350 New Orleans wondered aloud, "How do you prove that someone is conspiring to trespass on property? Versus conspiring to gather near property?"

In recalling a recent protest march that 350 New Orleans organized in St. James Parish, Cooke said participants reported feeling "the shadow of the law" that day as they marched down public roads past Entergy facilities. "I worry that if we did something like that again ... if someone just put a toe out of line on that marching route onto Entergy's property, it might be construed as a malicious act and give [authorities] cause to arrest someone," Cooke told Truthout.

The bill's author, Rep. Thibaut, said in House Chambers on April 12, 2018, that it would "give law enforcement the tools they need to protect our people." Opponents, however, note that private property protections and trespassing measures are already on the books in Louisiana. Instead, opponents of the bill argue that the measure is meant to silence groups opposed to the construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. A 162-mile crude oil transport line that would serve as the final leg of the Dakota Access Pipeline, Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC is a joint venture of Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66.

"There's no question about the timing," Anne Rolfes, the founding director of the environmental justice nonprofit Louisiana Bucket Brigade, told Truthout in a phone interview. "It's a really clear puppet string between the oil industry and Energy Transfer Partners and our legislature."

The bill comes on the heels of a recent victory in the courts by the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper and other local environmental groups. In late February, a federal injunction by US District Court Judge Shelly Dick temporarily prohibited Energy Transfer Partners from continuing pipeline construction work in the Atchafalaya Basin "in order to prevent further irreparable harm" to the ecosystem, which includes both old-growth cypress trees and crawfishing grounds for local fishermen.

It's the ultimate irony ... we're not considering our own water, our own forests, our own wetlands to be critical infrastructure.

Weeks later, however, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals granted Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC's appeal request for a stay on the temporary injunction. The three-judge panel was divided. The majority decision held that Dick abused her discretion when granting the injunction. Dissenting Judge Davis, in contrast, held that the environmental assessment report "did not comply with the National Environmental Policy Act" by adequately detailing how construction-related damage done to the environment would be properly mitigated.

The original suit filed by the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, among other organizations, is slated to be heard by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Houston on April 30, 2018.

In contrast to the relatively benign activities of the environmental activists in the state -- holding up banners and staging ad-hoc musicals at pipeline worksites -- oil and gas companies in Louisiana have already wreaked substantive harm on the wetlands. Beyond supplying estuary habitat for one of the most robust fisheries in the nation, Louisiana's coastal marsh plays a major role in protecting inland communities by attenuating storm surge and high winds from hurricanes.

Damage to the health of the wetlands, in fact, is likely to be far more costly to the state in the long run than temporary work stoppages due to activism along the Bayou Bridge Pipeline construction route. Over the next 50 years, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Agency intends to pay $644 million to restore the nearly 2,000 miles of coastal wetlands that have been lost to open water in the past 80 years. Research shows that oil and gas activities, particularly the dredging of at least 10,000 miles of canals to allow access to oil wells and other structures, are to blame for a significant portion of this land loss. One study, published by researchers at Louisiana State University, investigated land loss in three southeast Louisiana basins since 1956. They found that "canal dredging significantly and directly related to wetland losses," noting that for each hectare (a little over two acres) of canal dredged, there was a corresponding net loss of 2.85 hectares of land over the 34-year time frame of the study.

Beyond dredging-related damage to the wetlands, Louisiana can also expect more oil spills from the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. Energy Transfer Partners, Sunoco and their subsidiaries reported 527 pipeline spills from 2002-2017, averaging approximately one incident every eleven days, according to a recent report issued by Greenpeace USA and Waterkeeper Alliance. These accidents spilled 3.6 million gallons of crude oil and other hazardous liquids -- enough to fill five-and-a-half Olympic-size swimming pools.

"I am very deeply concerned about the Bayou Bridge Pipeline Project and the potential for Energy Transfer Partners to repeatedly break the law and do harm to many waterways across the state," said Donna Lisenby, a campaign manager with the Waterkeeper Alliance and one of the co-authors of the report, while speaking to reporters on April 17, 2018.

Unfortunately, a quick survey of Representative Thibaut's campaign contributors over the years -- which include donors like Atmos Energy, Exxon and Chevron -- suggests he may be tempted to prioritize the wishes of corporations over scientific recommendations or the constitutional rights of his constituents. Now that the Louisiana bill has passed through the House, it will travel to the Senate for debate. Meanwhile, in Ohio, Iowa and Minnesota, state lawmakers are pushing their versions of the ALEC-inspired bill through committees and legislative chambers.

"It's the ultimate irony," said Cooke. "We're considering critical infrastructure to be pipelines, oil refineries, and oil wells. But we're not considering our own water, our own forests, our own wetlands to be critical infrastructure."

Cooke, who continues to organize with 350 New Orleans against the bill, said she felt sad about it all, adding, "It just shows what we've chosen to prioritize in Louisiana."

Rolfes, however, sees reason for hope. "Resistance to fossil fuels in general and oil specifically is growing," she said. "Although it's disheartening to see these bills, it shows you the status of their industry. Their future is on shaky footing."

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Categories: Latest News

Bloody Violence in South Carolina Prison Shines Light on Inhumane Conditions Across US

Truthout - Tue, 04/17/2018 - 08:48

At least seven prisoners died and 17 were seriously injured after bloody violence broke out Sunday night at a maximum security prison in South Carolina. It was the deadliest prison riot in the United States in 25 years. A coroner said all of the prisoners were stabbed, slashed or beaten. Six of the seven were African-American. No guards were hurt. In total, at least 20 prisoners have been killed by fellow prisoners in South Carolina since the start of 2017. One investigation found the number killed across the state's prisons had quadrupled from 2015 to 2017. The state's prison agency has also been hit with several lawsuits that outline a "long history of violence" and allege sometimes the violence is "encouraged" by guards. We speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Heather Ann Thompson, who wrote Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Tax Day 2018: A Bonanza for Corporations and the Military

Truthout - Mon, 04/16/2018 - 21:00

The Trump tax plan will likely lead to a corporate income tax cut of $135 billion in 2018 alone. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Individual taxpayers are contributing five times more money than corporations to the federal government via the 2017 taxes that are due today. A significant portion of this money is going directly to military contractors who pay their CEOs millions of dollars. A 10 percent cut in spending on military contractors would fund 395,000 school teachers or provide health insurance for 13 million children.

The Trump tax plan will likely lead to a corporate income tax cut of $135 billion in 2018 alone. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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The IRS is projected to gather roughly $1.6 trillion in individual income taxes this year, and these taxes will make up almost half of the revenue of the federal government for 2017.

By comparison, corporations are expected to pay $297 billion in federal income taxes. Individuals will contribute five times as much in income taxes to the federal government as corporations do.

It wasn't always this way. Corporations used to pay more income taxes than individuals did. In 1943, for example, corporations contributed 40 percent of federal revenues, compared to just 9 percent today.

What happened?

Throughout the last half of the 20th century, individual income tax revenues kept growing. Corporate income taxes didn't keep the pace, growing much more slowly than individual income tax revenues. The corporate tax rate declined from over 50 percent in the 1950s to 35 percent as of 2017.

The Trump tax plan will likely lead to a corporate income tax cut of $135 billion in 2018 alone.

The failure of corporate tax contributions to keep up with individual income taxes is even more egregious considering that corporate profits are at historically high levels. According to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute, corporate profits were 5.5 percent of the national economy in 1952, compared to 9.5 percent in 2017.

Meanwhile, the federal government's shift away from taxing corporations is about to become even more extreme in the coming year, now that Trump's tax plan has taken effect and funds even more corporate giveaways in the 2018 tax year.

Increased Corporate Giveaways Under Trump's Tax Plan

The Trump tax plan that passed Congress at the end of 2017 is set to cut corporate taxes even more, shrinking the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to just 21 percent.

Even before the Trump tax plan, the US collected less taxes from corporations than do many other advanced economies. The effects of the Trump plan are likely to mean the US will be dead last among advanced economies in the corporate taxes it collects compared to the size of the economy. The Trump tax plan will likely lead to a corporate income tax cut of $135 billion in 2018 alone.

In 2017, the average individual taxpayer contributed $1,600 to military contractors.

The tax plan also rewards a top corporate tax avoidance strategy: corporate offshoring. Before the passage of the latest tax plan, corporations that hold their profits overseas were already able to avoid paying federal income taxes, and many make indefinite use of this loophole to avoid taxes. Now, the new tax plan allows them to bring these profits back to the US while paying only a tax rate of 15.5 percent, even lower than the reduced 21 percent corporate tax rate.

Meanwhile, the wealth that was supposed to flow from corporations to individual workers as a result of these tax cuts is not panning out. Even as they loudly trumpet bonus packages or wage hikes for workers, corporations have mostly opted to reward stockholders. A combination of increased distributions to stockholders and stock buybacks rewards shareholders, who tend to be wealthy, and does next to nothing for workers.

Federal Tax Dollars Flow to Military Contractors

Income taxes fund a federal budget that provides deeply needed public services that couldn't happen any other way -- things like protecting the environment, medical research and public education. However, many of these dollars also end up in the hands of corporations through federal contracts. In 2017, nine out of 10 of the top US federal contractors were primarily contracted under the Department of Defense.

Last year, the US paid more than $320 billion in federal tax dollars to military contractors like Lockheed Martin and the Boeing Company, makers of the F-35 jet fighter and the Apache helicopter, respectively. In 2017, the average individual taxpayer contributed $1,600 to military contractors. That's 11 cents out of every income tax dollar. 

Government contracts to corporations often act as a direct subsidy to economic inequality. The biggest federal contractor, Lockheed Martin, receives the vast majority of its revenues from federal tax revenues and rewarded its CEO with a $20 million pay package. The average US taxpayer contributed $240 to Lockheed Martin in 2017. CEOs for the top five military contractors took home a combined $96 million in pay.

The Trump administration's recent bombing of Syria prompted watchers to note the cost of weapons used in the strike at upward of $118 million.

Federal contractors still benefit from corporate tax cuts under the Trump plan. Military contractor Raytheon noted that it plans to use its tax cuts in much the same way as other corporations: by "returning capital to shareholders through share buy backs and dividends." The difference is that not all corporations using the tax cuts to reward shareholders make their money from the federal government.

Military contractors like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon also sell their weapons and military aircraft to foreign governments, and still take advantage of the offshoring of profits. The tax plan provides a feedback loop of reinforcement for these bad behaviors: Analysts have noted that repatriated profits under the offshoring tax loophole might themselves be used for shareholder dividends and share buybacks.

Even as federal contractors benefit from tax cuts, the biggest contractors also stand to benefit from another Trump signature policy: the policy of expanding the military and war. The military budget is set at $716 billion for 2019, the highest in more than a generation. Roughly half of that is likely to end up in with the Pentagon's corporate contractors. And the Trump administration's recent bombing of Syria prompted watchers to note the cost of weapons used in the strike at upward of $118 million.

Profits Over People: Domestic Spending Can't Keep Up

Even as the job and wage improvement promises of the Trump tax plan go up in smoke, federal spending on everything else -- from education, to veterans, to cancer research -- lags behind.

Out of every income tax dollar, 23 cents goes to the military, and 11 cents of that go to military contractors, but just 6 cents go toward benefits for veterans from all of our past and current wars.

A 10 percent cut in spending on military contractors would provide health insurance for 13 million children.

Military contractors are better funded than almost every function of government: Of every tax dollar we pay, three cents go to federal student aid for higher education; two cents go to food stamps, according to the National Priorities Project. Less than a penny goes to the Environmental Protection Agency, which President Trump has threatened with a 23 percent budget cut. The only public need on which we spend nearly as much as we spend on military contractors is health care.

That leaves a lot to individuals and to stretched city and state budgets to cover: education, housing and the environment are all distant seconds to corporate welfare when it comes to federal spending.

These choices have real consequences. A 10 percent cut in spending on military contractors would provide enough money to hire 395,000 elementary school teachers or provide health insurance for 13 million children.

Repealing the Trump tax cuts would provide enough to create more than 4 million infrastructure jobs, 39 million Pell grants at the maximum grant amount, or early child care for 25 million children.

Changing the Balance

The US tax system has provided a range of benefits to corporations, from low tax rates to loopholes, for decades. The Trump tax plan doubles down on this approach, lowering the corporate tax rate even further and rewarding corporations that made use of loopholes like offshoring profits.

This tax system is matched by federal spending choices that prioritize the military industrial complex, whose corporate members are a model of tax avoidance and corporate inequality, complete with taxpayer-funded high CEO pay.

Combined, these policies serve to shortchange domestic priorities, from job creation to education.

Categories: Latest News

Class Dismissed: Class Conflict in Red-State America

Truthout - Mon, 04/16/2018 - 21:00

Kentucky public school teachers protest outside the Kentucky House Chamber as they rally for a day of action to pressure legislators to override Gov. Matt Bevin's recent veto of the state's tax and budget bills, April 13, 2018, in Frankfort, Kentucky. The teachers also oppose a controversial pension reform bill the governor signed into law. (Photo by Bill Pugliano / Getty Images)

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Teachers in red-state America are hard at work teaching us all a lesson. The American mythos has always rested on a belief that this country was born out of a kind of immaculate conception, that the New World came into being and has forever after been preserved as a land without the class hierarchies and conflicts that so disfigured Europe.

The strikes, rallies, and walkouts of public school teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, soon perhaps Arizona, and elsewhere are a stunning reminder that class has always mattered far more in our public and private lives than our origin story would allow. Insurgent teachers are instructing us all about a tale of denial for which we've paid a heavy price.

Professionals or Proletarians?

Are teachers professionals, proletarians, or both? One symptom of our pathological denial of class realities is that we are accustomed to thinking of teachers as "middle class." Certainly, their professional bona fides should entitle them to that social station. After all, middle class is the part of the social geography that we imagine as the aspirational homing grounds for good citizens of every sort, a place so all-embracing that it effaces signs of rank, order, and power. The middle class is that class so universal that it's really no class at all.

School teachers, however, have always been working-class stiffs. For a long time, they were also mainly women who would have instantly recognized the insecurities, struggles to get by, and low public esteem that plague today's embattled teachers.

The women educators of yesteryear may have thought of their work as a profession or a "calling," subject to its own code of ethics and standards of excellence, as well as an intellectual pursuit and social service. But whatever they thought about themselves, they had no ability to convince public authorities to pay attention to such aspirations (and they didn't). As "women's work," school teaching done by "school marms" occupied an inherently low position in a putatively class-free America.

What finally lent weight to the incipient professional ideals of public school teachers was, ironically, their unionization; that is, their self-identification as a constituent part of the working class. The struggle to create teacher unions was one of the less heralded breakthroughs of the 1960s and early 1970s. A risky undertaking, involving much self-sacrifice and militancy, it was met with belligerent resistance by political elites everywhere. When victory finally came, it led to considerable improvements in the material conditions of a chronically underpaid part of the labor force. Perhaps no less important, for the first time it institutionalized the long-held desire of teachers for some respect, a desire embodied in tenure systems and other forms of professional recognition and protection.

Those hard-won teachers' unions also paved the way for the large-scale organization of government workers of every sort. That was yet another world at odds with itself: largely white collar and well educated, with a powerful sense of professionalism, yet long mistreated, badly underpaid, and remarkably powerless, as if its denizens were… well, real life proletarians (which, of course, was exactly what they were).

Rebellion in the Land of Acquiescence and Austerity

Despite their past history of working-class rebelliousness, the sight of teachers striking (and sometimes even breaking the law to do so) still has a remarkable ability to shock the rest of us. Somehow, it just doesn't fit the image, still so strong, of the mild-mannered, middle-class, law-abiding professionals that public school teachers are supposed to be.

What drives that shock even deeper is where all this uproar is happening. After all, for decades those "red states" have been the lands of acquiescence to the rule of big money and its political enablers. The state of Oklahoma, for example, had a legislature so craven, so slavishly in the service of the Koch brothers and the oil industry, that it prohibited the people's representatives by law from passing new taxes with anything but a legislative supermajority. (A simple majority was, of course, perfectly sufficient when it came to cutting taxes.)

Arizona typically has had a "right-to-work" law since 1947 to fend off attempts to organize workers. Such laws are, in fact, a grotesque misnomer. Rather than guaranteeing employment, they ban unions from negotiating contracts requiring that all workers who benefit from the contract become members of the union and contribute dues to cover the costs of their representation. In all these states, teachers (along with other public employees) are prohibited or severely limited by law from striking.

Such concerted and contagious insurgency in the homelands of the bended knee was unimaginable… until, of course, it happened. Both acquiescence and the current explosive wave of resistance from teachers were the wages of austerity. Those particular Republican-run states were hardly the only ones to cut social services to the bone while muscling up on giveaways to corporate powerbrokers. (Plenty of Democrat-run state governments did the same.) But the abysmal conditions of public schools and the people who work in them in those states have made them the poster children for an age of austerity that's lasted decades.

Oklahoma, for instance, cut funding per student by 30% over the past 10 years and led the nation when it came to education cutbacks since the 2008 recession. Meanwhile, Arizona has spent less per student than any other state. And that's just to start down a list of red-state austerity measures in education. The nitty gritty result of such slash-and-burn tactics has meant classes with outdated textbooks, antiquated computers (if any at all), schoolhouses without heat, and sometimes even a four-day version of the usual five-day school week.

West Virginia's teachers, the first to go out on strike, averaged salaries of $45,240 in 2016, which ranked them 47th in the nation in teacher pay. At $41,000, Oklahoma is even worse. Arizona's teachers, now threatening to join the strike lines, are 43rd, while Kentucky does only a bit better at $52,000. At some point -- always impossible to predict no matter how inevitable it may seem in hindsight -- enough proved enough.

Austerity is a politics of class overlordship, or (as we tend to say these days) the dominion of the 1%. It entails, however, far more than just the starving of the public sector, especially education. Those teacher's salaries and the grim conditions of the deprived schools that go with them are just the budgetary expression of a deeper process of ruthless economic underdevelopment and cultural cruelty.

After all, over the last generation, the deindustrialization of America has paid handsome dividends to financiers, merger and acquisition speculators, junk bond traders, and corporations fleeing a unionized work force for the sweated labor of the global South. In the process, deindustrialization ravaged the economic and social landscape of working-class communities (including that of red-state teachers), turned whole cities into ghost towns, leaving millions on the down escalator of social mobility, and made opioids the dietary staple of the country's rural and urban hinterlands.

In the process, deindustrialization dried up sources of industry-based tax revenues which had once helped maintain a modicum of social services, including ones as basic as public education. Tax givebacks, subsidies, or exemptions for the business world grew lush as roads, bridges, public transport, health care, and classrooms deteriorated.

Blaming the Victims

Scapegoats for this unfolding disaster were rounded up -- the usual suspects, of course: the inherent laziness of the desperately poor and immigrants, all living off the public weal; liberal sentimentalists manning the welfare state; greedy unionized workers undermining American competitiveness; and above all, the racially disfavored.

Oh yes, and there was one extra, far more surprising miscreant in that line-up: those otherwise quintessentially respectable, law-abiding professionals teaching our kids. If those children failed to measure up, if they couldn't read or write or do math, if they were scientific illiterates, if they grew up black or "undocumented" distrusting official authority, if they dropped out or were drugged out, if they seemed to exhibit an all-sided dysfunction and ill-discipline, it had to be the fault of their teachers. After all, they had cushy jobs, went home at three, had their summers off, and enjoyed immunity from public oversight thanks to their all-too-powerful unions.

Acquiescence and austerity breed cultural decline, a telling sign of which has been the blaming of teachers for a profound, many-sided social breakdown they were largely the brunt of, not the cause of. A country undergoing systemic underdevelopment like the United States can't provide decent housing or health care, a non-toxic environment or reasonable child care, color-blind justice or well-equipped schoolhouses, no less rewarding work. The classroom inherits all those deficits.

Millions of children arrive at school burdened by the costs of secular decline before they ever enter their first class. Teachers try to cope, often heroically, but it's a losing battle and they get stigmatized for the defeat. It matters not at all that many of them, like those staffing the school systems of West Virginia or Oklahoma, spend innumerable hours beyond the "normal" school day prepping and inventing ways to treat the wounds of social meanness. They even draw on their own spare resources to make up for yawning gaps in books, computers, paper (and not just notebook paper, but toilet paper) that state and local governments have refused to provide funds for.

In those children and those schools can be seen a vision of our society's future and clearly it doesn't work. Like so much else about American life of late, this is a world of "winners" and "losers" -- and the kids, as well as the teachers, have been on the wrong side of that equation for far too long now.

How convenient it is for the powers-that-be to depict the striking teachers as the problem, as the "losers," while whittling away at their salaries, supplies, tenure arrangements, and other union protections (when they're fortunate enough to even have unions), while lengthening teaching hours, reducing vital prep periods, and subjecting them to the discipline of teaching to the test. Just to make ends meet, teachers in those red states often have to moonlight as waitresses or car-service drivers. In a word, until the recent strikes and walk-outs, they had been turned into powerless rather than empowered proletarians.

If Not Now, When?

Punishing and demoralizing as this regime has been, the teachers stood up. Though the urge to write "finally stood up" is there, no one should underestimate the courage and desperation it takes to do just that. Moreover, this moment of resistance to an American world of austerity overseen by plutocrats is not as surprising as it might seem.

We live in the era of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. In their starkly different ways each of them is symptomatic of our moment -- in Trump's case of a pathological condition, in Sanders's of the possibility of recovery from the disease of acquiescence and austerity. In both, you can see the established order losing its grip. Even before the Sanders campaign, there were signs that the winds were shifting, most dramatically in the Occupy Wall Street uprising (however short-lived that was). Today, thanks in part to the Sanders phenomenon, millennials who were especially drawn to the Vermont senator make up the most pro-union part of the general population.

Atmospheric change of this sort was abetted by elements closer to the ground. Irate teachers in the red states were generally either not in unions at all or only in union-like institutions with little power or influence. So they had to rely on themselves to mold a fighting force, an act of social creativity which happens rarely. When it does, however, it's both captivating and inspiring, as the West Virginia uprising clearly proved to be in a surprising number of other red states.

Class matters as does its history. West Virginia wasn't the only place where striking or protesting teachers entered the fray well aware and proud of their state's long history of working class resistance to the predatory behavior of employers. In the case of West Virginia, it was the coal barons. Many of the strikers had families where memories of the mine wars were still archived.

Kentucky, most memorably "bloody Harlan County," where strikes, bombings, and other forms of civil war between mine owners and workers went on for nearly a decade in the 1930s (requiring multiple interventions by state and federal troops), can say the same. Oklahoma, even when it was still a territory, had a vibrant populist movement and later a militant labor movement that included robust representation from the Industrial Workers of the World (the legendary "Wobblies"), a tradition of resistance that flared up again during the Great Depression.

Arizona was once similarly home to a militant labor tradition in its metal mining industries. Its grim history was most infamously acted out in Bisbee, Arizona, in 1917. At that time, copper miners striking against Phelps Dodge and other mining companies were rounded up by deputized vigilantes, hauled out to the New Mexican desert in fetid railroad boxcars, and left there to fend for themselves. Those mine wars against Phelps Dodge and other corporate goliaths continued well into the 1980s.

Memories like these helped stoke the will to resist and to envision a world beyond acquiescence and austerity. Under normal circumstances to be proletarian is to be without power. Before capital is an economic category, it's a political one. If you have it, you're obviously so much freer to do as you please; if you don't, you're dependent on those who do. Hiding in plain sight, however, is a contrary fact: without the collective work of those ostensibly powerless workers, nothing moves.

This is emphatically the case with skilled workers, which after all is what teachers are. Discovering this "fact" and acting on it requires a leap of moral imagination. That this happened to the beleaguered teachers of so many red states is reflected in the esprit de corps that numerous accounts of these rebellions have reported, including the likening of the strikes to an "Arab Spring for teachers."

And keep in mind that many other parts of the modern labor force suffer from precarious conditions not so dissimilar from those of the public school teachers, including highly skilled "professionals" like computer techies, college teachers, journalists, and even growing numbers of engineers. So the recent strikes may portend similar recognitions of latent power in equally improbable zones where professionals are undergoing a process of proletarianization.

An imaginative leap of the sort those teachers have taken bears other fruit that nourishes victory. Instead of depicting their struggles as confined to their own "profession," for instance, the teachers today are fashioning their movement to echo broader desires. In Oklahoma and West Virginia, for example, they have insisted on improvements not just in their own working lives, but in those of all school staff members. Oklahoma teachers refused to go back to school even after the legislature granted them a raise, insisting that the state adequately fund the education system as well. And everywhere these insurgencies have deliberately made common cause with the whole community that uses the schools -- parents and students alike -- while repeatedly expressing the desire that children not be sacrificed on the altar of austerity.

Nothing could be more at odds with the emotional logic of austerity and acquiescence, with a society that has learned to salute "winners" and give the back of the hand to "losers," than the widening social sympathy that has been sweeping through the schoolhouses of red state America.

Class dismissed? It doesn't look like it.

Categories: Latest News

Trump's Legal Worries Grow as Judge Rejects Effort for President to Review Documents Seized in FBI Raid

Truthout - Mon, 04/16/2018 - 21:00

In a potentially major setback for President Trump, a federal judge has rejected efforts from the president to be given first access to documents seized by the FBI last week during raids on the properties of Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen, who is being investigated for possible bank and wire fraud. Monday's court hearing pitted the president against his own Justice Department. Assistant US Attorney Thomas McKay urged the judge to reject the president's request. McKay said, "Just because he has a powerful client doesn't mean he should get special treatment." The FBI seized 10 boxes of documents and as many as a dozen electronic devices from Cohen. According to press accounts, the Trump administration now views the probe into Cohen as a more serious threat to the president than special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Meanwhile, on Monday, Cohen's attorneys were forced to reveal Fox News host Sean Hannity was also one of Cohen's other legal clients. Just last week, Hannity slammed the FBI for raiding Cohen's office and home, but he never disclosed his ties to Cohen. We speak to Marcy Wheeler, independent journalist who covers national security and civil liberties. She runs the website EmptyWheel.net.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: In a potential major setback for President Trump, a federal judge has rejected efforts from the president to be given first access to documents seized by the FBI last week during raids on the properties of Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen, who's being investigated for possible bank and wire fraud. Monday's court hearing pitted the president against his own Justice Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas McKay urged the judge to reject the president's request. McKay said, quote, "Just because he has a powerful client doesn't mean he should get special treatment." The FBI seized 10 boxes of documents and as many as a dozen electronic devices from Michael Cohen. According to press accounts, the Trump administration now views the probe into Cohen as a more serious threat to the president than special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Monday's courtroom hearing was filled with surprises. Michael Cohen's attorneys were forced to reveal Fox News host Sean Hannity was also one of Cohen's three legal clients, the other one being the president. Just last week, Hannity slammed the FBI for raiding Cohen's office and home, but he never disclosed his ties to Cohen. On Monday, Hannity acknowledged having brief legal discussions with Cohen, but said Cohen had never represented him in any matter. Michael Cohen's third legal client is Republican donor Elliott Broidy, who recently resigned as deputy finance chair of the Republican National Committee over revelations he paid $1.6 million to a former Playboy model to keep quiet about their affair, which resulted in her having an abortion. Meanwhile, in another surprise on Monday, adult film star Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, attended Cohen's hearing. Cohen paid her $130,000 to keep quiet after her affair with Donald Trump. These developments all come as former FBI Director James Comey's new book, A Higher Loyalty, hits bookstores today, less than a year after he was fired by Donald Trump.

Joining us in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is Marcy Wheeler, independent journalist who covers national security and civil liberties. She runs the website EmptyWheel.net.

So, Marcy, you were watching this from afar. It wasn't just down the road from Democracy Now! But talk about the significance of what happened in Judge Kimba Wood's courtroom yesterday.

MARCY WHEELER: What Cohen is asking for -- and Trump joined the argument on Friday -- what they're asking for, or what they were trying to ask for, was first dibs on all of the materials that were seized from Cohen's office, so that they could treat it as if it were a subpoena. When you get a subpoena, you go through your own documents, your own files, and say, "This is responsive to your request." And then, if you're a lawyer or a couple of other things, you can say, "It's responsive to your request, but it is privileged, and therefore I'm going to tell you about it, and we're going to argue about whether it's really privileged." That's what they were trying to do.

The prosecutors in that case have said, "Look, here are the reasons why Cohen can't be trusted: because he hasn't cooperated, for example, with Robert Mueller's investigation; because he's being investigated for lying and fraud; there's some hint that some documents may already have been destroyed" -- although that's not Cohen per se -- "and so you can't allow him to do it." And more importantly, the prosecutors --

AMY GOODMAN: Guessing.

MARCY WHEELER:  -- were arguing, "Look, you know" --

AMY GOODMAN: You're guessing -- right -- also, in some cases, because there was a lot that was redacted?

MARCY WHEELER: Right. There is a redacted passage that suggests there is the concern that somebody might destroy documents. There's no implication at all that it's Cohen. But in this case, they raised it in what is now a -- you can't read it, but they raised it in what is now a redacted section. And remember that the Trump Organization is also involved in this. They've refused to hand over documents pertaining to Cohen, and argued in this matter that anything involving him should be treated as privileged, even though he was largely more of a spokesperson for them than necessarily a lawyer in recent years. So, that's the background.

And the prosecutors basically said, "Look, you know, when we -- we do sometimes raid lawyers' offices. Cohen doesn't do much lawyering, which is how we learned about Hannity, but even when he does, we do it -- we have what are called taint teams." And they're prosecutors who are not involved in the case at all, and they go through the materials first, before anyone involved in the case, and figure out whether there is anything privileged. And if there is something privileged, then they have the discussion about what to do with it. And the judge in this case is like, "Look, you know, I have worked with the Southern District of New York prosecutors. They have high integrity, and I trust them." And so, she's either going to appoint what's called a special master, a third party, to go through some of the files, or she's going to let it happen as it normally does, which is that a taint team goes through the files.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let's talk about what was revealed, this major surprise yesterday that he was the lawyer for three people. It was revealed about Broidy, a major RNC donor, Republican donor, who Cohen facilitated the payment of $1.6 million to -- you know, the very well-known anti-choice party of this country, the Republican Party -- to silence, or gave to a woman he had had an affair with, who had an abortion. But the third person that he has been a lawyer for was revealed in court. And just talk about the drama of this moment, whether his name would be revealed.

MARCY WHEELER: So, the entire purpose behind naming clients is that Cohen is arguing thousands, maybe millions, of pages taken are privileged. And the prosecutors, as I said, basically argued, "Most of what we're investigating has to do with your businesses, nothing having to do with your lawyers, but you're really not serving as a lawyer in any case." And so, Cohen was then in a position where he had to argue that he was doing significant amounts of lawyering. And importantly, this sets up the materials that he'll be able to or will try to withhold from the investigative prosecutors. And so, on Sunday, he submitted a filing that said, "OK, my clients are Donald Trump, Elliott Broidy" -- as you said, he's a Republican fundraiser -- "and the third client does not want his name revealed."

Now, it's funny because Hannity has sort of said, "Well, I didn't really care." But the judge then, to test his claim that he did a lot of lawyering, said, "Well, actually, there's no reason you can hide the client's name." And there was a back-and-forth, and Cohen's lawyer was like, "Well, do you want me to hand you a piece of paper?" And we were going to be -- you know, it was going to look like -- it was going to look like The Apprentice or something, where you found out the winner on TV. And so, yeah, so he said, you know, "The name of the person that this is involved" -- I'm not quoting this exactly. "The name of the person that this is involved is Sean Hannity." And everyone watching just -- because no one expected that. People thought it was maybe Don Jr. and another hush-money case. But, no, it was Sean Hannity. And as you said, Sean Hannity spent much of last week arguing that the raid on Cohen's office was unreasonable. He's been really key to push back on the Russia story. So, that it was Sean Hannity was a surprise, but also raises questions about why Cohen is preparing to claim that his conversations with Hannity were privileged.

AMY GOODMAN: So there are number of issues. I remember last year, in a Democracy Now! headline in April, just a year ago, Hannity facing accusations of unwanted sexual advances, though the woman did not say it was sexual harassment, former Fox News guest Debbie Schlussel accusing Hannity of inviting her back to his hotel room and that she rejected his advance. "He called me and yelled at me," she said. "I kind of knew I wouldn't be back on his show." While Schlussel says she doesn't think the incident qualifies as sexual harassment, she says she thought Hannity was "weird and creepy." But I want to turn to, you know, the significant part of this, which was that he has been railing against all of the raids on Michael Cohen. You know, he's a major Trump supporter. So let's turn to Sean Hannity speaking just last night on Fox News.

SEAN HANNITY: Let me set the record straight. Here's the truth: Michael Cohen never represented me in any legal matter. I never retained his services. I never received an invoice. I never paid Michael Cohen for legal fees. I did have occasional, brief conversations with Michael Cohen -- he's a great attorney -- about legal questions I had, or I was looking for input and perspective. My discussions with Michael Cohen never rose to any level that I needed to tell anyone that I was asking him questions. And to be absolutely clear, they never involved any matter, any -- sorry to disappoint so many -- matter between me or third party, a third group, at all. And are -- my questions, exclusively almost, focused on real estate.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is Sean Hannity speaking the day of the FBI raid on Michael Cohen's house, April 9th.

SEAN HANNITY: President Trump's longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen just had his office, his home and his hotel that he was staying in raided by the FBI today in an early-morning raid. And what that means is Mueller's witch hunt investigation is now a runaway train that is clearly careening off the tracks. … Keep in mind, Cohen was never part of the Trump administration or the Trump campaign. This is now officially an all-hands-on-deck effort to totally malign and, if possible, impeach the president of the United States. Now, Mueller and Rosenstein have declared what is a legal war on the president.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I mean, that is typical Sean Hannity. The problem was, he wasn't revealing his relationship with Michael Cohen, Marcy Wheeler.

MARCY WHEELER: Right. In retrospect, we're left wondering whether he was worried about himself or whether he was worried about -- whether he was, as you said, doing what he always does, which is be the primary cheerleader for Donald Trump, and the primary person kind of roiling up antagonism about this investigation. And it's not even -- I mean, so, as we speak, there's a big question about how Fox is going to deal with the fact that Hannity did not disclose that Cohen is -- that he had -- whether he had gotten legal -- I mean, we're in this position now where Hannity is trying to walk back any claim that he got legal advice from Cohen, so that he's not in trouble with Fox. But that's putting Cohen in an even weaker position, because, A, it makes it look like he lied to the judge, and, B, anything that Cohen is going to try and protect, Hannity has just gone and told the world isn't attorney-client privilege. So, Hannity is in a weird spot right now, and Fox has --

AMY GOODMAN: And --

MARCY WHEELER:  -- its own issues.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, the significance --

MARCY WHEELER: Go ahead.

AMY GOODMAN:  -- of both in his tweets and during his radio show and television, there was no third party involved in any of the discussions with Cohen. What is he saying here?

MARCY WHEELER: Well, I think he's trying to beat down any hint that his -- that he went to Cohen for a hush payment, right? So, Elliott Broidy went to Cohen for a hush payment. One of Donald -- one of the things that the FBI is investigating is Donald Trump's hush payment to Stormy Daniels. So the natural conclusion that people might draw from yesterday's conversations is that it consisted of a hush payment.

Now, Hannity says it almost exclusively consists of real estate. In this crowd, in the New York crowd, real estate can be code for a lot of things. I mean, a lot of people launder money through Trump's condos, right? But I think what is really interesting is the stuff that is outside of that, almost exclusively, just because Hannity has been in such a key role at pushing back against the Russian investigation. He's the one who drummed up the conspiracy theory about Seth Rich, for example. And it will be very interesting to see if he had any conversations with Cohen about that, because Cohen's role for Trump is a fixer more than it is a lawyer, and to what degree has he had conversations with Hannity to arrange the coverage that Hannity has been doing that really served to undermine the Russia investigation?

AMY GOODMAN: And explain Judge Wood appointing a special master to look at the material. Very interesting, a time -- a special master is used often in a case with a lawyer to look at whether, you know, there is attorney-client privileged information that shouldn't be looked at, used in the past with Lynne Stewart, who was an attorney who was convicted of putting out a press release. The government said it was revealing -- allowing her client, Sheikh Abdel Rahman, to communicate with his followers.

MARCY WHEELER: Well, she hasn't decided yet. She said that's one thing she's going to consider. She asked for names from both sides about who they would think would be appropriate. But remember, a big part of the investigation into Cohen is supposed to pertain to his taxi medallion business. And so, I could see her saying, "OK, let's start by searching for all the taxi medallion stuff, and that can be handed over immediately. And then anything that involves the name Trump, perhaps, we'll have a special master look at that." So, in other words, I think she hasn't decided yet. She spoke very strongly in favor of the integrity of Southern District's prosecutors, so she may not appoint one at all. But she is going to find some solution that takes care of privileged communications. But again, a huge chunk of this is not privileged at all, and no one is even really claiming it is.

AMY GOODMAN: The Daily News cover, by the way, today is a big picture of Sean Hannity, and it says, "Oh, for Fox sake!" But I want to turn right now to Comey, to the former FBI Director James Comey, all of these developments happening as James Comey's new book, A Higher Loyalty, hits the stands today, a year after he was fired by President Trump. In an interview with ABC News's George Stephanopoulos Sunday night, Comey said Trump was morally unfit to be president.

JAMES COMEY: And I don't think he's medically unfit to be president. I think he's morally unfit to be president. A person who sees moral equivalence in Charlottesville, who talks about and treats women like they're pieces of meat, who lies constantly about matters big and small and insists the American people believe it, that person's not fit to be president of the United States, on moral grounds..

AMY GOODMAN: That's James Comey on ABC. The significance of what he was saying? Did you think there was anything new there, Marcy Wheeler?

MARCY WHEELER: Well, I mean, Comey is getting a lot of press for saying mean things about Donald Trump, but I actually think that it may help Trump, in a sense, or it may hurt Comey's case, because the book includes a bunch of legal issues. It includes a description of his conversations with Trump, which have become the subject of the legal investigation into Trump. They have become part of the Mueller investigation. And that's interesting, and it's important for us to know, but by making these comments about Trump -- and I should say, as FBI director, one of the things that Comey used to do, which I found really problematic, is he'd say, "Well, there are the good guys, and they should have encryption, and there are the bad guys, and they shouldn't have encryption," or whatever it was he was talking about. And I thought then, and I think now, that Comey too often conflates the law with moralism.

And so, by getting on TV -- and, you know, he'll be on TV all day -- every day this week. By going on TV and mixing his conversation about what happened between him and Trump, which is a legal issue now, and mixing them with his judgments that Trump is morally unfit -- I happen to agree with that, but I was never in a legal situation where I could, you know, influence whether Trump broke the law. I think that that actually will make it easier for Trump to claim that the legal investigation into him, about whether he broke the law, whether that's driven because people hate him or because he did in fact break the law. And so, I mean, that's my opinion on Comey. But I think Comey -- I mean, beyond the fact that Comey has very little self-reflection about his own role in affecting the election last year -- and that's unfortunate -- if you're going to, you know, have a big book tour about what it takes to be a leader, I think a little more self-reflection on those issues would be in order.

AMY GOODMAN: You wrote a piece this weekend, Marcy, "Trump Pardoned Libby to Protect Himself from Mueller." Yes, you're talking about Scooter Libby. It didn't get a lot of attention in the midst of everything else, in the avalanche of news and reversals all through these last days or months or, you could say, year. But talk about what this pardon of Scooter Libby means and who he was.

MARCY WHEELER: So, Scooter Libby was Dick Cheney's chief of staff. And he was prosecuted in 2007, basically for obstructing Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into the circumstances around the leak of Valerie Plame, therein, in Libby's notes, he recorded Cheney ordering him to leak classified information to New York Times reporter Judy Miller. And Judy Miller said that he had IDed Valerie Plame to him. So there was good reason to believe that Dick Cheney had ordered Libby to leak, among other things, Valerie Plame's ID. And Libby lied about it. That's what he was prosecuted for.

Before he went to prison in 2007, Bush, George Bush, commuted his sentence, meaning he didn't have to serve the sentence, but he didn't pardon him. And that was key, because Libby therefore couldn't be called in, having been excused from any legal jeopardy in the case, to testify further about what Dick Cheney did and what George Bush did. Since then, in the 11 years since then, Libby has gotten his law license back. He's gotten his right to vote back. So, the remaining punishment for having been found guilty of a felony, those punishments were done. So, what the pardon did on Friday was nothing functional to Libby's life. It did not affect, did not improve Libby's life in any material way.

But what it did, just as Michael Cohen was -- is being investigated by the FBI, what it did is make it clear to people like Michael Cohen, like Paul Manafort, like a bunch of other people in the White House, that Trump is happy to excuse people who break the law to protect a president. And I think that was the message, that was the reason he did it. Scooter Libby probably made this country less safe in what he did at the behest of Dick Cheney. And, you know, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen probably made this country less safe in how they've been protecting Donald Trump, as well. And Donald Trump, I think, sent a message that says, you know, "I will do what I can to excuse you for anything that you do to protect me." I don't think it will work, because the people who are protecting him are in a lot more kinds of legal jeopardy than Scooter Libby was 11 years ago, but I think that's the message he was trying to send.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Marcy Wheeler, I want to thank you for being with us. There are some, like in The New Yorker, who were talking about this being the end game. Do you agree?

MARCY WHEELER: I think that Trump -- I mean, on Friday, when the White House sent out a picture of the White House deliberating before the Syria strikes Friday night, they sent out a picture from Thursday. And I find that significant, because it suggests to me there was no picture to be taken Friday. We know Friday Trump was panicked, on the phone with Michael Cohen. And there's more and more indication that Trump is not there for the job, for even what minimal presidential stuff that he is supposed to be doing. He's instead spending more and more time trying to try and find some way out of these investigations. And to that extent, yeah, I absolutely agree that he stopped being president and started being somebody trying to beat a criminal rap.

AMY GOODMAN: Marcy Wheeler, we want to thank you for being with us, independent journalist who covers national security and civil liberties, runs the website EmptyWheel.net, joining us from Michigan.

This is Democracy Now! Then some major news this weekend you may not have heard about: a prison uprising in South Carolina that has led to the deaths of a number of prisoners. We'll find out more about it in a minute.

Categories: Latest News

North and South Korea Reportedly in Talks to Officially End Korean War

Truthout - Mon, 04/16/2018 - 21:00

South Korean soldiers patrol the road connecting South and North Korea at the Unification Bridge near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on February 7, 2018, near Panmunjom, South Korea. According to a new report, leaders of the two countries may discuss returning the heavily fortified DMZ separating them to its original state. (Photo by Carl Court / Getty Images)

Technically, North and South Korea are still at war, and have been for more than six decades -- but an "absolutely earth-shaking" new report on Tuesday indicates the conflict may soon be coming to an end.

Citing an anonymous South Korean diplomatic official, Munhwa Ilbo -- a South Korean daily newspaper -- reported that the neighboring countries are hashing out a statement that could officially bring the war to an end later this month, when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are set to meet in person for the first time.

As CNBC reports:

Kim and Moon could also discuss returning the heavily-fortified demilitarized zone separating them to its original state, the newspaper said.

Pyongyang and Seoul have technically been at war since the 1950-1953 Korean conflict ended with a truce -- and not a peace treaty. Geopolitical tensions have occasionally flared up since the armistice, although to date both countries have managed to avoid another devastating conflict.

A successful summit between the Koreas later this month could help pave the way for a meeting between Kim and President Donald Trump. The U.S. president and North Korean leader are poised to hold talks in late May or June, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The groundbreaking report comes as Kim has increasingly expressed his willingness to discuss denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula -- an openness that foreign policy experts have attributed to South Korea's "masterful" diplomacy, not President Donald Trump's "fire and fury" threats and warmongering.

Korea experts and journalists argued that if the new report is true, it is major news for the Korean Peninsula and a crucial step toward establishing permanent peace in the region.

HUGE if true. Absolutely earth-shaking. https://t.co/LZEmxrL3hp

— Tim Shorrock (@TimothyS) April 17, 2018

If this is confirmed, this is huge for the Korean Peninsula. North and South Korea are still technically at war and have not signed an official peace treaty, just an armistice agreement https://t.co/Fci1siZYuz

— Joseph Kim (@josungkim) April 17, 2018 You can't wait to know the truth, so we publish news and analysis seven days a week, 365 days a year. This is only possible thanks to Truthout's readers -- donate now to show your support!
Categories: Latest News

Government Accountability Office: Scott Pruitt Illegally Built "Privacy Booth"

Truthout - Mon, 04/16/2018 - 21:00
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The head of the Environmental Protection Agency violated the law when installing a soundproof booth in his office, according to the top federal auditor.

Scott Pruitt ran afoul of a 2017 appropriations law and the Antideficiencies Act when creating the fixture, the Government Accountability Office said on Monday in a legal opinion.

According to the analysis, agency officials must notify Congress before "obligating or expending an amount in excess of $5,000" on office improvements." Pruitt gave no such heads-up before spending more than $43,000 on the "soundproof privacy booth."

"EPA was required to notify the appropriations committees of its proposed obligation," the legal opinion stated.

Though Congressional notification was the only subject of the brief, GAO also remarked that EPA already has two Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIFs)–installations through which classified information can be shared.

"These are operated by EPA sub-organizations and are located three floors away from the Administrator's office," the comptroller said in a footnote. "The SCIF must be reserved to conduct an individual call."

Pruitt has drawn intense scrutiny in recent weeks for questionable ethical practices: a favorable condo rental arrangement with an energy lobbyist, lavish travel and accommodation spending based on questionable security concerns, and inquiries about the use of a private jet.

The EPA head has also been lambasted and ridiculed for reportedly having lived among his own filth while renting the condo, abusing his security detail to patronize a trendy Logan Circle restaurant, and giving raises to top staffers without the requisite permission.

Categories: Latest News

How the CIA's Secret Torture Program Sparked a Citizen-Led Public Reckoning in North Carolina

Truthout - Mon, 04/16/2018 - 21:00
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President Donald Trump's nominee for CIA director, Gina Haspel, is reported to have overseen a US site in Thailand where torture of a suspected terrorist took place. Later she allegedly helped destroy evidence of torture.

Her nomination, pending congressional approval, is viewed by many as further evidence of this administration's support of torture and an undoing of Obama-era efforts to end it. Her work was allegedly part of a program the CIA launched after 9/11 called Rendition, Detention and Interrogation. From 2002 to at least 2006, the CIA orchestrated disappearances, torture and indefinite detention without charge of suspected terrorists.

What can a small group of committed citizens who oppose these practices do to push back? A commission against torture in North Carolina may serve as a model for how citizen-led initiatives can create transparency and accountability for abuses of power in government.

North Carolina's Involvement in CIA Torture

In 2005, The New York Times reported that two planes used in the CIA torture program were operated by a contractor based in North Carolina. Forty-nine of the known 119 CIA prisoners were flown from two rural North Carolina airfields to secret prisons or nations with lax policies on torture for violent interrogation. Haspel allegedly oversaw the so-called "black site" in Thailand, starting in 2002 where two of those suspects were held for interrogation.

The revelation about the CIA program angered a number of North Carolinians. They condemned the use of tax dollars to fund an aviation facility that was involved in what they believed was illegal and immoral activity. They wanted to end the state's participation in torture and hold accountable those who were responsible.

A grassroots movement began. Over more than a decade, it has evolved into a forceful voice against the use of torture. In 2017, organizers created the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry of Torture, an independent and nonpartisan group dedicated to transparency and accountability for the state's role in the CIA program.

The commission compiled extensive research and appointed 11 commissioners to review the evidence. In November 2017, the commission held public hearings to investigate North Carolina's role in the CIA's program. My research explores the importance of understanding torture's wide-ranging implications for survivors, communities and human rights workers. I also volunteered as a note taker during the hearings.

The commission currently invites public input for its recommendations and will publish its report in fall 2018. With it, the commission will seek to determine North Carolina's responsibility and liability for its participation in the Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program.

Neighbor-to-Neighbor Activism

The nongovernmental, nonpartisan commission builds on the extensive work of North Carolina Stop Torture Now, a coalition of anti-torture citizens across the state. It started with a core group of 10, that expanded to protests of up to 250 people. The organization has partnered with as many as 75 organizations on various public actions. Over more than a decade, the group has staged public and legislative campaigns and educational conferences. The campaigns, described as "neighbor-to-neighbor activism," have sought to focus public attention on state and citizen complicity with torture.

With other civic organizations, NC Stop Torture Now put pressure on state and county officials, as well as Aero Contractors – the company that owned the planes and hangar used to transport suspects. Activists publicized the CIA's actions and drew attention to laws against torture, enforced disappearance and indefinite detention without charge.

In 2007, Aero Contractors decided to sell its hangar at the Kinston, North Carolina air facility. That year, NC Stop Torture Now also helped generate bipartisan support in the state legislature for a bill that would have criminalized participation in CIA-sponsored disappearances and torture. However, the bill stalled the following year and never passed. To date, state officials have avoided any official or lasting response. The Johnston County commissioners have at times gone on record to defend Aero Contractors.

Meanwhile, the US government has attempted to shield itself from liability for its torture program. In three federal court cases, the government argued for immunity and for the protection of state secrets. A fourth lawsuit, Salim v. Mitchell, targeted the psychologists who designed the CIA's interrogation program. The case was settled in 2017 for an undisclosed sum.

Public Hearings

In November 2017, the commission convened public and private stakeholders, survivors of disappearance and torture, former interrogators, legal and medical experts and citizens. Altogether, 20 witnesses gave testimony during the public hearings. Together with the research the commission has amassed, these efforts provide the fullest picture to date of the local dimensions of the CIA program. Representatives of Aero Contractors did not respond to an invitation to participate.

Testimony began with Professor Sam Raphael, co-director of the United Kingdom's Rendition Project. Synthesizing material from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's report on the program, analysis of flight plans, corporate records and personal testimony, the Rendition Project has compiled extensive documentation of the CIA-sponsored flights.

Raphael detailed the Rendition Project's research on the scope of Aero Contractors' participation. According to their analysis, Aero Contractors used publicly funded aviation facilities to launch abductions of suspected terrorists from around the world. They were taken to CIA secret prisons, or "black sites," or to foreign sites where torture was the norm rather than the exception.

The researcher offered detailed testimony about abduction protocols, including abductors' silence, failure to identify themselves and lack of arrest warrants. For the captives, Raphael testified, rendition flights involved removal of clothing, diapering, hooding, restraining, and the forced use of suppositories, which prisoners often experienced as sexual assault. Captives often had no knowledge of why they were being taken, where they were being transported, or how long they would be held, Rafael said.

Former counterintelligence, investigators and interrogators Steve Kleinman, Mark Fallon and Glenn Carle also testified. They spoke of the pressure they experienced either from their superiors in their agencies or from the Department of Defense to support the use of torture on captives.

All three witnesses drew on extensive research and their own experience to argue that coercive interrogation techniques do not yield valuable intelligence. Instead, according to the witnesses, coercive techniques impeded accurate recall, triggered resistance and produced false information aimed at ending the pain. All three also testified to the usefulness of rapport-building techniques in gathering "actionable intelligence."

A survivor's wife detailed her husband's lasting emotional and psychological damage after his rendition and 10 years of detention:

"He is 44 years old. His hair and beard are graying; his gestures, his look betray the state of anxiety and pressure in which he has existed for many years. How will we live? We both ask, each on our own. I look at him, but I do not recognize him. … We struggle to understand each other. Day after day I realize that this condition will no longer leave us."

Another powerful statement came from Allyson Caison, a founding member of NC Stop Torture Now. She explained the difficulty of activism in a small community, in which Aero executives are prominent members.

She said, "As a mother, I like to think if somehow my boys were kidnapped and tortured that there would be another mother out there where my boys were like me, trying to end an injustice that begins in my neighborhood."

Legal scholars Deborah Weissman and Jayne Huckerby, summarizing extensive research, concluded North Carolina has a duty to adhere to state, federal and international laws that prohibit kidnapping, enforced disappearance, extrajudicial detention, and torture or cruel and degrading treatment. The scholars believe North Carolina is liable for participation in those crimes.

Alberto J. Mora, the former chief legal officer of the US Navy and Marines, detailed the costs of the program to national security.

From Stealth Torture to Democracy

The CIA's rendition and torture program was notable for its use of what Darius Rejali, a scholar of international torture, has called "stealth torture." These techniques, including waterboarding, stress positions and environmental extremes, are designed to inflict extreme physical pain and suffering without leaving visible traces.

Despite the challenge this presents to government transparency and accountability, the commission hearings have created a forum in which the scope of the CIA program can be disclosed and the public can debate the infrastructures that make torture possible.

Categories: Latest News

Will Trump Set Off the Middle East Powder Keg?

Truthout - Mon, 04/16/2018 - 21:00

A Syrian government soldier flashes the sign for victory as people walk along a destroyed street in Douma on the outskirts of Damascus on April 16, 2018. (Photo: LOUAI BESHARA / AFP / Getty Images)

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After a weeklong Twitter storm of threats from Donald Trump, the US government, in alliance with Britain and France, launched air strikes against Syria late on April 13.

This mainly symbolic display of military might will intensify geopolitical conflicts in the region and internationally, bringing the world closer to a wider war -- and it sets the stage for Trump and his war cabinet to ramp up hostilities with Iran and North Korea in the weeks and months to come.

The US-led attack reportedly targeted three sites in Damascus and Homs where the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad is accused of developing, manufacturing and storing chemical weapons.

This was in response to the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons against rebel forces and the civilian population in the town of Douma in Eastern Ghouta. In an act of state terrorism, the regime killed over 70 and injured close to 1,000, mainly women and children. The poison gas attack succeeded in compelling the withdrawal of the Islamic fundamentalist militia Jaish al-Islam within days.

British Prime Minister Theresa May justified the attack as a "humanitarian intervention" designed to save Syrian lives. In reality, the US, Britain and France don't care about Syrian civilians. They have stood by while Assad laid waste to the country and massacred Syrians with "conventional" weapons.

For a second time, Trump has launched a military strike on Syria over the regime's use of chlorine or sarin gas. He wants to deter the regime from using such weapons again, as well as demonstrate US military power. Any pretense of humanitarian concern from May or Trump is rank hypocrisy, rivaled only by the propaganda churned out by Assad, Russia and Iran in defense of their ongoing war of terror on the Syrian people.

***

The US, in particular, is in no position to claim the moral high ground. Just in the recent past and present, the US war and occupation of Iraq led to the deaths of well over a million people. Some of those in Fallujah were victims of American chemical weapons: white phosphorus bombs.

Washington is currently backing Saudi Arabia's campaign of mass slaughter in Yemen and Israel's terror against nonviolent Palestinian protesters.

In Syria itself, the US has proved its callous disregard for people's lives. Although strangely ignored by many in the antiwar movement, the US has been at war in Syria since 2014, but not against the regime, the main culprit for the carnage and destruction in the country. Instead, the US has aimed its missiles and bombs at the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), operating in a de facto alliance with the Assad regime.

Toppling Assad is not a US war aim. May made this abundantly clear when she announced that Friday's bombing campaign did not have the goal of "regime change" -- something confirmed by Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White, who stated the strikes did not represent "an attempt to depose the Syrian regime."

Trump and his British and French accomplices have done nothing to help the Syrian people rising up against Assad.

Even worse, Trump has demonized the refugees from violence and repression in Syria, using the worst Islamophobic and racist terms. During his presidential campaign, Trump denounced Syrian refugees as a terrorist "Trojan horse," and as president, he has taken numerous measures to try to bar their entry.

The number of Syrian refugees allowed into the US has slowed to a trickle this year: only 11 so far this year.

***

Truth be told, Trump's air strike was morally bankrupt political theater. Repeating the erroneous boast that George W. Bush made at the beginning of the Iraq War, Trump declared "Mission accomplished." The Pentagon claimed it struck at "the heart" of the regime's capacity to produce chemical weapons.

All of this is bombast. The Friday attack, like the one last year, was limited and  -- and even its use of chemical weapons.

Trump delayed the attack for days, giving the Assad regime plenty of time to move war materials into population centers and Russia military bases, both of which the US was unlikely to attack. The targeted facilities were reportedly evacuated days before the attack.

Chemical weapons are only one part of the arsenal of weapons wielded by Assad and his allies. The vast majority of Syrian lives have been lost to conventional weapons and forces.

Trump and his allies scrupulously avoided targeting those in their air strikes out of fear of triggering a wider conflict, especially with Russia.

If anything, the regime and its backers are today more confident to prosecute their genocidal war to re-impose the dictatorship's rule through the rest of Syria. Indeed, refugees from Douma are worried that they will again face the regime's terror in Idlib.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary James Mattis made it clear that the Friday missile strike was a "one-time shot," and no more attacks were planned. That would be in keeping with Trump's announcement, just before the US strike, that he wanted to withdraw American troops after the final defeat of ISIS.

***

The latest lashing out of the US military commanded by Trump reflects the contradictions that Washington faces in the world overall and in the Middle East in particular.

The US emerged from the collapse of the USSR that ended the Cold War in the early 1990s as an unrivalled colossus, overseeing an informal empire of states that accepted its terms of neoliberal globalization.

But a succession of crises has led to its relative decline as an imperial power and the rise of both international and regional competitors.

Following the September 11 attacks in the US, the invasion and occupation of Iraq under George W. Bush was designed to lock in US dominance over the Middle East and its strategic energy reserves. Instead, it turned into US imperialism's biggest setback since Vietnam, weakening Washington's hand in the region and emboldening regional antagonists, especially Iran.

Meanwhile, on the basis of its growing economic strength, China has become more and more assertive of its own imperial ambitions -- and Russia has rebuilt itself under Vladimir Putin as a nuclear-armed power buttressed by an economy based on oil, natural gas and the arms trade.

The US remains the dominant world superpower, but it faces challenges from an international rival in China, a resurgent Russia, a host of regional powers like Iran and antagonists like North Korea.

All of these contradictions have come to a head in the Middle East.

The Bush regime had intended to follow a triumphant invasion of Iraq with regime change in Iran and Syria, but the mass resistance to colonial occupation in Iraq crushed those fantasies.

The main beneficiary of the US setback in Iraq was Iran, which gained influence as the sponsor of the Shia political forces that dominated the new government. Under Barack Obama, the US extracted huge concessions -- but Iran was able to achieve an international accord that ended its economic and political isolation in return for agreeing to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

If the policy of regime stabilization seemed to prosper for a time under Obama, the people of the region upset the entire state system when they rose up in 2011's Arab Spring in a struggle for democracy and equality.

US-backed dictators were overthrown in Egypt and Tunisia after reigning for decades, while pro-US regimes like Bahrain were threatened, and American "frenemies" in Libya and Syria faced popular uprisings.

US imperialism did its best to respond to this threat from below. It stood by the existing order in Bahrain, where it backed neighboring Saudi Arabia's brutal suppression of the uprising.

Elsewhere, it tried to co-opt the movement. In Egypt, Washington abandoned its old friend Hosni Mubarak, while trying to preserve the core of the old state. The US likewise attempted to co-opt a popular rebellion against Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya, but that ended in a disaster for the US, and the Obama administration quickly returned to a policy of regime preservation.

At the same time as the US backed Saudi Arabia's brutal war against Iranian-backed opponents in Yemen -- one of the largest unrecognized humanitarian catastrophes in the world today -- the Obama administration made its deal with Iran over its nuclear program.

This was supposed to stabilize the region by balancing between the various antagonists so the US could turn its eyes to containing China through the "Pivot to Asia."

But the strategy failed on both fronts. The US never managed to make the "pivot" -- because the relative decline of American power left Washington unable to contain the growing aggressions of various powers in the Middle East, especially Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

***

All of this shaped the revolution, counterrevolution and civil war in Syria.

Like elsewhere in the Middle East in 2011, impoverished Syrians rose up against the brutal dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad. The initial stages looked very much like the mass uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

But the Assad regime remained capable of mobilizing the utmost brutality, indiscriminately gunning down nonviolent protests; arresting, torturing and killing activists in the vast prison system; destroying whole areas with barrel bombs; and terrorizing the population.

Meanwhile, Assad did what other leaders of the counterrevolution against the Arab Spring did: He played the sectarian card. Assad falsely postured as a defender of the country's religious minorities -- including the country's oppressed Kurdish population -- to try to divide the revolt along ethnic and sectarian lines.

As the pro-democracy uprising was forced to militarize in the face of Assad's murderous assault, regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Turkey backed Islamic fundamentalist forces within Syria, exacerbating the sectarian divisions.

The US played an absolutely cynical role in this process. It provided limited support to the rebels of the Free Syrian Army, but as left-wing author Gilbert Achcar documents in his book Morbid Symptoms, the US denied progressive forces the anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons that could have countered Assad's unrelenting air war.

At first, the US hoped to use the rebels as pawns in a plan for an orderly transition that would replace Assad, but preserve the core of his oppressive state, with some representation for moderate opposition forces.

But Washington quickly abandoned that limited support once ISIS rose in Iraq and Syria. From 2014 on, the US waged a war in both countries against this reactionary Islamist force that threatened the stability of the whole Middle East. The cost of this war on ISIS was untold US atrocities in Iraq and in Syria.

***

Nevertheless, it is very likely that Assad would have fallen to the revolution if not for the intervention of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon. This alliance of outside forces provided the military intelligence, airpower and ground forces to make up for the near-collapse of the Syrian Army. With their aid, the regime has been able to re-conquer most of the country.

The cost of Syria's counterrevolution is hard to comprehend.

Out of a prewar population of some 22 million, more than half a million people have lost their lives, 6 million have been displaced from their homes, and 6 million have been driven from their country as refugees, mostly to other countries in the Middle East. Assad, Russia and Iran are largely responsible for this humanitarian catastrophe.

Now, with the defeat of ISIS at hand thanks to the US-led war, all the conflicts between the imperial and regional powers in Syria have intensified.

The Assad regime, backed by Russia and Iran, is in control of most of the population centers of the country and is poised to re-conquer the main areas out of its control.

To win the war against ISIS, the US backed Kurdish forces in the north of Syria -- the Kurds' Democratic Union Party (PYD) dominated the military front called the Syrian Democratic Forces that, with US air support, conquered ISIS's Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.

But Washington's longtime ally Turkey considers the PYD and the Kurds a mortal threat. Turkey fears a Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Syria would inspire a similar uprising for national self-determination within its own borders.

This led to Turkey's invasion of Syrian territory earlier this year to displace the PYD from the city of Afrin. The offensive is likely to continue against the rest of the majority-Kurd region known as Rojava.

In another grotesque twist, the PYD has appealed to the Assad regime, which has oppressed the Kurds for decades, to back it in defense of Syria against Turkey.

The US seems certain to abandon the Kurds, as it has done on many other occasions -- while Russia has postured as the friend of the PYD, while also striking deals with Turkey, in an attempt to woo the NATO country out of the US orbit.

Then there is Israel, which has also intensified its intervention in Syria.

Israel fears that Iran and Hezbollah have established bases and shipment routes that could be used to support Hamas in Palestine. This is the reason behind increased Israeli military attacks against targets in Syria.

Saudi Arabia -- the historic rival of Iran since the overthrow of the US-backed Shah in 1978 -- is also upping the ante. The Saudis went so far as to volunteer forces to help with the latest US assault on Syria.

***

Thus, Syria is a cauldron of imperial and regional conflicts that poses intractable problems for US imperialism. This explains the strategic confusion exposed by Trump's vacillation between threats of withdrawal from Syria and his order for military strikes.

If the US leaves, Russia and Iran will emerge strengthened, regionally and internationally. If Washington intervenes more aggressively, the US comes into conflict with Russia, a nuclear-armed rival determined to retain its increased regional power in the Middle East.

This is why Trump and his war cabinet settled for largely symbolic and inconsequential air strikes in Syria. But it would be a mistake to think that the threats from this latest development are inconsequential.

Trump's new war cabinet is filled with bomb-first hawks who want a more militarist foreign policy toward not only Iran and North Korea, but also Russia and China.

The Trump administration has already doubled down on an alliance with Saudi Arabia and Israel as a bulwark against the further spread of Iran's influence. And for all the chatter about the bigot billionaire's bromance with Putin, the US under Trump has intensified its conflict with Russia, imposing sanctions, expelling diplomats and making open threats.

Even more ominous is the administration's determination to confront China, not only over trade, but also its increasing assertion of imperial power in Asia and the rest of the world. The two most prominent new appointees to the administration, Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, both see the US as locked in an imperial conflict with China.

Though it goes against the grain for many opponents of Trump, the truth is that these sentiments are shared in content, if not in rhetorical form, by many Democrats, including liberals like Elizabeth Warren.

***

Trump's display of military might in Syria sets a precedent for intensifying geopolitical conflicts in the region and internationally.

These could well come to a head this May over the renewal of Iran's nuclear accord, which Trump and his new saber-rattling advisers like Bolton want to scrap -- as well as the summit meeting with North Korea over its nuclear missile program, which could be a ruse for the US to ratchet up the conflict, as it has before.

In these ominous times, the left must take a principled stand that upholds both anti-imperialism and internationalism.

Far too much of the existing left supports imperial powers like China and Russia and dictatorships like Assad's merely because they oppose the US. In the process, they have become apologists for counterrevolution, recycling conspiracy theories and fake news churned out by oppressive states and their media mouthpieces like RT. The old left slogan "the main enemy is at home" is being used as a cover for refusing to extend solidarity to those struggling against tyranny.

The new left needs a radically different approach. We oppose our own imperialist state, but we also oppose its rivals, like China and Russia -- and we have a responsibility to build solidarity with progressives struggles for liberation and democracy, regardless of the state where they take place.

In the case of Syria, this means standing against US intervention, but also opposing that of Russia and Iran. We condemn Assad for his counterrevolutionary violence and repression, and we stand in solidarity with the pro-democracy uprising of the Syrian people. And most importantly, we demand that the US government open its borders to desperate refugees and support them as they rebuild their lives.

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Sickened Coal Ash Cleanup Workers Seek Justice From Tennessee Valley Authority Contractor

Truthout - Mon, 04/16/2018 - 21:00

At the same time the Trump administration is seeking to roll back regulations designed to protect people and the environment from toxic coal ash, hundreds of workers who cleaned up the nation's largest-ever coal ash spill and claim it sickened them are still waiting for their day in court.

A team of attorneys has filed lawsuits in federal court on behalf of 53 dead and sick workers against Jacobs Engineering, a Fortune 500 government contractor hired by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to clean up following the spill of over a billion gallons of coal ash from a holding pond at the federally-owned corporation's Kingston power plant in eastern Tennessee on Dec. 22, 2008. The spill inundated a nearby residential community and contaminated the Emory and Clinch rivers with coal ash, which is laden with heavy metalsradioactive elements, and other health-damaging contaminants. The disaster also spurred the federal regulations now targeted for rollback.

After the USA Today Network-Tennessee published an investigation into conditions at the cleanup site, more workers came forward with similar stories of lung disease, cancers, and skin conditions. Since then, the attorneys involved in the case filed a new lawsuit in state court on behalf of an additional 180 dead or sick workers.

The federal lawsuit is expected to get underway later this year. It was delayed in part due to a fire at the offices of the plaintiffs' attorneys, the cause of which remains unknown.

While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wanted the cleanup workers to be given protective gear, it met resistance from Jacobs Engineering and The Shaw Group, the Louisiana-based government contractor hired by TVA for technical advice on the project. Workers say the companies downplayed the dangers of coal ash and seemed concerned about alarming the public.

In the end, the EPA signed off on a safety plan that did not require workers to be given protective suits and that made it difficult for them to qualify for a respirator or even a dust mask -- and the companies resisted implementing even that.

"Jacobs' site safety manager, Tom Bock, and TVA site supervisor Gary McDonald both have admitted refusing workers' requests for respirators and dust masks in violation of the plan's rules on the approval process," the USA Today Network-Tennessee reported.

Warnings Were Given

The news network's reporting on the Kingston cleanup recounted the dangerous working conditions at the spill site, with tornados of coal ash blowing across the landscape and workers eating atop coal ash heaps with only bottled water to clean themselves. However, it did not get all of the facts right. This is how the first story in the series opened:

It was the nation's largest coal ash spill, and it would bring a stampede of government supervisors, environmental advocates, lawyers, journalists, politicians and contractors to Kingston, Tenn.

But not one of them asked why the hundreds of blue-collar laborers cleaning up the mess weren't wearing even basic dust masks.

It's not true that no one visiting the disaster site inquired into the workers' safety. Within a week of the spill, United Mountain Defense (UMD) -- an environmental nonprofit that works in coal-impacted communities and was involved in the Swan Pond community near TVA's Kingston plant before the spill occurred -- tried to draw official attention to the fact that workers at the site were not using protective gear. They brought up the issue at the first official public meeting about the spill, held six days after the disaster.

Facing South reported on UMD's concerns the following day; the Knoxville News Sentinel, part of the USA Today Network-Tennessee, linked to the story in its roundup of coverage of the disaster. Titled "'IT'S LIKE 9/11': Official inaction endangers residents, workers following Tenn. coal ash disaster," the report quoted Chris Irwin, a self-described "tree-hugging attorney" who was working with UMD at the time:

UMD volunteers report that cleanup workers do not appear to be wearing protective respiratory equipment despite the known hazards of fly ash. For example, a Material Safety Data Sheet for coal ash [pdf] calls for employees handling the material to wear NIOSH respiratory protection.

"They're treating it like snow," Irwin says. "They're not taking the most basic elementary precautions. It's like 9/11, where they had unprotected workers traipsing through toxic dust."

When Facing South called the Joint Information Center and asked who is doing the cleanup work and what protective gear they'd been provided, the person answering the phone said she would have someone look into it and call back. 

No one called back. UMD volunteers continued to document hazardous conditions at the site, including cleanup workers laboring without protective gear, and distributed information about the dangers of coal ash. But it wasn't easy, as volunteers with the group faced harassment and even arrest. Irwin has no patience for claims that no one in charge knew about the hazards.

"Those workers were not accidentally exposed," he tells Facing South. "They were murdered for TVA's P.R. campaign."

Jacobs Engineering has been embroiled in controversy before related to its government contracting work. The company, which moved its headquarters from California to Dallas in 2016, paid the federal government $35 million in 2000 in connection with allegations that it improperly charged overhead costs to various government contracts.

The five-year cleanup of the spill cost TVA ratepayers $1 billion. Jacobs Engineering wants ratepayers to foot its legal bills as well.

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From "Probable Cause" to "Reasonable Suspicion": The Subversion of the Fourth Amendment

Truthout - Mon, 04/16/2018 - 21:00

When Case Western University campus police stopped Black Cleveland City Councilman Kevin Conwell last month on grounds of "reasonable suspicion," they were exercising the discretion granted them by Terry v. Ohio. The case gave police the authority to operate by their own standard of reasonableness, especially in response to white paranoia.

Terry v. Ohio effectively criminalized walking while Black in the US. The ruling removed the probable cause limitation of the police power. (Photo: Third Eye Corporation / Getty Images)

On March 9, Cleveland City Councilman Kevin Conwell was taking his daily stroll when Case Western Reserve University police officers stopped him on campus near his home. Minutes before, a Case Western student had called dispatch to complain about a Black man wearing a blue hat and tan coat who was mumbling through missing teeth. Conwell supposedly "fit the description."

At a press conference soon after, Conwell, through a full set of teeth, said that the officers stopped him for "walking while Black." He added: "How many African American males have traveled through University Circle and were stopped while walking [while] Black and were given misdemeanors?"

The question is less about raw numbers for this specific part of the US and more about the "totalitarian" police state that Justice William Douglas predicted in his great dissent in Terry v. Ohio in 1968. Terry effectively criminalized walking while Black and driving while Black -- and pretty much doing anything while Black in the US. The ruling removed the probable cause limitation of the police power. The court's paradigm shift made Conwell's detainment 50 years later so very, very predictable.

The Fourth Amendment secures the citizen against any unreasonable search or seizure of their person or property. But what is "reasonable"? Before Terry, the reasonableness of a police officer's seizure or search was defined by the magistrate's authority to issue a warrant on a showing of probable cause. 

Terry redefined "reasonableness" in more subjective terms. Before 1968, police officers operated, at least in theory, with reference to the magistrate's authority. Ever since Terry, police officers have had the despotic discretion to search or seize any US citizen based on a "reasonable suspicion" that they are a criminal or are about to commit a crime.

The new Terry paradigm allows police officers to operate by their own standard of reasonableness -- "reasonable suspicion." By coining the phrase, the Supreme Court put its imprimatur on circular reasoning. Much as the doctrine of "papal infallibility" deemed the pope incapable of error when teaching on certain matters of faith or morals, "reasonable suspicion" sanctioned a sort of police infallibility. Police officers, especially when making "split-second decisions," now arbitrarily determine what is reasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.

Case Western police thought it reasonable to stop a councilman taking his daily walk through campus because he wore the same color hat and coat (and had the same color skin) as a street-corner mumbler. This is Exhibit A of how absurd Terry's construction of "reasonableness" really is. It reveals "reasonable suspicion" as both a euphemism for paranoia and as an oxymoron worthy of 1984's Newspeak. Yet out-of-control policing is not new to the US.

The American Revolution was largely a reaction against Redcoats policing colonists as if they were all suspects. For example, the Crown imposed writs of assistance on Massachusetts to crack down on smuggling. Writs of assistance were general warrants permitting customs officials to enter any office or home without notice or probable cause. James Otis resigned his position as advocate general of the Admiralty Court in protest. He then challenged the legality of these writs in terms of the maxim: "Every man's house is his castle." Otis inspired the Fourth Amendment's later codification of the castle doctrine and the need for probable cause.

Douglas invokes Otis in his Terry dissent to suggest an analogy between the Redcoats' oppression of the colonists and the likelihood of post-Terry police oppression thanks to "reasonable suspicion." What Otis argued against in 1765, Douglas dissented against in 1968 -- police arresting and searching on suspicion because unchecked by probable cause. Douglas saw the unraveling of the Fourth Amendment as a matter of history repeating itself. He wrote: "Police control took the place of judicial control, since no showing of 'probable cause' before a magistrate was required."

Today, "reasonable suspicion" enables police to seize on suspicion. The Orwellian device subverts the Fourth Amendment's original intent. Probable cause had been a limit on police discretion. Through Terry, magisterial authority gave way to police authoritarianism. Thus, the Supreme Court abdicated judicial control in favor of police control, what President Richard Nixon called "law and order."

"Reasonable suspicion" gave police officers, in effect, general warrants to seize or search ("stop and frisk") people of color with impunity. Conwell's official title did not protect him from the de facto general warrant that led to his stop. Case Western President Barbara Snyder later apologized and promised more and better training of campus police officers. Would she have apologized if he were an ordinary citizen and not a legislator? What about the other racially-profiled African American males that Conwell wondered about?  

Douglas wrote: "To give the police greater power than a magistrate is to take a long step down the totalitarian path." Insofar as Case Western Reserve University makes Terry stops, it has taken that long step. Rather than apologize for a singular Terry stop, President Snyder should insist on no more Terry stops. Better yet, President Snyder should dissolve her police force to get our university back to being a college campus rather than miniature police state.

A private university should be a sanctuary away from the police state. A man should be able to walk through a college campus on a Sunday afternoon as a citizen, as a person, and not under a cloud of suspicion because at any moment he may "fit a description." The incident at Case Western Reserve University illustrates a larger pattern of police officers subverting citizens' constitutional rights. It illustrates that "reasonable suspicion" really means white paranoia. Police officers tend to ignore the Black Americans' right to a presumption of innocence. Rather, they tend to only see a Black "criminal" stereotype. We're at least 50 years down the totalitarian path. If we would take a long step back from that path, we must overturn Terry.

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Where Is the Democratic Outrage Over Trump's Illegal Attack on Syria?

Truthout - Sun, 04/15/2018 - 21:00

The illegal airstrikes on Syria last Friday provoked a widespread but largely muted opposition from Democrats, which is not surprising since the Democratic Party also subscribes to the same belief in American exceptionalism and profits from a state of endless war. It's time the left forced the Democrats to embrace a humane foreign policy based on justice, not oppression.

Syrian boys walk along a destroyed street in Douma on the outskirts of Damascus on April 16, 2018, during an organized media tour. (Photo: Louai Beshara / AFP / Getty Images)

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President Donald Trump's decision to carry out a series of airstrikes on Syrian government chemical weapons facilities on Friday, April 13, may signal a new front in the US wars in the Middle East. Although Democrats have largely opposed the strikes, too many in the Democratic Party continue to react to Trump through the lens of American exceptionalism -- a belief in the myth of the unique righteousness of the United States. This approach is destined to enact domestic and foreign policy based on oppression, rather than justice.

Instead of centering an endorsement of (or opposition to) military action, the Democratic Party should base its foreign policy on a holistic, anti-imperialist approach that would resonate with voters in the US and scale back the harms of US militarism abroad. This vision would not be welcomed by the Party establishment. Rather, it would have to come from leftist activists wresting control from the centrist, corporate wing of the Democratic Party that benefits from a state of never-ending war.

Many people in the US, including elected Democrats, appear unsure as to what exactly the new US policy in Syria entails. When Trump gave his prepared remarks on Friday evening, he initially seemed to be announcing an open-ended campaign against the government of Bashar al-Assad, following the suspected use of chemical weapons by Assad's military on April 7. "We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents," Trump said. About an hour later, Secretary of Defense James Mattis described a much more limited approach, calling the attack wave a "one-off."

Jingoism is dangerous, whether espoused by liberals or conservatives.

Democrats, and liberals more broadly, have been split in their reaction to Trump's bombing of Syria. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted limited support for the strikes. Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former State Department official under Obama and a liberal hawk, praised the strikes as well, even as she acknowledged they were illegal under international law. "I believe that the US, UK, & France did the right thing by striking Syria over chemical weapons," Slaughter tweeted. "It will not stop the war nor save the Syrian people from many other horrors. It is illegal under international law. But it at least draws a line somewhere & says enough."

Other Democrats were critical of Trump's military escalation, primarily along procedural grounds, citing a lack of congressional authorization. "The President must come to Congress and secure an Authorization for Use of Military Force by proposing a comprehensive strategy with clear objectives that keep our military safe and avoid collateral damage to innocent civilians," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Rep. Adam Schiff blamed Congress for having "willingly abdicated its role in approving or disproving military action." Sen. Tim Kaine said: "It's very, very clear Congress has the power to declare war -- and only Congress." Both Kaine and Pelosi supported a strike on Syria in 2013, when Obama was considering striking the Assad government, and Schiff was undecided.

Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee -- the lone member of Congress to vote against the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the legal underpinning of the "war on terror" -- was more forceful in her explicit denunciation of Trump's bombing campaign itself. "I fully support all international accountability mechanisms to prosecute these war crimes and to negotiate a political solution to the war in Syria," she said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "But as we've seen over the last 16 years, we cannot bomb our way to peace."

In order to create a humane foreign policy, the Democratic Party will have to think beyond borders, not double down on them.

Lee remains the elected Democrat who has most clearly articulated a progressive foreign policy that breaks from decades of establishment consensus. Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders has offered some substantive criticisms of militarism as well: His major foreign policy speech last September sought to lay out a vision of US involvement in the world based not on empire, but on cooperation. In the speech, Sanders rejected the doctrine of "benevolent global hegemony," arguing against the post-WWII conventional wisdom that US foreign policy is a default net good in the world:

The goal is not for the United States to dominate the world. Nor, on the other hand, is our goal to withdraw from the international community and shirk our responsibilities under the banner of "America First." Our goal should be global engagement based on partnership, rather than dominance.

Sanders is not beyond criticism, of course. Palestinian activists have pushed him to go further in criticizing Israel's occupation, expressing dismay at his decision to sign a letter to the United Nations that demonizes the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). However, it's also worth noting that Sanders and Sen. Patrick Leahy were the only senators, as of April 3, to have commented on Israel's latest round of violence against Gaza.

Lee and Sanders, however, remain outliers in mainstream liberal thinking. The reaction to Trump's electoral win in 2016 among establishment liberals was a call for a renewed liberal nationalism: an interventionist, militaristic mindset that has always been embraced by centrist Democrats, but has gained even greater status following evidence of Russia's meddling in the 2016 election. This liberal nationalism positions the US against Russia in a new, generational struggle -- a new Cold War based on old ideological and nationalistic divisions.

The new heroes of the anti-Trump "resistance" are members of Congress like Sen. Mark Warner, who has said the United States is in a "shadow war" with Russia, and the militaristic Rep. Schiff, who has risen to prominence by calling for increased antagonism toward Russia. Their rise has been mirrored by Iraq War-supporting conservative pundits like David Frum and Bill Kristol, whose "Never Trump" stances have endeared them to liberals. Frum and Kristol have been rehabilitated because they purport to offer a more sophisticated administering of US empire, one which liberals have been happy to embrace even as leftists cry foul.

The Democratic Party must not only challenge Trump's illegal strikes, it must begin to step back from a world where the logic of empire trumps all else.

This nationalistic, us-versus-them mentality does nothing to challenge global inequities. Jingoism is dangerous, whether espoused by liberals or conservatives. It justifies discarding international law based on a flawed perception of American benevolence -- as exemplified by Slaughter's tweet -- a perception that benefits weapons manufacturers and the campaigns they fund.

One way the left can push the Democratic Party to embrace a foreign policy of addressing oppressive hierarchies, rather than reaffirming oppositional national identities, is by intervening in the public discourse concerning the investigation into Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 election. As David Klion has argued, the Russia investigation should be reframed and embraced by the left as a story about international criminal enterprises, money laundering, and the dangers posed by offshore tax havens and oligarchs centralizing power and sucking wealth from a society to a small number of beneficiaries at the top, rather than as a story about an external existential enemy.

The reemergence of the subtler liberal nationalism, the belief in the inherent righteousness of US projection of power abroad, also allows for unacceptable moral compromises -- first and foremost, the continued US support for Saudi Arabia's relentless bombing of Yemen. Sanders sponsored a bill to end US involvement in that campaign, which was co-sponsored by Sen. Chris Murphy and Sen. Mike Lee, but was defeated after 10 Democrats voted against it. Just as importantly, Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, architect of the war on Yemen, was recently embraced by the cultural elite of the United States, receiving a hero's welcome in the supposed hotbeds of liberalism, Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

There is no easy or clear answer for what US policy towards Syria should be, other than admitting historic numbers of refugees. The Obama administration should have done more on that front, following the template set by the resettling of Vietnamese refugees following the fall of Saigon in 1975. Trump, meanwhile, is doing everything he can to seal up the United States, especially from Muslims, Africans and Latin American immigrants.

But as the Democratic Party seeks to rebuild and redefine itself, the answer can't be a doubling down on "American exceptionalism." The left needs to force the Democratic Party to embrace an internationalist position that sees oppressive hierarchies of class, ethnicity, race and gender as global issues that demand global answers. No one will ever mistake the Democrats for the International Workers of the World, but in order to create a humane foreign policy, the Democratic Party will have to think beyond borders, not double down on them.

Despite predictions that Assad has nearly won the war in Syria, both the near and distant futures of that country are far from certain. So, too, are the coming levels of US military involvement. The Democratic Party must not only challenge Trump's illegal strikes, it must begin to step back from a world where the logic of empire trumps all else.

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Gaza: Palestinians Continue "Great March of Return" Protests for Third Straight Week

Truthout - Sun, 04/15/2018 - 21:00

Palestinians gathered at the Israeli-Gaza border for a third Friday in a row as part of the ongoing "Great March of Return" protests. Paramedics say at least 30 Palestinians were injured by Israeli soldiers during Friday's protest. Israeli soldiers have killed at least 34 Palestinians since the wave of protests against Israel's occupation began on March 30. We get response from Ramah Kudaimi, director of grassroots organizing at US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. She is also a member of the Syrian Solidarity Collective and on the National Committee of the War Resisters League. She calls for the US to end its military support for Israel, and argues that Palestinian rights cannot be separated from US actions in the region.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Ramah Kudaimi, I wanted to ask you about another issue. On Friday, Palestinians gathered for protests at the Israeli-Gaza border as part of the ongoing "Great March of Return" protest. Paramedics say at least 30 Palestinians were injured by Israeli soldiers during Friday's protest. Israeli soldiers have killed at least 34 Palestinians since the latest wave of protests against Israel's occupation began March 30th. You're also the director of grassroots organizing for the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. Can you talk about these protests and the Israeli soldiers' killings of these protesters?

RAMAH KUDAIMI: Yeah, it's been inspiring seeing Palestinians, you know, take up their right of return. You know, we're going to be marking 70 years of ongoing Nakba, the forced expulsion of Palestinians to create the state of Israel back in 1948, expulsions that have continued in the past 70 years as Israel pushes more Palestinians off their lands and grabs more of their -- and grabs their land to embolden its power over the Palestinian people. And unfortunately, obviously, it should not be shocking that Israel would respond in a violent way, because Israel's violence -- very presence on Palestinian land is violence.

And I think that we should note -- you know, obviously, be inspired by the bravery of Palestinians and be prepared to push the United States to end its military support of Israel, the billions of dollars that we send in military aid to Israel every single year, that allows Israel, emboldens Israel, to do what it does, and the protection to Israel, and also should be noting, in terms of if we want true freedom and liberation of Palestine, there needs to be freedom and liberation in the region, as well. We cannot separate Palestine from the greater issues in the region, whether it's Syria, whether it's Yemen or Egypt or Libya. These are regions that have been attacked and bombed by various forces.

And the impact of Israel's Zionist policies against the Palestinians goes beyond just Palestinians, obviously impacts mostly Palestinians first and foremost, but, for example, in Syria, the Golan Heights is still occupied by Israel. Israel has claimed, you know, again and again, that -- the Syrian regime claims that it is at the forefront of resisting Israel. But, in fact, that border, their border with -- you know, the, quote-unquote, "border" with Israel has been the quietest borders for decades. Syrians were making fun of the regime when the revolution first started in Syria in Daraa in 2011, and he sent his tanks there to shut down, you know, just children writing regime -- you know, "We want freedom" slogans on walls of their schools. And the regime sent tanks and tortured these children and, you know, wanted to really put down the uprising from the start. People made fun of the regime, telling him, "Umm, the Golan Height is that way. Why are you telling -- why are you sending your military here? Go, you know, liberate our land, that you claim to be." So I think we need to really talk -- as we see and are inspired by the Palestinian people, we should be inspired by all the people in the region who have rose up, and really look at these struggles as very interlinked.

AMY GOODMAN: Ramah Kudaimi, I want to thank you for being with us.

RAMAH KUDAIMI: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Syrian-American activist based in Washington, D.C., member of the Syrian Solidarity Collective, on the National Committee of the War Resisters League. I also want to thank Chelsea Manning, perhaps Iraq, Afghanistan wars' most famous whistleblower, now running for Senate from Maryland. This is Democracy Now! Stay with us.

Categories: Latest News

Chelsea Manning on Trump's "Mission Accomplished" Tweet: "I Believe I Have Heard Those Words Before"

Truthout - Sun, 04/15/2018 - 21:00

On Friday, the US, UK and France launched coordinated military strikes in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria, over a week ago. The attack has not yet been independently investigated. The US has blamed the Assad government for the alleged attack. On Sunday, United Nations chemical weapons investigators began examining the scene of the alleged attack, which came amid a brutal campaign by the Syrian government to retake the rebel-held district of Eastern Ghouta outside the capital Damascus. We get response from perhaps the most famous whistleblower of the Iraq War, Chelsea Manning, who is now a network security specialist and advocate for government transparency and queer and transgender rights. She spent seven years in military prison after leaking a trove of documents about the Iraq and Afghan wars and the State Department to WikiLeaks in 2010 and is now running for the US Senate. We also speak with Ramah Kudaimi, a Syrian-American activist who is a member of the Syrian Solidarity Collective and on the National Committee of the War Resisters League.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Gunning Down the Easter Bunny: The Weaponization of Everyday Life

Truthout - Sun, 04/15/2018 - 21:00

(Photo: Anadorado / Getty Images)

Guns. In a country with more than 300 million of them, a country that's recently been swept up in a round of protests over the endless killing sprees they permit, you'd think I might have had more experience with them.

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As it happens, I've held a gun only once in my life. I even fired it. I was in perhaps tenth grade and enamored with an Eagle Scout who loved war reenactments. On weekends, he and his friends camped out, took off their watches to get into the spirit of the War of 1812, and dressed in homemade muslin underclothes and itchy uniforms. I was there just one weekend. Somehow my pacifist parents signed off on letting their daughter spend the day with war reenactors. Someone lent me a period gown, brown and itchy and ill-fitting. We women and girls spent an hour twisting black gunpowder into newspaper scraps. I joked that the newspaper was anachronistic -- the previous week's Baltimore Sun -- but no one laughed.

A man came by with a long gun, an antique, resting on the shoulder of his jerkin to collect our "bullets" and he must have read the gun terror written on my face.

"Wanna give it a try?" he asked.

"Sure," I said, stumbling to my feet, pushing my gown out of the way, and trying to act like I didn't have broken-rifle patches, symbols of the pacifist War Resisters League, all over my real clothes. I felt a surge of adrenaline as I took the heavy weapon in my way-too-small hands. He showed me how to wrestle it into position, aim it, and fire. There were no bullets, just one of my twists of powder, but it made a terrifying noise. I shrieked and came close to dropping the weapon.

And there it was: the beginning, middle, and end of my love affair with guns -- less than a minute long. Still, my hands seemed to tingle for the rest of the afternoon and the smell of gunpowder lingered in my hair for days.

Got Guns?

One in four Americans now owns a gun or lives in a household with guns. So how strange that, on that day in the late 1980s, I saw a real gun for the first and last time. I grew up in inner city Baltimore. I've worked at soup kitchens and homeless shelters all over the East Coast and stayed at dozens of Catholic Worker Houses around the country -- Providence, Camden, Syracuse, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles -- every one in a "tough" neighborhood. I lived in Red Hook, Brooklyn, in the mid-1990s, before you could get a $4 coffee or a zucchini scone on Van Brunt Street, before there was an Ikea or a Fairway in the neighborhood. All those tough communities, those places where President Trump imagines scenes of continual "American carnage," and I've never again seen a gun.

Still, people obviously own them and use them in staggering numbers and in all sorts of destructive ways. Sensing that they're widespread beyond my imagination, my husband and I have started asking the parents of our kids' school friends if they own guns when we arrange play dates or sleepovers. We learned this from the father of a classmate of my 11-year-old stepdaughter Rosena. The dad called to make the arrangements for his son to come over after school. We talked logistics and food allergies and then he paused. "Now, I am sorry if this is intrusive," he said, "but I do ask everyone: Do you keep guns in your house?" He sounded both uncomfortable and resolute.

I almost choked on my urge to say, "Don't you know who I am?" In certain odd corners at least, my last name, Berrigan, is still synonymous with muscular pacifism and principled opposition to violence and weaponry of just about any kind, right up to the nuclear kind. But that dad probably didn't even know my last name and it probably wouldn't have meant a thing to him if he had. He just wanted to make sure his son was going to be safe and I was grateful that he asked -- rather than just assuming, based on our Volvo-driving, thrift-shop-dressing, bumper-sticker-sporting lifestyle, that we didn't.

"You know how kids are," he said after I assured him that we were a gun-free household. "They'll be into everything."

And right he is. Kids are "into everything," which is undoubtedly why so many of them end up with guns in their hands or bullets in their bodies.

"Do you question everyone about their guns?" I asked the dad. He replied that he did and, if they answered yes, then he'd ask whether those weapons were locked away, whether the ammunition was stored separately, and so on.

"Thank you so much. I think we need to start doing that too," I said as our conversation was ending and indeed I have ever since.

It's a subject worth raising, however awkward the conversation that follows may be, because two million kids in this country live in homes where guns are not stored safely and securely. So far this year, 59 kids have been hurt in gun accidents of one sort or another. On average, every 34 hours in our great nation a child is involved in an unintentional shooting incident, often with tragic consequences.

The National Rifle Association's classic old argument, "guns don't kill people, people kill people," takes on a far harsher edge when you're talking about a seven-year-old accidentally killing his nine-year-old brother with a gun they found while playing in an empty neighboring house in Arboles, Colorado.

Two weeks after we learn this new parenting life skill in this oh-so-new century of ours, my husband Patrick is on the phone with a mom arranging a sleepover for Rosena. I hear him fumble his way through the gun question. From his responses, I assume the mom is acknowledging that they do have guns. Then there's the sort of long, awkward silence that seems part and parcel of such conversations before Patrick finally says, "Well, okay, thanks for being so honest. I appreciate that."

He hangs up and looks at me. "They do keep guns for hunting and protection, but they're locked up and out of sight," he tells me. "The mom says that the kids have never tried to get at the guns, but she understands the dangers." (He had heard in her voice apology, embarrassment, and worry that the guns might mean no sleepover.)

I grimaced in a way that said: I don't think Rosena should go and he responded that he thought she should. The two of them then had a long conversation about what she should do and say if she sees a gun. She slept over and had a great time. A lesson in navigating difference, trusting our kid, and phew… no guns made an appearance. And we know more about our neighbors and our community.

Anything Can Be a Gun

My son Seamus, five, received an Easter basket from a family friend. He was happy about the candy of course and immediately smitten with the stuffed bunny, but he was over the moon about what he called his new "carrot gun." It wasn't a toy gun at all, but a little basket that popped out a light ball when you pressed a button.

The idea was that you'd catch the ball, put it back in, and do it again. But that wasn't the game my kids played. They promptly began popping it at each other. His little sister Madeline, four, was in tattle mode almost immediately. "Mom, Seamus is shooting me with his carrot gun!"

"Mom, mom, mom," he responded quickly, "it's a pretend play gun, not a real play gun. It's okay." He made popping noises with his mouth and held his hand as if he were grasping a genuine forbidden toy gun. It was an important distinction for him. He'd been a full-throated participant in the March for Our Lives in Boston on March 24th, chanting with the rest of us "What do we want? Gun Control! When do we want it? NOW!" for four hours straight.

At the march, he pointed out that all the police officers managing traffic and the flow of people were wearing guns on their belts.

"I see a gun, Mom," he kept saying, or "That police officer has a gun, Mom."

Repeatedly, he noticed the means to kill -- and then four days after that huge outpouring of youth-led activism for gun security, Stephon Clark was indeed gunned down in his grandmother's backyard in Sacramento, California. The police officers who shot him were looking for someone who had been breaking car windows in the neighborhood and they fired 20 shots into the dark in his direction. The independent autopsy found that he had been hit eight times, mostly in his back. Clark turned out to be holding only a cellphone, though the police evidently mistook it for a tool bar, which could have done them no harm from that distance, even if he had wielded it as a weapon.

Maybe the police saw a weapon the same way my five-year-old son sees one. He can make a stick or just about anything else, including that little basket, into a "gun" and so evidently can the police. Police officers have killed black men and boys holding pipeswater hose nozzlesknives, and yes, toy guns, too.

Where Does the Violence Come From?

Parkland (17 killed, 14 wounded). Newtown (28 killed, 2 wounded). Columbine (15 killed, 21 injured). School shootings are now treated as a structural part of our lives. They have become a factor in school architecture, administrator training, city and state funding, and security plans. The expectation that something terrible will happen at school shapes the way that three- and four-year-olds are introduced to its culture. Part of their orientation now involves regular "shelter in place" and "secure-school" drills.

At my daughter's pre-school, the kids are told that they're hiding from rabid raccoons, those animals standing in for marauding, disaffected white boys or men roaming the halls armed. As parents, we need to do more than blindly accept that these traumatic exercises are preparing our kids for the worst and helping them survive. Kids are vulnerable little beings and there are countless dangers out there, but they have a one-in-600-million chance of dying in a school shooting. We endanger them so much more by texting while driving them home from school.

After every episode of violence at a school -- or in the adult world at a churchnight clubconcertmovie theater, or workplace like San Bernardino's Inland Regional Center or the YouTube headquarters -- there's always a huge chorus of "why"? Pundits look at the shooter's history, his (it's almost always a guy) trauma, and whatever might be known about his mental health. They speculate on his (or, in the rare case of those YouTube shootings, her) political leanings, racial hatreds, and ethnic background. The search for whys can lead to hand wringing about hard-driving rock music or nihilistic video games or endemic bullying -- all of which could indeed be factors in the drive to kill significant numbers of unsuspecting people -- but never go far enough or deep enough.

Two questions are answered far too infrequently: Where do the guns come from? Where does violence come from?

Guns of all sizes and description are manufactured and sold in this country in remarkable numbers, far more than can be legally absorbed in our already gun-saturated land, so thousands of them move instead into the gray and black markets. Evidence of this trend shows up repeatedly in Mexico, where 70% of the weapons seized in crimes between 2009 and 2014 turned out to be made in El Norte. We have an estimated 300 million guns in this country, making us first by far in the world in gun ownership and some of them couldn't conceivably be used for "hunting." They are military-style weapons meant to tear human flesh and nothing but that -- like the AR-15 that 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz legally bought and used in his grim Parkland shooting spree.

This country, in other words, is a cornucopia of guns, which -- honestly, folks -- doesn't have a damn thing to do with the Second Amendment.

Where does the violence come from? I've already shared my inexperience with guns. Now, let me add to it my inexperience with violence. I don't know what it's like to have to react in a split second to or flee an advancing perpetrator. No one has ever come at me with a gun or a knife or a pipe, or anything else for that matter. And I count myself lucky for that. In a nation in which, in 2016 alone, 14,925 people were killed due to gun violence and another 22,938 used a gun to kill themselves, it's a significant thing to be able to say.

And yet, I know that I'm the product of violence (as well as the urge, in my own family, to protest and stop it): the violence of white privilege, the violence of American colonialism, the violence of American superpowerdom on a global scale... and that's no small thing. It's a lot easier to blame active-shooter scenarios on poor mental-health screening than on growing up in a world layered with the threat of pervasive violence.

Power is about never having to say you're sorry, never being held accountable. And that's hardly just a matter of police officers shooting black men and boys; it's about the way in which this country is insulated from international opprobrium by its trillion-dollar national security state, a military that doesn't hesitate to divide the whole world into seven US "commands," and a massive, planet-obliterating nuclear arsenal.

And don't think that any of that's just a reflection of Trumpian bombast and brutality either. That same sense of never having to say you're sorry at a global level undergirded Barack Obama's urbane dispassion, George Bush Junior's silver spoon cluelessness, Bill Clinton's folksy accessibility, George Bush Senior's patrician poshness, Ronald Reagan's aura of Hollywood charm, and Jimmy Carter's southern version of the same. We're talking about weapons systems designed to rain down a magnitude of terror unimaginable to the Nikolas Cruzes, Dylann Roofs, and Adam Lanzas of the world.

And it doesn't even make us safe! All that money, all that knowledge, all that power put into the designing and displaying of weapons of mass destruction and we remain remarkably vulnerable as a nation. After all, in schools, homes, offices, neighborhoods across the country, we are being killed by our kids, our friends, our lovers, our police officers, our crumbling roads and bridges, our derailing trains. And then, of course, there are all those guns. Guns meant to destroy. Guns beyond counting.

So what might actually make us safer? After all, people theoretically buy the kind of firepower you might otherwise use only in war and pledge allegiance to the US war machine in search of some chimera of safety. And yet, despite that classic NRA line -- "The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun" -- are we truly safer in a nation awash in such weaponry with so many scrambling in a state of incipient panic to buy yet more? Are my kids truly on the way to a better life as they practice cowering in their cubbies in darkened classrooms for fear of invading rabid "raccoons"?

Don't you think that true security lies not in our arming ourselves to the teeth against other people -- that is, in our disconnection from them -- but in our connection to them, to the web of mutuality that has bound societies, small and large, for millennia? Don't you think that we would be more secure and so much less terrified if we found ways to acknowledge and share our relative abundance to meet the needs of others? In a world awash in guns and fears, doesn't our security have to involve trust and courage and always be (at best) a work in progress?

As for me, I'm tackling that work in progress in whatever ways I can -- with my neighbors, my town, my husband, and most of all my children, educating them in the ways violence scars and all those weapons just increase our journey into hell, never delivering the security they promise.

Categories: Latest News

Here Are Seven Brilliant Insights From Noam Chomsky on the American Empire

Truthout - Sun, 04/15/2018 - 21:00

Noam Chomsky. (Photo: Andrew Rusk)

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Noam Chomsky is an expert on many matters -- linguistics, how our economy functions and propaganda, among others. One area where his wisdom especially shines through is in articulating the structure and functioning of the American empire. Chomsky has been speaking and publishing on the topic since the '60s. Below are seven powerful quotes on the evils, atrocities and ironies of the American empire taken from his personal site and from a fan-curated Web site dedicated to collecting Chomsky's observations.

1. [In early 2007] there was a new rash of articles and headlines on the front page about the "Chinese military build-up." The Pentagon claimed that China had increased its offensive military capacity -- with 400 missiles, which could be nuclear armed. Then we had a debate about whether that proves China is trying to conquer the world or the numbers are wrong, or something. Just a little footnote. How many offensive nuclear armed missiles does the United States have? Well, it turns out to be 10,000. China may now have maybe 400, if you believe the hawks. That proves that they are trying to conquer the world.

It turns out, if you read the international press closely, that the reason China is building up its military capacity is not only because of US aggressiveness all over the place, but the fact that the United States has improved its targeting capacities so it can now destroy missile sites in a much more sophisticated fashion wherever they are, even if they are mobile. So who is trying to conquer the world? Well, obviously the Chinese because since we own it, they are trying to conquer it. It's all too easy to continue with this indefinitely. Just pick your topic. It's a good exercise to try. This simple principle, "we own the world," is sufficient to explain a lot of the discussion about foreign affairs. -- from "We Own the World" January 1, 2008.

2. "Could we stop the militarization of space? It certainly looks like we could. The reason is that the US is alone, literally alone, in pressing for it. The entire world is opposed, because they're scared, mainly. The US is way ahead. If other countries are not willing to even dream of full-spectrum dominance and world control, they're way too far behind; they will react, undoubtedly. But they'd like to cut it off. And there are several treaties, which are in fact already in place, that are supported literally by the entire world and that the US is trying to overturn. One is the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which bans placing weapons in outer space. Everyone signed it, including the United States. Nobody has tried to put weapons in outer space. It has been observed and would be easily detected if anyone broke it. In 1999, the treaty came up at the UN General Assembly, and the vote was around 163 to 0 with 2 abstentions, the US and Israel, which votes automatically with the US" -- "Militarizing Space 'to protect US interests and investment," International Socialist Review Issue 19, July-August 2001

3. "Globalization is the result of powerful governments, especially that of the United States, pushing trade deals and other accords down the throats of the world's people to make it easier for corporations and the wealthy to dominate the economies of nations around the world without having obligations to the peoples of those nations." -- Profit over People: Neoliberalism and the Global Order

4. "[The US still names] military helicopter gunships after victims of genocide. Nobody bats an eyelash about that: Blackhawk. Apache. And Comanche. If the Luftwaffe named its military helicopters Jew and Gypsy, I suppose people would notice." -- Propaganda and the Public Mind: Conversations with Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian

5. "If something is right (or wrong) for us, it's right (or wrong) for others. It follows that if it's wrong for Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, and a long list of others to bomb Washington and New York, then it's wrong for Rumsfeld to bomb Afghanistan (on much flimsier pretexts), and he should be brought before war crimes trials." -- "On Terrorism," Noam Chomsky interviewed by John Bolender, Jump Arts Journal, January 2004

6. "Suppose that, say, China established military bases in Colombia to carry out chemical warfare in Kentucky and North Carolina to destroy this lethal crop [tobacco] that is killing huge numbers of Chinese." -- Noam Chomsky on the irony of the drug war waged by the United States in Central and South America

7. The US is, of course, concerned over Iranian power. That is one reason why the US turned to active support for Iraq in the late stages of the Iraq-Iran war, with a decisive effect on the outcome, and why Washington continued its active courtship of Saddam Hussein until he interfered with US plans for the region in August 1990. US concerns over Iranian power were also reflected in the decision to support Saddam's murderous assault against the Shiite population of southern Iraq in March 1991, immediately after the fighting stopped. A narrow reason was fear that Iran, a Shiite state, might exert influence over Iraqi Shiites. A more general reason was the threat to "stability" that a successful popular revolution might pose: to translate into English, the threat that it might inspire democratizing tendencies that would undermine the array of dictatorships that the US relies on to control the people of the region.

"Recall that Washington's support for its former friend was more than tacit; the US military command even denied rebelling Iraqi officers access to captured Iraqi equipment as the slaughter of the Shiite population proceeded under Stormin' Norman's steely gaze." —"Stability," excerpted from The Fateful Triangle, 1999.

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