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Should This College Operator Run a Key Federal Oversight Panel?

Truthout - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 21:00

For some people engaged in the world of higher education politics, watching Arthur Keiser ascend the dais at a Washington, DC, hotel Tuesday morning as the new chair of the US Department of Education's National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) -- the group of experts charged with advising the Department on the performance of college accrediting organizations -- might be a bit like watching Donald Trump get sworn in as President of the United States: hard to fathom.

In fact, Keiser has some things in common with Trump, besides that both own properties in Florida. And these things are part of what makes Keiser's ascendancy to the NACIQI chairmanship troubling.

Keiser University's Record

First, both Keiser and Trump have run universities bearing their family names -- and both have settled cases with the government, cases charging that their schools engaged in fraud.

Trump University was unaccredited, and thus not eligible for federal student aid dollars, but Keiser's schools -- there are some 20,000 students on 17 Florida campuses, plus locations in Shanghai, China, and Carazo, Nicaragua -- thrive on such aid. In fact, the schools' latest audited financial statement (obtained by the Century Foundation under the Freedom of Information Act) shows that Keiser schools get 86 percent of their $390 million annual revenue from Department of Education and Department of Veterans Affairs student aid.

In response to my request to interview Keiser, his staff asked for written questions, and then provided written answers that addressed some of my questions. It offered a description of Keiser University's record that reads, in part: "More than two-thirds of students are women. African Americans compose 21% and Hispanics make up 28% of Keiser University's diverse student body. An independent study by the Washington Economics Group estimates Keiser's annual economic impact on the state of Florida at $3 billion with some 30,000 direct and indirect jobs positively impacted by Keiser University campus operations."

While Trump's school was basically a scam, the record of Keiser University, which offers programs in business, health care, information technology, criminal justice, culinary, automotive, and other fields, is more mixed, but far from exemplary. I know the school has had some conscientious instructors and administrators; I have spoken with a number of them. But its programs are expensive, it has spent less on instruction than many comparable public and non-profit schools, and it has reported relatively high dropout and loan default rates.

In 2015, Keiser University and the US Justice Department reached an agreement under which Keiser, without admitting misconduct, would pay $335,000 to settle a lawsuit under the False Claims Act, charging that the school defrauded taxpayers in the receipt of Department of Education funds. Three years earlier, to resolve a two-year investigation by the office of Florida attorney general Pam Bondi under the state's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, Keiser's schools agreed, without any admission of guilt, to  offer thousands of former students free job retraining and that its staff would not misrepresent information about the schools to prospective students.

Keiser University's Conversion to Non-Profit Status

Second, both Trump and Keiser have been accused of misusing non-profit organizations for personal gain. The Donald J. Trump Foundation made a series of improper purchases benefiting Trump personally, using funds donated by others. There are no such allegations against Keiser, but instead there is this: Keiser's chain of schools was a for-profit company, but he converted it to a non-profit in a transaction so troubling that it was the subject of major 2015 stories in both the New York Times and the Miami Herald.

In 2011, Keiser's family sold Keiser University for $521 million to a small non-profit organization, Everglades College, which the Keisers had created. In order to buy Keiser University, Everglades took on a $321 million loan -- from Arthur Keiser. The non-profit he created is thus paying him principal and interest on that loan, plus an annual salary, as chancellor and CEO of Keiser University, of $831,000. Keiser also made Everglades a charitable gift of much of the rest of the purchase price, potentially providing him with large tax deductions.

In addition, Arthur Keiser owns stakes in properties that collect some $14.6 million in rent from Everglades, in the Holiday Inn where Everglades employees stay, in a private airplane that Everglades employees use, and in a computer company that contracts with the college.

Several board members of the non-profit Everglades also have had business deals with the school -- for its filing system, for recruiting services, for the school's pool maintenance program.  The board chair, Greg Wallick, a former captain of the University of Miami football team who is helping to build a Keiser University NAIA football team, is the CEO of Best Roofing, which boasts on its website that it "assists [Keiser] University with all their roofing decisions," and adds an endorsement from Art Keiser himself: "Thanks for keeping our campus dry and saving us money."

Keiser told the Times in 2015, regarding claims of conflict of interest, that all deals with insiders "are at fair market value" and that "We disclosed everything. There's nothing wrong with it." Keiser also has denied that the non-profit conversion of his school was for any improper reason, and he told the Times that the $521 valuation was arrived at by two independent auditors.

But Everglades' 2015 financial statement -- see page 14 -- indicates that Keiser and the non-profit have now agreed to substantially reduce the debt, based on a much lower valuation for the schools.

The statement provided to me by Keiser states, "Repetitive questions regarding Keiser University's status as a not-for-profit University have been answered time and time again. In summary, the transition to not-for-profit was thorough, transparent, and lengthy…. Fully disclosed tax returns and IRS 990s have always been and remain publicly available…. The structure of the corporation and acquiring of assets followed state and federal guidelines and regulations including notification and applications with both [the accrediting agency] SACS and the Department of Education.  All necessary approvals were obtained. In March 2015, the Miami Herald reported that BDO, one of the country's largest accounting firms, reviewed Keiser's nonprofit tax filings -- at the Herald's request -- and found nothing to suggest any impropriety."

Conversion to a non-profit, as a number of major for-profit college chains have attempted (Herzing, Remington, Ultimate Medical Academy, EDMC/Art Institutes, Corinthian/Everest, Kaplan) or contemplated (ITT, Grand Canyon) in recent years, would allow a school not only to avoid paying taxes. If the status change is recognized as valid by the Department of Education, it would also (1) avoid the requirements of the federal 90-10 rule, which prohibits for-profit colleges from getting more than 90 percent of their revenue from Department of Education student aid, and (2) avoid key parts of the gainful employment rule, which takes away federal aid from career education programs that consistently leave students with more debt than they can afford to repay. Together, these rules press for-profit colleges to offer better-quality programs at more reasonable prices.

Conversion also would allow a school to escape the stigma of being part of the for-profit college industry, whose blatant abuses have become more and more clear to prospective students and staff.

The Department of Education last August rejected the application of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education, the non-profit operator of the formerly for-profit College America and Stevens-Henager chains owned by Carl Barney, to be treated as a non-profit for purposes of federal law. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell said then, "Schools that want to convert to non-profit status need to benefit the public. If the primary beneficiary of the conversion is the owner of the for-profit school, that doesn't meet the bar. It's not even close." The operator has sued in federal court to overturn the decision.

A final decision on Keiser's conversion to non-profit status remains pending before the Department of Education, according to Department officials -- meaning Arthur Keiser, now the chair of a key Department advisory committee, is awaiting a decision, from the same department, that could have an enormous impact on his school.

Keiser's Engagement in Politics and Policy

Finally, like Donald Trump, Keiser has long been skilled at engaging with politicians, and making strategic campaign contributions -- hundreds of thousands in total, to Democrats and Republicans like, many of them opponents of for-profit college accountability measures -- as he has sought to advance his company's interests. Keiser is the former chairman of the board and a long-dominant figure in the for-profit colleges' national trade association, now called CECU. The group waged an aggressive campaign to fight the Obama administration's effort to hold predatory colleges accountable for ripping off students and taxpayers -- a strategy that spectacularly failed. Only the surprise election of Trump, and the resulting installation at the Department of Education of Secretary Betsy DeVos and other for-profit boosters, has given predatory for-profit colleges a potential reprieve.

Now, both Trump and Keiser have the opportunity to influence policy from an official platform, while each still running businesses that benefit from government largesse.

There are 18 NACIQI members, six appointed by the Secretary of Education, six by congressional Democrats, and six by congressional Republicans, who picked Keiser.  The members serve six-year terms. The chairperson is selected by the members of the panel. Whether his fellow panelists should have elevated Keiser is highly questionable.

A year ago, in his role as a member of the NACIQI panel, before he was named chair, Keiser fought aggressively in a public hearing to prevent the group from advising the Department to de-recognize the accrediting body ACICS -- despite the powerful evidence developed by the Department and outside researchers that ACICS had been asleep at the switch, failing to prevent blatant abuses at companies including Corinthian, ITT Tech, Kaplan, EDMC, Career Education Corporation, Westwood, Globe, FastTrain, and Daymar. All of those have been members of CECU, on whose board Keiser sat, and still sits today.  Keiser insisted that terminating ACICS -- which would force its schools to find new accreditors or lose access to federal student aid -- would create "havoc" in higher education.

Fortunately, Keiser lost, by a vote of 10-3, and the Department of Education last fall made a final decision to cut off ACICS, a decision that US District Judge Reggie Walton, hearing ACICS's legal challenge, has thus far refused to block.

It seems an inappropriate conflict of interest for any current college operator, with a financial stake in a college, to sit as a member of the Department of Education committee that evaluates the fitness of accreditors, who in turn evaluate the fitness of the operator's college. But it looks even worse, and it is even worse, if (1) the operator's college has a troubling record; (2) the operator is awaiting a major ruling on its future from the Department of Education; and (3) the operator is elevated to chairman of the committee.

This kind of blatant fox-guarding-henhouse dynamic has been an ongoing factor of for-profit college regulation in the disgraceful politics of Keiser's home state of Florida. Now, it's been brought to our nation's capital.

The Keiser University statement to me said, on this point, that Keiser "is the senior member of the NACIQI Board, and has served for more than 10 years, as a board member and now as Chairman. He was voted in by his peers for Chairman -- men and women who know his dedication to education and service."

Keiser Critics Speaking Out

Not everyone is rolling over. On March 10, three strong advocates for students, senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), wrote to NACIQI members and Department of Education staff to "insist" that Keiser recuse himself from NACIQI's review of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), which is up for review at Tuesday's meeting, and which accredits Everglades and Keiser universities.  They also asked that the Department of Education conduct an investigation "to ensure that there has been no inappropriate influence in SACS's bid for renewed recognition." The senators' letter recounts the many troubling aspects of the Keiser non-profit conversion and financial deals with board members.

Former Deputy Under Secretary of Education Robert Shireman, now at the Century Foundation, also wrote on March 10, asking that NACIQI and the Department examine SACS's 2015 renewal of Everglades' accreditation, given all the issues related to the conversion. Shireman also last year filed a complaint with the IRS over the legitimacy of the Keiser conversion.

In response to my asking whether Keiser would recuse himself from considering the continued recognition of his own accreditor, the school wrote, "Dr. Keiser has made it abundantly clear to his colleagues on the board -- should an issue arise which would require him to recuse himself from a particular discussion or vote, he is happy to do so. Such action is nothing new and consistent with his past service on the NACIQI Board."

The NACIQI meeting agenda for Tuesday shows that, when the panel addresses renewing SACS's accreditation, James W. Waldman, General Counsel to Keiser University and Everglades University, will appear to offer "Third Party Comments."

This article originally appeared on Republic Report

Categories: Latest News

Democratic Resistance to GOP Senate Health Care Push Takes Shape

Truthout - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 21:00

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer heads from his office to the Senate floor to talk about the Senate's version of the Republican health care bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, June 19, 2017. Democrats vowed on Monday to slow work in the Senate to a crawl to protest the secrecy shrouding the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is staking out this week as the time to obstruct Republicans' still-secret health care legislation.

Speaking to reporters, a Democratic aide revealed that beginning Monday night, Democrats would withhold consent on nearly every GOP request in the Senate. That tactic could slow down Senate business, including committee work.

"If Republicans won't relent and debate their healthcare bill in the open for the American people to see, then they shouldn't expect business as usual in the Senate," Sen. Schumer said.

One way Democrats could withhold consent would be to invoke Senate rules and shut down any committee proceedings after the Senate has been in session for more than two hours.

Democrats are also signaling intentions to force the GOP into a number of embarrassing positions in public. By invoking Senate procedures and parliamentary inquiries, the minority could highlight the lack of regular order and committee work behind the GOP's legislative push.

"These are merely the first steps we're prepared to take in order to shine a light on this shameful TrumpCare bill," Sen. Schumer added.

Behind closed doors in the Capitol, Senate Republicans are still making modifications to the House-passed American Health Care Act (AHCA). The legislation repeals key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including regulations on health insurance companies, expanded Medicaid coverage, and the universal mandate putting tax penalties on the uninsured. The bill is projected to result in more than 20 million Americans being denied health insurance.

Despite not having a finalized product, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has already made preparations to fast track the bill without a committee markup or much debate. He hopes to have a vote as early as next week to pass the measure before the July 4 recess.

Also hampering McConnell's truncated schedule is the need for a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score on the legislation -- a process that could take weeks.

While Democrats don't have the numbers within their party to completely block a GOP healthcare measure from passing, they could delay it enough to exert pressure on a handful of moderate Republicans. McConnell can only afford two defections before the bill would sink.

Thus far, however, Democrats have been reluctant to block the AHCA. The bill passed the House in May with Democrats offering little in the way of obstruction beyond their "Nay" votes. Politico described the Democrats' plan as "strategic retreat."

Schumer's pledge to gum up the process comes one week after Democrats delivered the GOP a signature win, and a blow against the prior Obama administration, with new sanctions against Iran.

The sanctions measure passed 98-2 with only Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) voting against it. Democrats unanimously supported the bill after they were able to add an amendment to it imposing new sanctions against Russia, too.

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What You Need to Know About Trump's Plan to Restrict Birth Control Access

Truthout - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 21:00

Donald Trump's updated contraceptive rule was recently leaked, raising concerns about women's ability to access affordable family planning. It's hard to keep track of what we need to be keeping track of these days, especially when it comes to women's health. So let's review.

What is the contraceptive mandate?

The contraceptive mandate, aka the "birth control benefit," was a part of the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) Essential Health Benefits, which included the list of ten services that the non-partisan Institute of Medicine determined all insurance providers must cover because, well, they are essential. The rule's preventive care guidelines meant that women could access the form of contraception they need at no cost.

It's been great for women's health, and their wallets. 

Thanks to the contraceptive mandate, more than 48 million women no longer face cost barriers to accessing birth control. The National Women's Law Center reported that in 2013, women saved more than $483 million in out-of-pocket birth control costs, for an average of $270 per woman. The number of women who filled their birth control prescriptions without copays grew from 1.3 million to 5.1 million, and in one year the share of women who had access to birth control with no out-of-pocket costs grew from 14 percent to 56 percent.

As described in a recent report released by the Roosevelt Institute and the Ms. Foundation for Women, these benefits have an outsized impact on women with low incomes and women of color, whose ability to access health care, including contraception, is compromised by stark disparities in wages, employment benefits, and proximity to providers, among many other factors. Historic racial and gendered inequities continue to shape economic opportunities and outcomes for those women and their families.

The benefit sparked outcry from day one.

The birth control benefit has been marked with a bullseye since the moment it became part of the health law. Despite the fact that President Obama included an exemption for churches and other places of worship, there have been more than 100 lawsuits challenging the provision, two of which have made it to the United States Supreme Court. In the first such case, Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. v. Burwell, the Court expanded the definition of what can be considered a "religious" organization and allowed for those non-religious entities to deny contraceptive coverage. To ensure that employees of those organizations could still access birth control, the Obama administration created an "accommodation," which requires employers to simply sign a form stating their religious objection to providing the coverage, thereby triggering a process by which a woman can get coverage directly through her insurance provider.

Everyone moved on, right? Wrong. A number of organizations protested, saying that even signing the form was a violation of their religious liberty because it enabled women to access a service they find at odds with their beliefs. So the Supreme Court heard a second series of cases, including Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell, punting a decision to a later date. Given how loudly the new administration has lobbied for so-called "religious freedom" at the expense of women's health, the future of the birth control benefit in the courts is murky, at best. In a recent ceremony at the White House, President Trump told nuns from the Little Sisters of the Poor, "Your long ordeal will soon be over, okay?"

What would this leaked rule do?

The rule would vastly expand an employer's ability to deny birth control coverage. It would allow any employer—not just faith-based organizations—to deny coverage based on moral objections and exempt those workplaces from the accommodation. Because the leaked rule modifies existing regulations and not law, it can go into effect as soon as it is published in the Federal Register. This is just one way the administration can undermine women's health without having to actually repeal the ACA.

What would this mean for women?

Tens of thousands of cisgender women, transgender individuals, and people who are gender non-binary are at risk of losing access to affordable family planning of their choice.

But can't women just go elsewhere for their contraception?

The current head of the US Department of Health and Human Services has said there isn't one woman who can't afford contraception.

Not so fast, Secretary Price. First and foremost, family planning is a central part of women's preventive care, and we should be able to access it alongside a host of other health services, not have to jump through hoops to get it. For women with low incomes, and young women in particular, birth control costs are prohibitive, with serious implications for their health. Before the birth control benefit, women had to shoulder the costs of their chosen contraception method, which can exceed $1,000 annually. Nearly one in four women with incomes under $75,000 put off seeing a doctor for a birth control prescription to save money.

Current versions of the new health care bill also defund Planned Parenthood, which would decimate communities' access to responsive and stigma-free care. The administration has also moved to weaken Title X, the nation's only federal family planning program. This has put the sustainability of local family planning providers in jeopardy even as the administration's larger policy agenda of austerity is likely to drive up demand for their services.

There will be significant health and economic consequences.

Without access to affordable contraception (and to be clear, access to unaffordable contraception is not really access at all), women's economic security and safety is compromised. In addition to the financial toll, the rule takes decision-making power away from women, which impacts how power plays out in interpersonal relationships and with sexual partners. The consequences will be most acutely felt and borne by women with no alternatives for getting contraception -- namely, women with low incomes and women of color.

We don't need to guess what will happen if the administration succeeds at rolling back access to reproductive health care. Over the past five years, Texas has passed several similar bills. As a result, claims for long acting reversible methods of contraception (like the IUD) dropped by one-third, thousands of women have attempted self-induced abortion, the maternal mortality rate doubled, and the percentage of births covered by Medicaid has increased. Given that the costs to the government -- yes, *you* the taxpayer -- rise, the economic consequences of denying birth control extend far beyond individual circumstance.

Want to do something about it?

Find out if your state guarantees contraceptive coverage with no copay and contact your representatives at the state level. Earlier this month Nevada became the fifth state to codify the ACA's birth control benefit into state law. At least 15 states have similar legislation pending.

Support organizations on the ground. The Ms. Foundation for Women funds women-led grassroots organizations fighting for women's health across the country. Check out grantee partner Raising Women's Voices for resources on how the ACA has benefitted women and why it is so critical that we expand access to the full range of reproductive health services.

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Direct Action and Black Liberation: Insights From the BlackOUT Collective

Truthout - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 21:00

In the age of Trump, when most people are involved in short-term resistance, the BlackOUT Collective in collaboration with Movement Generation and the Ecology Center is focused on long-term radical actions, such as occupying public areas and creating community spaces, and pushing for concrete discussions about what's owed to people whose ancestors were enslaved, says Chinyere Tutashinda, co-director of the BlackOUT Collective.

Organizers in Oakland hold a day of action on June 19, 2017, to reclaim vacant land in Oakland and mark the unfulfilled promises of Juneteenth. (Photo: Zoé Samudzi)

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Since election night 2016, the streets of the US have rung with resistance. People all over the country have woken up with the conviction that they must do something to fight inequality in all its forms. But many are wondering what it is they can do. In this ongoing "Interviews for Resistance" series, experienced organizers, troublemakers and thinkers share their insights on what works, what doesn't, what has changed and what is still the same. Today's interview is the 48th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Juneteenth is not a federal holiday -- but it should be. It is the day that the news of emancipation reached the last group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, months after the Emancipation Proclamation and even the official end of the Civil War. To mark the day, and its unfulfilled promises, a group of organizers planned a day of action -- a day of reclaiming vacant land, 40 acres in 40 cities to be precise. From Atlanta to Oakland, Chicago to New Orleans, anchored by the BlackOUT Collective and Movement Generation, Black people claimed and held land, taking space to have community dinners, put vacant spaces back into the commons, and challenge gentrification as well as amplify the demand for reparations. Chinyere Tutashinda of the BlackOUT Collective told me about the plan.

Sarah Jaffe: Monday was Juneteenth. For people who don't know what that is, can you tell us, first of all, the history of the day and why it is important to mark it with action?

Chinyere Tutashinda: Juneteenth is a very interesting and sad story all wrapped in one. It actually celebrates and commemorates the day when a group of enslaved Black folks in Texas found out about the Emancipation Proclamation -- that slavery was officially over in their area and they could be a part of the Union army. This happened months after the Proclamation was declared. That happened in February and in June they found out that they were actually free. It celebrates and commemorates the day of freedom.... It took months and months of networks of enslaved folks to be able to get that message to them. Juneteenth is the day that commemorates that.

Tell us about the actions that are taking place and the significance of the plan that you guys went forward with.

BlackOUT Collective in collaboration with Movement Generation and Ecology Center began having conversations ... Movement Gen approached us and said we decided to really structure and shift some of our work to focus on Black liberation, and what does that look like? As a group that is primarily rooted in direct action, we really wanted to jump on the opportunity to expand our work a little bit further and play around with what these long-term and protracted actions look like and [being] in a relationship, one, with the land and then, two, really thinking about conversations around Black liberation tied to land and to reparations. Knowing that if we are talking about freedom in this country, then we also need to be having a real concrete discussion about what's owed to people who have a history of enslavement.

Organizers in Oakland hold a day of action on June 19, 2017, to reclaim vacant land in Oakland and mark the unfulfilled promises of Juneteenth. (Photo: Zoé Samudzi)

Talk a little bit more about the actions and the places where these are taking place.

It is a bit of a long project, actually. We have been working with groups in about 12 cities across the country to develop a politic around it, to really think about what their relationship to the land is, what their relationship to the community is, and then where it makes sense for their local spaces.

Then, we put out a call to action about a month ago inviting people to join us in this project. Actions are going to take place across the country in a variety of different ways. Some people are looking at long-term occupations and creating community spaces. Some are just daylong actions where people are holding conversations about reparations, land and Black liberation and how all three of those are tied together. They'll be different, but the goal is to be able to take up space, build communities, and be in right relationship with each other and with the community at large.

There were a few spaces held like this last summer in Chicago and in Los Angeles.

There were. We helped with the freedom actions last summer that were in response to the murder of Alton Sterling. Out of that, one of the actions was Freedom Square in Chicago that was held by folks from BYP [Black Youth Project 100] and a bunch of other different organizations that really played around with "What does it mean to hold space?" And they did so at a place where Black people had been tortured and imprisoned and recently won a case of reparations for some of the former conditions and the atrocity that had happened to them. So, people have been playing around with it, and I know the LA [Black Lives Matter] chapter last summer also did occupations and held theirs really long with the Freedom Now actions, as well.

Tell me about the importance of holding the space and of talking about reparations. In a time when Donald Trump is president it can seem like everything is short-term resistance. Talk about doing radical actions and making radical demands in this moment.

There is a huge upheaval on the left, I would say.... There has been a huge upheaval in this country around the results of the election and people going, "What to do?" and "What does it mean?" and all of this stuff. You have hundreds of thousands of newly activated people, but it is really critical that even in this moment, that we continue to remember that the struggle is long and that it is one that requires us to not only just react to things that are happening, coming down from the federal government or local government or state government, but it also requires us to really think about how we are in relationships ... with each other, with the land around us, and understanding the history of oppression in this country. Which is one of the reasons why this action in particular is not just about the current moment, but it is rooted in history and rooted in land.

Organizers in Oakland hold a day of action on June 19, 2017, to reclaim vacant land in Oakland and mark the unfulfilled promises of Juneteenth. (Photo: Zoé Samudzi)

Tell us a little bit about the BlackOUT Collective, where that came from and the work you have been doing over the recent years.

We started in 2014, literally in front of the Ferguson Police Department from a group of trainers -- some trainers from the Ruckus Society, which is a nonviolent direct action training group and some trainers with the Center for Story-based Strategy. We were sitting there, and as we were trying to come together as a group of Black trainers, realizing that we'd reached out to a lot of people we knew who had done direct actions, but there weren't that many who identified themselves as direct-action trainers as Black people and wanted to know "How do we shift that?" We wanted to shift that. We wanted that to grow. We wanted that to change drastically.... As Black people, we have been using direct action tactics for hundreds of years fighting for our own liberation.

So, we started there and have continued to grow. We trained, over the course of two and a half years, almost a thousand Black people in direct action tactics. We are slowly growing and building our network through our action practitioners and are going to have our first all-Black practitioner camp and visioning session this summer. We have also worked really closely within leadership positions within the Movement for Black Lives. So, a lot of the national calls to action, we have been supporting locally and nationally. That is a little bit about who we are.

We talked about the need to keep making forward-looking demands, but what do you think has changed in terms of the Movement for Black Lives in a world where Trump is president?

There are a lot of people who are out on the streets ... I think there is a lot of interest and a lot of people who have been newly politicized and woken up to the fact that now Trump is our president. But, when I think around what has been going on within the Movement for Black Lives and organizations that are part of that constellation -- because this is not new for us and because a lot of folks, particularly those in the South, have been living under conditions very similar to the ones that Trump is trying to enact nationally -- there was just a different level of "What does that mean for us?"

People have been really focusing on strengthening their organizing and strengthening their base building and trying to build and do strategy in just different ways. People are noticing there are less people on the streets, but there are not necessarily less people in our organizations or less people doing local work. I think as people are building and are slowly growing, the work that you will see [will] come into fruition in the next year or so.

It is interesting to me that the first round of these global uprisings was really outside of organizations, and with the Movement for Black Lives, we have really seen the growth of these organizations that have been around now for several years. I wonder if you could talk about the challenges and the successes of building these organizations that have lasted.

I think it is both/and. I would say that there are a lot of new organizations that [have] sprung up in the last couple of years and then there are a lot of baby organizations that started a few years before, say 2014, and were in their growing phases and since then have really blossomed and have been nourished in their organizing the last few years. But, it is a struggle. There is a struggle in teaching people who are newly politicized and even for those who have been organizing for a really long time.

There is a lot of excitement in really thinking about new ways to organize ourselves, new ways to continue to absorb the new people who are interested and excited and want to be involved. I think that is happening. There has been a lot of action on the street. There is also a lot of action that is happening in buildings and in classrooms and in meetings as people are really growing through organizing strategies and new ways to be in community with one another.

You made a point about people having been living under governments like Trump and that particularly for Black people, Trump may have not have been as much of a surprise as he was for some other folks in this country. I'm thinking about this in connection with the fact that we are often disconnected from our history in this country, which is why I wanted to start out by asking you to tell people what Juneteenth is. I would love for you to talk about the importance of knowing the history of struggle in this country, and why that is important to understand the politics we are dealing with today.

If we don't know history, we will very often think that what is happening now just all of a sudden happened. We also, especially as oppressed people, will take in the story that we are continuously told around individualism, around meritocracy, and believe that you are where you are, or your people are, because of something that you personally did right or that you didn't do wrong and not understanding that there are systems at play, that there is a long history of oppression in this country, that things are set up intentionally to work a certain way.

So, unless we really study and take time to study history, then it is very easy to become divorced from that and it is very easy to individualize it and to take that in.

How can people keep up with you and the BlackOUT Collective and find out more information on the Juneteenth actions?

There are a couple of ways. We have our website, BlackOUTCollective.org. We also are on social media. So, Twitter @blackoutcollect, on Facebook at the BlackOUT Collective. If you are interested in learning more about the Black Land and Liberation Initiative, they can follow us at blacklandandliberation.org/, as well as on social media.

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

Categories: Latest News

MoveOn Criticizes Senate Democrats, Republicans for Passage of New Iran Sanctions Bill

Commondreams - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 16:39
MoveOn.org

 Last week, the United States Senate voted in favor of passing new economic sanctions on Iran with overwhelming support, with the exception of Senators Bernie Sanders (D-VA) and Rand Paul (R-KY). The Iranian government is already calling the sanctions a breach of the Iran Nuclear deal, and policy analysts in the U.S. say such sanctions increase the risk of war between the United States and Iran.

Anna Galland, executive director of MoveOn.org, had the following statement:

Categories: Latest News

NAACP Condemns Weakening of DOJ Civil Rights Enforcement Powers

Commondreams - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 16:37
NAACP

 The NAACP released the following statement after the Justice Department issued guidance to the Civil Rights division to settle cases without using consent decrees: no-fault agreements that have helped de-segregate schools, reform police departments, defend religious freedom and ensure access for the disabled.       

Categories: Latest News

Concerned Americans Say New GMO Regs Would Make Oversight Worse, Not Better

Commondreams - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 16:34
Center for Food Safety and Friends of the Earth

Today marks the close of three U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) public comment periods on proposed changes to the oversight of genetically engineered (GE) crops and animals. Nearly 100,000 individuals, along with 65 leading environmental, food safety, consumer, and farm groups, are calling on USDA and FDA to substantially strengthen their proposed rules to better protect farmers, the general public and the environment from harmful GE plants and risky GE animals.

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Wyoming Governor Attacks Endangered Species Act

Commondreams - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 09:40
Center for Biological Diversity

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has attacked the Endangered Species Act, saying, “It’s not good industry, it’s not good for business and, quite frankly, it’s not good for the species.” He added that Wyoming “can’t be a zoo for endangered species” and that the Act is not just bad for Wyoming, but for the country. 

Mead’s remarks came during a speech to the Wyoming Mining Association on Friday, June 16th in Sheridan, Wyo.

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Supreme Court Has a Chance to Restore Voting Power to People Once and For All

Commondreams - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 08:53
Patriotic Millionaires

This morning, following the US Supreme Court's decision to hear a case with the potential to end hyper-partisan gerrymandering, Chair of the Patriotic Millionaires Morris Pearl, former managing director at BlackRock Inc., issued the following statement:

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ACLU, Advocates Raise Alarm About Impact of American Health Care Act on People With Disabilities

Commondreams - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 08:50
ACLU

The American Civil Liberties Union, more than a dozen disability rights organizations, and several senators will sponsor a congressional briefing today that will examine the devastating impact of Medicaid per capita caps on people with disabilities.

Categories: Latest News

Trump Ignores Latest London Attack on Muslims

Truthout - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 07:59

President Trump addresses the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise and others at a baseball field where congressional Republicans were practicing, from the White House in Washington, June 14, 2017. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)

In an attack British law enforcement are treating as "terrorism," a 48-year-old white man in London plowed his van into a group Muslim worshipers outside a mosque early Monday, killing one and injuring at least ten others.

Citing witnesses, the Guardian reports that after deliberately targeting pedestrians, the driver "got out of the van and shouted 'I want to kill Muslims' before onlookers pinned him to the ground." The man was held until police arrived and Sky News reports that it was the mosque's imam who prevented some in the tense and angry crowd from beating the man.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan condemned the violence as "a horrific terrorist attack on innocent people. We don't yet know the full details, but this was clearly a deliberate attack on innocent Londoners, many of whom were finishing prayers during the holy month of Ramadan."

Associated Press video:

London has seen an uptick in violent politically-motivated attacks in recent months, including a bombing outside a pop concert in Manchester on May 22 that killed twenty-two people and an attack in London by three Islamic extremists earlier this month in which the perpetrators used both a van and then knives to kill eight people and injure many others.

Though US President Donald Trump was quick to denounce those earlier attacks, on Monday morning -- with the targets and victims Muslim and the alleged assailant a white male -- the president found better things to do with his Twitter account. Though hours had gone by since the attack, Trump first promoted an appearance by his lawyer on Fox News (that tweet was later deleted) and then he lashed out at Democrats for blocking his agenda.

The Dems want to stop tax cuts, good healthcare and Border Security.Their ObamaCare is dead with 100% increases in P's. Vote now for Karen H

-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 19, 2017

Trump seems to have deleted this tweet plugging his lawyer's appearance on Fox. pic.twitter.com/DeLX94b8JE

-- Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) June 19, 2017
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Meet the Southern Senators Critical to Blocking Obamacare's Repeal

Truthout - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 07:56

Before leaving town for the July 4 recess, the GOP-controlled US Senate is expected to vote on a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as "Obamacare" -- and last week Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky put the proposal on the fast track.

The measure, which could be brought up for a vote at any time without a single public hearing, is controversially being written in secret, so details are scarce. But there have been reports that lawmakers are discussing phasing out the ACA's Medicaid expansion over seven years rather than the two-year schedule set out in the American Health Care Act, the deeply unpopular Obamacare repeal bill the House passed last month. There have also reportedly been discussions among senators about a provision preventing insurance companies from charging higher premiums for people with pre-existing conditions, which the House measure did not include, and about preserving some Obamacare taxes to delay funding cuts.

The House passed its bill before getting an analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which eventually concluded that the plan would result in 23 million fewer Americans having health insurance by 2026. The House plan would also cut Medicaid by $800 billion to provide tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations, and it would defund Planned Parenthood. President Trump reportedly called the House bill "mean" and urged Republican senators to craft a more generous version.

In addition, the CBO found that the House plan would dramatically raise average premiums, with older Americans expected to be most severely affected. Nationwide, premiums would be expected to rise by $1,130 per year, according to an analysis released last week by the Center for American Progress. The increase would be even greater in the South at $1,210. While Alaska would experience the largest average annual increase at $2,499, it's followed by the Southern states of West Virginia at $1,684 and North Carolina at $1,589.

In an effort to block these possibilities from becoming realities, the Indivisible Project, a 501c4 nonprofit progressive network aiming to defeat the Trump agenda, has identified 10 states with Republican senators that it regards as key to blocking repeal of the existing health care law. Its "TrumpCare Ten" initiative includes three states in the South -- Arkansas, Louisiana and West Virginia -- that have expanded Medicaid under the ACA to cover more low-income residents.

Those three are also among the states where residents report the worst health status in the nation. West Virginia ranks first among states in terms of residents reporting poor or fair health status, with Arkansas following in second place and Louisiana in seventh.

Here are the Southern senators considered critical to preserving the ACA:

 Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. Under the health care bill passed by the House, 77,300 West Virginians would lose Medicaid coverage, health insurance premiums would go up by $1,006 in 2018, and 122,800 residents would lose insurance coverage by 2026. Capito is among the moderate Republican senators from states that have expanded Medicaid who've proposed phasing out that expansion more gradually, thus giving states more time to cut program costs and preserve coverage. Elected to the US Senate in 2014 after stints in the West Virginia House of Delegates and the US House, Capito holds a bachelor's degree in zoology from Duke University and a master's in education from the University of Virginia. The health care and insurance industries are among the top contributors to her campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics' OpenSecrets.org database. Besides being a focus of the Indivisible campaign, Capito is being targeted in pro-ACA TV ads sponsored by a group called Save My Care and by senior advocacy group AARP.

 Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. The House-passed health care bill would have big implications for Louisiana, where Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards expanded the Medicaid program last year. Under the House plan, 170,900 Louisianans would stand to lose Medicaid coverage, insurance premiums would rise by an average of $895 in 2018, and 343,400 people would lose insurance coverage by 2026. Along with fellow moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Cassidy unveiled a health care reform plan earlier this year that would have given states the option to continue operating under the ACA, but it failed to gain momentum. Last week Cassidy said he was feeling "very encouraged" by the legislation now being discussed by his fellow senators. Elected to the US Senate in 2014 following years of service in the US House and Louisiana Senate, Cassidy is a physician who earned his medical degree from the Louisiana State University School of Medicine. In 1998, before entering politics, he helped found the Greater Baton Rouge Community Clinic to provide uninsured residents with access to free health care. The health care, insurance and pharmaceutical industries are major contributors to his campaign.

Tom Cotton of Arkansas. Though a deep red state, Arkansas expanded Medicaid under ACA using a private option model in which the program's funds pay for private insurance offered through the law's insurance exchanges. Under the House repeal plan, an estimated 23,800 Arkansans would lose Medicaid coverage, while insurance premiums would climb by $754 in 2018 and 180,900 people would lose insurance coverage by 2026. Even though he's a staunch conservative, Cotton has been an outspoken critic of the House health care bill and has reportedly been searching for a compromise plan that would avoid causing too much pain for his constituents. Elected to the US Senate in 2014 after one term in the US House, Cotton attended Harvard Law School, worked as an attorney in private practice, and enlisted in the US Army, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The health care and insurance industries are major contributors to his campaign.

Categories: Latest News

The Republican Thieves Who Stole Health Care

Truthout - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 07:40

House Speaker Paul Ryan after speaking at a news conference about Rep. Devin Nunes and health care legislation, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 6, 2017. (Photo: Gabriella Demczuk / The New York Times)

In their desperation to provide $600 billion in tax cuts to their rich campaign contributors, the Republicans have decided to abandon all the standard rules by which Congress has governed itself. The actions might seem extraordinary, but we know how desperately the richest people in the country need tax cuts, so who can complain if the normal procedures are not being followed?

Unfortunately the debate over the "repeal and replacement" of Obamacare is being confused with a debate over health care. Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Republican caucuses in the House and Senate don't give a damn about health care. This is about getting $600 billion in tax cuts for the people who pay for their campaigns and will offer them jobs as high paid lobbyists when they leave office. The fact that the tax cuts are associated with health care for tens of millions of people is just a coincidence.

If anyone thought the Republicans were interested in actually putting together a health care plan that was better than Obamacare, their actions show beyond any doubt this is not the case. After the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that the first version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) would increase the number of people without insurance by 24 million, the Republican leadership rushed a vote of the revised version before CBO had time to evaluate it.

This is the sort of behavior for which there is not an adequate reservoir of ridicule. How can the Republicans think that they will have a better bill if they don't have input from CBO? Just to be clear, CBO has gotten many things wrong. There are reasons that people can reasonably object to a CBO assessment, as I have occasionally done.

But the manner in which serious people challenge CBO is by reviewing its projections and showing where they are likely to be wrong. They don't just ignore them as the Republicans appear determined to do.

Senate Republicans have been willing to violate rules and norms even more blatantly than the House. The Senate has always been a body that reviewed bills carefully, with committee hearings and extensive debate before actually voting on them.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell apparently plans to hold no hearings on the latest version of the AHCA. It seems, the plan is to keep the bill a tightly guarded secret and then drop it on the floor at the same time it is put to a vote. McConnell will use the rules on budget reconciliation to allow the bill to be approved with 50 votes, thereby avoiding the need for 60 votes to overcome a filibuster and end debate.

The contrast with the process through which the Affordable Care Act was approved is striking. This bill had dozens of hearings in both chambers. Members from both parties had the opportunity to offer amendments and many of the Republican amendments were approved and incorporated into the law. They also had had the benefit of CBO's assessment of both the core proposal and scores for the major amendments that were proposed.

That is the way legislation is supposed to go through Congress. Incredibly, when the Affordable Care Act was passed, the Republicans still complained about Democrats had "rammed" it through, even with the extensive opportunity for Republicans to have input and voice their criticisms.

But the party of Donald Trump has no shame. The mission is to give as much of the country's wealth as possible to the very rich, in as little time as possible, and they are not going to let any concerns about democratic procedures or people's health get in the way.

The big question is the role of the media in this process. To a large extent, reporters are still acting as though everything the Republicans and Donald Trump are doing is normal. This would be like the sports announcer at a basketball game continuing to give the play-by-play even after one team's coach has pulled out a baseball bat and knocked unconscious the star player for the other team and continued to wave the bat menacingly at anyone who made a move for the basket.

It's very clear to anyone with open eyes -- Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump are about giving money to the rich. Nothing else matters to this crew. And apparently much of the media sees it as its job to try to pretend otherwise.

Categories: Latest News

Poor and Middle-Income Families Need a Better Way Than 529s to Save for College

Truthout - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 07:39

A college education is increasingly necessary for success in today's economy. It's also increasingly expensive.

Americans with a college degree earn, on average, US $1 million more over the course of their lives than those without one. At the same time, the cost to attend a four-year school has been climbing 2 percent to 3 percent a year above the rate of inflation.

Unfortunately, American families are not saving enough to cover these rising costs. More than half have no college savings at all. Those that do typically don't set aside nearly enough to pay for even one child to attend college for one year.

A few decades ago Michigan tried to change this by helping state residents save for college. This eventually morphed into the 529 plan. Yet after more than 20 years, only 2.5 percent of households have one.

Part of the failure is a lack of communication, which is why most states celebrate "529 Day" on May 29 to try to raise awareness about this college savings option. The real reason so few families use them, however, is that 529s don't actually make college more affordable.

The College Affordability Crisis

The rising cost of a college education -- coupled with the lack of adequate savings -- means that students are graduating with a great deal of debt.

Total student debt rose to a record $1.44 trillion in March, about $33,000 per borrower, more than double the level in 2008.

This has both personal and economy-wide consequences, from credit-ruining defaults and significant financial stress to impairing the ability to save enough to buy a home or retire. Money spent repaying these loans means less consumer spending, thus slowing economic growth.

529s to the Rescue?

Enter the 529. The plan's name comes from section 529 of the US tax code, which created it.

In 1986, before 529s existed, Michigan sought to help state residents deal with the rising cost of college by letting them prepay. A tussle over whether Michigan's plans qualified for a tax exemption led Congress to pass section 529 in 1996, which exempted earnings in these plans from federal taxes.

Today all 50 states offer a 529 plan. Families can put after-tax income in a college savings plan that then grows tax-free. Arizona, Kansas, Missouri, Montana and Pennsylvania also offer state income tax deductions for money put into a 529 savings plan.

Why 529s Haven't Worked

While their intention was good, in practice they've done little for those who need the most help paying for college.

For starters, half of families saving for college don't even know 529s exist, and those that do say they don't understand them because the investment options are too complex.

More importantly, 529 plans are poorly designed to help low- and middle-income families. Their main selling point is their tax savings, but this doesn't help families that don't make a lot of money and thus don't have a large tax liability. Savings in a 529 also count against families when they apply for financial aid, and there are tax penalties if the money is not used to pay for college expenses.

That's why only 0.3 percent of households in the bottom half of the income distribution (under $56,516 in 2015) have 529 accounts, while 16 percent of the top 5 percent do.

In addition to all this, 529 plans cost the federal government close to $2 billion per year in lost tax revenue for a benefit that mostly helps upper-income families.

Ending the 529

That's why President Obama proposed eliminating the 529 tax break in 2015. He quickly dropped the idea, however, after encountering strong bipartisan opposition.

While it may have been bad politics to propose killing 529s without replacing them with something else, in our view ending the plans is the right thing to do. There are better ways for the federal government to invest $2 billion and make college more affordable.

One excellent way would be to increase the Pell Grant -- currently $5,920 -- which has been shown to increase college enrollment rates for students who do not come from wealthy households.

Another option is to follow the example of New York, which recently made tuition free at state public colleges for residents with household incomes below $125,000. A program in Tennessee provides free community college to all state high school students, which has significantly increased enrollment rates.

In sum, 529 plans have failed to help low- and middle-income households pay for college. Instead, these plans benefit the financial industry (via the high management fees) and wealthy families that do not need the help.

It is time to replace them with something that will actually help make college more affordable.

Categories: Latest News

"If You Work a Full-Time Job, You Shouldn't Be Earning a Poverty Wage"

Truthout - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 07:24

It seems many in corporate media have a hard time believing that anyone would be outraged that someone doesn't support a living wage, however they say it, because the idea that raising the minimum wage is "controversial," that it kills jobs and hurts business, is such a hardy media perennial. We talked about the myths and misinformation surrounding the living wage with economist Holly Sklar.

Striking Walmart employees and their supporters rally outside of a Walmart store in Pico Rivera, California, Thursday October 4, 2012. (Photo: UFCW International Union)

For the June 9, 2017, episode, CounterSpin reaired a piece originally broadcast on November 14, 2015, in which Janine Jackson interviewed Holly Sklar about living wage economics.

MP3 Link

In a TV debate with Democrat Jon Ossoff, Georgia Republican Karen Handel said: "This is an example of a fundamental difference between a liberal and a conservative. I do not support a livable wage." Many people remarked on what was called a gaffe, but some took pains to make clear that it was just a matter of awkward phrasing. What she "could have and should have said," counseled New York magazine's Ed Kilgore, is "that a $15-per-hour minimum wage, the most commonly advanced Democratic proposal, was too high for a place like Atlanta, with its relatively low cost of living." CNN pointed out that Handel's remark went viral "despite her follow-up," which was that she instead wants "an economy that is robust, with low taxes and regulation."

Democrats are "jumping on" Handel for her words, CNN says, and they cite a tweet from Tom Perez saying those words prove she has no business being in Congress. But Perez's tweet comes with the article, and it actually reads, "If Karen Handel doesn't support a living wage for working Americans, she has no business being in Congress." It seems many in corporate media have a hard time believing that anyone would be outraged that someone doesn't support a living wage, however they say it, because the idea that raising the minimum wage is "controversial," that it kills jobs and hurts business, is such a hardy media perennial.

We talked about the myths and misinformation surrounding the living wage over a year ago with economist Holly Sklar. She's the author of Raise the Floor: Wages and Policies That Work for All of Us, and she's CEO of a group called Business for a Fair Minimum Wage. Here again is our still relevant conversation with Holly Sklar.

Janine Jackson: Well, I don't think anyone truly believes that Walmart would have to go out of business if they paid workers more. It seems like more an ideological argument that if they can make a squillion dollars, then they're entitled to every penny. But the rhetoric often tells us that it's the smaller businesses that would suffer, that wouldn't be able to hire or wouldn't be able to grow, and that seems to be what you're countering fairly directly.

Holly Sklar: Yes. That in general, we know that it's absolutely the case that you cannot build a strong economy on a falling wage floor, and the minimum-wage adjustment for the cost of living has fallen dramatically. At the federal level, $7.25 is actually lower, adjusted for inflation, than the minimum wage of 1950, and it's a third lower than 1968. And so you cannot build a strong economy, and you cannot really build a strong business for the long haul, on falling real wages.

Most businesses in the country are small businesses, and so, by definition, most of our members are small businesses, but we have some very large businesses as well. And we have business alliances. For example, the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce, which represents about 30,000 businesses, supports raising the minimum wage.

Small businesses understand very well that workers are also consumers. If there's not enough money in the wage base of the economy, of people that they are hoping will come in and buy their goods and services, they feel it every day. And they also feel very directly what it's like to have a worker who, if they're underpaid, if they're not really earning enough to even keep a roof overhead, put food on the table, buy the winter jacket of a growing kid, they're distracted by this financial stress that's continual. And so they believe very strongly that the workers should earn enough so that they can focus on the business, on the customers, and not be constantly worried about just how are they going to make ends meet, how are they going to make the rent this month.

You've just talked about the history, and I think it's interesting; Donald Trump and his ilk seem to connect holding down wages to this idea of "making America great again," and that's more than ironic, given the actual history.

Yeah, well, my point is that's a big myth that has been sold. I mean, if cutting wages and cutting benefits and cutting -- just this whole notion that the more you can squeeze out of the worker, at the same time as in the giant corporations, not the small businesses but in the bigger corporations, you're going the exact opposite way, and you have more and more of the revenue of the company going to fewer and fewer hands at the top. You know, we've already tested that, that's my point. But that model is delivering us worse economic growth, that model is giving us a shrinking middle class, and that model is what produced the greatest economic meltdown since the Great Depression.

There's nothing theoretical about that. We have seen what this business model and this economic model produces, and it's terrible. It's terrible for workers and it's also terrible for most businesses. The biggest thing businesses have complained about in recent years is that they're just not seeing enough consumer demand, they're not seeing enough consumer buying power, they need more. You know, you need people to buy what they're making, in order to sustain the business and to grow the business.

And there's obviously a direct connection -- or I say obviously, but folks like Donald Trump, you know, ideologically they don't want to see it as obvious -- you need people to have enough wages to be able to buy what they need, and if you're going to have a growing middle class, you need people to be able to buy more than just the bare necessities. Right? And that's what we've lost sight of.

And yet, you can open any paper and find somebody saying, well, yes, you know, ideally workers might make more, but the tough reality is, if companies raise wages, that will lead to joblessness, that jobs will be destroyed, and they present studies and numbers and charts that seem to make that argument. Is it really something where the economics are debated, or highly contentious of how this would work?

At our website, BusinessForAFairMinimumWage.org, is actually a research summary, the most rigorous research on whether raising the minimum wage causes job loss. And it does not. In other words, if you look at all the actual minimum wage increases in recent decades, and not projecting forward and saying, "based on my particular, often ideologically driven economic assumptions going forward," but if I'm looking back and looking at actual minimum wage increases, and not being simplistic and, like, saying, "I'll just pretend that there wasn't an economic meltdown in 2008 when I'm looking at what the consequence of the minimum wage," but factoring things out.

Anyway, the point is that this rigorous research of actual minimum wage increases really does show that there is either no effect or a slightly positive effect or in some cases slightly negative, but when you look at it overall on balance, does not cause job loss. Just in the last year or two, the states that have raised their minimum wage are actually showing stronger job growth. Now, I'm saying that, that's not one of these rigorous studies. But there's a reason for this; there's a direct connection between, you can't expect people to buy what's being produced by business, to continue to buy at that level or more, if you're driving down wages. It doesn't work.

And one of the ways that this was masked, for a while, was people were using their home equity, for example, going deeper into debt to try and get by, when wages were going down, to continue to maintain living standards. That masked it for a while, but as we know well, that doesn't last forever, and we saw the consequences in the economic meltdown.

Just finally: Making the argument that a higher minimum wage is good for business doesn't preclude the social justice argument, that people simply deserve to be able to survive on their paycheck, does it?

No. If you work a full-time job, you shouldn't be earning a poverty wage. I mean, it's as simple as that. You shouldn't be earning a poverty wage in general, but of course, if you work full-time, at the end of the month, it should add up to what you need to pay rent and the other basics that you have.

And the other thing, if I could just add, because this is important as to why so many of our business people feel very strongly about this, is businesses that are using this better business model, as one that invests in their workers, they really see things like stronger productivity, stronger customer service; they see dramatic reductions, often, in worker turnover. So there are all these factors that are also internal to the business, that bring real improvements in just the way the business is operating, that really is important to your bottom line as well.

We've been speaking with Holly Sklar of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage. They're online at BusinessForAFairMinimumWage.org. Holly Sklar, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

Thank you.

Categories: Latest News

A Psychedelic Spin on "National Security": The Summer of Surprisingly Political Love

Truthout - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 07:09

It's the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. What better place to celebrate than that fabled era's epicenter, San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, where the DeYoung Museum has mounted a dazzling exhibition, chock full of rock music, light shows, posters, and fashions from the mind-bending summer of 1967?

If you tour the exhibit, you might come away thinking that the political concerns of the time were no more than parenthetical bookends to that summer's real action, its psychedelic counterculture. Only the first and last rooms of the large show are explicitly devoted to political memorabilia. The main body of the exhibit seems devoid of them, which fits well with the story told in so many history books. The hippies of that era, so it's often claimed, paid scant attention to political matters.

Take another moment in the presence of all the artifacts of that psychedelic summer, though, and a powerful (if implicit) political message actually comes through, one that couldn't be more unexpected. The counterculture of that era, it turns out, offered a radical challenge to a basic premise of the Washington worldview, then and now, a premise accepted -- and spoken almost ritualistically -- by every president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt: nothing is more important than our "national security."

And believe me, "national security" should go in those scare quotes as a reminder that it's not a given of our world like Mount Whitney or the buffalo. Think of it as an invented idea, an ideological construct something like "the invisible hand of capitalism" or even "liberty and justice for all." Those other two concepts still remain influences in our public life, but like so much else they have become secondary matters since the early days of World War II, when President Roosevelt declared "national security" the nation's number one concern. 

However unintentionally, he planted a seed that has never stopped growing. It's increasingly the political equivalent of the kudzu vine that overruns everything in its path. Since Roosevelt's day, our political life, federal budget, news media, even popular culture have all become obsessively focused on the supposed safety of Americans, no matter what the actual dangers in our world, and so much else has been subordinated to that. The national security state has become a de facto fourth branch of the federal government (though it's nowhere mentioned in the Constitution), a shadow government increasingly looming over the other three.

It says much about the road we've traveled since World War II that such developments now appear so sensible, so necessary. After all, our safety is at stake, right? So the politicians and the media tell us. Who wouldn't be worried in a world where the constant "threats to our national security" are given such attention, even if at the highest levels of government no one seems quite sure just which enemies -- ISIS, Iran, Qatar, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Russia, North Korea -- we should fear most. Who suspected, for example, that Qatar, for so long apparently a U.S. ally in the war against ISIS, would suddenly be cast as that enemy's ally and so a menace to us?

To judge from the increasingly dire warnings of politicians and pundits, the only certainty is that, whoever may be out to get us, we need to be constantly on our guard against new threats. That's where our taxpayer money should go. That's why secrecy rules the day in Washington and normal Americans know ever less about what exactly their government is doing in their name to protect them. It's "a matter of safety," of course. Better safe than sorry, as the saying goes, and even in a democracy better ignorant than sorry, too. 

The most frightening part of living in a national security state is that the world is transformed into little else but a vast reservoir of potential enemies, all bent on our destruction. Immersed in and engulfed by such a culture, it may be hard to remember, or even (for those under 65) to believe, that half a century ago a mass social movement arose that challenged not only our warped notion of security, but the very idea of building national life on the quest for security. Yet that's just what the counterculture of the 1960s did.

The challenge reveals itself most clearly in that culture's psychedelic light shows with their "densely packed, fluid patterning of shapes and fragmented images... [which] literally absorbed audience members into the show," as the DeYoung's website explains. They were events meant to break down all boundaries, even between audience and performers. Posters advertising rock music and light shows displayed the same features and added "distorted forms and unreadable, meandering lettering," all meant to "create an intense visual effect similar to that experienced by the shows' attendees."

In them, a vision of life and a message about it still shines through, one that gives us a glimpse, half a century later, into the most basic values and cultural assumptions of that moment and that movement.

Tear Down the Wall

Novelist Ken Kesey, impresario of the Trips Festival that presaged the Summer of Love, summed up the message in three memorable words: "Outside is inside." When the Beatles kicked off that season with the first classic psychedelic record album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, George Harrison echoed Kesey's vision in his song "Within You Without You," a haunting meditation

"About the space between us all
And the people
Who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion
Never glimpse the truth...
We're all one
And life flows on within you and without you."

What could this possibly have to do with "national security"? Applied to our moment, think of it this way: if we're all one, if outside is indeed inside and within you is without you, then it makes no sense to blame our problems on foreigners and build walls to keep "those people" out of our land and our lives. In Summer of Love terms, it would instead make perfect sense to tear down every wall enclosing our Trumpian world -- walls that are supposed to divide Americans from foreigners, Anglos from Latinos, straights from gays, men from women, elites from the working class, and so on into an endlessly "secure" future.

The Jefferson Airplane, a house band of the Summer of Love, put the message of that moment in an explicitly political context. Presenting themselves as patriotic "Volunteers," they urged Americans to "tear down the walls" so that "we can be together." To be sure, most people remained deaf to such calls. But two summers later, at the Woodstock Festival, a new nation would take an initial step toward creating itself through the revolutionary act of tearing down its own walls and fences. "There was no security," a photographer at Woodstock recalled. "The idea was that it wasn't necessary." By logical extension, today's political borders of all sorts deserve the same treatment because they, too, are unnecessary.

As the hippies came to see it, all the walls and fences we create are more than just unnecessary. They are, as George Harrison sang, illusions born of and built around the fiction of separateness. Recognize that illusion and another one immediately becomes obvious: the fears that spark the obsession with "national security" are largely illusory, too. Yet they are endless because what we are truly trying to fend off is not an external enemy but, in the famed words of President Roosevelt in his first inaugural address, "fear itself." 

At about the time Ken Kesey was hosting his Trips Festival, John Lennon of the Beatles discovered The Psychedelic Experience, a book co-authored by LSD gurus Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert. It moved him to sing that there really was nothing to be afraid of: "Turn off your mind relax and float down stream, It is not dying, it is not dying."

The psychedelic rock shows, light shows, and posters were all meant to turn life into that single swirling stream, dissolving every imaginable boundary line, and so teaching that reality itself is just such a stream. To quote the nineteenth-century poet Walt Whitman (as so many did in the Summer of Love), let yourself be "loos'd of limits and imaginary lines" and "you are henceforth secure, whatever comes or goes."

The most widely read San Francisco intellectual of that year, Alan Watts, caught the moment (and pushed it yet further) in the very title of his book, The Wisdom of Insecurity. He spelled out what the light shows and posters communicated in a flash: what we think of as separate places, inside and outside, are merely two intertwined parts, two different ways of describing a single reality. Ditto for self and other, friend and enemy, life and death. The pursuit of security, he suggested even then, creates an illusory separation between friend and enemy in an effort to protect the self and life against the other and feared death. It is, he insisted, always doomed to fail, since all those opposites are inseparable. And ironically, the more we fail, the more frightened we become, and so the more frantically we pursue both the walling off of others and the illusion of security. Far wiser and more life-enhancing, Watts concluded, was to accept the inevitability of insecurity, the truth that in the stream of life, the next moment is always as unpredictable as it is uncontrollable.

Why worry about security at all if, as Lennon announced just as the Summer of Love was reaching full swing,

"There's nowhere you can be that isn't where
You're meant to be,
It's easy.
All you need is love."

The English language has no word to describe the state where love (if you'll excuse this word) trumps both security and insecurity. The hippies had little interest in finding a new word to describe how life was truly to be experienced, but perhaps, until something better comes along, a term like non-security -- a state of being unconcerned with the whole issue of security -- will do.

The gospel of non-security went forth from Haight-Ashbury (and New York City's East Village) across the land. Hippies everywhere (even in Nebraska, my wife, who comes from there, assures me) assiduously cultivated such a state of mind. It was perhaps the most essential byproduct of their counterculture and it helped underpin a mass movement, seldom considered in the context of national politics, that remains the most radical and powerful challenge yet to Washington's present ruling passion for "national security" and the vast panoply of 17 intelligence outfits, tens of millions of classified documents, a surveillance apparatus that would have stunned the totalitarian states of the twentieth century, and a military into which taxpayer dollars are invested at an unparalleled rate.

When the Counterculture Met the New Left

Fifty years later, the counterculture's thinking on the subject of security may sound like little more than a quaint and spacy fantasy. Even then, non-security was light-years away from the reality of most Americans in a country that would soon elect Richard Nixon president. California, always at the cutting edge, had already made former Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan governor and so began to pave the superhighway that has now led Donald Trump to the White House.

President Trump and his minions are visibly eager to take money from people in need and lavish it on what is already the world's largest military budget, larger than those of numerous other major powers combined. They are just as eager to spend money on a wall stretching from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico, high, wide, and forbidding (or as the president likes to say, "big, fat, [and] beautiful") enough to keep Spanish-speaking foreigners out of the USA. They would also expand the electronic eavesdropping network that can track our every word. And so -- as novelist Kurt Vonnegut would once have said -- it goes. They justify such plans and so much more in the name of -- yes, you guessed it -- "national security" or (more tellingly yet) "homeland security." With such people in power, the very idea of non-security seems beyond utopian, like a concept from outer space.

In some ways that was true in the Summer of Love, too, and not just because, even then, it was so far removed from the reality of a dominant culture that would handily survive its challenge. There was also the brute fact that, when thousands of young people heeded the siren call and traveled to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood to experience that season of love in person, it essentially became another crime- and poverty-ridden inner-city slum. Look magazine journalist William Hedgepath, for instance, found the hippies there "working toward an open, loving, tension-free world," but also found himself "spending the night in a filthy, litter-strewn dope fortress." 

Before we rush to judgment, however, it's important to remember a reality often overlooked in the history books on hippiedom: most people whose countercultural lives were touched by the gospel of non-security were also touched by, and sometimes swept up in, the much larger political movement to end the war in Vietnam. This meant that their largely unspoken challenge to "national security" was woven together with another kind of challenge, one that came from the more overtly political New Left leadership of that antiwar movement.

Unlike the hippies, the New Left had no particular interest in experiencing the unsaid and undefined. They were eager instead to find precise words to make their anti-establishment case. And they first did so in 1962. That year, members of a group that called itself Students for a Democratic Society drafted a manifesto at a United Auto Workers retreat in Port Huron, Michigan. It, too, ran against the security thinking of that moment by proclaiming that "real security cannot be gained by propping up military defenses, but only through the hastening of political stability, economic growth, greater social welfare, improved education."

Nonetheless, the writers of the Port Huron Statement remained worried about security in a sense that any American of the time would have understood instantly. They, too, divided the world into us and them, friends and enemies, good guys and bad guys. "Economic institutions should be in the control of national, not foreign, agencies," they declared, critiquing America's imperial role in the world. "The destiny of any country should be determined by its nationals, not by outsiders." The best their manifesto could foresee in the world arena was "coexistence" between America and its foes, fueled by economic rather than military competition.

In that sense, radical as it was, the statement offered no direct challenge to the bipartisan consensus that security was every American's most important concern. Indeed, its language on security issues might easily be endorsed today by the most progressive voices in the Democratic Party, and on the issue of national sovereignty, eerily enough, by Donald Trump and his supporters.

Still, the New Left was focused on using rational planning to move toward a future of more genuine security and less fear for all. In such a future, everyone would be able to develop his or her potential to the fullest, free from a major source of insecurity seldom mentioned more than half a century later: rampant technology deployed by a rabid capitalism that values profits above people. 

The counterculture went further, even if rather incoherently, aiming to create a present in which the whole question of security, if it didn't simply disappear, would at least become a distinctly secondary concern. It would be a present in which, adapting a phrase of that moment, all you needed was love. Charles Perry, the historian of Haight-Ashbury, recalled one hippie who summed up the difference between his tribe and the more political types this way: "They talk about peace. We are peace."

Each of these sixties critiques of "national security" was, in its own way, utopian in terms of the realities of its moment, and most radicals of the time, however unconsciously, did their best to negotiate a path between the two. Non-security -- an escape from the usual Washington concerns -- remained an ideal then, and today it's hard to even remember that anyone ever challenged the idea that "national security" should dominate our lives, our fears, and our dreams.

Half a century later, it should be clear that Washington's present quest for "national security" can never end. The national security state itself is a machine that constantly fuels the very fears it claims to fight. In doing so, what it actually condemns Americans to is nothing less than a permanent state of insecurity.

The quest for a more balanced (or even unbalanced) approach to security in the 1960s pointed a way toward at least the possibility of an American world of diminished fears. Now, with a man in the Oval Office who sees enemies everywhere and declares that he alone can save us from them, and with nearly 4 in 10 Americans still approving of the way he's trying to "save" us, if only there were a radical critique of "national security" somewhere in our world.

Perhaps it's time to take a retrospective look at that Summer of Love moment, half a century ago, and reacquaint ourselves with the two kinds of radicalism of the time, one promoting a more humane idea of security and the other aimed at building a new kind of life that transcended the question of security altogether. Perhaps between them they might spark some truly new thinking about how to respond to the power and dominance of our national security state and to a way of life that shuts us down, locks us in, ratchets up our terrors, and offers us a vision of more of the same until the end of time.

Categories: Latest News

Right-Wing Calls for Muslim "Internment Camps" Intensify in the US, UK and Germany

Truthout - Sun, 06/18/2017 - 21:00

Shortly after Trump's election in the US, a Holocaust-denying party in Germany proposed a renewed "Warsaw Ghetto" plan to imprison all refugees and asylum seekers. In the US and UK, calls for Muslim "internment camps" are once again spreading within right-wing discourse fueled by media outlets like Fox News.

Activists display signs in the No Ban, No Wall protest at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, January 28, 2017. (Photo: Sarah Ji)

White nationalists in the UK and US have once again begun to advocate for Muslim "internment camps" after the recent terrorist attacks in England.

Thanks in part to a viral, critical piece by New York Daily News writer Shaun King, these renewed calls for the immoral and unconstitutional mass imprisonment of Muslims have been quickly met with widespread condemnation and shock in the US and online.

The day after the recent attack in London, chief Brexit campaigner and white English nationalist UKIP leader Nigel Farage threatened that " ... if there is not action, then the calls for internment will grow" during an interview on Fox News. In the immediate aftermath of the London attack, Farage sided with Trump in disparaging London Mayor Sadiq Khan for not enacting proposed illegal measures against Muslims.

The Fox and Friends panel then turned from Farage to their frequent UK guest contributor, Katie Hopkins, who quickly picked up on the signaling from Farage. "We do need internment camps," she said, almost seemingly prompted. "Before, I would've bought the idea that, no, this gets more people radicalized. You know, that's not the solution. But we've gone beyond the tipping point."

Only two weeks earlier, after a bombing targeting an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, Hopkins had faced widespread condemnation for proposing a "final solution" to what she alluded to as the Muslim "problem" in Europe. The comments led to the cancellation of her talk radio show, and she was fired by Leading Britain's Conversation -- her former employer.

The next day, the argument had already reached conservative talk radio stations. "Why don't you intern all of them before they run people over on a bridge or stab people in the street?" said white nationalist Michael Savage to his radio listeners. "It was done during World War II."

This represents an old and sustained argument for imposing FDR-style Japanese internment camps upon Muslim communities in the West -- an argument that has been consistently rehashed by white nationalists since 9/11. The idea was first popularized by Michelle Malkin in her 2004 book, In Defense of Internment: The Case for 'Racial Profiling' in World War II and the War on Terror.

In fact, Malkin appeared on Fox and Friends that day to add her own endorsement to renewed calls for the mass imprisonment of Muslims made just the day before:

It's Arnold Toynbee, the historian, who said that civilizations die by suicide -- not by outside forces. And this is exactly what's happening. You've got people who are exploiting 21st century technology to try and drag all of us back into the stone ages.

The following day, UK Prime Minister Theresa May appeared for her last interview only 36 hours before the British general election. If human rights laws stood in the way of combating terrorism, May stated, then "we will change those laws so we can do it." To many following the story, particularly far-right voters whom May has been courting for support, the words were seen as even more signaling in favor of rounding up Muslims into camps for subsequent deportation.

The case highlights how rapidly the same old repetitious racist discourse of white nationalists can quickly gain steam nationally before disseminating internationally.

A Renewed "Warsaw Ghetto" Plan Surfaces After Trump

Meanwhile, a similar racist plan for the mass imprisonment of refugees and asylum seekers has been mulled over in Germany by the Holocaust-denying Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party, which has gained an alarming degree of support.

In December 2016 former AfD lawmaker Claudia Martin disclosed to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that her faction had been drafting their own legislation for what she called a "Warsaw ghetto" plan. Martin had resigned from the AfD only days prior to disclosing the plan. In the leaked document, AfD parliamentarians outline their plans for the mass imprisonment of all refugees and asylum seekers inside Germany before deporting them back to their nations of origin -- many of which would be hostile to returning individuals.

Much like Theresa May's calls for changing any human rights laws that get in the way of anti-terrorism measures, the working draft from the AfD advocates the suspension of numerous constitutional human rights articles in German Basic Law. The "inhabitants" of the proposed internment camps for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers -- or the mass imprisonments that the leaked document refers to as being placed into separated "communities" -- would be afforded only "limited basic rights."

Since 2015, Germany has accepted a little under 1 million refugees, largely from Syria and Afghanistan.

Claudia Martin had uploaded a video to YouTube and then spoke to the press. Martin noted somewhat nervously that since Trump's recent election, her party had now begun "proposing solutions for the refugee crisis that bring the Warsaw ghettos to mind" only a month later.

In her description of the proposed AfD legislation, Martin suggested that it bore striking resemblance to Hitler's "Madagaskar-Plan" to detain all European Jews for imminent deportation to the former French colony in Africa.

The Madagascar Plan was announced in 1940. It led to the early establishment of enclosed camps and ghettos, such as the Warsaw Ghetto, which imprisoned more than 400,000 Jews. The network of camps and ghettos provided the Nazis with immediate slave labor, along with an expedient transition to the "final solution" after the 1940 plan was discarded to instead implement the Holocaust beginning in January 1942.

"I have to make the observation that we as a party are becoming less and less distinguishable from -- but instead slowly becoming -- the very thing that we have always been accused of," Martin remarked in her warning to the German public.

A month later, the same AfD Baden-Württemberg faction tried to block state funding allocated for field trips to visit former death camp sites teaching German schoolchildren about the history of the Holocaust. AfD lawmakers demanded that the school trips involve "significant German historic sites," such as medieval German castles, instead of teaching a "one-sided concentration" of Nazi crimes.

These actions were in support of the AfD state leader for Thüringen, Björn Höcke, who went so far as to denounce the national Holocaust memorial in Germany as a "monument of disgrace in the heart of our capital." Much of the speech in a Dresden beer hall involved Höcke denouncing the three-day firebombing of the civilian city in Nazi Germany.

"The big problem is that Hitler is presented as an absolutely evil figure," Höcke decried while being interviewed by the Wall Street Journal over the matter.

German Jewish groups were quick to point out that the speech delivered by Höcke came just three days before the 75th anniversary marking the Wannsee Conference. Nazi SS leaders first gathered in Berlin on January 20, 1942, to coordinate how their various departments would implement the "final solution" of genocide, which was then carried out on top of the existing Madagascar Plan networks of camp and ghetto slave labor that had been enacted only 18 months earlier.

A week later, for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Höcke attempted to enter the Buchenwald death camp during a memorial service that he was already barred from attending. Höcke was kicked out, as everyone anticipated.

Not long after that same day on January 27, President Trump signed the first of his two executive orders implementing a ban for Muslim migrants from legally entering the United States.

"On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, you forget the Jews, and later today you plan to issue new executive orders persecuting refugees and immigrants," executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, Steven Goldstein, announced in a public statement over Facebook just hours before the signing.

"Have you no decency?"

Making Germany "Great Again" With a Lingering Nazi Past

AfD supporters and their party leaders have sought to normalize Nazi terms such as völkisch and introduce them back into German discourse. National AfD leaders claim that these efforts are an innocent attempt to rehabilitate highly charged taboo expressions of Nazi fascism "back into a positive light."

Some of these Nazi-era words, such as Lügenpresse ("lying press"), which was favored by Adolf Hitler and Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels, even made its way overseas and onto the national stage in the US during the 2016 presidential campaign. This term was largely accomplished through Breitbart News and the discordant so-called "alt-right" white supremacists online that Breitbart and others feed off of.

The former head of Breitbart News and current chief strategist for the Trump White House, Steve Bannon, has also sought to legitimize such discourse by injecting it into the Islamophobic narratives dominating US politics since the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

Two days after the recent attack in London, which have led to renewed calls for Muslim "internment camps," Beatrix von Storch echoed the lingering sentiments of extreme right-wing populism that were once again trending in the international news. In her YouTube video replete with erroneous statistics, the AfD politician and member of the European Parliament tweeted out that "capacity is exhausted" in Germany.

"Close the borders! #AfD #Migrants," the tweet continues.

Three days after Claudia Martin revealed the "Warsaw ghetto" plan from the AfD to German media, the Berlin attack took place and quickly overshadowed all other reporting. Another prominent AfD state leader on Twitter, Marcus Pretzell, quickly blamed German Chancellor Merkel for not securing the borders before the attacks by tweeting out, "These are Merkel's dead!"

This new approach by the AfD leadership has been described as the party shifting toward an embrace of "Trump-style" politics beginning in early 2015. Parallel to the AfD's recent shift in messaging, an unprecedented wave of xenophobic terrorism has risen in Germany since 2014 that currently amounts to 10 daily hate crime attacks targeting refugees or their housing.

Last May, at its national party conference, the AfD adopted a new party platform calling for an immediate halt to migrants entering Germany, the mass deportation of refugees, and the banning of all mosques and Muslim calls to prayer. In the same breath, the AfD went on to adopt the slogan: "Islam does not belong in Germany" -- a statement that up to 60 percent of German adults reportedly agree with.

At their most recent party conference in April 2017, AfD members shot down their less extremist leadership and reaffirmed their previous platform. The AfD had instead nominated a Holocaust-denying Trump supporter as its main candidate for the upcoming federal elections, Alexander Gauland, who was elected alongside the little-known Alice Weidel.

Weidel harshly criticized German Chancellor Merkel for only banning burqas and has instead proposed that all headscarves should be banned in Germany.

However, one of the rebuffed national AfD leaders chairing the party, Frauke Petry, is still mostly known for advocating that German national police shoot refugees if they cross the border into Germany without permission.

"What are we to think of these 'Germany is colorful' campaigns?" Petry asked her party members in attendance at one rally. "A garbage dump is also colorful," she responded to her own prompted question.

The top AfD candidate is viewed as a strong defender of the party, no matter the controversy, as opposed to the current AfD national chair. While Petry denounced Björn Höcke over his public Nazi apologism and attacks upon Holocaust victims, Gauland stated that Höcke had "not said anything for which he must be ashamed."

Alexander Gauland has also embraced the calls for a Muslim travel ban issued by Trump since late 2015.

In a speech the following Monday after Trump signed his first Muslim travel ban on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Gauland castigated Chancellor Merkel for exposing Germany to the dangers of terrorism and economic inequality. According to Gauland, the current German leader was unable to "get a grip" on either the economy or security of the homeland.

"Trump's voters are opposed to immigration from Southern nations like Mexico. We are opposed to immigration from Islamic countries that are geographically, so to speak, Europe's Mexico," Gauland stated when pressed to contrast developments in his party and Germany to the success of Trump in the US.

"Trump is against the establishment. We are also in line with him."

The AfD had been polling at 16 percent of the national vote, although it has since fallen to 8 percent in March 2017. The party is still widely expected to pass the required 5 percent threshold of the national vote to enter German parliament for the first time later this September. Currently, the AfD has members seated in 13 out of 16 German state parliaments, and even two members representing Germany in the EU parliament.

Upon entering the national lower house, AfD members would then be able to introduce and vote upon legislation for the country with their fellow German lawmakers in the Bundestag.

Categories: Latest News

Advocates Resign en Masse From Trump's HIV/AIDS Council: Trump "Simply Does Not Care" About HIV

Truthout - Sun, 06/18/2017 - 21:00

Six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS have resigned over President Donald Trump's handling of the HIV epidemic. In a joint article published in Newsweek, the six advocates say they no longer feel they can effectively do their jobs under a president "who simply does not care." Trump took down the Office of National AIDS Policy website when he took office, and has not appointed anyone to lead the White House Office of National AIDS Policy. The resignations come as the Trump administration is seeking to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a move which advocates say will especially hurt those affected by HIV/AIDS. We speak to one of the six individuals who resigned, Scott Schoettes. He is the HIV project director at Lambda Legal, a national legal organization serving people living with HIV.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

"Philando Can Be Any of Us": Black Lives Matter Protests Acquittal of Officer in Minnesota Killing

Truthout - Sun, 06/18/2017 - 21:00

In Minnesota, protesters took to the streets Sunday for a third straight day after a St. Anthony police officer was acquitted Friday in the killing of a black motorist he shot five times during a traffic stop last year. Officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted on charges of manslaughter for killing Philando Castile, an African American who worked as a school nutrition services supervisor for the Saint Paul Public Schools. The shooting made international headlines after Castile's girlfriend documented the aftermath of the shooting by broadcasting live on Facebook from the car moments after Castile was shot. In the video, Officer Yanez is seen pointing a gun at her and her 4-year-old daughter. About 2,000 demonstrators gathered outside Minnesota's state Capitol in St. Paul on Friday evening, and a series of speakers demanded justice for people of color in the judicial system and police accountability. Several protesters blocked a main interstate between St. Paul and Minneapolis Friday night, resulting in 18 arrests. Peaceful demonstrations continued throughout the weekend. Protesters also gathered in New York on Saturday. Democracy Now!'s Sam Alcoff filed this report.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In Minnesota, protesters took to the streets Sunday for a third straight day, after a St. Anthony police officer was acquitted Friday in the killing of a black motorist he shot five times during a traffic stop last year. Officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted on charges of manslaughter for killing Philando Castile, an African American who worked as a school nutrition services supervisor for the Saint Paul Public Schools. The shooting made international headlines after Castile's girlfriend documented the aftermath of the shooting by broadcasting live on Facebook from the car moments after Castile was shot. In the video, Officer Yanez is seen pointing a gun at her and her 4-year-old daughter.

DIAMOND REYNOLDS: He was trying to get out his ID and his wallet out his pocket, and he let the officer know that he was -- he had a firearm, and he was reaching for his wallet. And the officer just shot him in his arm. We're waiting for a --

JERONIMO YANEZ: Ma'am, just keep your hands on the wheel!

DIAMOND REYNOLDS: I will, sir. No worries. I will. He just shot his arm off. We got pulled over on Larpenter.

JERONIMO YANEZ: I told him not to reach for it! I told him to get his hand off it!

DIAMOND REYNOLDS: He had -- you told him to get his ID, sir, his driver's license. Oh, my god, please don't tell me he's dead. Please don't tell me my boyfriend just went like that.

JERONIMO YANEZ: Keep your hands where they are, please.

DIAMOND REYNOLDS: Yes, I will, sir. I'll keep my hands where they are. Please, don't tell me this, lord. Please, Jesus, don't tell me that he's gone. Please, don't tell me that he's gone. Please, officer, don't tell me that you just did this to him. You shot four bullets into him, sir. He was just getting his license and registration, sir.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Diamond Reynolds narrating the aftermath of the police shooting of her boyfriend, Philando Castile. Prosecutors opened the trial by playing a police dash cam video of Castile's killing, which shows Officer Yanez opening fire on Castile seven times as he sat in the car. A medical expert testified Castile was struck with five of the rounds, including two which pierced his heart. The jury of seven men, five women, 10 of whom were white, two African-American, deliberated for more than 25 hours over five days before acquitting Officer Yanez on all charges. Philando Castile's mother, Valerie Castile, spoke after the verdict.

VALERIE CASTILE: My son would never jeopardize anyone else's life by trying to pull a gun on an officer. And the gun was not fire-ready. These are some of the facts that came out in the trial. And I am so very, very, very, very, very, very, very disappointed in the system here in the state of Minnesota, because nowhere in the world do you die from being honest and telling the truth. The system continues to fail black people. And it will continue to fail you all. Like I said, because this happened with Philando, when they get done with us, they're coming for you, for you, for you and all your interracial children. Y'all are next.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: About 2,000 demonstrators gathered outside Minnesota's state Capitol in St. Paul on Friday evening, and a series of speakers demanded justice for people of color in the judicial system and police accountability. Several protesters blocked a main interstate between St. Paul and Minneapolis Friday night, resulting in 18 arrests. Peaceful demonstrations continued throughout the weekend.

AMY GOODMAN: Protesters also gathered in New York Saturday. Democracy Now!'s Sam Alcoff filed this report.

MAL MERO: Why do you bring harm to a world y'all is blessed in? Why must we pay for your stressin'? How many more arraignments without a confession? Why take away the ones we put our blood and our flesh in? How often do you miss misusing your weapon? How many wakes have our families wept in? How many heels have our black mother stepped in to stand over caskets their babies slept in? What if those bullets were intercepted? What if their children were the ones to catch it? Would you fight back or respect it?

HAWK NEWSOME: I'm Hawk Newsome, president of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York. Philando Castile was driving in his car. An officer pulled him over and shot him in front of his wife and his daughter, OK? He informed the officer that he had a pistol and a permit to carry that pistol. However, the officer still shot him. The officer said, "He reached for his gun. I told him not to reach." His wife replied -- his wife said, "You told him to get his ID." And they killed that man and let him bleed out in front of his family. Luckily, his wife had the presence of mind to go on Facebook Live to record this injustice. So, now, you had outrage last summer, and now you had the trial. The trial was mishandled by the prosecutor. They would like to call this a mistake. But there is no mistake about it when, time after time again, you fail to prosecute cops that kill innocent black people. There's no mistake about it.

KENNETH SHELTON JR.: So I want you to say it with me: Black Lives Matter.

PROTESTERS: Black Lives Matter!

KENNETH SHELTON JR.: I'm Kenneth Shelton. I'm a member of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York. The resistance is being coopted for black people. Right? Too many times, we have all these resistance groups about resisting Republicans, but not talking about resisting Democrats. Democrats have put on racist policies. Minnesota is a Democratic state. All these Democratic cities -- Chicago, even New York -- don't value black and brown people. And that's when you get these injustices that take place. So it's important for us, in a liberal area such as New York City, to make a stand, to say, "Hey, we're going to come out here and march in solidarity with what happened in Minnesota, but then, also, we're going to continue to fight and be a shining example for what we should do for black people and brown people here in the city.

HELEN HINES: My name is Helen Hines. I'm running for City Council in the Bronx in District 17. When the young man was being taken right out, that can be any of us. I want you to know, we don't vote enough. We don't read another. We don't listen enough. And we are giving away our votes.

PROTESTERS: Back up! We don't need 'em, need 'em! All these racist ass cops, we don't need 'em, need 'em!

KENNETH SHELTON JR.: We're taking the streets. The police don't want us on the street. They want us on the sidewalk. But these are our streets, especially in Harlem. When police violence occurs each and every day, it's important for us to take to the streets and show solidarity. That's what they did in Minnesota. That's what we're going to do right here. Right now, we're on 116th, about to be 115th Street. This is Harlem, Harlem, about to enter into the mainstream city. The scene is, this is just -- the Juneteenth parade was right there. All these black people are looking and showing that we're standing in solidarity. This is not just black people. There's white people. There's brown people. showing that on one of the most important days to descendants of slaves, which is Juneteenth, that we're out here marching for Black Lives Matter.

POLICE OFFICER: You are ordered to leave the roadway and utilize the available sidewalk. If you remain in the roadway and refuse to utilize the sidewalk, you will be placed under arrest and charged with disorderly conduct.

MAL MERO: Show this world that they cannot dismiss us. America needs to see this mistrust. The system is broken, but yet they're trying to fix us. When I say "black lives," y'all say "matter." Black lives!

PROTESTERS: Matter!

MAL MERO: Black lives!

PROTESTERS: Matter!

MAL MERO: Black lives!

PROTESTERS: Matter!

MAL MERO: Black lives!

PROTESTERS: Matter!

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Trump's FBI Nominee Christopher Wray Weighed in on the ExxonMobil Climate Change Investigations

Truthout - Sun, 06/18/2017 - 21:00

Christopher Wray, President Trump's nominee for FBI director, advised corporate clients on how to avoid "being in the crosshairs" of law enforcement at a 2015 legal forum where investigations by state attorneys general into whether ExxonMobil misled investors and the public about climate change were a topline issue. 

Wray's law firm later pitched clients on its ability to help corporations "vigorously contest" such investigations in response to the 2016 launch of a coalition of 17 state attorneys general aimed at pursuing similar legal efforts around climate change. The firm's clients have included ExxonMobil and other powerful fossil fuel interests. 

First, some quick background on the issues at play, followed by some details on the involvement of Wray and his law firm.

Wray Once Led Federal Corporate Fraud Investigations, but Then He Switched Sides

President Trump described his new nominee for FBI director as "a man of impeccable credentials" in a tweet. Wray's credentials include a 2003-2005 stint as assistant attorney general for the US Department of Justice, where he oversaw corporate fraud investigations, helped to take down Enron, and contributed to national security efforts after 9/11.  

After Wray left the Department of Justice in 2005, he switched sides and joined the corporate law firm King & Spalding, which has consistently ranked as a "White Collar Group of the Year." He's since defended big corporations against investigations by US attorneys general offices around the country.

Wray's Law Firm Has Defended Powerful Fossil Fuel Interests in Climate Change Litigation 

King & Spalding successfully defended Chevron in Native Village of Kalina v. ExxonMobil, a case where a community of Alaska Natives sought compensation for the cost of relocating their coastal village due to flooding and erosion caused by climate change. The community and others like it still remain stranded in the path of rising waters, without the financial resources necessary to relocate once again.

DesmogBlog has previously reported on some of the firm's broader other clients in the fossil fuel industry, which have included ConocoPhillips, Marathon Oil, Occidental Petroleum, Peabody Energy, and Shell. Other clients have included ExxonMobil and the Russian oil companies Gazprom and Rosneft.

The firm's client list is of interest given the current scrutiny of the Trump administration's ties to Russia. For example, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson established a long-term relationship with Rosneft while CEO of ExxonMobil. In addition, some members of the US House of Representatives and Senate have called on the Department of Justice to investigate ExxonMobil's record of deception on climate change based on the same authority it previously used to take on the tobacco industry.

The FBI's Role in the ExxonMobil Climate Change Investigations

In 2016, a letter from the Department of Justice informed members of Congress that it had forwarded their request for a federal investigation into whether ExxonMobil may have violated the law by "failing to disclose truthful information to investors and the public regarding climate science" to the FBI.

"The FBI will determine whether an investigation is warranted," the 2016 letter from DOJ said.

More than half a million Americans also petitioned the Department of Justice to investigate the oil and gas producer. The calls came after it was revealed that ExxonMobil knew about the possible risks that carbon dioxide emissions resulting from use of its products -- fossil fuels -- posed to the earth's climate, long before it spearheaded a decades long campaign of climate denial.

The FBI has been silent on the issue since then, and prospects of a federal investigation into ExxonMobil's climate deception dimmed when Trump chose Senator Jeff Sessions to serve as US attorney general. While in the Senate, Sessions joined a letter to the Department of Justice that opposed such an investigation.

Wray Offered Clients Legal Advice at a 2015 Forum on the ExxonMobil Investigations 

A number of state attorneys general continue to lead the charge on investigating ExxonMobil's record on climate change, most notably Maura Healey of Massachusetts and Eric Schneiderman of New York.

The December 2015 forum, "From Climate Change to Anti-Corruption: The Energy Sector in the Crosshairs of Government Enforcement," that was hosted by King & Spalding was largely framed as a response to these investigations.

Wray topped the list of speakers, which also included several other attorneys from his firm.

A January of 2016 Client Alert, "State Attorneys General Investigations and Enforcement: What to Expect in 2016," sent by King & Spalding confirms that the forum:

…discussed New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's investigation into ExxonMobil's securities disclosures and their connection to climate change issues, among other recent energy-related investigations.

Wray's advice at the December 2015 forum was quoted in the same Client Alert that King & Spalding sent out the following month:

When you see a competitor announce in their disclosure that they've got an investigation, whether it's with a state AG, the SEC, the Justice Department or all of the above, immediately start trying to figure out as much as you can about what they are dealing with and start asking yourself questions internally: Is there any chance at all we could have a problem like that since they're in the same industry in the same place? Is there something we ought to do ... so that we don't end up being in the crosshairs?

"In this way, companies can identify areas where the government is likely to investigate and proactively move to improve and reinforce compliance in those critical areas," the client alert then concluded, based on Wray's remarks.

But Wray's Law Firm Later Offered Clients the Ability to "Vigorously Contest" Such Investigations 

Spalding & King soon followed up with an April 2016 Client Alert, "State AGs Announce Climate Change Investigations," that closed with a sales pitch:

King & Spalding has been at the forefront in representing clients who have found themselves the targets of state AG investigations or claims for almost 30 years. Our experience with state AG investigations began in the 1980s with our representation of Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company and continues through to today representing clients in many industries, including energy companies. King & Spalding's State Attorneys General Practice is jointly led by our government investigations and public policy groups, and is supported by our strategic alliance with former Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.

We always do what we can to help clients avoid or minimize the impact of state Attorneys General investigations and litigation whenever possible, but we are not afraid to vigorously contest those investigations when appropriate or to try cases when necessary. We are also adept at engaging with the media directly or in coordination with communications personnel and/or consultants.

The April 2016 client alert came from King & Spalding's Special Matters and Government Investigations Practice Group, which Wray had chaired since 2006. Wray was not explicitly named in the April client alert, as he was named in the earlier January alert.

King & Spalding's April 2016 alert came shortly after the launch of the coalition of 17 state attorneys general that significantly raised the stakes for ExxonMobil.

"The participating states are exploring working together on key climate change-related initiatives, such as ongoing and potential investigations into whether fossil fuel companies misled investors and the public on the impact of climate change on their businesses," according to a press release from Schneiderman's office.

King & Spalding's April 2016 client alert also questioned the motives of these state attorneys general. It cited information obtained through a public records request submitted to the Vermont attorney general's office by the Energy and Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal) in an attempt to stir up political controversy around the investigations. E&E Legal is a climate denial outfit with ties to the Trump administration and is known for its use of public records requests to harass real climate scientists.

In 2015, E&E Legal received funding from coal producer Peabody Energy. That same year, the Peabody Energy reached a settled with Schneiderman after an investigation into the coal company's "misleading statements" to investors on climate change.

Wray Is Not the First Trump Nominee to Have Weighed in on the Issue

Corporate attorney Jay Clayton worked for a law firm that advised clients to comply with guidance on climate change disclosure from the Security Exchange Commission (SEC) after Schneiderman announced his investigation of ExxonMobil's disclosures. News broke that the SEC had launched a related investigation into ExxonMobil's climate accounting practices in September of 2016.

Clayton is now serving in the Trump administration as chairman of the SEC. During his Senate confirmation hearing, Clayton advised that corporations should continue to be "mindful" of the SEC's guidance on climate change disclosure:

Similar questions could arise at Wray's confirmation hearing, though those are likely to be dominated by questions about the FBI's ongoing investigation into Russian influence over the 2016 election.

State Attorneys General Will Continue to Lead the Investigations Into ExxonMobil's Record on Climate Change 

There is no reason to believe that any real federal investigation of ExxonMobil's climate change disclosures, or those of other companies, will occur while Trump is in the White House. The Trump administration has, with few exceptions, generally followed the fossil fuel industry's lead by rolling back key US climate change policies that have long been opposed by ExxonMobil and its political allies.

State attorneys general will continue to lead the charge on holding companies like ExxonMobil accountable when they deceive investors and the public about climate change risks, and recent trends indicate forward thinking shareholders will do the same.

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