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The Real Threat to Trump's Presidency Will Unfold in a Courtroom

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

Michael Cohen, center, President Trump's personal attorney, leaves the Hart Building after his meeting with the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss Russian election interference was postponed on September 19, 2017. (Photo: Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call)

The weekend started off with a bang and ended with a whimper. In concert with US allies, President Trump ordered a missile strike against Syria on Friday night, in retaliation for the apparent chemical attack on civilians in Douma earlier in the week. The precision strike was limited to some weapons facilities and so far there are no reports of deaths on the ground, which is likely because the US warned Russia and the Syrians in advance. Trump had tweeted to the world that he was planning to launch missile strikes so it's not as if anyone was surprised. (This is a good thing, although it certainly calls his "Pearl Harbor doctrine" into question.)

By Saturday night, Trump was tweeting out "Mission Accomplished," with no apparent sense of irony whatsoever.

The White House made sure that it was widely reported that Trump really wanted to teach Russia a lesson and had pushed hard for a major bombing campaign but was talked out of it by his Pentagon chief. Everyone is now supposed to believe that Trump is chomping at the bit to be tougher on Russia than even Jim "Mad Dog" Mattis, but in the end Trump bowed to the defense secretary's advice because he's always restrained when he needs to be. (If you believe any of that I've got some Trump steaks to sell you.)

Despite the Syrian strike, with all its Pentagon-provided, video-game footage of fire and fury, the White House couldn't black out the news of the forthcoming book by James Comey or the astonishing story unfolding around Trump's personal lawyer and former Trump Organization executive Michael Cohen. When I say the weekend ended with a whimper, I'm referring to Trump's petulant, puerile Twitter rant on Sunday:

Unbelievably, James Comey states that Polls, where Crooked Hillary was leading, were a factor in the handling (stupidly) of the Clinton Email probe. In other words, he was making decisions based on the fact that he thought she was going to win, and he wanted a job. Slimeball!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 15, 2018

I never asked Comey for Personal Loyalty. I hardly even knew this guy. Just another of his many lies. His "memos" are self serving and FAKE!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 15, 2018

Slippery James Comey, a man who always ends up badly and out of whack (he is not smart!), will go down as the WORST FBI Director in history, by far!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 15, 2018

Trump is obviously sincerely agitated about James Comey's book, but his tweets are also part of a coordinated response by the Republican Party and are therefore to be expected. What's more interesting is the fact that he tweeted about the FBI raid on Cohen's office, commenting for only the second time since his overwrought TV appearance with the joint chiefs on the day it happened. He was obviously watching his unofficial adviser Alan Dershowitz opine on television when he tweeted this:

Attorney Client privilege is now a thing of the past. I have many (too many!) lawyers and they are probably wondering when their offices, and even homes, are going to be raided with everything, including their phones and computers, taken. All lawyers are deflated and concerned!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 15, 2018

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that only the lawyers who have engaged in criminal conspiracies with him are nervous.

While Trump was ordering airstrikes on Syria last Friday it's fair to assume he had one eye peeled on TV. There were reports from the federal courtroom where Cohen's lawyers were protesting the searches and to everyone's surprise, Trump had his own lawyers in the courtroom arguing -- you guessed it! -- that the warrants served on Cohen by federal prosecutors violated attorney-client privilege. Judge Kimba Wood was reportedly miffed that Cohen was not available in the courtroom to answer questions that his lawyers couldn't.

Where was Cohen, anyway? Well, he was hanging around with his pals on the street, smoking cigars. I'm not kidding. This brilliant satire about Cohen's day by Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo says it all:

omg this is amazing pic.twitter.com/TOlAIKvPl5

— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) April 14, 2018

At any rate, Judge Wood has ordered Cohen to appear in court Monday.

In one of the three hearings held on Friday, prosecutors revealed that they've been investigating Cohen for months. Their filing added that the searches were meant to "seek evidence of crimes, many of which have nothing to do with his work as an attorney, but rather relate to Cohen’s own business dealings." Those business dealings include suspected money laundering, bank fraud, wire fraud and nefarious criminal partnerships in the New York taxi industry. How all this fits into Trump's business in the US and overseas or with the Russia probe, if it does at all, remains to be seen. We do know that Cohen was in the middle of all of it.

What is becoming clearer every day is that Cohen seems to have made a lot of money, and I do mean a lot, in schemes arranging payoffs to women to keep them quiet. It appears to be a kind of side service he has provides to other clients, not just his patron the president. It was also reported this week that Cohen had arranged for another woman who had an affair with a high-ranking Republican official to be paid more than a million dollars in hush money. The man, a wealthy Trump donor and confidant named Elliott Broidy, paid Cohen another quarter of a million on top of that. (Broidy is also entangled in the Russia probe, having participated in that mysterious meeting in the Seychelles, just before Trump's inauguration.)

Furthermore, the woman involved in the Broidy case was represented by Keith Davidson, the same lawyer who represented Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, two women who allegedly had affairs with Trump and were paid to keep their mouths shut about it. There is some kind of remarkable racket going on here. On Sunday the Wall Street Journal reported that Cohen also managed to shut down a story in US Magazine in 2013 about Donald Trump Jr.'s rumored affair with singer Aubrey O'Day, who had appeared with Don Jr. on "The Apprentice." It's all in the family.

If there's one person in America who prepared the ground for this scandal, that would be Stormy Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti. He is as smart and clever as Michael Cohen is -- or rather, as Cohen evidently isn't. Avenatti's TV appearances and legal strategy in Daniels' civil case have been perfectly calibrated for the Trump era of reality TV and gangster series. He tweets, he talks and he doles out information for maximum impact. He was in court on Friday and stood outside giving interviews while Cohen was being filmed hanging with his goombahs on the sidewalk. Trump evidently realizes that taking Avenatti's bait would do him no good, but you can bet it's driving him crazy.

Monday's hearing promises to be quite a circus. Trump's lawyers are demanding to see everything the feds seized before prosecutors can review it, to determine if any of the material violates attorney-client privilege. Cohen will be there, presumably in a more subdued, lawyerly suit than he wore on Friday.

Oh, and did I mention that Avenatti is bringing Stormy Daniels to court today?  The only one missing will be Donald Trump himself but you can be sure that he'll be glued to the screen watching every move, even if he has to put Jim Comey on the DVR. This case goes straight to the heart of the Trump con -- and maybe even his marriage.

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Poor People's Campaign Gears Up for Mother's Day Launch

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

"I am not speaking about the poor. I am not speaking for the poor. I am the poor."

Claudia De la Cruz was speaking at an April 10 press briefing in Washington, DC on behalf of the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Inspired by a similar 1968 initiative led by Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders, the campaign aims to lift up the voices of people like De la Cruz who've been most affected by our country's persistent poverty.

A descendant of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, De la Cruz was born in the South Bronx, the poorest Congressional district in the country. Median household income there is about $26,000, compared to $116,000 for the wealthiest district, which straddles Virginia's northern suburbs. She's a member of the national steering committee of the Poor People's Campaign and one of the state organizers for the New York City area.

At the briefing, the Poor People's Campaign and the Institute for Policy Studies co-released a 120-page report on poverty and inequality, systemic racism, ecological devastation, the war economy, and militarism. The Souls of Poor Folk draws on empirical data and interviews with grassroots leaders in each of these inter-related areas to make the case for reviving the 1968 campaign. The report points out, for example, that 140 million Americans today are poor or low-income.

"In a country that is filled with wealth, that has an abundant amount of resources, this is immoral and shameful," said De la Cruz.

The report also finds that one of the most dramatic trends since the original Poor People's Campaign is the rising gap between the poor and the extreme rich. While the official poverty rate is about the same today as it was 50 years ago, the share of national income going towards the top 1% of earners has nearly doubled. The 400 wealthiest Americans now own more wealth than the bottom 64 percent of the US population (or 204 million people).

Nineteen percent of all US households (60 million people) have zero wealth or their debts exceeded the value of their assets (excluding the family car) -- and the percentage is even higher among people of color. Because of rising housing costs and wage stagnation, there is no state or county in the nation where an individual earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour can afford a two-bedroom apartment at market rent. Five decades after the original Poor People's Campaign, homelessness continues to be a severe problem in the world's richest nation, with the majority of homeless families headed by single women with young children.

Despite these overwhelmingly dismal indicators, De la Cruz explained that the new Poor People's Campaign is "organizing the hope of the poor, the hope that is often used and abused by politicians -- whether they are Republicans or Democrats -- the hope of a dignified life, our very right to exist."

Campaign Co-Chairs Rev. Liz Theoharis and Rev. William Barber also released an extensive set of preliminary demands for the campaign at the National Press Club event. Among the key priorities: "the repeal of the 2017 federal tax law and the reinvestment of those funds into social programming that helps all" and "relief from crushing household, student, and consumer debt."

For two years, Theoharis, Barber, and other anti-poverty leaders have traveled the country to build a base for the campaign among local faith communities and other grassroots organizations. At the briefing, they announced that 100 national groups have now also endorsed the initiative. Among them are several major labor unions, including SEIU, UFCW, AFSCME, and the United Steelworkers.

This coming Mother's Day, the Poor People's Campaign will launch 40 days of coordinated protests, including civil disobedience, in 30 states. On June 23, they will organize a mobilization in the nation's capital, just as the 1968 campaign did only a couple months after the assassination of Dr. King.

De la Cruz ended her statement by sending this message to politicians about America's poor: "We are here. And we're ready to take over. Because we may not run the United States, but we make it run. And we are ready to shut it down with our bodies."

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Facebook Is Profiting From Illegal Wildlife Traffickers

Truthout - Sun, 04/15/2018 - 21:00
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While Mark Zuckerberg was testifying before Congress about Facebook providing user information to Cambridge Analytica, additional disturbing news about his company was making headlines.

Facebook has been making a profit by selling ads on pages that are operated by illegal wildlife traffickers. The pages sell the body parts of endangered animals, according to a complaint filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

That's right, Facebook has allegedly been making money off of the sellers of items like elephant ivory, rhino horns and tiger teeth -- in fact, an Associated Press article included a screen grab of a Facebook group page displaying buckets full of the teeth.

According to the complaint, Facebook is violating its responsibilities as a publicly-traded company by knowingly profiting from the criminal trafficking of endangered species. The anonymous whistleblower complaint was filed in August 2017 by the law firm of Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto.

As for just how much Facebook is profiting from these ads, the company has never disclosed in its regulatory findings the revenue it may be earning from illegal traffickers, the AP reports.

Hopefully the complaint will launch an SEC investigation into exactly how much of the company's annual $41 billion revenue is from the sale of endangered animal parts.

Ironically, Facebook was one of 21 technology companies, including Google and Microsoft, that joined the Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online just one month ago. The coalition's goal is to reduce online wildlife trafficking by 80 percent over the next two years.

"Extinctions are forever, so it is an urgent necessity to stop the trafficking on Facebook of critically endangered species immediately and forever," said the law firm's Stephen M. Kohn in a statement April 10. "Part of the SEC's responsibility is to ensure that Facebook investors aren't unwittingly involved with the criminal trafficking of endangered species."

That same day, Facebook released its own statement saying it doesn't permit the sale of wildlife, endangered species or their parts, and that it removes groups that have been identified as engaging in illegal conduct.

But according to the statement from Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto, a months-long investigation of various social media platforms by the law firm's undercover team found "rampant wildlife activity in two places: Facebook and Instagram."

(Instagram – surprise! -- is owned by Facebook.) The statement described the amount of wildlife parts being sold in closed and private Facebook groups as "horrifying."

"At a time when the world is losing 30,000 elephants a year to poachers, the amount of ivory sold on Facebook is particularly shocking," the law firm stated.

Its undercover team identified more than a dozen wildlife trafficking networks operating on Facebook and traveled to Vietnam and Laos to meet with ivory traders to confirm they were actively marketing their products on the social media platform.

The word "horrifying" was also used by Gretchen Peters, executive director of the Center on Illicit Networks and Transnational Organized Crime, a nonprofit dedicated to helping governments and communities more efficiently counter these groups.

"I have looked at thousands of posts containing ivory, and I am convinced that Facebook is literally facilitating the extinction of the elephant species," Peters told the AP.

Instead of helping to decimate what's left of endangered species, Facebook could do a lot to save them by turning over the information it has about wildlife traffickers to authorities – just like it turned over information about users to Cambridge Analytica.

Doing so could help lead to the largest wildlife law enforcement operation ever, the law firm of Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto said in its statement.

Facebook is already losing users, along with billions of dollars in shareholder wealth, over its mishandling of their private information. Even more users and shareholder wealth could (and should) be lost over the very troubling news that Facebook is apparently enabling the illegal trafficking of endangered wildlife.

Please sign this petition urging Facebook to stop advertising on the pages of illegal wildlife traffickers, remove the pages and report these criminals to authorities.

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Harvard Teaches Us That Hedge Fund Managers Get Rich Even When They Mess Up

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

(Photo: Cherry Beans / Getty Images)

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While we all know that it is important for people to get a good education if they want to do well in today's economy, it remains the case that who you know matters much more than what you know. Harvard has taught us this lesson well with the management of its endowment in recent years.

Businessweek reported that the returns on Harvard's endowment over the last decade averaged just 4.4 percent annually. This performance trailed both stock index returns and the returns received by other major university endowments. This means that Harvard would have had considerably more money to pay its faculty and staff if it simply bought a Vanguard index fund.

If this were just bad luck, one could be sympathetic, but according to Businessweek, the school paid $242 million to the people who managed its money over the period from 2010 to 2014, an average of $48.4 million annually. While Harvard's endowment fared poorly, these money managers did very well, with the top-paid managers undoubtedly pocketing paychecks well in excess of $1 million a year (approximately 8,000 food stamp months). In other words, Harvard's money managers were paid huge sums to lose the school money. Nice work if you can get it.

It is difficult to understand how Harvard, or any university, could pay so much money to lose the school money. Harvard's money managers surely have good credentials, and probably even good track records with their past performance. How could the university write contracts that allow these people to get huge paychecks that end up costing Harvard money due to their poor investment decisions?

Unfortunately, universities are not the only ones who often pay big bucks to lose money. Pension funds routinely sign contracts with private equity companies that allow the private equity partners to get rich even if investment returns to the funds are no better, and often worse, than the returns from equivalent stock index funds. The key is to be on the inside: a well-connected private equity fund manager. Being able to find good investment opportunities is secondary.

It is not only the financial sector where good contacts mean everything. The story of the exploding pay of top corporate executives is also largely a story of friends in high places. CEOs have always been well-paid, but in the last four decades their pay went from being in a range of 20 to 30 times the pay of a typical worker, to being 200 to 300 times the pay of a typical worker.

The deal with CEOs and other top management is that they play a large role in selecting the members of the corporate boards that oversee their work and set their pay. Being a director of a major corporation is an incredibly cushy job. It involves around 100 to 150 hours of work a year and typically pays over $100,000 a year and can pay $200,000 or $300,000 a year.

Directors can generally count on keeping their jobs as long as they stay on the good side of their peers and top management. In principle, shareholders get to vote on whether directors should be retained. In practice, more than 99 percent of the directors who are put forward by the board are re-elected.

In this environment, there is little incentive for directors to ask questions like, "can we get away with paying our CEO less money?" Even though it is supposed to be the responsibility of the director to shareholders to minimize the pay to CEOs, few directors seem to take this aspect of their job seriously. They have no incentive to try to push down the pay CEOs receive. As a result, we see a continuing upward spiral of CEO pay, where the high pay of one CEO can provide the basis for raising the pay of a competitor. However, low CEO pay in one company is rarely used as a basis for cutting the pay of a CEO elsewhere.

And, this is a big deal. When the CEO gets $20 million a year, the next tier of corporate management will likely get paychecks well into the millions, with third-tier paychecks at least in the high hundreds of thousands. It is basic logic that the more money the folks at the top get, the less money is available for everyone else. The chief financial officer may get a jump in pay that corresponds to the raise received by her CEO; the custodian almost certainly will not.

In short, as Harvard teaches us, the key is to get into the right social circles. While performance may still be rewarded, it is not necessary, as Harvard's money managers demonstrate so well.    

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Trump's Executive Order on "Welfare" Is Designed to Pit Workers Against One Another

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

Last week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order titled "Reducing Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility." It directs a broad range of federal agencies to review programs serving low-income people and make recommendations on how they can make the programs harder to access, all under the guise of "welfare reform."

Donald Trump makes his way to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, on April 16, 2018. Trump is traveling to Hialeah, Florida, for a roundtable discussion on tax reform. (Photo: Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images)

This article was published by TalkPoverty.org.

Last week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that sums up how little he understands about poverty in America.

The order, titled "Reducing Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility," carries little weight by itself. It directs a broad range of federal agencies to review programs serving low-income people and make recommendations on how they can make the programs harder to access, all under the guise of "welfare reform."

The order's main purpose appears to be smearing popular programs in an effort to make them easier to slash -- in part by redefining "welfare" to encompass nearly every program that helps families get by. To that end, the order reads as follows:

The terms "welfare" and "public assistance" include any program that provides means-tested assistance, or other assistance that provides benefits to people, households, or families that have low incomes (i.e., those making less than twice the Federal poverty level), the unemployed, or those out of the labor force.

Redefining everything from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) to Medicaid to Unemployment Insurance to child care assistance as "welfare" has long been part of conservatives' playbook, as my colleague Shawn Fremstad has pointed out. The term has a deeply racially charged history in the United States, evoking decades of racial stereotypes about poverty and the people who experience it. By using dog-whistle terms like welfare, Trump is erecting a smokescreen in the shape of President Reagan's myth of the "welfare queen" -- so we don't notice that he's coming after the entire working and middle class.

The fact is, we don't have welfare in America anymore. What's left of America's tattered safety net is meager at best, and -- contrary to the claim in Trump's executive order that it leads to "government dependence" -- it's light-years away from enough to live on.

Take the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP provides an average of just $1.40 per person per meal. Most families run out of SNAP by the third week of the month because it's so far from enough to feed a family on.

Then there's housing assistance, which reaches just 1 in 5 eligible low-income families. Those left without help can spend up to 80 percent of their income on rent and utilities each month, while they remain on decades-long waitlists for assistance.

And then there's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the program that replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children in 1996 when Congress famously "[ended] welfare as we know it." Fewer than 1 in 4 poor families with kids get help from TANF today -- down from 80 percent in 1996. In fact, in several states, kids are more likely to be placed in foster care than receive help from TANF.

Families who do receive TANF are lucky if the benefits even bring them halfway to the austere federal poverty line. For example, a Tennessee family of 3 can only receive a maximum of $185 per month, or a little over $6 a day.

Yet TANF is the program Trump is holding up as a model -- hailing 1996 "welfare reform" as a wild success -- despite the fact that TANF has proven an abject failure both in terms of protecting struggling families from hardship and in helping them get ahead.

In particular, this executive order directs agencies to ramp up so-called "work requirements" -- harsh time limits on assistance for certain unemployed and underemployed workers -- which were at the heart of the law that created TANF. But decades of research since TANF was enacted show that work requirements do not help anyone work.

Make no mistake: Pushing for "work requirements" is at the core of the conservative strategy to reinforce myths about poverty in America. That "the poor" are some stagnant group of people who "just don't want to work." That anyone who wants a well-paying job can snap her fingers to make one appear. And that having a job is all it takes to not be poor.

But in reality, millions of Americans are working two, even three jobs to make ends meet and provide for their families. Half of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck and don't have even $400 in the bank. And nearly all of us -- 70 percent -- will turn to some form of means-tested assistance, like Medicaid or SNAP, at some point in our lives.

Trump claims his executive order is intended to eliminate "poverty traps." But if he knew anything about poverty -- aside from what he's learned on Fox News -- he'd know the real poverty trap is the minimum wage, which has stayed stuck at $7.25 an hour for nearly a decade. That's well below the poverty line for a family of two -- and not nearly enough to live on. There isn't a single state in the country in which a minimum-wage worker can afford a one-bedroom apartment at market rate. Many low-wage workers are forced to turn to programs like Medicaid and SNAP to make ends meet, because wages aren't enough.

If Trump were really trying to promote "self-sufficiency" -- a concept he clearly doesn't think applies to the millionaires and billionaires to whom he just gave massive tax cuts -- he'd be all over raising the minimum wage. In fact, raising the minimum wage just to $12 would save $53 billion in SNAP alone over a decade, as more low-wage workers would suddenly earn enough to feed their families without nutrition assistance.

Yet there's no mention of the minimum wage anywhere in Trump's order to "promote opportunity and economic mobility."

Which brings us back to the real purpose of this executive order: divide and conquer.

Trump and his colleagues in Congress learned the hard way last year how popular Medicaid is when they tried to cut it as part of their quest to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And it's not just Medicaid that Americans don't want to see cut. Americans overwhelmingly oppose cuts to SNAP, housing assistance, Social Security disability benefits, home heating assistance, and a whole slew of programs that help families get by -- particularly if these cuts are to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. What's more, as polling by the Center for American Progress shows, Americans are less likely to vote for a candidate who backs cuts.

By contrast, vast majorities of Americans across party lines want to see their policymakers raise the minimum wage; ensure affordable, high-quality child care; and even enact a job guarantee to ensure everyone who is able and wants to work can find a job with decent wages. These sentiments extend far beyond the Democratic base to include majorities of Independents, Republicans, and even Trump's own voters.

That's why rebranding these programs as welfare is so important to Trump's agenda. Rather than heed the wishes of the American people, Trump's plan is -- yet again -- to tap into racial animus and ugly myths about aid programs in order to pit struggling workers against one other. That way, he can hide his continued betrayal of the "forgotten men and women" for whom he famously pledged to fight.

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Where Will the Struggle Lead Kentucky Teachers?

Truthout - Sat, 04/14/2018 - 21:00
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Kentucky Public school teachers protest outside the Kentucky House Chamber as they rally for a 'day of action' at the Kentucky State Capitol to try to pressure legislators to override Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin's recent veto of the state's tax and budget bills April 13, 2018, in Frankfort, Kentucky. (Photo: Bill Pugliano / Getty Images)

KENTUCKY TEACHERS, education workers and their supporters gathered once again on this weekend for rallies at the state Capitol in Frankfort.

The protests represent the continuing urgency of the upsurge that has made Kentucky another site of the teachers' rebellions that swept west from West Virginia through states formerly considered to be conservative "Trump country."

At the same time, the demonstrations highlight some of the dynamics and debates that teachers need to consider for the movement to succeed.

At the start of April, an estimated 12,000 teachers and supporters descended on Frankfort, sparked into rebellion specifically by a disastrous attack on public employees' pensions passed late on March 29 under the camouflage of legislation about sewer construction.

The next morning after this late-night legislative sleight of hand, teachers -- led by the grassroots group #KY 120 United -- shut down schools in 20 counties through coordinated sick-outs, and many traveled to the capital to send a message to lawmakers.

The tactic of the sick-out was used effectively again on April 2 as politicians considered anti-worker budget and tax legislation. Schools that weren't closed because of spring break in most of Kentucky's 120 counties were shut down again, and the turnout in Frankfort was the biggest yet.

Though some educators continued sick-outs or other protests in that first week of April, many looked ahead to April 13 -- when the legislators' recess ended and lawmakers would convene again -- as the next date for a mobilization.

Developments between April 2 and April 13 highlight the questions that need to be addressed if the movement that shook Kentucky at the start of the month is going to be able to break the stranglehold on public education that is choking teachers, education workers, students and parents.

Above all, the need for a united mobilization of teachers -- which was the basis for putting pressure on the legislature last week -- is clear.

***

IN MY trip to Kentucky on April 9 and in conversations over the last two weeks, I've had the opportunity to speak with teachers who are in the thick of the struggle, parents and activists who are building solidarity, and supporters who understand its historical impact.

These individuals' dedication to local organizing and the long-term struggle bodes well for the movement. At the same time, people spoke of the challenges they face -- from the actions of politicians and school officials, but also debates within the movement -- as they try to continue a struggle that has been months and months in the making.

All this has made for a complicated picture in the period between April 2 and April 13 -- when work stoppages have been attempted, but not continued; when the politicians have been forced to shift, but have slithered into new positions; and when grassroots groups have been built, but have had to fight hard to stay unified.

As we know from history, no movement or struggle ever develops evenly, going from advance to advance.

The situation in Kentucky is complicated by dynamics that will be familiar from past struggles: debates over what to do next when pressure on lawmakers isn't enough; discussions about whether or not to strike; the complications of people in different communities with different considerations needing to figure out how they can speak with one voice.

As in all struggles, there's an ongoing debate about the politics and aims of the movement.

As James Miller, a teacher at duPont Manual High School in Louisville said, some people are fighting only to stop the attack on teachers' pensions or head off measures to undermine public education -- whereas others, including himself, want:

to seize this opportunity to demand significant improvements to public education instead of merely defending the status quo. We want to protect our students by demanding the elimination of legislation that would further criminalize Black and Brown youth and an end to zero-tolerance policies. We want to protect our students' families by opposing regressive sales taxes and flat taxes.

More than 3,000 people have signed a petition created by Miller that ties the fight for schools to the larger struggle for social justice.

Teachers of all views are still in motion to put forward their grievances -- and they know they have the support of many people around them.

Krystal Spencer, with Save Our Schools Kentucky and one of the organizers of the rallies on April 13 and 14, says she's confident that the rallies will be big, "hopefully bigger than [April 2]."

Citing the many groups that are coming together -- including Indivisible, Planned Parenthood, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and university groups -- Spencer noted how many of these organizations don't represent teachers, but are participating.

Meanwhile, I heard reports of radicalized teachers who are calling off work this Friday and sending delegations to Frankfort -- while working patiently with local groups in their schools who aren't ready for a strike and have never heard the word "wildcat," but remain very curious about the strategy.

***

THE LEGISLATIVE details in Kentucky are complicated, but they are important for understanding the strategic obstacles that teachers have to face.

Even as protesters were leaving the statehouse after their biggest demonstration on April 2, the Republican-led legislature passed a budget bill and a tax "reform" bill that are anti-worker and anti-poor. Yet the GOP claims the balance between the two would benefit education.

The legislature put these bills on the desk of Gov. Matt Bevin, a Tea Party favorite, and then left for a short recess until April 13.

Several teachers' groups aimed to continue the momentum generated by April 2, with calling sick-outs, grassroots food drives and marching through their towns. But the Kentucky Education Association (KEA) send out a memo to members saying that the union didn't support work stoppages at this time, and everyone should look to April 13.

On April 6, for example, the union issued a statement that, unfortunately, echoes some of the rhetoric that education bosses use against all teachers' strikes: "Our students need us to show up for them in classrooms and schools. We urge educators statewide not to allow our united efforts to be compromised by continued calls for action that deprive students, parents and communities of the educational services we provide."

Meanwhile, between April 2 and April 13, crafty Republican politicians and their ruling-class masters were busy creating a lose-lose situation for those seeking a legislative solution to the attack on education and the social crises in Kentucky -- while adding lots of confusion to the process.

On April 9, Bevin vetoed the budget and tax bills put forward by his own party, stating that he wants more "comprehensive tax reform" and a "balanced budget""comprehensive tax reform" and a "balanced budget" -- code words for deeper tax cuts for the wealthy and austerity for the 99 Percent. This set up a challenge to the legislature to try to override the vetoes on April 13 and 14. Bevin signed the pension bill that sparked the teachers' uprising.

The Democratic minority in the legislature, which has religiously opposed Bevin, supports his vetoes and will vote against overriding them, on the basis that they are opposed to the budget and tax bills that passed.

On the other hand, the KEA and its affiliates have called for Bevin's vetoes to be overridden -- a de facto defense of the Republican legislature's bills.

The logic of the position was explained in a statement from the Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA), which contended that, while the union "does not agree with some of the regressive ways the revenue bill generates new revenue, but without a revenue bill, Kentucky will lose hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for public education."

The unions are right that Bevin vetoed these bills from the right, not the left. But it seems problematic to accept the original legislation, which are clearly regressive and harmful in various ways, as a kind of lesser evil.

Indeed, as so many teachers and supporters expressed in face-to-face discussions, what galvanized them to take action is the general and ongoing attack on education in the midst of a deep social crisis in Kentucky -- not a dispute between two versions of budget cuts, two versions of tax cuts for the rich, and two versions of tax hikes that hit poor and working people.

***

EVEN ACTIVISTS who have organized outside the KEA have debated what path to follow in this confusing situation.

Internal discussions within the #KY 120 United this week revealed disagreement about whether or not to call for work stoppages, and whether or not to settle for the legislature's original budget and tax bills.

Most of the teachers and others I met remained sympathetic to both the KEA and KY 120 United, even if they disagreed with the positions they have taken regarding the legislation.

After Bevin's open and disparaging attacks on KEA's open and disparaging attacks on KEA as "a problem," there was no question about this -- even when one teacher defending the KEA against Bevin said she wished they would be "more of a problem."

Thus, people who are part of KEA, KY 120 United and school-specific groups, many at the same time, are seeking for teachers to figure things out together as part of a longer struggle against a tough set of opponents. Perhaps some of the momentum of April 2 has fallen off, and no one wants to be pushed into choosing between Republican Plan A and Republican Plan B.

Plus, if we look at what teachers and supporters did accomplish in the "in-between" period, it's clear how powerful the movement is at the grassroots level. With many teachers not being sure about an ongoing strike, a preparation period may have been exactly what was needed.

In Jefferson County -- the state's most populous county that includes Louisville and the surrounding area, there was an attempt to close schools through sick-outs on April 9, though participation wasn't strong enough to shut down the schools.

In Pike County in eastern Kentucky, along the border with West Virginia, teachers laid out a week of actions leading up to April 13, including pressuring the Chamber of Commerce for supporting the pension bill.

***

FOR TEACHERS and activists I met from Northern Kentucky and Lexington, the "in between" meant local meetings with activists, talking to parents about the importance of taking action, and working with others to discuss building solidarity.

"Teachers in my building are hungry for info and action in a way they haven't been before," said Molly Seifert, a teacher at Beechwood High School in Northern Kentucky. Seifert noted that the organizing meetings she was part of now drew about 10 times more people than KEA meetings months before.

"I'm advocating for 'the Pike County plan' for the rest of the week: local action and then Frankfort on Friday," Seifert said. "I'm also advocating for a long-term group like this that meets regularly and builds on this momentum."

Laura McMullen, a teacher at Holmes Middle School in Covington, said: "We were ready last week, and we're still ready."

McMullen described the impact of the social crisis, especially in poor schools like hers:

Our class sizes are already at cap. So with all of these resources being pulled, and teaching a group of 31-32 kids, how can I ensure that all their needs are getting met, that their IEPs (Independent Education Plans) are being followed...Our school has a very high rate of special needs kids, and our transience rate is very high, with so many kids homeless at any given time.

So when they cut funding for those kids, for after-school programs, for extracurriculars, what are they going to do? We feed kids breakfast, lunch and dinner -- where are those kids going to get that? Busing is very expensive -- we have no way to bus these students. If the goal isn't to bankrupt public schools, then I'm not really sure I know what it is.

Rose Curtin, a parent in the Newport Independent Schools system and member of a local School-Based Decision-Making Council and a Family Resource Center board, explained how poorer, non-white schools would be particularly devastated by the legislation being considered:

I've served on hiring boards, and I already know how hard it is to hire teachers to come into a high-poverty, urban school where there are a lot of challenges, and I strongly believe that this is meant to target those places first.

Because Fort Thomas schools are not going to have a hard time, with a wealthy tax base and a lot of extra support. They're not going to struggle to get new teachers the way that I suspect we in Covington and Newport are going to in order to get people to come in, especially if there's no pensions and they have significant student debt burdens.

***

THE EFFORTS of Kentucky activists to build solidarity is inspirational -- and exactly what will be required to combat a social crisis with no real legislative solution in sight.

In Seifert's region, KY 120 United made "plans of reaching out to parents in meetings at local libraries," she said. "For the first time in my 17 years of teaching, activists from Boone County, Kenton County, Dayton Independent, Beechwood and Covington Independent are working together on a project like this."

Curtin, who is also a member of the Democratic Socialists of America's Metro Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky branch, heads up the Kentucky Teachers Strike Fund, to organize concrete solidarity should educators decide to walk out.

From the experience of a family member who lost her job after participating in a strike, Rose is aware of "just the amount of work that a work stoppage is [and] the financial and emotional effects that it has." The fund, organized jointly by four DSA chapters across Kentucky, was formed after consulting with DSA members in West Virginia who had set up a similar fund for a coalition of groups.

Drew Van't Land, an organizer for the Kentucky Workers League in Lexington, talked about organizing solidarity through helping working-class parents who might have trouble with childcare, and helping to "combat the narrative that their interests are somehow not aligned with those of the teachers."

Everyone I talked to, even if skeptical about the future given the difficulty of the task before Kentucky teachers, underlined the gains that the struggle had already made.

Geoff Sebesta of the Lexington DSA said that teachers' self-organization and solidarity had contributed to "the legislature being clearly scared as hell."

"The floodgates have been opened by what's happened in West Virginia," said Drew Gerbel, the sibling of a teacher and an activist in his own right. "The example has been set. Look what power exists in the working class. But I don't think people realize it 100 percent yet."

It does take time for people across a whole state and with so many different circumstances and ideas to realize that strength -- and there are no guarantees that the teachers will be able to win what they are fighting for.

But with all that remains to be done, something fundamental has already been gained. As Miller said to me:

There are too many unknowns to predict the future.... But one thing will not change: Kentucky teachers are angry, and they will not be easily placated.

Already dozens of Kentucky educators have registered to run for state and local offices in campaigns specifically targeting incumbents who voted in favor of the governor's anti-public education agenda. Already hundreds of Kentucky teachers have repeatedly swarmed the state Capitol in rowdy protests. Already thousands of Kentucky teachers have participated in a wildcat sick-out strike.

The future is unpredictable, but it will belong to us.

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When They Couldn't Afford Internet Service, They Built Their Own

Truthout - Sat, 04/14/2018 - 21:00
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Dwight Roston is drilling on the roof of a home in Detroit's Islandview neighborhood on the city's east side. Roston is part of a team that is setting up a wireless internet connection. The home is just one of 150 designated households in the city to receive free internet service by the end of the year.

In 2016, a coalition of media, tech, and community organizations launched the Equitable Internet Initiative, a project that will result in the construction of wireless broadband internet networks across three underserved Detroit neighborhoods. Leading the initiative is the Detroit Community Technology Project, a digital justice project sponsored by Allied Media Projects. Each network will provide wireless internet service to 50 households per neighborhood, according to Diana Nucera, executive director of DCTP.

"During the economic and housing crisis, communities had to fend for themselves," Nucera says. "Media and technology play such a vital role in economic opportunities, but the tech industry doesn't really think about community organizing."

That's why, she explains, "we developed this approach called community technology."

Detroit has one of the most extreme digital divides in the country, with more than 60 percent of low-income residents without broadband in their homes. According to a recent report from the Brookings Institution, residents in low-income or rural neighborhoods are the least likely to have broadband subscriptions.

Even discounted municipal or corporate broadband subscriptions, if available, are not necessarily alternatives for many families. After all, affordability is relative.

Last year, the United Nations declared internet access a human right. But like running water, which was also declared a human right by the U.N., it is considered a paid service in the United States. In 2016, a U.S. federal court ruled that the high-speed internet service can be defined as a utility, such as gas and electricity.

And as is the case with access to most utilities, there is a large gap between those who can afford internet service and those who cannot. This digital divide, which includes lack of access to computers, is a barrier to success in day-to-day life tasks, so much of which is done online—from paying bills and other financial management to obtaining voting information, from completing homework to communicating with a child's school.

The coalition raised just under $1 million from local and national foundations to finance the Equitable Internet Initiative. Funds were used to hire employees, buy equipment, and internet bandwidth. They purchased three discounted wholesale gigabit connections from Rocket Fiber, a Detroit-based high-speed internet service provider. Their contract with Rocket Fiber allows the coalition to share its connection with the community -- a provision not allowed by other companies.

Each neighborhood is represented by a partnering organization, whose locale is used as the central connection hub for service. In Islandview, it's the Church of Messiah, a non-traditional Episcopal church. An antenna sits atop the roof and receives a point-to-point wireless connection from Rocket Fiber, which is then shared to the 50 designated households.

The community members are responsible for installation. DCTP trains a representative of the partnering organization, who then trains five to seven neighbors to install the equipment. These digital stewards, who Nucera says had no previous technical experience, are responsible for "building the networks." They mount CPE (customer premise equipment) dishes on top of the homes, which receive a signal from the hubs. Finally, they run cables from the dishes to the routers inside the homes.

Roston, a digital steward, says the work was foreign to him.

"Being a digital steward was completely out of the range of what I usually do," he says. "I was so used to using the internet -- all the software and everything -- but I didn't know how internet networks work."

So far, he's helped with getting 19 of the 50 designated households in the Islandview neighborhood online.

Wallace Gilbert Jr. is responsible for recruiting Roston. Gilbert is the assistant pastor of the Church of Messiah, and he's also a digital steward trainer. He has worked in tech for 30 years and for the past several years has been teaching neighborhood youth to build and repair personal computers to take home. Digital literacy is among the needs of the community that the church provides.

One day Gilbert noticed quite a number of the children were using the church computers to complete homework assignments. "I asked one of the fellas why was he using the computer [at the church] when I know I helped him build a high-end computer," he explains. "He told me that he didn't have the internet at home."

It was then, Gilbert says, he realized that the computers were useless if the youth couldn't access the internet.

The Federal Communication Commission's Broadband Task Force reported that approximately 70 percent of teachers assign homework requiring access to broadband. According to the same report, 70 percent is also the rate of school-aged children in Detroit who don't have internet access at home.

A mission of both The Church of Messiah and the Detroit Community Technology Project is to increase young people's access to and facility with technology. This is why Gilbert and the church joined the Equitable Internet Initiative.

Nucera says the three-neighborhood project is about 50 percent complete. The coalition's contract with Rocket Fiber expires next year, but another internet service provider has agreed to extend service for an additional three years. The next and final phase of the project involves developing a business model so that the residents will continue to have internet after the second contract ends.

This element of self-determination is also motivating, Roston says.

"You don't ever want to give somebody something that they did not have and couldn't do without and then take it away from them," he says.

The bottom-up approach of having residents directly involved in building the internet, Nucera says, is a model that also strengthens community relationships, increases civic engagement, and redistributes political and economic power to otherwise marginalized neighborhoods

"If the community has ownership of the infrastructure, then they're more likely to participate in its maintenance, evolution, and innovation," she explains. "That's what we believe leads to sustainability."

The project is a model for any neighborhood, though, even at a small scale.

"I don't want people to think that this can only be done with a million dollars," Nucera says. "There's different scales to this model. Two neighbors can come together and share internet, and they continue adding people to the network until it grows as to how big as they want it."

Categories: Latest News

Trial Date Set for Groundbreaking Kids' Climate Lawsuit

Truthout - Sat, 04/14/2018 - 21:00
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A trial date of Oct. 29 has been set for a landmark climate change lawsuit brought by a group of young Americans despite the Trump administration's efforts to halt the case.

Juliana v. United States was filed in 2015 on behalf of 21 plaintiffs who ranged between 8 to 19 years old at the time. They allege their constitutional and public trust rights are being violated by the government's creation of a national energy system that causes dangerous climate change.

The trial will be heard before U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken in Eugene, Oregon, according to Our Children's Trust, the non-profit group supporting the plaintiffs. Aiken joined the court in 1998 after being nominated by President Bill Clinton.

"We have our trial date. In the coming months there will be depositions of the parties, defendants' disclosure of their experts, and expert depositions in late summer. We will build a full factual record for trial so that the Court can make the best informed decision in this crucial constitutional case," said Julia Olson, executive director of Our Children's Trust and co-lead counsel for the youth plaintiffs, in a statement.

The lawsuit was originally filed against President Obama's government before President Trump took office. Incidentally, just days before the case was turned over to the Trump administration, Obama's Justice Department lawyers admitted many of the young plaintiff's scientific claims were true, including carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations have increased to greater than 400 parts per million.

Additionally, the federal defendants admitted that fossil fuel extraction, development and consumption produce CO2 emissions and that past emissions of CO2 from such activities have increased the atmospheric concentration of CO2.

The Trump administration sought an appeal of the case, but last month, a three-judge panel with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco denied the White House's writ of mandamus petition, a rarely used legal maneuver that would have dismissed the case.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin set the trial date for this Fall despite Trump's DOJ attorneys saying the date "won't work" for the defendants.

They claimed they needed additional time to address expert witness reports and find rebuttal experts, to which Judge Coffin asked: "Where am I missing something? Given your admissions in this case, what is it about the science that you intend to contest with your rebuttal witnesses?"

According to Courthouse News, "U.S. Attorney Marissa Piropato answered that the dispute lies not in disagreement over whether climate change exists, but rather with the kids' conclusion that climate change imperils their future."

Phil Gregory, of Gregory Law Group and co-lead counsel for the youth plaintiffs commented, "By setting a trial date of October 29, 2018 the court clearly recognizes the urgency of the climate crisis. Further, the court stressed that the science should not be in dispute and that the case should be able to proceed in a streamlined fashion. On October 29th climate science will finally have its day in court and the plaintiffs will be ready."

"It is a relief to see that the Court understands how imperative it is to get this trial underway as soon as possible, despite all of the delay tactics the U.S. government continues to try to use," Sophie Kivlehan, 19-year-old plaintiff from Allentown, Pennsylvania said. "I am so excited to have an official trial date on the calendar again so that we can finally bring our voices and our evidence into the courtroom!"

Categories: Latest News

Trump’s Company Is Suing Towns Across the Country to Get Breaks on Taxes

Truthout - Sat, 04/14/2018 - 21:00

Donald Trump speaks during a Rose Garden event April 12, 2018, at the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

President Donald Trump is famous for bragging about his net worth. Publicly, he claims he's worth more than $10 billion. He even sued an author over the issue and lobbied the editors of Forbes about his ranking on their billionaires list.

Yet quietly in another setting, the Trump Organization says the president's holdings are worth far less than he has proclaimed. Across the country, the Trump Organization is suing local governments, claiming it owes much less in property taxes than government assessors say because its properties are worth much less than they've been valued at. In just one example, the company has asserted that its gleaming waterfront skyscraper in Chicago is worth less than its assessed value, in part because its retail space is failing and worth less than nothing.

Since becoming president, Trump's companies have filed at least nine new lawsuits against municipalities in Florida, New York and Illinois, arguing for lower tax bills, ProPublica has found. Some of those lawsuits have been previously reported. At stake is millions of dollars that communities use to fund roads, schools and police departments.

Real estate owners dispute property taxes frequently, and some even sue. The president has a long track record of doing so himself. But experts are troubled that he's doing so while in office.

No president in modern times has owned a business involved in legal battles with local governments. "The idea that the president would have these interests and then those companies would sue localities is really a dangerous precedent," says Larry Noble, of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. The dynamic between local and federal governments is impossible to ignore in these cases, says Noble. Municipalities "rely on resources from the federal government and the federal government can make your life easier or much more difficult." The concern arises because the president did not fully separate from his businesses, he says.

A spokesman for the Trump Organization said, "Like any other business or property owner when property taxes become inflated it is not uncommon to challenge the process to ensure fair treatment. This is a routine practice and any suggestion otherwise is simply ridiculous."

Here's a selection of the Trump Organization's fights:

Ossining

Just north of New York City, the Trump Organization is fighting the town of Ossining. Set along the Hudson River 35 miles north of New York City, the suburban town is home to Trump National Westchester Golf Club.

Trump bought the course in 1996 for $7.5 million and put in $40 million of renovations. The course includes a 75,000-square-foot clubhouse, a 101-foot man-made waterfall and a host of luxury condominiums overlooking the fairway.

Trump said in presidential financial disclosures that this property is worth $50 million. Ossining currently assesses the property at only $15 million.

Yet in legal filings, the Trump Organization claims $15 million is far too high. In 2015, the company said the property is worth only $1.4 million in a lawsuit filed against the Town of Ossining in Westchester County court.

Municipalities almost always settle instead of taking such cases to expensive trials. But because of public outcry, the town decided not to settle this time. It is fighting this case and another related to a neighboring private golf course, which is not owned by Trump.

Asked how it feels to be sued by the president's company, Dana Levenberg, Ossining Town supervisor, says, "It is certainly uncomfortable at best."

The town of Ossining has a population of 38,000 an annual budget of $5.5 million. In order to fight, it's bringing in expert assessors and outside lawyers -- and it adds up. "When you have deep private pockets, it's a lot easier to have staying power in these cases," Levenberg says.

Trump National Golf Club LLC, the subsidiary that owns the club, has filed lawsuits over property taxes each year since 2015. If the town loses, they'll have to refund Trump National the difference between what it claimed was owed and the Trump Organization's number -- roughly $439,960 from 2015 alone. That will come out of school budgets and municipal funds. Briarcliff Schools, the district the course falls in, has put aside $2.8 million of their annual $51.4 million budget for future tax refunds. The town and a number of other municipal offices have set aside funds as well.

Chicago

In Chicago, the Trump Organization has embraced a notoriously unequal system of property assessment challenges to its own benefit. Set on prime riverfront downtown real estate, Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago was born out of the first season of The Apprentice. Completed in 2008, it rises 92 stories and includes a hotel, condominiums and retail space.

But in lawsuits filed against the Cook County treasurer's office, Trump's lawyers call the building a "failed business," and claim the riverfront commercial retail space is worthless.

The Trump Organization, through its subsidiary 401 Wabash Ventures LLC, has appealed valuations for Trump Tower Chicago and lowered its tax bills by over $14 million dollars over the years through settlement negotiations. Not satisfied with those cuts, the Trump Organization sued, first in 2001, and then repeatedly in subsequent years. Currently, there are five open cases filed on behalf of the Trump Organization against the county, all regarding Trump Tower. The Sun-Times reported that, according to documents filed with the Cook County state attorney's office, tax refunds from the cases could total more than $3 million.

Reports by ProPublica Illinois and the Chicago Tribune show that the tax appeals system can exacerbate existing inequalities in the tax system in Illinois, in part because appeals are filed most frequently by those who can afford lawyers. Experts say they see this in many places across the country. "The trend has often been that these appeals processes have been abused by those that are already advantaged," says Andrew Kahrl, an expert in the history of taxation and an associate professor at the University of Virginia.

Palm Beach County, Florida

In Palm Beach County, Florida, the Trump Organization is suing the tax assessor over its tax bill for the Trump National Golf Course Palm Beach. The course, located in the town of Jupiter, is one of two nearby private courses the president frequents while staying at Mar-a-Lago.

On his financial disclosure, Trump lists the value of the Jupiter course as $50 million. Yet in the lawsuit filed in Palm Beach County Civil Court, the company says the county's current $19.5 million assessment "exceed[s] the market value" of the course. The county and its lawyer declined to comment on the ongoing litigation.

The county billed the company $398,315. In December, Jupiter Golf Club paid $296,595.01, calling it a "good faith estimate" of what's owed.

Manhattan

In Manhattan, the Trump Organization filed six lawsuits in New York County court over property tax assessments Trump Tower, Trump Park Avenue, and other buildings in midtown and the Upper East Side, in 2017 alone. Owners of high-value properties frequently appeal their tax bills in New York City.

Categories: Latest News

Global Leaders Condemn Trump's "Scorn for International Law" As Haley Threatens More Possible Air Strikes

Truthout - Sat, 04/14/2018 - 21:00

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley listens during a UN Security Council meeting at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, on April 14, 2018. The UN Security Council on Saturday opened a meeting at Russia's request to discuss military strikes carried out by the United States, France and Britain on Syria in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack. (Photo: Hector Retamal / AFP / Getty Images)

As foreign policy experts denounced the missile strikes ordered by President Donald Trump Friday night, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley further troubled critics on Saturday when she warned that the U.S. is prepared to attack the war-torn country again.

"I spoke to the US president this morning and he said that if the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again, the United States is locked and loaded," Haley intoned at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, referring to a suspected chemical attack that Trump has accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of carrying out last weekend.

Her statement came before the Security Council voted against a Russian resolution that would have condemned the missile strikes, with eight nations rejecting the resolution, four abstaining, and three countries -- Bolivia, China, and Russia -- voting in favor of it.

Haley's declaration was denounced by some of her counterparts at the UN, with Bolivian ambassador Sacha Sergio Llorenty Soliz expressing hope that international law would "prevail."

"Her country is ready, is 'locked and loaded,'" said Soliz. "Of course, we clearly heard her words with a great deal of concern and a great deal of sadness. We know that the United States has aircraft carriers, that they have satellites, that they have 'intelligent missiles, smart bombs,' they have a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons."

Holding up the U.N. charter, which allows the use of military force for members only when necessary for self-defense or with the approval of the Security Council, Soliz concluded, "And we also know that they have nothing but scorn for international law, but we have this."

Russia's ambassador, Vasily A. Nebenzia, added that the airstrikes, carried out by the U.S. as well as the U.K. and France, amounted to "aggression against a sovereign state" without allowing the U.N. to investigate the suspected poison gas attack. A probe by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was set to begin Saturday. 

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged "restraint" at the meeting, and asked all nations "to avoid any acts that could escalate matters and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people."

The British and French officials at the meeting joined Haley in defending their countries' actions, calling the strikes "limited, targeted and effective" and claiming they had evidence of Assad's responsibility for the chemical attack, with French ambassador François Delattre saying the gas attack tested "the threshold of the international community's tolerance."

"You can't combat the alleged violation of international law by violating international law," Soliz countered.

In the Middle East, the missile strikes were met with condemnation and anxiety over what the escalation could mean for the region.

"Such action could have dangerous consequences, threatening the security and stability of the region and giving terrorism another opportunity to expand after it was ousted from Iraq and forced into Syria to retreat to a large extent," said the Iraqi foreign ministry in a statement Saturday.

Categories: Latest News

Will Christian Nationalism Drive Trump's Base to the Polls in November?

Truthout - Sat, 04/14/2018 - 21:00

Donald Trump attends a worship service at the International Church of Las Vegas October 30, 2016, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

A new sociological report reveals how, in addition to the sexist, racist, xenophobic and anti-immigrant sentiments, there was a very strong Christian nationalist element that helped put Trump in the White House. Will those who embrace the narrative of Christian nationalism turn out in strength for the 2018 elections, too?

Donald Trump attends a worship service at the International Church of Las Vegas October 30, 2016, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

With the 2018 midterm elections coming down the pike, many continue to reflect on Trump's victory in 2016, searching for answers about what drove Trump's base to the polls, and wondering whether a similar mobilization is likely to occur this year.

The latest attempt to analyze Trump's rise to the presidency comes from three sociologists who have released a new report documenting the central role of Christian nationalism in animating Trump's supporters.

According to the report, "Make America Christian Again: Christian Nationalism and Voting for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election," published in the journal Sociology of Religion, by sociologists Andrew L. Whitehead, Samuel L. Perry and Joseph O. Baker argue that voting for Trump "was, at least for many Americans, a symbolic defense of the United States' perceived Christian heritage."

Moreover, the report found, "Data from a national probability sample of Americans surveyed soon after the 2016 election shows that greater adherence to Christian nationalist ideology was a robust predictor of voting for Trump, even after controlling for economic dissatisfaction, sexism, anti-black prejudice, anti-Muslim refugee attitudes, and anti-immigrant sentiment, as well as measures of religion, sociodemographics, and political identity more generally."

Whitehead, Perry and Baker's report comes in the footsteps of numerous other papers published by sociologists trying to explain the electorate's choice. These reports have covered a broad swath of issues including economic anxiety; sexist attitudes; anti-Black prejudice; anti-Muslim and Islamophobic beliefs often couched in terms of concerns about "terrorism" or "refugees"; and racist, xenophobic and anti-immigrant attitudes.

Religious Right leaders made their political bed and are determined to lie in it -- even if they have to share it with porn stars and centerfold models.

The new "Make America Christian Again" report does not disregard or disparage these overlapping factors, but it zeroes in on "the extent to which Christian nationalist ideology represented a unique and independent influence leading to the Trump Presidency," arguing that, "Christian nationalism operates as a unique and independent ideology that can influence political actions by calling forth a defense of mythological narratives about America's distinctively Christian heritage and future."

Andrew Whitehead, one of the authors of the report, said he believes Republicans and Trump will continue to draw upon Christian nationalist rhetoric in order to energize their base this November.

"It proved helpful to them in the 2016 elections and so there is no reason they should move away from it now," Whitehead told Truthout. "I think that Trump has delivered on some of the promises made to Christian nationalists, especially concerning his pick for the Supreme Court. I don't think we'll see any reduction in the importance of Christian nationalism in upcoming elections."

Trump's Alignment With Christian Nationalism

While Trump has never been a particularly religious man, and he has consistently displayed what might be seen as "anti-Christian behavior and beliefs," he has been embraced not only by mainstream conservative Christian evangelical leaders, but also by a host of Christian Dominionist leaders. And, thus far during his presidency, he has delivered on some of the promises he's made to evangelical Christians.

In addition to opening the doors of the White House to religious right leaders, he has appointed several cabinet members closely aligned with the religious right, including Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the vigorously anti-choice Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, who was forced to resign over his extensive use of taxpayer-funded charter flights. In addition, Trump pleased the religious right through his appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. He may yet have the possibility of nominating more Supreme Court justices in addition to ushering in a host of Gorsuch-like federal judges.

In January, Mark J. Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, pointed out additional moves that Trump has taken to please the religious right, including reinstating "the global 'gag rule' prohibiting federal funds from supporting international family planning agencies that provide either abortion-related services or advice;" incorporating a "special dispensation for persecuted Christians" into his original travel ban executive order; and creating a new "conscience and religious freedom office in the Department of Health and Human Services to protect medical professionals who refuse to provide services that violate their religious principles."

These moves by Trump have encouraged Christian nationalists to continue supporting him despite mounting scandals.

Christian nationalism, is not synonymous with "civil religion," in that Christian nationalism expresses a severely prescribed sense of religious mission. The sociologists' report explains:

Civil religion, on the one hand, often refers to America's covenantal relationship with a divine Creator who promises blessings for the nation for fulfilling its responsibility to defend liberty and justice. While vaguely connected to Christianity, appeals to civil religion rarely refer to Jesus Christ or other explicitly Christian symbols. Christian nationalism, however, draws its roots from "Old Testament" parallels between America and Israel, who was commanded to maintain cultural and blood purity, often through war, conquest, and separatism. Unlike civil religion, historical and contemporary appeals to Christian nationalism are often quite explicitly evangelical, and consequently, imply the exclusion of other religious faiths or cultures.

During the campaign, Trump made an obligatory stop at Liberty University where Jerry Falwell Jr. embraced him, despite the candidate's well-documented biblical verse confusion. At Liberty, Trump claimed he would "protect Christianity," bellowing that Christians were "under siege."

At Oral Roberts University, Trump told the crowd,

You know that Christianity and everything we're talking about today has had a very, very tough time. Very tough time.... We're going to bring [Christianity] back because it's a good thing. It's a good thing. They treated you like it was a bad thing, but it's a great thing.

During a stop at Great Faith International Ministries, Trump said, "Now, in these hard times for our country, let us turn again to our Christian heritage to lift up the soul of our nation."

In May of last year, Trump returned to Liberty University, where he told the graduates:

In America we don't worship government, we worship God ... America is better when people put their faith into action. As long as I am your president no one is ever going to stop you from practicing your faith or from preaching what's in your heart. We will always stand up for the right of all Americans to pray to God and to follow his teachings.

Christian nationalists framed the election as being a battle between preserving the US as a Christian nation and bowing to the "godless" candidacy of Hillary Clinton. Evangelical leaders like Focus on the Family founder James Dobson said that Trump would "restore America to its past glory."

Make America Christian Again points out that, "The 2016 election was repeatedly labeled as conservative Christians' 'last chance' for citizens to protect America's religious heritage and win back a chance at securing a Christian future. As Trump told conservative Christian television host Pat Robertson, 'If we don't win this election, you'll never see another Republican and you'll have a whole different church structure ... a whole different Supreme Court structure.'"

Whitehead, Perry and Baker write: "Christian nationalism operates as a set of beliefs and ideals that seek the national preservation of a supposedly unique Christian identity. Voting for Donald Trump was for many Americans a Christian nationalist response to perceived threats to that identity."

The authors go on to "hypothesize that Christian nationalism will continue to predict voting for Donald Trump even when other important and interrelated factors are held constant, as well as under empirical contexts that allow for the potential interplay between Christian nationalism and various forms of ethnic resentment."

Looking Toward November

During a 2016 campaign stop in Sioux City, Iowa, Trump said: "You know what else they say about my people? The polls, they say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters, okay? It's like incredible."

While evangelical Christian leaders are loyally standing by Trump despite unfolding sexual scandals, bullying tweets and other crude and violent behaviors, the question remains, will rank-and-file evangelicals vote in the midterm elections?

At this time, while some conservative Christians are expressing fear about whether their base will vote in the midterm elections, many analysts are projecting that Trump's white Christian nationalist base will turn out in force in November.

Last December, Robert P. Jones, the CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute and author of "The End of White Christian America," projected that they would. In a Religion News Service column, Jones wrote: "2018 will likely see white evangelical Protestants remaining locked in for Republican candidates in the midterm elections. According to the exit polls, 81 percent of white evangelical Protestant voters pulled the lever for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, and they strongly supported the president throughout his first year in office."

Frederick Clarkson, a senior research analyst at Political Research Associates, a progressive think tank in Somerville, Massachusetts, agrees. "I think that the Christian nationalists will stand by their man," he told Truthout. "Midterms usually mean losses for the party in power -- but this year's dynamics are extraordinary. It is reasonable to expect both a strong pro-Trump and anti-Trump vote. The Christian Right remains a well-organized and highly motivated faction that has been defying the death that has been declared so many times over so many years."

Meanwhile, in late January, OneNewsNow, a news service of the fundamentalist Christian organization, the American Family Association, argued that Christians could play a "pivotal role" in the 2018 midterm elections, "if they show up." Jason Yates of MyFaithVotes, told OneNewsNow that his statistical projections estimate "about 51 million Christians ... will opt out [of voting] in 2018."

In a Facebook post dated April 5, Christian evangelist Franklin Graham unhappily pointed out that progressives had recently won a Wisconsin Supreme Court seat, and he argued that Christians "need to pray and we need to vote, even in off-year elections." In ginning up supporters, Graham warned his Christian conservative supporters that a "progressive is generally just a code word for someone who leans toward socialism, a person who does not believe in God, and someone who will likely vote against Godly principles that are so important to our nation."

Rob Boston, director of communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told Truthout that he doesn't expect to see any serious erosion of Trump's support from the religious right in advance of the midterm elections, regardless of what happens politically between now and November.

"Religious Right leaders know that if the Democrats take control of even one chamber of Congress, Trump's agenda will be dealt a serious blow," Boston told Truthout. "The plain truth is, these folks made their political bed and are determined to lie in it -- even if they have to share it with porn stars and centerfold models."

Categories: Latest News

List-Making as Resistance: Chronicling a Year of Damage Under Trump

Truthout - Sat, 04/14/2018 - 21:00

The full story behind Cambridge Analytica's efforts to change the 2016 election outcome is still unknown but the real damage to the US's democracy keeps piling up daily behind a storm of presidential tweets designed to distract the media, says Amy Siskind. The List is Siskind's attempt to catalog the array of destruction unleashed by Trump and the GOP during his first year in office.

Donald Trump addresses the nation on the situation in Syria April 13, 2018, at the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo:Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images)

As we feel battered by the media covering every vile Trump tweet storm, Amy Siskind's The List: A Week-by-Week Reckoning of Trump’s First Year offers the chance to review the details of his destructive trail. Get the book and support Truthout.

The Trump administration is in such destructive disarray that details of the damage often get lost or quickly buried in the president's churn of tweets -- and his ability to issue shocking personal and policy statements. Amy Siskind provides a vital service by chronicling the particulars of Trump's disastrous presidency in list form.

Mark Karlin: What are your criteria for what makes it to the list?

Amy Siskind: Things that are not normal in our democracy. In other words, the old policy battles between Democrats and Republicans over tax policy or Obamacare are not in the list. But when people with disabilities were protesting the Republican health care bill outside McConnell's office and they were handcuffed and dragged out of their wheelchairs, that is not normal and would make the list. As would all the rights and protections being taken away from marginalized communities and women and people with disabilities -- the kleptocracy, conflicts of interest, authoritarian leanings and so on.

Amy Siskind. (Photo: Melanie Acevedo) If we look through the mainstream media, a good portion of the news is journalists reacting to Donald Trump's tweets. Your list reminds us that Trump is getting a lot of dangerous things accomplished while diverting attention. Do you think Trump is leading the media around with his tweets, in a way orchestrating much of his coverage?

Yes. In any given week the media is chasing the same stories, and many important stories are getting little or no coverage. For example, this past week (Week 73) a good portion of our media attention all week long was on Pruitt, and many important stories were totally neglected, including Trump's DHS [Department of Homeland Security] saying they will start a database of journalists and bloggers. This happens often so that 50-80 percent of the stories in each week's list get covered only one place and/or minimal attention.

I heard you on MSNBC the other day and you indicated that the content of the weekly lists is reflecting a more authoritarian direction by the Trump administration. Can you elaborate?

Trump is seizing power now and acting unilaterally. The Republicans have no policies and are not putting in any checks and balances. Every action in the past five weeks -- be it tariffs, the "caravans" and amping up anti-immigrant sentiment or possibly withdrawing from Syria or meeting with Kim Jong Un -- has been the decision of one man.

Do you have a "favorite week" and, if so, why?

I think Week 32 is the most interesting because it is full of evidence that we may not have had a fair election. From Deep Root Analytics, a GOP data firm exposing personal information of 200 million voters online where anyone (including Russia) could steal it -- or voter rolls in North Carolina blue districts -- or hacking attempts in Texas, again in blue districts. So much has yet to be told about Cambridge Analytica and efforts that seem so well organized and microtargeted to change the outcome of our election.

How do you keep the ever-changing roster of Trump figures straight? In short, where do you find time to track as many daily pernicious actions as you document and not get bollixed up with the chaos?

I have gradually had to cede over all of my personal life to keep up. As the list grew from nine items in Week 1, to around 30 when he took office, to 60, then 100 as he staffed up the regime -- each jump meant the hours I devoted grew. As we finished off year one, I was spending roughly 25-30 hours each week as the lists approached 120 items. Now it has reached 30-35 hours, as we have reached 150 plus items. I have to pay attention every day and unfortunately for me, haven't been able to look away, even for a day, since November 2016.

Categories: Latest News

Restoring the Promise of the Fair Housing Act

Truthout - Fri, 04/13/2018 - 21:00
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The Fair Housing Act, passed fifty years ago this month, was a critical victory of the Civil Rights era and an effort to address generations of systemic racism in housing policy.

The law intended to prohibit discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, or sex.

President Johnson signed the Act in large part to stem the tide of anger that rose in cities after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but it was regular people who won the Act, through a years-long struggle to demand fair and equal access to housing.

Segregating Our Cities

The Fair Housing Act was indeed a victory -- but it wasn't perfect, and didn't come close to rectifying the injustices that, by 1968, were already ingrained in American communities.

Developers and planners had long embraced practices like "redlining," by which they refused to lend to homeowners in Black neighborhoods, and "restrictive covenants," which mostly excluded Blacks from living in white neighborhoods. Together, these practices severely restricted Black families' ability to move to certain neighborhoods and to develop wealth through home ownership.

Together, these practices and others like them established patterns of segregation across the country, overtaking entire American cities. By the time Congress and the President decreed that housing discrimination was illegal, it wasn't enough to fully undo the damage already done by decades of racism.

Unraveling the Act

Now, Trump's Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), led by Dr. Ben Carson, is actively working to undermine the gains won by the Fair Housing Act, as well as the people's movements that have fought to make it better since its passage.

Under Trump, the Federal government is halting efforts to enforce fair housing laws and freezing enforcement against local governments and businesses that turn a blind eye to housing discrimination.

In 2015, the Obama administration sought to fulfill an unmet mandate of the Fair Housing Act that says communities receiving federal funds for affordable housing must "affirmatively further" fair housing by taking active steps to undo segregation.

This new rule required municipal authorities to complete a comprehensive Assessment of Fair Housing before they could receive HUD funding.  Under Carson, HUD has essentially suspended the requirement for cities to comply with this rule, tacitly sanctioning discrimination.

Our Housing Crisis

This unraveling of fair housing policy comes at a time when we need it -- and perhaps need it more -- than at any time since the Fair Housing Act was first passed. In 2018, the nation's housing crisis has reached emergency levels.

A person working full-time at minimum wage cannot afford a two-bedroom apartment in any county in the United States. More than half of all Americans spend over 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities. 12 million households, disproportionately households of color, dedicate over half their wages to housing. Today, more than three million families and individuals are homeless, including more than one million children.

Making Matters Worse

The current crisis in housing comes ten years after big banks devastated the savings of American families through predatory lending practices. Families lost $16 trillion as the nation's housing market imploded.

Ten years later, those who have recovered their wealth are disproportionately white and upper-class, while several million people of color and working people remain under water on home loans and won't ever recover their life savings.

And many of the same banks whose unethical lending practices helped create the mortgage crisis have now shape-shifted into speculators who exploit the wreckage they caused by converting foreclosed homes into rental stock, displacing whole communities across the country.

A Disproportionate Impact

Each element of the contemporary housing crisis disproportionately impacts communities of color because of the enduring legacy of government-sanctioned racism in housing policy. Fifty years after the passage of the Fair Housing Act, racial discrimination in housing is as pernicious as ever.

A report released this February by the Center for Investigative Reporting, based on 31 million records, showed that Black and brown people are routinely denied mortgages at rates higher than whites. Redlining persists in 61 metro areas, from Tacoma, Washington to St. Louis, Missouri and from Mobile, Alabama to Camden, New Jersey.

Instead of meeting the challenges of the housing emergency, Congress voted for a $1.5 trillion tax giveaway that only exacerbates the plight of low-income and working-class families, and communities of color.

Where is HUD?

HUD funding has not kept pace with the nation's needs. 75 percent of people who qualify for federal housing assistance don't receive it. This is no accident: it's the product of conservatives' decades-long strategy to constrain, undermine and dismantle the role of government, and to move housing into the hands of private investors.

The Trump administration has proposed cuts that will devastate HUD funding even furtherhas proposed cuts that will devastate HUD funding even further. All of this will make it even harder for people to afford the basics: health care, food on the table, and a roof over their heads.

The Next Step

People's Action's new housing campaign builds upon our 40-year record of winning landmark reforms like the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (1975), the Community Reinvestment Act (1977), the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (2010), the Attorneys General Mortgage Fraud Settlement (2012), and other major structural reforms.

Our affiliate organizations in thirty states are now building power to win housing justice in their local communities. We are uniting the best experts we know -- the people directly affected -- to envision a more just future.

Our housing justice campaign affirms the central aspiration of the 1968 Fair Housing Act: that housing is an inalienable, indivisible human right. Building on the legacy of those who struggled before us, racial justice is central to our campaign.

Sustained attention to HUD's funding and policy is critical to prevent the Trump administration's efforts to completely abandon the fair housing mandate, and further fuel privatization.

In 2018, there is no future for fair or just housing without a real and honest acknowledgement of lawmakers' failure to deliver on the promises they made to the American people 50 years ago.

We demand a radical rethinking of the HUD budget. While we're glad that the recently passed omnibus spending bill for 2018 doesn't include major cuts to the agency, that's not good enough. We need massive reinvestment to end the current housing crisis, and reparations to communities that have consistently borne the brunt of shameful exclusion on the basis of race.

Only a HUD that's fully funded and empowered to fulfill the promises of the Fair Housing Act -- and goes even further -- can meet the real needs of the American people.

 

Categories: Latest News

Zapatista Women Inspire the Fight Against Patriarchy

Truthout - Fri, 04/13/2018 - 21:00
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Zapatista women take the stage to deliver their speeches collectively from each Caracol, or administrative center. (Photo: WNV/Shirin Hess)

Dawn had only just broken over the mountains. While most of the women and children on the camping grounds were still asleep, others were already wide awake, huddling together in the first rays of sunlight and drinking coffee.

To a casual observer, this place might have seemed similar to any mainstream festival campsite. A distinguishing factor, however, was that there wasn't a single man in sight. The sign on the main entrance left no one in doubt that only women and children were welcome at this event: "Men not permitted to enter."

Women's participation in Mexico's 25-year-old Zapatista National Liberation Army, or EZLN movement, has represented an incredible organizational achievement since its original uprising in 1994. On International Women's Day, the female militants of the EZLN did not fail to meet expectations when welcoming 7,000 people to the "First International Political, Artistic, Sports, and Cultural Encounter for Women who Struggle."

Two thousand indigenous Zapatista women from various parts of Chiapas state and 5,000 visitors from all over the world came to Caracol Morelia, near the northeastern town of Altamirano, to hear what they had to say.

Uniting women

The event was entirely initiated by women of the EZLN. They planned it from beginning to end, and made sure everyone who attended was allocated a sleeping place, had access to drinking water and was cared for in the case they fell sick during the three days the event took place. Zapatista events such as these have commonly been accessible via invitation only. This event differed from most of the EZLN's previous "Escuelitas," or "Little Schools," summoning all women and children who were interested in the struggle to overcome misogynistic culture.

"What we wanted was to meet many women," said Commander Jenny, who coordinated the event. "We thought that only a few women were going to come, so we are very happy to see how many of you have joined us here." Although only her eyes were visible, a smile was detectable behind her black balaclava. "It has been hard work, but we are very pleased to see that there are many other women who are fighting patriarchy."

The event was not only an opportunity to create educational or professional networks, but also a space to consider one's health and well-being as a woman in the fight for justice. There were activities ranging from workshops, discussion panels and movie screenings to theater performances, art exhibitions and sports events, including basketball and soccer matches. Themes included gender violence, self-defense, self-care, sexism in the media, sexual rights, health and education, misogyny and childhood, discrimination against indigenous LGBTQ communities, women environmental rights defenders, and decolonization. All of the activities were led and held by women, and all of them were aimed at generating consciousness of gender inequality or the restoration of women's self-confidence and autonomy.

A Biodanza workshop, exercise to promote self-awareness and emotional expression through group dynamics and movement. (Photo: WNV/Shirin Hess)

"Capitalism is not only colonial, it is also patriarchal and racist," said Fernanda Esquivel, a  20-year-old student from Guadalajara. "To come here and see that the Zapatistas are still resisting and have resisted for so many years is a huge inspiration for me. Being with so many women and feeling united also makes me feel hopeful about really creating a change. In academia there is nothing that can show you what it is like to come here, and to feel and share these experiences in practice."

Young women like Esquivel have grown up watching the Zapatistas evolve and followed their fight through media reports, the Zapatista's own communication channel, "Zapatista Connection," and more recently a Facebook page and YouTube account. Women from a total of 42 different countries, some of whom were already familiar with women's movements or other social, political or environmental activism, attended the event in hopes that they would gain skills and inspiration from the women's Zapatista struggle.

"Apart from wanting to amplify my vision of how different fights against the extractive industries are developing," said Katherin Cruz from the National Network of Women Human Rights Defenders in Honduras, which accompanies women human rights defenders involved in territorial conflicts. "I came here so I could recharge my batteries and take home experiences that strengthen me individually and prepare me for the work that I do, and for my political activism within the feminist movement in Honduras."

The birth of the EZLN

In 1983, a group of indigenous peasants in Chiapas organized in secret, educating themselves politically and creating an entirely unique philosophy that insisted that "another world is possible," one that focuses on collectivity, serving the Zapatista community and creating an autonomous social and economical environment for themselves within neoliberal and capitalist Mexico. Finally on January 1, 1994 the group went public, calling themselves the Zapatista National Liberation Army, named after the hero of the 1910 Mexican Revolution, Emiliano Zapata. That day, the EZLN launched an armed uprising, occupied seven towns in Chiapas, including San Cristóbal, and declared war on the Mexican government.

During their brief occupation, followed by a 12-day battle, the EZLN criticized the effects of global capitalism on local farmers and indigenous land. They drew attention in particular to the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, calling it a death sentence for the indigenous peasants of Mexico. NAFTA would be responsible for dismantling collective land rights secured by the Mexican constitution and prioritizing export manufacturing. The Zapatistas fought for a fairer distribution of wealth, as well as the right to political participation for indigenous people in Mexico.

After their initial uprising, in 1996 the Zapatista organization gained constitutional recognition from the state through the San Andres Accords and formed the National Indigenous Council. The Mexican government did not comply with the agreements and the Zapatistas continued to suffer from violent attacks, such as the Acteal Massacre in 1997, where 45 Zapatista sympathizers were killed in Chiapas. Since then, they have peacefully organized mass marches and protests, created their "caracoles," or administrative headquarters, formed autonomous governance, justice, health and education systems and launched public campaigns drawing attention to continued racism and discrimination in Mexico. According to the Mexican newspaper El Universal, the EZLN now governs over 250,000 indigenous people living in the Autonomous Rebellious Zapatista Municipalities in Chiapas.

Today, the image of the Zapatista soldiers, clad in red scarves and balaclavas, has reached some of the most remote corners of the world. Their movement is now well known for its transition from armed struggle to nonviolent resistance to advance their demands for indigenous land rights and autonomy, which has triggered tremendous support and solidarity from anti-capitalist activists globally. However, many of the major issues for indigenous communities addressed by the Zapatistas, such as abandonment and marginalization, continue to exist in Chiapas and other parts of impoverished Mexico.

Women's involvement and participation

During the gathering, Commander Marina took the stage to tell the story of the first female Zapatistas, their struggle for recognition in a male-dominated space and their experience of clandestine meetings prior to their public appearance in 1994. "We took our safety very seriously so that no one would realize where we were going. We had meetings in the mountains, these were very important. We had talks on politics, read books and watched films. We studied the situation of poverty our community was submerged in," she said. "There was nothing to gain trying to demand things from our bad government."

The backdrop of the women's movement within the Zapatista struggle reveals extreme levels of violence against women, poverty and abandonment from any sort of federal health or educational institutions. Intersectional discrimination for being poor, indigenous and women was commonplace, and girls were often forced into marriages or sold by their fathers or families. During the opening ceremony of the encounter, the Zapatistas made it clear that women were sidelined and perceived by the community as second-class citizens. According to Commander Flor, even "midwives would charge less when girls were born."

Zapatista women playing basketball during their first “encounter” for women. (Photo: WNV/Shirin Hess)

Their struggle has led the women in the ranks of the EZLN -- which comprise about a third of the organization's participants -- to see themselves from a different perspective and shed light on the problematic behaviour caused by gender inequality. "At the beginning, we were not used to saying our opinions, or having discussions. We would all agree to everything and nod our heads," Marina said. "We had to fight among our own compañeros, since it took a lot for them to understand the rights we have as women. There is a lot left to achieve but we are convinced that we will accomplish our ideals because we are organized, and we are strong as a collective. We have put fear and doubt aside."

Many followers of the Zapatista revolution were not aware of the key elements that formed the movement before going public in 1994. Undeniably, one of the key characteristics that shaped the movement was the "Women's Revolutionary Law," passed by the Zapatista committees in 1992.

For Sylvia Marcos, a sociologist and expert on indigenous movements across the Americas, the emphasis on women's rights is a defining factor for the organization. Furthermore, she indicates that these rights were claimed not solely for women as individuals, but were "fully linked and interwoven with collective rights."

The unique transformations achieved by the Zapatista indigenous movement are manifest in its attempt to re-imagine gender and decolonize oppressive discourse for the sake of personal empowerment.

Enduring inspiration

Over the last three decades, the revolution continues to abide by laws made by the autonomous Zapatista government. With military strategist and spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos "resigning" from his activities, the Zapatistas have moved out of the media spotlight. However, the successful turnouts for their events prove that the Zapatistas are still an important source of inspiration for social mobilizations and women's movements today.

Not simply an iconic reminder of what indigenous communities were up against in the past, the Zapatistas are engaging in great efforts to revise their strategies and continue to create networks of people who resist, especially among women. Though alternative visions of gender relations have flourished among the Zapatistas, women in the movement continue to suffer gender violence and are battling other issues not uncommon in Chiapas, such as malnutrition, and lack of access to health care and education.

The Zapatistas are addressing some of these issues through their own internal initiatives. Part of their collective work towards independence and sustainability relies on their agroecological farming projects, coffee sales, cooperative shops, community kitchens, traditional medicine and tortilla businesses. However, the fundamental purpose of the Zapatista movement is to promote their way of life and organize collective resistance to resource appropriation, historically-determined economic and social disadvantages and institutional neglect, which exacerbate poverty, sustain the governmental elite and destroy local traditions. Much of their work revolves around inspiring new generations to begin their own journey towards deconstructing norms in their respective societies.

The Zapatista movement currently functions like an organization that promotes constructive dialogue, communication and continued reflection on problems that affect their communities, as well as a support network for other national movements, including the water conflict affecting the indigenous Yaqui community, the 43 Ayotzinapa students missing since 2014 and the recent presidential campaign by the indigenous activist Maria de Jesus Patricio Martinez.

Women's participation within the EZLN has played a key role in their success and ideology. They have made it clear that there will be no democracy without them. What the event last month demonstrated to many of those who were present, was the need to create safe spaces for all women, which allow them to heal and inspire them to continue fighting their own battles in their own ways. "We made an agreement, and that agreement was to live!" Commander Marina said. "And since, for us, living is fighting, we agreed to fight -- each of us according to our means, our place and our time."

Categories: Latest News

Mapped: Cambridge Analytica’s Ties to the Fossil Fuel Industry

Truthout - Fri, 04/13/2018 - 21:00
Why doesn't this site have ads? In order to maintain our integrity, Truthout doesn't accept any advertising money. Help us keep it this way -- make a donation to support our independent journalism. (Photo: Pixabay)   Exposing the wrongdoing of those in power has never been more important. Support Truthout's independent, investigative journalism by making a donation!

Revelations continue to emerge about Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy that has found itself embroiled in a scandal around data privacy and electoral manipulation.

Three whistleblowers have gone public in the Guardian and Observer to outline how Cambridge Analytica used Facebook data to influence the outcomes of the US presidential election and Brexit referendum.

DeSmog UK has previously mapped how the company ties to climate science denial through its Brexit and Trump connections. Now, Nafeez Ahmed over at Motherboard has outlined how Cambridge Analytica has ties to the fossil fuel industry.

Based on that research, it's only a few steps between the company and some of the world's biggest coal and oil companies, many of which have had a revival since the election of Donald Trump. It's only a couple more steps to tie those connections to the already well-established web of power lobbying for Brexit.

Big Oil

The main links to Big Oil companies including, BP, Shell and Exxon, come through a smaller company called Phi Energy, which has a presentation naming the companies as clients.

One of Phi Energy's directors is Julian Wheatland, who is also a director of Cambridge Analytica's parent company, SCL Group.

ExxonMobil's former CEO is Rex Tillerson, who was until recently the US Secretary of State. He was appointed by Donald Trump, who Cambridge Analytica were influential in getting elected.

Big Coal

Cambridge Analytica also has ties to the world's biggest coal company, Peabody Energy.

The link there is through Christian Patrick Teroerde, who was a director of SCL Elections - a subsidiary of Cambridge Analytica's parent company, SCL Group.

Teroerde is also a director of Hanson Asset Management, which bought a major stake in Peabody in the 1990s, when it was the world's largest coal company.

Peabody filed for bankruptcy in 2016 as coal prices crashed. Since Donald Trump got elected, Peabody has bounced back, big time.

Brexit and Climate Science Denial

Hanson Asset Management also links to DeSmog UK's previous map that tied Cambridge Analytica to Brexit and climate science denial.

The company was built on the wealth of Lord James Hanson, who was a big Euro-sceptic. He founded the anti-EU campaign group Business for Sterling, whose Head of Research was Dominic Cummins.

Cummins went on to be the campaign director for the official Brexit campaign group, Vote Leave. One of the whistleblowers in the Guardian claimed Cambridge Analytica was working for Vote Leave via a youth campaign organisation called BeLeave and the company's Canadian spin-off, Aggregate IQ.

Vote Leave was supported by two members of the Conservative party with climate science denial links: North Shropshire MP Owen Paterson and hereditary peer Matt Ridley. Both are well-known allies of the the UK's most prominent climate science denial campaign group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

The Electoral Commission is currently investigating the unofficial Brexit campaign, Leave.EU, which Cambridge Analytica is also thought to have worked with, though the company denies this.

Leave.EU was bankrolled by climate science denier Arron Banks and was fronted by another climate science denier, former UKIP-leader Nigel Farage. Both were famously photographed in a golden elevator with Donald Trump.

Both Vote Leave and Leave.EU also have ties to the party currently propping up the government, the Democratic Unionist Party, through another Brexit campaign group - Grassroots Out. DUP MP and climate science denier Sammy Wilson was a key player in Grassroots Out.

Here's an interactive map of how it all fits together:

View the full interactive map on LittleSis.

Categories: Latest News

As Trump and May Claim Concern for Syrian Civilians, Critics Slam Leaders for Anti-Refugee Stance

Truthout - Fri, 04/13/2018 - 21:00

While President Donald Trump's address to the nation suggested that he and his counterparts in France and the United Kingdom launched airstrikes out of concern for Syrian civilians, a number of critics pointed out that the leaders have shown little compassion for those same innocent people as nations have debated taking in Syrian refugees in recent months.

It is disgusting that our government will likely drop more bombs on Syria than the number of Syrian refugees it has allowed to enter the US this year. https://t.co/FRnTdWMMfn

— Angel Padilla (@AngelRafPadilla) April 13, 2018

Under Trump, the number of Syrian refugees who have been granted asylum and resettled by the U.S. has plummeted, dropping from more than 12,000 in 2016 to half that number last year. Less than 100 of the war-torn nation's 5.5 million refugees are expected to be allowed into the U.S. by the end of the current fiscal year in September.

"If the Trump administration truly cares about the fate of Syrian civilians, it can do far better in resettling Syrian refugees," wrote the International Rescue Committee on Friday evening. "More than 40 people were reportedly killed in the suspected chemical attack on Douma, in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta. That is as many Syrians who have been admitted to the United States as refugees this year."

In the UK, Labour politician David Lammy condemned his fellow members of Parliament for opposing the resettlement of refugee children, as some officials supported Prime Minister Theresa May's decision to march in lockstep with Trump, launching airstrikes on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons infrastructure.

Any MPs supporting military action and air strikes: do you remember the night in Spring 2016 when Parliament voted down the Dubs amendment to take in a few thousand children fleeing war and bloodshed in Syria? Reflect on why you now prioritise air strikes over taking in refugees.

— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) April 14, 2018

In both the U.S. and the U.K., public opinion has strongly favored resettling refugees from Syria. Fifty-seven percent of Americans surveyed by Quinnipiac University urged their government to take in Syrians a year ago, after Trump launched airstrikes in the country following another suspected chemical attack.

Grassroots activists in the U.K. have urged their government to welcome more asylum-seekers from Syria, while May has resisted, preferring to send aid to Middle Eastern countries to keep refugees in the region.

In a poll taken by the Clarion Project this week, more than 58 percent of Americans responded that the U.S. should not launch strikes against Syria in the wake of the apparent attack on Douma, while a similar poll by Verdict in the U.K. showed that only 22 percent of Britons supported military intervention.

Trump critics on social media expressed doubt that the president's concerned rhetoric regarding Syrian civilians would give way to a policy change regarding their resettlement.  

Now that our president has invoked the children as a reason to attack Syria over Assad’s use of chemical weapons, is there any hope he’ll stop dehumanizing them and their families as he rails against them and leads America to turn its back on desperate war refugees fleeing Assad?

— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) April 14, 2018

A military intervention in Syria will only mean more suffering and more lives needlessly lost. If President Trump is serious about helping the Syrian people, he should provide a safe haven for Syrian refugees who are fleeing violence.

— Ro Khanna (@RoKhanna) April 13, 2018

So far this year Donald Trump's America has accepted just 11 Syrian refugees and Britain isn't much better. So it's galling to hear Theresa May talk about the urgent need to bomb Syria to save the lives of innocents. #NotInMyNameTheresaMay

— Harry Leslie Smith (@Harryslaststand) April 14, 2018

Donald Trump has slammed the door shut on Syrian refugees. He clearly doesn’t give a shit about Syria. He’s using them as an excuse to drop bombs so he can distract us from his scandals. All without congressional authorization.

— Adam Best (@adamcbest) April 14, 2018
Categories: Latest News

As the Republican Roof Caves In, Paul Ryan Hits the Road

Truthout - Fri, 04/13/2018 - 21:00

U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) leaves his weekly press conference April 12, 2018 in Washington, DC. Ryan answered a range of questions related primarily to his announcement yesterday that he will not run for office again in the 2018 midterm election. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Some 43 House Republicans are bolting for the exits in 2018, none more prominent than Speaker Paul Ryan. Ryan's departure marks the end of a grim chapter in US politics, a time when the rich got even richer, the poor got the back of Ayn Rand's hand, and Donald Trump was allowed to run wild to the peril of the world.

U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) leaves his weekly press conference April 12, 2018 in Washington, DC. Ryan answered a range of questions related primarily to his announcement yesterday that he will not run for office again in the 2018 midterm election. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms ...

-- TS Eliot, "The Hollow Men"

It began back in 2015 with a low rumble, like something buried deep in the Earth had rolled over in its sleep: GOP Rep. Jim Bridenstine, representing Oklahoma's first district, was retiring at the end of his term. Hardly anything about the announcement was newsworthy outside of Tulsa and Wagoner; maybe one person in ten thousand could pick Jim Bridenstine out of a line-up. As it turns out, he was the leading indicator of an explosive trend. Bridenstine was the first, but will certainly not be the last.

Two years after Bridenstine's announcement and 15 months into the presidency of Donald Trump, the floodgates have opened: The Republican House members who are either leaving the House after the 2018 midterms or have already left in disgrace include Sam Johnson, Lynn Jenkins, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, John J. Duncan Jr., Dave Reichert, Charlie Dent, Dave Trott, Jeb Hensarling, Lamar Smith, Frank LoBiondo, Ted Poe, Bob Goodlatte, Joe Barton, Bill Shuster, Gregg Harper, Ed Royce, Darrell Issa, Pat Meehan, Rodney Frelinghuysen, Trey Gowdy, Tom Rooney, Ryan Costello, Dennis Ross, Jason Chaffetz, Tim Murphy, Pat Tiberi, Trent Franks, Blake Farenthold, Kristi Noem, James Renacci, Raul Labrador, Steve Pearce, Diane Black, Evan Jenkins, Luke Messer, Todd Rokita, Lou Barletta, Marsha Blackburn, Ron DeSantis, Martha McSally and Kevin Cramer.

Leading the charge toward the exits is none other than Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who confirmed on Wednesday that he is stepping down and leaving office after 2018.

That is 43 departures, compared to the Democrats' 19, and the roof has not finished caving in quite yet. As Republican dysfunction and Trumpian mayhem continue to command the day, more departures are certain. Democrats need to pick up 24 seats in order to wrest back control of the House. The Cook Political Report scores 86 seats as being competitive, with 66 of those currently held by Republicans.

For remaining Republicans who still have to row their way to safety in an increasingly perilous election season, Ryan's sudden departure was a knife thrust under the fifth rib. "It's just another illustration of the harbinger of things to come," Terry Sullivan, former campaign strategist for Marco Rubio, told The Hill. "There's no Republican who's optimistic about the November elections. If the leader of Republicans in Congress doesn't want to be there, what is the reason they should be?"

What began two Novembers ago as an all-encompassing Republican victory, a takeover of two branches with a stranglehold on the third, has devolved into a chaotic stampede to avoid the looming and seemingly insurmountable "Blue Wave" to come. "This is the Watergate pattern writ large," writes Rick Wilson for The Daily Beast. "In 1973, Republicans were screaming that the investigation was nothing but a Fake News Witch Hunt. They lost 49 House seats and eight Senate seats in 1974, two months after Nixon resigned."

Take a bow, soon-to-be-former-Speaker Ryan. The representatives who believed you to be the party's economics whiz kid, who elevated you to the Speakership after Boehner bolted, who even went so far as to nominate you to be vice president in 2012, have finally come face to face with the real man behind that aw-shucks smile. The view is not pleasant. Rather than act as the leader of an equal branch of government, Paul Ryan played the part of amiable doormat to the most ridiculous president since Andrew Johnson, and the whole caucus is about to pay a gruesome price for it.

Yes, Ryan helped see the recent massive tax cut into fruition, but this was not some herculean endeavor. Getting Republicans and Democrats in Congress to agree that rich people deserve more money is about as difficult as squeezing toothpaste out of a tube. Ryan's lifetime quest to shatter the social safety net he once depended upon may not have been fully realized yet, but he helped put enough of a beating on Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security that millions will feel the pain of it for many years to come.

That was always the truly insidious part of this man with the boyish face and a pocketful of debunked economic theories. If you asked him, Ryan's seeming goodwill would pour out of his doe eyes as he explained that all he wanted was to help people. Trouble is, he never made clear which people those were until the largest transfer of wealth in modern history was completed. Then he left. Mission accomplished.

The GOP is Trump's party now. Mitch McConnell still rules the Senate, but with an ill electoral wind blowing even in that august chamber, he has little choice but to staple himself to a wildly oscillating wrecker who is so twisted that his own lawyer now exists only as a stack of captured boxes deep inside FBI headquarters. Every GOP election campaign is going to come down to a bunch of petrified Republicans trying to out-Trump each other with the base while hoping Fearless Leader isn't caught building a dacha on the Volga River.

If you think I exaggerate the circumstances for congressional Republicans, consider this: The current GOP front-runner for Ryan's seat is an avowed white supremacist named Paul Nehlan. After a peaceful counter-demonstration in Charlottesville was attacked by fascists and Nazis, resulting in the murder of one protester, Nehlan tweeted, "Incredible moment for white people who've had it up to here & aren't going to take it anymore." This, along with a barrage of racist and anti-Semitic garbage, got Nehlan bounced from Twitter, but despite cries of outrage from the Wisconsin Republican Party, he's at the top of the list to replace Ryan. Also, Donald Trump likes him. In Republican-world these days, that's all that seems to count.

One could call this the end of an era, except that Paul Ryan has only been Speaker for about as long as it takes to boil an egg. His years in office stand as a towering example of how far one can go in Republican politics if you cling relentlessly to the trickle-down theory while gnawing at the base of Medicare like a beaver felling an oak. A part of me will always wonder if things could have been different for Ryan had Joe Biden not laughed in his face on national television way back in 2012.

The fact that Paul Ryan is fleeing the very disaster he helped manufacture is just and fitting, an appropriate demonstration of the modern Republican ethos. He made rich people richer and served as a turnstile for the most dangerous president in living memory. History will remember him as yet another hollow man whose passage was marked only by the sound of the wind moaning through his empty spaces. Paul Ryan will not be missed.

Categories: Latest News

As Trump Reconsiders TPP Stance, Fair Trade Advocates Say Real Fight Is Over NAFTA Renegotiation

Truthout - Thu, 04/12/2018 - 21:00

President Trump campaigned against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), calling it a "disaster," a "horrible deal" and a "rape of our country." He withdrew from the controversial deal during his first week in office. But on Thursday, he told a group of state lawmakers he wants the U.S. to rejoin the pact. Meanwhile, 11 nations that represent about a seventh of the world's economy signed the TPP earlier this year. We get response from Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. "I do think where the real fight is right now is on NAFTA renegotiation," Wallach says. "And this kind of pandering on the TPP makes that NAFTA fight even more important."

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Nearly Four People Are Evicted Every Minute: New Project Tracks US Eviction and Effects

Truthout - Thu, 04/12/2018 - 21:00

A new project called the Eviction Lab examined more than 80 million eviction records going back to 2000 and found that in 2016 alone there were nearly four evictions filed every minute. More than 6,300 Americans are evicted every day. Studies show that eviction can lead to a host of other problems, including poor health, depression, job loss and shattered childhoods. Having an eviction on one's record also makes it far more difficult to find decent housing in the future. Now the Eviction Lab's database is being shared with the public in an interactive website that allows people to better track and understand evictions in their own communities. We speak with Matthew Desmond, who runs the project at Princeton University, where he is a professor of sociology. It grew out of his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Draining the Swamp

Truthout - Thu, 04/12/2018 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

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