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Hollow Privacy Promises From Major Internet Service Providers

Truthout - Mon, 04/24/2017 - 07:46

It's no surprise that Americans were unhappy to lose online privacy protections earlier this month. Across party lines, voters overwhelmingly oppose the measure to repeal the FCC's privacy rules for Internet providers that Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law.

But it should come as a surprise that Republicans -- including the Republican leaders of the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission -- are ardently defending the move and dismissing the tens of thousands who spoke up and told policymakers that they want protections against privacy invasions by their Internet providers.

Since the measure was signed into law, Internet providers and the Republicans who helped them accomplish this lobbying feat have decried the "hysteria," "hyperbole," and "hyperventilating" of constituents who want to be protected from the likes of Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T. Instead they've claimed that the repeal doesn't change the online privacy landscape and that we should feel confident that Internet providers remain committed to protecting their customers' privacy because they told us they would despite the law.

We've repeatedly debunked the tired talking points of the cable and telephone lobby: There is a unique, intimate relationship and power imbalance between Internet providers and their customers. The FTC likely cannot currently police Internet providers (unless Congress steps in, which the White House said it isn't pushing for at this time). Congress' repeal of the FCC's privacy rules does throw the FCC's authority over Internet providers into doubt. The now-repealed rules -- which were set to go into effect later this year -- were a valuable expansion and necessary codification of existing privacy rights granted under the law. Internet providers have already shown us the creepy things they're willing to do to increase their profits.

The massive backlash shows that consumers saw through those industry talking points, even if Republicans in Congress and the White House fell for them.

Now that policymakers have effectively handed off online privacy enforcement to the Internet providers themselves, advocates for the repeal are pointing to the Internet providers' privacy policies.

"Internet service providers have never planned to sell your individual browsing history to third parties," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and FTC acting Chairwoman Maureen Ohlhausen wrote in a recent op-ed. "That's simply not how online advertising works. And doing so would violate ISPs' privacy promises."

Aside from pushing back on oversimplification of the problem at hand, we should be asking: What exactly are the "privacy promises" that ISPs are making to their customers?

In blog posts and public statements since the rules were repealed, the major Internet providers and the trade groups that represent them have all pledged to continue protecting customers' sensitive data and not to sell customers' individual Internet browsing records.  But how they go about defining those terms and utilizing our private information is still going to leave people upset. These statements should also be read with the understanding that existing law already allows the collection of individual browsing history.

Comcast said it won't sell individual browsing histories and it won't share customers' "sensitive information (such as banking, children's, and health information), unless we first obtain their affirmative, opt-in consent." It also said it will offer an opt-out "if a customer does not want us to use other, non-sensitive data to send them targeted ads." We think leaving browsing history out of the list of information Comcast considers sensitive was no accident. In other words, we don't think Comcast considers your browsing history sensitive, and will only offer you an opt-out of using your browsing history to send you targeted ads. There's no mention of any opt-out of any other sharing of your browsing history, such as on an aggregated basis with third parties. While we applaud Comcast's clever use of language to make it seem like they're protecting their customers' privacy, reading between the lines shows that Comcast is giving itself leeway to do the opposite.

Verizon similarly pledged not to sell customers' "personal web browsing history" (emphasis ours) and described its advertising programs that give advertisers access to customers based on aggregated and de-identified information about what customers do online. By our reading, this means Verizon still plans to collect your browsing history and store it -- they just won't sell it individually.

AT&T pointed to its privacy policies, which carve out specific protections for "personal information … such as your name, address, phone number and e-mail address" but explicitly state that it does deliver ads "based on the websites visited by people who are not personally identified." So just like Verizon, we think this means AT&T is collecting your browsing history and storing it -- they're just not attaching your name to it and selling it to third parties on an individualized basis.

In a filing to the FCC earlier this year, CTIA -- which represents the major wireless ISPs -- argued that "web browsing and app usage history are not 'sensitive information'" and said that ISPs should be able to share those records by default, unless a customer asks them not to.

The common thread here is that Internet providers don't consider records about what you do online to be worthy of the heightened privacy protections they afford to things like your social security number. Internet providers think that our web browsing histories are theirs to profit off of -- not ours to protect as we see fit. And because Congress changed the law, they are now free to change their minds about the promises they make without the same legal ramifications.

These "privacy promises" are in no way a replacement for robust privacy protections enforced by a federal agency. If Internet providers want to get serious about proving their commitment to their customers' privacy in the absence of federal rules, they should pledge not to collect or sell or share or otherwise use information about the websites we visit and the apps we use, except for what they need to collect and share in order to provide the service their customers are actually paying for: Internet access.

That would be a real privacy promise.

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Categories: Latest News

Taxcast: The Panama Papers, One Year On

Truthout - Mon, 04/24/2017 - 06:51

In our April 2017 Taxcast: the Panama Papers, one year on -- we talk to the journalists who got the scoop. Plus: we discuss the raid on Credit Suisse, and new data exposing the profit shifting shennanigans of the EU's biggest banks.

Featuring: The Panama Papers scoop journalists and Pulitzer Prize winners Bastian Obermayer and Frederik Obermaier of the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, and John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network. Produced and presented by Naomi Fowler for the Tax Justice Network. The book The Panama Papers: Breaking the Story of How the Rich and Powerful Hide Their Money is here.

"We think the Panama Papers have changed the political landscape but there's still plenty of work out there for us, still hundreds of cases of criminal behaviour to be uncovered, so much wrongdoing needs to become public so voters can push their politicians for change."—Bastian Obermayer and Frederik Obermaier

You can download and listen to this month's Taxcast anytime by right clicking 'save link as' here.

Want more Taxcasts? The full playlist is here.

Categories: Latest News

Appetite for Obstruction

Truthout - Sun, 04/23/2017 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

Richard Wolff on Public Debt, Printing Money and How Governments Pay for Wars

Truthout - Sun, 04/23/2017 - 21:00

In this educational video Richard Wolff, a University of Massachusetts professor of economics emeritus, Marxist economist and founder of Democracy at Work, defines public debt and explains the process of printing money. Professor Wolff also talks about the role that corporate banks play in this system as well as how politicians exploit the mechanism of money printing in order to garner political capital or justify going to wars.

To view the educational playlist with Richard D. Wolff, click here.

Categories: Latest News

Hundreds of Thousands Take to the Streets Worldwide for the Global March for Science

Truthout - Sun, 04/23/2017 - 21:00

On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of scientists and science supporters took to the streets around the world in a global March for Science on Earth Day. More than 600 marches and rallies took place, with one on every continent, including on Antarctica. Massive marches occurred from coast to coast in the United States, including at a massive rally in Washington, DC. Among those who took to the stage were Bill Nye, "The Science Guy"; Earth Day founder Denis Hayes; former EPA environmental justice official Mustafa Ali, who resigned after Trump took office; Sam Droege of the US Geological Survey; and James Balog, of the Extreme Ice Survey, which is documenting the rapid retreat of glaciers due to climate change.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

PhRMA Shows Biggest Spike in Lobbying Spending in First Quarter of President Trump

Truthout - Sun, 04/23/2017 - 21:00

With President Trump's 100th day looming, he's struggled to check off some of the big initiatives on his to-do list, such as getting rid of Obamacare and overhauling the tax code. These hefty projects invite companies and other groups with something at stake to frantically lobby the government, hoping the legislation can turn in their favor.

Eight high-rollers stayed in the top 10 spenders list from last year, with some jostling among the ranks. In addition, AT&T and Novartis joined the top spenders, after being No. 11 and 22, respectively. The US Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Realtors predictably stayed at Nos. 1 and 2, with the business federation spending $24.8 million, almost $2 million more than in the same quarter of 2016, and NAR at $10.2 million, about $2 million less than the first quarter in 2016. (NAR uses a filing method that includes its local and state lobbying, which is part of why it always ranks so high.)

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the drug companies' trade group, showed the highest leap in spending by far, jumping 34.9 percent to $8.1 million from just under $6 million in the first three months of 2016. That catapulted the trade group from No. 5 a year ago to No. 3 now — and it was the biggest-spending quarter for the organization since the start of quarterly reporting in 2008.

A PhRMA spokesperson declined to discuss the surge in the group's efforts. But after drugmakers came under harsh criticism from GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump (who said they were "getting away with murder") as well as many in Congress in 2016 for its pricing policies, the trade group in January began spending tens of millions of dollars in a "Go Boldly" television ad campaign touting industry breakthroughs in science and indicated it would mount an extensive lobbying campaign. Its new lobbying report indicates it weighed in on a wide range of issues, including provisions dealing with intellectual property, reimportation, the drug approval process, nominations to lead the Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration, opioid abuse and more. It also showed that PhRMA had hired six new lobbyists, though several others are gone.

Once in office, Trump met with CEOs of major drug firms, as well as the CEO and six board members of PhRMA. In a statement after the meeting, CEO Stephen Ubl wrote "We need to reform existing laws and regulations that are currently preventing private companies from negotiating better deals and paying for medicines based on the value they provide to patients and our health care system."

PhRMA, the American Medical Association and Blue Cross/Blue Shield seem to historically compete for spots three through five, and this quarter was no different, with all three focusing resources on the Obamacare overhaul, among other topics.

The American Medical Association rejected Congress's attempt to replace the Affordable Care Act, stating the changes to Medicaid would threaten coverage and make it difficult for states to act nimbly. "And critically, we urge you to do all that is possible to ensure that those who are currently covered do not become uninsured," wrote James Madara, the CEO of the trade group, to Congress.

Health insurance group Blue Cross also wrote to lawmakers in March that the proposed repeal-and-replace Obamacare bill could lead to huge losses in coverage by reworking Medicaid from an open-ended entitlement program, and asked to drop the "premium surcharge" for those who let their insurance lapse.

Dow Chemical increased its first quarter spending by 9.3 percent, investing $450,000 more in the first three months of 2017 than the previous year. Some of that may due to trade association dues related to lobbying, which must be reported.

But Dow has made itself heard on policy issues in recent weeks: The chemical company sent letters to three federal agencies asking the Trump administration to ignore government studies that found a family of pesticides made by Dow are harmful to critically threatened species, saying the studies are flawed. That appeal came after EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt rejected a petition asking the agency to ban all uses of Dow's chlorpyrifos pesticide, one of those critiqued in the studies. Dow also listed lobbying on its proposed $130 billion merger with DuPont, one of the world's largest chemical companies, which faces regulatory hurdles. The possible union, announced at the end of 2015, is due to encounter close scrutiny, and a little lobbying on mergers never hurts.

And Dow is working hard on being cozy with the new administration: The company gave $1 million to help fund Trump's inauguration, and its CEO Andrew Liveris leads a manufacturing working group in the White House. (Liveris also got the pen Trump used to sign an executive order that looked to cut back government regs.)

Surprisingly, some of the biggest stakeholders in a controversial congressional resolution that Trump signed didn't expend more this quarter than the equivalent period last year. SJR 34 blocked a Federal Communications Commission rule that intended to ban Internet service providers from selling consumer data (like your browsing history and even sensitive info) to others. Trump overturned the rule, which had not yet taken effect, using the Congressional Review Act, which also blocks other rules on internet privacy from being issued. (Here's more detail on how this came to be and where industry money went to those who voted for the resolution.)

ISPs such as AT&TComcast and Verizon clearly had skin in the game, but that wasn't evident from the spending shown in their lobbying reports. AT&T (always a top lobbying spender and No. 8 in the first quarter) only spent $100,000 more in 2017's first three months compared to the same timeframe in 2016. (Though AT&T ranked No. 11 last year this quarter, so the company did increase among the ranks.) Comcast saw no change, and Verizon actually decreased its spending, from $3.6 million to $2.9 million. All three of the companies in various ways listed internet privacy as a topic of concern.

For more on how these persuasive powerhouses have shifted their spending over the years, check out our chart below:

Senior researcher Dan Auble contributed to this report.

Categories: Latest News

The Trumps' Conflict of Interest Issues

Truthout - Sun, 04/23/2017 - 21:00

Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner attend a state dinner with President Xi Jinping of China and his wife at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, April 6, 2017. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)

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Ivanka Trump recently gave an interview to CBS television in which she attempted to answer concerns about her role as an official adviser to her father, President Donald Trump, and potential conflicts of interest from her fashion business.

She suggested that such concerns were unwarranted, as she would no longer manage the company which had been placed into a trust, run by her sister-in-law and brother-in-law. Like her father, she has declined to sell off her assets, saying that would not be fair when the company (like his) bears her name.

Her responses do little to allay growing criticism about conflicts of interest as they pertain to both her and her husband Jared Kushner, and her father. A majority of Americans have said they are "somewhat" or "very" concerned about Donald Trump's conflicts of interests.

I've researched and written about conflicts of interest for 20 years. Conflict of interest issues are not new in America. The fear and reality that government officials may be unduly swayed by their personal interests has existed since Colonial-era customs officials took bribes to reduce penalties for smuggling.

From my perspective Trump's conflicts of interest are unprecedented in scope. But conflict of interest laws are often not cut and dried. They involve interpretation by lawyers within the Justice Department and judges, who can give a stamp of legitimacy (or illegitimacy) to presidential practices.

What's at Stake?

Among the Trump Organization's holdings are 16 hotels, 17 golf courses, a modeling agency, a production agency and at least 25 residential real estate properties (a minimum of 17 domestically and eight overseas). His over 500 companies have dealings in 25 countries including India, Panama, Scotland and the Philippines.

That's not all: Trump leases his DC hotel from the federal government and appoints the head of the agency that monitors his lease. Trump also owes millions in loans, including over US $300 million in loans to Deutsche Bank, which is under investigation by the federal government. He also owes money to at least seven other banks for his heavily mortgaged properties; one of his real estate partnerships has a loan from the state-owned Bank of China.

What Does the Law Say?

Trump raised eyebrows when he said shortly after he was elected, "The law's totally on my side, meaning, the president can't have a conflict of interest."

Legally speaking, though, he has a good case, with regard to several key statutes.

The basic criminal conflict of interest statute, enacted in 1962, forbids federal executive branch employees from participating in government matters in which they -- or their immediate family members -- have a financial interest.

But the president and vice president have been considered exempt since 1974, when Congress requested an opinion from the Justice Department on whether the law applied to Nelson Rockefeller. Rockefeller was the scion of a wealthy business family whom Gerald Ford had selected as vice president after he became the president, following the resignation of Richard Nixon. The DOJ was asked if a vice president could have any financial interest in a company that contracted with the US government.

The DOJ responded in a letter that the statute didn't apply to either the vice president or the president. The letter pointed to the "uniqueness of the president's situation" and argued that it would be unconstitutional to apply the law to the president, since it could constrain him to the point that he would be unable to perform constitutionally prescribed duties.

Subsequent statutes such as the 1978 Ethics in Government Act and 1989 Ethics Reform Act reinforced this argument. A 2016 report by the Congressional Research Service further reiterated it.

Members of Congress are subject to some stricter conflict of interest regulations. For example, according to the 1989 Ethics Reform Act, they must adhere to an outside earned income limit equal to 15 percent of their official salary. They are also subject to "revolving door" limits that restrict them from lobbying or working for foreign governments for a year after leaving office. The president is required only to make public any conflict of interest issues.

Accepting Gifts From Foreign Powers

What about foreign governments, or companies controlled by foreign governments, that do business with the Trump hotels?

The Emoluments Clause of the Constitution says that no person holding a federal office of profit or trust shall accept any "present, emolument, (or) office… from any king, prince, or foreign state."

Even though the president clearly holds an office of "trust," the clause does not name the president specifically, unlike other clauses in the Constitution. Opinions are divided on the issue.

One study argued that it would be inconceivable for a clause aimed at limiting influence by foreign governments not to apply to the president. According to this analysis, a member of the Constitutional Convention, who later became a member of George Washington's Cabinet, specifically mentioned "the danger… of the president receiving emoluments from foreign powers."

However, another historical analysis reached the opposite conclusion, pointing to President George Washington accepting gifts from the French ambassador after he became president. Since Washington was not criticized at the time for this action, according to this author, the understanding of the president and the broader public was that this clause did not apply to the president.

The researcher also argued that if the president was intended to be included, he would have been specified by name, as he is in the impeachment clause.

Either way, the Supreme Court has not ruled on whether the Emoluments Clause applies to the president.

Blind Trusts and Previous Presidents

Just because something is legal, however, doesn't mean it is good.

Presidents are not required by any law to place their assets in blind trusts (just as they are not required to disclose their tax returns). But before Trump, starting with Lyndon B. Johnson, most presidents voluntarily placed their assets in blind trusts. This meant that any investments (but not cash or personal real estate) were managed by an independent entity, without the beneficiary knowing what they were.

The exceptions were President Obama and President Nixon. Nixon liquidated his limited assets and bought two houses. Obama chose not to place his assets in a blind trust, saying his family's money was mostly invested in US treasury bonds and other funds unlikely to cause a conflict.

While Trump has put his assets in a trust, the trustees are not truly independent. His two eldest sons are managing the assets of the Trump Organization, which remain known to him and of which he maintains ownership.

Since it is highly doubtful that Trump will give in to pressure to liquidate his assets, potential conflicts will remain, indeed abound.

Who Will Monitor the President's Conduct?

The Office of Government Ethics isn't of much use in policing the president. One study shows that OGE is a weak and ineffective agency.

It has a small staff of about 80 full-time people and a budget of $15 million. Furthermore, the director is nominated by the president.

Its main authority is overseeing financial disclosure for legislative, judicial and executive branch officials, including the president. But the disclosure reporting categories are very broad and not very informative. Civil or criminal charges for false disclosure can be filed only by the presidentially appointed attorney general. There is a $50,000 maximum fine for false filing, but that is not much of a deterrent for very wealthy individuals.

Oversight of the president's ethics could come mainly through two channels: Congress and the media. Congress has the power to impeach the president, by a simple majority vote of the house and a two-thirds vote of the Senate.

Congressional committees can conduct hearings to investigate presidential and executive branch activities, as with the current House Intelligence Committee's hearing into Trump's claim that Obama wiretapped him.

Creation of an independent commission, such as the one that investigated the US administration's preparedness for the 9/11 attacks, will require that Congress and the president sign off on such a commission.

The DOJ could also investigate and prosecute criminal violations by the president. The Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that the judiciary could review the legality of the president's actions, both in his capacity as a private citizen and in his official role. But the attorney general has discretion over whether to pursue violations of federal criminal law.

The decisions by the president and his daughter not to create truly blind trusts mean that concern over potential conflicts of interest will likely persist. Many other questions, such as those about the fitness of Trump's daughter and son-in-law as top advisers, are also unlikely to disappear.

Simply asking the American people to trust the president, his three eldest children and his son-in-law to do the right thing may not be satisfactory for many Americans.

Categories: Latest News

Trump Is a Chameleon President and His Latest Shade Is War

Truthout - Sun, 04/23/2017 - 21:00

US Army soldiers conduct a security halt during a foot patrol at the 7th Army Training Command's Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, January 28, 2017. (Photo: The US Army)

MOAB sounds more like a war-torn biblical kingdom than the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, aka "the mother of all bombs." Still, give Donald Trump credit. Only the really, really big bombs, whether North Korean nukes or those 21,600 pounds of MOAB, truly get his attention. He wasn't even involved in the decision to drop the largest non-nuclear bomb in the US arsenal for the first time in war, but his beloved generals -- "we have the best military people on Earth" -- already know the man they work for, and the bigger, flashier, more explosive, and winninger, the better.

It was undoubtedly the awesome look of that first MOAB going off in grainy black and white on Fox News, rather than in Afghanistan, that appealed to the president. Just as he was visibly thrilled by all those picturesque Tomahawk cruise missiles, the equivalent of nearly three MOABS, whooshing from the decks of US destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean and heading, like so many fabulous fireworks, toward a Syrian airfield -- or was it actually an Iraqi one? "We've just fired 59 missiles," he said, "all of which hit, by the way, unbelievable, from, you know, hundreds of miles away, all of which hit, amazing... It's so incredible. It's brilliant. It's genius. Our technology, our equipment, is better than anybody by a factor of five."

Call it thrilling. Call it a blast. Call it escalation. Or just call it the age of Trump. ("If you look at what's happened over the last eight weeks and compare that really to what's happened over the past eight years, you'll see there's a tremendous difference, tremendous difference," he commented, adding about MOAB, "This was another very, very successful mission.")

Anyway, here we are and, as so many of his critics have pointed out, the plaudits have been pouring in from all the usual media and political suspects for a president with big enough... well, hands, to make war impressively. In our world, this is what now passes for "presidential." Consider that praise the media version of so many Tomahawk missiles pointing us toward what the escalation of America's never-ending wars will mean to Trump's presidency.

These days, from Syria to Afghanistan, the Koreas to Somalia, Yemen to Iraq, it's easy enough to see Commander-in-Chief Donald Trump as something new under the sun. (It has a different ring to it when the commander in chief says, "You're fired!") That missile strike in Syria was a first (Obama didn't dare); the MOAB in Afghanistan was a breakthrough; the drone strikes in Yemen soon after he took office were an absolute record! As for those regular Army troops heading for Somalia, that hasn't happened in 24 years! Civilian casualties in the region: rising impressively!

Call it mission creep on steroids. At the very least, it seems like evidence that the man who, as a presidential candidate, swore he'd "bomb the shit" out of ISIS and let the US military win again is doing just that. (As he also said on the campaign trail with appropriately placed air punches, "You gotta knock the hell out of them! Boom! Boom! Boom!")

He's appointed generals to crucial posts in his administration, lifted restraints on how his commanders in the field can act (hence those soaring civilian casualty figures), let them send more military personnel into Iraq, Syria, and the region generally, taken the constraints off the CIA's drone assassination campaigns, and dispatched an aircraft carrier strike group somewhat indirectly to the waters off the Koreas (with a strike force of tweets and threats accompanying it).

And there's obviously more to come: potentially many more troops, even an army of them, for Syria; a possible mini-surge of troops into Afghanistan (that MOAB strike may have been a canny signal from a US commander "seeking to showcase Afghanistan's myriad threats" to a president paying no attention); a heightened air campaign in Somalia; and that's just to start what will surely be a far longer list in a presidency in which, whether or not infrastructure is ever successfully rebuilt in America, the infrastructure of the military-industrial complex will continue to expand.

Institutionalizing War and Its Generals

Above all, President Trump did one thing decisively. He empowered a set of generals or retired generals -- James "Mad Dog" Mattis as secretary of defense, H.R. McMaster as national security adviser, and John Kelly as secretary of homeland security -- men already deeply implicated in America's failing wars across the Greater Middle East. Not being a details guy himself, he's then left them to do their damnedest. "What I do is I authorize my military," he told reporters recently. "We have given them total authorization and that's what they're doing and, frankly, that's why they've been so successful lately."

As the 100-day mark of his presidency approaches, there's been no serious reassessment of America's endless wars or how to fight them (no less end them). Instead, there's been a recommitment to doing more of the familiar, more of what hasn't worked over the last decade and a half. No one should be surprised by this, given the cast of characters -- men who held command posts in those unsuccessful wars and are clearly incapable of thinking about them in other terms than the ones that have been indelibly engrained in the brains of the US military high command since soon after 9/11.

That new ruling reality of our American world should, in turn, offer a hint about the nature of Donald Trump's presidency. It should be a reminder that as strange... okay, bizarre... as his statements, tweets, and acts may have been, as chaotic as his all-in-the-family administration is proving to be, as little as he may resemble anyone we've ever seen in the White House before, he's anything but an anomaly of history. Quite the opposite. Like those generals, he's a logical endpoint to a grim process, whether you're talking about the growth of inequality in America and the rise of plutocracy -- without which a billionaire president and his billionaire cabinet would have been inconceivable -- or the form that American war-making is taking under him.

When it comes to war and the US military, none of what's happened would have been conceivable without the two previous presidencies. None of it would have been possible without Congress's willingness to pump endless piles of money into the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex in the post-9/11 years; without the building up of the national security state and its 17 (yes, 17!) major intelligence outfits into an unofficial fourth branch of government; without the institutionalization of war as a permanent (yet strangely distant) feature of American life and of wars across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa that evidently can't be won or lost but only carried on into eternity. None of this would have been possible without the growing militarization of this country, including of police forces increasingly equipped with weaponry off America's distant battlefields and filled with veterans of those same wars; without a media rife with retired generals and other former commanders narrating and commenting on the acts of their successors and protégés; and without a political class of Washington pundits and politicians taught to revere that military.

In other words, however original Donald Trump may look, he's the curious culmination of old news and a changing country. Given his bravado and braggadocio, it's easy to forget the kinds of militarized extremity that preceded him.

After all, it wasn't Donald Trump who had the hubris, in the wake of 9/11, to declare a "Global War on Terror" against 60 countries (the "swamp" of that moment). It wasn't Donald Trump who manufactured false intelligence on the weapons of mass destruction Iraq's Saddam Hussein supposedly possessed or produced bogus claims about that autocrat's connections to al-Qaeda, and then used both to lead the United States into a war on and occupation of that country. It wasn't Donald Trump who invaded Iraq (whether he was for or against tht invasion at the time). It wasn't Donald Trump who donned a flight suit and landed on an aircraft carrier off the coast of San Diego to personally declare that hostilities were at an end in Iraq just as they were truly beginning, and to do so under an inane "Mission Accomplished" banner prepared by the White House.

It wasn't Donald Trump who ordered the CIA to kidnap terror suspects (including totally innocent individuals) off the streets of global cities as well as from the backlands of the planet and transport them to foreign prisons or CIA "black sites" where they could be tortured. It wasn't Donald Trump who caused one terror suspect to experience the sensation of drowning 83 times in a single month (even if he was inspired by such reports to claim that he would bring torture back as president).

It wasn't Donald Trump who spent eight years in the Oval Office presiding over a global "kill list," running "Terror Tuesday" meetings, and personally helping choose individuals around the world for the CIA to assassinate using what, in essence, was the president's own private drone force, while being praised (or criticized) for his "caution."

It wasn't Donald Trump who presided over the creation of a secret military of 70,000 elite troops cossetted inside the larger military, special-ops personnel who, in recent years, have been dispatched on missions to a large majority of the countries on the planet without the knowledge, no less the consent, of the American people. Nor was it Donald Trump who managed to lift the Pentagon budget to $600 billion and the overall national security budget to something like a trillion dollars or more, even as America's civilian infrastructure aged and buckled

It wasn't Donald Trump who lost an estimated $60 billion to fraud and waste in the American "reconstruction" of Iraq and Afghanistan, or who decided to build highways to nowhere and a gas station in the middle of nowhere in Afghanistan. It wasn't Donald Trump who sent in the warrior corporations to squander more in that single country than was spent on the post-World War II Marshall Plan to put all of Western Europe back on its feet. Nor did he instruct the US military to dump at least $25 billion into rebuilding, retraining, and rearming an Iraqi army that would collapse in 2014 in the face of a relatively small number of ISIS militants, or at least $65 billion into an Afghan army that would turn out to be filled with ghost soldiers.

In its history, the United States has engaged in quite a remarkable range of wars and conflicts. Nonetheless, in the last 15 years, forever war has been institutionalized as a feature of everyday life in Washington, which, in turn, has been transformed into a permanent war capital. When Donald Trump won the presidency and inherited those wars and that capital, there was, in a sense, no one left in the remarkably bankrupt political universe of Washington but those generals.

As the chameleon he is, he promptly took on the coloration of the militarized world he had entered and appointed "his" three generals to key security posts. Anything but the norm historically, such a decision may have seemed anomalous and out of the American tradition. That, however, was only because, unlike Donald Trump, most of the rest of us hadn't caught up with where that "tradition" had actually taken us.

The previous two presidents had played the warrior regularly, donning military outfits -- in his presidential years, George W. Bush often looked like a G.I. Joe doll -- and saluting the troops, while praising them to the skies, as the American people were also trained to do. In the Trump era, however, it's the warriors (if you'll excuse the pun) who are playing the president. 

It's hardly news that Donald Trump is a man in love with what works. Hence, Steve Bannon, his dream strategist while on the campaign trail, is now reportedly on the ropes as his White House counselor because nothing he's done in the first nearly 100 days of the new presidency has worked (except promoting himself).

Think of Trump as a chameleon among presidents and much of this makes more sense. A Republican who had been a Democrat for significant periods of his life, he conceivably could have run for president as a more nativist version of Bernie Sanders on the Democratic ticket had the political cards been dealt just a little differently. He's a man who has changed himself repeatedly to fit his circumstances and he's doing so again in the Oval Office.

In the world of the media, it's stylish to be shocked, shocked that the president who campaigned on one set of issues and came into office still championing them is now supporting quite a different set -- from China to taxes, NATO to the Export-Import Bank. But this isn't faintly strange. Donald Trump isn't either a politician or a trendsetter. If anything, he's a trend-senser. (In a similar fashion, he didn't create reality TV, nor was he at its origins. He simply perfected a form that was already in development.)

If you want to know just where we are in an America that has been on the march toward a different sort of society and governing system for a long time now, look at him. He's the originator of nothing, but he tells you all you need to know. On war, too, think of him as a chameleon. Right now, war is working for him domestically, whatever it may be doing in the actual world, so he loves it. For the moment, those generals are indeed "his" and their wars his to embrace.

Honeymoon of the Generals

Normally, on entering the Oval Office, presidents receive what the media calls a "honeymoon" period. Things go well. Praise is forthcoming. Approval ratings are heart-warming.

Donald Trump got none of this. His approval ratings quickly headed for the honeymoon cellar or maybe the honeymoon fallout shelter; the media and he went to war; and one attempt after another to fulfill his promises -- from executive orders on deportation to repealing Obamacare and building his wall -- have come a cropper. His administration seems to be in eternal chaos, the cast of characters changing by the week or tweet, and few key secondary posts being filled.

In only one area has Donald Trump experienced that promised honeymoon. Think of it as the honeymoon of the generals. He gave them that "total authorization," and the missiles left the ships, the drones flew, and the giant bomb dropped. Even when the results were disappointing, if not disastrous (as in a raid on Yemen in which a US special operator was killed, children slaughtered, and nothing of value recovered), he still somehow stumbled into highly praised "presidential" moments.

So far, in other words, the generals are the only ones who have delivered for him, big-league. As a result, he's given them yet more authority to do whatever they want, while hugging them tighter yet.

Here's the problem, though: there's a predictable element to all of this and it doesn't work in Donald Trump's favor. America's forever wars have now been pursued by these generals and others like them for more than 15 years across a vast swath of the planet -- from Pakistan to Libya (and ever deeper into Africa) -- and the chaos of failing states, growing conflicts, and spreading terror movements has been the result. There's no reason to believe that further military action will, a decade and a half later, produce more positive results.

What happens, then? What happens when the war honeymoon is over and the generals keep right on fighting their way? The last two presidents put up with permanent failing war, making the best they could of it. That's unlikely for Donald Trump. When the praise begins to die down, the criticism starts to rise, and questions are asked, watch out.

What then? In a world of plutocrats and generals, what coloration will Donald Trump take on next? Who will be left, except Jared and Ivanka?

Categories: Latest News

What if Uber Is a Joke?

Truthout - Sun, 04/23/2017 - 21:00

An Uber driver using the company's app in Munich, December 22, 2015. (Photo: Letitia Vancon / The New York Times)

Okay, Uber is definitely not a joke in the sense that it is a large company that has rattled the taxi industry in the United States and around the world. It has also raised many important regulatory issues, as it has sought to evade longstanding regulation of the taxi industry.

Many of these regulations were clearly protectionist in nature, with the purpose of securing the position of an entrenched cartel. However other regulations, like background checks of drivers and insurance requirements for passengers, serve important public purposes. While Uber has preferred the route of simple evasion of regulations, it is likely that we will see a much needed modernization of regulations in this area.

While Uber's impact on the taxi industry is clearly not a joke, the market valuation of the company may well be. Uber is not yet publicly traded, but its market value has been estimated as being as high as $70 billion. That compares to a market value of just $51 billion for auto giant GM and $44.6 billion for Ford.

These are longstanding companies that both make close to $10 billion in annual profits. By contrast, Uber is losing billions of dollars a year.

Investors are not ordinarily prepared to pay large amounts of money for the stock of companies that lose money. The stock certificates might be pretty, but presumably at the end of the day investors will want to see profits.

There are two stories whereby Uber turns itself around and becomes a hugely profitable company. The first is that it will soon drive out enough of its competition so that it will enjoy near-monopoly status in many markets. This will allow it to raise its prices enough so that it can then turn large profits.

There are two problems with this story, one technical and the other legal. The technical problem is that it is not clear whether the technology of the taxi industry lends itself to monopolies. It's not that hard to have an app for calling cabs, nor is it hard to hire drivers. If Uber were to up its prices by 20-30 percent, it would likely find many new competitors in the market.

The other problem is the legal one. Predatory pricing to gain a monopoly is textbook anti-competitive behavior. This should lead to anti-trust action by the government and lawsuits by competitors. This is undoubtedly a major reason that Uber has staffed itself with former top Obama administration officials. Of course, Donald Trump has probably never heard of anti-trust laws.

The other turnaround story for Uber is that it was never really about taxis, but rather self-driving vehicles. Uber is going to be the behemoth of the self-driving vehicle industry and dominate this market the way IBM once dominated computers and Microsoft dominated software.

The problem with this story is that Uber would have to beat out a large number of major competitors, including the existing auto companies, Apple, Google and undoubtedly many smaller tech companies. That seems like a long shot.

So let's try alternative number three -- Uber's stock is nearly worthless, but for now people are willing to pay lots of money for it. This shouldn't sound far-fetched if you have heard of AOL, Priceline or more recently Groupon. In each case, stock valuations soared into the tens of billions or even hundreds of billions before plunging to a small fraction of this amount.

In such cases we see a massive redistribution of wealth, often from pension funds and other institutional investors to the "visionaries" who were able to sucker them. Folks like Steve Case, the former CEO of AOL, are incredibly rich today because of their talents in this area. Perhaps Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is following in his footsteps.

But there is another aspect to the ephemeral value of high-flying companies that eventually come down to earth. Uber actually is spending lots of money on research. The same applies to many other low or no profit companies or their major shareholders, such as Telsa and Amazon. Telsa CEO Elon Musk and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, have both committed large amounts of their companies' and/or their own money to research in areas like solar power, electric cars and reusable space crafts.

It's not clear at this point whether this is money that is especially well-spent. We only get the information that they choose to make public.

However one clear outgrowth of these huge stock valuations, whether or not they subsequently prove to be justified by future profits, is the funding of large amounts of research in new technologies. In many cases, this is research that we might have envisioned the government financing in prior decades, just as it did for the development of the internet.

Whether or not the research proves very useful remains to be seen. In any case we have effectively outsourced government financed research to these newly rich marketers, who are in turn relying on funding from institutional investors, some of whom are also in the public sector.

It's certainly better to have these folks financing research rather than just buying more islands and yachts, but fulfilling the childhood dreams of the newly rich hardly seems like the most efficient mechanism for supporting research. Unfortunately, in Donald Trump's United States it may be the only one available.

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Categories: Latest News

When Rivers Hold Legal Rights

Truthout - Sun, 04/23/2017 - 21:00

Winding its way through dense forest laced with hidden waterfalls, the Whanganui River is the largest navigable river in Aotearoa, the Māori word for New Zealand. With the passage of the Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Bill in March, the river became the first water system in the world to be recognized as a rights-bearing entity, holding legal "personhood" status -- meaning the river now owns itself.

The Whanganui River, in a photo taken on October 9, 2008. (Photo: Felix Engelhardt; Edited: LW / TO)

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Winding its way through dense forest laced with hidden waterfalls, the Whanganui River is the largest navigable river in Aotearoa, the Māori word for New Zealand. With the passage of the Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Bill in March, the river became the first water system in the world to be recognized as a rights-bearing entity, holding legal "personhood" status. One implication of the agreement is that the Whanganui River is no longer property of New Zealand's Crown government -- the river now owns itself.

Five days after the Te Awa Tupua Bill, the High Court of Uttarakhand at Naintal, in northern India, issued a ruling declaring that both the Ganga and Yumana rivers are also "legal persons/living persons." But what does it mean for a river, or an ecosystem to hold rights? The answer may vary from place to place. 

The growing global movement for Rights of Nature -- or the Rights of Mother Earth as some cultures prefer -- seeks to define legal rights for ecosystems to exist, flourish, and regenerate their natural capacities. These laws challenge the status of nature as mere property to be owned and dominated by humans, and provide a legal framework for an ethical and spiritual relationship to the Earth. While recognizing legal rights of nature doesn't stop development wholesale, it can stop the kind of development that interferes with the existence and vitality of ecosystems. In the last decade, four countries and dozens of US communities have passed laws recognizing "legal standing" for ecosystems.

In many cases, legal recognition for the rights of ecosystems reinforces long-held cultural and spiritual beliefs. For the Māori of Aotearoa, like many Indigenous cultures worldwide, there is no separation between humans and everything else. When the Europeans first arrived in the seventeenth century, there was no word for property in the Māori language. Their relationship with the Earth was one of care and responsibility. "Māori cosmology understands we are part of the universe," said Gerrard Albert, lead negotiator for the Whanganui River iwi (tribe). "The mountains and rivers are our ancestors. Our cultural identity as a people is inseparable from the river -- it is more than water and sand, it is a living spiritual being."  

Indeed, the Whanganui iwi are known as the River People, who often say, "Ko au te awa. Ko te awa ko au" translated as "I am the river. The river is me."

Their struggle to protect the river began 150 years ago, when the New Zealand Crown government first began to break treaty promises, violate cultural practices, dam, pollute, and otherwise degrade the river. "Beginning in the 1870s, our iwi began to petition the Crown government over our concerns for the river," Sheena Maru, iwi project manager for Whanganui River Trust, the governance group for the Whanganui River Treaty Settlement, said. "Determining who owned the bed of the river became the longest running court case in Crown history. In the end, what we were fighting for was Te Awa Tupua, the living spiritual indivisible whole of the river that includes the iwi, all people, and life from the mountain to the sea."

In Aotearoa, the Whanganui River is not the first ecosystem to be recognized in this way. In 2014 the Tūhoe iwi negotiated with the Crown Government to pass the Te Urewera Act, which effectively recognized the "personhood" for Te Urewera, a forested region and former a national park in the heart of Tūhoe traditional territory.

Like the Whanganui iwi, what the Tūhoe wanted was to be truly reconnected with the land that is the very source of their cultural identity. Tamati Kruger, chief negotiator of the Tūhoe's groundbreaking Te Urewera settlement said, "When negotiations began, the Crown had no intention of giving away title to the park. They thought it would be enough to offer us some money and a few seats on the park board." Knowing the Crown would not cede ownership to the Tūhoe, Tamati's team suggested that nobody retain ownership of the park land -- rather, the land would own itself. This change shifted more than just governance of the former national park -- it was also seen as a step toward sovereignty for the Tuhoe people whose identity is inseparable from the land.

The Whanganui River and Te Urewera settlements, two truly revolutionary agreements between the Māori and the Crown government, recognize mountains, national parks, and watersheds can be better protected by prioritizing human responsibilities to the whole than they can through regulations that seek to dismantle and segregate fisheries from the riverbeds, for example. Under both settlements, future decisions about projects and development in the areas will be made by a council of two appointees -- one Crown and one Māori. "Those appointed to act on [the Whanganui River's] behalf will have legal obligation to uphold and protect the river's values and health and wellbeing," Gerard Albert told the media at a press conference following the passage of the Te Awa Tupia Bill.

These settlements also include a formal apology from the New Zealand Crown government for historic crimes against the iwi and the ecosystems, and a large redress fund to facilitate new management of the Te Urewera mountain range and the Whanganui River. They also include funds for community education and cultural revitalization that benefit both the pakeha (European New Zealander) and iwi populations.

"The Settlement is for the entire community, this is still an idea to be grasped," explained Hayden Turoa, Te Mana o Te Awa program manager for the Whanganui River Trust Board. "Anybody can apply for funds [through the settlement]. It is about breaking down barriers and bringing the rest of the community into this spiritual understanding." Along the Whanganui, there are already plans for these funds, including educating and bringing pakeha residents into the Maori worldview in a way that allows everyone to be spiritually and holistically connected to the river, and to learn new ways to care for the ecosystem.

From his office overlooking the port city of Wellington, Paul Beverley, a partner at the law firm of Buddle Findlay and a member of the core Crown negotiation team for both the Te Urewera and Te Awa Tupua bills, explained that the Crown was eager not only to pass the agreements, but also to take the next steps for implementation. "The Crown is committed to working alongside Whanganui iwi to ensure the success of this settlement for Te Awa Tupua and for all -- not just the Maori." 

Asked whether the pakeha populations, local government, or the Crown were nervous about the implications of ceding property claims, Beverley said, "What has been put in place is a very forward looking framework. I think we're going to see a springboard for this type of thing. People are already taking next steps voluntarily."

The Maori and the Crown see these new protections as good for business, and ultimately good for the economy. "This legislation recognizes the deep spiritual connection between the Whanganui iwi and its ancestral river and creates a strong platform for the future of the Whanganui River," Beverley said.  

Recognizing the rights of the Whanganui River means that no matter who the actor, corporation, or individual, the law now sees a harm to the river the same way as it would a harm to the tribe or a person. As Cabot Davis, legal director for the nonprofit Movement Rights, added: "It's not about being anti-business. The thing that is beautiful about it is just how differently decisions will now be made. Conflicts among people who want to 'use' the water or land will now have to take everyone else's needs into account -- first and foremost are the needs of the [river] system. Commerce and nature can coexist in a healthy way."

Half a world away in India, it's not yet clear what legal personhood means for the Ganges and Yumana rivers, but activists think additional protections will ultimately be necessary. The country struggles with high levels of water pollution flowing freely from homes and industry, though water in India is considered sacred. Nowhere more so than the Ganges river, or the Ganga, which provides about 40 percent of India's water, though the entire watershed is breaking down under the intense strains of use and abuse.

The widespread Save Ganga movement in India follows the Gandhian model for peaceful change. A powerful component of that broad coalition is the National Ganga Rights Movement, founded by the Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, who opined, "We breathe the same air that our ancestors did, drink the same water, and are connected to one another by the web of life." Four years ago, the movement began working with the US-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), toward passage of a national Ganges Rights Act, currently under consideration by the Modi administration. This act would provide further protections for the river.

"The High Court's ruling declaring legal personhood for the Ganges is a critical step forward," Mari Margil, head of CELDF's International Center for the Rights of Nature, said. "As the court said, national legislation which would recognize fundamental rights of the Ganges and the people of India to a healthy, thriving river ecosystem is ultimately necessary."

Treating ecosystems as property has brought humanity to the brink of climate and ecological collapse at break-neck speed. By contrast, rights-based laws recognize planetary limits and seek to transform human laws to conform with Natural Law. Beyond law, this movement seeks a culture shift away from the mindset that modern Earth is merely a resource available for reckless human use, toward the understanding that the Earth is a living entity governing all life upon it, with inherent rights that can, and should, be protected.

Categories: Latest News

Anti-Science Trump Administration Draws Thousands to the Streets Worldwide

Truthout - Sat, 04/22/2017 - 21:00

A group of friends rallies with homemade felt hats of different animals that are at risk. (Photo: Zach Roberts)

In response to the Trump administration sidelining science through appointments and executive actions, Earth Day Network joined with an international coalition of scientists to demonstrate on April 22 that "science serves all of us." However, organizers say protests in more than 600 cities are just the beginning of what is needed to resist the administration's attack on science.

A group of friends rallies with homemade felt hats of different animals that are at risk. (Photo: Zach Roberts)

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What started as a Twitter conversation on the #usofscience hashtag during the inauguration of President Trump morphed into an estimated 610 marches for science yesterday -- including at the North Pole and Antarctica. Supported by 170 partner organizations, thousands descended on the Capitol to declare a belief in and/or passion for science and truth in defiance of what's being called the most anti-science administration in history.

During the campaign, Trump showed a propensity for shirking and outright denying scientific facts, particularly on the environment and health care. Then, in March, the White House budget blueprint off a new ripple of fear in the science community in response to the massive cuts to government-funded medical and scientific research -- nearly across the board. He takes specific aim at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as the National Institutes of Health, which stands to lose one-fifth of its budget -- nearly $6 billion.

The marchers, who numbered in the thousands, held creative signs in solidarity with science and scientists, often mocking the president who has put it under threat. (Photo: Zach Roberts)

Much like those who came out for the Women's Marches in January, participants have been activated by a fear of the effect these cuts could have on their immediate lives as well as future generations. Official estimates of the Washington, DC, crowd were unavailable (March For Science has not returned requests for information or comment), but some outlets estimate 40,000 people attended, and participants and reporters for Truthout confirm that thousands of all ages and backgrounds showed up in inclement weather for speakers, teach-ins, and -- of course -- to shout with signs.

A few science celebrities were among those marching and participating in teach-ins. Bill Nye the Science Guy was making the rounds, and speakers included astronaut Leland Melvin, President and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife Jamie Rappaport Clark, and Christiana Figueres, the former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), who is known for her leadership on the Paris Climate Agreement.

Satellite marches around the country saw massive turnouts that rivaled the Women's March. According to KBPS local news, an estimated 15,000 people gathered downtown San Diego for the local march. And According to the Associated Press, at least 10,000 marched in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Thousands packed in close to hear the musicians and speakers at the first ever DC March for Science. (Photo: Zach Roberts)

Many marchers, like progressive consulting firm founder, activist and mom Morgan Meneses-Sheets, was present for multiple reasons.

"This march is about making sure that our policies based in facts, but also that they are also aimed at improving people's lives," said Meneses-Sheets. "Science helps to make advances like the medicine that saved my daughter's life and allows us to manage her health."

A man in the audience at the DC Science March holds up a sign that references President Trump calling Secretary Clinton a "nasty woman." (Photo: Zach Roberts)

As a reproductive justice advocate, Meneses-Sheets spends a fair amount of her time fighting policies and laws that are not founded in fact and science, but it's not just access to health care that concerns her.

"When we have leaders who ignore science and reason we end up with policies that perpetuate a system where only some people have access to clean water or can have their kids play outside without worrying about the air they are breathing," she said. "We can't just stand by as pipelines pollute sacred Indigenous lands and corporate interests are prioritized over public health." 

Congressional leadership in the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has paid lip service to the protesters. Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) issued a statement following the march:

I support the right of science supporters to gather and march this weekend. Opening new frontiers of scientific knowledge, on Earth and beyond, will pave the way to a better, more secure future for the next generation. I will continue to support scientific research that furthers our national interest and is of the highest intellectual merit … I look forward to continuing to promote scientific integrity and a healthy, transparent and vibrant research and technology environment in the United States.

However, marchers and others will likely find little comfort in this statement, considering Smith opened a hearing on Climate Change and the Scientific Method by saying, "Much of climate science today seems to be based more on exaggerations, personal agendas, questionable predictions than on scientific methods."

Protest participant Sarah Patton referenced this disconnect when asked why she attended.

"Just because of all the denial! This is our future -- this is the thing that we live, eat, breath," said Patton. "Instead of saying 'No, it's not real,' we just need to stop and say [to legislators] 'You need to listen!'"

Two men are interviewed wearing Devo hats and yellow jumpsuits. Creative outfits at the march included anything from white lab coats to cartoon characters. (Photo: Zach Roberts)

Patton says she will definitely continue to stay active.

"That's most important," she said. "The moment we stop making noise -- the moment we stop talking is the moment the people lose their voice. And that's something we can't afford. We're going to be keeping active, working with my daughter; she's very active so we just keep moving forward the best we can."

One of the many teach-in tents at the DC March for Science was created just for kids who got to try out several experiments with the help of volunteers. (Photo: Zach Roberts)

University of New Hampshire scientist David Ruth was marching for the first time "to try and support my brethren in the scientific community." He noted that the political rhetoric going back to last year "has been a catalyst" for getting involved, himself included.

"I'm a grad student working on my doctorate in nuclear physics, and I'm here because currently this administration is pushing a budget and rhetoric that threatens to cut like $35 billion in science funding," he said. "My group personally is doing research on the structure of nucleons and Trump wants to reallocate funding in the DOE [Department of Energy] from to nuclear weapons development, which I think is dangerous. Science has a done a lot to create modern civilization, and I think it's appalling that not just he, but lawmakers now for decades, have been objecting scientific consensus."

Very few of the hats, signs and t-shirts at the march were professionally made; people showed their own creativity on what they were wearing. (Photo: Zach Roberts)

Students in middle and high school came out of concern for the future options and the world that they'll inherit. Athena Czerwinski Burkard of Syracuse, New York, who plans to attend John Hopkins next year, was marching for the first time.

"I do, definitely plan to stay involved," said Czerwinski, who takes the opportunities presented by social media to talk with friends and watch for more chances to get active.

"Originally, when I was younger, I wanted to be involved in climate science or something in climate change; that definitely hasn't changed," she said. "I was also looking at public health -- it's really been impacted by what [the Trump] administration is considering doing."

Athena and Maria from New York were early to the march, holding homemade signs that expressly expressed why saving science was worth it: it's good for your health. (Photo: Zach Roberts)

Some people were just angry, and came to the protest to show it -- in good humor. (Photo: Zach Roberts)

The Science Community Is Not Immune to Perpetuating Oppressive Systems

Unfortunately, even in the scientific community -- which, from the outside, is often assumed to be immune to issues affecting culture more broadly -- exclusion of marginalized voices remains the norm and the March For Science has not been without criticism for perpetuating this issue.

Jacquelyn Gill (who was unable to respond to Truthout at deadline), an ice age ecologist and assistant professor at the University of Maine, made a public statement via Twitter this week about her involvement with and departure from March For Science: "I left the @ScienceMarchDC organizing committee in March due to a toxic, dysfunctional environment and hostility to diversity and inclusion."

A marcher holds up a sign that portrays cartoon character Ms. Frizzle as Lady Liberty. (Photo: Zach Roberts)

She explained that her involvement began during the #usofscience conversation during the inauguration when she and another scientist (@LadyNaturalist) tweeted about a science march. The conversation picked up steam and they were approached by another group about joining forces.

"That other group became the leadership of the #ScienceMarch. Many of us struggled to find footing as the organization exploded overnight … Many of us were outspoken about the need to have diversity, inclusion, and accessibility built into the structure from day one."

Gill said she hoped that March for Science would learn from the Women's March and avoid their mistakes. Unfortunately, as time passed, "diversity and inclusion work was increasingly compartmentalized, and decisions made without our input." She quotes several in leadership positions as saying, in effect, "diversity is a distraction from the real work of the march. We're trying to save science."

While most of the signs at the climate march were science-based, some drifted into politics and crude humor. (Photo: Zach Roberts)

Gill and others who have spoken out -- including biological anthropologist Claudia M. Astorino, have said publicly that they left the organizing committees due to a lip service style tribute with no real input paid to diversity, disability and inclusion.

"I was so incredibly excited to work w #ScienceMarch, [especially] to work on Diversity team to prevent the mistakes #WomensMarch made," Astorina said on Twitter, "but early on, diversity issues were ignored, backburnered for tasks perceived as more [important]..."

Astorina explained that there was "always another more pressing issue" and eventually, "it [became] clear that, while diversity was said to be a top priority, when it came to truly centralizing it, there was never time/interest. [T]here were major fails on race, sex, queer issues, and ESPECIALLY disability. [The Diversity team] attempted to try to correct again and again. [W]e were told our diversity platform (i.e. what centralizing diversity actually looks like) was too radical, non-partisan to promote."

Eventually, Astorina stepped down as well.

"I kept thinking about all the times #ScienceMarch apologized for diversity fails while doing the same over & over, apologizing again & again," she said, encouraging people to learn about their satellite marches. "[T]o all choosing to march, I hope you have a great day. [F]or those of you who choose not to, I complete respect & understand your decision. happy marching or not, y'all... [peace emoji]."

Jacquelyn Gill penned a full breakdown of how the "war on science" affects us all the day before the march, and J. Ama Mantey, Ph.D. took on the centering of whiteness in the march for The Root.

It's easy for those who are not directly engaged with the scientific community, academia and STEM fields to presume from afar that arenas where facts are forefront, discrimination is a non-issue. Hopefully, one of the things that can be learned from the Science March is that no area is immune from colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy, ableism, racism and other oppressive systems; organizing efforts will always need include the job of dismantling them.

Organizers at March For Science say this is just the kickoff; they seek to "[turn] a march into a movement." Among their goals -- which fall under the heading "Champion Science For The Common Good" -- are to "empower supporters to take informed political actions; connect communities around local and national issues, and engage the public to support diversity, access, literacy, and education" in STEM fields. They've created a number of resource tools and a way to connect to local groups which can remain loosely affiliated with the larger organization.

It remains to be seen whether these groups or others can harness the passion about science that has been sparked by the ignorance and opposition in the current administration and legislature.

A group of friends cosplaying as scientists march with their friend, Tom Healey [center] who actually is a scientist. (Photo: Zach Roberts)

Categories: Latest News

Facing a Fake Clinic Escort in New York City

Truthout - Sat, 04/22/2017 - 21:00

When pro-choice activists showed up at New York City's Margaret Sanger Planned Parenthood early on Saturday April 1, it was immediately clear that something wasn't right.

Members of NYC for Abortion Rights called a counterprotest that morning to oppose a vigil by the "40 Days for Life," part of a series of actions around the country organized by religious opponents of women right to choose.

When pro-choice protesters arrived, the church group that was supposed to be gathering hadn't yet showed up. Instead, a few individuals were handing out anti-choice literature to passersby, asking if they were pregnant and attempting to discuss "options" that didn't include abortion.

Planned Parenthood escorts in official pink Planned Parenthood escort vests stood in front of the clinic and on the street corner opposite. But there was another person immediately in front of the clinic doors -- a middle-aged white male who also wore a pink vest but one that didn't sport the official Planned Parenthood escort logo.

As he spoke with a young woman of color who looked confused, it became clear that he wasn't an official escort -- he was an anti-choicer deliberately attempting to confuse patients by dressing as an escort and give them false information about abortion.

The official clinic escorts did nothing to interrupt him or usher approaching women safely into the clinic. They simply opened the front door when a patient was immediately in front of it.

Some NYC for Abortion Rights activists walked across the street from their designated protest area, interrupted the fake escort's conversation with the young woman, and attempted to prevent him from harassing her. They did this in a nonviolent and nonconfrontational manner, simply notifying the woman that she didn't have to discuss her options with this anti-choice protester, and that she was free to go inside the clinic and talk to a medical professional.

***

During this interaction, the pro-choice side set up its originally planned counterprotest, holding signs that said "Trust Women" and "NYC4Abortion Rights" and chanting. After a lengthy conversation, the young woman talking to the fake escort left.

Despite police presence and officially cordoned off protest zones, the "escort in disguise" and a few cohorts remained directly in front of the clinic, completely unfazed, and continued to distract and harass women attempting to enter.

Eventually an activist crossed the street, stood immediately adjacent to him and informed patients, "He's here to harass women -- you don't have to listen to him," as he handed out literature to those walking by.

This continued throughout the 40 Days for Life demonstration, in which a church group gathered in a protest pen on the corner opposite the pro-choice demonstrators and the clinic. We chanted throughout, including "Not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate," "Fund Planned Parenthood, one in every neighborhood" and "Pray, you'll need it, your cause will be defeated."

After an hour of praying, this group left, but the "escort in disguise" remained for another hour, attempting to divert women from Planned Parenthood's doors. A few pro-choice protesters subsequently went to the end of the block and helped walk patients to the door of the clinic, buffering them from the anti-choicers.

This activist version of "escorting" patients past the anti-choice bigots and their abuse stood in contrast to the rules that Planned Parenthood imposes on official escorts, demanding that they not confront or protest the bigots at all costs.

By 11 a.m. the anti-choicers packed up to leave. Cops removed barricades, pro-choicers congregated to debrief, engage passersby who had joined the protest in conversation and hand out flyers for an upcoming meeting.

***

On February 11, pro-choice activists turned out to this same Manhattan clinic to counterprotest anti-choice bigots who were part of a national day of action demanding that Planned Parenthood be defunded. Since then, there's been ongoing controversy regarding Planned Parenthood's official stance that counterprotests should not occur directly in front of clinics.

Planned Parenthood argues that such actions are stressful and confusing for patients, and it would prefer that pro-choice demonstrations take place away from clinics, leaving anti-choice demonstrators unchallenged and allowing official escorts to usher women into buildings.

Even before the April 1 interaction, members of NYC for Abortion Rights believed that this strategy of ignoring anti-choice demonstrators was detrimental to maintaining a woman's right to access abortion and other reproductive health services. This is particularly true in a climate in which funding for Planned Parenthood faces significant attacks, abortion rights across the country are being chipped away, and clinics of all types are experiencing increased anti-choice harassment.

The interaction with an "escort in disguise" has only made it clearer that it's urgent that we stand up and defend the clinics, directly in front of their doors if needed.

If officially trained escorts are relegated to doing nothing more than opening a door when a patient gets to it and if no one is there to counter the anti-choicers' lies, any patient can be harassed when entering a clinic.

While Planned Parenthood argues that counterprotests by pro-choicers confuse patients, I would ask which is more confusing, a group of demonstrators holding signs saying "Trust Women" and chanting "My body, my choice" or someone outfitted as an escort who does not work for Planned Parenthood and who is deliberately attempting to dissuade women from entering?

This isn't the first time a fake escort and his friends have distracted women in front of the Margaret Sanger clinic. According to a woman who lives in the neighborhood and who joined the pro-choice demonstrators, this situation occurs on a regular basis, and has for more than 15 years.

At least once a month she sees people handing out literature and harassing patients, and on some occasions she has stood out in the street, by herself, with a sign supporting Planned Parenthood and abortion rights. She was incredibly grateful on this Saturday when a vocal, confident group of people came out to stand in solidarity with patients seeking health care and to counter the anti-choice bigots.

It's shocking that in the middle of New York City -- one of the most liberal cities in the country -- this type of behavior on the part of anti-choicers has gone unchallenged for more than a decade. What's less surprising is that if this tactic is occurring here, it is definitely occurring in other locations. In fact, fake escorts have been around for years.

It is also a crying shame that many pro-choice demonstrators protesters don't feel comfortable intervening between an anti-choice bigot and a patient seeking medical services. Twenty years ago, activists likely would have encircled the anti-choice fake escort, making it impossible for him harass patients. Today, there is a discomfort about using such tactics.

Twenty years ago, official escorts might have been more proactive in actually escorting patients into the clinic -- from across the block or down the street, and buffering them from harassment. Today, it appears that some escorts are relegated to quietly opening a door.

***

Who knows how many thousands of women and other patients have been confused by this fake escort and have been talked out of entering. These types of anti-choicers will remain unless and until something forces them to leave.

If they have been able to remain steadfastly in their place for this long, without on the ground pushback from pro-choice groups, it's likely that they will continue to stay, and unopposed they may choose to escalate their tactics.

According to a National Clinic Violence survey, 2016 saw a massive increase in "severe violence" at clinics -- almost double what was reported in 2014. Some 25 percent of clinics report anti-abortion activity daily, 29 percent of clinics experience propaganda being handed out specifically targeting the doctor (such as "wanted" type posters with name/picture/home address of doctor), and 34 percent report severe violence has occurred at their clinic (up from 20 percent in 2014).

Unfortunately, Planned Parenthood's strategy of non-confrontation means that the anti-choicers engaging in these acts feel no pressure to leave. It's well beyond time to stand up to right-wing, anti-woman bigots and force them off the sidewalks in front of our clinics.

Imagine if instead of a few anti-choicers milling about in front of a clinic, detaining women and feeling completely unopposed and unashamed of their actions, dozens or hundreds of pro-choice activists came out to counter them.

If the antis were outnumbered every time, would they eventually stop showing up? Would women and other patients entering the clinic feel more confident and comfortable in the fact that others supported their efforts to make their own choices about their future -- to choose abortion if they wanted to, or to not choose abortion if they didn't?

We don't know for sure if the pro-choice side arguing unapologetically for abortion rights can win, but it is certain that if we do not try, we will lose, and our rights will continue to be chipped away until legal, safe abortion is no longer an option.

Categories: Latest News

In Latest Populist Betrayal, Trump Executive Order Unchains Wall Street Greed

Truthout - Sat, 04/22/2017 - 21:00

President Donald Trump signs an executive order calling for a rewriting of major provisions of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, February 3, 2017. (Photo: Aude Guerrucci / Pool via The New York Times)

In yet another Wall Street giveaway, President Donald Trump on Friday afternoon took executive action to chip away at Dodd-Frank financial regulations and roll back rules aimed at reducing corporate tax avoidance.

Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs for watchdog group Public Citizen, described the orders signed Friday at the Treasury Department as "nothing more than special favors for the same Wall Street banks that crashed our economy in 2008 and put millions of Americans out of work."

According to ABC News, Trump signed "two presidential memoranda on the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, which former President [Barack] Obama signed in response to the 2007-2008 financial crisis." They order two six-month reviews of what the Los Angeles Times called "pillars" of Dodd-Frank: the Orderly Liquidation Authority and the Financial Stability Oversight Council.

The first was established "to create a process for winding down a large, failing financial company in a way that protects taxpayers from large bailouts such as the ones paid out in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis," as the Washington Post explains. The second "called on federal regulators to identify which financial institutions were large enough to merit enhanced regulation, as their collapse could destabilize the economy as a whole," according to the Post.

"Republican Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson conceived the Financial Stability Oversight Council as a forum for catching financial risks that fall through the cracks between the various regulatory agencies," said Public Citizen financial policy advocate Bartlett Naylor on Friday. "The biggest bailout in the financial crash went to insurance firm AIG, which fell through one such crack. An executive order that questions this oversight can signal to firms intent on high-risk financial ventures that playtime is back."

Trump previously signed an order directing a roll-back of Dodd-Frank overall.

Trump also signed an executive order directing Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to review "all significant 2016 tax regulations to determine if they impose an undue financial burden on taxpayers, are needlessly complex, create unnecessary requirements, or exceed what's allowed under law."

Mnuchin told journalists on Friday that rules enacted by Obama's Treasury Department, meant to reduce corporate tax avoidance specifically through the process of tax inversions, would be among those targeted under Trump's order. 

Trump decried such tactics on the 2016 campaign trail, saying companies that employed inversions "have no loyalty to this country."

"That's why it's so shocking to see him order this review, which could lead to a rollback of rules that would have sharply decreased incentives -- and limited the ability of companies -- to game the system by using inversions to permanently avoid a U.S. tax bill," said Susan Harley, deputy director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch division.

Chye-Ching Huang of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities added: "During his campaign, President Trump ... said that inverting companies 'have no loyalty to this country...And we have to do something.' If the new executive order ultimately leads to rolling back the Obama administration's anti-inversion regulations, President Trump will effectively be cutting taxes for profitable multinational tax avoiders and also creating a bigger incentive and opportunity for the inversions that he has so strongly criticized."

In its report on Friday's signings, Vox said the set of actions was "a clear flashing light that the notion of a Trump-era GOP as an economically populist 'workers' party' is dead, and business interests rule the roost."

And a dangerous one, at that. Lisa Donner, executive director of Americans for Financial Reform, told the New York Times: "From our perspective, it is a direction that is dramatically backwards on financial stability."

Following the ceremony, Trump announced there would be a "big announcement" on tax reform coming next week. He told the Associated Press he'd be unveiling a tax plan with a "massive" tax cut -- "bigger I believe than any tax cut ever" -- for businesses and individuals alike.

Independent media is crucial for keeping a close watch on the Trump administration and Truthout takes that responsibility seriously. If you believe in the importance of this work, make a donation today!

Categories: Latest News

"Spies of Mississippi" Reveals Extent of White Supremacy in the South During Civil Rights Era

Truthout - Sat, 04/22/2017 - 21:00

Spies of Mississippi is a journey into the world of informants, infiltrators, and agent provocateurs in the heart of Dixie.

(Image: ARTE)The film tells the story of a secret spy agency formed by the state of Mississippi to preserve segregation and maintain "the Mississippi way of life," white supremacy, during the 1950s and '60s. The Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission (MSSC) evolved from a predominantly public relations agency to a full-fledged spy operation, spying on over 87,000 Americans over the course of a decade. 

The Commission employed a network of investigators and informants, including African Americans, to help infiltrate some of the largest Black organizations like National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). The MSSC was granted broad powers to investigate private citizens and organizations, keep secret files, make arrests, and compel testimony for a state that, as civil rights activist Lawrence Guyot says in the film, "was committed to an apartheid system that would make South Africa blush."

The film reveals the full scope and impact of the Commission, including its links to private white supremacist organizations, its ties to investigative agencies in other states, and even its program to bankroll the opposition to civil rights legislation in Washington, DC.

Weaving in chilling footage of Ku Klux Klan rallies and government propaganda films alongside rare images and interviews from the period, Spies of Mississippi tracks the Commission's hidden role in many of the most important chapters of the civil rights movement, including the integration of the University of Mississippi, the assassination of Medgar Evers, and the KKK murders of three civil rights workers in 1964.

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Featuring:
  • Margaret Block
  • Rick Bowers
  • Kenneth Dean
  • Ralph Eubanks
  • Lawrence Guyot
  • Edwin King
  • Robert Luckett
  • Neil McMillen
  • Jerry Mitchell
  • Bob Moses
  • Janet Moses
  • Congressman Bennie Thompson
  • Hollis Watkins
  • Governor William Winter
Credits:
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Brazil Moves to Cut Amazon Conservation Units by 1.2 Million Hectares

Truthout - Sat, 04/22/2017 - 21:00

The Brazilian Congress is poised to slash the size of existing conservation units, removing federal protection from vast swaths of Amazon rainforest in Pará state. (Photo: Rhett A. Butler)

With Brazil in political turmoil, the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby that dominates Congress has quietly set in motion measures to dismember some of the country's most important conservation units in the eastern section of the Amazon basin.

The move occurs at a time when the country is fully focused on the Supreme Court's recently announced plans to investigate corruption allegations made against leading politicians, including eight of President Temer's ministers.

Congressmen have introduced amendments to two key provisional measures -- MP 756/2016 and MP 758/2016 -- which would remove conservation protection from by 1.2 million hectares (2,965,252 acres) of forest.

Some of the affected units have received significant funding from foreign donors, including the European Union and the World Bank.

On 11 April, a Congressional commission approved an amendment to MP 756 to reduce the area of the Jamanxim Flona (National Forest) by 480,000 hectares -- over a third of the unit's current total area of 1.3 million hectares. The amendment also cut the area the Nascentes da Serra do Cachimbo Biological Reserve by half -- a 180,000 hectare reduction. Both conservation units are in the state of Pará.

The dismembered tracts will have their conservation status changed so that they become Areas of Environmental Protection (APAs). Private ownership of land is permitted within an APA, as is agriculture and forest felling.

The lands removed from the conservation units would be reclassified as Areas of Environmental Protection (APAs), where private land ownership, agriculture and forest clearing is allowed. (Photo: Sue Branford)

The federal deputy, José Priante, the rapporteur for MP 756, justified the measure, saying: "By making an area an APA, we are merely choosing a form of conservation that makes it possible to mediate conflicts." He contended that the affected areas already had farmers living within them when the land was included within the conservation units, and that the APA reclassification protected the farmers' interests.

However, a study carried out by the Chico Mendes Institute for Conservation and Biodiversity (ICMBio), which administers federal conservation units, found that two-thirds of the farmers who had cleared forest within the Jamanxim Flona had moved into the area after it was turned into a conservation unit -- meaning that they were illegally exploiting public lands.

Opposition federal deputy Nilto Tatto criticized the MP, saying that it sent a clear message that "crime pays" and that "it's worth invading conservation units."

While Brazil's environmental agencies were busy gathering signatures for a protest letter against MP 756, they were hit by another blow. On the following day, in a session that lasted seven minutes, the same Congressional commission approved amendments to MP 758, whereby the National Park of Jamanxin is to lose half its area (344,000 hectares), and the Itaituba II National Forest is to lose well over a third of its protected land (169,000 hectares). The dismembered areas will be turned into APAs.

The amendments moving their way through Congress, which are likely to be approved, would open large areas of Amazon rainforest to agriculture. (Photo: Rhett A. Butler)

The reduction in Amazon conservation units by 1.2 million hectares in total, an area almost as large as Puerto Rico, is likely to be received with consternation by foreign funders.

Brazil's ministry of the environment has a program called ARPA (the Amazonia Protected Areas Program), which was created to strengthen conservation units in the Amazon. Described as "the planet's greatest program for tropical forest conservation," its first phase has a budget of US$125.6 million, largely provided by the World Bank's Global Environment Facility, Germany's Development Bank (KfW) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Part of this funding goes to the National Park of Jamanxim and to the Nascentes da Serra do Cachimbo Biological Reserve, both of which are seeing serious losses in area.

The European Union has also provided funding for the Jamanxim and the Itaituba II National Forests through various projects, while the German Development Bank (KfW) has separately provided considerable resources for the forests.

The provisional measures (MPs) will now go for approval to the lower Chamber of Deputies and then to the Senate. Both measures must be approved by the end of May or lose validity.

Considering the strength of the agribusiness lobby, passage of the amendments seems very likely, but, with the scale of the current political crisis in Brazil, little is predictable. Many workers, including the police, are deeply unhappy with the government's pension reforms, with mass protests happening around the country.

Opposition federal deputy Nilto Tatto criticized the congressional measures, saying they convey a message that "crime pays" and that "it's worth invading conservation units." Critics like Tatto assert that the dismemberment of Amazon conservation units is largely a means of legitimizing the claims of wealthy land thieves who have long been illegally operating within the units. (Photo: Rhett A. Butler)

Categories: Latest News

Destroying EPA Protections Will Disproportionately Hurt Children

Truthout - Sat, 04/22/2017 - 21:00

President Donald Trump's proposed 31 percent budget cut for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is devastating for anyone who isn't financially connected to the fossil fuel industry. Reversing the course on projects that include reducing carbon emissions, protecting rivers and streams from industrial pollutants, and investments in renewable energy is not only bad for the planet, but it is a disaster for human health. And those most at risk of a potentially more toxic environment are children.

There are several reasons why children are more susceptible to pollution than adults, with the most obvious being that they spend more time outdoors and are more likely to come in direct contact with dirt, water, and plant life.

But the real danger to children lies in their biology.

As the Center for Disease Control explains, children require more food, oxygen, and water than adults in comparison to their body size. This means that a contaminant in any one of those areas will have a greater presence in the body of a child compared to the body of a full grown adult.

The CDC also says that some organ systems within the body do not fully mature until a child is in their teens, and a developing system is far more susceptible to pollutants than an established organ system, as different pollutants can delay or alter development.

The CDC lays out how different types of environmental contaminants effect children differently than adults:

"Exposure to the same chemical may cause different health outcomes in children compared with adults. A well-known example is the effect of lead on young children's developing nervous systems. Lead does have effects on the nervous systems of adult workers, which result in peripheral neuropathies. For children, however, intellectual development is exquisitely sensitive to even small amounts of lead; this sensitivity is not seen in adults."

The last few decades have seen a reduction in the amount of environmentally induced illnesses in children as a result of stronger federal safeguards to reduce pollution and exposure to harmful chemicals. As CNN notes:

"The Children's Health Study, one of the largest and most extensive studies of air pollution's long-term effects, found that living in areas with higher pollution levels caused measurable damage to children's lungs including respiratory infections, higher risk for asthma and reduced lung growth and function.

But it also found that children's lungs have improved over the past two decades as pollution levels in the study area have decreased. The ongoing study, conducted by the University of Southern California, has involved more than 11,000 area schoolchildren since 1992. Legislation such as the Clean Air Act, enforced and regulated by the EPA, has helped cut ground-level ozone -- a component of smog -- by more than 32 percent nationwide since 1980, according to the agency's air trends data."

These advances in child health could be undone if Donald Trump's proposed budget cuts for the EPAbecome reality.

However, it is important to also understand that the proposals do not necessarily do away with environmental protections (with the exception of gutting the Clean Power Plan). Instead, the budget and staffing cuts at the agency will prevent the EPA from effectively monitoring health and safety issues and governing corporate compliance with existing laws.

To put it bluntly, most of the safeguards will still be in place, we just won't have anyone looking over the shoulders of a corporation to make sure they are obeying the law.

The US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health have pointed out that the majority of studies on the effects of things like air pollution and other forms of toxic exposure have focused only on adult populations or the effects on developing fetuses, leaving the area of childhood and adolescence inadequately studied to determine the full effects that pollution has on this population.

Unfortunately, the health-related costs (both in terms of money and life) are often omitted from discussions of environmental safety regulations. Instead, the conversations tend to focus solely on the compliance costs that businesses face.

This is why the conversation has to change.

The health-related costs of addressing pollution and climate change far outweigh the economic costs that businesses face, and a far greater number of people will be affected if these budget cuts become a reality. Public health is more important than corporate profits, and the collective health of the public will always suffer when the environment isn't properly protected.

Categories: Latest News

The Looming Neocon Invasion of Trumpland

Truthout - Fri, 04/21/2017 - 21:00

President Donald Trump during a joint news conference with Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni of Italy, at the White House in Washington, April 20, 2017. (Doug Mills / The New York Times)

The ragged remnants of the neo-conservative cabal that came together under George W. Bush are still out there, plotting and scheming, concocting novel new ways to light the world on fire for power and profit. Is Trump's band of wreckers poised to combine forces with the ice-eyed competence of the neocon assassins?

President Donald Trump during a joint news conference with Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni of Italy, at the White House in Washington, April 20, 2017. (Doug Mills / The New York Times)

I can't dance
I can't talk
Only thing about me
Is the way I walk
I can't dance
I can't sing
I'm just standing here
Selling everything …

-- Genesis, "I Can't Dance"

Ted Nugent, Sarah Palin and Kid Rock dined with Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday night. No, really. Nugent and Trump likely revisited their shared birther/terrorist obsession with Obama, while Palin and Rock explored the higher sociological meanings to be derived from the song "American Bad Ass." Palin later tweeted a photograph of the four of them in the Oval Office, stooped over the Resolute Desk like a murder of crows. The desk, a true piece of history itself, is said to have wept through the night and far into the following morning.

Nugent may be an oaf, Palin a fool and Rock a beer commercial footnote, but all three combined did not hold a candle to their host, the president of the United States, who somehow managed to lose a whole aircraft carrier. The USS Carl Vinson -- more than three football fields long, launch platform for dozens of military aircraft, floating home to more than 6,000 sailors and service members, a weapon so large and lethal that it is known as "God's Machine" to those who serve aboard it -- was part of an "armada" Trump was sending to the hostile waters off North Korea. The Vinson, in fact, was some 3,500 miles to the south, steaming sedately for Australia and some joint naval exercises … but no one quite knew what the orders really were and where the aircraft carrier was supposed to be. The Vinson eventually turned around and began steaming north, its captain announcing the crew would now be operating "in the Western Pacific." This is the nautical version of saying they would be somewhere on Planet Earth.

It's been almost 100 days, and these people still can't find the car keys. They've managed to enflame a fairly routine dust-up with North Korea to the point that even China's military is going on high alert, all so Trump can look tough and distract everyone from the numerous, burgeoning scandals tied to his presidency and his business relationships. Mike Pence is running around yelling about swords at a country that can't feed itself. North Korea is a struggling country with a stout paint job; its government pulls these attention-grabbing stunts every so often to raise its visibility in the world, and to broker a back-room deal to get food on the sly so the population doesn't starve to death. It's been like this for decades, but leave it to Trump to turn it into the potential strikepad for World War Whatever while losing track of the largest flotation device in maritime history. These guys could screw up the recipe for tap water.

From a foreign policy perspective, this is all certainly nerve-wracking and undeniably perilous. No one enjoys contemplating the seeming fact that the chain of command for the most dangerous fighting force in history has collapsed and gone completely sideways.

However, the way in which this administration's foibles -- and its potentially catastrophic decisions -- have been portrayed in much of the media is worrisome, to say the least. The pundits all agree what a shame it is that this White House lacks focus and discipline, not to mention experience. "We" all want this president to "succeed," we are told, because if he "succeeds," the country succeeds. These people control the entire federal government; if they could only get organized, they could really get some stuff done.

Nope, sorry. The only thing we've had going for us since this whole nightmare began is the fact that these people have been falling down open elevator shafts almost every time they try to accomplish one of their sordid goals. "Ban all Muslims! (falls down shaft)" followed by "Repeal Obamacare! (falls down shaft)" followed by "Ban all Muslims again! (falls down shaft)." They got a Supreme Court Justice they were going to get anyway. Bully for them; McConnell still had to break the Senate to get it done.

Thank you, no, I don't want this administration to succeed, because "success" on their terms would transmogrify this nation -- and, potentially, the rest of the world -- into a dystopian wasteland that makes The Grapes of Wrath seem like a spring break movie by comparison.

The ultimate nightmare scenario is still in the offing, however, but could come to pass any day. The ragged remnants of the neo-conservative cabal that came together under George W. Bush is still out there, plotting and scheming, concocting novel new ways to light the world on fire for power and profit. The Project for a New American Century (PNAC), think-tank mothership for every bad neocon idea that led us into Iraq and a wider conflict in the Middle East, never died; it just got new offices down the block. Unlike their counterparts in the current administration, the neocons know how the gears of government work, where the levers are, and how to actually get things done. Combine the wild fervor of Trump's band of wreckers with the ice-eyed competence of the neocon assassins, and the result could be horrific beyond any known measure.

It is already in the works, if you listen with the right kind of ears. Neocon dean Robert Kagan, thrilled by Trump's decision to bomb a parking lot in Syria, publicly offered a series of murderous suggestions earlier this month that sounded for all the world like a job interview. As co-founder of PNAC and a long-time advocate for the violent overthrow of virtually every Middle Eastern government, Kagan would make a dynamic -- and terrifying -- addition to the Trump administration. Elliot Abrams, another PNAC alum with two convictions under his belt from the Iran-Contra scandal, came within an eyelash of becoming the No. 2 man at the State Department last February. The fact that either of these men is being taken seriously by anyone in power today, after we have spent so many years digging out from under their catastrophic policy imperatives, is unsettling in the extreme.

So we're clear on what it is we're talking about when we talk about a neocon investment into the Trump administration, here is a bite of some reporting I did on PNAC from February of 2003:

The Project for the New American Century seeks to establish what they call "Pax Americana" across the globe. Essentially, their goal is to transform America, the sole remaining superpower, into a planetary empire by force of arms. A report released by PNAC in September of 2000 entitled 'Rebuilding America's Defenses' codifies this plan, which requires a massive increase in defense spending and the fighting of several major theater wars in order to establish American dominance.

The first step towards the establishment of this Pax Americana is, and has always been, the removal of Saddam Hussein and the establishment of an American protectorate in Iraq. The purpose of this is threefold: 1) To acquire control of the oilheads so as to fund the entire enterprise; 2) To fire a warning shot across the bows of every leader in the Middle East; 3) To establish in Iraq a military staging area for the eventual invasion and overthrow of several Middle Eastern regimes, including some that are allies of the United States.

Kagan and Abrams are not the only neocons scratching at Trump's backdoor. Bill Kristol, former PNAC director and editor of the Weekly Standard, has been making positive noises in the direction of the new administration. None other than former Bush Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has also taken to the op-ed pages to gently chide Trump & Co. toward the neocon dark side regarding the Middle East.

Mark my words: One of these days, Reince Priebus or someone of equal status will finally get fed up with looking like The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight, pick up the phone, and say, "Get me Donald Rumsfeld, now." The temptation in the end, will simply be too great.

Donald Trump wants victories so he can look good on television. These neocons want victories so they can establish permanent US hegemony over the world via military might, and get nice and rich in the process. A combining of forces gives both sides everything they ever wanted.

Someone in Trump's crew is going to make that phone call, I think. After that, it's hats over the windmill, and God have mercy on us all.

Independent media is crucial for keeping a close watch on the Trump administration and Truthout takes that responsibility seriously. If you believe in the importance of this work, make a donation today!

Categories: Latest News

Why This Scientist Is Marching

Truthout - Fri, 04/21/2017 - 21:00

"Science is real" and "Objective reality exists" read the signs that covered Jessie Square in San Francisco last December. "Immigrants make science great" read some at Boston's Copley Square in February.

An unlikely sector of the populace has begun to respond to the threat that the Trump agenda represents. Earth Day, April 22, has been called as a day of action for all of us who want to defend academic freedom, public health and the human habitability of the planet itself.

A few scientists were inspired by the January 21 women's marches that drew millions out in cities across the US and began posting messages on Facebook that maybe those protesting were onto something. Maybe protest was the best way to defend ourselves against the anti-science agenda rolling out of D.C. And on January 22, scientists weren't merely onlookers. A contingent of hundreds of women and men in lab coats (some carrying their lab equipment) produced some of the loudest chants that day in Washington, D.C.

Why are science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) advocates so mad? What could possibly make us leave our microscopes and spectrometers en mass to engage in the political sphere?

Setting aside the fact that "STEMinist" T-shirts are selling like hotcakes and a huge proportion of STEM professionals are women, immigrants and LGBTQ people, scientists are mad because of, essentially, workplace grievances. In theory, the purpose of science is to understand the world so we can make positive change, but scientists cannot do this if we are unable to communicate our findings. And the current administration is not a fan of evidence-based peer-reviewed information being "leaked" to the public.

According to the Associated Press, political appointees of the current administration have been directed to review all studies and data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prior to public release. "Review," in this case, will mean censorship. The current EPA scientific integrity statement reads that actions be "grounded, at a most fundamental level, in sound, high-quality science" that is "free from political interference." Clearly, this integrity can no longer be maintained without threat to one's career.

Even an agency as innocuous as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may be subject to political pressure. The FDA is the agency that ensures that our pills aren't going to make the cure worse than the disease. Before some federal oversight of our medications, drugs could have deadly side effects or be tainted with dangerous additives. Scott Gottlieb, Trump's candidate to head up the FDA, has suggested that rigorous clinical trials shouldn't be required for placing a drug on the market. Let the consumer decide if it is deadly -- or, at least, their living relatives.

***

I am marching on April 22 because, like other scientists, I'm mad about this. Like other scientists, I'm scared about this. And, like other scientists, I am determined to fight back.

I want to be counted among the people who are trying to send a message to the Trump administration that it should not cut public funding for science censor or restrict the communication of scientific findings or; ignore the scientific consensus in making policy.

But I also have other, more specific, reasons to march.

I am a teacher. Anyone who has ever taught, or even had a favorite teacher, knows the way teachers can care about their students. You become invested in how they feel, how well you help them get what they want in life. My task is to give them information, but much more importantly, to give them motivation and a method for exploring the natural world (I'm a biologist). And now, the same students I most inspired are the ones who won't have jobs -- the students who wanted to study public health, the students who wanted to preserve endangered species, the students who wanted clean water. I work in the classroom to help them achieve this goal, why not also in the streets?

I am an anti-racist. Cuts to programs that protect the environment don't just affect all people equally. The lead crisis in Flint, Michigan, is the most recent well-known example, but the list goes on and on. It includes coal ash in Uniontown, Alabama; lead in West Dallas, Texas; and toxic polychlorinated biphenyls in Warren County, North Carolina. Environmental destruction disproportionately impacts communities of color.

The beginning of any struggle against environmental racism is to prove that the damage is happening. With severe cuts to the EPA, the routine monitoring will not happen. Say you smell oil as you walk by a creek on your way home from school. You call the city to report it, and they tell you to call the EPA. But no one is there to pick up the phone -- they were all fired by the Trump administration.

There are also likely to be cuts in federal health-monitoring programs. Those who work on those programs study things like why, unlike the global trend, more and more mothers are dying during childbirth in the US. Just like many other health disparities, these women are disproportionately low-income and Black. The Trump administration doesn't want to fund the studies that help us know this, much less the programs to help us stop it.

I am a socialist. I believe that mass social movements can win big reforms. Scientists were an important part of the original mobilizations that led Richard Nixon to create the EPA in the first place. And the experience of fighting for something well beyond laboratory funding made a more healthy, left-wing science.

When scientists sit back and let the "experts" handle the politics, we are in trouble. Ordinary people mobilizing -- that's what can win.

I expect that very few scientists voted for Trump. I imagine that almost all of the participants in the upcoming March for Science think we wouldn't need to march if Hillary Clinton had won.

But as scientists, we also call for evidenced-based policy -- and there's not a lot of evidence that the Democrats in power have responded seriously to things like the life-or-death situation around climate change. Bernie Sanders called out the inaction, why can't we?

So I'm marching as part of an argument both for science and with science. We should have a grassroots movement that is independent and self-reliant. Only then will we be able to pressure any and all politicians to enact the immediate change that's so badly needed.

Categories: Latest News

Trump Financial Law Executive Orders Signal Salad Days for Wall Street

Commondreams - Fri, 04/21/2017 - 13:34
Public Citizen

According to materials supplied by the White House to the press, President Donald Trump issued three executive orders today: one on the Financial Stability Oversight Council, one on a section of Wall Street reform law that empowers the government to take over large, failed financial institutions and one on measures that stop companies from evading taxes.

Categories: Latest News

Dallas Community Will Rally Against EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt at Earth Day Texas

Commondreams - Fri, 04/21/2017 - 12:48
Sierra Club

On Friday, April 21, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt will appear after a legal symposium to give remarks at Earth Day Texas. Community members will rally near the event to remind Pruitt that Dallas residents deserve clean air and remind attendees that the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies are hurtful to Texas families and their health.

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