Kleptocracy?: How Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner Personally Profit From Their Roles in the White House
Are Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner personally profiting from their official roles in the White House? According to the Associated Press, Ivanka Trump secured three new exclusive trademarks in China the very same day she and her father, President Trump, had dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump's private Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. The China trademarks give her company the exclusive rights to sell Ivanka-branded jewelry, bags and spa services in China. The New York Times reports Japan also approved new trademarks for Ivanka for branded shoes, handbags and clothing in February, and she has trademark applications pending in at least 10 other countries. Ivanka no longer manages her $50 million company, but she continues to own it. Ivanka also serves in the Trump administration as an adviser to the president. So does her husband, Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner. For more, we speak with Vicky Ward, New York Times best-selling author, investigative journalist and contributor to Esquire and Huffington Post Highline magazine.
Please check back later for full transcript.
The longtime Fox News star Bill O'Reilly is out, after more than half a dozen women accused him of sexual harassment. His departure follows the similar ouster of longtime powerful Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, who was also forced out this past summer after more than 20 women accused him of sexual harassment. Over 50 advertisers boycotted "The O'Reilly Factor" over revelations O'Reilly and Fox paid $13 million to settle lawsuits by five women who accuse O'Reilly of sexual harassment and inappropriate sexual behavior. For more, we speak with civil rights attorney Lisa Bloom. She represents three women who have accused Bill O'Reilly of unwanted sexual advances.
Please check back later for full transcript.
Only dramatic and concerted action on multiple fronts can prevent the human disasters now unfolding in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen from becoming the global norm. (Photo: Asian Development Bank)
Not since World War II have more human beings been at risk from disease and starvation than at this very moment. On March 10th, Stephen O'Brien, under secretary-general of the United Nations for humanitarian affairs, informed the Security Council that 20 million people in three African countries -- Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan -- as well as in Yemen were likely to die if not provided with emergency food and medical aid. "We are at a critical point in history," he declared. "Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the U.N." Without coordinated international action, he added, "people will simply starve to death [or] suffer and die from disease."
Major famines have, of course, occurred before, but never in memory on such a scale in four places simultaneously. According to O'Brien, 7.3 million people are at risk in Yemen, 5.1 million in the Lake Chad area of northeastern Nigeria, 5 million in South Sudan, and 2.9 million in Somalia. In each of these countries, some lethal combination of war, persistent drought, and political instability is causing drastic cuts in essential food and water supplies. Of those 20 million people at risk of death, an estimated 1.4 million are young children.
Despite the potential severity of the crisis, U.N. officials remain confident that many of those at risk can be saved if sufficient food and medical assistance is provided in time and the warring parties allow humanitarian aid workers to reach those in the greatest need. "We have strategic, coordinated, and prioritized plans in every country," O'Brien said. "With sufficient and timely financial support, humanitarians can still help to prevent the worst-case scenario."
All in all, the cost of such an intervention is not great: an estimated $4.4 billion to implement that U.N. action plan and save most of those 20 million lives.
The international response? Essentially, a giant shrug of indifference.
To have time to deliver sufficient supplies, U.N. officials indicated that the money would need to be in pocket by the end of March. It's now April and international donors have given only a paltry $423 million -- less than a tenth of what's needed. While, for instance, President Donald Trump sought Congressional approval for a $54 billion increase in U.S. military spending (bringing total defense expenditures in the coming year to $603 billion) and launched $89 million worth of Tomahawk missiles against a single Syrian air base, the U.S. has offered precious little to allay the coming disaster in three countries in which it has taken military actions in recent years. As if to add insult to injury, on February 15th Trump told Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari that he was inclined to sell his country 12 Super-Tucano light-strike aircraft, potentially depleting Nigeria of $600 million it desperately needs for famine relief.
Moreover, just as those U.N. officials were pleading fruitlessly for increased humanitarian funding and an end to the fierce and complex set of conflicts in South Sudan and Yemen (so that they could facilitate the safe delivery of emergency food supplies to those countries), the Trump administration was announcing plans to reduce American contributions to the United Nations by 40%. It was also preparing to send additional weaponry to Saudi Arabia, the country most responsible for devastating air strikes on Yemen's food and water infrastructure. This goes beyond indifference. This is complicity in mass extermination.
Like many people around the world, President Trump was horrified by images of young children suffocating from the nerve gas used by Syrian government forces in an April 4th raid on the rebel-held village of Khan Sheikhoun. "That attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me -- big impact," he told reporters. "That was a horrible, horrible thing. And I've been watching it and seeing it, and it doesn't get any worse than that." In reaction to those images, he ordered a barrage of cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base the following day. But Trump does not seem to have seen -- or has ignored -- equally heart-rending images of young children dying from the spreading famines in Africa and Yemen. Those children evidently don't merit White House sympathy.
Who knows why not just Donald Trump but the world is proving so indifferent to the famines of 2017? It could simply be donor fatigue or a media focused on the daily psychodrama that is now Washington, or growing fears about the unprecedented global refugee crisis and, of course, terrorism. It's a question worth a piece in itself, but I want to explore another one entirely.
Here's the question I think we all should be asking: Is this what a world battered by climate change will be like -- one in which tens of millions, even hundreds of millions of people perish from disease, starvation, and heat prostration while the rest of us, living in less exposed areas, essentially do nothing to prevent their annihilation?
Famine, Drought and Climate Change
First, though, let's consider whether the famines of 2017 are even a valid indicator of what a climate-changed planet might look like. After all, severe famines accompanied by widespread starvation have occurred throughout human history. In addition, the brutal armed conflicts now underway in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen are at least in part responsible for the spreading famines. In all four countries, there are forces -- Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia, assorted militias and the government in South Sudan, and Saudi-backed forces in Yemen -- interfering with the delivery of aid supplies. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that pervasive water scarcity and prolonged drought (expected consequences of global warming) are contributing significantly to the disastrous conditions in most of them. The likelihood that droughts this severe would be occurring simultaneously in the absence of climate change is vanishingly small.
In fact, scientists generally agree that global warming will ensure diminished rainfall and ever more frequent droughts over much of Africa and the Middle East. This, in turn, will heighten conflicts of every sort and endanger basic survival in a myriad of ways. In their most recent 2014 assessment of global trends, the scientists of the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that "agriculture in Africa will face significant challenges in adapting to climate changes projected to occur by mid-century, as negative effects of high temperatures become increasingly prominent." Even in 2014, as that report suggested, climate change was already contributing to water scarcity and persistent drought conditions in large parts of Africa and the Middle East. Scientific studies had, for instance, revealed an "overall expansion of desert and contraction of vegetated areas" on that continent. With arable land in retreat and water supplies falling, crop yields were already in decline in many areas, while malnutrition rates were rising -- precisely the conditions witnessed in more extreme forms in the famine-affected areas today.
It's seldom possible to attribute any specific weather-induced event, including droughts or storms, to global warming with absolute certainty. Such things happen with or without climate change. Nonetheless, scientists are becoming even more confident that severe storms and droughts (especially when occurring in tandem or in several parts of the world at once) are best explained as climate-change related. If, for instance, a type of storm that might normally occur only once every hundred years occurs twice in one decade and four times in the next, you can be reasonably confident that you're in a new climate era.
It will undoubtedly take more time for scientists to determine to what extent the current famines in Africa and Yemen are mainly climate-change-induced and to what extent they are the product of political and military mayhem and disarray. But doesn't this already offer us a sense of just what kind of world we are now entering?
History and social science research indicate that, as environmental conditions deteriorate, people will naturally compete over access to vital materials and the opportunists in any society -- warlords, militia leaders, demagogues, government officials, and the like -- will exploit such clashes for their personal advantage. "The data suggests a definite link between food insecurity and conflict," points out Ertharin Cousin, head of the U.N.'s World Food Program. "Climate is an added stress factor." In this sense, the current famines in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen provide us with a perfect template for our future, one in which resource wars and climate mayhem team up as temperatures continue their steady rise.
The Selective Impact of Climate Change
In some popular accounts of the future depredations of climate change, there is a tendency to suggest that its effects will be felt more or less democratically around the globe -- that we will all suffer to some degree, if not equally, from the bad things that happen as temperatures rise. And it's certainly true that everyone on this planet will feel the effects of global warming in some fashion, but don't for a second imagine that the harshest effects will be distributed anything but deeply inequitably. It won't even be a complicated equation. As with so much else, those at the bottom rungs of society -- the poor, the marginalized, and those in countries already at or near the edge -- will suffer so much more (and so much earlier) than those at the top and in the most developed, wealthiest countries.
As a start, the geophysical dynamics of climate change dictate that, when it comes to soaring temperatures and reduced rainfall, the most severe effects are likely to be felt first and worst in the tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Latin America -- home to hundreds of millions of people who depend on rain-fed agriculture to sustain themselves and their families. Research conducted by scientists in New Zealand, Switzerland, and Great Britain found that the rise in the number of extremely hot days is already more intense in tropical latitudes and disproportionately affects poor farmers.
Living at subsistence levels, such farmers and their communities are especially vulnerable to drought and desertification. In a future in which climate-change disasters are commonplace, they will undoubtedly be forced to choose ever more frequently between the unpalatable alternatives of starvation or flight. In other words, if you thought the global refugee crisis was bad today, just wait a few decades.
Climate change is also intensifying the dangers faced by the poor and marginalized in another way. As interior croplands turn to dust, ever more farmers are migrating to cities, especially coastal ones. If you want a historical analogy, think of the great Dust Bowl migration of the "Okies" from the interior of the U.S. to the California coast in the 1930s. In today's climate-change era, the only available housing such migrants are likely to find will be in vast and expanding shantytowns (or "informal settlements," as they're euphemistically called), often located in floodplains and low-lying coastal areas exposed to storm surges and sea-level rise. As global warming advances, the victims of water scarcity and desertification will be afflicted anew. Those storm surges will destroy the most exposed parts of the coastal mega-cities in which they will be clustered. In other words, for the uprooted and desperate, there will be no escaping climate change. As the latest IPCC report noted, "Poor people living in urban informal settlements, of which there are [already] about one billion worldwide, are particularly vulnerable to weather and climate effects."
The scientific literature on climate change indicates that the lives of the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed will be the first to be turned upside down by the effects of global warming. "The socially and economically disadvantaged and the marginalized are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change and extreme events," the IPCC indicated in 2014. "Vulnerability is often high among indigenous peoples, women, children, the elderly, and disabled people who experience multiple deprivations that inhibit them from managing daily risks and shocks." It should go without saying that these are also the people least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming in the first place (something no less true of the countries most of them live in).
Inaction Equals Annihilation
In this context, consider the moral consequences of inaction on climate change. Once it seemed that the process of global warming would occur slowly enough to allow societies to adapt to higher temperatures without excessive disruption, and that the entire human family would somehow make this transition more or less simultaneously. That now looks more and more like a fairy tale. Climate change is occurring far too swiftly for all human societies to adapt to it successfully. Only the richest are likely to succeed in even the most tenuous way. Unless colossal efforts are undertaken now to halt the emission of greenhouse gases, those living in less affluent societies can expect to suffer from extremes of flooding, drought, starvation, disease, and death in potentially staggering numbers.
And you don't need a Ph.D. in climatology to arrive at this conclusion either. The overwhelming majority of the world's scientists agree that any increase in average world temperatures that exceeds 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial era -- some opt for a rise of no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius -- will alter the global climate system drastically. In such a situation, a number of societies will simply disintegrate in the fashion of South Sudan today, producing staggering chaos and misery. So far, the world has heated up by at least one of those two degrees, and unless we stop burning fossil fuels in quantity soon, the 1.5 degree level will probably be reached in the not-too-distant future.
Worse yet, on our present trajectory, it seems highly unlikely that the warming process will stop at 2 or even 3 degrees Celsius, meaning that later in this century many of the worst-case climate-change scenarios -- the inundation of coastal cities, the desertification of vast interior regions, and the collapse of rain-fed agriculture in many areas -- will become everyday reality.
In other words, think of the developments in those three African lands and Yemen as previews of what far larger parts of our world could look like in another quarter-century or so: a world in which hundreds of millions of people are at risk of annihilation from disease or starvation, or are on the march or at sea, crossing borders, heading for the shantytowns of major cities, looking for refugee camps or other places where survival appears even minimally possible. If the world's response to the current famine catastrophe and the escalating fears of refugees in wealthy countries are any indication, people will die in vast numbers without hope of help.
In other words, failing to halt the advance of climate change -- to the extent that halting it, at this point, remains within our power -- means complicity with mass human annihilation. We know, or at this point should know, that such scenarios are already on the horizon. We still retain the power, if not to stop them, then to radically ameliorate what they will look like, so our failure to do all we can means that we become complicit in what -- not to mince words -- is clearly going to be a process of climate genocide. How can those of us in countries responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions escape such a verdict?
And if such a conclusion is indeed inescapable, then each of us must do whatever we can to reduce our individual, community, and institutional contributions to global warming. Even if we are already doing a lot -- as many of us are -- more is needed. Unfortunately, we Americans are living not only in a time of climate crisis, but in the era of President Trump, which means the federal government and its partners in the fossil fuel industry will be wielding their immense powers to obstruct all imaginable progress on limiting global warming. They will be the true perpetrators of climate genocide. As a result, the rest of us bear a moral responsibility not just to do what we can at the local level to slow the pace of climate change, but also to engage in political struggle to counteract or neutralize the acts of Trump and company. Only dramatic and concerted action on multiple fronts can prevent the human disasters now unfolding in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen from becoming the global norm.
[Note: On Saturday, April 29th, folks from all over the United States will participate in the People's Climate March in Washington, D.C. You can get information on the march by clicking here. Joining the march, or otherwise supporting its objectives, is a good way to begin the resistance to climate genocide. For those who wish to aid the victims of famine in Africa and Yemen, donations can be made to the U.N.'s World Food Program by clicking here.]
Did you pay all of your taxes this April?
Wall Street banks typically pay much less than the official 35 percent corporate tax rate. And yet after attacking Hillary Clinton for her ties to Wall Street, President Donald Trump is pushing reforms that would make it even easier for big banks to rig the tax rules and skip out on paying their fair share.
Nine of the largest and most profitable US banks paid an average federal tax rate of only 18.6 percent between 2008 and 2015, according to a new paper co-published by the Institute for Policy Studies and several tax and Wall Street reform groups.
By using various loopholes, these banks avoided paying about $80 billion that could've gone towards urgent public needs, like fixing our crumbling infrastructure and expanding pre-K programs.
Under Trump's plan, tax-dodging banks would pay even less. The official rate would drop to 15 percent, and they'd still benefit from loopholes that would let them pay even lower rates.
One of the biggest loopholes allows US banks and other large corporations to use "creative accounting" to shift profits earned in the United States to foreign nations with low or no corporate taxes. Corporations still owe US taxes on these profits, but they can put off paying them indefinitely.
Wouldn't it be nice if you could just send Uncle Sam an IOU every year?
Financial firms are particularly good at this offshore tax-dodging game. The six largest US banks (Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo) have set up more than 2,300 subsidiaries in tax havens like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.
In 2016, they were holding nearly $150 billion in profits offshore. Trump's tax plan would slash the rate on those offshore profits to just 10 percent, saving the banks an estimated $25 billion. When these tax discounts on offshore profits have been tried in the past, they didn't help bring back US jobs.
Instead of doling out new tax breaks to Wall Street, lawmakers should be working to make sure these profitable firms pay their fair share. After all, these are the guys who drove our economy off a cliff with their recklessness and greed in 2008. After the crash, taxpayers put them on a path back to profitability with massive bailouts.
Where is all that money going today?
While much of the country continues to struggle with widespread unemployment, losing their homes, and skinny budgets, Wall Street's high profits are once again driving sky-high pay for executives. At Citigroup, for example, a bank that wouldn't exist today if it hadn't been bailed out, CEO Michael Corbat made more than $42 million over the past three years.
One practical way to generate much-needed revenue from Wall Street would be through a tax on short-term speculation. Working families pay sales taxes when they buy essentials like gas and shoes. But when Wall Street traders buy millions of dollars in stocks or derivatives and sell them a split second later, they don't pay any tax at all.
In front of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction in Raleigh, a group of children spoke to a small crowd. It was spring break, and they were journeying from Miami to Washington, DC, to protest the president's immigration policies. Most of these children were afraid of having their families split up due to the recent executive enforcement of immigrant deportation and detainment.
"I'm the son of undocumented immigrants," said Uriel Rodriguez. The 11-year-old was clearly nervous, yet determined. He wanted to give the president a message. "Donald Trump, we can't be living with the fear that, at any moment, our parents could be arrested and deported."
Rodriguez and the other youth were part of the We Belong Together Kids Caravan, a campaign organized by the National Domestic Workers Alliance and dozens of affiliated organizations to protest President Donald Trump's immigration policies. Forty children, ages 7-17, left Miami on April 10 and, after stops in Atlanta and Raleigh, arrived in Washington on April 14, where hundreds of young people from different parts of the country held a protest across the street from the White House.
The initiative was largely youth-driven, says Andrea Cristina Mercado, campaign director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Over the past few years, her organization has encouraged young activists to send Christmas and Valentine's Day cards to their elected officials to urge them to keep their families together. But in late January, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez ordered local jails to comply with federal immigration detention requests.
Young people have been particularly active in fighting for immigrants' rights in Miami, Mercado said. "When the mayor gave in to Trump and turned his back, they said enough is enough: If their elected leaders wouldn't have the courage to stand up to Trump, they would." The specific idea of a caravan, though, came from Leah (some children's last names are withheld for security reasons), a 10-year-old Miami resident who visited Washington for the Women's March, Mercado explained. "She told us she wanted to go with a group of young people to Washington, DC, so we've been supporting the effort ever since."
Elena, 17, whose mother is undocumented, was engaged in the letter-writing campaign and decided to travel to Washington with the caravan. "My mom was an activist and I saw her leadership, so I've been doing this since I was really small," she said. "It's really amazing because whatever [the youth on the caravan] say and do, that makes an impact -- not just in our country, but also worldwide. So we're showing these other kids in California or wherever that they [too] should get involved."
The majority Latino caravan included African American and white youth from organizations like Power U Center for Social Change, based in Miami. They joined the caravan to show their support.
Other youth activists met the group at the protest in Washington. Two children of Jeanette Vizguerra, a Denver woman who has been staying in churches since being threatened with deportation in mid-February, were at the event. So was Amariyanna Copeny, aka "Little Miss Flint," a 9-year-old activist who spoke at the gathering, criticizing President Trump's inaction on her city's water crisis.
Like so many people after the presidential election, American youth are feeling an urge to become more politically involved, said Tabitha St. Bernard, the national youth initiative coordinator of the Women's March. "There's a new wave of activism; people think they can't sit on the sidelines anymore," she said.
But working with youth has challenges. One of those is parents, who might not be comfortable with their children being politically active. Part of their job, after all, is protecting their children from too-disturbing realities, said St. Bernard. "There has to be a conversation with the parent as well, because they're still the guardian," she said. However, organizers recognize that it's important for youth to be hands-on in designing the plans for actions.
The young people heading to Washington were using their spring break, so the action had to be something they enjoyed doing, St. Bernard explained. "It's about learning to speak their language and really paying attention to them, and not dictating."
In the end, a well-designed campaign like the Kids Caravan gives children the opportunity to exercise their unique power when it comes to political actions. The youth will continue actions leading up to May Day, as they encourage all local organizations to help young people organize. They offer tools to do so on their website.
"People listen to kids more," said St. Bernard. "So when a young kid finds their voice, it's something that's pretty incredible."
Donald Trump signs an executive order in the Oval Office of the White House, in Washington, DC, January 24, 2017. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)
Financial disclosures filed on Tuesday reveal that corporate chiefs, including those with pending business before then-incoming President Trump, provided much of the financing for the festivities around his inauguration.
Complying with federal law, the Trump Inaugural Committee disclosed its donors to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) on Tuesday, showing total contributions of more than $106 million -- a new record.
Included in the roster of funders is pipeline builder Kelcy Warren, who contributed a quarter-million dollars to the event. Warren's company, Energy Transfer, is behind construction of the controversial Dakota Access pipeline.
In an interview with The Dallas News in January, Warren described 2016 as the "toughest year of my life," referring to protests that rocked the company over the construction of DAPL. He said that Trump's election gave him hope.
Protests over DAPL forced the Obama administration to put the project on hold. Indigenous and environmental activists claim the pipeline threatens lands and water that are crucial to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe of North Dakota. Trump, however, ignored those pleas and green-lighted construction of DAPL in February.
Several other companies that later benefited from executive actions taken by President Trump also donated to the inauguration.
Coal mining giant Murray Energy and petrol companies Chevron and Citgo gave over a million dollars combined. Last month, Trump took actions that put former President Obama's signature climate change regulation, the Clean Power Plan, in jeopardy.
Health insurance companies MetLife and Anthem also chucked over $100,000 apiece at the Trump inaugural committee, just as the incoming administration was plotting to repeal Affordable Care Act regulations.
Other inaugural donors included top Wall Street firms like JP Morgan Chase and American Financial Group. Both companies each forked over $500,000 to Trump's celebratory organization. In his first few months in office, Trump has also taken aim at financial rules put in place by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform law.
Well-known GOP funder and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson was the top contributor to the inaugural committee, donating a whopping $5 million.
Notable investor Charles Schwab and GoDaddy.com founder Bob Parson also were large donors, each one contributing a million dollars. That donation tier provided access to a "leadership luncheon" described as "an exclusive event with select Cabinet appointees and House and Senate leadership," according to documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.
The $106.7 million raised in total is a biggest haul of any inaugural committee.
Former President Obama's 2013 Inaugural Committee collected $44.6 million, and also solicited corporate donors.
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Leaked Documents Reveal Trump Administration Prepping to Ramp up Drilling, Mining, Grazing on Public Land
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administrators have drafted a "Priority Work List" that reveals BLM's focus on oil, gas and coal development on federal land as well as the security of the U.S.-Mexico border. E&E News obtained the internal documents, which had not yet been shared with BLM staff.
The list was "assembled by the team at the BLM to clearly lay out our continued commitment to ensure opportunities for commercial, recreation and conservation activities on BLM-managed lands," BLM spokeswoman Megan Crandall told E&E News.
In the first of five subsections, "Making America Safe through Energy Independence," the following are identified as key components of "BLM Priority Work":
- Make additional lands available for "all of the above" energy development
- Address backlog of Applications for Permit to Drill (APDs) and Expressions of Interest (EOIs)
- Streamline Federal coal leasing and permitting, and address backlog
- Streamline oil and gas leasing and permitting
- Streamline rights-of-way processing for pipelines, transmission lines and solar/wind projectsStreamline leasing and permitting for hardrock mining
A draft BLM "Key Messages Strategy" also shared by E&E News explains, "all of the above" energy development "includes oil and gas, coal, and renewable sources such as wind and solar – all of which can be developed on public lands." The Key Messages Strategy outlines communication policies and strategies for BLM officials.
The concentration on fossil fuel development is in line with President Trump's March executive order titled "Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth," which revoked many U.S. climate and environment regulations. In tandem, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's order ending the Obama era moratorium on federal coal leases opened the door for previously halted strip mining projects.
Climate change is not mentioned in the draft BLM plan and as E&E News puts it, "the draft priority list takes aim at almost every Obama-era federal lands management initiative, from landscape-level planning to livestock grazing, and is sure to be criticized by Democrats and conservation groups."
Aaron Weiss, Media Director for the Center for Western Priorities, states the backlog of permits referenced in the work-list is a "red herring," because BLM's own data "show there is no significant backlog of applications." BLM data also shows oil and gas companies typically take longer to complete the approval process than the BLM itself. Weiss points out this lag on the oil and gas companies' part is likely due to the fact that in late 2015, they already held more than 7,500 approved but unused drilling permits, according to the most current available BLM information.
"While Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has repeatedly claimed that BLM is pursuing a multiple use' policy, it is clear that the Administration wants a Bureau of Leasing and Mining, while paying lip service to all other uses, including conservation and recreation," writes Weiss.
The four other points in the leaked document are titled, "Making America Great Through Shared Conservation Stewardship," "Making America Safe -- Restoring Our Sovereignty," "Getting America Back to Work," and "Serving the American Family."
"Making America Great Through Shared Conservation Stewardship," discusses managing wild horse and burro levels, "working with partners to develop and implement priority habitat improvement projects," increasing volunteer opportunities, and effectively marketing a "multi-use mandate."
"Making America Safe -- Restoring Our Sovereignty," focuses on security projects along the U.S.-Mexico border and ensuring "public lands and resources are available to support the mission of our military." Trump's promised border wall, which would imperil many species including jaguars (Panthera onca), is not specifically named.
"Getting America Back to Work," directs the BLM to "streamline land use planning to support energy and minerals development and other priority initiatives." It also suggest "streamlining" National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) processes and increasing the "efficiency of compliance activities" for the Endangered Species Act (ESA), National Historic Preservation Act and Clean Water Act.
"Serving the American Family, "seeks to expand "recreational, hunting and wildlife conservation opportunities" and ease "the grazing permit process" in order to "provide more flexibility to the American rancher." This section also states BLM intends to fulfill its "trust responsibilities to tribal communities," and "enhance State and local law enforcement partnerships" to make public lands safer and improve visitor experiences.
The leaked priority list comes on the heels of another BLM messaging controversy last week, after the agency changed its website cover photo from an image of two backpacking boys gazing at pristine green mountains to a picture of a black coal strip from Wyoming's Powder River Basin.
An installer puts in a drip irrigation line at Harborside Farms, a large marijuana grower, in Salinas, California, March 24, 2017. (Photo: Jim Wilson / The New York Times)
Supporters of legal marijuana are not happy with President Trump or his apparent pick for White House drug czar, Rep. Tom Marino. The war on drugs will not end until the institutions behind it are dismantled and positions like "drug czar" become relics. Let's eliminate the offices that make the drug war possible -- sooner rather than later.
An installer puts in a drip irrigation line at Harborside Farms, a large marijuana grower, in Salinas, California, March 24, 2017. (Photo: Jim Wilson / The New York Times)
With its lengthy name and familiar acronym, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws is one of the oldest pro-legalization lobbies on Capitol Hill, and the group is tired of waiting for a good drug czar to come around. So, NORML is asking the White House to abolish the position altogether, just as President Trump is reportedly preparing to appoint Rep. Tom Marino of Pennsylvania to the office.
Marijuana legalization proponents have plenty of problems with Marino becoming the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the position informally known as "drug czar," but that's not the only reason NORML wants the entire "anti-science" agency closed. The ONDCP has long been a center of command for the war on drugs, a bloody and chaotic conflict that is widely seen as a costly failure.
Unfortunately for NORML and anyone who cares about personal freedom or public health, top Trump administration officials -- most notably Jeff Sessions, Trump's cannabis-loathing attorney general -- do not appear to agree. Just this week, Department of Homeland Security Chief John Kelly said that minor marijuana charges would be used as a reason to deport immigrants, effectively combining the war on drugs with Trump's mass deportation efforts.
However, the public's attitude toward drugs is shifting, as marijuana legalization in several states has shown. A CBS poll released today shows support for marijuana legalization at an all-time-high of 61 percent, and 71 percent of likely voters oppose federal law enforcement intervention in states where marijuana is legal, including a majority of Republicans.
When it comes to issues of drug addiction and overdose, both politicians and the general public are increasingly embracing public health strategies such as funding addiction treatment instead of stiffening criminal penalties for minor drug crimes. CBS found that 69 percent of likely voters say drug abuse should be treated as a medical or mental health issue, not a criminal offense. At this point, the presence of a drug czar seems old-fashioned at best.
The ONDCP was created in 1988, but the position of drug czar has arguably been around since the "reefer madness" years of the 1930s and early 1940s, when Henry J. Aslinger, then the commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, helped the government transition from enforcing alcohol prohibition to marijuana prohibition.
Currently, the czar is generally tasked with coordinating drug control efforts across federal agencies and selling the president's drug policies to Congress and the public. These policies and practices have led to mass incarceration and violent military operations in other countries. Many activists would like to see the term "drug czar" become a relic, just like "reefer madness" and other markers of public panic over drugs like heroin and crack cocaine.
"There is no place for 'czars' in today's American government, particularly those like Marino who still cling to outdated and failed drug war policies that embody misplaced ideologies of the past," said NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri in a statement.
Marino has consistently voted against marijuana reforms in Congress, including measures that would have expanded access to medical marijuana for veterans, putting him out of step with much of the country. Big Pharma is one of his major benefactors, and he received campaign contributions from painkiller manufacturers that stand to benefit from controversial opioid control legislation he authored. Marino once advocated for placing parents facing minor drug charges in a "hospital-slash-prison," an idea that critics say amounts to medical coercion.
Critics are disappointed but not surprised. Unlike Obama's last drug czar, Michael Botticelli, a recovering alcoholic with a background in public health, Marino is a former federal prosecutor who fits into Trump's vague "law and order" agenda. He passed legislation to crack down on international drug traffickers, a major policy goal of the current president's, even if that means targeting poor farmers in Columbia. Marino has also shown willingness to work with big business, including the painkiller makers often blamed for the proliferation of opioid overdoses. Critics say Marino's appointment would leave Trump's promise to address the opioid crisis ringing especially hollow.
The Drug Czar and Schedule I Prohibition
NORML does not want to wait for a kinder, gentler czar to come around. The entire existence of the drug czar position runs counter to marijuana legalization efforts and real criminal legal reform. As the group points out, the drug czar is required, by statute, "to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance that is listed in Schedule I" and to "ensure that no Federal funds … shall be expended for any study or contract relating to the legalization (for a medical use or any other use) of a substance listed in Schedule I."Schedule I is the central statutory nerve of drug prohibition in the United States and the bane of marijuana fans everywhere.
Schedule I is the central statutory nerve of drug prohibition in the United States and the bane of marijuana fans and policy reformers everywhere. Under federal law, any drug placed on the Schedule I list is considered by the government to have a "high potential for abuse" and no accepted medical value. Therefore, anyone in possession of Schedule I substances can be arrested and punished. Many of the nation's favorite drugs are listed under Schedule I, including LSD, magic mushrooms, MDMA and marijuana. By law, keeping these drugs illegal and out of the hands of medical researchers is part of the drug czar's job.
This mission is becoming increasingly difficult when it comes to marijuana. Marijuana is now legal in some form or another in 28 states and Washington DC. Research affirming its medical properties abounds, and millions of people use the drug to treat severe diseases or simply manage stress. Despite a harsh and ongoing federal prohibition that slowed medical research on marijuana for years, the drug has successfully wiggled loose from the confines of its Schedule I status, though only at the state level so far.
Marijuana's political success presents a legal and political conundrum for federal law enforcement. For agencies like the Drug Enforcement Administration, it represents an existential threat. With drug legalization, billions of dollars worth of drugs and property that the DEA was once charged with intercepting leaves the black market, which could change the agency's job description dramatically, along with the size of its budget.
The DEA continues to claim that marijuana has no accepted medical use, but don't tell that to Jenn Michelle Pedini, a cancer survivor and NORML activist from Virginia. Pedini told a crowd of congressional aides on Wednesday that the US government holds a patent on cannabis-based medicine used to treat debilitating side effects from intense therapies she endured as a cancer patient.
"So there is a certain bit of disingenuousness that comes hand in hand with saying there is no medical use while holding a patent on its very medical use," Pedini told Truthout in an interview.
The tension over Schedule I was on display this week at a hearing of the US Sentencing Commission, which is reviewing sentencing guidelines for MDMA and a number of newer synthetic drugs. MDMA, also known as ecstasy or Molly, is a popular club drug that is also used for psychotherapy, but it's been on Schedule I since the mid-1980s. In 2001, the Sentencing Commission dramatically increased mandatory minimum sentences for MDMA offenses, making some penalties up to 500 times as severe as those for marijuana.
Researcher Rick Doblin has been studying the therapeutic effects of MDMA for three decades. He told the commission that the 2001 guidelines were based on misleading science and public hysteria over the supposed dangers of MDMA, which a popular anti-drug campaign once claimed put "holes in the brain." Doblin said these fears have proven to be unfounded. Risks that may come with MDMA, such as dehydration and overheating from extended periods of dancing, can be mitigated by harm reduction techniques, like putting "cool down" rooms at nightclubs.
Studies show that MDMA is an effective aid to psychotherapy and has successfully treated severe PTSD in war veterans and could also treat anxiety in people with terminal illness. In November, the FDA moved MDMA to phase III trials, the last stage before approving the drug for medical use. Two-thirds of participants in a recent trial no longer met the criteria for having PTSD by the end of the study, according to Doblin.
"MDMA-assisted psychotherapy works by allowing participants to approach trauma without the debilitating sensations of anxiety and fear," Doblin said.
If the government recognizes that MDMA does have a "medical use," then it can no longer be classified as a Schedule 1 drug. Terrance Boos, a section chief at the Diversion Control Division of the DEA, could not disagree with Doblin more. Boos presented the DEA's analysis of MDMA to the commission, maintaining that MDMA is "neurotoxic" and "has no medical use." After all, if greater numbers of veterans were allowed to use the drug to effectively confront the trauma of war, then society may relax its attitude toward the drug, and legal reforms could follow. That would run counter to the stated missions of both the DEA and the drug czar.
Abolish the Drug Czar
Doblin pointed out at the hearing that the enhanced prohibition of MDMA has contributed to significant public harms. For example, the majority of the Sentencing Commission's hearing on Tuesday focused on new synthetic drugs that mimic the effects of MDMA or marijuana, and are sometimes packaged and sold in stores and online markets. The substances became popular among vendors because they are cheap and are perceived to carry less legal risk than MDMA or marijuana, but manufacturers have tweaked their chemical compounds to stay ahead of changing laws, creating drugs with harmful and unpredictable side effects.
These synthetics are not as pleasurable as the drugs they are meant to replicate, but they tend to be much cheaper, so marginalized people and those who are homeless use them at disproportionate rates. The synthetic drugs also tend to be much more potent, increasing the likelihood of an overdose that could cause a user to act erratically. Police have responded to such episodes with confusion and violence, generating tales of "bath salt zombies" and other media myths while doing little to address the underlying problems behind drug abuse.
Law enforcement wants stricter sentencing guidelines around these "analogue" drugs and some have already received emergency listings on Schedule I, but reformers warn against using the criminal legal system to attempt to solve problems created in part by law enforcement and prohibition in the first place. Law enforcement crackdowns did not rid the streets of crack cocaine or marijuana during the drug panics of yesteryear, but cops did fill prisons with nonviolent drug offenders.
Criminalization of any drug exacerbates its health risks by pushing risky behavior underground and away from health and harm reduction services. Fear of arrest is the most common reason that witnesses do not immediately call 911 in the event of an overdose, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. Criminalization also makes it more difficult for authorities to study a drug's impacts on public health, and Schedule I erects regulatory and funding barriers to drug research -- one reason why we are only starting to unlock the medical secrets of marijuana.
If marijuana's ability to chip away at prohibition state by state is any kind of bellwether, drug policy is slowly leaving crime and punishment behind in favor of public health and medical science. Marijuana reforms are on the move in state legislatures and Congress, where a bipartisan Cannabis Caucus is pushing legislation that would legalize and regulate marijuana nationwide. Cannabis could also play a role in combating the opioid crisis.
Trump should look at the polls. Marijuana legalization is increasingly popular, including among the young people at the base of Trump's own party. Voters are wary of mass incarceration and favor medical treatment over jail time. Even establishment politicians such as Bill and Hillary Clinton, along with the former presidents of several Latin American countries, have called for an end to the war on drugs.
While serving as a district attorney 20 years ago, Tom Marino sought preferential treatment from a judge for a friend convicted of a cocaine offense. However, it's unlikely that he would extend this courtesy to everyone else while serving as Trump's drug czar. It's time to ditch the drug war dinosaurs altogether.
Lariza Dugan-Cuadra speaks to a crowd of protesters demonstrating against Mission neighborhood evictions at City Hall in San Francisco, May 8, 2015. Residents of the the Mission District -- this city's working-class Latino neighborhood, which is being taken over by gentrification -- protested this month over fast-rising housing prices and the evictions of longtime tenants. (Photo: Preston Gannaway / The New York Times)
What does gentrification mean for the future of American cities? It means more than the arrival of trendy shops and expensive coffee. Peter Moskowitz intertwines human narratives with analysis of the systemic forces contributing to America's crisis of racial and economic inequality, in How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood. Click here now to order this book with a donation to Truthout!
In this excerpt from How to Kill a City, Peter Moskowitz describes how the changing landscape of New York City prompted his desire to understand gentrification.
When I returned to New York from college, I found myself belonging to two groups of people: the gentrified and the gentrifiers. I'd grown up in the West Village, just a few blocks from where journalist and activist Jane Jacobs wrote her pro-urban treatise The Death and Life of Great American Cities in 1961. Jacobs's book was a 400-page meditation on what made the Village great -- its small, varied streetscapes, its diversity of profession, class, and race, its inherent eclecticism. Jacobs argued that every other city in the United States should try to emulate its success by encouraging the creation of small shops over big ones, small streets over grand avenues, and varying sizes of apartment buildings and townhouses over huge complexes.
But when I came back from college, the Village looked a lot different from the egalitarian wonderland described by Jacobs. The Chinese restaurant my family would order from at least once a week had closed to make way for a Capital One bank. My favorite pizza place had become a high-end grocery store. The video store where my brother worked in high school had turned into an upscale clothier that seemed to only sell a few really expensive items at a time (that store then closed; it was followed by a store that seems to only sell a few children's toys at a time, all made out of wood). The queer scene on Christopher Street, just a few blocks from my parents' house and once one of the most famous gay streets in America, had been priced out and policed into blandness. The middle-income housing on the surrounding blocks had been converted into market-rate condos. Bleecker Street, once filled with antique stores, had been overtaken by chains such as Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, and Coach.
Now, in place of buildings that reminded me of my childhood, stood beacons of wealth unprecedented in the neighborhood. Three glass buildings designed by "starchitect" Richard Meier, taller than anything around them, had sprung up a block from my parents' house. And right across the street from my old house, a former artist's loft and garage had been topped with pink stucco condos and rechristened "Palazzo Chupi." When the building opened for sales in 2008, apartments sold for upward of $25 million.
My parents' building was different too. Every month, another apartment seemed to start renovation. Playwrights, artists, and mid-level professionals were moving out, replaced with bankers and businesspeople who were hostile to the old set of residents. People no longer held the front door for each other. People no longer said hi on the elevator. I no longer recognized our neighbors. I started giving stern looks to everyone I passed in my building. The sense of community that had made the West Village feel like home for me and my parents -- and that had inspired Jane Jacobs over fifty years earlier -- was gone.
What had happened between 1961 and now? Or even between the 1980s, when my parents first moved to the neighborhood, and now? The Village Jacobs wrote about is all but gone, and a new one that looks like a funhouse version of its former self has replaced it. A lot of the people are gone too, forced out because they could no longer afford sky-high rents. An average one-bedroom in the West Village now rents for about $4,000 a month. If you walk down the quiet, tree-lined blocks of the West Village on a weekday, you're bound to see several construction crews gutting former multifamily homes and turning them into mega-mansions. In September 2014, a Texas oil heiress sold a 12,000-square-foot "fortress-like" townhome to an unidentified buyer for $42.5 million just blocks from Jacobs's former home. Jacobs's small townhouse now houses a real estate office. The Village is less racially diverse today too -- about 90 percent of its residents are white. The only area consistently less diverse in Manhattan is the Upper East Side.
New Yorkers tend to complain about changes in neighborhoods such as the Village by focusing on the fact that they are no longer "cool" parts of town. But to Jacobs, places like the Village weren't just cool; they proved that cities could be run with little government intervention and could foster equality without much help. According to Jacobs, the small shops, cheap rent that attracted artists and writers, varied street lengths, and mixed-use zoning policies not only made for interesting people-watching but also made a neighborhood work as a closed system. The shopkeepers weren't only business owners, they were an unpaid police force, watching out for crime and making sure kids walking alone to school got there safely; a pedestrian-friendly block not only meant a good place to walk, it meant the creation of a place where strangers could interact and come up with new ideas and new destinies for each other; a variety of types of buildings, from new luxury apartments to old tenements, meant that a diverse group of people could afford to live in one neighborhood and not be segregated by income and race.
If the neighborhood once heralded as the best example of a place that fosters diversity and equality could become one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the United States and one of the least diverse in New York, what does that say about the future of American cities? And what happened to the people who were left out of the new and rarefied West Village?
When I decided to move back to New York, I knew the West Village would be too expensive, so I began looking elsewhere. I soon realized that even studio apartments in Manhattan were unaffordable for a young journalist, so I looked in the outer boroughs. For a year I lived with my boyfriend in Astoria, Queens, then in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, then at the border of Williamsburg and Bushwick.
In each place I could tell something similar was going on, only now I was on the other side of it. There seemed to be two worlds living on top of each other -- a set of stores, bars, and restaurants visited by me and my friends, and a set visited by the residents there before us. When I saw the scowls on my new neighbors' faces, I imagined that they felt the same way about us as my parents and I did about the new faces in the West Village.Truthout Progressive Pick
Why gentrification is about much more than just fancy coffee shops.Click here now to get the book!
At first this process seemed so new and so odd that I couldn't tell what was happening. Things were changing. Things were tense. But they seemed indescribable. White friends moving deeper and deeper into Brooklyn seemed to be less and less comfortable with their decisions, but still unable to prevent themselves from making them. I knew what happening to New York was part of something immense -- you could see how huge it was just by looking at any given block from year to year. Yet there wasn't really a language to describe it. And then this word started being tossed around in news articles, in Facebook rants, at bars where my old friends and I would complain about the old New York: gentrification.
By the early 2010s nearly everyone had heard of the term, and nearly no one had a precise definition, but it nonetheless adequately described what was happening: the displacement, the loss of culture, the influx of wealth and whiteness into New York's neighborhoods. The images I saw and stories I heard both first- and secondhand started to form a coherent picture: friends moving out of the city and heading to Austin or Philly or Los Angeles, shuttered bodegas and laundromats in every neighborhood, the new banks that replaced them, the new neighbors, and the Kickstarter campaigns by people seeking the assistance of housing lawyers and a little help with rent were all part of the phenomenon described by the word.
I was in some ways a victim of the process, priced out of the neighborhood I grew up in, but I also knew I was relatively privileged, and a walk through Bushwick or Bed-Stuy confirmed that -- seeing the old, dilapidated apartment buildings under renovation on block after block, with windows boarded up and signs out front proclaiming the building's new owners. I knew people were being kicked out. It became clear that for most poor New Yorkers, gentrification wasn't about some ethereal change in neighborhood character. It was about mass evictions, about violence, about the decimation of decades-old cultures.
But the reporting I'd seen on gentrification focused on the new things happening in these neighborhoods -- the high-end pizza joints and coffee shops, the hipsters, the fashion trends. In some ways that made sense: it's hard to report on a void, on something that's now missing. It's much easier to report on the new than on the displaced. But at the end of the day, that's what gentrification is: a void in a neighborhood, in a city, in a culture. In those ways, gentrification is a trauma, one caused by the influx of massive amounts of capital into a city and the consequent destruction following in its wake.
If I was going to be complicit in this process, I wanted to know what was really going on.
Copyright © 2017 by Peter Moskowitz. Not to be reposted without permission of the publisher, Nation Books.
Amid a daily onslaught of anti-Black violence, the fact that Asian American United Airlines passenger David Dao particularly captured the US's imagination as a victim of policing gone wrong speaks to which forms of racial violence are deemed acceptable within the white imaginary.
The outrage over David Dao's brutalization by United highlights the public's tacit acceptance of anti-Black violence. (Photo: Pieter van Marion; Edited: LW / TO)
If you've been online in the past week, you've seen the video. A shaky camera follows David Dao, an older Asian man, as he is dragged by aviation police down the narrow aisle of a crowded United flight. His stomach is exposed, and his glasses hang precariously below his nose. Moments after his removal, he somehow reboards, blood dripping from his mouth and ear, moaning: "I have to go home," and, "Just kill me."
One week and dozens of think pieces later, there is much to glean from the messy national conversation about race, policing and violence that ensued in the aftermath of Dao's bloody removal from United 3411. At its core, the spectacle of Dao's removal is a reminder of the tenuous relationship between Asian racialization and a US carceral state founded on the conflation of Blackness and criminality. In a racial landscape in which Asians figure primarily as a symbol of racial exceptionalism, Dao's treatment is a call to build better frameworks for understanding state violence against Asian Americans, one based not on generating empathy from the white imaginary, but on a moral and political vision of abolishing state violence altogether.
Who Is David Dao?
As footage of Dao's beating went viral, media and news commentators raced to offer a definitive take. Varying from colorblind critiques of the airline industry to calls for Asian American solidarity with Black Lives Matter, this body of discourse speaks to mainstream America's limited frameworks for talking about police violence against Asian Americans.
Early reports divorced Dao's Asian racialization from the incident, with The New York Times, The Washington Post and Fox News alike describing a "passenger" or "doctor" sans racial descriptor. Social media commentary harping on early reports that Dao claimed he was singled out for being Asian prompted responses such as Clio Chang's "Why It Matters That the United Dragging Victim is Asian," which linked the media's deracination of the incident to popular conceptions of Asian Americans as "model minorities" that don't face contemporary racism. Meanwhile, business commentary continued to separate Dao's Asianness from his treatment, instead emphasizing the airline industry's dehumanizing treatment of passengers (Dao's lawyer even suggested Dao may become the "poster boy" of disgruntled fliers, as if being slammed into your armrest by police is on par with wanting a bit more leg room). Socialist and anticapitalist platforms, such as Jacobin suggested that the incident revealed the "everyday violence that keeps capitalism running," without exploring the specific ways capitalism enacts violence against Asian Americans or other people of color. When race was mentioned, some, like New York Magazine's Andrew Sullivan, scoffed at the idea that an Asian man could be the victim of racism. The colorblind frame of much of the early discourse speaks to mainstream America's inability to conceptualize Asians as victims of racism, let alone police brutality.
On social media, a very different narrative quickly emerged. Initial reports suggesting that Dao was Chinese led to an onslaught of activity on Chinese social media platforms WeChat and Weibo. The topic trended on Weibo, where it garnered hundreds of thousands of comments from aggrieved Chinese and Chinese Americans promising to boycott United and bemoaning the singling out of a passenger alleged to be Chinese (Dao was later reported to be Vietnamese American, though he may also be ethnically Chinese). The narrative of Asian victimization soon bled into anti-Blackness: a White House petition with the co-opted hashtag #ChineseLivesMatters quickly gained over 200,000 signatures. One Weibo commenter claimed: "If it were a Muslim or black person, they never would have acted this way." This narrow lens of Chinese aggrievement is not new: a popular narrative pinning Chinese/Asian victimization on imagined American favoritism for Blacks has dominated Chinese-language advocacy efforts against affirmative action and in the trial of Peter Liang, a Chinese American NYPD officer convicted of manslaughter for the shooting death of Akai Gurley, an unarmed Black man. That many WeChat groups saw fit to rally both for an Asian victim of police violence in Dao and a Chinese American agent of police violence in Liang speaks to an understanding of racial violence and discrimination governed by narrow ethnic identification rather than structural critique.
To the contrary, Steven Thrasher's viral Twitter thread described the incident as "an act of racial violence" and asked rhetorically: "Would a white woman have been dragged like this?" Where Chinese-language social media focused on a narrative of isolated Chinese victimization, Twitter bubbled with calls for interracial solidarity, with many Black and Asian American commentators linking Dao's treatment to the larger crisis of police brutality that disproportionately impacts Black communities. Thrasher compared the argument that Dao should have simply complied with requests to deboard to the logic of "If he'd obeyed he'd be alive!" that is often applied to Black victims of police violence. When media began circulating allegations that Dao had a criminal past, many quipped that he was "getting the Black treatment," referring to the familiar media habit of putting the character of Black victims of police brutality on trial, rather than the officers responsible.
While many Asian American responses used the attack on Dao as an opportunity to call for deeper Asian American investment in Black Lives Matter and the fight against police brutality, some of these articulations of solidarity fell flat. In an op-ed for CNN, Jeff Yang wrote that Dao "could've been Sandra Bland, pulled over for failing to signal and ending up arrested and dead in a cell." In comparing Dao to Bland, Samuel Dubose and Walter Scott, Yang falsely equated the recurrent (but relatively rare) police brutality facing non-Black Asian Americans with the daily threat of police terror that Black communities live with. Meanwhile, a ludicrous USA Today headline asked if Dao was the "Asian Rosa Parks," comparing a mistreated airline passenger with a Black civil rights icon who, besides her pivotal role in the Montgomery bus boycott, spent decades fighting voter disenfranchisement, police brutality and the imprisonment of Black political activists. With an underdeveloped language for analyzing police violence against Asian Americans, well-intentioned liberal commentators fell into the trap of false equivalences and the erasure of the specificities of anti-Blackness.
These competing narratives each offered very different answers to the question: Who is David Dao? To the white middle class, he is the everyman frequent flier, frustrated by long security lines, cramped cabins and dehumanizing treatment from airport security and airline staff. To some Chinese people, he became a symbol for those slights and injustices suffered by the "quiet" minority, a rallying call for communities tired of feeling invisible in the US's multicultural discourse. To progressive Asian Americans, Dao is a different sort of wake-up call: a reminder that in Trump's America, the conditional privileges of the "model minority" are easily revoked, and that safety and freedom for Asian Americans is tied to the struggles of other communities of color.
We should also be grappling with a different question: Why Dao? Amidst an onslaught of daily anti-Black violence, the media attention afforded to Dao is striking. While news outlets have clamored to cover statements from Dao's family, his lawyer and United Airlines officials, the recent beating of Nandi Cain Jr., a Black man who was hit repeatedly in the face by a police officer who accused him of jaywalking, has gone largely uncovered. Meanwhile, as Zoé Samudzi pointed out on Twitter, a Black woman who was dragged by her limbs from a Delta flight in December 2016 after she displayed a "huge attitude" was met with relative media silence. Amidst endless cases of anti-Black violence, why has Dao captured our attention as an example of policing gone wrong?
Anti-Black Violence Transposed
If the incident itself is unremarkable, perhaps it is the victim who is exceptional. In demonstrating the forms of violence worthy (and unworthy) of collective outrage, Dao reminds us of the extent to which everyday anti-Black violence -- what Saidiya Hartman calls the "terror of the mundane and quotidian" -- is rendered unexceptional in the popular imagination. If the US's outrage shows the bloody police beating of an elderly Asian man to be beyond the pale, its silence reveals the understood truth that society considers anti-Black police violence within the bounds of reason. Desensitized by even the most graphic forms of anti-Black violence in an era of auto-play Facebook videos and countless stolen Black lives turned into hashtags, the white imaginary is moved only by the spectacle of watching an elderly Asian doctor -- an avatar for the constructed model minority -- "getting the Black treatment." In the case of Dao, the anti-Black violence of the state is rendered legible -- and labeled egregious -- only when transposed onto a body capable of generating widespread white empathy.
Central to the discourse surrounding David Dao is the question of innocence. Is Dao innocent? The reporters who saw fit to dredge up Dao's criminal record may say he is not, as may "law and order" ideologues who believe any noncompliance with the law is justification for a beatdown. However, the outpouring of popular support and the widespread consensus that Dao's criminal record does not justify his violent treatment indicate that his innocence, or at least his undeservingness as a target of police violence, is presumed.
Yet we know that the concept of innocence is highly racialized, as it is classed and gendered. In her essay "Against Innocence," Jackie Wang warns that a critique of state violence grounded in the language of innocence and an "appeal to the white imaginary" is ultimately ineffective when we consider the gross conflation of Blackness and guilt. Seen this way, it is Dao's non-Blackness -- and thus his presumed innocence -- that renders the violence afforded him unacceptable. While many have argued that United 3411 proves the limits of conditional privilege under the model minority myth, Dao's ability to generate empathy and identification from the white mainstream speaks to the fact that Asian racialization, while othered, remains sanitized when considered in relation to Blackness. That the Black woman dragged from Delta 2083 did not become a "poster child" for the aggrieved (white) American flier speaks to the racial boundaries that delimit white empathy and identification.
While Delta's unnamed Black passenger fell into well-worn tropes of "Black aggression," it is a stretch of America's racial imagination to picture an elderly Asian doctor displaying the same "huge attitude" that supposedly justified her treatment. The sympathetic white frame is offended by suggestions that an elderly Asian doctor is deserving of a beatdown, even if he was, as Mike Brown was labeled in death, "no angel." To many, it appears common sense that the anti-Black violence of the police state should not be weaponized against Asians. By delineating Dao's treatment as unacceptable while remaining silent in the face of the everyday atrocities suffered by Black people, white Americans (and the many people of color invested in respectability politics and whiteness) draw a line in the sand between forms of violence we deem necessary for the sake of "law and order," and those we consider egregious.
This is not to concur with commentators, such as Andrew Sullivan who argue that Dao being Asian is irrelevant to his treatment. As Steven Thrasher asked, can any of us imagine aviation police dragging a screaming white woman down the aisle? While Thrasher placed Dao within the specific American tradition of anti-Asian violence, noting the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese American mass incarceration during World War II, we need not look so far back for parallels. In considering Dao's treatment, some may be reminded of the recent wave of Chinese American scientists accused of espionage, the 70-plus Muslim South Asian political asylum seekers deported in 2016, the post-election murders of Harnish Patel and Srinivas Kuchibhotla, or the routine humiliation of South Asian flyers at the hands of TSA agents. The stoking of anti-immigrant sentiments by the Trump administration has led many to wonder if Dao is a symbol of the precarity of model minority status in Trump's America.
So why has Dao, and not others, captured our imagination as the Asian face to police violence? Why not Barry Prak, the Cambodian American man who was shot and killed in an exchange with Long Beach police in June 2016, and who himself was an activist fighting police brutality? Why not "Jessica" Jianqing Klyzek, the Chinese American woman who was beaten by police during a raid of a tanning salon in Chicago in 2013? Why not Sureshbhai Patel, the Indian grandfather who was partially paralyzed by police while strolling through his son's Alabama neighborhood in 2015? Indeed, Patel, who had the police called on him by a neighbor who described him as a "skinny Black guy," may be more aptly seen as "getting the Black treatment" -- his pigmentation serving as a proxy for guilt, his limited English read as contempt or resistance in the context of his (mistaken) Blackness.
Again, we return to the question of presumed innocence. When victims of racial violence must be understood as innocent and respectable in order to be deemed worthy of white identification, we rely on appeals to what Hartman calls the "precariousness of empathy." It is easier for the white imaginary to see itself reflected in Dao, a middle-class doctor, than in Prak, a suspect in a 2014 shooting who allegedly brandished a knife during his fatal encounter with Long Beach police. Likewise, perhaps "Jessica" Klyzek, a tanning salon worker in an establishment accused of illegal sex work, fell too far beyond the threshold of white respectability to warrant sympathy despite her brutal beating by officers who yelled they would "send [her] back to wherever the f*** you came from." And while many in the South Asian American community rallied behind Patel, the relative media silence in his case speaks to the limits of a hegemonic East Asian frame within and beyond the Asian American community (one wonders if Dao would have made national headlines if not for the initial outrage on Chinese social media). Reliance on appeals to innocence and respectability end up reifying the model minority myth that so many Asian Americans detest -- propping up notions that Asian doctors and lawyers, but not Asian "thugs" and working-class laborers, are worthy of protest.
Yes, David Dao is deserving of our outrage. To see many Asian Americans and others understanding Dao's treatment not as an isolated incident, but as part of a system of police violence indicates the small openings for political good that may come out of his brutalization. And yet, the attack on Dao is also a reminder that respectability politics offer an inadequate framework for addressing state violence. Our activism and our outrage cannot be reserved only for those victims deemed deserving by the white imaginary. Mass consumption of pixelated records of anti-Black violence -- on mobile phones, nightly news and Facebook feeds -- cannot desensitize us to the "terror of the mundane": the spectacle of the exception does not make the rule any less egregious. In the end, white empathy, a precarious and quickly exhausted resource, cannot be the fuel with which we propel our activism. Getting free means pushing the boundaries of our imaginations toward a radical expansion and redistribution of our own empathy.
Bill O’Reilly has been unmasked as a vicious sexual predator--and Fox News has done the right thing by booting him from the network.
O’Reilly deserves this downfall. The many sexual harassment allegations leveled against him reveal a clear and ugly pattern of misogynistic behavior. It would be an insult to women everywhere to allow him to retain his coveted primetime television slot.
A campaign demanding that advertisers boycott Bill O’Reilly led by Color Of Change, the racial justice organization with more than one million members, played a critical role in pressuring Fox News to fire Bill O’Reilly.
In response to Exxon’s filing for a waiver to work in Russia despite United States sanctions, Greenpeace USA Climate Liability Campaigner Naomi Ages said,
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is re-considering a rule that would limit methane emissions from oil and gas extraction operations. This opens the door to weakening the rule, which is vital to protecting public health and reducing the risk of climate change, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) today announced he would not seek reelection to the House of Representatives in 2018. Chaffetz is the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is responsible for overseeing the Trump administration. He has been the target of frequent protests at Town Halls in his district, and, in February, fierce opposition forced him to withdraw a bill that would have sold off public lands.
Friends of the Earth Action’s Senior Political Strategist Ben Schreiber released the following statement:
National Iranian American Council President Trita Parsi issued the following statement following the President's certification to Congress that Iran is upholding its commitments under the Iran nuclear deal:
The following statement was released by Adam Green, co-founder, Progressive Change Campaign Committee:
“Jon Ossoff’s first-place finish in ruby-red Georgia shows the huge opportunities for progressive candidates across the country -- from Tom Perriello for Governor in Virginia to Rob Quist for Congress in Montana. Ossoff showed what’s possible when a campaign taps into the huge grassroots energy of the Resistance, and the PCCC will be funneling that energy into Perriello’s campaign for governor with an official endorsement and grassroots fundraising this week.”
In a major triumph for the Democratic Party, Jon Ossoff finished tonight at the top of a field of eleven Republican and four additional Democratic candidates. The race was for the seat previously held by Republican Tom Price, who now serves as Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary. Friends of the Earth Action endorsed Jon Ossoff in March.
The race will move to a runoff election on June 20, 2017.
Friends of the Earth Action’s Senior Political Strategist Ben Schreiber issued the following statement:
Massachusetts to Throw Out 21,000 Drug Convictions After State Chemist Tampers Evidence for Nine Years
In what may be the single largest dismissal of wrongful convictions in US history, Massachusetts prosecutors announced Tuesday they would throw out 21,587 criminal drug cases. The cases were all prosecuted based on evidence or testimony supplied by a former state chemist who admitted to faking tests and identifying evidence as illegal narcotics without even testing it. The chemist, Annie Dookhan, pleaded guilty in 2013 to tampering with evidence during her nine years working at a state crime lab in Boston. During that time, thousands of people were convicted based on her false statements. For more, we speak with Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts; Mallory Hanora of the group Families for Justice as Healing; and Timothy Taylor, who was arrested in 2009 and served five years in prison on a drug trafficking charge after Annie Dookhan handled evidence in his case.
Please check back later for full transcript.