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Group Beloved by Betsy Devos and Koch Brothers Launches Counter-Attack Against Teacher Rebellion

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

A right-wing coalition, which has received funding from both the Koch brothers and the billionaire Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, is launching an aggressive attack on the tens of thousands of teachers and education supporters who have been demanding increased school funding and teacher salaries in recent weeks.

As the Guardian reports, the State Policy Network (SPN) is distributing a guide to anti-labor activists across the nation, with the aim of helping them to discredit the protests that teachers have been organizing in Oklahoma, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Arizona.

Such demonstrations, SPN argues in the guide, "hurt kids and low-income families" because they keep students out of schools and can force parents to miss work.

Even the right-wing editorial board of The Washington Post recognizes that it is Republican governments slashing education funding -- not striking teachers -- that is harming to students in the long run.

"What the teachers are protesting also hurts children -- that is, a long-running and systemic disinvestment in public education," wrote the editorial board. "Responsibility therefore lies with the governors and legislatures in these red states who have allowed teacher salaries to get so low."

Notably, while arguing against the protests, SPN also admits that teachers are in fact underpaid, and cautions against portraying educators as ungrateful, as Oklahoma's Republican Governor Mary Fallin suggested last week when she compared the state's teachers -- who have gone a decade without a pay increase -- to "a teenage kid that wants a better car" after they rejected a $6,100 raise and a $50 million education funding package.

"A message that focuses on teacher hours or summer vacations will sound tone-deaf when there are dozens of videos and social media posts going viral from teachers about their second jobs, teachers having to rely on food pantries, classroom books that are falling apart, paper rationing, etc.," reads the memo.

"It's fascinating that even Koch-funded conservatives recognize that there's huge public support for public education and for treating teachers with respect," Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told the Guardian.

Teachers have stressed that they are fighting for their students' right to a high quality education as well as higher pay for themselves. In Oklahoma, some school districts have moved to four-day weeks to cut costs, while many students have struggled to learn with outdated textbooks and school supply shortages.

The fight for teacher raises has also been waged with children as well as adults in mind. Low salaries have kept qualified Americans from entering the education profession, with teacher training programs reporting a 20 to 53 percent drop in enrollment in recent years. Many teachers have also been forced to leave states where pay is lowest -- leaving school districts to lower their hiring standards.

Okie teachers rally at Capitol: "Please Don't Make Me Move... To Texas." #NewsOK

-- Paul (@pmonies) March 31, 2014

Countering SPN's vision of children suffering through their teachers' protests, many students have joined their teachers in fighting for increased funding across the education system.

"We're not just here for teacher pay raises," high school sophomore Cameron Olbert told a crowd at Oklahoma's State Capitol earlier this month. "We're here for support staff, for art and music programs that have been decimated over the past decade. We’re here for chairs that don't break when we sit in them. We're here for luxuries and opportunities that other states get to take for granted."

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Corker at Pompeo Hearing: We Already Endorsed Regime Change in Syria

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

Sen. Bob Corker speaks to reporters following a vote on Capitol Hill on January 11, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Zach Gibson / Getty Images)

The leader of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee signaled to President Trump that the panel already approved the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) directed the comments toward Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), during the confirmation hearing for Mike Pompeo, Trump's pick to serve as next Secretary of State.

Kaine had just completed pointed questioning of Pompeo, the current CIA Director, about whether regime change around the world should be an official US foreign policy.

Director Pompeo dodged the question, but it did prompt a response from Corker.

"It seems like everybody on this committee except Sen. [Rand] Paul of Kentucky agreed with the previous administration's policy that Assad had to leave," Corker said.

"Assad must go -- that to me is indicative of some feeling of a regime change," the Chairman added.

Sen. Kaine responded by claiming that current US policy toward Syria doesn't include regime change. He described Assad as a "brutal dictator … subject to sanctions and international criminal prosecution, even military action."

"But I don't think the United States has a right to decide who should be the leader of another country," Kaine said.

While Sen. Kaine is correct in noting that official stated policy from both the Obama and Trump administrations has stopped short of endorsing full regime change in Syria, it has in various forms endorsed the eventual departure of Assad.

In addition to military action already taken by the Trump administration against the Syrian government last April, the US has also since at least 2013 armed and trained rebel groups committed to the toppling of Assad.

During his testimony, Pompeo didn't explicitly call for regime change in Syria. He did, however, argue that should President Trump take military action directly against the Assad government in response to new allegations of chemical weapons use, and that congressionally-approved authorization for military force is unnecessary.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) described a potential targeted military strike similar to the assault ordered last April against a Syrian airbase.

"I believe that the president has the authority to do that today," Pompeo said.

Pompeo was reminded that, as a US Congressman, he was opposed to President Obama taking military action in Libya absent a congressional authorization.

"For a long time multiple administrations have found that the president has authority to take certain actions without first coming to congress to seek approval," Pompeo said Thursday, providing Kosovo as an example.

President Trump, meanwhile, has backed off his rhetoric suggesting a US strike against Syrian government positions are imminent.

He tweeted on Thursday, "Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!"

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Economic Update: Distorting Economic Truths

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

This week's episode discusses the labor strikes at Disney, home sales and prices dropping sharply and Nestlé profiting from privatizing water. We also address economist Larry Summers comments on taxing soda, provide updates on the costs of the Volkswagen emissions scandal and look at the economic costs of sexual harassment. Finally, we interview Julianna Forlano, a journalist and comedian, about "being funny in times like these." 

To see more stories like this, visit Economic Update: Your Weekly Dose of Revolutionary Economics

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Medicaid Is Helping to Combat the Opioid Crisis, Despite Trump's Attacks

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

According to a new report, Medicaid is paying for more addiction treatment than private insurers, and recipients living with opioid disorders are twice as likely to obtain treatment. Medicaid is having an impact despite President Trump's efforts to undermine public benefits, and health experts say Trump's own plan for combating the opioid crisis would do more harm than good.

(Photo: FS Productions / Getty Images)

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About 1.9 million nonelderly adults in the United States are believed to be living with opioid addiction, and those with Medicaid were twice as likely as those with private insurance or no health insurance to receive treatment for the disease in 2016, according to a new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The analysis raises serious questions for the Trump administration, which has declared the opioid crisis a major priority while working simultaneously to undermine Medicaid and its expansion under the Affordable Care Act. As the nation grapples with high rates of fatal opioid overdoses, President Trump has promoted punitive responses, such as putting drug dealers to death and building a wall on the southern US border -- responses that have nothing to do with public health.

Among Medicaid recipients living with an opioid use disorder, 43 percent received inpatient and/or outpatient addiction treatment in 2016. In comparison, only 21 percent of those with private insurance and 23 percent of those who were uninsured received treatment, according to Kaiser's analysis of data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Kevin Fiscella, an opioid addiction specialist and professor of public health at the University of Rochester, said the data does not explain why Medicaid recipients are more likely to receive opioid addiction treatment. One possible explanation is that Medicaid recipients pay fewer out-of-pocket costs for medications, counseling and inpatient treatment than people with private insurance plans.

Medicaid paid more for addiction treatment than all the private insurers combined in 2014.

"Financial barriers are among the leading reasons [why] people with substance use disorders report that they did not obtain treatment," Fiscella said in an email. "Engaging more people in treatment will require reducing cost-related barriers to treatment. I don't think current policy has yet come to grips with this simple fact."

The majority of people living with opioid addiction are employed, but many have lower incomes and jobs that do not provide health benefits, according to the Kaiser report. About 13 percent are unable to work due to a disability, reflecting the complex health needs associated with opioid use disorders, which can result from using prescription opioids to treat chronic pain.

This is where Medicaid comes in, particularly now that the Affordable Care Act has expanded eligibility for millions of Americans despite efforts by Republicans to repeal and weaken the law.

Medicaid has a history of filling critical gaps during public health crises, such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic or natural disasters, by providing access to health care for lower-income people, according to Kaiser's analysis. Medicaid covers several inpatient and outpatient treatment services for opioid addiction, as well as drugs like Suboxone and methadone, which treat addiction and are known collectively as Medication-Assisted Treatment, or MAT.

Medicaid work requirements will create red tape for vulnerable people seeking health care.

As the opioid overdose epidemic has unfolded, states began applying for federal waivers allowing them to promote and expand opioid treatment and behavioral health services. Thirty-three states also expanded their Medicaid programs to include more people under the Affordable Care Act, and Medicaid paid more for addiction treatment than all the private insurers combined in 2014.

"As a central payer for opioid use disorder, the Trump Administration must commit to protecting and strengthening Medicaid, instead of promoting work requirements, drug testing, and cuts that will jeopardize states' abilities to provide treatment to all in need," said Daniel Raymond, a spokesperson for the Harm Reduction Coalition, in an email to Truthout.

Last year, President Trump loudly supported efforts by the Republican majority in Congress to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act and roll back the Medicaid expansion. Polls showed that voters did not like the idea of millions of people losing their health insurance coverage -- particularly during a public health crisis like the opioid epidemic -- and the GOP's efforts to undo President Obama's landmark health care achievement ultimately failed.

This hasn't stopped the Trump administration from finding other ways to undermine Medicaid, most recently by allowing several states to impose work requirements on Medicaid eligibility. The requirements will create red tape for vulnerable people seeking health care, and advocates say people with disabilities and other problems that make keeping a job difficult are bound to fall through the cracks and become uninsured.

Living with a severe opioid use disorder can make it difficult to find and keep work. Drug use is still stigmatized in our society, and many employers test their workers for drugs. Opioid use is also criminalized, making it more likely that people living with addiction will miss work after being arrested or forced to apply for jobs with a criminal record.

If a patient treating their opioid addiction with MAT therapies can no longer afford the drugs because they lost their job and their Medicaid coverage along with it, they would be at a serious risk of a relapse that could cause a fatal overdose.

"Existing data suggest that imposing work requirements reduces insurance coverage through Medicaid," Fiscella said. "This will create a major, often insurmountable financial [barrier] to initiating or continuing treatment, resulting in more overdoses and opioid-related deaths."

Medical experts and health advocates have long implored policymakers to approach the nation's opioid problems as public health challenges rather than a criminal issue so that people end up in helpful treatment programs rather than prison cells. However, Trump has responded with the tough-on-crime rhetoric of the war on drugs and used the opioid epidemic to promote his anti-immigrant agenda.

"Whether you're a Republican or Democrat, we need a wall," Trump said during a cabinet meeting on Monday, referring to his proposal to build a wall on the border with Mexico. "And it will stop your drug flow. It will knock the hell out of the drug flow. And it will stop a lot of people that we don't want in this country from coming into our country."

Experts say building a border wall would not be as effective in preventing illegal opioids from entering the country as Trump thinks. The Drug Enforcement Agency reports that it's much more common for traffickers to bring drugs across the border in vehicles and airplanes at valid points of entry than haul them through remote areas of the southwestern desert.

The Trump administration also wants to beef up surveillance of international shipments and increase penalties for drug trafficking -- even telling federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for certain traffickers. The White House also wants to cut opioid prescriptions by one-third over three years, an effort that some argue could punish patients in need of pain relief.

The White House's opioid response plan does include initiatives to expand access to MAT, an effort Congress began funding with landmark legislation in 2016. However, the plan does not expand access to a full range of MAT therapies in jails and prisons. As Truthout has reported, the ongoing criminalization of drug use and the lack of MAT options behind bars has severely exacerbated the opioid crisis.

"The president has spoken much more passionately about law enforcement and interdiction efforts than on the vital role of Medicaid in financing a system of care for our most vulnerable," Raymond said. "His Administration will be judged on whether they end the overdose crisis by preserving and expanding Medicaid or prolong the crisis by chipping away at it."

The president's tough talk could also reinforce longstanding social stigma around drug use that can prevent people living with opioid addiction from seeking medical help in the first place.

Categories: Latest News

Sentenced to 65 Years for a Cop's Crime

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

A'Donte Washington was 16 years old when an unnamed police officer shot him four times, killing him. A grand jury found the killing "justified," and the officer suffered no consequences.

But there is someone who will be spending decades in prison for Washington's murder: his friend Lakeith Smith. This month, Smith was sentenced to 65 years in prison -- 30 years for a felony murder, 15 for burglary and two 10-year sentences for theft.

Washington was killed while he and a group of friends were breaking into a house in February 2015. Officials claim Washington pulled a gun on the officer and fired, prompting the officer to shoot.

No one denies that it was the police officer, not Lakeith Smith, who killed Washington. But Smith -- who was just 15 at the time of his friend's death -- was tried as an adult and convicted of felony murder after he rejected a plea deal in March that would have sent him to prison for "just" 25 years.

The harsh sentence is a result of Alabama's "accomplice liability" law, which allows the state to charge people with murder if a death occurs while they are committing a crime -- even, apparently, if that death is at the hands of a cop.

In essence, Smith may now spend 30 years of his life in a cage merely because he was present when a cop killed his friend. If he lives long enough to serve his entire sentence, he will be 83 years old when he is released.

The farcical nature of the justice system was made so baldly apparent that Smith laughed out loud as he was sentenced for Washington's murder.

"I don't think Mr. Smith will be smiling long when he gets to prison," Chief Assistant District Attorney C.J. Robinson sneered. "We are very pleased with this sentence. Because the sentences are consecutive, it will be a long time before he comes up for even the possibility for parole, at least 20 to 25 years."

Jhavarske Jackson, Jadarien Hardy and La'Anthony Washington -- who were also with Washington and Smith on the night of Washington's murder -- have all pleaded guilty to felony murder, burglary and theft.

Though they await sentencing, they all will undoubtedly spend significant time behind bars for A'Donte Washington's murder -- though likely less time than Smith, who refused the plea deal. The extra length of Smith's sentence seems to be additional punishment for exercising his right to a trial for a murder that everyone agrees he did not commit.


Smith's sentencing comes on the heels of the police murders of Stephon Clark in Sacramento and Saheed Vassell, in New York City.

Clark was holding a cell phone, while Vassell held only a pipe. Both murders have sparked renewed protest against the epidemic of police killings -- especially of Black men -- in the US and again exposed a criminal injustice system that visits violence and destruction on Black communities.

In 2016, police killed 1,093 people, 24 percent of whom were Black, compared to 13 percent of the general population. That racial disparity is even worse among victims of police killings who were unarmed.

Despite calls for police accountability resulting from the Black Lives Matter movement, police rarely suffer any consequences for murdering Black men, women and children, beyond mandatory leave -- paid vacations, essentially. Even those who are fired are often simply rehired in another department.

In the case of A'Donte Washington's death, not only did the police officer not suffer any consequences, but another Black teenager has been made to pay heavily for the killing of his friend -- as will others -- simply for being at the scene.

The use of Alabama's accomplice liability law in this case is a cynical move to bring the full weight of the state to bear on the lives of young Black men who could hardly be considered accomplices in a police officer shooting their friend.

Racism permeates the entire policing and criminal injustice system. There is significant racial bias evident in which neighborhoods are more heavily policed, who is stopped and searched, who is arrested, who is charged, who can make bail, who is convicted, who is sentenced to prison (and for how long), who is granted parole, and who is disenfranchised politically, economically and socially after spending time in prison.

Nationwide, police commit 8 percent of all gun deaths. Police departments should be defunded, demilitarized and disarmed.

In the meantime, killer cops should be held accountable for their own murders, not teenagers who had to watch their friend be gunned down. Police should be subjected to independent oversight and community accountability -- and the racist criminal justice system must be dismantled and replaced.

As Michelle Alexander wrote in her book The New Jim Crow, "Today's lynching is a felony charge. Today's lynching is incarceration. Today's lynch mobs are professionals. They have a badge; they have a law degree. A felony is a modern way of saying, 'I'm going to hang you up and burn you.'"

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Patient Advocacy Groups Take in Millions From Drugmakers. Is There a Payback?

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

Pharmaceutical companies gave at least $116 million to patient advocacy groups in a single year, according to a new database. Even as these patient groups grow in number and political influence, their funding and their relationships to drugmakers are little understood. 

(Photo: Last Resort / Getty Images)

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Pharmaceutical companies gave at least $116 million to patient advocacy groups in a single year, reveals a new database logging 12,000 donations from large publicly traded drugmakers to such organizations.

Even as these patient groups grow in number and political influence, their funding and their relationships to drugmakers are little understood. Unlike payments to doctors and lobbying expenses, companies do not have to report payments to the groups.

The database, called "Pre$cription for Power," shows that donations to patient advocacy groups tallied for 2015 -- the most recent full year in which documents required by the Internal Revenue Service were available -- dwarfed the total amount the companies spent on federal lobbying. The 14 companies that contributed $116 million to patient advocacy groups reported only about $63 million in lobbying activities that same year.

Though their primary missions are to focus attention on the needs of patients with a particular disease -- such as arthritis, heart disease or various cancers -- some groups effectively supplement the work lobbyists perform, providing patients to testify on Capitol Hill and organizing letter-writing and social media campaigns that are beneficial to pharmaceutical companies.

Six drugmakers, the data show, contributed a million dollars or more to individual groups that represent patients who rely on their drugs. The database identifies over 1,200 patient groups. Of those, 594 accepted money from the drugmakers in the database.

The financial ties are troubling if they cause even one patient group to act in a way that's "not fully representing the interest of its constituents," said Matthew McCoy, a medical ethics professor at the University of Pennsylvania who co-authored a 2017 study about patient advocacy groups' influence and transparency.

Notably, such groups have been silent or slow to complain about high or escalating prices, a prime concern of patients.

"When so many patient organizations are being influenced in this way, it can shift our whole approach to health policy, taking away from the interests of patients and towards the interests of industry," McCoy said. "That's not just a problem for the patients and caregivers that particular patient organizations serve; that's a problem for everyone."

Bristol-Myers Squibb provides a stark example of how patient groups are valued. In 2015, it spent more than $20.5 million on patient groups, compared with $2.9 million on federal lobbying and less than $1 million on major trade associations, according to public records and company disclosures. The company said its decisions regarding lobbying and contributions to patient groups are "unrelated."

"Bristol-Myers Squibb is focused on supporting a health care environment that rewards innovation and ensures access to medicines for patients," said spokeswoman Laura Hortas. "The company supports patient organizations with this shared objective."

The first-of-its-kind database, compiled by Kaiser Health News, tallies the money from Big Pharma to patient groups. KHN examined the 20 pharmaceutical firms included in the S&P 500, 14 of which were transparent -- in varying degrees -- about giving money to patient groups. Pre$cription for Power is based on information contained in charitable giving reports from company websites and federal 990 regulatory filings.

It spotlights donations pharma companies made to patient groups large and small. The recipients include well-known disease groups, like the American Diabetes Association, with revenues of hundreds of millions of dollars; high-profile foundations like Susan G. Komen, a patient group focused on breast cancer; and smaller, lesser-known groups, like the Caring Ambassadors Program, which focuses on lung cancer and hepatitis C.

The data show that 15 patient groups -- with annual revenues as large as $3.6 million -- relied on the pharmaceutical companies for at least 20 percent of their revenue, and some relied on them for more than half of their revenue. The database explores only a slice of the pharmaceutical industry's giving overall and will be expanded with more companies and groups over time.

"It's clear that more transparency in this space is vitally important," said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who has been investigating the links between patient advocates and opioid manufacturers and is considering legislation to track funding. "This database is one step forward in that effort, but we also need Congress to act."

What Drives the Money Flow

The financial ties between drugmakers and the organizations that represent those who use or prescribe their blockbuster medicines have been of growing concern as drug prices escalate. The Senate investigated conflicts of interest in the run-up to the passage of the 2010 Physician Payments Sunshine Act -- a law that required payments to physicians from makers of drugs and devices to be registered on a public website -- but patient groups were not addressed in the bill.

Some of the patient groups with ties to trade groups echo industry talking points in media campaigns and letters to federal agencies, and do little else. And patients, supported by pharma, are dispatched to state capitals and Washington to support research funding. Some groups send patients updates on the newest drugs and industry products.

"It's through groups like this that patients often learn about illnesses and treatments," said Rick Claypool, a research director for Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group that says it does not accept pharmaceutical funding.

For the patient group Caring Ambassadors Program, industry funds are needed to make up for a lack of public funding, said the group's executive director, Lorren Sandt. According to IRS filings and published company reports, in 2015 the group received $413,000, the bulk of which came from one company, AbbVie, which makes a hepatitis C treatment and has been testing a new lung cancer drug, Rova-T, not yet approved. She said the money had no influence on the Caring Ambassadors Program's priorities.

"There aren't a lot of large pockets of funding outside of the pharmaceutical money," Sandt said. "We take it where we can find it."

Other patient groups such as The National Women's Health Network's Health Network, based in Washington, DC, make sacrifices to avoid pharmaceutical funding. That includes operating with a small staff in a "modest" office building with few windows and outdated computers, according to executive director Cindy Pearson. "You can see the effect of our approach to funding as soon as you walk [in] the door."

Pearson said it's hard for patient groups not to be influenced by the funder, even if they proclaim independence. Patient groups "build relationships with their funders and feel in sync and have sympathy" for them. "It's human nature. It's not evil or weak, but it's wrong."

Charity as Marketing

Patients newly diagnosed with a disease often turn to patient advocacy groups for advice, but the money flow to such groups may distort patients' knowledge and public debate over treatment options, said Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, the director of PharmedOut, a Georgetown University Medical Center program that is critical of some pharmaceutical marketing practices.

"[The money flow limits] their advocacy agenda to competing branded products when the best therapy might be generics, over-the-counter drugs or diet and exercise," she said.

AbbVie -- whose specialty drug Humira made up 65 percent of the company's net revenue in 2017 and is used to treat patients with autoimmune diseases, including Crohn's disease and certain kinds of arthritis -- gave $2.7 million to the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation and $1.6 million to the Arthritis Foundation, according to the company's public disclosures included in the database. The list price for a month's supply of Humira, a biologic drug, is $4,872, according to Express Scripts, a pharmacy benefits manager.

Even though Humira will face competition from near-copycat drugs called biosimilars, it is expected to remain the highest-grossing drug in the United States through 2022, according to drug industry analysts at EvaluatePharma.

The Arthritis and Crohn's foundations have been largely silent on the cost of Humira and vocal on safety concerns about biosimilars. The Arthritis Foundation has championed state laws that could add extra steps for consumers to receive biosimilars at the pharmacy counter, potentially keeping more patients on the brand-name drug. Experts say those laws could help protect Humira's market share from generic competitors.

A coalition of patient groups, Patients for Biologics Safety & Access, opposes the automatic substitution of a cheaper biosimilar when doctors prescribe a biologic. In 2015, members of that coalition, including the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation, the Arthritis Foundation and the Lupus Foundation of America, accepted about $9.1 million from pharmaceutical companies in the database, according to public disclosures. They include AbbVie and Johnson & Johnson, makers of blockbuster biologics.

The Arthritis Foundation did not deny receiving the money but said the foundation represents patients, not sponsors. It is "optimistic" about biosimilars' ability to help patients and save them money, said Anna Hyde, vice president of advocacy and access. "The Foundation supports the Food and Drug Administration's scientific standards in evaluating the safety and efficacy of biosimilars, and we support policies that encourage innovation and foster a competitive marketplace."

The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation maintains "more than an arm's-length distance" from its donors in the pharmaceutical industry, who have no say over the foundation's strategic objectives, said president and CEO Michael Osso.

He added that the foundation's position on biosimilars is "evolving."

Lupus Foundation CEO Sandra Raymond said she could not explain how her group, also based in Washington, was involved in the coalition. She confirmed the Lupus Foundation received $444,000 from Pfizer in 2015 but said the money was not linked to any relationship with Patients for Biologics Safety & Access.

"I never went to a meeting," Raymond said. "A former employee signed us up for a whole host of coalitions. I think we put our name on something or someone did."

She said the Lupus Foundation was no longer a member of the coalition. Days after Kaiser Health News reached out to the coalition, its website was updated, excluding the Lupus Foundation.

For its part, AbbVie -- which overall donated $24.7 million to patient groups in 2015, according to the new database -- stipulates that its grants to nonprofits are "non-promotional" and provide no direct benefit to its business, according to a company statement. The company gives to patient groups because they serve as an "important, unbiased and independent resource for patients and caregivers."

Insulin and Influence

The American Diabetes Association said in an email to KHN that it received $18.3 million in pharmaceutical funding in 2017, accounting for 12.3 percent of its revenue; that was down from $26.7 million in 2015. The money flowed in as insulin makers continued to hike prices in those years -- up to four times per product -- leading to hardships for patients.

The only "Big Three" insulin maker in the database, Eli Lilly, gave $2.9 million to the American Diabetes Association in 2015, according to disclosures from the company and its foundation. Sanofi and Novo Nordisk are the other two major insulin makers, but neither was in the S&P 500 and therefore not included in the database. Over the past 20 years, Eli Lilly has repeatedly raised prices on its bestselling insulins, Humalog and Humulin, even though the medicines have been around for decades. The drugmaker faced protests -- by people demanding to know the cost of manufacturing a vial of insulin -- at its Indianapolis headquarters last fall.

The ADA launched a campaign decrying "skyrocketing" insulin in late 2016 but did not call out any drugmaker in its literature. When legislators in Nevada passed a bill last year requiring insulin makers to disclose their profits to the public, the ADA did not take a public stance.

The American Diabetes Association said it doesn't confront individual companies because it is seeking action from "all entities in the supply chain" -- manufacturers, wholesalers, pharmacy benefit managers and insurers.

"As a public health organization, the ADA's commitment and focus is on the needs of the more than 30 million people with diabetes," said Dr. William Cefalu, its chief scientific and medical officer. "The ADA requires support from a diverse set of partners to achieve this objective."

Eli Lilly said it contributes money to the American Diabetes Association because the two share a "common goal" of helping diabetes patients.

"We provide funding for a wide variety of educational programs and opportunities at ADA, and they design and implement those programs in ways that are aligned with their goals," Eli Lilly said in a statement. "We're proud to support the ADA on important work that helps millions of people living with diabetes."

Most patient groups say that funders have little or no influence in shaping their programs and policies, but their agreements are private.

They Weren't Always Backed by Pharma

Into the '80s and early '90s, patient lobbying was generally limited and self-funded with only one or two affluent patients from an organization traveling to Washington on a given day, said Diana Zuckerman, president of the nonprofit National Center for Health Research.

But the power of patient-lobbyists became apparent after a successful campaign by AIDS patients led to government action and a national push to find drugs to treat the then-terminal disease. Zuckerman said she will never forget when two women visited her office and asked how breast cancer patients could be as effective as the AIDS patients.

"At the time, there were no breast cancer patients advocating for money or anything else. It's hard to believe," she said. "I still remember that conversation, because it was really a turning point."

Soon after, breast cancer patients started visiting the Hill more frequently. Patients with other diseases followed. Over time, patients' voices became a potent force, often with industry support.

Even some wealthy, high-profile organizations take industry money: For example, $459,000 of Susan G. Komen's $118 million in 2015 revenue came from drugmakers in the database, according to public disclosures. Asked about the pharma money, the foundation said it has institutional processes in place to ensure that "no corporate partner -- pharma or otherwise -- decides our mission priorities," including a scientific advisory board -- free of sponsor influence -- that reviews its research program.

Today, patient advocacy groups flush with more industry dollars fly patients in for testimony and training about how to lobby for their drugs.

Some years ago, as the groups increased in number, Zuckerman said, she started getting email invitations from advocacy groups to attend so-called lobbying days explicitly sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry. The hosts often promised training and usually some kind of keynote speaker at a luncheon in Washington -- plus a potential scholarship to cover travel. Now, lobbying days involving dozens of patients from a single group are part of the landscape.

Dan Boston, president of lobbying firm Health Policy Source, said, "It would be naive to think these people on a Tuesday afternoon just happen to turn up in XYZ places," adding that the money isn't necessarily a bad thing. Money tends to flow toward citizen groups that already have the same priorities as their funders, he said.

Marching Into the Future

Patient groups have been successful at campaigning for drug approvals, at times sparking controversy.

When scientists within the FDA advised against the approval of Exondys 51, a drug to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy, parents of children with the rare genetic disorder and patients rallied to lobby for it in Washington. They were seen as pivotal to the FDA's 2016 decision to grant approval for the drug, made by Sarepta Therapeutics. The decision was controversial in part because the FDA noted that clinical benefits of the drug -- aimed at a subset of people with Duchenne muscular dystrophy -- were not yet established.

Sarepta Therapeutics, which is not featured in the database, has taken measures to support its patient base. In March, it announced an annual scholarship program -- 10 grants of up to $10,000 each for students with Duchenne muscular dystrophy to attend university or trade schools. Sarepta Therapeutics is also among the funders of Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, a patient advocacy group at the forefront of the push for Exondys 51's approval.

The Pre$cription for Power database will grow to include new disclosures. Not all drugmakers are willing to disclose their company giving. Eleven of the 20 companies examined --  AllerganBaxter InternationalBiogenCelgeneEndo InternationalGilead SciencesMallinckrodtMylanPerrigo Co.Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Vertex Pharmaceuticals  -- declined to disclose their company giving or did not respond to repeated calls.

Paul Thacker, a former investigator for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) who helped draft the Physician Payments Sunshine Act in 2010, said there is reason to question the flow of money to patient advocacy groups. The pharmaceutical industry has fostered relationships in every link of the drug supply chain, including payments to researchers, doctors and professional societies.

"There's so much money out there, and they've created all of these allies, so nobody is clamoring for change," Thacker said.

Since the Physician Payments Sunshine Act began requiring the industry to report its payments to physicians, the industry is more reluctant to co-opt them, so "pharma has to find other megaphones," PharmedOut's Fugh-Berman said.

And in times of public outrage over high drug prices and soaring insurance costs, patients are particularly sympathetic messengers, she said.

"Sick consumers make for good press," Fugh-Berman said. "They make for good testimony before Congress. They can be very powerful spokespeople for pharmaceutical companies."

To learn how Kaiser Health News created the Pre$cription for Power database, read the full methodology, here.

Categories: Latest News

Waiting Tables or Harvesting Food, Why Fair Labor Is Still About Civil Rights

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

Just as the farmworkers used the intersections of race, class, and gender to engage an audience beyond their industry, we must expose the racial and gender biases as part of an effort to raise wages and working conditions for all workers in the food industry and economy-wide.

(Photo: Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images)

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Dolores Huerta organized some of the most vulnerable workers in this country and, standing alongside them, stood up to their powerful bosses -- and won. "When we started to organize farmworkers, people would say to us, 'They're poor, they don't speak English, they're not citizens. How are you going to possibly organize them?'" Huerta recalls in Dolores, a new documentary film about her life and work. "And, of course, the response that we had to that is, 'The power is in your body.'"

The lesson of Dolores is that there is inherent power in the collective action of the most vulnerable and marginalized people. Huerta and the United Farm Workers, which she co-founded, built a powerful foundation for farmworkers' rights by harnessing the energy of intersecting movements for race and gender equity to achieve justice and liberation for farmworkers in the 1960s and '70s.

Fifty years later, those of us working to organize restaurant workers see tremendous parallels to Huerta and the farmworkers. Just as the farmworkers used the intersections of race, class, and gender inherent in their struggle to engage an audience beyond their industry, we at Restaurant Opportunities Centers United recognize an opportunity to expose the racial and gender biases within this fast-growing industry as part of an effort to raise wages and working conditions for all workers in the industry, and economy-wide.

Today, nearly half of all Americans live near poverty, a rate that is likely to grow, due in no small measure to growth in the lowest-paying sectors of our economy -- retail, care and service work, and the restaurant industry.

The restaurant industry alone employs almost 13 million workers. It is one of the largest and fastest-growing private-sector employers in the US and also the largest single source of America's lowest-paying jobs.

But it wasn't just poverty wages and economic injustice that created the basis for Huerta and the UFW's battle on behalf of farmworkers a couple generations ago. Racist exploitation and gender-based violence were ongoing struggles.

As Dolores describes, this largely immigrant and limited-English-speaking workforce lived in housing owned by their employers adjacent to the fields. In speaking up for their rights, they risked not only their jobs and wages, but their housing, as well. Women workers were particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault in the fields.

Dolores portrays some of the UFW's success as its ability to appeal to people's consciences across class and race lines.

Reaching across class and race lines has also been important for us. Most of the workers we organize -- the 13 million servers, bartenders, cooks, dishwashers, and others in the restaurant industry -- have been the main supporters of raising the minimum wage for all workers, including tipped workers. However, helping policymakers, the press, and the public understand the importance of raising the minimum wage and not excluding tipped workers has required us to reframe the conversation around not just poverty, but also around race and gender equity and human rights.

All our research has shown that the reason the restaurant industry is so large and fast-growing and yet so low-paying is the money, power, and influence of the National Restaurant Association, which represents many of the Fortune 500 restaurant chains.

The "Other NRA" has successfully lobbied to keep wages for tipped workers at just $2.13 an hour at the federal level. A majority female workforce, tipped restaurant workers suffer from incredible economic insecurity. In 2013, we at the ROC United launched the One Fair Wage campaign to eliminate the lower wage for tipped workers, and require that all employers pay workers the full minimum wage with tips on top.

Initially, we focused on changing the pervasive image of tipped restaurant workers as white male servers, working in high-end restaurants and earning hundreds of dollars a night in tips. We wanted allies to understand that the typical tipped worker is more likely to be a woman of color, working a low-wage job at a corporate chain like Denny's or IHOP, who experiences poverty at three times the rate of the overall workforce, is twice as likely to rely on food stamps, and is paid a wage so low she must rely on customer tips to make ends meet.

But poverty was not enough, and lawmakers and even our allies were not convinced that tipped workers should receive a full, fair minimum wage from their employer until we reframed the issue as one of race and gender inequity.

First, we exposed the slave history of the tipped minimum wage. When it comes to exploitation, farmworkers and restaurant workers share a common legacy: Their industries both depended on the institution of slavery. Tipping originated in feudal Europe, and when the practice was imported to the US shortly after emancipation, restaurant and other business owners embraced tipping. They could employ newly freed black workers without paying them a wage, forcing them to survive on customer tips alone. Despite opposition from a growing populist movement at the time, tipping became the standard practice for the industry.

It's no wonder then that, like farmworkers, restaurant workers were excluded from critical labor protections. The Fair Labor Standards Act established a minimum wage but omitted restaurant and other service workers.

Today, tipped workers are still subject to a sub-minimum wage system in 43 states, some as low as the $2.13 federal tipped minimum wage. Reframing the issue as a legacy of slavery won us innumerable allies; one legislator said, "Now I get it. We've supposedly resolved the question of slavery in this country, so that resolves for me the need to abolish the lower wage for tipped workers."

We also published research showing that tipped workers are a majority female workforce enduring some of the worst sexual harassment of any industry. Research by ROC United shows that more than two-thirds of all women in the restaurant industry have experienced harassment from management, customers, and co-workers. In fact, the restaurant industry is the largest single source of sexual harassment claims at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Women who rely on tips for their income are coerced into accepting sexual harassment and abuse at work as just part of the job. For too many women, deciding whether to stand up to harassment at work is a choice between earning enough tips to put food on their tables or not.

In seven states -- California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Minnesota, Alaska, and Montana -- where employers are required to pay the full minimum wage with tips added, our research shows that women face half the rate of sexual harassment as women in states with a subminimum wage for tipped workers. Women in those states know they don't have to tolerate inappropriate customer behavior to earn tips because they feel confident they will receive a full wage from their employer.

When ROC United began highlighting the racist legacy of tipping and the relationship between tipping and sexual harassment in the industry, something shifted. Minimum-wage advocates told ROC they had never supported eliminating the tipped minimum wage until they understood the connection between tips earned and the extreme sexual harassment the women endured. Legislators have told us that they now support One Fair Wage out of concern for their daughters working in the industry.

The explosion of the #MeToo movement in October brought new public awareness to the everyday volume of sexual harassment that people, especially women, experience in the workplace. And shortly afterward, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his support for eliminating the sub-minimum wage in New York -- a policy that he realized would cut sexual harassment in half.

Today, we are working with high-profile celebrities and elected officials to move One Fair Wage across the country, one state at a time. We know it won't be easy. Restaurant workers, other low-wage workers, and their allies today struggle to win support, just as Huerta and the farmworkers did. And then as now, framing the stories of these workers as low-wage earners is not enough. But people from various socioeconomic backgrounds recognize and understand a civil rights struggle when they see one. Thanks to Huerta, the farmworkers were able to reframe their message in this way. We follow in their footsteps.

Categories: Latest News

The World Bank's Troubling Vision for the Future of Work

Truthout - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 21:00

Sitting in front of a large machine that spools denim at a high speed, a Chinese factory worker examines the fabric as it spins by. (Photo: Bobby Brill / Getty Images)

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The World Bank decided last year to devote the 2019 edition of its flagship annual policy review publication, the World Development Report, to the theme of the future of work. Preparation of the WDR 2019 encountered some delay after the ouster in late January of the report's first director, the Bank's chief economist Paul Romer.

Romer lost his job after severely criticizing another major annual World Bank report, Doing Business, for ideologically driven data manipulation. However, he was promptly replaced by Simeon Djankov, who was the founding director of Doing Business while working at the World Bank from 1995-2009 and subsequently became Bulgaria's finance minister (2009-2013).

The Bank moved forward quickly with its new WDR director to produce a working draft that, in its latest form (it changes from week to week), almost completely ignores workers' rights, asymmetric power in the labor market, and phenomena such as the declining labor share in national income. It puts forward a policy program of extensive labor market deregulation, including lower minimum wages, flexible dismissal procedures, and UK-style "zero-hours" contracts, which allow employers to hire staff with no guarantee of work. The resulting decline of workers' incomes would be compensated in part by a "basic level of social insurance" to be financed largely by regressive consumption taxes. The WDR 2019: The Changing Nature of Work calls this an "upgraded" social contract.

Perhaps to avoid having to expose this disturbing vision of the future of work to an open discussion with workers' representatives, the WDR 2019 team refused to meet with a 38-strong international delegation of trade union economists and policy officers that traveled to Washington in March for two days of meetings with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.  The International Trade Union Confederation, a global umbrella body representing labor unions around the world, had solicited the meeting several weeks in advance, wishing to be included in the "consultations with … international organizations, civil society organizations and leading researchers" that the WDR 2019 team has claimed to be carrying out since November.

The working draft of WDR 2019 examines the changing nature of firms and the impact of digitalization and other technological innovations, and essentially concludes that existing labor market institutions and social protection systems dependent on employer-employee relationships have run their course. Labor regulations "protect the few who hold formal jobs while leaving out most workers," and Bismarckian social security schemes (financed by workers' and employers' contributions) are passé because they cover only about one-third of developing-country populations.

The draft report does not examine options for incentivizing the formalization of work, despite the considerable efforts the International Labor Organization has made toward that goal and the real progress that has taken place in some developing countries to deliver the benefits of formalization: legal protection of workers' rights, including their right to safe workplaces, and access to social security.

Instead, the WDR takes informality as an inevitable state and, worse, implies that it should even be promoted. Nor does it examine how the undermining of labor market institutions through deliberate corporate strategies such as outsourcing and disguised working relations (for example, classifying Uber drivers as independent contractors) can be countered by providing legal protections for these categories of workers. Workers in the platform economy who have engaged in campaigns for recognition of their rights have encountered fierce resistance from their companies. WDR 2019 insinuates support for these companies by agreeing that these workers are not employees but "are emerging as a separate labor category".

With a few welcome exceptions, described below, any measure that would entail employers assuming obligations such as contributing to workers' social security is deemed unacceptable because it makes "workers more expensive." Similarly, "labor regulations of today" are to be rejected because they represent "a high cost for firms."

The WDR draft states that "one of the tools that merits rethinking is minimum wages … [whose objective] is to ensure a fair remuneration to workers that protects them against 'abuse' from employers." Minimum wages should be reduced and employers should be able to opt out of paying them if, for example, they have profit-sharing schemes. Protections against dismissal should also be weakened or eliminated because they create "structural rigidities" for firms and workers.

The deregulatory perspective of the draft WDR 2019 reflects early editions of the Doing Business report issued in the mid-2000s, which promoted large-scale elimination of labor regulations because, supposedly, they stifled investment and employment growth. After strong criticism from the labor movement, the ILO, and some governments, the World Bank suspended the Doing Business labor market flexibility indicator in 2009 and, two years later, began an extensive review of the economic literature on the claimed link between labor regulations and employment.

The overall finding, published in the Bank's World Development Report 2013: Jobs, was that the link was practically non-existent: "most estimates of the impacts [of labor regulations] on employment levels tend to be insignificant or modest." It is disappointing to see the draft WDR 2019 resurrect the myth without even attempting to refute the voluminous evidence on which the WDR 2013's finding was based.

After rejecting social protection financed by employer-employee contributions, the draft discusses various forms of universal basic income (UBI) and negative income taxes but states that the fiscal burden would be "problematic" and that "other taxes would have to be increased dramatically."

The report puts forward the need to increase revenues from carbon emissions and undertaxed digital platforms, especially those that use tax havens. While such proposals are welcome, this section of the report is devoid of any quantification of what these taxes would generate in developing countries where social protection coverage is weakest. One suspects that the third option put forward in the WDR 2019 is in effect the default option: regressive value-added taxes that finance measures far more modest than a UBI but instead would selectively target basic social assistance to the poorest, as is described in the section on "Reforming Social Insurance."

In WDR 2019's future world of work, where firms have been relieved of the burden of contributing to social security and have the flexibility to pay wages as low as they want and fire at will, the report insists that trade unions "would continue to play a role." However, it will not be in "tri-partite" dialogue models (quotation marks in original) because these don't include the informal sector.

In addition to bringing informal firms into dialogue structures, the report advocates "new arrangements for expanding workers' voice." The latter would include nongovernmental organizations that don't necessarily work on labor issues and social media where workers dissatisfied with their employers could express complaints — to be duly compiled by Cambridge Analytica, one presumes.

Categories: Latest News

Striking Teachers Offer Real Resistance to Incoherent Republicans and Gutted Democrats

Truthout - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 21:00

In the continuing teachers' rebellion sweeping the US, dozens of Oklahoma teachers have completed a 7-day, 110-mile march from Tulsa to the state capital Oklahoma City. Public schools across Tulsa and Oklahoma City remain closed as thousands of teachers continue their strike for education funding into a ninth day. The strike comes as the Supreme Court is considering Janus v. AFSCME, a case that could deal a massive blow to public unions nationwide -- and as President Trump is successfully appointing right-wing judges to federal courts, reshaping the judiciary for decades to come. We continue our conversation with Corey Robin, a professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Robin calls the conservative movement "weak and incoherent" and the Democratic Party "a gutted machine," and says labor organizing like the teachers' revolt are the "real resistance" in the US today.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as we continue with our guest, from Paul Ryan to what's happening around the country in the conservative movement and those that are challenging it. Nermeen?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, in Oklahoma, dozens of teachers have completed a 7-day, 110-mile march from Tulsa to the state capital Oklahoma City, where they will now meet with lawmakers to demand they pass legislation to fund education in Oklahoma. Public schools across Tulsa and Oklahoma City remain closed as thousands of teachers continue their strike into its ninth day.

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest Corey Robin recently wrote on Facebook, "In West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona, we're seeing the real resistance, the most profound and deepest attack on the basic assumptions of the contemporary governing order. These are the real midterms to be watching, the places where all the rules and expectations we've come to live under, not just since Trump's election but since forever, are being completely scrambled and overturned."

Professor Corey Robin, can you talk more about these teacher rebellions? I mean, you had the stoppage in Kentucky. You had West Virginia, and they won. You have now -- you have now Oklahoma and then Arizona. We're talking about Trump land here.

COREY ROBIN: I think it's really important for a couple of reasons. Beyond the specific issues of teacher pay and classrooms and quality of public education, which is in such a parlous state, what these teachers are really doing is raising the question about the low-taxes, low-public-services politics that we have been living with in this country for a very long time.

I just want to bring this back for an historical analogy. If we went back to 1978 -- and this is why the midterm question is important -- if you had looked at the midterm elections in 1978, you would have seen that the Democrats were still firmly in control of the House of Representatives, in the House, and the Senate, and in control of many state legislatures across the country. You would had very little inkling, just looking at the midterms, of the very profound right-wing counterrevolution that was coming in two years, in the election 1980. If, however, you had looked at what happened in California with Proposition 13, which was a public ballot initiative that basically made it very difficult to raise taxes anymore, there you would have have seen the future of American politics for the next half-century.

Likewise today, I think if you're looking at what's happening in Oklahoma, really, as you said, in the heart of Trump country, these teachers are saying -- are saying something that is such a challenge to the Republican Party about taxes and spending, but also to the Democratic Party. I think it's very important. Democrats have been terrified of being tagged as the tax-and-spend party, really since Walter Mondale. And what are these -- and the only times Democrats are willing to raise taxes is to deal with the deficit or the debt. What are these teachers saying? They're saying raise the capital gains tax, not to cut the debt or the deficit, not to be good government people, but instead to deliver vital public services that the public needs and wants. And I think that's the real challenge that they're posing.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this is such an astounding story that's happening in Oklahoma. You have schools that are only operating four days a week, because they don't have enough money for the fifth day, and the teachers don't have enough money to teach for the fifth day, because they need second and third jobs. We had a teacher who taught -- what -- for 20 years, and so had her husband, and her husband, on his day off, he sells his own blood products.

COREY ROBIN: I mean, it's horrible. But in a way, it's just a very extreme version, I think, of what happens in a lot of states. I mean, I teach at the City University of New York. It used to be one of the crown jewels of the city and of the state. It has also been -- systematically been underfunded and defunded, by both Republicans and Democrats alike. This is a national problem. What's so amazing is that it's being confronted in the place where you would think there would be the most support for it. And not only are they doing this --

AMY GOODMAN: You're talking about Governor Cuomo, Democratic Governor Cuomo, here in New York.

COREY ROBIN: Yes, Democratic governor. And going way back to his father, as well, defunded CUNY, but -- Mario Cuomo. But in Oklahoma, you know, these teachers are doing this, and they've got -- it's amazing to me, is that they've got overwhelming public support with what they're doing.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, has there been any precedent, is there any precedent, for this number of teachers' strikes, or even public sector workers, in general, in the U.S.?

COREY ROBIN: I think, oh, there definitely have -- I mean, public sector workers have really been in the forefront for the last 50 years --


COREY ROBIN:  -- of leading strikes. In the 1970s, particularly women and people of color were in the vanguard of a lot of these efforts, in organizing public sector workers. And, in fact, one of the reasons you could say that the Republican right has been so -- pushing so hard on this Janus decision, which would basically make it very hard for public sector unions, the Supreme Court decision, is precisely because they feel like that's the last bastion of unionized workers, and they are workers that tend to be, compared to the rest of the workforce, overwhelmingly women and people of color.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is why judges are so important right now, and as you have Mitch McConnell saying, "The fight should be in the Senate. We're going to lose the House," he said --


AMY GOODMAN:  -- apparently this weekend, according to The Washington Post, that the fight is around the judiciary. And they are packing these courts.


AMY GOODMAN: I mean, they do take this extremely seriously, for anyone who thinks that President Trump isn't getting anything accomplished.

COREY ROBIN: I mean, this has been very clear from the early part of the Trump administration. They were -- they bungled so many other things. But the one thing that, from the get-go, they knew how to do was to get the courts, the judges appointed. In fact, he's been appointing judges at a faster rate than Barack Obama did, I think faster than George W. Bush did. But that tells you something, though, I think, not about the strength of the conservative movement and the Republican Party, but about its weakness. McConnell is very clear about this: "If we can just hold on to the Senate, we can have a lock on the courts, not just the Supreme Court, but the courts, for 30 to 40 years." And remember, the judges they appoint, these are people who are, you know, in their fifties, in their forties, who will be with us for a very, very long time.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, you have this judicial nominee, Vitter, Wendy Vitter --


AMY GOODMAN:  -- who worked for the archdiocese in Louisiana, who, when confronted by Senator Blumenthal yesterday about whether she supports this landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, challenging desegregation, she demurred. She said she wouldn't say.

COREY ROBIN: Yes. Well, this is their -- this is the big strategy all the conservative justices and nominees have been pioneering, really going back to Judge Bork in the 1980s, which is: Say nothing, make no statements whatsoever about your points of view. And you can present yourself as if you're -- you know, remember, Clarence Thomas said he had no opinion whatsoever on Roe v. Wade. He had never -- he claimed he had never even had a conversation about Roe v. Wade, even though he was in law school when Roe v. Wade was decided. So this is a long-standing strategy, to say nothing about what your opinions are, and to get you in that way.

AMY GOODMAN: And you have Stephen Reinhardt now, who has just died, 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, a huge deal, was the last of President Jimmy Carter's federal judicial appointees. Trump can now remake the 9th Circuit.

COREY ROBIN: Yeah. I mean, and this is -- and this is really the goal. I mean, it's been really astonishing, again, given the dysfunction and the disorganization that we've seen throughout this administration, their inability to pursue things on so many fronts, but when it comes to this, this is something that they've been very focused on, you know, almost maniacally so.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, can you talk about, Corey, the rise of someone like Bernie Sanders and all the movements -- the Occupy Wall Street movement, Black Lives Matter -- in the context of what you were saying earlier, that these strikes are geared towards not just Republicans, or opposed not just Republican policies, but also Democrat policies?

COREY ROBIN: Yeah. So, you know, the -- as I've said, the conservative party -- the conservative movement in the Republican Party is quite weak, I think, and in part the reason why it's so weak is because conservatism, you know, as a historical project, really was overwhelmingly successful. The fundamental target of conservatism, number one, was the labor movement, and, compared to what -- the heyday of American labor, completely succeeded in destroying it. And the second target was the black freedom struggle, and they were very successful in destroying that struggle, as well. So, conservatism, I think we have to realize, has been very successful.

And what you're seeing now, I think, on the left, in both Occupy, Bernie Sanders, the teacher strikes, Black Lives Matter, is a growing confrontation, within the left, a growing reckoning of how successful, in fact, conservatism has been, and how feckless and ineffective the Democratic Party and traditional liberalism has been in opposing this. And I think, frankly, the real story in American politics right now is not so much what's happening with the Republican Party and the conservative movement, which, as I've said, is, by any historical measure, quite weak and incoherent, precisely because it was so victorious over the last several decades. I think the real story, the real question is: Is there going to be a force on the left, not just movements in the street, but an organized force that's able to tip this house of cards over?

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about that further, what exactly you mean, where you feel the Democratic Party is failing right now.

COREY ROBIN: Well, I mean, first of all, you can just look at the numbers. I mean, Bernie Sanders pointed this out in Mississippi the other day and got actually attacked for it. But the fact of the matter is, over the last 10 years the Democrats have lost nearly a thousand legislative seats. That's, I think, the highest proportion of seats lost under a Democratic -- a two-term Democratic president since at least maybe Dwight David Eisenhower. I mean, it's -- you oftentimes lose seats, but the proportions were just tremendous. And the Democratic Party as a whole is really a kind of gutted machine. I mean, the mere fact, I might say, that Bernie Sanders was able to get as far as he did in those primaries tells you how weak and sort of structureless and rudderless the Democratic Party is.

But I think the real question is, on the left: Do you have an ideology, a theory, a kind of set of accounts, similar, frankly, to what Ronald Reagan did in 1980 or FDR did in 1932? These are these two great realignment presidents -- "great" not in the sense that I support Reagan, but, you know, powerful. And what they did was articulate a really profound, completely countervailing set of ideas and institutions, and were able to shatter the existing dispensation. I think that's the question that's on the table and that Bernie is sort of slowly pushing towards.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Corey Robin, we thank you for this very interesting discussion, one we will continue, professor of political science at Brooklyn College and Graduate Center of the City University of New York, author of The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Donald Trump.

A very happy birthday to -- a landmark birthday to Anna Özbek!

Categories: Latest News

Will Senate Democrats Block Confirmation of Climate-Denying, Torture-Backing Pompeo to State Department?

Truthout - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 21:00

Confirmation hearings begin today for Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, tapped by President Trump to become the next secretary of state. Last year the Senate confirmed Pompeo to head the CIA by a vote of 66 to 32, but the vote is expected to be far closer this year. At least one Republican -- Rand Paul -- has already announced he will vote against Pompeo due to his support for the Iraq invasion and for torture. Pompeo also has a long history of ties to Islamophobic organizations, and the National Iranian American Council has warned that Pompeo's confirmation would threaten the Iran nuclear deal and increase the risk of a US attack on Iran. We discuss Pompeo's nomination with Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, and Zaid Jilani, a staff reporter at The Intercept.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: Confirmation hearings begin today for Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, tapped by President Trump to become the next secretary of state. Last year, the Senate confirmed Pompeo to head the CIA by a vote of 66 to 32, but the vote is expected to be far closer this year. At least one Republican -- Rand Paul -- has already announced he will vote against Pompeo due to his support for the Iraq invasion and for torture. And more Democrats are expected to oppose him this round. Democratic Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii said on Twitter, quote, "I voted YES on Pompeo for CIA on the theory that he would be the 'adult in the room.' I was wrong. I am voting NO on Pompeo for Secretary of State because our top diplomat should believe in diplomacy. He has an alarming tendency towards military provocation and brinkmanship."

Pompeo is a former congressman from Kansas, where he was widely known to be the Koch brothers' favorite lawmaker. He once wrote an article for Politico titled "Stop harassing the Koch brothers."

AMY GOODMAN: Pompeo also has a long history of ties to Islamophobic organizations. The group Act for America, which is considered the largest anti-Muslim group in America, awarded Pompeo its highest honor, the National Security Eagle Award, in 2016. The Southern Poverty Law Center considers the organization a hate group.

On the foreign policy front, the National Iranian American Council has warned Pompeo's confirmation would threaten the Iran nuclear deal and increase the risk of a U.S. attack on Iran. Pompeo is also a vocal climate change denier. More than 200 environmental groups wrote a letter this week to senators urging Pompeo's rejection.

We're joined now by two guests. Trita Parsi is founder and president of the National Iranian American Council, author of Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy. And Zaid Jilani is a staff reporter at The Intercept.

Zaid, you've been on Capitol Hill following what's happening in the preparations for the hearing today for Pompeo to become secretary of state. Talk about what you've found.

ZAID JILANI: Yeah, it's actually very interesting, because unlike a number of the nominees that went through last year when the Trump administration sort of initially staffed up, Mike Pompeo's nomination is actually in a bit of danger. One, as you played earlier, Senator Rand Paul, a leading Senate Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has already come out and said that he would try to block his nomination. Now, recall that when Pompeo was confirmed as CIA director, he received the support of 14 Senate Democrats as well as one independent, Angus King of Maine. That basically creates a calculus where, on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, they could effectively block Pompeo's nomination, due to the new sort of Senate dynamics.

Now, it is possible that they could bring Pompeo directly to the floor and bypass the committee, but that really hasn't happened, I think, in decades, or, ultimately, if President Trump really wants to appoint him, he could always use a recess appointment. But sort of forcing them to take those steps would withdraw a lot of political capital from the Trump administration and could -- you know, if the Democrats -- I believe Senator Paul has said something about Gina Haspel, who is nominated for CIA director, but it also applies here, which is that he said that if the Democrats show solidarity, they can block these nominations.

And I think that a number of them -- and you played the -- you know, you actually played the tweet from Brian Schatz, where he said he sort of changed his mind. I think a lot of those Democrats right now, you know, it's big question mark for them. A lot of them have not announced yet that they're going to continue to support Pompeo like they did last year. So I think that's really the big question in the room, is whether the Senate Democratic Caucus will stick together with Rand Paul and sort of block the nomination, or attempt to at least attempt slow it down.

AMY GOODMAN: Brian Schatz saying, "I voted YES on Pompeo for CIA on the theory [that] he would be the 'adult in the room.' I was wrong. I am voting NO on Pompeo for Secretary of State because our top diplomat should believe in diplomacy. He has an alarming tendency towards military provocation and brinkmanship." Zaid?

ZAID JILANI: Yes, well, I think, you know, that tweet shows sort of a -- you know, there's a learning curve, I think, among members of Congress. I think there was a logical error sort of made towards President Trump at the beginning, whereas -- you know, I think he was perceived as having sort of a very strong ideological bent, and they needed security state figures, like generals. For instance, a lot of senators, including even Bernie Sanders, voted for John Kelly to lead DHS for the same reason.

But I think a more -- I think what we're coming around to in Washington is understanding that Trump doesn't really have a very strong ideological bent. He's more of a pragmatist. But he's very malleable when it comes to the people who are around him. So, I think that in the first term, or the first year of President Trump's presidency, we've seen sort of moderate hawks around him, people who could easily have worked for Obama, most of them, of for Clinton. But I think now that you're seeing, you know, maybe Gina Haspel at CIA, John Bolton being national security adviser, Mike Pompeo at CIA, I think that that would be a tangible shift to the right. And I think that, you know, that's scaring a lot of, I think, people who were willing to go along with that strategy a year ago, like Brian Schatz.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Trita Parsi, could you talk about some of your concerns with Pompeo, and, in particular, the concerns that others have also expressed, that in nominating Mike Pompeo, Trump is more or less putting together a war cabinet, given that John Bolton has also just come in earlier this week as national security adviser?

TRITA PARSI: Yes, I think that is very much part of the context here that I think is also giving a lot of senators pause, which is that this is not just a vote for Pompeo. This would be to enable Donald Trump to have a Cabinet in which you have no longer these mythical "adults in the room" any longer, but rather almost exclusively yes men. And as a result, I think what is emerging on Capitol Hill is a understanding that a vote for Pompeo is essentially a vote for John Bolton, and a vote for John Bolton is a vote for war. And I think that has been one of the factors that has really changed the dynamics, because it's going to be very difficult for the Democrats to be able to justify such a vote, particularly mindful of the fact that we are very likely to see the death of the Iran nuclear deal, which then, once again, will open up the pathway for a war between the United States and Iran. You don't want to be a senator that has actually enabled that to happen by casting a vote for Pompeo, if you're on the Democratic side, as well as some Republicans. I mean, I think right now a lot of eyes are going to be on Senator Jeff Flake, because if Flake decides to vote against and all of the Democrats vote against, then Pompeo's nomination is dead.

AMY GOODMAN: I'd like to turn to Pompeo, speaking to Face the Nation about Iran and North Korea.

MIKE POMPEO: My critique of the Obama administration's JCPOA commitment was that they left the Iranians with a breakout capacity. They had a short time frame that these would -- these restrictions would remain in place. And North Korea's human capital and enrichment capacity continues to remain in place. Those are -- those are all things that present risk to the world, and President Obama is -- or, excuse me, President Trump is determined to prevent that from happening in North Korea.

AMY GOODMAN: Trita Parsi?

TRITA PARSI: Well, here again, I think you're seeing that Pompeo is saying something very different once he got through the CIA nomination than what he said at the CIA nomination hearings. Then, he struck a much more moderate tone, being very aware of that his hawkishness would be a concern for a lot of senators. And having read his -- the transcript of his statement that he's going to give today, it's very clear that he's very worried about this once again.

But his views, I think, have become quite clear now. They're undeniable. His rejection of the Iran deal is part of the reason why he's being nominated by Donald Trump to be secretary of state. And his arguments in regards to the breakout capability is entirely wrong, because in the case of the Iran deal, the breakout capability has been extended to one full year, which then, combined with the very, very intrusive inspections, makes it essentially impossible for the Iranians to be able to build a nuclear bomb without getting detected very, very early, which gives the world an opportunity to intervene. That is, of course, all based on the idea that we live up to our end of the bargain of this deal and allow those inspections to continue. But if we pull out of the deal, which Trump is very likely to do, particularly with people like Bolton and Pompeo around him, then we lose the inspections. And if we lose the inspections, forget about a 12-month breakout capability. That's when the real danger comes in. So, the path that Pompeo is arguing for is actually the exact path that would lead us to some of these disastrous consequences.

And one approach that he's had to all of this, that I think we should be very concerned about, is that as head of CIA, he was presented with evidence from the CIA that show that the Iranians are living up to the deal. His response was, "Well, we know that they're still cheating." He had no evidence for that, but he had already drawn that conclusion. That reminds us of what happened during the Iraq War, in which the conclusion was drawn first, and then the CIA was being asked, "Now go find the evidence for it."

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Trita, I want to go to another related issue, which is his -- Pompeo's well-documented Islamophobia. Now, in June 2013, two months after the Boston Marathon bombing, then-Congressman Mike Pompeo erroneously claimed Muslim groups had not condemned the attack.

REP. MIKE POMPEO: It's been just under two months since the attacks in Boston, and in those intervening weeks, the silence of Muslim leaders has been deafening. … When the most devastating terrorist attacks on America in the last 20 years come overwhelmingly from people of a single faith and are performed in the name of that faith, a special obligation falls on those that are the leaders of that faith. Silence has made these Islamic leaders across America potentially complicit in these acts. … If a religion claims to be one of peace, Mr. Speaker, its leaders must reject violence that is perpetrated in its name.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: A day after Pompeo gave those remarks, the Council on American-Islamic Relations wrote to him demanding an apology. CAIR and a number of other Muslim -- major Muslim organizations had in fact condemned the marathon bombings, many within hours of the attack, and organized blood drives and other relief efforts in Boston. Pompeo never apologized or responded to the letter from CAIR. So, Trita Parsi, can you -- can you talk about that and your concerns about the way in which Mike Pompeo has spoken about Muslims in America?

TRITA PARSI: Well, I think, once again, we're saying that his line of thinking is very much in line with the thinking of Donald Trump here. So, rather than being someone that actually would be able to bring in a different perspective into the White House, balance things, be an "adult in the room," as Brian Schatz originally thought Pompeo would be, instead we're seeing someone that actually will be enabling the worst instincts of Donald Trump. And I think this will be very dangerous to have someone as the secretary of state holding those views, because these are views that are considered and are extremist views, and it's going to create additional problems for the United States if, in its diplomacy with the rest of the world, is propagating views of this kind.

AMY GOODMAN: 2015, Mike Pompeo appeared on the radio show of longtime Islamophobe Frank Gaffney, Pompeo agreeing with Gaffney that then-President Obama had a, quote, "affinity for Muslim terrorists." This clip begins with Gaffney.

FRANK GAFFNEY: I wonder whether in fact what the president is conveying to them is not simply that he doesn't understand, but that there's really kind of an affinity for, if not the violent beheading and crucifixions and, you know, slaying of Christians and all that, but at least for the cause in which these guys are engaged in such activities. Given you're watching this very closely, of course, from your vantage point on the Intelligence Committee, could that possibly be a takeaway for bad guys who hear him saying nothing about their ideological agenda?

REP. MIKE POMPEO: Frank, every place you stare at the president's policies and statements, you see what you just described. So, the Egyptians bomb terrorists in eastern Libya, and the administration says, 'Gosh, we can't support that.' The Egyptians, under their leader, el-Sisi, begin to push back inside the ideology of the faith, and our president refuses to talk about it that way. Today, Americans are sitting at a table with the Iranians, the largest state sponsor of terror in the world, treating them as if they're a negotiating partner. Every policy of this administration has treated America as if we are the problem and not the solution to keeping not only America safe, but a stable world.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that's Mike Pompeo in 2015. Zaid Jilani, if you can talk about this and how this is being discussed on Capitol Hill right now? Again, connections to a number of anti-Islamic groups, not to mention these kind of views.

ZAID JILANI: Well, I think this is exactly the kind of thing that we would expect Congress to start interrogating Pompeo on today, when he starts -- has his first hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee folks. You know, Pompeo not only has appeared and made some sort of offensive remarks here and there. He's actually been a booster of an organization called Act for America, which is led by a woman named Brigitte Gabriel, who argues, you know, very strongly that the essential problem with terrorism are basically essentialized to the religion of Islam.

Of course, our diplomats across the world have to deal with a very large Muslim population. Most of our conflicts and sort of hotspots in the world right now are with Muslim-majority populations. And it's very unclear whether, you know, Mike Pompeo actually knows how to speak diplomatically, whether he can actually suppress these sorts of views. Even if he was doing this as a matter of political pandering for a domestic audience at one point, he hasn't demonstrated the ability to do the opposite, which is to be able to engage and constructively hold dialogue with Muslim populations worldwide, which is something, honestly, that I think Rex Tillerson did effectively at times. You know, as a former sort of Exxon CEO, he kind of had a lot of experience dealing with sort of Muslim-majority head of states, so on and so forth. And I think, actually, he did show some capacity to do that diplomacy. But Mike Pompeo just hasn't demonstrated anything like that. And I think that's exactly the kind of thing you're going to see members of Congress sort of buzzing him on when he starts his hearings today.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let's go back to Mike Pompeo, in 2014, Congressman Pompeo, addressing a church group in Wichita, his hometown.

REP. MIKE POMPEO: This threat to America is from people who deeply believe that Islam is the way and the light and the only answer. And so, as we think about what U.S. policy needs to be, how we will begin to combat this, we need to recognize that these folks believe that it is religiously driven for them to wipe Christians from the face of the Earth. They may be wrong. There's some debate about that, what the crowd actually says. They may be wholly misguided. And I will tell you it is absolutely a minority within the Muslim faith. But these folks are serious, and they abhor Christians and will continue to press against us, until we make sure that we pray and stand and fight and make sure that we know that Jesus Christ as our savior is truly the only solution for our world.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that is Mike Pompeo a few years ago, speaking in Wichita, his hometown, as congressman. So, Zaid Jilani, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, in a coalition of more than 200 national organizations, wrote a letter on Monday urging senators to vote no on Pompeo. How significant is this?

ZAID JILANI: Well, I think it is significant, in the respect that when Mike Pompeo, I think, was being sort of, you know, appointed to CIA, when he was very easily confirmed by the Senate, I don't think we saw the same level of pushback. I think, just as -- you know, what Brian Schatz said in his statement, there was a belief that he was sort of a longtime sort of standing member of Congress with security credentials. You know, he should be in there as the "adult in the room." But I don't think that his views were necessarily interrogated with as much rigor as they are being now.

And I think that particularly with those 14 Democratic senators and the one independent in Maine, Angus King, who supported him in his CIA nomination, you know, they need to hear from their constituents, and they need to hear particularly from organized interest groups, like the 200 that signed that letter, about how they're going to be held accountable, should they vote to confirm him, because, honestly, you know, members of Congress are very political creatures. You know, they care about votes, and they care about money. And if they feel like either of those two things are on the line, they're much more likely to vote against the nominee. So I do think that the rising sort of activist interest this time will definitely change the calculus. And I can't predict whether all 14 Senate Democrats who voted for him before, as well as the one independent, would turn against him, but I can tell you -- I can guarantee you that he's going to get less votes this time than he did last time.

Categories: Latest News

Corporate Media Reprise Iraq in Beating War Drums for Trump Attack on Syria

Truthout - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 21:00

Protesters hold Syrian flags as they take part in a demonstration against bombing Syria at the Place of Châtelet in the center of Paris, France, on April 11, 2018. (Photo: Julien Mattia / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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With the US's major corporate cable outlets -- particularly so-called liberal networks like MSNBC -- continuing to uncritically provide generals and lawmakers a massive platform to beat the drums of war as President Donald Trump inches closer to launching a military attack on Syria, critics have concluded that the US media has clearly learned nothing from the crucial role it played in cheerleading for the Bush administration's catastrophic invasion of Iraq in 2003.

"The push for escalation on TV is overwhelming," Cenk Uyger, host of The Young Turks, observed in a tweet on Wednesday, reacting to the numerous instances this week of television hosts opining on Trump's "military options" with the likes of Iraq War supporter and retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey while refusing to question the underlying rationale for or legality of unilateral military action.

"It's incredible how readily the cable news channels have politicians on pushing for war in Syria with almost no questions asked about how disastrous it might be or the so-called evidence," Uyger added. "They pretended to learn lessons from Iraq but have actually learned nothing."

As media critic Simon Maloy lamented in a column at Media Matters, the behavior of much of the corporate media "indicates how alarmingly comfortable much of the mainstream press is with the idea that the president can just up and decide to initiate military hostilities whenever, wherever, and for whatever reason -- even when there is no actual reason at all."

Almost entirely absent from the prevailing discussion of Syria on US cable networks in recent days -- which one journalist described as "a parade of one war hawk after another" -- has been any mention of the alternatives to military action.

Exemplifying this total exclusion of peaceful options was a segment on Wednesday by MSNBC's Ali Velshi, who provided his viewers with a quick rundown of the possible actions the president could take in Syria -- from "small strike" to "more damaging strikes" to "strikes on Russian and Iranian bases" -- without ever mentioning one major choice: no airstrikes at all.


After telling Russia to "get ready" for missile strikes in Syria, @AliVelshi takes a look at President Trump's military options.

— MSNBC (@MSNBC) April 11, 2018

Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, argued on Twitter that the corporate media's relentless elevation of pro-war voices since the Assad regime was accused of carrying out a chemical attack on Sunday is "making John Bolton's wildest dreams come true."

As Common Dreams reported, Bolton officially took over as Trump's national security adviser on Monday as the White House weighed whether to strike Syria militarily.

"In his first week on the job, everyone is calling for a new war," Timm noted.

The cognitive dissonance in the media the last two weeks is really something to behold.

Last week: John Bolton is a maniac whose going to dangerously lead Trump to start a new war.

This week: The Trump admin *must* launch a new war in John Bolton’s first few days on the job.

— Trevor Timm (@trevortimm) April 11, 2018

With outlets like CNN and MSNBC leaving a massive vacuum by refusing to raise even the most basic questions about the Trump administration's push for military action in Syria, Tucker Carlson of Fox News has been one of the few cable hosts to criticize the rationale for war and offer a platform to an anti-war voice.

In an appearance on Carlson's primetime show Tuesday night, The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald argued that it is the "standard tactic" of the corporate media to smear opponents of US wars in an effort to shut down legitimate questions about the rush toward military action.

"This climate arises that you're just supposed to cheer when it comes time to drop bombs on other countries, not ask whether there's evidence to justify it, not ask whether it will do any good, not ask whether it will kill any civilians," Greenwald said. "And if you do ask one of those questions it means you're on the side of America's enemies. It's an incredibly authoritarian tactic that gets used to suppress debate."


Categories: Latest News

"Confusing" Messages

Truthout - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

Yes, We Are Like Frogs in Boiling Water With Trump as President

Truthout - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 21:00

Amidst a sustained hurricane of appalling chaos, Siskind provides grounding for evaluating the real damage of the Trump presidency. In the following excerpt from The List: A Week-by-Week Reckoning of Trump's First Year, Siskind recalls how she came to begin compiling The List.

Donald Trump speaks during a round table discussion on tax reform, at White Sulpher Springs Civic Center in White Sulpher Springs, West Virginia on April 5, 2018. (Photo: Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images)

As we feel battered by the media covering every vile Trump tweet storm, Amy Siskind's The List offers the chance to review the details of his destructive trail. Get the book and support Truthout. Click here.

Amidst a sustained hurricane of appalling chaos, Siskind provides grounding for evaluating the real damage of the Trump presidency. In the following excerpt from The List: A Week-by-Week Reckoning of Trump's First Year, Siskind recalls how she came to begin compiling The List.

On the morning of Saturday, November 19, 2016, I found myself driving up to Val-Kill, the home of Eleanor Roosevelt. The week before, Trump had stunned the country by winning the election, and I was still reeling. The country's reaction to his victory was swift and hideous: The bigots in America took it as a legitimization of their hatred of others, and acts of hate were ubiquitous. Trump had ratcheted up his criticism of free speech, tweeting insults that morning at Saturday Night Live, the New York Times—even the cast of Hamilton. This isn't normal, I found myself thinking. We are in great danger.

I needed to take a break from the steady stream of e-mails flooding my inbox. This is the worst day since 9/11 . . . What do we do now? How could I assure others that we were going to be okay when I wasn't sure myself? I needed the steadying influence of my personal heroine. I found myself wondering, What would Eleanor do today?

That Saturday was a crisp, sunny day, and Val-Kill a familiar vision of peace in what already felt like a country in chaos. I first started by reading Eleanor's quotes on government and democracy and courage, walked by the old typewriter she used to write her weekly newspaper column, My Day, then took my dogs along the trails she had walked each morning with her Scottish terriers. My heart felt heavy, but somehow, in Eleanor's presence, I felt less scared playing her words in my mind again and again, "Courage is easier than fear."

As I walked, I found myself thinking about some of the articles I'd read in the aftermath of the election. Experts in authoritarianism—Masha Gessen, Sarah Kendzior, and Ruth Ben-Ghiat—wrote about the tools of autocrats: using hatred as fuel, silencing dissent, disregarding norms, and breaking down trusted institutions. All described how things would be changing, slowly and subtly, warning us not to be fooled by small signs of normalcy on our march into darkness. Sarah Kendzior suggested that citizens write things down, starting that day, making a list of the specific things they never would have believed, things that they never would have done, before the regime came into power.

On the ride home, I knew what I had to do, and I started that night.

The List didn't start with any grand ambitions or even a vision. I just had an instinct to write down all of the things that were happening—things that were not normal. Each Saturday, I shared The List on Facebook and Twitter. Week 1 had nine items, but by Week 2, The List had doubled to eighteen items and concluded with, "I'm sure there are more. This list is overwhelming already." Little did I know. A few weeks in, as the readership started to take off, people asked that I add source links so they could read the articles: Already the chaos was building, there was so much to keep track of, and people were missing news items. A professor from my alma mater who read The List e-mailed to say, "We are the frog in the water who doesn't notice it is getting to boil degree by degree."

The weekend before Trump took office, January 14, 2017, The List went viral for the first time: Week 9, with thirty-six not-normal items, was picked up by several prominent progressive bloggers and had close to two million views. I wrote a short note that week observing that in normal times, "any one of these items would be a shock" and the "lack of consequences has changed me, and I suspect us all." I told readers I hoped The List would help us "trace our way back to normal when this nightmare is over."

The Women's March was the next weekend, and I chose to walk in my home city of New York, thinking that in a smaller crowd I would run into my friends. More than four hundred thousand showed up—a sign that Americans, especially women and members of marginalized communities, would not go quietly. In the coming weeks, as Trump took office and power, the weekly lists grew to sixty items, and my Saturdays were spent catching up on documenting our falling norms.

Even as The List grew longer week by week, the themes remained consistent: Trump was interested in making money and staying in power, and he would take whatever steps necessary to make these things happen. Every week he fanned the flames of hate: from signing the Muslim Bans to the Transgender Military Ban, to ending DACA, to increasing ICE roundups, to repealing the Global Gag Rule, to taking swipes at NFL players. He took steps to consolidate power such as installing regime members to undermine the very agencies they were meant to lead, silencing dissent and our free press, intimidating the legislative branch, and stuffing the judicial branch full of extremists. At the same time, Trump transformed our standing in the world, alienating our closest allies while cozying up to authoritarians, including, of course, Putin.

In May, as Trump continued staffing up the regime, the lists of not-normal items were approaching one hundred per week. Now there were many hands involved in the work of destabilizing our fragile democracy, but key roles at federal agencies were left vacant and many seasoned veterans had departed. Especially noteworthy was the loss of diplomatic channels in our state department. Meanwhile, the Trump-appointed agency heads had open-door policies for lobbyists and executives from the industries the agencies are designed to regulate. Week by week, rules and regulations put in place to protect the environment, consumers, marginalized communities, women, the poor, and people with disabilities were being rolled back.

In late June, I received a message from Margaret Sullivan at the Washington Post, asking if she could interview me about The List. I was thrilled! I had been waiting for the right columnist and publication for The List's coming-out story. Margaret's article went viral, reaching the top of the most-read pieces at Washington Post online with more than two million views. Shortly thereafter, someone who read the article nominated The List to be archived at the Library of Congress. I was incredibly grateful that The List would now be preserved for posterity, and would also have a home safe from hackers. At the suggestion of journalism professor Jay Rosen, I wrote a blog post memorializing this development. The very next day, I became the target of Russian-state media outlets and blogs....

Truthout Progressive Pick

The details of Trump's march toward authoritarianism.

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By mid-July, I realized the items I was listing weren't the only things subtly changing—I was changing as well. I felt like the character Carrie on Homeland, with thousands of items and trails of connections to Trump's end mapping out in my head. Naïvely, that day at Val-Kill months earlier, I imagined justice would catch up and Trump would be gone by the summer. The injustices were piling up, but there was no accountability or consequences! I headed to Vermont for some solitude and space to marinate on my new reality. At this point, I was devoting more than twenty hours a week to The List, and my old life and plans for what came next were sidelined. I decided I should record how this was affecting me and visited my favorite bookstore to pick out a diary. The first entry reads, "I am on the toughest climb of my life, and the hill feels steep and unrelenting."

A personal challenge throughout was staying engaged and dispassionate without losing my empathy and humanity. The country I love was under siege, and I was heartbroken and devastated. There were events, like Charlottesville and Myeshia Johnson standing over her husband's casket, where I found myself staring at the computer screen with tears streaming down my face. There were weeks when, with my growing public voice, I spoke out against hate and became a target myself. After Week 39, in August, I tweeted at web-hosting company GoDaddy, complaining about the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer's inflammatory attack on Charlottesville heroine and martyr Heather Heyer. Within twenty-four hours, the Daily Stormer was taken down, but my home address and phone numbers were posted online. That week I hired an armed security guard to be stationed outside my home. As summer came to an end, I was spending some thirty hours a week on the lists, which were now approaching 120 items each. When I cracked a tooth and made an appointment with my endodontist, she gave a diagnosis without missing a beat: "This is what happens in dictatorships. You're screaming in your sleep!" She advised getting a mouth guard, which, she offered up, many of her patients were doing. Ironically, as I sat in her office waiting to be seen, I was reading an op-ed by Dana Milbank, "President Trump Is Killing Me. Really," describing the impact on his physical health. Psychotherapists remarked on their patients' focus on politics— a feeling of outrage, fear, and loss of control. Our country was truly suffering, physically, emotionally, and mentally, under the Trump regime.

As year one of The List drew to a close, I reread the articles by the experts on authoritarianism, and their predictions were coming true: Trump was still holding his campaign-style rallies with chants of "Lock her up!" as he encouraged the FBI and DOJ to do the same. He was still complaining about the "rigged system," which he assured his raucous crowds he would fix by silencing the fake media and dismantling what was left of the Deep State corrupt institutions that hampered him from assuming full control. It turns out authoritarians do follow a fairly predictable game plan—even if new to us and our fragile democracy. Our country has spent a year in chaos, and so often people worry out loud about forgetting all the events that happened in a single week. And so I am grateful I took the experts' advice and constructed a trail map for us to follow back to normalcy and democracy—a journey, sadly, I suspect will take years if not decades to travel.

Copyright (2018) by Amy Siskind. Not to be reproduced without permission of the publisher, Bloomsbury Publishing.

Categories: Latest News

Zuckerberg Grilled by Same Lawmakers Who Repealed Online Privacy Protections

Truthout - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 21:00

Last year, many of the same lawmakers currently grilling Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about data harvesting and user privacy quietly voted to repeal some of the only online privacy protections on the federal books. The debate over regulating the internet is increasingly partisan, with Democrats siding with Silicon Valley and Republicans siding with the telecom lobby.

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg appears for a hearing with the House Energy and Commerce Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building on Wednesday April 11, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Matt McClain / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

This time last year, Republicans in Congress were rushing to pass legislation repealing the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) online privacy protections that prevented internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast from harvesting and selling internet personal data without explicit permission from their customers.

The move was deeply unpopular, but the GOP reportedly hoped voters would be distracted by the controversy surrounding the attempted repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Democrats were united against the legislation, and President Trump quietly signed it into law.

Just one year later, many of the same lawmakers who voted to repeal the privacy rules were eager to grill Mark Zuckerberg about Facebook's high-profile privacy problems as the embattled CEO testified before Congress this week. Zuckerberg has built an empire on data gathered from Facebook users and used to sell targeted ads -- and the scandals are piling up.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican who introduced the legislation in the House that repealed the FCC privacy rules, told Zuckerberg that Facebook was "beginning to look like The Truman Show."

"My constituents in Tennessee want to know that they have a right to privacy," Blackburn told Zuckerberg during a marathon hearing held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday.

If Blackburn is so concerned about privacy, then why did she push to repeal some of the only online privacy protections on the federal books?

Critics point to Blackburn's campaign finance records, which show that telecom companies subject to the FCC rules she helped throw out are some of her top donors. The answer also lies in an increasingly partisan debate over net neutrality and how the government should regulate competing companies that create and shape the web.

Perhaps aware of the bad optics surrounding the repeal of the FCC privacy rules, Blackburn introduced her own online privacy protection proposal a few months later. Her bill would require both internet service providers (ISPs) and web services like Facebook to ask users for permission before sharing their sensitive personal information with third parties.

The bill, known as the BROWSER Act, sounds good on paper but includes several caveats that critics say are designed to benefit her backers in the telecom industry, including language that would preempt states from instituting tougher privacy protections on their own.

Tim Karr, a spokesperson for the digital rights group Free Press, said Blackburn is known for designing legislation to benefit companies like Verizon and AT&T that have donated to her campaigns.

"There is a legitimate question about whether Rep. Blackburn is a good faith actor in this space; she has routinely come down in defense of the phone and cable companies at the expense of edge companies like Facebook and Google," Karr said in an interview.

During Tuesday's hearing, Blackburn demanded to know whether Zuckerberg would commit to backing her bill. Zuckerberg ducked the question, telling the congresswoman that he wasn't "directly familiar" with the details of the legislation.

"Let's get familiar with the details," Blackburn responded.

Facebook Is Not the Internet

Blackburn's privacy bill must now compete with several others aimed at big web platforms, but unlike his counterparts in the broadband industry, Zuckerberg is not kicking and screaming in the face of regulation. Zuckerberg was more supportive when Democratic lawmakers brought up plans to roll out privacy regulation, signaling that Facebook is willing to be regulated as long as it can work with the party most aligned with Silicon Valley to shape what those regulations look like.

In fact, he repeatedly told lawmakers during hearings in the House and the Senate that he supports federal privacy regulations if they're done "right," and Facebook users across the globe would benefit from upgrades resulting from new privacy rules established in Europe.

Blackburn's legislation, on the other hand, would ensure that online content platforms like Facebook and Google would never regain a competitive advantage over internet ISPs that they would have enjoyed under the FCC's privacy rules.

It all goes back to the 2015 Open Internet order that established much-debated net neutrality rules at the FCC. Just like telephone companies are required to treat calls from other providers equally, the order reclassified ISPs as "common carriers" that must refrain from discriminating against data on their networks. This also allowed the FCC to impose the privacy rules Blackburn helped scrap last year.

Those rules required ISPs to ask customers for permission before selling personal information and data about their browsing habits to third parties, which providers routinely do unless users take initiative to opt-out. Republicans and the telecom industry cried foul, arguing that the rules did not apply to companies like Facebook, which continue to profit from collecting data without asking users to opt-in to targeted advertising schemes first.

Digital rights advocates argue that there is a key difference between an ISP and an edge provider like Facebook that justified the FCC's targeted regulation. You need an ISP to connect to the internet, but once online, signing up for Facebook and sharing data on its network is totally optional.

This explains why Zuckerberg is open to privacy regulations. If users don't trust Facebook to protect their privacy, they may move on to other platforms. Deleting an account with an ISP and switching to a new provider is not as simple, and in many parts of the country, consumers can only choose between two or three providers -- if they have a choice at all.

"You can get by without Facebook; you do suffer an economic consequence if you are a business and it's important and requires regulation, but the fact is, it's not on the same level as fundamental communications infrastructure," said Harold Feld, vice president of the digital rights group Public Knowledge, in an interview.

Zuckerberg was careful to make this distinction between the internet services we pay for and the Facebook services that users get for free. He repeatedly told lawmakers that users "own" their data and can control how information they post on his website is shared.

"I would differentiate between the ISPs, which I consider to be the pipes of the internet, and the apps for platforms on top," Zuckerberg told a packed Senate hearing Monday, adding that people have different expectations of internet providers and websites, so it would make sense to regulate them differently as well.

Of course, the sheer ubiquity and popularity of Facebook, and services like Instagram and WhatsApp have made the products virtual necessities for both individuals and businesses, and Zuckerberg is doing everything he can to convince lawmakers to shrug off antitrust concerns. Still, Karr said Facebook could never be considered a common carrier service.

"There's a tendency to try to look at edge providers and platforms and ISPs as the same thing, but they are different and those legal definitions are important," Karr said.

A Widening Partisan Divide

Under the FCC's net neutrality rules, the government considered the internet more like a public utility that everyone needs to use than an information service like Facebook. The ISPs hated this and asked their allies in the Republican Party to dig them out. Their wish was granted after President Trump won the election and installed a Republican majority at the FCC, which promptly threw out the net neutrality rules late last year.

Democrats are fighting to restore net neutrality and declare ISPs "common carriers" once again. This would benefit edge providers like Facebook and Google, which fear that, without net neutrality, they could be forced to pay ISPs extra to reach customers at priority speeds. It also explains why Blackburn's legislation would prevent the FCC from reinstating privacy rules for the AT&Ts and Comcasts of the world, leaving the job up to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) instead.

Blackburn's plan would let the FTC regulate privacy at web platforms like Facebook as well, and she pitches her bill as a one-size-fits-all solution for the whole internet "ecosystem." After two days of hearings, it was clear Zuckerberg and many Democrats would rather see different regulations for the companies that hardwire the internet and the companies that build websites and apps. Feld said Blackburn's bill is clearly backed by the telecom industry.

"The FTC, which doesn't have a privacy statute and operates pursuant to its general consumer protection statute, is the lowest common denominator on privacy," said Feld, who added that the FTC must win in court to make enforcement actions. "To the extent that there is a privacy rule, it's the weakest possible privacy rule."

Congress could have left the FCC privacy rules for ISPs in place and then figured out what to do about Facebook's glaring privacy problems, but Republicans scrapped those rules instead, leaving the public with no protections in place while lawmakers engage in an increasingly partisan debate over how to regulate the internet. For that, at least, you can blame the GOP.

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Categories: Latest News

Trump's Rush to Judgment on Syrian Chemical Attack: Illegal and Deadly

Truthout - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 21:00

Donald Trump speaks with the media before a meeting with his cabinet in the Cabinet Room of the White House April 9, 2018, in Washington DC. (Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool / Getty Images)

Although there has been no independent investigation, Donald Trump is blaming Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for a chemical attack that killed 49 people. Trump is vowing to retaliate but bombing Syria would run afoul of the US's own War Powers Resolution passed by Congress in 1973. Moreover, it would violate international law and risk a confrontation with Russia.

Donald Trump speaks with the media before a meeting with his cabinet in the Cabinet Room of the White House April 9, 2018, in Washington DC. (Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool / Getty Images)

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Donald Trump says the United States is about to bomb Syria, and Russia has vowed to shoot down US aircraft with missile defenses in response. With John Bolton, the new national security adviser and infamous enemy of the United Nations by Trump's side, diplomacy is not in the cards.

Although there has been no independent investigation, Trump is blaming Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for an alleged chemical attack on Saturday in Douma, a suburb of Damascus, that killed 49 people.

As he did before bombing Syria with Tomahawk missiles one year ago -- also in retaliation for an alleged gas attack -- Trump is rushing to judgment about who was responsible. And once again, the military force that he's threatening to use now would violate both the War Powers Resolution and the UN Charter. 

Moreover, as groups of international law experts, including this writer, noted, "an act of violence committed by one government against another government, without lawful justification, amounts to the crime of aggression: the supreme international crime which carries with it the evil of every other international crime, as noted by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1946."

Bombing Syria could also lead to a dangerous confrontation with Russia. Trump tweeted early Wednesday morning: "Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!' You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!"

Yevgeny Serebrennikov, first deputy chairman of Russia's upper house's Defense Committee, said Sunday that Russia would immediately respond to US airstrikes in Syria. "A military intervention under far-fetched and fabricated pretexts in Syria, where there are Russian soldiers at the request of the legitimate Syrian government, is absolutely unacceptable and could have the most dire consequences," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Both Syrian and Russian authorities denied that Assad was responsible for the chemical attack.

To read more stories like this, visit Human Rights and Global Wrongs.

Assad has already taken back from the rebels over 90 percent of Eastern Ghouta, which includes Douma, so it seems unlikely he would attack Douma. Moreover, Trump announced last week he intended to withdraw US troops from Syria. It is thus counterintuitive to conclude Assad would have launched a gas attack in Douma.

On April 6, 2017, Trump bombed Syria after declaring that Assad had used sarin gas at Khan Sheikhoun two days earlier. Assad had denied ordering the attack. But the Trump administration ignored all dissenting voices.

Assad's responsibility for the 2017 attack has never been definitively confirmed. Indeed, on February 8, Defense Secretary James Mattis admitted the United States had "no evidence" that the Assad government used Sarin against the Syrian people.

Trump said the United States is "getting clarity" and "some pretty good answers" about who was responsible for the Douma attack. But no independent investigation has yet been done.

Nonetheless, Trump has signaled that he's about to authorize the firing of missiles at Syria. That would be illegal and potentially catastrophic.

Bombing Syria Would Violate the War Powers Resolution

The War Powers Resolution, passed by Congress in the wake of the Vietnam War, permits the president to introduce US troops into hostilities or imminent hostilities only when Congress has declared war, when Congress has passed "specific statutory authorization" for the use of military force, or when there is "a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces."

None of these three prongs is present to justify the use of military force in Syria. Congress has neither declared war nor passed legislation authorizing a US attack on Syria, and Syria has clearly not attacked the United States or US armed forces. As a result, a military attack on Syria would run afoul of the War Powers Resolution.

The Trump administration justified its 2017 bombing of Syria by citing the president's commander-in-chief authority under Article II of the Constitution "to defend important US national interests." But Article II gives the president power to command the US military only after Congress has authorized war pursuant to its Article I authority.

"Humanitarian intervention" is not an established norm of international law. The use of military force is lawful only in self-defense.

On May 22, 2017, Protect Democracy, a group of former Obama administration lawyers, filed a Freedom of Information lawsuit to make public the Trump administration's memo detailing its legal justification for the April 2017 US military strike on Syria. Although the administration says that memo is classified, Protect Democracy has discovered that the classified portion can be easily redacted. However, the administration refuses to make the memo public. On Monday, Protect Democracy filed an emergency motion for release of the memo in light of the "potentially imminent military action" in Syria.

Bombing Syria Would Violate the UN Charter

Even if an attack by Trump on Syria did not violate the War Powers Resolution, it would still violate the United Nations Charter. The United States has ratified the Charter, making it part of US law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, which states that treaties shall be the supreme law of the land.

The Charter says that countries "shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state."

A country can mount a military attack against another country in self-defense after an armed attack or if the Security Council has authorized it. Neither has occurred in this case.

Syria has not attacked the United States or any other country. "The use of chemical weapons within Syria is not an armed attack on the United States," according to international law expert Notre Dame law professor Mary Ellen O'Connell.

Nor has the Council granted the United States license to use military force against Syria. Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, called for compliance with resolution 2401, passed on February 24, 2018, in which the Council demanded an immediate cessation of hostilities to enable humanitarian assistance and medical evacuation. Resolution 2401 ends by stating that the Security Council "Decides to remain actively seized of the matter." That means the Council -- and only the Council -- has legal authority to order any measures, forceful or otherwise.

Any military attack that Trump would launch against Syria would therefore violate the Charter. In fact, under Article 51, Assad would have a valid self-defense claim in the event the United States initiated an armed attack on Syria. Russia could also mount airstrikes in collective defense of Syria.

In a tweet, Trump decried the "humanitarian disaster" created by the gas attack in Syria. But "humanitarian intervention" is not an established norm of international law. The use of military force is lawful only in self-defense or with Security Council approval. Neither is present in this case.

Bombing Syria Could Lead to a Dangerous Confrontation With Russia

CNN Turk reported that a US Navy destroyer -- the USS Donald Cook -- armed with 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles is now located off the coast of Syria. A Navy source confirmed that report to the Washington Examiner, saying the destroyer "got underway in the eastern Mediterranean within range of Syria Monday."

Russian leaders warned that any use of military force by the United States would have "grave repercussions."

Last month, Russian government officials threatened to respond with military force if Trump were to attack Syria and thereby endanger the lives of Russian soldiers stationed there. "In the event of a threat to our military servicemen's lives, Russia's Armed Forces will take retaliatory measures to target both the missiles and their delivery vehicles," Russian Army Gen. Valery Gerasimov warned.

What Should Be Done?

The Security Council met on Tuesday but could not agree on a resolution. Russia vetoed a US-prepared draft that would create a mechanism to assign responsibility for chemical attacks. The United States vetoed a Russian-drafted resolution that would have required investigators to report their findings to the Council, which would in turn assign responsibility.

But Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the UN, declared that the United States would act against Assad, with or without the United Nations.

There is already an established body that has launched an investigation into the allegations of chemical weapons use in Douma. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), with support from Russia and Syria, is gathering and analyzing data from all available sources. OPCW's Director-General, Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, is preparing to deploy a fact-finding mission team to Douma to investigate.

Immediately after Trump announced that the US bombing of Syria was imminent, Maria Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, wrote on Facebook, "Smart missiles should fly toward terrorists, not the legal government that has been fighting international terrorism for several years on its territory."

Zakharova added, "By the way, were the OPCW inspectors warned that smart missiles will destroy all evidence of chemical weapons use on the ground? Or the whole idea is to quickly cover up the traces of provocation through the smart missiles, so the international inspectors have nothing to look for as evidence?"

There are several alternatives to bombing or attacking Syria. The Friends Committee on National Legislation has proposed a four-point plan, which includes full US support for the OPCW investigation; a congressional vote against any further US military action in Syria; a meeting between the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey and the Gulf States to revive international negotiations toward a diplomatic solution; and the United States promptly increasing its settlement of Syrian refugees.

Dueling US and Russian airstrikes in Syria would exacerbate regional conflict and could lead inexorably to a global war.

Categories: Latest News

How Trump's Immigration Policies Harm Children

Truthout - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 21:00

The Trump administration has attacked immigrant communities from day one with a range of misguided proposals and executive orders that undermine civil rights and terrify families.

These efforts are having devastating effects -- right now, as well as potentially long term -- on the health and well-being of our nation's youngest residents.

Documenting the Harm

Two new reports issued by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) examine how the Trump Administration's anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy priorities are wreaking havoc in the lives of young children. Through interviews with more than 100 child care and early education professionals in six states, along with focus groups with dozens of parents, CLASP found pervasive effects of these threats on children.

The reports detail disturbing signs and behaviors of distress, as well as serious risks to young children's healthy development. Because of their isolation and fear, immigrant families are reluctant to seek nutrition assistance, health care, and early care and education programs, which is compromising the wellbeing of their children.

Examples included a special-needs child being pulled out of recommended treatment by parents fearful of being detained by immigration authorities, early childhood programs unable to fill their classrooms despite burgeoning need, and families declining nutrition assistance.

From Bad to Worse

A new federal regulation being drafted by the US Department of Homeland Security would push kids, parents and other members of low-income immigrant households further into the shadows by dramatically altering the "public charge" provision of federal immigration law.

The most recent version of this draft proposal was leaked to the media last month and aims to punish immigrant families who seek access to health, nutrition, and housing programs for themselves and their children.

Under the proposed rule, any person whose family seeks or uses a wide range of human services programs -- from affordable housing, home heating assistance, and health coverage, to anti-hunger benefits, the earned income tax credit, and other essential services -- could face barriers to maintaining or improving their immigration status.

The proposed rule would expand scrutiny to include the applicant's family -- including US citizen children. If the draft provisions are finalized, parents would be forced to make impossible choices between putting food on the table for their children or obtaining secure immigration status.

We know that access to preventive health care and nutrition helps improve childhood outcomes, which extends to better education and employment outcomes in adulthood. Creating barriers to essential programs would have lifelong damaging consequences for millions of children in immigrant families.

Increased immigration enforcement and anti-immigrant rhetoric is already deterring immigrant parents -- documented and undocumented alike -- from seeking medical help for their children or enrolling them in critical programs.

The Trump administration's dangerous proposal would deny more children access to lifesaving care and drive up poverty among families with young children who are vital to our collective future.

Children of immigrants represent one quarter of our increasingly diverse US child population and will make up a critical segment of the future workforce. Preventing these kids from having their most fundamental needs met and driving them further into poverty will undermine our communities and our country for generations to come.

What's Next

The draft notice of proposed rulemaking was sent to the Office of Management and Budget at the end of March. The next step is for the rule to be published as a proposal in the Federal Register. Then, the public will have a relatively short window of opportunity to make comments and pose questions on the published rule.

For now, immigrant families should continue to seek benefits for which they are eligible. As currently drafted, the rule would not be retroactive and -- even if finalized -- some immigrants are not subject to the public charge determination.

During this unprecedented time of attacks on immigrant families, advocates must come together and reject this dangerous and shortsighted proposal, and others like it, which seek to divide our communities and undermine low-income, working families. Ultimately, our nation's leaders should be pushing for policies that help all our children thrive -- regardless of where their parents were born -- for their sake and for that of the entire country.

Join Us and Fight Back

We can't sit on the sidelines while the Trump administration attempts to punish parents for feeding their kids. The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) are monitoring this threat closely and leading a strong pushback effort together with our partners across the nation. Once the proposed rule is published, there will be an opportunity for public comments, which the agency must respond to before finalizing these changes.

We invite you to join us in submitting comments to the Department of Homeland Security in opposition to this rule and encouraging others in your network to do the same.

For more resources, talking points, and information about how you can connect with other advocates in this fight, please visit Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) website.

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Categories: Latest News

Six Months Into #MeToo, We Still Aren't Helping Victims Heal

Truthout - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 21:00

This article was published by

Living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is, in many ways, similar to living with cockroaches. When you first notice the infestation, it's all you can think about. Even if it's small, even if you only see a little black bug scuttling across the kitchen floor once every few days, you are consumed by panic. You feel their legs brushing your face as you lie in bed trying to fall asleep. You imagine their wiggling antennae poking out from the bottom of your coffee cup. Under every pillow, behind every cabinet, you imagine you will uncover a new nest, writhing with horrible little bodies that scurry across your toes as they try to escape the sudden exposure.

Then, after a while, you get used to them. They get worse; they multiply. But you stop noticing. Eventually, you flick them off your body like nothing. You watch with dull reserve when you uncover yet another nest. They become a part of your life. Once you have roaches, you can never really get rid of them -- you can only try to mitigate their effects.

Women have been dealing with a lot of roaches. The viral MeToo hashtag has brought to light the horrifying impact of sexual and physical assault against women, which is an inarguable advance from the (sometimes not-so-distant) times when violence against women was so widely accepted it was used to sell household products. Like any powerful social movement, however, it has its critics. "Why now?" has become one of the biggest questions detractors are asking. If this is such a major problem, why didn't survivors come forward earlier? Why do so many still hold back from reporting, or testifying in court?

People still ask me those questions. They ask even though it's 10 years after the end of my abusive relationship, and even though I still live in a world overrun by my trauma. They ask even though providing the testimony that would incarcerate my abuser meant inviting a lifetime of PTSD, which arises only in the aftermath of trauma, when the long-used survival mechanisms fail to shut off.

The events that took place between the ages of 15 and 20 remain trapped in my body like shrapnel too precarious to be extracted. They are distanced from the rest of me by dissociation and selective amnesia; psychological post-traumatic scar tissue. I can't always recall the details attached to each trigger, but I know them by their symptoms: anger, shame, debilitating self-doubt, panic attacks, suicidal ideation, substance use, an unshakable sense of not belonging.

I didn't know exactly how much the aftermath would hurt until I finally walked away, but I had inklings every time I tried. I would spend days cycling between joy and misery; torn between my desire to live free from violence, and the despairing knowledge that healing would require painful, arduous work. When I finally testified, it was in spite of myself. I had already recanted previous reports countless times before I finally gathered the courage to stand my ground.

Domestic violence is so intensely damaging because it is personal, targeted, isolating, and private, but that pressure to recant is nearly universal. In a 2011 study of abuser-victim dynamics, Amy Bonomi and other researchers listened in on recorded conversations between jailed male abusers and their female partners. In 17 of 25 pairings, the abuser was able to convince his partner to recant her testimony (the other conversations were inaudible or included people who were not the primary victim). All of these conversations followed a pattern: The abuser first minimized the assault, then elicited sympathy from his victim by describing the hardship of life in jail, before romanticizing the "good times," bonding over a shared dislike of a hostile authority figure, and finally requesting that she recant.

Given the likelihood that victims recant, it's no wonder prosecutors seemed concerned when my abuser's conviction hinged on my testimony. The county assigned me a victim's advocate who coached me through the court process and periodically checked in on my welfare and willingness to speak in court. But after the sentencing, it was four years before I heard from their office again -- and then only to meet with me briefly about his release. I was not set up with a network of trauma care workers. Nobody followed up to learn whether I had stable housing, or how my job search was going after school. I was left alone to deal with the aftermath, and 10 years later I am still struggling to overcome that oversight.

Studies have found that women who survive intimate partner violence suffer myriad long-term physical and mental consequences. (Although domestic violence happens across the gender spectrum, it is most common between male assailants with female partners; because of this, most research focuses on couples that fit this dynamic). Digestive problems, eating disorders, issues with reproductive organs, headaches, and blackouts are some of the most common physical ailments associated with domestic violence. PTSD develops at a 74:3 ratio in women who have been abused versus those who have not.

I've always lived below the poverty line, but before developing PTSD, I never struggled for what I really needed. The aftermath of abuse left me floundering for everything. No one warned me how hard it would be to stay alive after the relationship was over. I was able to complete graduate studies in writing, but not without a good dose of heroin -- and that, of course, came with its own set of debilitating consequences. Before building enough contacts and credits to work as an income-earning freelance writer, I was mostly unemployed, occasionally bouncing between telefunding jobs, and constantly struggling to keep my family housed and fed. Even recently, when my husband suffered a costly health complication, we ended up with an impending eviction that we were only able to skirt through an online fundraiser.

The financial devastation I experienced is not unique. Since the 1990s, health officials have known that battered women experience significant interruptions to their jobs that include unemployment, missing work, being late or leaving early, and even being fired. More recent data confirm that financial insecurity continues to be a major issue for abuse survivors -- domestic violence is thought to account for a combined total loss of 8 million work days each year. Couple that with the fact that 99 percent of women who are physically abused also experience financial abuse, and the well-recorded difficulties associated with escaping poverty (especially if mental illness is involved), and you begin to see a very grim picture -- one that leaves already-vulnerable victims struggling to access enough resources to survive.

Survivors of intimate partner violence should not disappear into a black hole after escaping the abuse, nor should we assume they are okay just because they are "safe." The evidence says they are not. And so, six months into #MeToo, we need to start dealing with the wreckage.  #MeToo allowed women to realize that they were not alone -- that many of us have cockroaches, and the filth does not belong to us. #MeToo allowed women to let out a long-awaited sigh of relief. But it also triggered some survivors, who weren't ready to face their trauma. It made women feel guilty for not being ready. It made those on the outside think that sending the aggressor to prison was the end of the story. It made people forget that domestic violence survivors still need help, even after the relationship ends.

There is no longer any basis to argue that domestic violence doesn't have a long-term physical, psychological, and financial toll. The question is now, what are we going to do about it?

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Categories: Latest News

Woman Who Hates Endangered Species Act Will Be in Charge of Wildlife Policy

Truthout - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 06:23
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As if endangered species didn't have enough to worry about, they're about to have a vocal opponent of animals and conservation overseeing their protection in the White House. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has named Susan Combs to serve as the acting assistant secretary of fish, wildlife and parks.

To fully understand why Combs is such a terrible pick, take a look at her history as a comptroller in Texas. In that role, she routinely went up against the US Fish and Wildlife Service when they tried to enforce portions of the Endangered Species Act in her state. She also successfully fought to keep the golden-cheeked warbler and the dune sagebrush lizard from being included on the endangered list.

Combs made it her business to protect the oil industry and other corporations from the supposed drag of having to make adjustments to preserve vulnerable species. She opposed pretty much every creature considered for endangered designation on economic grounds.

Perhaps most infamously, Combs once labeled animals included on the official endangered list as "incoming Scud missiles." How her mind managed to decide that animals in need of conservation efforts are equivalent to deadly weapons is completely perplexing.

You're kidding yourself if you think this nomination is some kind of accident. It's both deliberate and telling for Zinke to put a known opponent of the Endangered Species Act in charge of wildlife policy.

Granted, Combs cannot dismantle the Endangered Species Act -- that kind of thing would require legislation by Congress. However, from this secretary position, should we have the discretion to enforce the rules, thereby allowing companies to flout the rules without repercussions. Furthermore, the policies she would promote are almost certainly not going to benefit the wildlife she's charged with protecting.

Interestingly, this role is not the first for which the Trump administration has nominated Combs. Last summer, she was named the assistant secretary for policy, management and budget for the Interior Department, but the Senate has yet to confirm her for a number of reasons, not the least of which was vehement opposition from conservation organizations.

Evidently, when a women hates endangered species that much, you just have to make sure she gets a job somewhere in your administration!

The Interior Department says it is still hoping to have her fill the original role, but it wants her to take on this other job in the meantime. Although this second position also requires Senate confirmation, due to technical rules, she can serve it in an acting capacity until Senate puts it in a vote, meaning to prevent her from wreaking havoc in this job she's unsuited for, the Senate will have to not just vote no, but do so quickly.

Take Action

Let's make sure that happens. The Senate obviously has some reservations about Combs in the first place, so let's encourage them to reject her nomination via this Care2 petition. Animals in this country deserve better than to have a longstanding opponent of the Endangered Species Act put in control of their welfare.

Categories: Latest News

Trump's Scandal-Plagued Labor Board Will Soon Be Back to Full Strength

Truthout - Tue, 04/10/2018 - 21:00
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Republicans look set this week to fill the vacancy on President Trump's embattled National Labor Relations Board.

The Senate on Tuesday voted 50-47 to limit debate on John Ring, the nominee to fill the seat previously held by former NLRB chair Phil Miscimarra.

Ring is currently a partner with Morgan Lewis & Bockius, a union-busting management side law firm, based in Philadelphia. Some of his recent major clients include Amazon, Marriott, Xerox, and Google, according to financial disclosures.

Miscimarra stepped down in December, after quickly ushering through a series of rulings, with Republicans set to temporarily lose their Board majority upon his retirement.

One of those decisions -- a reversal of an Obama-era expansion of corporate liability for franchise practices -- was lambasted in February by the NLRB Inspector General.

The comptroller found that Republican Board member Bill Emanuel should have recused himself, citing a major conflict of interest. Emanuel's former law firm, Littler Mendelson, had argued against the Obama administration’s ruling on joint employment.

The Inspector General also said Miscimarra improperly used the underlying case, Hy-Brand, to overturn the Obama-era standard set in Browning-Ferris.

"[T]here is no material discussion of the Hy-Brand matter in the part of the decision that overrules Browning-Ferris," said IG David Berry.

The report caused the Board to vacate Hy-Brand, in a move that has led to finger-pointing and recriminations among Republicans.

During his confirmation hearing, Ring said that the December vote put a "cloud over the NLRB." Last week, in a legal motion, however, NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb urged the Board to reconsider its reversal of Hy-Brand.

In recent weeks, Robb has also moved quickly to seek judicial approval of a settlement, in a case involving McDonald's workers, based on Browning-Ferris.

Hundreds of workers for the fast food giant say they were harassed and punished for joining the Fight For 15 movement to increase the federal minimum wage. Their lawyers are asking for the settlement to be thrown out. Last week, an administrative law judge heard arguments in litigation over the deal.

Categories: Latest News

Betsy DeVos Tries to Pit Kids Against Striking Teachers: It's Just Another Right-Wing Scam

Truthout - Tue, 04/10/2018 - 21:00

Teachers are holding massive walkouts in Oklahoma and threatening to do so in Kentucky, right on the heels of a similar labor protest movement in West Virginia. Educators are fed up in many red states. Republicans, unsurprisingly, oppose this surge of worker activism and have landed on a familiar strategy and talking point: Pitting striking teachers against their students.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks at the National Parent-Teacher Association's 2018 Legislative Conference March 13, 2018, in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo: Win McNamee / Getty Images)

Teachers are holding massive walkouts in Oklahoma and threatening to do so in Kentucky, right on the heels of a similar labor protest movement in West Virginia. Educators are fed up in many red states that slashed taxes and budgets following the Great Recession and failed to raise new revenues in response to the economic recovery. Republicans, unsurprisingly, oppose this surge of worker activism and have landed on a familiar strategy and talking point: Pitting striking teachers against their students.

"I think about the kids," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told the Dallas Morning News when asked about the Oklahoma walkout. "I think we need to stay focused on what's right for kids. And I hope that adults would keep adult disagreements and disputes in a separate place, and serve the students that are there to be served."

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, tried a similar tactic, suggesting that real teachers "want to teach their children" and that the teachers union was somehow opposed to that goal.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, another Republican, has characterized the teachers as greedy and childish, saying their behavior is like that of "a teenager wanting a better car."

"That's a very classic talking point," said Jon Shelton, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the author of "Teacher Strike! Public Education and the Making of a New American Political Order." "That's wrong, of course. Teachers by and large go into it because it's a calling. They do this because they care about kids and want what's best for them."

"Kids don't benefit from teachers who are overworked and tired because they have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet," said Joseph Slater, a professor at University of Toledo College of Law who specializes in labor law. "Nor do kids benefit from good teachers leaving their school district, their state or the teaching profession altogether because of poor wages, hours and conditions."

Right off the bat, it should be noted that teacher strikes do not meaningfully impact student performance. Harris Zwerling of the Pennsylvania State Education Association researched the impact of teacher strikes in the state and found no "statistical relationship between the incidence of teacher strikes and their duration and district level student performance."

Accusing the teachers of neglecting the students is a particularly hard sell when it comes to the Oklahoma walkouts. The state has already offered the teachers a $6,000-a-year raise, and while that falls short of the $10,000 the teachers are asking for, it's likely that teachers would settle at that price if all they wanted was fatter paychecks. But the Oklahoma protests have continued into their second week because the teachers want more  -- for their students. Specifically, teachers are demanding $200 million to restore education funding that's been cut.

David DuVall, executive director of the Oklahoma Education Association, explained to the Oklahoman that "class size limits, librarians, those kinds of things, still exist in law, but there is a moratorium on those being required because of a lack of funding."

"But with additional funding, that moratorium would come off and we can restore those vital positions to our schools," he added.

Despite efforts from Republican politicians to confuse the issue, the Oklahoma teachers have made clear that these protests are meant to benefit students as much as teachers. Textbooks are battered and falling apart, and are often decades old. Teachers claim they haven't been able to turn on lights in hallways and have been forced to keep classroom thermostats at 57 degrees, forcing kids to wear coats to school.

In some districts, class time has been cut back to four days a week to save money. DeVos claims to want kids back in school, but seems completely uninterested in this particular problem, which could be solved by increasing education budgets.

It's no surprise that so much of what teachers are demanding is for the students, Shelton explained. "The reality is the conditions under which teachers teach are the same under which students learn," he said. "Teacher unionization has, by far, been a net benefit to schools in this country."

For decades, teacher organizing has led to increases in education spending, smaller classroom sizes and less teacher turnover. In 2011, Wisconsin passed Act 10, a law designed to undermine the collective bargaining rights of teachers. Subsequent research from David Madland and Alex Rowell of the Center for American Progress demonstrated that the change in law led to an immediate decline in teacher quality in the state, as more teachers quit their jobs and the pool of teachers became much less experienced overall.

Gender likely plays a major role in how undervalued public school teachers are. The latest statistics show that 76 percent of teachers are women, and when women "do things collectively to get a better deal for themselves, they're seen as acting selfishly," Shelton argued, noting that the gender of the strikers likely contributes to their "infantilization" by politicians. 

"If police officers or firefighters were asking for something similar, there's no way they would be called spoiled teenagers," he added. 

Evidence for this comes from Wisconsin, where police and fire departments -- male-dominated agencies  --  were exempted from Act 10 restrictions on collective bargaining rights, while public employees in more female-dominated sectors, especially teachers, were not. In Ohio, legislators pushed a law that would have curtailed labor organizing rights for all government workers, including police and firefighters, and that effort eventually failed. The contrast between these Midwestern states suggests that male-dominated professions are seen as untouchable while women are expected to get by on less.

"Teachers are the ones who are constantly asked to sacrifice," Shelton noted. And as the evidence makes clear, when teachers are forced to sacrifice, the quality of children's education suffers as well.

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