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"A Better Deal" for American Workers? Not Without Unions

Truthout - Sat, 08/12/2017 - 21:00

A labor protest at Beacon Hill, Boston, Massachusetts, February 26, 2011. (Photo: sushiesque / Flickr)

At the Tufts Medical Center in Boston, 1,200 nurses recently walked off the job, initiating "the largest nurses' strike in Massachusetts's history and the first in Boston for 31 years."

In New York, lawyers representing farmworkers recently argued in the State Supreme Court that they have a constitutional right to organize.

In the Pacific Northwest, indigenous Oaxacan farm workers have organized the "first new farm worker union in the U.S. in a quarter century."

In New York City, Fast Food Justice, a new nonprofit, will advocate for fast-food workers on issues affecting members, although they will be forbidden to undertake bargaining wage levels directly with employers.

And in the South, "workers involved in the Southern Workers Assembly are ... focused on building a network of smaller minority unions that lack collective bargaining to create a groundswell of union support."

These encouraging and varying actions to organize workers could portend resurgence in the labor movement in this country  -- or they may be the final act in the slow death of unions.

Glimmers of hope are matched and sometimes overshadowed by defeats, as when the United Auto Workers union lost a unionization vote last week at the Nissan car plant in Canton, Mississippi by 62 to 38 percent vote. A victory could have led to a revitalization of organizing in the South. Instead, the union's lack of influence among Southern auto workers serves to reduce its bargaining power to stop plant closings in Detroit and other manufacturing centers.

The future of unions is precarious. Union membership has been in steady decline. The stridently anti-union stance of the Trump administration, Congressional Republicans and state government Republicans, as well as a hostile Supreme Court, pose a substantive threat to union existence.

Since 1983, the number of unionized employed wage and salary workers has decreased from 17.7 million to 14.6 million in 2016. As a percentage of total employed wage and salary workers, the decline has been from 20.1 percent in 1983 to 10.7 percent in 2016.

Union Affiliation: 1983 to 2016:

(Source: Current Population Survey)

Despite his rhetoric during the presidential campaign, Donald Trump's administration has moved to reverse several pro-labor actions taken by the Obama administration. His proposed budget will decrease funding for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB, an institution intended to protect workers from employers, and his expected appointment of Republicans to the two vacant seats on the NLRB will likely result in the reversal of various pro-union rulings, including those holding companies responsible for labor violations committed by contractors and franchisees, making it easier for relatively small groups of workers within a company to form a union, and granting graduate students at private universities a federally protected right to unionize.

The Department of Labor is rescinding the "persuader rule" which previously required contractors to disclose if they had hired a consultant to "persuade" employees against joining together in union. And Congress is discussing three anti-union bills: The Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act, The Employee Privacy Protection Act and The Employee Rights Act.

Right-to-work laws now exist in twenty-eight states, including Wisconsin, Missouri, Kentucky, Iowa, and Michigan, once the heartland of American labor. In right-to-work states, workers who are not union members are not required to pay union dues or their equivalent, although they benefit from collective bargaining agreements reached on behalf of all workers in a specific sector. The huge financial burdens placed on unions as a result threaten to undermine their financial viability.

The death of Antonin Scalia forestalled an unfavorable Supreme Court decision that could have doomed unions in the case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. With the addition of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and the pending hearing of a similar case --  Janus v. AFSCME  --  the Court may rule against unions in its next session. A ruling against labor will have the same effect nationwide for public sector workers as right-to-work laws have at the state level.

Resisting this threat, unions need to recognize the changing composition of their membership. Whereas union membership was formerly predominantly male, white, and concentrated in the private sector, especially in the transportation, construction, and manufacturing sectors, it is now increasingly female, disproportionately black, and has gained membership only in the education and health sectors, while declining substantially in the transportation and manufacturing sectors. Union membership in the government sector is now almost equal to that in the private sector.

Between 1983 and 2016, the number of male union members decreased by about 4 million --  from 11.8 million in 1983 to 7.9 million in 2016. By contrast, the number of women union members has increased by almost 800,000, increasing from a little less than 6 million in 1983 to almost 6.7 million in 2016.

Union Membership: Demographic Composition 1983 to 2016:

(Source: Current Population Survey)

Although the percentage of unionized workers has decreased for all racial and ethnic groups, black unionization rates are proportionately higher than for whites, Hispanics, or Asians. In 2000, about 17 percent of all employed black wage and salary workers were union members; by 2016, it had fallen to 13 percent. By contrast, only 13 percent of white wage and salary workers were unionized in 2000; in 2016, the percentage had fallen to 10.5 percent.

Overall, whites made up 69 percent of union members in 2016, compared to almost 75 percent in 2000; the share of blacks has remained constant at almost 14 percent; the share of Hispanics has increased from 9 percent to almost 13 percent, and that of Asians from 4 percent to almost 5 percent.

Union Membership: Racial and Ethnic Composition, 2000 and 2016

(Source: Current Population Survey)

Union membership in the private sector declined from almost 12 million in 1983 to about 7.5 million in 2016. By contrast, union membership in the government sector has grown from a little more than 5.7 million in 1983 to 7.1 million in 2016. While only 6.4 percent of all private sector workers were unionized in 2016 --  down from 16.8 percent in 1983 --  34.4 percent of government workers were unionized in 2016, slightly less than the 36.7 percent rate in 1983. Within the government sector, 27.4 percent of federal workers were unionized in 2016, 29.6 percent of state workers and 40.3 percent of local government workers.

Union Membership: Private and Government Distribution, 1983 to 2016

(Source: Current Population Survey)

Among the industrial sectors with higher rates of unionization, membership is still primarily concentrated in transportation, construction, and manufacturing. However, their share of union members declined considerably between 2000 and 2016: in the transportation sector from 26.0 percent to 18.9 percent, in construction from 17.5 percent to 13.9 percent, and in manufacturing from 14.9 percent to 8.8 percent. Although much smaller, membership has fallen slightly in the wholesale and retail sector --  from 5.9 percent to 4.2 percent --  and in the leisure sector --  from 3.8 percent to 3.0 percent. By contrast, union membership has risen slightly in the education and health sectors  --  from 7.9 percent to 8.2 percent.

Union Membership: Industrial Composition, 1983 to 2016

(Source: Current Population Survey)

Many of the benefits workers have gained going back to the late 19th century ("eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, eight hours for what we will"), including unemployment insurance, workers' compensation, health and safety laws, child labor laws, health and retirement benefits, and others, are a result of the long history of union activity. Unions continue to be a pivotal bulwark against further deterioration in working conditions. Additional threats to unions will further corrode economic security of working people.

The evidence demonstrating the successful achievements of unions is clear. For example, research shows:

  • Non-unionized workers, in particular non-unionized men, have endured substantial wage losses with the declining membership of private-sector unions since the late 1970s, exacerbating wage inequality. The most hurt have been non-union men who did not complete college or go beyond high school.
  • Membership in unions has raised the wages of black workers and increased their access to health and retirement benefits. They enjoy higher wages and better access to health insurance and retirement benefits than their non-union peers.
  • The steady disappearance of the middle class is a direct outcome of the decline in union membership. Research shows that, between 1984 and 2014, almost half of the decline in the middle-class workers can be attributed to a weakening labor movement, in turn contributing to rising inequality.
  • The decline in unionization among the working poor is the most important state-level influence on individual working poverty, larger than the economic performance or social policies of the state as well as many other individual predictors of poverty --  "where unions are weak, working poverty is widespread and where unions are stable, working poverty is much less common . . . the striking decline of unionization in the U.S. has stalled what might have been progress in reducing working poverty."
  • A comparative international analysis found "strong evidence that lower unionization is associated with an increase in top income shares in [twenty] advanced economies during the period 1980–2010," although causality is difficult to establish.
  • Research by the Economic Policy Institute supports the correlation.

Union Membership and Share of Income Going to the Top 10 Percent, 1917 to 2015

(Source: Adapted and updated from EPI)

The union-household vote for Hillary Clinton in the recent presidential election was the lowest for a Democrat since Jimmy Carter won only 48 percent of the union-household vote in his defeat by Ronald Reagan. Only 51 percent of union households voted for Clinton, while Donald Trump won 43 percent, more than any other Republican candidate since Reagan in 1980 and 1984.

White workers, especially union workers in Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, many of whom had voted for Obama, backed Trump, casting the decisive votes to secure Trump the presidency. While Obama won white union workers by a margin of 18 percent, Hillary Clinton did so by only 8 percent.

Union Household Vote in Presidential Elections, 1976 to 2016

(Source: Roper Center; Note: Doesn't always add up to 100 percent)

The Democratic Party recently announced "A Better Deal" for working people in the United States. Writing in the New York Times, Senator Chuck Schumer claimed that "Democrats will show the country that we're the party on the side of working people." Similarly, Nancy Pelosi in the Washington Post wrote, "Americans deserve better than the GOP agenda, so we're offering a better deal."

Aside from criticism of the slogan, the Democrats have received guarded support for this initiative from parts of the left, accompanied by harsh criticism for some of the policy proposals, as well as dismissal from other sections of the left.

Noticeably absent from "A Better Deal" is any mention of unions. Maybe the Democrats still have much to learn from Jeremy Corbyn's achievement in the British election. In its election manifesto, the British Labour Party makes clear that in striving for "a fair deal at work," it will "empower workers and their trade unions -- because we are stronger when we stand together."

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Donald Trump's Ethical Slander Against Syrian Refugees

Truthout - Sat, 08/12/2017 - 21:00

Reading personal testimonials can bring to life the human dimension of cruel conflicts, says author Wendy Pearlman, whose book, We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled, presents firsthand interviews with Syrian refugees in eight different countries. Treated as pawns in a proxy international conflict, civilians deserve a chance to present their own narratives about the conflict.

Thousands of displaced Syrians wait in deteriorating conditions to enter a reception center on the island of Lesbos on October 14, 2015, in Mitilini, Greece. (Photo: Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

The personal stories of ordinary Syrians have all too often been ignored or distorted by the media to exploit their suffering and serve an agenda. In a heart-wrenching and enlightening new book, We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled, Syrians speak for themselves, sharing their memories of war and displacement with Wendy Pearlman and thus, with readers. Order your copy by making a donation to Truthout today!

Through their personal narratives, Wendy Pearlman tells the story of Syrian refugees and those persecuted in Syria. Pearlman is optimistic that in the end, the valiant will of the Syrian people will triumph over an oppressive regime and the use of Syrian civilians as pawns in a proxy international conflict.

Mark Karlin: How did you decide to tell the story of the Syrian crisis through the voices of refugees?

Wendy Pearlman: I am a great believer in personal testimonials as a way of honoring how ordinary people make history in general, and bringing to life the human dimension of cruel conflicts, in particular. My first book, Occupied Voices: Stories of Everyday Life from the Second Intifada, was a collection of interviews that I conducted with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the year 2000. When protests began in Syria in 2011, I was again moved to record personal stories. Syrian citizens were transforming history, and I believed that it was important to document the feelings, thoughts and experiences that were a part of this transformation. As conditions in Syria were becoming increasingly dangerous, I decided to interview Syrians who had fled to other countries. I made my first interviewing trip to Jordan in 2012 and during the years that followed continued interviewing displaced Syrians across the Middle East and then Europe. Over time, I saw how the personal stories that I gathered fit together to tell a larger Syrian story. I curated the book to express that collective narrative, which I hope can help readers both understand the Syrian conflict and deepen their respect for Syrians' sacrifices, courage and resilience.

What criteria did you use for the persons whom you interviewed?

Wendy Pearlman. (Photo: HarperCollins Publishers)My initial goal was to interview any Syrian I could. I was convinced that every person had a story, and every person's story contributed a piece to the larger puzzle of the Syrian conflict. I began the project with just a few contacts and these snowballed into an ever-growing number of entry points into diverse communities and social networks. I made special efforts to speak to people who varied by gender, socio-economic class, rural or urban background, educational level, and home region in Syria, among other characteristics. To this end, I did interviews in eight different countries and different towns within each country.

The book offers a diverse portrait, with one important caveat: the overwhelming majority of people I interviewed were opposed to the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and my book focuses on this slice of the Syrian political spectrum. While this does not represent all Syrians, it is a part of the population that meets with too few chances to represent itself. I believe that it is important to understand their perspectives and experiences, and to appreciate what the Syrian revolution means to those who have championed it.

In your introduction and in the categorization of refugee perspectives, you have divided them into sections. Let's go back to the beginning: How did Syria become an authoritarian one-party military dictatorship?

That is a long story, but here is the political history that I believe to be essential. Under French rule and then after it became a sovereign state in 1946, Syria had a parliamentary system dominated by a small, conservative, affluent elite. This system, already weak, unrepresentative and out of touch with the population, was further discredited by defeat in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Against this backdrop, a military coup in 1949 launched what became nearly 15 years of political instability and repeated military interventions in politics. During the same years, socioeconomic developments fostered the rise of a new middle class, an increasingly politicized peasantry and radical political movements, such as the Ba'ath Party. In 1963, army officers affiliated with the Ba'ath Party launched a coup. In 1970, General Hafez al-Assad, one of many Ba'ath rivals jostling for position, margin seized power. Assad built a single-party security state that severely curtailed political rights and freedoms and concentrated power in the person of the president. He ruled through a combination of redistributive economics, a large public sector, an omnipresent security apparatus and pervasive threat of violent repression.

When the Muslim Brotherhood launched an insurrection in the city of Hama in 1982, Assad responded with an assault that flattened the city and left up to tens of thousands dead. This state violence warned generations of what the regime would do to those who challenged it. During the decades that followed, Syrians adopted the expression, "Whisper, the walls have ears," as a way of indicating that it was safest not even to talk about politics. Meanwhile, the Ba'ath's once-revolutionary ideology was reduced to increasingly empty rhetoric, while the party stood as a tool for cooptation, surveillance and intimidation.

What relationship does the current Syrian configuration as a nation have to the European colonial era of rule?

The borders of the nation-states in the Eastern Mediterranean, [including] Syria, Lebanon, Iraq [and] Jordan ... were drawn by European powers after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. Still, I think it is unhelpful to view these countries as strictly colonial impositions, and thus ignore the agency of the people living there. The post-Ottoman national configurations built on foundations of pre-colonial authenticity. Under late Ottoman rule, trade relations, transportation routes, circulation of newspapers, intellectual movements and other developments began to connect towns and villages in ways that fostered supra-local senses of community. National identities further solidified under colonial rule as governments instituted national symbols, practices and institutions, such as a flag, national currency, school curriculum, state bureaucracy, state laws, police forces and enforced borders. Also, each of these countries birthed anti-colonial movements that sought independence in the name of the nation. That also helped make nation-state identities real and meaningful for citizens. Patriotism continued to solidify during the generations since independence.

Syrians are divided about who should be in power in Syria -- but I think, most deeply want Syria to remain a unified country.

Then and now, there remains an important role for identities that are smaller than the nation-state (such as local or family-based ties) or larger than the nation-state (such as Pan-Arabism or transnational Islamism). But I agree with most scholars of the modern Middle East who emphasize that national identities are the chief unit of political belonging in the region today. This was clear in the 2011Arab uprisings to the degree that, in every country, protesters went out in the streets carrying national flags and chanting songs and slogans in the name of the nation. It remains clear to me today as I continue to do interviews with Syrians who are pained by the thought that the Syrian nation-state that they love and cherish might undergo some sort of partition. Syrians are divided about who should be in power in Syria -- but I think, most deeply want Syria to remain a unified country.

There is a moving richness of thought and emotion voiced by the people who speak in your book. How do you respond to Donald J. Trump labeling all Syrian refugees -- among others -- as potential terrorists?

In my opinion, the labeling of all Syrian refugees as potential terrorists is not just factually inaccurate, it is also an unethical slander that smacks of racism and Islamophobia. Syrian refugees, like other refugees, are fleeing the terror of war, persecution and violence by both state and nonstate actors. Who will oppose terror more than those who have been subjected to it?

As I discuss in an essay in The Washington Post, refugees have not carried out terrorist attacks, and most people charged with terrorism in the United States are native-born. I hope that my book, and the plethora of amazing written, audio and visual works by Syrians themselves, can encourage more Americans to listen to Syrian refugees and not believe baseless accusations about them.

Truthout Progressive Pick

"A powerful must-read book for anyone wanting to understand what’s happening in Syria and why it matters." -- Chicago Review of Books

Click here now to get the book!

Given the many nations such as the United States and Russia that are using Syria as a proxy war, do you have any optimism about a resolution in the next few years?

The Syrian war today shows the dominance of geopolitical interests and power struggles, and the absolute shredding of principles of universal human rights and responsibility to protect civilians from atrocities. The international dimension leaves little room for optimism. What gives me optimism, however, is the inspiring strength of the Syrian people. Refugees scattered across the globe continue to work to achieve their aspirations and dignified futures for their families.

Activists in Syria, as well as those who have been forcibly displaced from it, continue to undertake ingenious initiatives to build institutions of self-governance, to demand accountability for abuses, to resist tyranny in all its forms, and to keep people alive amidst nightmarish violence. They continue to bring tremendous talent and creativity to the struggle for freedom. I hope that more people will try to learn about and support their efforts, and also demand that our government take more meaningful action to bring about a genuine political transition in Syria.

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Decolonizing the Classroom: Embracing Radical Internationalism

Truthout - Sat, 08/12/2017 - 21:00

In this exclusive interview, historian and author Gerald Horne discusses the resistance to white supremacy in the US from both enslaved Africans and displaced Indigenous peoples, and the need to emphasize that resistance in the teaching of history. He also touches upon the history of the KKK in Cuba and Fiji and the role of imperialism in religious conflict.

Students need classes that emphasize histories of resistance. (Photo: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

What first enthralled me about historian Gerald Horne was reading his book Black and Brown: African Americans and the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920, where he tells the story of the boxer Jack Johnson, who was denied food in Mexico City by a US store owner thinking he could uphold Jim Crow laws. Jack left the store and returned later with three or four generals who revoked the store owner's license, made him apologize and told him that Mexico was no "white man's country."

These are histories of resistance seldom heard to which Horne gives a voice. While there should be no illusions about the Obama presidency, the age of Trump is a caravan of injustices. Horne's analysis of the legacy of white supremacy and the refusal of mainstream US history and education to acknowledge colonialism shows us how the age of Trump came about.

While teaching political science in the community college circuit in Colorado, I was faced with preassigned textbooks that presented history from a Eurocentric male perspective, devoid of a critique of capitalism, patriarchy and colonialism.

On the first day of teaching comparative government, a student in the course asked why the textbook didn't cover any of the genocides in Africa, such as Belgian King Leopold II's genocide of an estimated 10 million in the Congo for rubber, or Germany's genocide of the Herero and Nama in 1904. I reflected on my white colonial mind and college education and realized I was never assigned readings that had to do with genocides in Africa.

I decided to rework the course readings with student input to change this pattern of reproducing global white supremacy in the classroom, as well as the cultural, intergenerational and historical trauma that students of color often endure throughout education by not receiving the whole picture of history.

Historian Gerald Horne offers a sober perspective that was indispensable in this endeavor: He seeks to stab through hagiography and dismount from historical mythology, allowing his readers to see the connection to capitalism, slavery, the genocide of Indigenous peoples, Pan-Africanism and liberation struggles with a worldview that is often absent in the classroom and mainstream discussions. Horne holds the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston.

Known for his stunning use of historical archives, Horne has authored more than 30 books on topics ranging from biographical works on W.E.B. Du Bois and Shirley Graham Du Bois to white supremacy's legacy in Fiji, Hawaii and Australia. His newest book, titled, The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, and Capitalism in Seventeenth-Century North America and the Caribbean, is set to be released in January 2018.

In this interview, Horne discusses radical internationalism and the importance of educators teaching history in a way that honors how Black and Indigenous resistance have shaped history.

Chris Steele: What is one's role in the classroom as an educator and framer of history?

Gerald Horne: With regards to the United States of America -- since the United States of America is a nation that was built on slave labor, particularly of Africans -- it's mandatory to have that story embedded in the basic narrative and it's mandatory for the teacher to frame the narrative of the construction of the United States of America through the lens of the African slave trade and the enslavement of Africans.

Can you speak about how teachers can avoid the pitfall of just describing atrocities of colonialism instead of also addressing the perseverance, resistance and complexities of people of color throughout history, such as the 1712 revolt in Manhattan and other slave revolts?

Well, I think even today in 2017, you have historians who even consider themselves to be progressive who tend to downplay the question of resistance, which I think does a disservice to history and certainly it does a disservice to Black people. In some ways, it reminds me of the reaction to Trump in liberal and left circles; there's a lot of denunciation of Trump, which is fine, I can resonate with a denunciation of Trump. But what we really need is an explanation of how this happened and likewise, if you don't have a story of resistance along with the story of enslavement, you really can't provide an explanation of how we got to this point, and therefore you are doing a disservice to history and you're doing a disservice to those who are trying to resist today.

Can you speak about representation and resistance in the classroom, tying in Indigenous history -- which is US history -- or other issues, such as patriarchy throughout US history?

Well, certainly if you look at the revolt of 1776 that led to the creation of the United States, in my book [The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America], I stress the question of slavery and only mention the Royal Proclamation of 1763 in passing. The Royal Proclamation, of course, was London's attempt to avoid expending more blood and treasure fighting Native Americans for their land, but the settlers ... resisted this Royal Proclamation and [it] led directly to kicking London out of what is now the United States.

Certainly, in the state of Colorado where you're sitting, Native American resistance has shaped the history of that state. For example, unfortunately in terms of writing about the US Civil War, many historians do not engage the question of how that led directly to more expropriation of Native American land -- I'm thinking of the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado, for example. Certainly, we need an integrated history of the United States that braids and threads the question of African suffering and African resistance, Native American suffering and Native American resistance, the question of patriarchy, the question of ethnic cleansing -- all of that needs to be incorporated into a grander narrative history of North America.

Two of the principles you routinely talk about are organization and what civil rights leader and Black intellectual Paul Robeson called "radical internationalism." Can you talk about how these can be applied to education?

With regard to radical internationalism, I would say that given the unsavory origins of the United States, which led to the empowerment of powerful white supremacists and right-wing forces ... in order to overcome that tendency, the victims of capitalism and white supremacy have had to reach across the oceans and reach across the borders. In order to reach across the oceans and reach across the borders for solidarity and assistance, you need organization. I mean, otherwise it doesn't work very well and certainly that's a central lesson that needs to be imparted in the classroom.

Have you researched how this colonizer form of history in the classroom can reproduce cultural or intergenerational trauma?

Oh sure. I haven't researched it, but I have an opinion, which is that if those who are the victims of white supremacy and ethnic cleansing are not told in the classroom about the history that has led us up to the present moment, then there might be a tendency to feel that their present unfortunate circumstance is a personal individual issue as opposed to the result of the tides of history. Obviously, that can lead to a kind of individual trauma, which I would say could be avoided if there was more engagement with an accurate portrayal of history in the classroom.

You are working on a new book about anarchists, communists and Black nationalists and how they have confronted the seat of national power. What is your perception of anarchism and US history?

It's complicated. I haven't begun to research deeply into this project, but I wrote a book a couple years ago on William Patterson, who was a Black communist ... inducted into the communist movement through his engagement with anarchists, particularly with the Sacco and Vanzetti case of the 1920s in Massachusetts. From my past reading, I also know that in Mexico and in Spain in particular, there's been a strong anarchist movement. Now, of course there have been tensions between and amongst these three forces that I've mentioned -- anarchists, Black nationalism and communism -- but one of the purposes of my project when I finally get lift off and take off is to try to deal with those differences, because I think if we're going to build a more stable and more productive and more progressive environment, we're going to have to grapple honestly with these differences so that we can build that more productive environment.

With the rise of the right wing, can you speak about the KKK in Cuba and Fiji?

It's interesting, I guess you're familiar with my book, The White Pacific, where I deal with the KKK in Fiji, which of course, was in the context of the attempt to revive Black slavery -- this time focusing on Melanesians as opposed to Africans, with the site of the exploitation being Queensland, Australia and Fiji. I'm doing a book on Southern Africa now, and of course, there are many ties between the masters of apartheid in South Africa and the KKK and white supremacist organizations here in the United States. I mean, there's been this sort of "white right international" ... and it certainly needs more attention, particularly nowadays, because as you know, in the United States, there has been a resurgence of what's euphemistically called the "alt-right" and what could be more accurately called white supremacist, white nationalist organizations. I think now more than ever we need close scrutiny of these organizations and their history so we can better defeat them.   

Throughout your research have you studied the so-called Doctrine of Discovery and the implications it had on the Indigenous population?

Yes, it is sort of ridiculous. It's like if I come to where you are staying in Colorado and bust into your apartment and say, "I think I discovered your laptop and under the 'right of discovery' I'm going to claim it." I mean, the arrogance of the ridiculous nature -- but obviously it was deadly serious, obviously the Christian church, particularly the Roman Catholic church, has a lot of explaining to do ... a lot of apologies to craft since we know that that rise of that doctrine has been congruent with the expansion of Catholicism and in particular in the Americas, but of course, this takes place in the context of religious conflict.

I have a book coming out early next year on the 17th century, and of course, the 17th century -- that is to say the 1600s -- marks the rise of the expropriation of the Indigenous population and enslavement of the Africans, and this is taking place against the backdrop of religious conflict, particularly between Christians and Protestants and the reconciliation ultimately between Christians and Protestants (or an attempted reconciliation, I should say) reaches its zenith in North America, in the trade union movement in the United States.

This used to be called pork chop unity. That is to say ... folks would bury their contradictions and intentions in order to get those pork chops -- with the pork chops being in this case the land of the Native Americans and the bodies of the Africans and certainly that whole Doctrine of Discovery. The more I think about it, [it] is obviously so utterly ridiculous.

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As Cities Grow Worldwide, So Do the Numbers of Homeless

Truthout - Sat, 08/12/2017 - 21:00

People openly live on the streets of the world's major urban centers -- from Cairo to Washington, DC -- a disconcerting reminder of homelessness. While some maintain homelessness is a solvable problem, others conclude that the condition is an enduring feature of modern urban landscapes.

Homelessness was once considerably less visible. In 1950, for example, 70 percent of the world's population of 2.5 billion was spread out across rural areas. Housing problems, far removed from urban centers, were largely unnoticed. Today, most of the world's population of 7.6 billion, 55 percent, is concentrated in urban centers, in close proximity to the politically influential and economically well-to-do.

Based on national reports, it's estimated that no less than 150 million people, or about 2 percent of the world's population, are homeless. However, about 1.6 billion, more than 20 percent of the world's population, may lack adequate housing.

Obtaining an accurate picture of homelessness globally is challenging for several reasons. First, and perhaps most problematic, is variations in definitions. Homelessness can vary from simply the absence of adequate living quarters or rough sleeping to include the lack of a permanent residence that provides roots, security, identity and emotional wellbeing. The absence of an internationally agreed upon definition of homelessness hampers meaningful comparisons. The United Nations has recognized that definitions vary across countries because homelessness is essentially culturally defined based on concepts such as adequate housing, minimum community housing standard or security of tenure.

Second, many governments lack resources and commitment to measure the complicated and elusive phenomenon. Authorities confront a dynamic situation with frequent changes in housing status, and many communities have not established accurate trends of homelessness.

Third, homelessness is often considered embarrassing, a taboo subject, and governments tend to understate the problem. Obtaining accurate numbers is difficult, especially in developing countries. In Moscow, for example, officials report that the homeless number around 10,000, while non-government organizations claim that as many as 100,000 live on the streets. Also, in the Philippines capital of Manila, reported to have the largest homeless population of any city in the world, estimates vary from several million to tens of thousands. In the world's billion-plus populations, China and India, reported numbers of homeless are 3 million and 1.77 million,respectively, rates of 0.22 percent and 0.14 percent -- on par with levels reported by many wealthy developed countries. Given their levels of socioeconomic development, the Chinese and Indian rates of homelessness appear unduly low.

Fourth, many of the homeless are reluctant to be enumerated or registered. Homeless youth often avoid authorities who may contact parents or place them in foster care. Some parents may not wish to be labeled as homeless out of fear of losing custody of children. Also, some homeless persons, especially those suffering from mental disorders or substance abuse, fear arrest or confinement at a medical facility for treatment.

Acknowledging that national definitions of homelessness vary and the limitations in available data and statistical measures, the highest levels of homelessness, typically double-digit rates, are in the least developed nations, failing states and countries in conflict or suffering from natural disasters. Haiti, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Syria, have large numbers of internally displaced persons, many living in makeshift temporary housing, shantytowns or government shelters.

Homelessness rates reported in most developed countries, including those in shelters and on the streets, are comparatively low. The proportions of homeless among OECD countries, for example, are below 1 percent. The highest rate, nearly 1 percent, is in New Zealand, where more than 40,000 people live on the streets or in emergency housing or substandard shelters.

Ten countries, including Italy, Japan and Spain, report homeless rates of less than a 10th of 1 percent. While rates in wealthy developed nations are small, they represent large numbers of homeless persons, more than 500,000 in the United States and more than 100,000 in Australia and France.

Trends in homelessness among OECD countries with available data are mixed. In recent years rates of homelessness are reported to have increased in Denmark, England, France, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands and New Zealand, while decreasing in Finland and the United States.

National levels of homelessness are typically lower than those of their major cities. For example, while the US rate of homelessness is 0.17 percent, the rate in its capital, Washington, DC, is more than seven times higher at 1.24 percent. The majority of homeless in the United States, 60 percent, are male, with rates nearly twice as high as those of women.

Causes of homelessness across countries are multifaceted, though some factors stand out, including shortages of affordable housing, privatization of civic services, investment speculation in housing, unplanned and rapid urbanization, as well as poverty, unemployment and family breakdown. Also contributing is a lack of services and facilities for those suffering from mental illness, alcoholism or substance abuse and displacement caused by conflicts, natural disasters and government housing policies. In some cases, too, homelessness leads to alcoholism, substance abuse and mental illness.

In many countries the prices to buy or rent homes are relatively high and rising faster than wages. Urban "gentrification" leading to rising property values and rental rates push low-income households into precarious living arrangements including slums, squatter settlements and homelessness.

Even people with jobs sometimes cannot afford adequate housing on minimum wages. One recent study, for example, found that nowhere in the United States can someone who works 40 hours a week at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour afford a one-bedroom apartment at fair market rent. To afford a one-bedroom apartment at the average fair market rate without paying more than 30 percent of one/s income, a person must earn at least $16.35 an hour

In many cities, growing homelessness is straining resources for social workers and shelters. When officials try to open new facilities or provide services for the homeless, they encounter financial constraints as well as resistance from the public and private enterprises in many neighborhoods, which consider homelessness burdensome and bad for business.

Measures to keep the homeless away, on the move and out of sight include laws banning loitering, noise projection, panhandling, and public feedings/services for the homeless, panhandling or begging; restrictions on camping, sleeping in vehicles; or sitting or standing in public places; limits for can and bottle refunds; and studs, spikes and arms in the middle of benches. Law enforcement officials and security personnel generally lack mandates or specialized training to address homelessness. The only recourse is ordering people move on to another locale.  

Many international agreementsdeclarations and development goals have been adopted stressing the basic human right to adequate, safe and affordable housing. Also, there are no shortages of reportspolicy recommendations and efforts to address homelessness including public housing schemes for the poor, giving stable housing first to the homeless, land and agrarian reform, promulgation of laws that protect women's right to adequate housing, creation of shelters in urban centers, and integrated rural development to prevent involuntary migration to cities.

However, the continuation of homelessness, especially among the wealthy countries, reflects denial and the lack of political will to address poverty and many other issues. Homelessness men, women and children will likely remain an accepted feature of modern urban life for the foreseeable future.

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To Combat Trump's Attacks on Democracy, We Must Understand Precedents Set by Obama

Truthout - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 21:00

While we rightly upbraid Trump for the crimes he is committing as president, we should not succumb to rosy illusions about his predecessor. Despite his idealistic rhetoric, President Obama set the precedent for many of Trump's most egregious actions.

President Barack Obama speaks at Prince George's Community College on March 15th, 2012. (Photo: Daniel Borman / Flickr)

Seven months into the Trump presidency, many people still deny how some of Donald Trump's most regressive and harmful policies directly continue the legacy of Barack Obama. Yes, Trump is demonstrably worse than Obama. The nasty rhetoric that Trump spews from his bully pulpit does real harm to marginalized communities, especially Muslims and immigrants. Under Trump's watch, US airstrikes have killed innocent civilians at a much higher rate than under Obama, with horrifying numbers of people killed in Syria and Iraq. Meanwhile Stephen Bannon is overseeing the "destruction of the administrative state," including the attempted rollback of environmental regulations and federal rules protecting internet freedom; and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has rekindled the racist, classist "war on drugs," reversing Obama's policy of prosecutorial leniency for low-level drug offenders. And the Republicans' attempts to gut Medicaid and sabotage Obamacare could do unconscionable violence to millions of Americans.

Nonetheless, we do ourselves a disservice by fixating solely on the overt discontinuities while ignoring the major continuities between the two administrations. Even Bernie Sanders, the champion of the democratic socialist left in this country, fails to adequately acknowledge that Obama committed many of the offenses that he now accuses Trump of committing. In a recent speech at the People's Summit in Chicago, Sanders condemned Trump for his major constitutional violations and disregard for democracy. He spoke about Trump's "unprecedented attack against the media," calling it an effort to "undermine respect for dissent and free press." Sanders criticized Trump's outlook and treatment toward the judiciary, charging the president with "seek[ing] to diminish the separation of powers that our Constitution outlined." And Sanders lamented the fact that Trump appears "to be more comfortable with autocrats and authoritarian politicians than with leaders of democratic nations." But has he (and have we) honestly reckoned with how Obama was guilty of the same kinds of undemocratic acts -- that Obama undermined the free press, violated the separation of powers, and aided and abetted dictatorships and war criminals abroad?

Everyone who opposes Trump agrees that he treats the press as his adversary. The Trump administration on numerous occasions has explicitly branded the news media "the enemy of the people." In recent weeks, the White House has banned TV cameras from press briefings with greater and greater frequency. Trump even singles out specific journalists that he doesn't like for bullying on Twitter. But if we really want to defend the First Amendment, the public's right to know, the free press and the right to dissent, then we have to understand how the Obama administration laid much of the groundwork for Trump’s anti-free speech agenda.

One person to ask about Obama’s disappointing record on free speech is James Risen, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist who helped reveal Bush's program of warrantless wiretapping, and who the Obama administration prosecuted for seven years, threatening him with jail time. Led by Attorney General Eric Holder, the Obama Justice Department called on Risen to testify in a criminal case against one of Risen's alleged sources, former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling, charged with leaking classified documents to Risen that Risen published in his book, State of War. But Risen refused to testify, arguing that forcing journalists to identify confidential sources infringes their ability to do their jobs. The work of journalists being instrumental in fulfilling the purposes of the First Amendment, this infringement constitutes a constitutional violation, Risen argued.

But Holder and Obama would not relent and prosecuted the case all the way up to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court ruled against Risen. The Justice Department ultimately did not call on Risen to testify, as it would've effectively meant that the Obama administration was imprisoning a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist, which would've created a major publicity scandal for the administration. Nonetheless, Obama succeeded in establishing a highly problematic precedent with the nation's top court: According to the Supreme Court, there is no such thing as journalist-source confidentiality in the way that there is doctor-patient confidentiality or lawyer-client privileges. Hence, according to our country's highest court, journalists' communications with government whistleblowers are not, under the First Amendment, protected from state surveillance.

Six weeks after Donald Trump's election and on the eve of the New Year, Risen published a prescient op-ed in The New York Times, headlined, "If Donald Trump Targets Journalists, Thank Obama." Risen wrote: "If Donald J. Trump decides as president to throw a whistle-blower in jail for trying to talk to a reporter, or gets the F.B.I. to spy on a journalist, he will have one man to thank for bequeathing him such expansive power: Barack Obama."

Though Risen's own story is a case in point, Obama accumulated a long and illustrious record of going after journalists and news agencies, which Risen recounts in the piece. For example, in May 2013, Obama's Justice Department informed The Associated Press that over a two-month period, it had seized records for more than 20 phone lines associated with the agency's staff. That same year, the Justice Department also seized phone records and emails between a Fox News reporter and a State Department contractor. In 2014, at the near end of his tenure as Obama's Attorney General, Eric Holder signed off on a subpoena request on a "60 Minutes" producer.

In addition to journalists, Obama has also executed an unprecedented crackdown on whistleblowers and leakers. As Risen highlights in the op-ed, the administration's signature practice for responding to leaks was to charge the leakers/whistleblowers under the 1917 Espionage Act, a vestige of World War I-era red-baiting. Obama's Justice Department prosecuted nine such cases during its eight years -- three times as many as all past administrations combined. Never mind the fact that the people who Obama was prosecuting weren't spies but government officials who talked to journalists.

Trump's actions have proved Risen's prediction to be correct. In June, Trump's Justice Department announced its first leak case, charging intelligence contractor Reality Winner with spying under the Espionage Act for leaking a highly classified document to The Intercept. The document that Winner leaked reveals a Russian intelligence cyberattack just days before the 2016 presidential election aimed at voting software and local election officials. The document is no doubt newsworthy, especially to Democrats, who have been alleging Russian interference in the election for months. Unfortunately, because of Obama's pattern of prosecution, Trump and Sessions now have a strong legal precedent for pursuing these bogus charges against Winner and other leakers. Moreover, Sessions's recently pledged to clamp down harder via subpoenas and prosecution on journalists who report on leaks, extending the problematic practices employed by Obama and Holder.

So, while Trump's attacks on the media may indeed be "unprecedented" in a sense, we have to clarify what specific actions are new to the presidency. Obama did not openly attack specific news outlets, TV anchors or reporters in the manner that Trump now does flippantly (e.g., Obama didn't tweet a video of himself beating up someone with the CNN logo on their head). But the Obama administration did search through and seize journalists' notes and records, and prosecuted journalists, whistleblowers and leakers for informing the public of the nefarious business that our government does in the shadows. The long-term damage of the Supreme Court ruling in Risen's case will potentially be felt for decades. As of now, Trump has not succeeded in undermining the free press at its foundations. But Obama may have permanently hindered the ability of journalists to do their job without fear of governmental repression.

Senator Sanders, in the aforementioned speech, channeled mainstream liberal opinion when he pointed out Trump's second nascent constitutional violation: that is, violating the separations of powers by disrespecting and demeaning the judiciary. To his point, Trump has called judges he disagrees with "so-called judges." He has made racist remarks about a judge presiding over the lawsuit against Trump University. And, as with the media, Trump appears to resent the checks that the courts impose on his authority.

But how did Obama, the constitutional law professor, regard the separation of powers in this country? In terms of civil liberties, we might also ask: How did Obama regard the constitutional right to due process?

Perhaps Obama's most flagrant violation of the Constitution occurred when he ordered the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki. Awlaki was a US-born imam whose sermons and lectures became widely popular throughout the English-speaking Muslim world during the 1990s and 2000s. For much of his life, Awlaki opposed terrorism and violent jihad. After 9/11, President George W. Bush even called upon Awlaki to join a coalition of American imams publicly opposing terrorism. But as the "war on terror" dragged on, and with the disastrous and criminal US/UK invasion and occupation of Iraq, Awlaki became more and more radicalized, eventually calling for violent jihad against the United States. Awlaki moved to Yemen and continued sermonizing, praising groups like Al Qaeda for their bloody resistance to US hegemony in the region.

It's worth noting that praising Al Qaeda publicly is not itself a crime. In fact, it is protected free speech under the First Amendment. One can, of course, morally disagree, but as a legal matter, a president cannot legally arrest -- much less assassinate -- someone for praising Al Qaeda, ISIS or any other group, no matter how violent that group may be.

All of this notwithstanding, in a one-month span in 2011, Obama ordered a series of drone strikes that killed not only Awlaki, but also Awlaki's 16-year-old son Abdulrahman, who was, by all accounts, totally innocent.

Awlaki had links to Al Qaeda, expressed despicable views and glorified violence. But Awlaki was nonetheless an American citizen, and as such, he was legally entitled to due process, including the right to a trial in which he could respond to evidence against him. With his assassination of Awlaki, Obama assumed the role of judge, jury and executioner. Despite the president's assertion that "Awlaki was the leader of external operations for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula," and "In that role, [Awlaki] took the lead in planning and directing efforts to murder innocent Americans," his administration steadfastly refused to make its evidence for these claims public.

So, what precedent does the killing of Awlaki set for President Trump? If President Obama killed multiple US citizens with impunity, what should we fear from President Trump, who is, by all signs, more belligerent and indifferent to the lives of Muslims? We know that Trump is already continuing (and expanding) Obama's terroristic drone wars in the Middle East. Hence Trump has already conferred upon himself the same authority as judge, jury and executioner that Obama did when it came to foreigners and, in the Awlaki family's case, US citizens. But will Trump go so far as to violate the constitutional rights of his own citizens as Obama did? This remains to be seen.

Lastly, there is Trump's affinity for dictators and his support for their repressive regimes abroad. Trump has openly embraced authoritarian rulers such as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey and Prime Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, both of whom have visited the White House and shook hands with the president in the Oval Office. But that's just it: What is criticized is the openness of the embrace. Where were these critics when Obama more quietly aided and abetted repressive regimes the world over, particularly in the Middle East?

Take an especially horrifying example from the final years of the Obama presidency, the period that many of his supporters celebrate as the highest point of his tenure. In the spring of 2015, Saudi Arabia, unprovoked, began bombing Yemen, supposedly targeting the Houthi rebels, which Saudi Arabia and the United States claim to be Iranian proxies. The Saudi bombing has continued up to this day with more than 10,000 civilians dead directly at the hands of the Saudis. Using US weapons and fighter jets, Saudi Arabia has committed serious war crimes according to human rights groups, hence making the US complicit in war crimes. Due to the devastation of Yemen's health, water and sanitation systems by Saudi bombing, a cholera outbreak has killed more than 1,600 people, and the Red Cross reports that there are over 300,000 more suspected cases. The UN is warning that about 19 million people are on the brink of famine. Meanwhile, the Saudis maintain their vicious, total blockade of the country, which depends on imports for 90 percent of its food.

There can be no serious debate over the fact that the US has given Saudi Arabia support that makes it possible for it to starve and slaughter the people of Yemen in the face of the entire world. In the course of his presidency, Barack Obama approved an estimated $115 billion in arms sales to the Saudis, including the sale of cluster munitions, which are considered illegal by most countries on the planet. And Obama continued to approve weapons sales to Saudi Arabia even after its act of open aggression in Yemen. The flow of arms, the refueling of Saudi jets and the sharing of intelligence continued over the course of the next 18 months as the civilian death toll mounted and human rights groups were alleging more and more war crimes committed by the Saudis.

All of us on the left have heard how openly the Trump administration has disregarded human rights concerns. Trump literally did the war dance with the Saudi leadership. Obama, in contrast, made the politically correct rhetorical flourishes. Hence, former White House press secretary Josh Earnest was quite correct when he said, apropos his blocking some weapon sales to Saudi Arabia, that Obama had "long expressed some very significant concerns about the high rate of civilian casualties" in the Yemeni conflict. Yes, in fact Obama had expressed concerns, just as he expressed opposition to Israeli settlement development in the West Bank, and promised us that he would only authorize drone strikes when there was a "near certainty" of avoiding civilian casualties. Contrary to this rhetoric, though, none of the above statements turned out to be true in fact: The billions of dollars of military aid continued to flow to Israel even though Israel, like Saudi Arabia, is a known violator of international law; and US drone strikes continued to take the lives of scores of innocent civilians.

We cannot exonerate Obama for the same crimes that we upbraid Trump for committing. We must recognize Obama's major infringement on the freedom of the press, denial of citizens' right to due process, and alliances with dictators and waging of endless war -- crimes that Trump is already (or will likely soon be) guilty of as well. Forgetting and/or forgiving these crimes of the past invites their reincarnation in the present, and that's not something we can afford.

Categories: Latest News

A Preemptive Strike on North Korea Would Be Catastrophic and Illegal

Truthout - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 21:00

As we stand on the precipice of a disastrous war, these are the right circumstances for Trump to meet with Kim Jong-un. (Photo: alexkuehni / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Following Trump's inflammatory rhetoric against North Korea, the danger of war is now palpable. But an attack on North Korea would be not just illegal but also disastrous, causing the deaths of untold numbers of Koreans, Japanese and Americans. If, on the other hand, Trump were to successfully negotiate a peace treaty, he would receive plaudits for being a real diplomat.

As we stand on the precipice of a disastrous war, these are the right circumstances for Trump to meet with Kim Jong-un. (Photo: alexkuehni / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

As Special Counsel Robert Mueller impanels two grand juries to investigate Donald Trump and his associates, and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort's home is searched, Trump needs to distract attention from the investigation into his alleged wrongdoing.

North Korea has provided just such a distraction -- albeit a potentially catastrophic one.

On Tuesday, Trump stated, "North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen." Friday morning, Trump warned North Korea that the US military is "locked and loaded."

Trump has learned that bombing other countries enhances a president's popularity. In April, with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles, each armed with over 1,000 pounds of explosives, he went from scoundrel-in-chief to national hero virtually overnight. The corporate media, the neoconservatives and most of Congress hailed Trump as strong and presidential for lobbing the missiles into Syria, reportedly killing nine civilians, including four children.

Several hours after Trump's recent "fire and fury" statement, Pyongyang warned it was "carefully examining" a strike that would create "an enveloping fire" around Guam, the site of an important US military base and home to more than 160,000 people.

North Korea has accused the United States of planning a "preventive war," saying that plans to mount one would be met with an "all-out war, wiping out all the strongholds of enemies, including the US mainland." A spokesman for the General Staff of the Korean People's Army promised, "the tragic end of the American empire will be hastened."

Trump responded with the tweet, "Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded."

In an attempt to tamp down fears of all-out war, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said there is not "any imminent threat" from North Korea.

But Defense Secretary James Mattis cautioned that Pyongyang "should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people." And National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said that the White House is considering all options, including "preventative war."

Trump's bellicose rhetoric against North Korea began shortly after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) claimed that Pyongyang has developed a miniature nuclear warhead for its missiles. A DNI report issued in July said, "North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic-missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles," according to the Washington Post.

The DNI's claim is questionable, however, as none of the other US intelligence agencies has ratified it. In fact, the DNI issued an identical report on North Korean nuclear capabilities in 2013.

Trump has indicated his willingness to use nuclear weapons. In August 2016 MSNBC's Joe Scarborough reported that Trump asked a senior foreign policy adviser about nuclear weapons three times during a briefing, then queried, "If we had them why can't we use them?"

An Attack on North Korea Would Be Dangerous

The Intercept reports that "even a conventional war between the US and [North Korea] could kill more than 1 million people; a nuclear exchange, therefore, might result in tens of millions of casualties."

More than 60 House Democrats, led by Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan), sent a letter to Tillerson expressing their "profound concern over the statements made by President Trump that dramatically increased tensions with North Korea and raised the specter of nuclear war." The letter says, "These statements are irresponsible and dangerous, and also senselessly provide a boon to domestic North Korean propaganda which has long sought to portray the United States as a threat to their people."

The letter to Tillerson quoted a prior letter sent to Trump by 64 Congress members in May, which said: 

Military action against North Korea was considered by the Obama, Bush and Clinton Administrations, but all ultimately determined there was no military option that would not run the unacceptable risk of a counter-reaction from Pyongyang [that] could immediately threaten the lives of as many as a third of the South Korean population, put nearly 30,000 U.S. service members and over 100,000 other U.S. citizens residing in South Korea in grave danger, and also threaten other regional allies such as Japan.

"Simply put, there is no military solution to this problem," the August letter continued. "We respectfully but firmly urge you to do everything in your power to ensure that President Trump and other Administration officials understand the importance of speaking and acting with the utmost caution and restraint on this delicate issue, Congress and the American public will hold President Trump responsible if a careless or ill-advised miscalculation results in conflict that endangers our servicemembers and regional allies."

Nevertheless, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) stated, "If there's going to be a war to stop [Kim Jong-un], it will be over there. If thousands die, they're going to die over there. They're not going to die here. And [Trump] has told me that to my face."

Trump and Graham apparently feel that massive casualties are acceptable as long as they don't occur on the US mainland.

A Preemptive Strike on North Korea Would Violate the UN Charter

A preemptive strike on North Korea would be illegal. It would violate the United Nations Charter, which forbids the use of military force unless conducted in self-defense or when approved by the Security Council.

"Self-defense" is a narrow exception to the Charter's prohibition of the use of force. Countries may engage in individual or collective self-defense only in the face of an armed attack. There must exist "a necessity of self-defense, instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation," under the well-established Caroline Case. In the case of North Korea, there has been no armed attack, and there is no imminent threat of one.

The Charter specifies that non-forceful measures, including diplomacy, must be pursued in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.

On August 5, in response to North Korea's recent test launches of two intercontinental ballistic missiles, the UN Security Council unanimously enacted a sanctions regime that would reduce North Korea's annual export earnings by at least one-third, an estimated $1 billion. It would affect 90 percent of North Korea's economy. Resolution 2371 targets North Korea's primary exports, which include iron, iron ore, coal, lead, lead ore and seafood. It is also aimed at banks and joint ventures between North Korea and foreign corporations. The resolution imposes the toughest sanctions on North Korea to date.

The resolution does not, however, authorize the United States or any other country to use military force against North Korea. It ends by stating that the Security Council "decides to remain seized of the matter." That means that the Council, and only the Council, has the authority to approve military action.

Tillerson has called for direct talks with North Korea and offered assurances that the United States is not its enemy and does not seek regime change.

But CIA Director Mike Pompeo strongly intimated that the US is considering regime change in North Korea.

For North Korea, the past is prologue. Determined to avoid the fate of Saddam Hussein, who didn't have nukes, as well as that of Muammar Qaddafi, who did but relinquished them, Pyongyang is developing a nuclear deterrent. Kim Jong-un has repeatedly maintained that North Korea's nuclear capabilities are critical to its self-defense.

Indeed, Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, told the Aspen Security Forum of Kim Jong-un: "There is some rationale backing his actions, which are survival -- survival for his regime, survival for his country. And he has watched, I think, what has happened around the world relative to nations that possess nuclear capabilities and the leverage they have, and seen that having the nuclear card in your pocket results in a lot of deterrence capability."

Sign a Peace Treaty, End the Korean War

Moreover, North Korea cannot forget the 1950-1953 Korean War, which reduced North Korea's population of 10 million by approximately one-third. Sixty-four years ago, the United States and North Korea signed an armistice agreement, but the US never permitted the creation of a peace treaty.

On several occasions, North Korea has suggested a way to a lasting peace. Christine Hong, associate professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, wrote in the Progressive, "Unsurprisingly, few media outlets have reported on North Korea's overtures to the United States, even as these, if pursued, might result in meaningful de-escalation on both sides. To be clear: peaceful alternatives are at hand. Far from being an intractable foe, North Korea has repeatedly asked the United States to sign a peace treaty that would bring the unresolved Korean War to a long-overdue end."

A month ago, China and Russia proposed a "freeze-for-freeze" strategy, which would entail North Korea freezing its nuclear and missile testing, and in return, the US and South Korea would end their annual joint military exercises. This proposal, issued in a joint statement by the Chinese and Russian Foreign Ministries after meetings between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, is a diplomatic solution that should be pursued. Vassily Nebenzia, Russia's ambassador to the UN, said this plan would offer "a way out" of the present situation.

The Congress members' letter to Tillerson cited successful efforts at direct diplomacy between Washington and Pyongyang in 1994 and 2000, later scuttled by Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton under George W. Bush.

Bolton told Fox Business on Monday, "I don't think there are any further diplomatic options in terms of trying to persuade North Korea to change its behavior." And Vice President Mike Pence said "engaging North Korea directly" is a non-starter at the present time.

But Susan Rice, Barack Obama's national security adviser and US ambassador to the UN, wrote in the New York Times, "We have long lived with successive Kims' belligerent and colorful rhetoric.... I came to expect it whenever we passed resolutions. What is unprecedented and especially dangerous this time," however, "is the reaction of President Trump." His threats, Rice wrote, "risk tipping the Korean Peninsula into war, if the North's leader, Kim Jong-un, believes them and acts precipitously."

South Korean President Moon Jae-in told Trump in a recent telephone call, "South Korea can never accept a war erupting again on the Korean Peninsula," rather "the North Korean nuclear issue must be resolved in a peaceful, diplomatic manner through a close coordination between South Korea and the United States."

In May, Trump told Bloomberg News that he would meet with Kim Jong-un: "If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely, I would be honored to do it ... under the right circumstances. But I would do that."

As we stand on the precipice of a disastrous war, these are the right circumstances for Trump to meet with Kim Jong-un. If Trump were to successfully negotiate a peace treaty with North Korea, he would receive plaudits for being a real diplomat. The unthinkable alternative is military action that would cause the deaths of untold numbers of Koreans, Japanese people and Americans.

Categories: Latest News

Tar Sands Pipeline Companies Oversee Hundreds of Oil Spills

Truthout - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 21:00

Four proposed pipeline projects are part of an effort to increase oil production from Canada's tar sands, one of the dirtiest fossil fuel projects in the world, which has been limited by a lack of pipeline capacity. (Photo: kris krüg / flickr)

The companies behind four proposed pipelines that would transport oil from Canada's tar sands have spilled 63,000 barrels of hazardous liquids -- including crude oil -- from their existing US pipeline network since 2010, according to government data.

Statistics from the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) -- obtained as part of an investigation by Greenpeace USA -- show that oil giants TransCanada, Kinder Morgan and Enbridge have together suffered 373 spills over the past seven years.

Of these, the agency classed 41 as 'significant' -- which for crude oil this means that more than 50 barrels were spilled.

This includes the notorious Kalamazoo River oil spill, which polluted 36 miles of river in 2010 and only narrowly avoided contaminating Lake Michigan.

Long-term trend data held by PHMSA also shows the number of significant pipeline incidents increased from 105 in 2007 to a peak of 176 in 2015, though dropped slightly again last year.

A spokesperson for Kinder Morgan told Energydesk the PHMSA data is misleading because it does not distinguish between spills that occur along the pipelines' right of way and those that occur within industrial facilities.

Saving the Tar Sands

The proposed projects are part of an effort to increase oil production from Canada's tar sands, one of the dirtiest fossil fuel projects in the world, which has been limited by a lack of pipeline capacity.

By improving access to market, approval of one or more of the proposals could help boost the economic viability of the tar sands -- which have suffered since the oil price crash three years ago - and incentivise further investment.

Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline and TransCanada's Energy East project would transport oil across Canada to the west and east coasts -- where it would be shipped to international markets.

TransCanada's Keystone XL and Enbridge's Line 3 replacement project would cross the border from Canada into the US.

Keystone XL has proven particularly controversial, with protests ultimately resulting in President Obama refusing to grant the pipeline the presidential permit required for it to cross the border.  

President Trump reversed this decision, signing an executive order days after taking office that fast-tracked the permit approval process for Keystone XL, which was approved by the State Department in March.

The project is currently in the midst of hearings in Nebraska, a state the pipeline would have to cross.

Pipeline Safety

Opponents of the proposed pipelines -- including 120 First Nations and Tribes -- have expressed concern over the additional greenhouse gas emissions resulting from increased tar sands production -- as well as environmental and human rights concerns relating to the transport of tar sands oil.

Speaking to Energydesk, Rueben George -- manager of the Sacred Trust of the Tseil-Waututh Nation -- said: "I've been to the Alberta tar sands and seen first hand the destruction that is causes, it's devastating. A couple of years ago there was a pipeline spill close to Onion Lake reservation, a brand new pipeline"

Referring to the Canadian government's approval of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline, George added: "They are breaking Tseil-Waututh law and that's why we're suing them."

The companies though, maintain that pipelines are the safest way to transport the oil. A spokesperson for Kinder Morgan told Energydesk: "Pipeline safety is our number one priority, and through the experience gained in almost 65 years of operation, Trans Mountain has developed a mature suite of programs to maximize pipeline safety."

"It's important to note that Canada has one of the most highly-regulated pipeline industries in the world, with laws governing the entire lifecycle of a pipeline. If an incident does occur, companies are prepared with heavily-funded and comprehensive emergency response programs that can clean up all types of oil, including diluted bitumen."

Inevitable Spills

According to pipeline incident data maintained by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA):

  • TransCanada was responsible for 13 spills totaling 829 barrels of crude oil since 2010 -- largely as a result of two "significant" 400 barrel spills in 2011 and 2016.
  • Kinder Morgan was involved in 213 spills totaling 21,598 barrels of hazardous liquids. This included 172 spills of refined petroleum products, 35 of crude oil and 6 of highly volatile liquids. 22 were classified as "significant".
  • Enbridge and its subsidiaries and joint ventures had 147 spills totaling 40,794 barrels of hazardous liquids. Of those spills, 137 were crude oil, 7 were refined petroleum products and 3 were highly volatile liquids. PHMSA classified 17 crude oil spills as "significant." 

Long-term trend data maintained by PHMSA also shows that significant pipeline incidents have increased since 2007.

Tar Sands Oil Spills

Included among Enbridge's total is a 20,082 barrel spill of diluted bitumen into Michigan's Kalamazoo River in 2010.

Unlike conventional crude oil, bitumen has the consistency of a thick tar and is too thick to be pumped out of the ground. In order to flow through a pipeline, bitumen must be mixed with light crude oil or natural gas liquids to make diluted bitumen, or dilbit.

According to a 2015 National Academies report, when dilbit is spilled into water, the lighter and more volatile parts quickly evaporate leaving the denser bitumen to sink -- making it extremely difficult to clean up.  

In the case of the Kalamazoo River -- the spilled bitumen sunk to the bottom of the river triggering a years-long, billion dollar clean-up operation that required dredging the river bottom.

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Clean Car Standards Should Be Strengthened, Not Reopened

Commondreams - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 08:38
Environment America

The Trump administration reopened the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s midterm evaluation on clean car standards. The process withdraws the previously released final determination on EPA’s vehicle emission standards for 2022-2025 and expands the time period under consideration to 2021-2025. In response Environment America’s global warming solutions advocate, Aminah Zaghab issued the following statement:

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US Embassy Declines Letter Calling

Commondreams - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 08:30
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

The US Embassy declined to accept a letter earlier today from a delegation of journalists, writers, and peace activists. The letter calls on the United States government to stop its nuclear brinkmanship in the crisis with North Korea.

Millions of people around the world are concerned about the growing threat of nuclear war. Civil society organisations are calling on the British government to call for restraint and a different approach by Britain's main ally. British Prime Minister Theresa May has been silent about the crisis, despite tensions continuing to grow.

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Inflation Slows Further In July CPI

Commondreams - Fri, 08/11/2017 - 08:19
Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)

It appears that inflation is continuing to decelerate in spite of an unemployment rate that is at a 16-year low. The overall and core CPI both rose 0.1 percent in July. This brings the rate of increase over the last 12 months in both measures respectively to 1.7 percent, well below the Fed’s 2.0 percent, as measured by the PCE, which translates into roughly a 2.2 percent CPI inflation rate.

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On Guam, Resistance Grows to US Military Presence as North Korea Threatens Missiles Off Island's Coast

Truthout - Thu, 08/10/2017 - 21:00

The front page of Guam's Pacific Daily News reads "14 Minutes!" That's how long it would take missiles fired from North Korea to reach the US territory in the western Pacific if there is an escalation of the threat of nuclear war between the US and North Korea. On Thursday, Trump again threatened North Korea, saying if it were to carry out an attack on Guam, the US would retaliate with military action. The Pentagon controls about a third of all the land on Guam, which is home to 163,000 people and a sprawling complex of US military bases, including the Air Force base where many of the United States' B-2 bombers take off from before flying over the Korean Peninsula. For decades, residents of Guam have resisted the militarization and colonization of their homeland by the United States, which has now put them in the crosshairs of a possible nuclear war between the US and North Korea. We go to Guam to speak with LisaLinda Natividad, president of the Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice and a member of the Guam Commission on Decolonization, and with David Vine, author of "Base Nation: How US Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World."

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Dissent

Truthout - Thu, 08/10/2017 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

Republicans Consider Relaxing Constraints on Telecom Giants

Truthout - Thu, 08/10/2017 - 21:00

Federal Communication Commission Chairman Ajit Pai (2nd right) prepares to deliver remarks and participate in a discussion at The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research May 5, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is reinterpreting a key law to consider relaxing constraints on telecoms giants.

Republican Chair Ajit Pai this week invoked Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act to argue that smartphones alone could help broadband providers meet statutory requirements on access and deployment.

"We propose to incorporate both fixed and mobile advanced telecommunications services into our Section 706 inquiry," agency filings said on Tuesday, in a notice of inquiry. The FCC will accept comments on the proposal for two weeks starting on September 7.

Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn criticized the inquiry, describing mobile and home broadband as "complements, not substitutes."

"Consumers who are mobile only often find themselves in such a position, not by choice but because they cannot afford a fixed connection," she said.

According to research cited by the Republican majority, 73 percent of Americans subscribe to fixed broadband, while only "13 percent of Americans across all demographic groups are relying solely on smartphones for home internet access."

Section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act requires the FCC to ensure that "advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion."

The move to reclassify mobile internet access comes amid agency efforts to reinterpret Section 706 rules on competition.

The Commission in April said that only one broadband provider in a service area satisfies antitrust requirements under the law. The declaration could grant telecoms monopolists the authority to charge higher rates to businesses.

Earlier this week, a federal judge refused to enjoin the new interpretation while a lawsuit challenging it is ongoing.

Chairman Pai celebrated the decision by declaring victory despite the unresolved litigation.

"The court's decision to let our modernization of our business data services rules take effect is an important -- though unsurprising -- affirmation that the Commission thoroughly analyzed our massive data collection to establish a robust, forward-looking competitive framework," he said on Tuesday.

In the waning years of the Obama administration, the FCC invoked Section 706 of the Clinton-era law to nullify state laws restricting municipal broadband -- high-speed internet access offered by local governments in under-served areas.

In August 2016, a federal appellate court ruled that the agency overstepped its legal authorities by issuing the order.

Categories: Latest News

Why Medicaid Matters to You

Truthout - Thu, 08/10/2017 - 21:00

Terminally ill hospice resident Evelyn Breuning, 91, (R), sits with music therapist Jen Dunlap in her bed on August 20, 2009, in Lakewood, Colorado. The non-profit hospice, the second oldest in the United States, accepts the terminally ill regardless of their ability to pay, although most residents are covered by Medicare. (Photo: John Moore / Getty Images)

Efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare have been suspended for the time being, and many Americans are breathing a sigh of relief. But Obamacare is far from safe, and the same is true for one of the key programs -- Medicaid -- that the law used to expand health care coverage for millions of Americans.

While many people may think of Medicaid as a government program that helps only the nation's poor, that is not accurate. Medicaid helps pay for  -- and is indeed part of estate planning strategies for -- nursing home care and other forms of long-term care. Since all Americans live in communities with elderly people, will grow old themselves or have aging parents, long-term care and how to pay for it is a matter that affects us all, even if we do not realize it.

I am a professor of law and bioethics who sits on a hospital ethics committee in Cleveland and has researched aging and long-term care extensively for my scholarship. I have learned a great deal about the cost of care and the importance of Medicaid, which not enough people appreciate.

A Rising Expense, a Growing Population

Long-term care in the United States is extraordinarily expensive. The median annual cost of a private room in a nursing home is over US$92,000, and a shared room costs over $82,000. These prices will only increase in the coming years, as costs have risen by almost 19 percent since 2011.

The median price for care in an assisted living facility, which provides residents with meals and other forms of assistance but not with skilled nursing care, is over $43,500. Those who want to remain at home with the help of an in-home aide from a home care agency will pay approximately $20 an hour, which translates into $175,000 per year for round-the-clock care.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "70 percent of people turning age 65 can expect to use some form of long-term care during their lives." It is important to understand that despite its high cost, long-term care is generally not paid for by Medicare, the government program that covers seniors, or by private health insurance policies.

So are most Americans financially equipped to pay on their own for nursing homes and other types of assistance when they are elderly? The answer is a resounding "no."

A 2015 U.S. Government Accountability Office report found that "about half of households age 55 and older have no retirement savings (such as in a 401(k) plan or an IRA)."

The National Institute on Retirement Security concluded that American households had a median retirement savings account balance of just $2,500, and the median for those nearing retirement was a mere $14,500. Such meager savings make it extremely difficult for retirees to cover their out-of-pocket medical costs for co-pays, deductibles, and noncovered items such as hearing aids, which often reach several thousands of dollars per year. A prolonged period of long-term care on top of these costs is certainly not in most people's budgets.

Medicaid and Seniors

Enter Medicaid. While many may think Medicaid primarily covers poor people, about 28 percent of its overall budget is spent on long-term care.

That money is vital to seniors and to the nursing homes they live in. In 2014, Medicaid paid for 62 percent of nursing home residents. Increasingly, it covers assisted living and in-home care, which many elderly people prefer.

Medicaid is still a program that serves only financially disadvantaged individuals and has strict eligibility requirements, but people who need long-term care, including some who were middle-class, end up "spending down" their money by paying for nursing homes or other assistance out of pocket and then qualify for Medicaid. This includes many who worked hard and supported themselves and their families their entire lives but simply did not have enough retirement savings to cover the exorbitant costs of medical care and long-term care. Those who spend down are very rarely wealthy, with about 85 percent barely hanging on economically before "spending down."

Republican proposals to repeal and replace Obamacare targeted Medicaid for significant cuts that would have affected seniors receiving long-term care. Many in Congress still hold out hope of eliminating Obamacare, and this should make all of us worried.

Medicaid and All of Us

What might happen if frail and elderly people cannot receive needed care? Some will have to turn to loved ones for extra support.

Family and friends already bear much of the burden of caring for the elderly. According to the Alzheimer's Association, over 15 million Americans tended to dementia patients in 2016, supplying an estimated 18.1 billion hours of unpaid care. Overall, older adults receive $470 billion worth of unpaid care each year. Without Medicaid, the elderly will often need to ask more of their relatives or even to move in with them.

Caring full-time for someone who is physically disabled or has dementia can be emotionally exhausting and can lead to anxiety, depression and other mental and physical health problems; create conflicts within families; and be financially draining, especially if it affects caregivers' ability to work outside the home.

Other elderly people will try to continue living independently without the help they need. This can create dangers for other members of their communities. They may have to drive in order to get groceries and supplies, and this can lead to more car accidents. Indeed, The American Medical Association and National Highway Traffic Safety Association state that "on the basis of estimated annual travel, the fatality rate for drivers 85 and older is nine times higher than the rate for drivers 25 to 69." They will cook alone and perhaps forget to turn off the oven or burners, which can cause fires. And they will be at high risk of falling and needing care in emergency rooms. As more patients flood emergency rooms, the wait times for everyone will increase, and already understaffed hospitals may provide less attentive care.

These problems will only grow in the future. In 2015, 14.9 percent of the population, or 47.8 million people, were 65 and over. The number of seniors is projected to expand to almost 73 million by 2030 and to represent over 20 percent of total U.S. residents. Society will not be able to ignore their needs.

We will all be affected if elderly members of our communities cannot get needed care. Moreover, many of us will find that long-term care is unaffordable for our own loved ones or for ourselves. None of us knows whether we will develop dementia or another serious chronic condition that requires intensive care for many years.

Medicaid is not just about the poor. It is about all of us, and we should all care deeply about maintaining and strengthening it for the future.

Categories: Latest News

We Have Been at War in Iraq for 27 Years

Truthout - Thu, 08/10/2017 - 21:00

Iraqi special operations forces search for three missing soldiers in Baghdad, Iraq, May 21, 2007. (Photo: The US Army / Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael B.W. Watkins)

We have been at war in Iraq, in one form or another, for 27 years. The best estimates of the cost for all this systematic butchery, combined with the expense of simultaneous war in Afghanistan, reach into the trillions of dollars. It continues to be a spectacular payday for some. We have not been robbed of our future. We have been robbed of our present.

Iraqi special operations forces search for three missing soldiers in Baghdad, Iraq, May 21, 2007. (Photo: The US Army / Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael B.W. Watkins)

In the desert,
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter -- bitter," he answered;

"But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart."

-- Stephen Crane

On August 2, 1990, I was a newly minted high school graduate counting the hours until my freshman year of college began. I was 18 years old, madly in love for the first time, and totally unaware that Iraq was invading Kuwait that day. Five days later, on August 7, President George H.W. Bush ordered troops to Saudi Arabia, the first of millions who would rotate through that region over the next 27 years.

I remember things happening fast during that long-ago August. An Army recruiter visited my house just before I left for school. He sat in my living room and told me Iraq's military was massive, that Saddam Hussein was more dangerous than Adolf Hitler, but if I joined up now and entered the Reserve Officers' Training Corps, I wouldn't be near combat for at least four years. Besides, he said, this war will be over by then. I remembered my father, what volunteering for Vietnam did to him, and politely declined the proffered papers.

Twenty-seven years. My father's war only lasted 25. Only.

Twenty-seven years of war in Iraq, or preparation for war, in one permutation or another. I sometimes wonder if that recruiter remembers what he said to me about how long it all would last. I'd bet he remembers; I was certainly not the only young man he ran that number on as the push toward war swelled like a blister over the following months. Nearly three decades later, how many graves at Arlington and elsewhere have been filled with the remains of those who were told it would be over before they got there, and believed it? I'm sure he remembers. Wouldn't you?

For the historical record: There was the initial build-up of Desert Shield, followed by Desert Storm and its lethal cloud of depleted uranium. There were the sanctions/bombing Clinton years when we blew up sewage treatment plants and denied children vaccines in an ongoing act of biological warfare. Then, there was the second Bush invasion based on unprosecuted criminal lies, the long massacre of occupation and torture, the Obama occupation and drone war, the drawdown, the draw-back-up because of ISIS. Now, there is the current trembling mayhem of air strikes, car bombs, militias, factions, confusion and an overwhelming ocean of refugees.

No one in politics or the media seems capable of recognizing this series of events for what it truly is: One large event with a tangible beginning, a middle and no end in sight. There is no dicing it up. It is all of a piece, one long war, the longest by miles in our nation's history. The most recent invasion and occupation saw nearly 5,000 US service members killed and close to 40,000 wounded. That casualty count does not include the many thousands of veterans who have returned home after multiple deployments suffering from a variety of maladies caused by prolonged exposure to chemicals, combat and carnage.

As for the civilian toll in Iraq after 27 years of war, no one is precisely sure. "You know," said Gen. Tommy Franks just after George W. Bush's portion of the war began, "we don't do body counts." Reliable estimates place the number in the hundreds of thousands, with others claiming a million or more lives have been lost. Thousands died during the opening of the war, with thousands more perishing in the intervening years from air strikes, polluted water and depleted uranium poisoning. UNICEF reported in 1999 that some 500,000 Iraqi children died due to deprivations caused by our sanctions. Factional strife caused by the war has killed even more. Millions of people remain displaced from their homes.

There is also the financial toll. The latest numbers are almost a year old, but the best estimates of the monetary cost of all these years of systematic butchery, when combined with the expense of simultaneous war in Afghanistan, reach into the trillions of dollars. There are the trillions we've already spent, and the trillions we will continue to spend as we accrue interest on the unpaid loans that financed the war to begin with. After sending millions of soldiers, sailors, Marines and air force servicemembers to war, many on multiple occasions, the VA will be dealing with an astonishing and expensive human workload for many decades to come.

Twenty-seven years. Hundreds of thousands of deaths, at least. Trillions of dollars squandered? Hardly. This was not an accident. It was, and continues to be, a spectacular payday.

Every bullet fired, every bomb dropped, every missile launched, every gallon of fuel burned, every HumVee destroyed by an IED, every helicopter shot down, every boot on the ground, every private military contractor's paycheck, every MRE, every Kevlar vest, every pill, every helmet, every uniform, every body bag, every coffin and every American flag draped over it throughout all those many long years of war represents money taken from you and given to a small group of people you'll never meet. They hide much of that money offshore so it won't be taxed, and use the rest to buy politicians who tell you the country is broke, we're about austerity now, so no more school lunches for your kids and no more Medicaid for your mother.

It took 27 years, but one of the greatest heists, one of the greatest redistributions of wealth in the history of humanity has taken place right under our noses, and the nation of Iraq stands in ruins. Here at home, the ruins are not nearly as vivid, but they are still very present. Just look at us. Look at what war has done for us, what we have allowed to be taken from us, one day at a time, for almost 30 years.

We have enough firepower to kill every living thing on Earth down to the last lichen, but we can't tell the difference between reality television and reality. Education and expertise are disdained, there are more guns than people, and the police are armed to the teeth with Iraq war castoff weaponry when they confront people of color and women protesting in the streets to save rights they thought they'd won 50 years ago.

Imagine not being a nation steeping like a teabag in its own cowardice after creating so many blood enemies through 27 years of war. We are so afraid now that a high spokesman for the president of the United States can stand before the assembled press and spout white nationalist dogma about the creed on the Statue of Liberty because, he says, immigrants and refugees are dangerous now. The truth is, a lot of them are running for their lives after we blew up their homes and killed their families -- but we won't let them in the country, because they scare us.

Imagine, on the other hand, thousands upon thousands of well-resourced schools with plenty of teachers and textbooks to go around, a health care system whose chief purpose was actual health care, fully funded medical research curing diseases like diabetes and ALS, coast-to-coast rail so fast you're in San Francisco almost before you left Boston, a rebuilt infrastructure that reimagines our national capacities as it invigorates our economy, a world-leading alternative energy industry that drinks deep of wind and sky even as it cleanses both.

Imagine millions of people, here and there, unharmed by the ravages we have inflicted upon them, and upon ourselves. Imagine all those who would still be alive.

We could have all that and more, right now, but for 27 years of war. We have not been robbed of our future. We have been robbed of our present.

I'm certain that recruiter remembers.

I do.

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The Spanish Inquisition Lives On in Arizona's Ban on Mexican American Studies

Truthout - Thu, 08/10/2017 - 21:00

The book burnings and heresy trials unleashed on Mexico during the Spanish Inquisition were historical precursors to Arizona's HB 2281 legislation, which shut down the Mexican American Studies program and banned books with an Indigenous perspective. The conservative law is a continuation of centuries-old efforts to suppress Indigenous knowledge and memory on this continent.

(Photo: DGLimages / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

I have always viewed Arizona's effort to eradicate Mexican American Studies (MAS) as something akin to an unholy Inquisition. For some, that will sound hyperbolic; not for me.

US district Judge Wallace Tashima is expected to make a decision soon on whether the 2010 Arizona House Bill 2281 legislation, which bans Arizona public schools from offering ethnic studies classes, was passed with the intention of discriminating against Tucson's Mexican American students.

The measure prohibited public schools from offering classes that allegedly "promote the overthrow of the United States Government," "promote resentment towards a race or class of people," "are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group," or "advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals."

In practice, HB 2281 was used in 2012 to dismantle Tucson's Mexican-American Studies program, which was created in the 1990s to highlight Mexican American/Indigenous literature and history. In dismantling the program, Arizona banned more than 80 books from use in public school classrooms, including titles such as Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, by Bill Bigelow, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire, Critical Race Theory, by Richard Delgado and 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, by Elizabeth Martinez. (Two of my books were banned the year before.)

This June and July, Judge Tashima presided over a two-week trial, at which the State of Arizona defended HB 2281 while Tucson students and teachers argued that it was crafted with racist intent. The trial drew to a close without a ruling, with Tashima promising to issue one within the next few weeks.

From the Book Burnings to the Book Bans

During the beginning of this historic trial, I found myself in Mexico City, where I visited two very disturbing museums dedicated to Spain's medieval Inquisition in Mexico. While there, something gnawed at me, telling me that I needed to return to the trial in Tucson, yet something even more powerful compelled me to keep heading further south.

I had been visiting gravely-ill elder relatives, yet at the trial's conclusion, I actually found myself on the grounds of the infamous Mani, Yucatán cathedral, the site of a 1562 auto-de-fé -- a ritual of "public penance" inflicted on alleged heretics during the Spanish Inquisition.

When I arrived at the cathedral, an elder named Dzul Ek explained that the 1562 auto-de-fé at that site involved an infamous three-day book burning.

Throughout the Spanish Inquisition, autos-de-fé involved trials, book burnings, ceremonies of public penitence, whippings and burning at the stake. The infamous book burning at Mani was just one example of the 300-year auto-de-fé inflicted upon Spanish colonies in which anything involving ancient Indigenous knowledge, religion or philosophy was considered demonic. That meant that not only did ancient books become illegal, but so did anything that connoted memory and pre-Columbian Indigenous knowledge, even traditional medicines and food, such as amaranth. The knowledge was considered illegal and those that possessed it were considered witches and sorcerers, in league with the devil. Many were tortured and or put to death by fire or hanging. Many, of course, did not even have the benefit of such "trials."

As I reflected on this history, I instantly knew I had not been mistaken in needing to be there at that particular moment. It was akin to a spiritual pilgrimage; what happened there in 1562 continues to be undeniably linked to continued efforts to eradicate Indigenous memory -- the efforts to disappear "non-Western" memory -- everywhere on this continent.

This history has always held the key to understanding the rationale behind the shutting down of the highly successful MAS program in Arizona and the banning of its books.

What was banned in Tucson as a result of HB 2281 was not so much a program or a curriculum or even its books, but a worldview. Included in the core of the Mas program were the Maya or maiz-based concepts of In Lak' Ech (You are my other me) and Panche Be (To seek the root of the truth).

In effect, as a result of HB 2281, things deemed to be outside of Greco-Roman culture (Western civilization) by the state became illegal to teach in Arizona, precipitating the filing of the Acosta v. Huppenthal lawsuit against the state in 2010.

The controversy over the MAS program has, at its root, been about what is permissible versus impermissible knowledge -- a controversy that runs from the present directly back to even before 1562. Because of the violent punishments inflicted by superstitious priests during the colonial era, Indigenous history by Indigenous authors has generally not been taught anywhere on this continent until very recently.

The two authors of HB 2281, former school superintendent John Huppenthal and his predecessor, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, have made clear that their opposition to MAS is based in their notion of what is inside or outside of "civilization"; all their other arguments were but subterfuge.

In 2007, speaking before the conservative Heritage Foundation, Horne first invoked the theme of the superiority of Greco-Roman culture and Western civilization, a theme he would advance for 10 years in his efforts to destroy MAS.

Both Huppenthal and Horne testified unrepentantly in court this summer to defend the measure.

During the trial, Huppenthal outdid Horne by claiming that the trial represented an eternal conflict between individualism and collectivism that had been raging since the advent of civilization.

As to whether there was racial animus involved in eliminating MAS, the smaller answer is yes, conservative lawmakers passed HB 2281 because they saw the program as teaching radical Chicano politics, Paolo Freirean liberation pedagogy, and also Indigenous knowledge, history and philosophies.

The larger answer is that it was passed for religio-racial (civilizational war) reasons. It was based on the idea that people from Europe are civilized, and peoples from the rest of the world, including Indigenous peoples from the Americas, are uncivilized.

It appears that those who supported the ban on ethnic studies saw their struggle, which is related to providence and manifest destiny, as derived from a God-given mandate to wipe out any cultures that they deem to be collectivist and thus uncivilized.

Regardless of how Judge Tashima rules, the state can be assured that the knowledge that was being taught will continue to be taught nationwide, including in Arizona, even if it has to be done via street theater. And after 500 years, the auto-de-fé against Indigenous peoples must and will come to an end.

Categories: Latest News

Corporations Pay Between 13 and 19 Percent in Federal Taxes—Far Less Than the 35 Percent Statutory Tax Rate

Commondreams - Thu, 08/10/2017 - 11:14
Economic Policy Institute

As the GOP push to pass “tax reform” starts to heat up, policymakers will debate whether the corporate tax rate is too high or too low. A standard but misleading talking point for those wishing to give more tax breaks to corporations is that the United States has one of the highest statutory rates in the world at 35 percent. This is misleading because what corporations actually pay (their effective rate) is far lower.

Categories: Latest News

Members of Congress Fail to Disclose Future Employment Negotiations; Revolving Door Continues to Spin

Commondreams - Thu, 08/10/2017 - 10:24
Public Citizen

Retiring members of Congress are largely failing to disclose their negotiations for future private-sector employment, despite a reform law that intended for them to do so, a new Public Citizen report shows.

Categories: Latest News

Statement by National Low Income Housing Coalition President and CEO Diane Yentel on HUD’s Worst Case Housing Needs Report

Commondreams - Thu, 08/10/2017 - 09:03
National Low Income Housing Coalition

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published on August 9 its Worst Case Housing Needs: 2017 Report to Congress, showing that 8.3 million unassisted very low income households in America spend more than half of their income on their housing, live in severely substandard housing, or both. The number of households experiencing this “worst case housing” has increased by 41% since 2007 and by 66% since 2001. We are experiencing an affordable housing crisis of unprecedented proportions.

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