Latest News

World Health Organization Says CBD Is Safe, With No Potential for Abuse

Truthout - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 06:11

A division of the World Health Organization declared CBD oil to be safe, with many potential benefits, and recommended that it should remain fully legal.

The recommendations came in a report from the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD), which advises the global body on how to handle various substances that could be addictive or otherwise harmful.

The authors were unambiguous about their assessment: "In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential."

The report also outlines numerous potential benefits of CBD, though the authors emphasized that more research is needed. The findings are an important sign of the shift in attitudes toward this beneficial extract, which thousands of people use regularly. It also places WHO policy at odds with that of the United States: last year, the Drug Enforcement Agency issued frightening statements insisting that CBD remains illegal.

CBD oil is a nutritional supplement made from agricultural hemp, a close relative of psychoactive cannabis, or marijuana, the substance that people consume to feel high. By contrast, while CBD causes few if any side effects, a growing body of evidence suggests it could help conditions ranging from depression to some forms of chronic pain. The hemp industry has promised to fight the DEA in court, if necessary, and so far individual consumers haven't faced legal trouble as a result of buying CBD-only products.

As we'll explain below, we believe the latest findings from the WHO could be an important part of changing how CBD is treated, worldwide.

WHO: "CBD Is Not Associated Wwith Abuse" but Has Great Healing Potential

The ECDD's report was actually published in November, but received renewed attention from policy makers and in the media after the Dec. 13 publication of a set of the committee's recommendations for various narcotic substances. The committee raised a serious alarm about the risks posed by carfentanil, a dangerous synthetic opioid similar to the notorious fentanyl, but their response to CBD was sharply different.

While the ECDD wants to see the strictest possible controls put on carfentanil and other synthetic opioids, they argued that CBD should remain totally legal and recommended further investigation of its potential benefits.

"The ECDD therefore concluded that current information does not justify scheduling of cannabidiol and postponed a fuller review of cannabidiol preparations to May 2018, when the committee will undertake a comprehensive review of cannabis and cannabis related substances," the WHO reported.

The ECCD's report on CBD goes even further, both in suggesting that CBD is safe for human consumption and that CBD has many potential benefits that deserve deeper research.

"CBD is not associated with abuse potential," the authors wrote. They also reported that numerous studies have found that CBD is nontoxic with few side effects. Preliminary research, they noted, even suggests that CBD "has no effect on embryonic development."  

Just as importantly, the report acknowledges the growing body of scientific evidence which suggests CBD has great healing potential. "The clinical use of CBD is most advanced in the treatment of epilepsy."

Many epilepsy sufferers, including children with forms of epilepsy that are difficult to treat through conventional means, have discovered that CBD can offer sometimes significant relief to their symptoms.

"There is also evidence that CBD may be a useful treatment for a number of other medical conditions," noted the ECCD. "However, this research is considerably less advanced than for treatment of epilepsy."

Additionally, the "diverse" range of conditions for which CBD has been considered by scientists as a possible treatment is "consistent with its neuroprotective, antiepileptic, hypoxia-ischemia [controlling the flow of oxygen], anxiolytic, antipsychotic, analgesic [pain relieving], anti-inflammatory, anti-asthmatic and anti-tumor properties."

The authors add that CBD might even help with tobacco and other forms of drug addiction. The report also includes a rather remarkable chart outlining all of CBD's potential benefits:

Expert Committee on Drug Dependence Report on potential CBD benefits. WHO Report on CBD Can Lead the Way to Better Global Drug Policies

The ECCD's primary role is to advise the WHO and its member governments (including the US) about how to handle mind-altering substances. Based on their recommendations, drugs are "scheduled," or listed in the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, a 1961 international agreement that determines which drugs are illegal, and which are considered to have medical benefits despite their risks.

By recommending that CBD oil remain unscheduled, the ECCD sends a powerful message to the global community that CBD should be legal. While stopping short of openly recommending the use of CBD, the WHO also clearly expressed the need for more investigation into CBD and other similar "cannabinoid" substances.

It's not the only recent sign of thawing international attitudes toward CBD. As previously reported by Ministry of Hemp, the World Anti-Doping Agency, which sets global policy for substance use in sports, will allow athletes to use CBD starting in 2018.

Meanwhile, in the US, the debate rages on between hemp advocates who say CBD is both legal and beneficial and government officials who insist it is, and should remain, a "Schedule I" substance -- in other words, an illegal drug deemed to have no medical benefit whatsoever.

We believe there's every reason to hope that the overwhelming body of scientific evidence about the benefits of CBD, and the support of influential bodies like the WHO, will eventually force the United States to reevaluate its stance too. Thanks to the ECCD and so many passionate advocates for legalization, It's only a matter of time before CBD, and cannabis in all its forms, are fully embraced as a miraculous gift to humanity.

Thanks to reader support, Truthout can deliver the news seven days a week, 365 days a year. Keep independent journalism going strong: Make a tax-deductible donation right now.
Categories: Latest News

Trump's Offshore Drilling Plan Flouts Law by Ignoring Governors' Wishes

Truthout - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 06:10
Ready to make a difference? Help Truthout provide a platform for exposing injustice and inspiring action. Click here to make a one-time or monthly donation.

The Trump administration unveiled its draft five-year plan for offshore drilling last week to replace the Obama administration plan that went into effect last year. Trump is proposing to open to oil and gas development vast untouched areas of coastal waters including the Atlantic and the eastern Gulf of Mexico -- part of his administration's stated quest to make the US the world's "strongest energy superpower."

How vast is the area targeted for drilling? While the current federal offshore drilling program crafted by the Obama administration bars leasing to private drilling companies in 94 percent of the outer continental shelf, the Trump plan would open more than 90 percent of the OCS to potential future oil and gas development. It proposes 19 lease sales off Alaska, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, nine in the Atlantic (three each for the Mid- and South Atlantic, two for the North Atlantic, and one for the Straits of Florida), and seven in the Pacific.

Among the areas now being considered for drilling are the waters off the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina -- even though governors of those states have expressed opposition amid widespread concern about the impacts in coastal communities.

As the Southern Environmental Law Center pointed out:

The Trump administration's proposal defies formal requests from North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe that their states be omitted from the five-year plan. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster and Virginia Governor-elect Ralph Northam have also voiced opposition to seismic testing and offshore drilling.

The administration of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper submitted formal comments to federal regulators in July opposing offshore seismic testing for oil and gas reserves, the first step toward drilling. At that time Cooper also stated his opposition to offshore drilling, saying that it would pose unacceptable risks to the economy, environment, and coastal communities.

Then in August, Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia wrote to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) asking that his state be excluded from the five-year drilling plan. And though he didn't submit formal comments, Gov. Henry McMaster of South Carolina announced his opposition last summer to both offshore seismic testing and drilling.

Cooper and McAuliffe are Democrats while McMaster is a pro-Trump Republican. Opposition to offshore drilling has been particularly strong in the Carolinas, where more than 50 coastal communities have passed resolutions opposing seismic testing and/or offshore drilling.

Governors Ready for a Fight

Listening to governors when drawing up a five-year offshore drilling plan is not merely a matter of courtesy: Under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, it's the law.

The section of the act laying out the principles that are supposed to guide the federal offshore drilling program says that granting of leases in the OCS shall be based on consideration of eight factors, including

laws, goals, and policies of affected States which have been specifically identified by the Governors of such States as relevant matters for the Secretary's consider­ation … .

The Obama administration's five-year plan for the 2017-2022 period initially proposed leases in the waters off Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, where the governors at the time specifically requested inclusion in the plan. But it excluded states like Florida where political leaders strongly oppose drilling. The Southeastern states were eventually dropped from the final plan after the public comment process revealed widespread opposition in the coastal communities that would be most directly affected.

However, the Trump administration -- which has received generous financial support from the fossil-fuel industry -- was eager to scrap the Obama plan for a more aggressive one.

Back in early April, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that President Trump would issue an executive order amending the plan by expanding offshore drilling to areas now off limits, including the Atlantic. Zinke made the announcement at a closed-door meeting of the National Ocean Industries Association, an influential lobbying group that represents the offshore drilling industry. Trump signed the order on April 28.

Then in July, the administration published a notice in the Federal Register seeking information from coastal and other stakeholders to develop a new five-year plan. That kicked off the process that led to last week's proposal. There will now be another multi-year comment process leading to a final plan. At the same time, the administration is seeking to roll back regulations adopted in the wake of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster off the Louisiana coast.

In unveiling the new proposal, Zinke acknowledged that some areas included at the outset might not in fact be suitable for oil and gas development. "Today's announcement lays out the options that are on the table and starts a lengthy and robust public comment period," he said. "Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks."

Since Zinke's announcement, a number of governors have said that they intend to fight to keep drilling rigs away from their coasts. For example, Gov. Cooper released a statement saying that his administration would "pursue every option to prevent oil drilling near North Carolina's beaches, coastal communities, and fishing waters."

Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott (R) of Florida said he has asked to "immediately" meet with Zinke to discuss his concerns about the plan and what he called "the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration."

Categories: Latest News

Challenging Trump's Language of Fascism

Truthout - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 06:09

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

Words that speak the truth begin to disappear under authoritarian regimes. We see this under President Trump, who has attacked the language of civic literacy by undermining science and reason in the press and subjecting society to a barrage of theatrical falsehoods rooted in empty consumerism, white supremacy and nationalism. Progressives must fight back with new language that defends critical thinking and the values of cooperation and democracy. 

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

What are the longer-term trends that gave rise to the presidency of Donald Trump? What will be the national and global impacts? And what do we need to do to resist? Henry A. Giroux tackles these questions in The Public in Peril: Trump and the Menace of American Authoritarianism. "This courageous and timely book is the first and best book on Trump's neo-fascism in the making," says Cornel West. To order your copy, click here and make a tax-deductible donation to Truthout now!

George Orwell warns us in his dystopian novel 1984 that authoritarianism begins with language. Words now operate as "Newspeak," in which language is twisted in order to deceive, seduce and undermine the ability of people to think critically and freely. As authoritarianism gains in strength, the formative cultures that give rise to dissent become more embattled along with the public spaces and institutions that make conscious critical thought possible.

Words that speak to the truth, reveal injustices and provide informed critical analysis begin to disappear, making it all the more difficult, if not dangerous, to hold dominant power accountable. Notions of virtue, honor, respect and compassion are policed, and those who advocate them are punished.

I think it is fair to argue that Orwell's nightmare vision of the future is no longer fiction. Under the regime of Donald Trump, the Ministry of Truth has become the Ministry of "Fake News," and the language of "Newspeak" has multiple platforms and has morphed into a giant disimagination machinery of propaganda, violence, bigotry, hatred and war. 

To read more articles by Henry A. Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

With the advent of the Trump presidency, language is undergoing a shift in the United States: It now treats dissent, critical media and scientific evidence as a species of "fake news." The administration also views the critical media as the "enemy of the American people." In fact, Trump has repeated this view of the press so often that almost a third of Americans believe it and support government-imposed restrictions on the media, according to a Poynter survey. Language has become unmoored from critical reason, informed debate and the weight of scientific evidence, and is now being reconfigured within new relations of power tied to pageantry, political theater and a deep-seated anti-intellectualism, increasingly shaped by the widespread banality of celebrity culture, the celebration of ignorance over intelligence, a culture of rancid consumerism, and a corporate-controlled media that revels in commodification, spectacles of violence, the spirit of unchecked self-interest and a "survival of the fittest" ethos.

Under such circumstances, language has been emptied of substantive meaning and functions increasingly to lull large swaths of the American public into acquiescence, if not a willingness to accommodate and support a rancid "populism" and galloping authoritarianism. The language of civic literacy and democracy has given way to the language of saviors, decline, bigotry and hatred. One consequence is that matters of moral and political responsibility disappear, injustices proliferate and language functions as a tool of state repression. The Ministry of "Fake News" works incessantly to set limits on what is thinkable, claiming that reason, standards of evidence, consistency and logic no longer serve the truth, because the latter are crooked ideological devices used by enemies of the state. "Thought crimes" are now labeled as "fake news."

The notion of truth is viewed by this president as a corrupt tool used by the critical media to question his dismissal of legal checks on his power -- particularly his attacks on judges, courts, and any other governing institutions that will not promise him complete and unchecked loyalty. For Trump, intimidation takes the place of unquestioned loyalty when he does not get his way, revealing a view of the presidency that is more about winning than about governing. One consequence is myriad practices in which Trump gleefully humiliates and punishes his critics, willfully engages in shameful acts of self-promotion and unapologetically enriches his financial coffers. 

David Axelrod, a former senior advisor to President Obama, is right in stating:

And while every president is irritated by the limitations of democracy on them, they all grudgingly accept it. [Trump] has not. He has waged a war on the institutions of democracy from the beginning, and I think in a very corrosive way.

New York Times writer Peter Baker adds to this charge by arguing that Trump -- buoyed by an infatuation with absolute power and an admiration for authoritarians -- uses language and the power of the presidency as a potent weapon in his attacks on the First Amendment, the courts and responsible governing. Trump's admiration for a number of dictators is well known. What is often underplayed is his inclination to mimic their language and polices. For instance, Trump's call for "law and order," his encouraging police officers to be more violent with "thugs," and his adoration of all things militaristic echoes the ideology and language of Philippine President and strongman Rodrigo Duterte, who has called for mass murder and boasted about "killing criminals with his own hand."

Fascism starts with words. Trump's use of language and his manipulative use of the media as political theater echo earlier periods of propaganda, censorship and repression.

At the same time, it would be irresponsible to suggest that the current expression of authoritarianism in US politics began with Trump, or that the context for his rise to power represents a distinctive moment in American history. As Howard Zinn points out in A People's History of the United States, the US was born out of acts of genocide, nativism and the ongoing violence of white supremacy. Moreover, the US has a long history of demagogues, extending from Huey Long and Joe McCarthy to George Wallace and Newt Gingrich. Authoritarianism runs deep in American history, and Trump is simply the end point of these anti-democratic practices.

With the rise of casino capitalism, a "winner-take-all" ethos has made the United States a mean-spirited and iniquitous nation that has turned its back on the poor, underserved, and those considered racially and ethnically disposable. It is worth noting that in the last 40 years, we have witnessed an increasing dictatorship of finance capital and an increasing concentration of power and ownership regarding the rise and workings of the new media and mainstream cultural apparatuses. These powerful digital and traditional pedagogical apparatuses of the 21st century have turned people into consumers, and citizenship into a neoliberal obsession with self-interest and an empty notion of freedom. The ecosystem of visual and print representations has taken on an unprecedented influence, given the merging of power and culture as a dominant political and pedagogical force. This cultural apparatus has become so powerful, in fact, that it is difficult to dispute the central role it played in the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. Analyzing the forces behind the election of Trump, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt provide a cogent commentary on the political and pedagogical power of an old and updated media landscape. They write: 

Undoubtedly, Trump's celebrity status played a role. But equally important was the changed media landscape…. By one estimate, the Twitter accounts of MSNBC, CNN, CBS, and NBC -- four outlets that no one could accuse of pro-Trump leanings -- mentioned Trump twice as often as Hillary Clinton. According to another study, Trump enjoyed up to $2 billion in free media coverage during the primary season. Trump didn't need traditional Republican power brokers. The gatekeepers of the invisible primary weren't merely invisible; by 2016, they were gone entirely.        

What is crucial to remember here, as Ruth Ben-Ghiat notes, is that fascism starts with words. Trump's use of language and his manipulative use of the media as political theater echo earlier periods of propaganda, censorship and repression. Commenting on the Trump administration's barring the Centers for Disease Control to use certain words, Ben-Ghiat writes:

The strongman knows that it starts with words.... That's why those who study authoritarian regimes or have had the misfortune to live under one may find something deeply familiar about the Trump administration's decision to bar officials at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) from using certain words ("vulnerable," "entitlement," "diversity," "transgender," "fetus," "evidence-based" and "science-based"). The administration's refusal to give any rationale for the order, and the pressure it places on CDC employees, have a political meaning that transcends its specific content and context…. The decision as a whole links to a larger history of how language is used as a tool of state repression. Authoritarians have always used language policies to bring state power and their cults of personality to bear on everyday life. Such policies affect not merely what we can say and write at work and in public, but also [attempt] to change the way we think about ourselves and about others. The weaker our sentiments of solidarity and humanity become -- or the stronger our impulse to compromise them under pressure -- the easier it is for authoritarians to find partners to carry out their repressive policies.

Under fascist regimes, the language of brutality and culture of cruelty was normalized through the proliferation of the strident metaphors of war, battle, expulsion, racial purity and demonization. As German historians such as Richard J. Evans and Victor Klemperer have made clear, dictators such as Hitler did more than corrupt the language of a civilized society, they also banned words. Soon afterwards, they banned books and the critical intellectuals who wrote them. They then imprisoned those individuals who challenged Nazi ideology and the state's systemic violations of civil rights. The endpoint was an all-embracing discourse of disposability, the emergence of concentration camps, and genocide fueled by a politics of racial purity and social cleansing. Echoes of the formative stages of such actions are with us once again. They provide just one of the historical signposts of an American-style neo-fascism that appears to be engulfing the United States, after simmering in the dark for years. 

Under such circumstances, it is crucial to interrogate, as the first line of resistance, how this level of systemic linguistic derangement and corruption shapes everyday life. It is essential to start with language, because it is the first place tyrants begin to promote their ideologies, hatred, and systemic politics of disposability and erasure. Trump is not unlike many of the dictators he admires. What they all share as strongmen is the use of language in the service of violence and repression, as well as a fear of language as a symbol of identity, critique, solidarity and collective struggle. None of them believe that the truth is essential to a responsible mode of governance, and all of them support the notion that lying on the side of power is fundamental to the process of governing, however undemocratic such a political dynamic may be.

In a throwback to the language of fascism, he has repeatedly positioned himself as the only one who can save the masses.

Lying has a long legacy in American politics and is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes. Victor Klemperer in his classic book, The Language of the Third Reich, reminds us that Hitler had a "deep fear of the thinking man and [a] hatred of the intellect." Trump is not only a serial liar, but he also displays a deep contempt for critical thinking and has boasted about how he loves the uneducated. Not only have mainstream sources such as The Washington Post and The New York Times published endless examples of Trump's lies, they have noted that even in the aftermath of such exposure, he continues to be completely indifferent to being exposed as a serial liar. 

In a 30-minute interview with The New York Times on December 28, 2017, The Washington Post reported that Trump made "false, misleading or dubious claims … at a rate of one every 75 seconds." Trump's language attempts to infantilize, seduce and depoliticize the public through a stream of tweets, interviews and public pronouncements that disregard facts and the truth. Trump's more serious aim is to derail the architectural foundations of truth and evidence in order to construct a false reality and alternative political universe in which there are only competing fictions with the emotional appeal of shock theater.  

More than any other president, he has normalized the notion that the meaning of words no longer matters, nor do traditional sources of facts and evidence. In doing so, he has undermined the relationship between engaged citizenship and the truth, and has relegated matters of debate and critical assessment to a spectacle of bombast, threats, intimidation and sheer fakery. This is the language of dictators, one that makes it difficult to name injustices, define politics as something more than rule by the powerful, and make and justify real equitable rules, shared relations of power, and a strong democratic politics.

But the language of fascism does more that normalize falsehoods and ignorance. It also promotes a larger culture of short-term attention spans, immediacy and sensationalism. At the same time, it makes fear and anxiety the normalized currency of exchange and communication. Masha Gessen is right in arguing that Trump's lies are different than ordinary lies and are more like "power lies." In this case, these are lies designed less "to convince the audience of something than to demonstrate the power of the speaker." For instance, Trump's endless tweets are not just about the pathology of endless fabrications, they also function to reinforce as part of a pedagogy of infantilism, designed to entertain his base in a glut of shock while reinforcing a culture of war, fear, divisiveness and greed.

Memories inconvenient to authoritarian rule are now demolished, so the future can be shaped so as to become indifferent to the crimes of the past.

How else to explain Trump's desire to attract scorn from his critics and praise from his base through a never-ending production of tweets and electronic shocks reminiscent of the tantrums of a petulant 10-year-old? The examples just keep coming and appear to get more bizarre as time goes on. Peter Baker and Michael Tackett sum up a number of bizarre and reckless tweets that Trump produced to inaugurate the New Year. They write:

President Trump again raised the prospect of nuclear war with North Korea, boasting in strikingly playground terms on Tuesday night that he commands a "much bigger" and "more powerful" arsenal of devastating weapons than the outlier government in Asia. "Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform [North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un] that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!" It came on a day when Mr. Trump, back in Washington from his Florida holiday break, effectively opened his new year with a barrage of provocative tweets on a host of issues. He called for an aide to Hillary Clinton to be thrown in jail, threatened to cut off aid to Pakistan and the Palestinians, assailed Democrats over immigration, claimed credit for the fact that no one died in a jet plane crash last year and announced that he would announce his own award next Monday for the most dishonest and corrupt news media.

Trump appropriates crassness as a weapon. In a throwback to the language of fascism, he has repeatedly positioned himself as the only one who can save the masses, reproducing the tired script of the savior model endemic to authoritarianism. In 2016 at the Republican National Convention, Trump stated without irony that he alone would save a nation in crisis, captured in his insistence that, "I am your voice, I alone can fix it. I will restore law and order." Trump's latter emphasis on restoring the authoritarian value of law and order has overtones of creating a new racial regime of governance, one that mimics what the historian Cedric J. Robinson once called the "rewhitening of America." Such racially charged language points to the growing presence of a police state in the US and its endpoint in a fascist state where large segments of the population are rendered disposable, incarcerated or left to fend on their own in the midst of massive degrees of inequality. There is more at work here than an oversized, if not delusional ego. Trump's authoritarianism is also fueled by braggadocio and misdirected rage. There is also a language that undermines the bonds of solidarity, abolishes institutions meant to protect the vulnerable, and a full-fledged assault on the environment.

Trump's language does more than produce a litany of falsehoods, fears and poisonous attacks on those considered disposable; it works hard to prevent people from having an internal dialogue with themselves and others.

In addition, Trump's ceaseless use of superlatives models a language that encloses itself in a circle of certainty while taking on religious overtones. Not only do such words pollute the space of credibility, they also wage war on historical memory, humility and the belief that alternative worlds are possible. For Trump and his followers, there is a recognizable threat to their power in the political and moral imperative to learn from a dark version of the past, so as to not repeat or update the dark authoritarianism of the 1930s. Trump is the master of manufactured illiteracy, and his public relations machine aggressively engages in a boundless theater of self-promotion and distractions -- both of which are designed to whitewash any version of the past that might expose the close alignment between Trump's language and policies and the dark elements of a fascist past.

Trump revels in an unchecked mode of self-congratulation bolstered by a limited vocabulary filled with words like "historic," "best," "the greatest," "tremendous" and "beautiful." As Wesley Pruden observes:

Nothing is ever merely "good," or "fortunate." No appointment is merely "outstanding." Everything is "fantastic," or "terrific," and every man or woman he appoints to a government position, even if just two shades above mediocre, is "tremendous." The Donald never met a superlative he didn't like, himself as the ultimate superlative most of all.

Trump's relentless exaggerations suggest more than hyperbole or the self-indulgent use of language. This is true even when he claims he "knows more about ISIS than the generals," "knows more about renewables than any human being on Earth," or that nobody knows the US system of government better than he does. There is also a resonance with the rhetoric of fascism. As the historian Richard J. Evans writes in The Third Reich in Power:

The German language became a language of superlatives, so that everything the regime did became the best and the greatest, its achievements unprecedented, unique, historic, and incomparable…. The language used about Hitler, Klemperer noted was shot through and through with religious metaphors; people 'believed in him,' he was the redeemer, the savior, the instrument of Providence, his spirit lived in and through the German nation….Nazi institutions domesticated themselves [through the use of a language] that became an unthinking part of everyday life.

Under the Trump regime, memories inconvenient to authoritarian rule are now demolished in the domesticated language of superlatives, so the future can be shaped so as to become indifferent to the crimes of the past. For instance, he has talked about the Civil War as if historians have not asked why it took place, while at the same time ignoring the role of slavery in its birth. During a Black History Month event, he talked about the great abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass as if he were still alive. Trump's ignorance of the past finds its counterpart in his celebration of a history that has enshrined racism, tweeted neo-Nazi messages, and embraced the "blood and soil" of white supremacy. 

How else to explain the legacy of white racism and fascism historically inscribed in his signature slogan "Make America Great Again" and his use of the anti-Semitic phrase "America First," long associated with Nazi sympathizers during World War II? How else to explain his support for bringing white supremacists such as Steve Bannon (now resigned) and Jeff Sessions, both with a long history of racist comments and actions, into the highest levels of governmental power? Or his retweeting of an anti-Islamic video originally posted by Britain First, a far-right extremist group -- an action that was condemned by British Prime Minister Theresa May?

It gets worse: Trump created a false equivalence between white supremacist neo-Nazi demonstrators and those who opposed them in Charlottesville, Virginia. In doing so, he argued that there were "very fine people on both sides," as if fine people march with protesters carrying Nazi flags shouting, "We will not be replaced by Jews." Trump appears to be unable to differentiate "between people who think like Nazis and people who try to stop them from spewing their hate."

If fascism is to be defeated, there is a need to make education central to politics.

But there is more than ignorance at work in Trump's lengthy history of racist comments. Trump's sympathy for white nationalism and white supremacy offers a clear explanation for his unbroken use of racist language about Mexican immigrants, Muslims, Syrian refugees and Haitians. It also points to Trump's use of language as part of a larger political and pedagogical project to "mobilize hatred," legitimate the discourse of intimidation and encourage the American public "to unlearn feelings of care and empathy that lead us to help and feel solidarity with others," as Ben-Ghiat writes.

Trump's nativism and ignorance works in the United States because it not only caters to what the historian Brian Klass refers to as "the tens of millions of Americans who have authoritarian or fascist leanings," it also enables what he calls Trump's attempt at  "mainstreaming fascism." He writes:

Like other despots throughout history, Trump scapegoats minorities and demonizes politically unpopular groups. Trump is racist. He uses his own racism in the service of a divide-and-rule strategy, which is one way that unpopular leaders and dictators maintain power. If you aren't delivering for the people and you're not doing what you said you were going to do, then you need to blame somebody else. Trump has a lot of people to blame.

Trump's language, especially his endorsement of torture and contempt for international norms, normalizes the unthinkable, and points to a return to a past that evokes what Ariel Dorfman has called "memories of terror … parades of hate and aggression by the Ku Klux Klan in the United States and Adolf Hitler's Freikorps in Germany…. executions, torture, imprisonment, persecution, exile, and, yes, book burnings, too." Dorfman sees in the Trump era echoes of policies carried out under the dictator Pinochet in Chile. He writes:

Indeed, many of the policies instituted and attitudes displayed in post-coup Chile would prove models for the Trump era: extreme nationalism, an absolute reverence for law and order, the savage deregulation of business and industry, callousness regarding worker safety, the opening of state lands to unfettered resource extraction and exploitation, the proliferation of charter schools, and the militarization of society. To all this must be added one more crucial trait: a raging anti-intellectualism and hatred of "elites" that, in the case of Chile in 1973, led to the burning of books like ours.

The language of fascism revels in forms of theater that mobilize fear, hatred and violence. Sasha Abramsky is on target in claiming that Trump's words amount to more than empty slogans. Instead, his language comes "with consequences, and they legitimize bigotries and hatreds long harbored by many but, for the most part, kept under wraps by the broader society. They give the imprimatur of a major political party to criminal violence." Surely, the increase in hate crimes during Trump's first year of his presidency testifies to the truth of Abramsky's argument.

The history of fascism teaches us that language operates in the service of violence, desperation, and troubling landscapes of hatred, and carries the potential for inhabiting the darkest moments of history. It erodes our humanity, and makes too many people numb and silent in the face of ideologies and practices that are hideous acts of ethical atrocity. By undermining the concepts of truth and credibility, fascist-oriented language disables the ideological and political vocabularies necessary for a diverse society to embrace shared hopes, responsibilities and democratic values.

There is no democracy without informed citizens and no justice without a language critical of injustice.

Trump's language -- like that of older fascist regimes -- mutilates contemporary politics, empathy, and serious moral and political criticism, and makes it more difficult to criticize dominant relations of power. Trump's language does more than produce a litany of falsehoods, fears and poisonous attacks on those considered disposable; it works hard to prevent people from having an internal dialogue with themselves and others, relegating self-reflection, critical thinking, and the ability to question and judge to a scorned practice.

Trump's fascistic language also fuels the rhetoric of war, toxic masculinity, white supremacy, anti-intellectualism and racism. What was once an anxious discourse about what Harvey Kaye calls the "possible triumph in America of a fascist-tinged authoritarian regime over liberal democracy" is no longer a matter of speculation, but a reality.

Any resistance to the new stage of American authoritarianism has to begin by analyzing its language, the stories it fabricates, the policies it produces, and the cultural, economic and political institutions that make it possible. Questions have to be raised about how right-wing educational and cultural apparatuses function both politically and pedagogically to shape notions of identity, desire, values, and emotional investments in the discourses of casino capitalism, white supremacy and a culture of cruelty. Trump's language both shapes and embodies policies that have powerful consequences on people's lives, and such effects must be made visible, tallied up, and used to uncover oppressive forms of power that often hide in the shadows. Rather than treat Trump's lies and fear-mongering as merely an expression of the thoughts of a petulant and dangerous demagogue, it is crucial to analyze their historical roots, the institutions that reproduce and legitimate them, the pundits who promote them, and the effects they have on the texture of everyday life.

Trump's language is not his alone. It is the language of a nascent fascism that has been brewing in the US for some time. It is a language that is comfortable viewing the world as a combat zone, a world that exists to be plundered. It is a view of those deemed different as a threat to be feared, if not eliminated. Frank Rich is correct in insisting that Trump is the blunt instrument of a populist authoritarian movement whose aim is "the systemic erosion of political, ethical, and social norms" central to a substantive democracy. And Trump's major weapon is a toxic language that functions as a form of "cultural vandalism" that promotes hate, embraces the machinery of the carceral state, makes white supremacy a central tenant of governance, and produces unthinkable degrees of inequality in wealth and power.

Trump's language has a history that must be acknowledged, made known for the suffering it produces, and challenged with an alternative critical and hope-producing narrative. Such a language must be willing to make power visible, uncover the truth, contest falsehoods, and create a formative and critical culture that can nurture and sustain collective resistance to the diverse modes of oppression that characterize the times that have overtaken the United States, and increasingly many other countries. Progressives need a language that both embraces the political potential of diverse forms racial, gender and sexual identity, and the forms of "oppression, exclusion, and marginalization" they make visible while simultaneously working to unify such movements into a broader social formation and political party willing to challenge the core values and institutional structures of the American-style fascism. No form of oppression, however hideous, can be overlooked. And with that critical gaze must emerge a critical language, a new narrative and a different story about what a socialist democracy will look like in the United States.

At the same time, there is a need to strengthen and expand the reach and power of established public spheres as sites of critical learning. There is also a need to encourage artists, intellectuals, academics and other cultural workers to talk, educate, make oppression visible, and challenge the normalizing discourses of casino capitalism, white supremacy and fascism. There is no room here for a language shaped by political purity or a limited to politics of outrage. A truly democratic vision has a broader and more capacious overview and project of struggle and transformation.

Language is not simply an instrument of fear, violence and intimidation; it is also a vehicle for critique, civic courage, resistance, and engaged and informed agency. We live at a time when the language of democracy has been pillaged, stripped of its promises and hopes. If fascism is to be defeated, there is a need to make education central to politics. In part this can be done with a language that exposes and unravels falsehoods, systems of oppression and corrupt relations of power while making clear that an alternative future is possible. A critical language can guide us in our thinking about the relationship between older elements of fascism and how such practices are emerging in new forms. The search and use of such a language can also reinforce and accelerate the need for young people to continue creating alternative public spaces in which critical dialogue, exchange and a new understanding of politics in its totality can emerge. Focusing on language as a strategic element of political struggle is not only about meaning, critique and the search for the truth, it is also about power, both in terms of understanding how it works and using it as part of ongoing struggles that merge the language of critique and possibility, theory and action. 

Without a faith in intelligence, critical education and the power to resist, humanity will be powerless to challenge the threat that fascism and right-wing populism pose to the world. All forms of fascism aim at destroying standards of truth, empathy, informed reason and the institutions that make them possible. The current struggle against a nascent fascism in the United States is not only a struggle over economic structures or the commanding heights of corporate power. It is also a struggle over visions, ideas, consciousness and the power to shift the culture itself.

Progressives need to formulate a new language, alternative cultural spheres and fresh narratives about freedom, the power of collective struggle, empathy, solidarity and the promise of a real socialist democracy. We need a new vision that refuses to equate capitalism and democracy, normalize greed and excessive competition, and accept self-interest as the highest form of motivation. We need a language, vision and understanding of power to enable the conditions in which education is linked to social change and the capacity to promote human agency through the registers of cooperation, compassion, care, love, equality and a respect for difference.

Any struggle for a radical democratic socialist order will not take place if "the lessons from our dark past [cannot] be learned and transformed into constructive resolutions" and solutions for struggling for and creating a post-capitalist society. Ariel Dorfman's ode to the struggle over language and its relationship to the power of the imagination, collective resistance and hope offers a fitting reminder of what needs to be done. He writes:

We must trust that the intelligence that has allowed humanity to stave off death, make medical and engineering breakthroughs, reach the stars, build wondrous temples, and write complex tales will save us again. We must nurse the conviction that we can use the gentle graces of science and reason to prove that the truth cannot be vanquished so easily. To those who would repudiate intelligence, we must say: you will not conquer and we will find a way to convince.     

In the end, there is no democracy without informed citizens and no justice without a language critical of injustice.  

Categories: Latest News

Rev. Barber and Ex-Page to Segregationist Strom Thurmond Unite to Launch New Poor People's Campaign

Truthout - Mon, 01/08/2018 - 21:00

As the nation prepares to mark Martin Luther King Day next week, modern day civil rights leaders have launched a new Poor People's Campaign, inspired by the historic 1968 action led by King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In the coming months, organizers are planning six weeks of direct action at statehouses across the country and the US Capitol to call attention to systemic racism, poverty, the war economy and ecological devastation. For more, we speak with Reverend William Barber, president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach. He's the leader of Moral Mondays and the author of Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement. We also speak with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, evangelical minister and director of the School for Conversion in Durham, North Carolina. He is author of the upcoming book, Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion. Wilson-Hartgrove grew up as a white Southern Baptist, and he served as a page for the late South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond, a fierce foe of the civil rights movement and supporter of segregation. Wilson-Hartgrove's political transformation began after hearing William Barber preach.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman. As the nation prepares to mark Martin Luther King Day next Monday, modern day civil rights leaders have launched a new Poor People's Campaign, inspired by the historic 1968 action, 50 years ago, led by King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: Millions of young people grow up in the sunlight of opportunity. But there is another America. And this other America has a daily ugliness about it that transforms ebulliency of hope into the fatigue of despair. In this other America, millions of people find themselves walking the streets in search for jobs that do not exist.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Dr. Martin Luther King, speaking about the 1968 Poor People's Campaign. In the coming months, organizers are planning six weeks of direct action at statehouses across the country and the US Capitol to call attention to systemic racism, poverty, the war economy and ecological devastation.

We're joined by two of the organizers of the campaign. Reverend Dr. William Barber, president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach, leader of the Moral Mondays and author of Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement. We're also joined by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, an evangelical minister and director of the School for Conversion in Durham, North Carolina. He's author of the upcoming book, Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion. While the two men have organized together for years, they were not always in political agreement. Barber grew up in the black-led freedom movement. Wilson-Hartgrove grew up as a white Southern Baptist, served as a page for the late South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond, a fierce foe of the civil rights movement, a supporter of segregation. Wilson-Hartgrove's political transition began after hearing Reverend Barber preach.

Well, we welcome you both to Democracy Now!

BISHOP WILLIAM BARBER II: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Barber, talk about the significance of Dr. King Day and your launch of the Poor People's March, 50 days [sic] after his -- 50 years after his.

BISHOP WILLIAM BARBER II: Fifty years. Well, thank you so much, Amy. In January, on the 5th of January, we actually launched, after traveling to 15 states, doing regional trainings, organizing a thousand people in 25 states, District of Columbia, that have committed to do direct action civil disobedience training, preparing for voter registration, to launch a movement. We have black, we have white, we have brown, young, old, gay, straight, Jewish, Muslim, Christians, people of faith, people not of faith, who are coming together, 50 years later, Amy. And one of the things we're doing is we're writing something called "The Souls of Poor Folk: Auditing America 50 Years Later." IPS, Institute for Policy Studies, is helping with activists, and impact the people.

AMY GOODMAN: Referencing W.E.B. Du Bois's book.

BISHOP WILLIAM BARBER II: W.E.B. Du Bois, that's right. And to talk about the souls of poor folk, because so often the poor are just dismissed. Both parties, we don't even talk about the poor. We talk middle class, working class, not the poor.

So, 50 years later, we have 30 -- we have nearly 100 million poor and working poor people in this country, 14 million poor children. Fifty years later, we have less voting rights protection than we had on August 6, 1965. Fifty years later, Strom Thurmond, for instance, filibustered the Voting -- filibustered the Civil Rights Act of '57 for a day. Ryan, McConnell and Boehner have filibustered fixing the Voting Rights Act now for over four years, over 1,700 days. We have tremendous ecological devastation.

And when we look at, for instance, systemic voter suppression and you map it -- we've done some maps -- every state where there's high voter suppression is also high poverty, denial of healthcare, denial of living wages, denial of labor union rights, attacks on immigrants, attacks on women. So, it's the same states. And what's happening, this is not for the poor. It's with the poor. And it's launching a multi-year campaign, that we're beginning now.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, about your life story. I mean, for young people, they may not have even heard of Strom Thurmond, one of the longest-serving senators in U.S. history, also ran for president --

JONATHAN WILSON-HARTGROVE: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: -- on a segregationist platform. What was your involvement with him?

JONATHAN WILSON-HARTGROVE: Well, that was 1948. And I was born in 1980, so I wasn't, you know, very aware of that, either, growing up. I grew up in a Southern Baptist culture that told us, you know, if you're faithful, you're Republican. And I wanted to do all that I could for Jesus, so I was trying to make it to the White House. And Jesse Helms referred me to Strom Thurmond, and that's how I ended up in his office.

But when I got there, I began to realize that something wasn't quite right, in terms of these values that I was taught of love and justice and concern for the community, and what was happening there, which was really about holding onto power. And I began to realize, you know, what Reverend Barber was saying, that my people in North Carolina and in the South had really been duped, that we -- that we were told that this was good for us and good for America and good for the world, and, as a matter of fact, that they were using religion to serve this white supremacist agenda, that really wasn't very different from what he had advocated in '48 or in the '50s and the '60s, but had changed its language a bit.

And so, I was very grateful for Reverend Barber teaching me that freedom movement history, beginning to realize that there really has been a movement that has pushed for an inclusive democracy in this country since the 19th century and that that effort to reconstruct this country is also very faith-rooted -- and we connected because of our faith -- and beginning to realize that there were some faith leaders who were using that faith to serve the agenda of this, really, white supremacy campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you understand this when you were a page for Senator Thurmond?

JONATHAN WILSON-HARTGROVE: No, I was very confused. That's why I needed a teacher like Dr. Barber here.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you ever confront Senator Thurmond as you came to understand and believe in a different path?

JONATHAN WILSON-HARTGROVE: No. He was in his nineties and, I don't think, was very open to confrontation. The only serious conversation he ever had with me was telling me, when I got to DC as a 16-year-old young white man from North Carolina, that I ought to be careful, because this is a dangerous town. See, that's the way race was talked about in that movement. Still is.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me play a clip of your senator, Senator Strom Thurmond, speaking in 1948, when he ran for president as a nominee of the pro-segregationist, states' rights Democratic Party, more popularly known as the Dixiecrats. Thurmond spoke out against Harry Truman's civil rights platform at the time.

SEN. STROM THURMOND: It simply means that it's another effort on the part of this president to dominate the country by force and to put into effect these uncalled-for and these damnable proposals he has recommended under the guise of so-called civil rights. And I'll tell you, the American people, from one side or the other, had better wake up and oppose such a program! And if they don't, the next thing will be a totalitarian state in these United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Needless to say, he didn't win in 1948. But that philosophy of segregation carried on. As you watched what happened in Virginia, in Charlottesville, this past summer, did you see the echoes of Strom Thurmond, as the self-proclaimed fascists, the self-proclaimed white supremacists marched across the university?

JONATHAN WILSON-HARTGROVE: Absolutely, because if you listen to something like that, as somebody who grew up in the church, you realize that what he's doing there is preaching. He's preaching in the public square. And that's what folks like Richard Spencer are trying to do. They're trying to bring a vision for --

AMY GOODMAN: Who organized that march.

JONATHAN WILSON-HARTGROVE: Right -- for what they want the world to be into the public square, and they're using religion to do it. And so, I had to learn that whiteness is a religion that people are sold on, and that someone like me, who wants to follow Jesus, needs to be converted, needs to be converted from the religion of whiteness to the religion of Jesus, or many other traditions that are willing to embrace a kind of universal humanity that whiteness can't embrace.

AMY GOODMAN: And how do your compatriots respond to your gospel, to what you preach now as a minister?

JONATHAN WILSON-HARTGROVE: Well, you know, I think a lot of times when it's framed as something against what people are doing, they react. Right? Everyone is defensive when you attack what they are. But when you hold forth the invitation to be part of something? You know, this Poor People's Campaign that we're talking about now is a movement that is for everyone. You know, Sister Mashyla, who was with us in DC, came from Washington. She said -- she said, "I'm the white trash that they threw out and forgot to burn. But I'm glad to be part of a movement that includes me," right? And I'm part of that movement, too.

So, I think the constructive vision of the movement is an invitation that many people are beginning to respond to, because they -- you know, if you're a poor person in North Carolina or Alabama, what you have to realize at the end of the day is that these people who say, "Vote for me because I'm a good Christian leader," are not serving your interests. You don't have healthcare, you don't have a living wage, because the same people who say they're standing up for God and righteousness are, when they're voting, voting against the interests of poor people, whether you're black, white, brown or whatever.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you something. In the Roy Moore race, yes, he was defeated, but as someone tweeted out that night, when it was even closer, on December 12th, "If we can beat a pedophile by 0.8 percent, we can do anything." That was the tweet. And, Reverend Barber, "If we can beat a pedophile by 0.8 percent, we can do anything," you know, obviously, a sarcastic comment. How could it possibly have been that close? And now we see the home of Tina Johnson burned to the ground in Alabama, as people raise money for her, one of Roy Moore's accusers.

BISHOP WILLIAM BARBER II: Well, Amy, I think Jonathan hit on something. And that is, it is important for us to remember that the movement for justice has always been biracial. Abolition movement was biracial. Civil rights movement was biracial, triracial sometimes. The first Poor People's Campaign was not just Dr. King. It was Cesar Chavez. It was Jewish. It was the welfare workers, rights workers. It was Al McSurely, who had organized up in Kentucky.

In some sense, we lost that sense of fusion politics, and that's what Moral Monday has been about. That's what this Poor People's Campaign is about. Not only can we beat a pedophile, the reality is, if we focus on policy -- we went to Alabama, and they said we couldn't organize white ministers to stand up against Roy Moore, not about what he had allegedly done to children, but his policies. And we did -- 65 percent of the people who got arrested on Moral Monday were white -- on policy, saying --

AMY GOODMAN: The Moral Mondays meaning in North Carolina, where you are.

BISHOP WILLIAM BARBER II: In North Carolina, that's right, where we were, that I am now. What we're saying is: Do you have healthcare? You know, when all the Southern states denied healthcare, the people who got elected by voter suppression then used that power to deny healthcare, the majority of the people that are being denied are white. When you don't have a living wage, the majority of the people that are being affected are white, in raw numbers. There are 8 million more white people poor than there are African-American. We have got to show how people are being played.

And you can't always look just at a Charlottesville or Strom Thurmond. Remember, they changed that language after '68. See, Kevin Phillips said, "We can't talk like that anymore. What we're going to talk about now is tax cuts and entitlement cuts and forced busing." That's the language of the Southern strategy. It changed, but it was the language -- it was coded language to say, number one, this is what needs to change for your life to be better. The policies are going to hurt mostly black people and brown people, in a percentage basis, but it's also going to make people think that black people are the problem. That's why Trump went to an all-white audience and then talked about black people. You know, what do they have to lose?

One of the things I think we've got to -- that's why this movement, we're saying, we need a Poor People's Campaign, a national call for a moral revival. We need to reshift the moral narrative. For instance, in this week, King week, I've been looking at how people are focusing now on Trump's, quote-unquote, "mental status." I think that's the wrong thing. I mean, I have my own opinions about that. But Dr. King talked about America being sick. See, we're talking about an individual. We should be examining that tax policy. We should be going down the list, every media station, and looking at how are these policies that these senators and others passed impacting the poor -- even the Democrats didn't talk much about the poor -- in those states. We should be talking about the judges he's trying to put on the -- quietly, like the one out of North Carolina, Tom Farr, he's trying to put on the bench. But the senators are helping; he's not doing this stuff by himself. If we get fixated on a person, rather than do what Dr. King said, examine the societal moral crisis that creates characters like a Trump, all right, that empowers them, then we're really in trouble. And we have to deal with the sickness of the society.

Dr. King said, lastly, any society that puts more money in war than it does in social uplift is headed toward spiritual death. When we have an exacerbation of racist voter racism -- systemic racism through voter suppression, we have extreme poverty, we have ecological devastation and a war economy and a mixed-up moral narrative, where people can literally run for office, Amy, and look you in the face -- "If you elect me, I'm going to take your healthcare" -- and get elected -- "If you elect me, I'm going to be a racist. If you elect me, I'm going to put hundreds of thousands of people out of the country. If you elect me, I'm going to attack 800,000 students, DACA students. If you" -- and say that boldly, we have more than a personality problem. We have a moral crisis. And the only thing that can combat that is a movement that challenges that crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to break and then come back to this discussion. You're listening to the Reverend Dr. William Barber of Repairers of the Breach, up from North Carolina, and minister Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove of the School for Conversion in North Carolina. This is Democracy Now! They're starting a Poor People's March, 50 years after Dr. King's. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "Wavin' Flag" by K'naan, performing here in our Democracy Now! studios back in 2010.

Categories: Latest News

"It's a Nightmare for Us": Up to 250,000 Salvadorans Face Deportation After Trump Decision

Truthout - Mon, 01/08/2018 - 21:00

President Trump is meeting with Republican and Democratic lawmakers at the White House today over his offer to protect the nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants known as DREAMers in exchange for funding to build a border wall. The meeting comes one day after the Trump administration announced it is ending the temporary protected status for as many as 250,000 Salvadorans who have been living in US since 2001. The temporary protected status, known as TPS, had given the Salvadorans legal permission to live and work in the United States. It was enacted in 2001 after a devastating pair of earthquakes hit El Salvador. The Trump administration has already said it will end temporary protected status for tens of thousands of Haitian, Nicaraguan and Sudanese immigrants living in the United States. For more, we speak with a Stony Brook University student named Rodman, who is a member of Make the Road New York. He is a US citizen whose parents are Salvadoran TPS recipients. He asked us not to use his last name to protect his family. We also speak with Anu Joshi, immigration policy director at the New York Immigration Coalition.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to look at the battle over immigration in Washington. President Trump is meeting with Republican and Democratic lawmakers at the White House today over his offer to protect the nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants known as DREAMers in exchange for $18 billion to build a border wall. The meeting comes one day after the Trump administration announced it's ending the temporary protected status for as many as 250,000 Salvadorans who have been living in the US since 2001. The temporary status, known as TPS, had given the Salvadorans legal permission to live and work in the United States, enacted in 2001 after a devastating pair of earthquakes hit El Salvador. The announcement sparked immediate protest outside the White House and in several cities. Here in New York, Salvadoran TPS recipient Urania Reyes spoke at a news conference.

URANIA REYES: [translated] We are begging to our President Trump and to the public to stand up and ask for our permanent -- not temporary -- legalization. We have been in the US for more than 20 years, and they didn't give us any permanent status. I think we are honorable people. We do the work other people don't want to do. We earn very little money. We pay for housing and taxes and school for the children -- for my three children -- and they go to the school. And today I feel very sad, because they want to take the TPS from us.

The people who brought our children here with us and who brought them here when they were young, it's not their fault. It's our fault. We were looking for an improvement after our country was destroyed by war. And after that, in 2001, it was destroyed by the earthquake, on January 13th, 2001. I hope they give us legal status. That's what we are asking. We are honorable people, worthy of this country. And this country is our country, because we spend our lives here.

AMY GOODMAN: The Trump administration has already said it will end temporary protected status for tens of thousands of Haitian, Nicaraguan and Sudanese immigrants living in the US

For more, we're joined now by two guests. Rodman is a student at Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York, a member of Make the Road New York. He's a US citizen whose parents are Salvadoran temporary protected status recipients. He asked us not to use his last name, to protect his family. And we're joined by Anu Joshi, who is immigration policy director at the New York Immigration Coalition.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Rodman, let's begin with you. Tell us about your family. What will happen? Were you surprised by President Trump's announcement yesterday?

RODMAN: So, well, thank you so much for having me on your program. I am the son of two immigrant parents from El Salvador. My mom and my dad both have TPS. They've been living on Long Island for the past 25 years. My parents, my two sisters and me, we consider ourselves all to be Long Islanders, because that's where our home is. That's where we have been going to church, to school. Everyone we know, you know, is from Long Island.

So, the news that we received -- the announcement yesterday was absolutely devastating. I think we were kind of anticipating it. So, for the past few months, we've been living in a state of fear and anxiety. But actually hearing the news, just it's a nightmare for us.

AMY GOODMAN: What does it mean?

RODMAN: To us, it means that our sense of protection, our sense of security, all of that is going to vanish.

AMY GOODMAN: Your parents would be sent back in 18 months?

RODMAN: That risk is -- it's very possible. It's very possible that my two parents, who have been living here since the early 1990s, who have been working and contributing here, on Long Island -- it's very possible that they are going to be sent back to a country that they haven't visited in over 20 years.

AMY GOODMAN: So what would happen to the three of you? You're all US citizens?

RODMAN: Yes. So, I was born here. So was my -- my two sisters were also born here. We depend so much on our parents, for not only financial support, but also emotional support. I think a lot of the things that me and my sisters are able to accomplish in life, whether it's school or work, it's because of all the support that our parents have given us. And I am very thankful for not only all the sacrifices that they've made, but also the examples that they've set for us. They are my role models. And I think they've given us the tools that makes us become very responsible.

AMY GOODMAN: And temporary protected status was extended to your parents because of the earthquakes, because of what happened in El Salvador?

RODMAN: Yeah. So, my two parents, they left in early 1990s, before the earthquake. But they left during the civil war. So they were escaping the civil war. El Salvador is a country where there's no real job opportunities, where there's no real stability and where there's corruption. So, they escaped in the early 1990s. And in 2001, there was a devastating earthquake that devastated the entire country. So, they came to this country seeking stability, seeking a better future for themselves and their family, pursuing the American dream. And to them, the American dream is that me and my two sisters would be able to get an education and move ahead in life.

AMY GOODMAN: Anu Joshi, can you talk about what this means for 250,000 people? And then we've got to extend the number by what? Another 200,000, the American kids, like Rodman?

ANU JOSHI: Mm-hmm, that's exactly right. So, as you mentioned, this administration already eliminated TPS for Sudan, Nicaragua and Haiti, Haiti being the next largest population at 50,000, many of whom live here in New York.

But for the people like Rodman's parents and hundreds of thousands of people like Rodman's parents across the country, this means that, in 18 months, the businesses that they've started are going to shutter. The companies where they work are going to lose employees. The places, the federal government, the states, the local taxes they pay are no longer going to be paid. The mortgages they own, the houses that they own -- almost a third of Salvadorans with TPS own their home or have a mortgage -- are not going to be paid. And these people, who are completely integrated into American society, have been here for over two decades, many of them, are going to be pushed into the shadows.

And it's really unconscionable, what this administration is doing. And I think, with these four decisions and the attack and termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, we've seen that this administration is not -- is really pursuing an aggressive, extremist attack on immigrants and all communities of color.

AMY GOODMAN: Salvadorans have been major labor organizers, as well. Do you see this as an attack on the labor community?

ANU JOSHI: One hundred percent. Yesterday we had a press conference, and we had a SEIU 32BJ member, who is a housekeeper on Long Island, who has been a member for over 15 years. We had a cook from UNITE HERE, who has worked at the same restaurant for 17 years. And he's worked his way up. He started as a dishwasher, and now he's a cook. And he's had TPS. He has two children. This is an attack on labor. This is an attack on working people. It's also an attack on people who have started businesses and raised families.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to Hugo Rodríguez, a Salvadoran beneficiary of temporary protected status, who spoke at Monday's news conference in New York.

HUGO RODRÍGUEZ: [translated] We have one foot here and the other in a republic, El Salvador. And even though my heart is always there in that country, for me, living here, as my predecessor said, is a matter of life and death, because we cannot go back to our country. There are a lot of compatriots that have tried it and have tried to start a business, to start a life there. And they haven't been able to do it, because of the evil our country is suffering. … President Trump and the politicians do not know who the beneficiaries of temporary protected status are. We are not gang members. We are not criminals. We are people that, as the majority of the people who live here, we came following a dream, an American dream, a dream that, sadly, we cannot have in our countries, but it was possible here. We achieve it, thanks to our work.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response?

ANU JOSHI: I mean, I don't understand how anyone could look at that and say that that's someone that's not contributing to our society. You know, everything that this administration is doing is not about keeping our country safe or making this country greater. It's about making our country worse, by trying to push into the shadows -- or worse, deport -- people like Hugo, who are just, you know, raising their families and making a living.

AMY GOODMAN: Rodman, we're not using your last name, to protect your family. But you mentioned the civil war, which often people do not refer to as a civil war in Salvador, because the studies shows overwhelmingly it was the US-backed military government and paramilitaries that were killing off the majority of people, as happened in Nicaragua, the illegal war in Nicaragua, when it came to the Contras. The US was not supposed to be supporting the Contras but was getting around various laws, like the Boland Amendment. Can you talk about this, as my colleague Juan González wrote a book called Harvest of Empire, people fleeing, sadly, US-connected violence in their countries, and then, when they get here, being told they have to go back?

ANU JOSHI: And to that point, the creation of the temporary protected status program was in response to the US involvement in El Salvador in the early '90s. And so, it was a recognition by our government that we had created a part of this problem, and we needed to provide safe haven. We needed to protect these people. We could not send them back into that violence.

And if you look at El Salvador as a country right now, it has the third-highest homicide rate in the world. It's considered the most violent country that's not currently in a war zone, by the United Nations. Seventeen percent of its GDP comes from remittances from the United States. And if you try to send or repatriate hundreds of thousands of people into a country where -- has weak government institutions, where violence is rampant, where gangs are conscripting youth every day, it's going to destabilize the region. And that's not going to be good for the United States, either.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to put this in the larger context right now of what's happening in the White House. You have President Trump meeting with Democrats and Republicans. And this is led -- and this is not often the case -- by the chief of staff, this meeting, General Kelly, General Kelly who, before being chief of staff of President Trump, was head of Department of Homeland Security and, before that, in charge of SOUTHCOM, Southern Command. Can you talk about the significance of Trump saying this weekend at Camp David that it is DACA and the wall, or no DACA?

ANU JOSHI: Well, and let's be clear: He didn't just say DACA and the wall. He also said, "And additional CBP agents and an end to the diversity" --

AMY GOODMAN: Customs and Border Patrol.

ANU JOSHI: Sorry, Customs and Border Patrol agents, end to the diversity visa, ending family reunification, which has been the cornerstone of our immigration policy for decades, since the 1960s. So, he laid out a laundry list of the most extremist anti-immigrant agenda, in exchange for 800,000 young people, you know, which is a situation that he created, when he terminated DACA in September. You know, we're telling Senator Schumer, here in New York, and the Democrats in both sides of the House and the Senate that they need to stand strong against this, that this is a wish list that -- it's not a wish list at all. I don't even know what it is. This is not in good faith.

AMY GOODMAN: And do you have confidence in the Democrats?

ANU JOSHI: Maybe. I hope so.

AMY GOODMAN: Rodman, is your university, Stony Brook, on Long Island, part of the State University of New York system, an esteemed university around the country, standing up for you and other students who have temporary protected status themselves or, in your case, your parents?

RODMAN: Yeah, so, a group of me and a group of students, we have started a club, trying to push our administrators from Stony Brook to adopt policies that would benefit students not only who have DACA, who are losing their DACA statuses every day, but also for parents, for students whose parents have TPS, because, for example, like I sometimes depend on my parents for financial support to pay my tuition. And once TPS is gone --

AMY GOODMAN: Sounds like that's in New York's interest.

RODMAN: It is, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: That your tuition is paid.

RODMAN: Yeah. We really depend on our administrators, but also our local and state representatives, to become advocates for us and to really push for legislation that's going to benefit people like me and my family. I think that investing more money into ICE agents or having the local police department collaborate with immigration -- I think it's misguided. And if it's -- we need our representatives to really push for permanent legislation, like permanent residency for my parents. I think these -- once you really invest in communities, like my community and my family, that's one of the best ways that you can really uplift this country.

AMY GOODMAN: And how are Salvadorans in Long Island organizing?

RODMAN: OK, so, this news has affected everyone from where I come from on Long Island. Long Island has a large Salvadoran and also Haitian population. So, everyone is pretty much really in a state of panic. So, what people are doing is that they're getting informed. I'm part of a community organization called Make the Road New York. We're doing workshops. We're holding Know Your Rights workshops. And we're also telling, you know, people like me, like youth like me, who are citizens, that we have a lot of power. Once we share our stories, we can make a difference. And also, we have lots of voting power. So, it's very important for us to get organized, to know our rights, you know, to stand up for our parents. Our parents have always been there for us, so it's time now -- it's really urgent that we stand up for them.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. Rodman, I hope soon to be able to say your whole name, but while you feel your family is vulnerable, we'll stick with your first name. Rodman, a US citizen, a student Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, Long Island, New York, whose parents are Salvadoran temporary protected status recipients. And Anu Joshi, immigration policy director at the New York Immigration Coalition.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, a new Poor People's March, an unusual coalition. We'll be joined by the Reverend William Barber as well as an evangelical minister who worked for the segregationist presidential candidate, longtime Senato Strom Thurmond, now joining in a Poor People's March. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "Young, Latin and Proud" by Helado Negro, or Black Ice Cream, performing here in our Democracy Now! studios.

Categories: Latest News

Special Ops at War: From Afghanistan to Somalia, Special Ops Achieve Less With More

Truthout - Mon, 01/08/2018 - 21:00

US Army special operations forces fire an MK19-3 40 mm grenade machine gun during a field training exercise at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, October 30, 2013.

Support from readers allows Truthout to produce the authority-challenging journalism that's going to be imperative in the years to come. Click here now to support this work!

At around 11 o'clock that night, four Lockheed MC-130 Combat Talons, turboprop Special Operations aircraft, were flying through a moonless sky from Pakistani into Afghan airspace. On board were 199 Army Rangers with orders to seize an airstrip. One hundred miles to the northeast, Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters cruised through the darkness toward Kandahar, carrying Army Delta Force operators and yet more Rangers, heading for a second site. It was October 19, 2001. The war in Afghanistan had just begun and US Special Operations forces (SOF) were the tip of the American spear. 

Those Rangers parachuted into and then swarmed the airfield, engaging the enemy -- a single armed fighter, as it turned out -- and killing him. At that second site, the residence of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, the special operators apparently encountered no resistance at all, even though several Americans were wounded due to friendly fire and a helicopter crash.

In 2001, US special operators were targeting just two enemy forces: al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In 2010, his first full year in office, President Barack Obama informed Congress that US forces were still "actively pursuing and engaging remaining al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan." According to a recent Pentagon report to Congress, American troops are battling more than 10 times that number of militant groups, including the still-undefeated Taliban, the Haqqani network, an Islamic State affiliate known as ISIS-Khorasan, and various "other insurgent networks."

After more than 16 years of combat, US Special Operations forces remain the tip of the spear in Afghanistan, where they continue to carry out counterterrorism missions. In fact, from June 1st to November 24th last year, according to that Pentagon report, members of Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan conducted 2,175 ground operations "in which they enabled or advised" Afghan commandos.

"During the Obama administration the use of Special Operations forces increased dramatically, as if their use was a sort of magical, all-purpose solution for fighting terrorism," William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, pointed out. "The ensuing years have proven this assumption to be false. There are many impressive, highly skilled personnel involved in special operations on behalf of the United States, but the problems they are being asked to solve often do not have military solutions. Despite this fact, the Trump administration is doubling down on this approach in Afghanistan, even though the strategy has not prevented the spread of terrorist organizations and may in fact be counterproductive." 

Global Commandos

Since US commandos went to war in 2001, the size of Special Operations Command has doubled from about 33,000 personnel to 70,000 today. As their numbers have grown, so has their global reach. As TomDispatch revealed last month, they were deployed to 149 nations in 2017, or about 75% of the countries on the planet, a record-setting year. It topped 2016's 138 nations under the Obama administration and dwarfed the numbers from the final years of the Bush administration. As the scope of deployments has expanded, special operators also came to be spread ever more equally across the planet.

In October 2001, Afghanistan was the sole focus of commando combat missions. On March 19, 2003, special operators fired the first shots in the invasion of Iraq as their helicopter teams attacked Iraqi border posts near Jordan and Saudi Arabia. By 2006, as the war in Afghanistan ground on and the conflict in Iraq continued to morph into a raging set of insurgencies, 85% of US commandos were being deployed to the Greater Middle East. 

As this decade dawned in 2010, the numbers hadn't changed appreciably: 81% of all special operators abroad were still in that region.

Eight years later, however, the situation is markedly different, according to figures provided to TomDispatch by US Special Operations Command. Despite claims that the Islamic State has been defeated, the US remains embroiled in wars in Iraq and Syria, as well as in Afghanistan and Yemen, yet only 54% of special operators deployed overseas were sent to the Greater Middle East in 2017. In fact, since 2006, deployments have been on the rise across the rest of the world. In Latin America, the figure crept up from 3% to 4.39%. In the Pacific region, from 7% to 7.99%. But the striking increases have been in Europe and Africa. 

In 2006, just 3% of all commandos deployed overseas were operating in Europe. Last year, that number was just north of 16%. "Outside of Russia and Belarus we train with virtually every country in Europe either bilaterally or through various multinational events," Major Michael Weisman, a spokesman for US Special Operations Command Europe, told TomDispatch. "The persistent presence of US SOF alongside our allies sends a clear message of US commitment to our allies and the defense of our NATO alliance." For the past two years, in fact, the US has maintained a Special Operations contingent in almost every nation on Russia's western border. As Special Operations Command chief General Raymond Thomas put it last year, "[W]e've had persistent presence in every country -- every NATO country and others on the border with Russia doing phenomenal things with our allies, helping them prepare for their threats."

Africa, however, has seen the most significant increase in special ops deployments. In 2006, the figure for that continent was just 1%; as 2017 ended, it stood at 16.61%. In other words, more commandos are operating there than in any region except the Middle East. As I recently reported at Vice News, Special Operations forces were active in at least 33 nations across that continent last year.

The situation in one of those nations, Somalia, in many ways mirrors in microcosm the 16-plus years of US operations in Afghanistan. Not long after the 9/11 attacks, a senior Pentagon official suggested that the Afghan invasion might drive militants out of that country and into African nations. "Terrorists associated with al-Qaeda and indigenous terrorist groups have been and continue to be a presence in this region," he said. "These terrorists will, of course, threaten US personnel and facilities." 

When pressed about actual transnational dangers, that official pointed to Somali militants, only to eventually admit that even the most extreme Islamists there "really have not engaged in acts of terrorism outside Somalia." Similarly, when questioned about connections between Osama bin Laden's core al-Qaeda group and African extremists, he offered only the most tenuous links, like bin Laden's "salute" to Somali militants who killed US troops during the infamous 1993 Black Hawk Down incident.

Nonetheless, US commandos reportedly began operating in Somalia in 2001, air attacks by AC-130 gunships followed in 2007, and 2011 saw the beginning of US drone strikes aimed at militants from al-Shabaab, a terror group that didn't even exist until 2006. According to figures compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the US carried out between 32 and 36 drone strikes and at least 9 to 13 ground attacks in Somalia between 2001 and 2016. 

Last spring, President Donald Trump loosened Obama-era restrictions on offensive operations in that country. Allowing US forces more discretion in conducting missions there, he opened up the possibility of more frequent airstrikes and commando raids. The 2017 numbers reflect just that. The US carried out 34 drone strikes, at least equaling if not exceeding the cumulative number of attacks over the previous 15 years. (And it took the United States only a day to resume such strikes this year.)

"President Trump's decision to make parts of southern Somalia an 'area of active hostilities' gave [US Africa Command or AFRICOM] the leeway to carry out strikes at an increased rate because it no longer had to run their proposed operations through the White House national security bureaucratic process," said Jack Serle, an expert on US counterterrorism operations in Somalia. He was quick to point out that AFRICOM claims the uptick in operations is due to more targets presenting themselves, but he suspects that AFRICOM may be attempting to cripple al-Shabaab before an African Union peacekeeping force is withdrawn and Somalia's untested military is left to fight the militants without thousands of additional African troops.

In addition to the 30-plus airstrikes in 2017, there were at least three US ground attacks. In one of the latter, described by AFRICOM as "an advise-and-assist operation alongside members of the Somali National Army," Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken was killed and two US personnel were injured during a firefight with al-Shabaab militants. In another ground operation in August, according to an investigation by the Daily Beast, Special Operations forces took part in a massacre of 10 Somali civilians. (The US military is now investigating.)

As in Afghanistan, the US has been militarily engaged in Somalia since 2001 and, as in Afghanistan, despite more than a decade and a half of operations, the number of militant groups being targeted has only increased. US commandos are now battling at least two terror groups -- al-Shabaab and a local Islamic State affiliate -- as drone strikes spiked in the last year and Somalia became an ever-hotter war zone. Today, according to AFRICOM, militants operate "training camps" and possess "safe havens throughout Somalia [and] the region."  

"The under-reported, 16-year US intervention in Somalia has followed a similar pattern to the larger US war in Afghanistan: an influx of special forces and a steady increase in air strikes has not only failed to stop terrorism, but both al-Shabaab and a local affiliate of ISIS have grown during this time period," said William Hartung of the Center for International Policy. "It's another case of failing to learn the lessons of the United States' policy of endless war: that military action is as likely or more likely to spark terrorist action as to reduce or prevent it."

Somalia is no anomaly. Across the continent, despite escalating operations by commandos as well as conventional American forces and their local allies and proxies, Washington's enemies continue to proliferate. As Vice News reported, a 2012 Special Operations Command strategic planning document listed five prime terror groups on the continent. An October 2016 update counted seven by name -- the Islamic State, Ansar al-Sharia, al-Qaida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb, al-Murabitun, Boko Haram, the Lord's Resistance Army, and al-Shabaab -- in addition to "other violent extremist organizations." The Pentagon's Africa Center for Strategic Studies now offers a tally of 21 "active militant Islamist groups" on the continent. In fact, as reported at The Intercept, the full number of terrorist organizations and other "illicit groups" may already have been closer to 50 by 2015.

Saving SOF Through Proxy War?

As wars and interventions have multiplied, as US commandos have spread across the planet, and as terror groups have proliferated, the tempo of operations has jumped dramatically. This, in turn, has raised fears among think-tank experts, special ops supporters, and members of Congress about the effects on those elite troops of such constant deployments and growing pressure for more of them. "Most SOF units are employed to their sustainable limit," General Thomas told members of Congress last spring. "Despite growing demand for SOF, we must prioritize the sourcing of these demands as we face a rapidly changing security environment." Yet the number of countries with special ops deployments hit a new record last year.

At a November 2017 conference on special operations held in Washington, influential members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees acknowledged growing strains on the force. For Jack Reed, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, the solution is, as he put it, "to increase numbers and resources." 

While Republican Senator Joni Ernst did not foreclose the possibility of adding to already war-swollen levels of commandos, she much prefers to farm out some operations to other forces: "A lot of the missions we see, especially if you... look at Afghanistan, where we have the train, advise, and assist missions, if we can move some of those into conventional forces and away from SOF, I think that's what we need to do." Secretary of Defense James Mattis has already indicated that such moves are planned. Leigh Claffey, Ernst's press secretary, told TomDispatch that the senator also favors "turning over operations to capable indigenous forces."

Ernst's proxies approach has, in fact, already been applied across the planet, perhaps nowhere more explicitly than in Syria in 2017. There, SOCOM's Thomas noted, US proxies, including both Syrian Arabs and Kurds, "a surrogate force of 50,000 people... are working for us and doing our bidding." They were indeed the ones who carried out the bulk of the fighting and dying during the campaign against the Islamic State and the capture of its capital, Raqqa. 

However, that campaign, which took back almost all the territory ISIS held in Syria, was exceptional. US proxies elsewhere have fared far worse in recent years. That 50,000-strong Syrian surrogate army had to be raised, in fact, after the US-trained Iraqi army, built during the 2003-2011 American occupation of that country, collapsed in the face of relatively small numbers of Islamic State militants in 2014. In Mali, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Honduras, and elsewhere, US-trained officers have carried out coups, overthrowing their respective governments. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, where special ops forces have been working with local allies for more than 15 years, even elite security forces are still largely incapable of operating on their own. According to the Pentagon's 2017 semi-annual report to Congress, Afghan commandos needed US support for an overwhelming number of their missions, independently carrying out only 17% of their 2,628 operations between June 1, 2017, and November 24, 2017.

Indeed, with Special Operations forces acting, in the words of SOCOM's Thomas, as "the main effort, or major supporting effort for US [violent extremist organization]-focused operations in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, across the Sahel of Africa, the Philippines, and Central/South America," it's unlikely that foreign proxies or conventional American forces will shoulder enough of the load to relieve the strain on the commandos. 

Bulking up Special Operations Command is not, however, a solution, according to the Center for International Policy's Hartung. "There is no persuasive security rationale for having US Special Operations forces involved in an astonishing 149 countries, given that the results of these missions are just as likely to provoke greater conflict as they are to reduce it, in large part because a US military presence is too often used as a recruiting tool by local terrorist organizations," he told TomDispatch. "The solution to the problem of the high operational tempo of US Special Operations forces is not to recruit and train more Special Operations forces. It is to rethink why they are being used so intensively in the first place."

Categories: Latest News

See No Evil

Truthout - Mon, 01/08/2018 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

Hopes for 2018 by Movement Leaders Around the Globe

Truthout - Mon, 01/08/2018 - 21:00

"The innovation and vision of Black people is critical, along with the activation of millions who understand that our futures are tied to one another." —Alicia Garza. (Photo: KK Ottesen)

With your support, Truthout can continue exposing inequality, analyzing policy and reporting on the struggle for a better world. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation.

Across the globe, 2017 brought us to new lows. Yet, even as crisis after crisis shook us to the ground, they also inspired many to rise up and take to the streets and other venues of popular power. Donald Trump as president awakened millions, sparked new cross-sectoral coalitions, and galvanized people to creative and effective action.

Across the world, those who never had the luxury of complacency continued their struggles for participatory democracy; economic justice; an end to wars and violence; protection of the global commons; the rights and security of women, LGBTQ folk, and other excluded populations; and an end to theft and plunder of indigenous and small-farmer lands.

Here, nine movement leaders share their hopes for the new year. From the head of Greenpeace USA to an opponent of patriarchal capitalism in Zimbabwe, these thinkers, strategists, and organizers have made significant contributions to different sectors and continents. And cutting across all their aspirations is a common theme: that solutions to some of the most intractable challenges on the planet will come from people uniting and organizing into powerful movements.

Alicia Garza

Oakland, Calif.-based organizer and co-founder of Black Lives Matter

My hope for 2018 is that Black people are joined by the rest of the nation in solidly rejecting the new regime that has taken power. From suffrage to voting rights, from anti-Apartheid, emancipation, and #BlackLivesMatter to UndocuBlack and #MeToo, Black people have kept our eyes on freedom. Though we are not mules on whose backs freedom depends, the innovation and vision of Black people is critical, along with the activation of millions who understand that our futures are tied to one another. Let this be the year that sexual harassment and violence is seen through the eyes of Black women, the year that Congress is reorganized, and the year that progressive movements nurture and support Black communities by decisively taking on the fight against anti-Black racism as a fight for all of us. I hope that not another mother loses her child to police violence or the violence of government neglect. I hope a new movement emerges, committed to the fight against anti-Black racism in all its forms and united in pursuit of a future for all of us. I hope this is the year that the current administration is soundly rejected in favor of an interdependent, mutually beneficial global community.

Annie Leonard

Executive director of Greenpeace USA

Annie Leonard. (Photo: Marcus Donner)

I have high hopes for the new year, hopes based on the very real momentum building across the country. In 2017, millions of people who have long felt concern about climate change, increasing inequity, the deterioration of our democracy, and more went from being isolated and angry to united and active. That gives me hope since an inclusive peoples' movement is the best line of defense against those who want to plunder the planet and its people. And that movement is growing more powerful by the day.

Closer to home, I hope that Greenpeace and allies win the lawsuit attempting to shut us up or shut us down. In 2017, Energy Transfer Partners, the company that built the Dakota Access pipeline (the focus of the Standing Rock protest), filed a $900 million SLAPP suit against Greenpeace. This is an attempt to silence and intimidate critics of pipelines and defenders of indigenous rights. I hope 2018 brings a resounding dismissal of this lawsuit, sending a strong message to corporations everywhere that they can't silence constitutionally protected advocacy. Dissent, nonviolent protest, and activism are crucial parts of our democracy, and are needed now more than ever.

Gustavo Castro

Co-coordinator of Friends of the Earth Mexico/Otros Mundos; co-coordinator, Mesoamerican Movement against the Mining Extractive Model (M4)

Gustavo Castro. (Photo: Beverly Bell)

Responding to advanced capitalism with its savage extractivism in Latin America, organized peoples are resisting with more force, giving hope to the planet and me for the coming year. Electoral, military, and corporate coups d'état have encountered stronger fight-back from the Left, regardless of the cost to life and liberty; so too have free trade and investment agreements, the vehicles for making gigantic corporate investments in the territories of indigenous people and rural farmers (for everything from drilling and fracking of oil and gas; mining; monocultural production of African palm and other crops; and shrimp and factory cattle farming). Left movements are also fighting the theft and pillage of lands, waters, and other commons of nature, as well as the infrastructure needed to make huge profits from them, like oil pipelines and dry canals.

If the criminalization of social movements has grown, it is because the resistance continues to grow too, more than ever. In Latin America, people organized into organizations, and movements are defending their human rights, territories, and life.

Samia Shoman

Palestinian American educator in the San Francisco Bay Area

Samia Shoman. (Photo courtesy of Samia Shoman)

On Dec. 21, when 128 member countries of the United Nations voted with Palestine against the US president's declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, my hope for Palestine was renewed. This hope grew when popular singer Lorde cancelled, on moral grounds, her upcoming concert in Tel Aviv on Christmas Day. Her announcement revalidated that the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, which seeks to end international support for Israel's brutal occupation of Palestine, is growing and working. The action and resilience of Ahed Tamimi, the Palestinian teen activist who stood up to Israeli soldiers' aggression, has filled Palestinians with hope that there is a new generation leading the resistance.

My hope is that one day soon the American populace will catch up to the international community, which seems more aware of the growing violence and oppression against Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli government and military forces, and more willing to speak out about it. And when the streets of America are filled with people supporting Palestinians' right to self-determination and liberation, this hope will be fulfilled.

Michelle L. Cook

Diné (Navajo) human rights lawyer focused on protecting indigenous rights and territories

Michelle L. Cook. (Photo courtesy of Michelle L. Cook)

The indigenous human rights movement was infused with new energy by the mass mobilization on the ancestral territories of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation in North Dakota, against the Dakota Access pipeline.

There is no tidy ending to that tale. The safety and future of indigenous people, lands, and waters still hang in the balance, and still need the world's full support.

At the same time, Standing Rock sparked a movement to stop international capital from flowing to the Dakota Access pipeline via banks, cities, and pension funds. In 2018 and beyond, indigenous people wielding the divestment tool -- with women in the forefront -- will be working to stop more financing of harmful projects and corporations.

This promises to be another year of indigenous mobilization to protect ancestral lands from plunder, such as Bears Ears in Utah from uranium mining and Louisiana's Atchafalaya Basin from the Bayou Bridge oil pipeline.

We are hopefully at a turning point in human rights in America, for indigenous self-determination and treaty rights, and for remedy by state and non-state actors. Moving forward from Standing Rock, as after the 1965 civil rights activity in Selma, Alabama, we are in a societal shift that will continue to inspire more just alternatives.

Melania Chiponda

Feminist activist and climate justice campaigner who was part of the Zimbabwean uprising that toppled Robert Mugabe

(Photo courtesy of Melania Chiponda)

The march of millions across Zimbabwe on Nov. 18 for our democracy, peace, and economic salvation succeeded in bringing down Mugabe. It was a revolution.

As an African feminist, I marched for something deeper, as well: for the liberation of women, for equality for people from all races, religions, genders, ethnic groups, and classes.

But from a feminist perspective, the real revolution has not yet happened. My dream for 2018 and beyond is for true change, not just for a changing of the guard, from Mugabe to his former henchman, the vicious Emmerson Mnangagwa. If we want to correct the political and economic system, then we should get rid of patriarchal capitalism. I feel trapped where every avenue to power is overwhelmingly male-dominated. A more cooperative and egalitarian economic system cannot be based on male supremacy.

In a world where women are viewed as mothers and caregivers before anything else, and have to overcome strong ideological and political resistance from men to participate in political and economic systems, my hope is that we start a real revolution against patriarchal capitalism.

Greg Asbed

Cofounder of the farmworker-driven human rights and economic justice group the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Greg Asbed. (Photo courtesy of Greg Asbed)

There were real glimmers of hope in 2017 that, when seen together, just might be the light at the end of one of the darkest years in this country's history. No glimmer shone brighter here in Immokalee, Florida, where some of this country's poorest, least powerful, most exploited workers found a way by building common cause with consumers, to turn what had been called "ground zero for modern-day slavery" into what is today known as "the best working environment in US agriculture." Through the Fair Food Program, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers is eliminating longstanding abuses from sexual assault to forced labor and, in the process, giving farmworkers a real voice in the decisions that shape their lives.

If transformational, worker-led change can happen in Southern agriculture, it can happen anywhere. And that is my hope: that we come together in 2018 and start building the new day in the new year.

Erika Guevara Rosas

Americas director at Amnesty International

Erika Guevara Rosas. (Photo courtesy of Erika Guevara Rosas)

Across the Americas throughout 2017, a growing social discontent inspired people to take to the streets and raise their voices for an end to repression, marginalization, and injustice. My inspiration to continue fighting for a better world in 2018 comes from countless small, brave acts by individuals and campaigns and resistance from movements that have and can make a real difference as we stand up to defend human rights.

Inspiration in 2017 came from the massive social movement of Ni Una Menos, or Not One Fewer, denouncing femicide and other violence against women and girls across Latin America. The long struggle of Peruvian activist Maxima Acuña had stopped a mining company that wanted to take over her land; recently, the Peruvian Supreme Court ruled in her favor. The decriminalization of abortion in Chile was a testament to the work of millions of women across the continent. And these are just a few of last year's stories of courage that have profoundly impacted people's lives.

In spite of the repressive response from governments, massive mobilizations in every corner in the region demanding state accountability and respect for human dignity will continue this year to transform the paradigms of power.

Emem Okon

Director of Kebetkache Women Development & Resource Centre, a Nigerian eco-feminist organization battling oil companies

Emem Okon. (Photo courtesy of Emem Okon)

As women in the Niger Delta, we hope for this for 2018: Nothing about us without us! Throughout this new year, we will be aiming for greater power for the eco-feminist movement as we battle the oil companies who have stolen our lands, degraded the environment and biodiversity, and increased violence. I expect more visibility of women as we take action for the protection, remediation, and restoration of our environment. I anticipate ever-larger women's mobilizations and look forward to deep consultations with women pushing oil companies to conduct Environmental Impact Assessments before commencing activities on their communities' land. I envision the aspirations of community people being recognized and respected by oil corporations. Finally, I take hope from knowing we will push for a women's rights perspective as we engage with and monitor the Sustainable Development Goals, to ensure that no one is left behind and to ensure that government and the oil companies do the right thing.

Dedicated to Haj Ali Shallal Alqaisi, Iraqi peace activist and Abu Ghraib survivor. Thanks to Robert Naiman, Neil Tangri and Patrick Bond for their help.

Categories: Latest News

Instead of Worrying About Budgets and Deficits, Ask About Impact

Truthout - Mon, 01/08/2018 - 21:00
Your support is crucial to keeping ethical journalism alive! Donate now to keep our writers on the streets, covering the most important issues and beats.

Budget deficits can be a very powerful weapon in the battle against poverty, inequality, economic environmental and social justice. I worry very much about the vilifying of budget deficits and the use and reliance and dependence on questions of how social spending will impact budget deficits, to the complete disregard for the impact of programs and policies on people.

I worked with Senator Bernie Sanders as he pushed an ambitious policy agenda to do things like raise the minimum wage, put millions of people to work on large scale public investments, provide paid family leave, tuition-free colleges universal healthcare, and so on. And in every turn, no matter what he proposed, the first question on everyone's lips was, "How are you going to pay for it?" And then, "What does the [Congressional Budget Office] say? Does it get a good score or does it get a bad score, in which case the deficit might increase and it might add to the national debt?"

Everything in Washington revolves around this impact on debt and this question of paying for it. And my opinion -- and I was the chief economist on the Senate Budget Committee -- is that this is absolutely the least important question that anyone could possibly ask.

It has nothing to do with people or the ways in which these policies and programs really matter. No one asks, "How many kids would be lifted out of poverty if we did program X, Y, or Z? How would the programs reduce wealth inequality? Racial wealth inequality? How would the poor, the sick, the elderly be impacted? Would they be safer and more secure if we pursued these policies? What about the planet?"

We need to hold policymakers accountable and push them to focus on the things that matter. They need to know that we will not stand for excuses that have to do with the budget deficit and the impact on the national debt.

My position is that the federal government of the United States of America can move forward with a poor people's agenda because it can always create the money to fund that agenda, and we can't settle for any pushback that says anything else. The federal government is nothing like a household. It doesn't have to play by the same set of rules, and in fact it's damaging when it tries to play by the same rules of a household or a private business when it comes to its own budget.

I want to suggest that in this effort, this moment, never let anyone draw you into a toxic conversation about budget deficits or public debt. These are barriers that are erected to protect the government from the demands of its citizenry. We have public money that can be used to serve the public purpose. Settling for less is not an option. It will never get us full transformative policies.

Auditing the US

I've been involved in trying to promote a federal job guarantee program. We recently looked at this, and we costed it out. If we were to do something big and bold like a living wage, and include benefits and healthcare, make it a permanent feature of the US economy, we estimate that the cost of a program like this is something like $500 to 600 billion a year.

How are you going to get there if you have to answer to paying for the deficit? It will never cost out under any circumstance with the CBO or any other wonky DC establishment. You must push beyond settling for programs that meet their scoring targets. We can't be worried about where the money will come from or how the program will affect the budget.

As probably the most famous economist of all time, John Maynard Keynes, said nearly 100 years ago: "Look after the unemployment and the budget will look after itself." If we are going to have programs envisioned as part of a moral agenda, then they are going to be big, they are going to be expensive, and they are going to impact the deficit. And you know what? That's okay.

So what I want to suggest is that there is an army of economists ready to stand by you, to use the weight of their credentials and training to defend a moral agenda against the inevitable cries that America is too poor to do anything else.

Categories: Latest News

When Intelligence Agencies Make Backroom Deals With the Media, Democracy Loses

Truthout - Mon, 01/08/2018 - 21:00

Members of the dominant media may portray themselves as defenders of the public interest who relentlessly scrutinize those in power, but there are long-standing backchannels between Capitol Hill reporters and shadowy government agencies. Recent revelations from former New York Times reporter James Risen show that secret deals between spies and publishers that shape the media narrative did not end after the 1960s and '70s.

Longstanding backchannels remain unseen. (Photo: DNY59 / E+ / Getty Images)

Steven Spielberg's new movie The Post presents the story behind Katharine Graham's decision to publish the Pentagon Papers in The Washington Post. As the closing credits roll, one is left with the impression of a publisher who adopts an adversarial stance towards powerful government officials. Despite the director's $50 million budget (or, perhaps, because of it), there are crucial details that are swept under the rug -- details that might lead viewers towards a more accurate understanding of the relationship between the mainstream corporate press and the government.

The public record offers some clarity. Three years after Graham decided to go public with the Pentagon Papers, Seymour Hersh revealed a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) program called Operation CHAOS in The New York Times. Hersh cited inside sources who described "a massive, illegal domestic intelligence operation during the Nixon Administration against the antiwar movement and other dissident groups in the United States." Hersh's article on CIA domestic operations is pertinent because, along with earlier revelations by Christopher Pyle, it prompted the formation of the Church Commission.

The Church Commission was chartered to examine abuses by United States intelligence agencies. In 1976, the commission's final report (page 455 of Book I, entitled "Foreign and Military Intelligence") found that the CIA maintained "a network of several hundred foreign individuals around the world who provide intelligence for the CIA and at times attempt to influence opinion through the use of covert propaganda" and that "approximately 50 of the [Agency] assets are individual American journalists or employees of US media organizations."  

These initial findings were further corroborated by Carl Bernstein, who unearthed a web of "more than 400 American journalists who in the past twenty‑five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency." Note that Bernstein was one of the Washington Post journalists who helped to expose the Watergate scandal. He published his piece on the CIA and the media with Rolling Stone magazine in 1977.

So who exactly were these media collaborators? A declassified memo from 1965 offers a clue. In particular, the memo lists a series of journalists and publishers that periodically spoke with Ray Cline, then deputy director of the Directorate of Intelligence for the CIA. These were individuals who were picked in an effort to allow Cline to serve as a "source of information" in order to "benefit the general rapport of the agency" with the press. Guess whose name is included on this list? Katharine Graham, publisher of The Washington Post and Newsweek. 

According to former New York Times journalist James Risen, ongoing stealthy arrangements serve a purpose. Risen indicates that officials are "regularly engaged in quiet negotiations with the press to try to stop the publication of sensitive national security stories." To do so, they need to offer incentives. Hence, in exchange for being granted veto power, these same officials soft-pedal leak investigations so that insiders can provide juicy bits of classified data to the press on a steady basis. The big-name publishers are able to create the kind of headlines that attract eyeballs, and shadowy government agencies acquire leverage to quash certain stories. Risen was on the receiving end of this dynamic for years. Publishers boost sales, spies frame the narrative to suit their purposes and honest journalists suffer. Insiders win, democracy loses.   

But it gets worse. It's not just certain news outlets that have been compromised. Infiltration and subversion are techniques that have been refined to high art over the decades by the spy masters in Langley. Back in 1967, Ramparts magazine revealed that the CIA had been covertly funding the National Student Association. As Hugh Wilford's extensive research demonstrates, this was just the tip of the iceberg. The CIA's "mighty Wurlitzer," as the agency's covert propaganda apparatus was referred to internally, covered a broad range of front groups that spanned society.

To think that all of this simply vanished in the late 1960s is a dubious proposition. Consider that when President Reagan signed Executive Order 12333 in 1981, the definition of special activities (i.e. clandestine operations) changed.  The original definition of special activities was (emphasis added): "Activities conducted abroad in support of national foreign policy objectives which are planned and executed so that the role of the United States Government is not apparent or acknowledged publicly." 

In 1981 the definition of special activities became: "Activities conducted in support of national foreign policy objectives abroad which are planned and executed so that the role of the United States Government is not apparent or acknowledged publicly." 

In other words, as things stand now, domestic operations are fair game. In light of this, perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that while the large agenda-setting members of the corporate media portray themselves as defenders of the public interest who relentlessly scrutinize those in power, there are long-standing backchannels that remain unseen. Far from being opponents of the political class, media figures are often their close partners.     

  Support from readers provides Truthout with vital funds to keep investigating what mainstream media won't cover. Fund more stories like this by donating now!
Categories: Latest News

Israel's New Blacklist of BDS-Supporting Groups Sparks Outrage

Truthout - Mon, 01/08/2018 - 07:01

An activist displays a sign during a rally for Palestinian rights on March 26, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian)

Advocacy groups vowed to continue their fight for peace and justice on Sunday after the Israeli government announced they are banned from the country for their support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement known as BDS.

"By banning the leaders of peace organizations like CODEPINK, Israel is isolating itself even further as an apartheid state," said Ariel Gold, national director of CODEPINK. "Their BDS blacklist is contrary to democratic principles and Jewish values. As an American Jew, I am proud of my work to challenge Israel's policies of repression. I will not give up the fight."

The list of 20 groups was published Sunday by the Strategic Affairs Minister, and follows Israel's passage of a law in March 2017 banning BDS supporters from entering the country.

"We have shifted from defense to offense," said Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan. "The boycott organizations need to know that the State of Israel will act against them and not allow [them] to enter its territory to harm its citizens."

In addition to CODEPINK, the US-based groups on the list include the Nobel Peace Prize-winning American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), American Muslims for Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), National Students for Justice in Palestine, and US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. Among the European organizations on the list are War on Want and Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

According to JVP executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson, the development "is disconcerting but not surprising, given the further erosion of democratic norms as well as rising anxiety about the power of BDS as a tool to demand freedom. JVP members are now joining Palestinians as well as Muslims from around the world, people of color, and other activists who are often barred from entry."

By Barring Me And My Fellow Activists, Israel Is Further Isolating Itself https://t.co/X1seSeitVU via @jdforward @codepink @ArielElyseGold

— JewishVoiceForPeace (@jvplive) January 7, 2018

For CODEPINK member Nancy Kricorian, being included on the list is actually a source of pride.

"As I read through the names of groups now banned from entering Israel because of their advocacy for Palestinian rights," she said in a statement, "I thought that this list was rather a roll of honor. Israel's desperate attempt to counter the BDS movement with this latest blacklist, along with the millions of dollars they are spending on internet trolling and propaganda campaigns, will not stop our principled support of equality and justice for the Palestinian people."

Exposing the wrongdoing of those in power has never been more important. Support Truthout's independent, investigative journalism by making a donation!
Categories: Latest News

Big Tax Game Hunting: Employer-Side Payroll Taxes

Truthout - Mon, 01/08/2018 - 06:59

The GOP decided to cover the costs of their tax cut bill in part by whacking Democratic states like California and New York, which have relatively high state and local taxes. The tax increase was explicitly designed to make it more expensive for progressive states to provide services like health care and education to their people. These states absolutely should look to fight back by finding ways to avoid the tax increase.

(Photo: Googibga / Getty Images)

With everything going on in the White House, the media must maintain relentless pressure on the Trump administration. Can you support Truthout in this endeavor? Click here to donate.

The Republican Congress gave themselves and their contributors a huge Christmas present with the tax cut bill they pushed through at the end of last year. They decided to cover the costs in part by whacking Democratic states like California and New York, which have relatively high state and local taxes.

The big hit was limiting the amount of state and local taxes that could be deducted. As a result, many upper-middle-class families and rich families will be paying thousands more in taxes each year.

While most of these people probably can and should pay more in taxes, this tax increase was explicitly designed to make it more expensive for progressive states to provide services like health care and education to their people. In this context, it's time to take the gloves off. These states absolutely should look to fight back by finding ways to avoid the tax increase.

Fortunately, there is a way. States can look to replace much of their income tax with an employer-side payroll tax. This will effectively preserve the tax deductibility of the income tax and even extend this benefit to people who don't itemize.

To take a simple case, suppose that a state has a 5 percent flat income tax. A person earning $200,000 a year would pay $10,000 a year in taxes. Under the former system, this $10,000 was fully deductible from federal income taxes, under the theory that this was money they never saw: The state taxed it away.

Now, much of this could be taxable, since the new law limits total deductions for state and local taxes, including property taxes, to $10,000. Depending on how much this person paid in property taxes and other deductible taxes, they may be able to deduct little or none of the money they pay in state income taxes.

Suppose we replace the 5 percent income tax with a 5 percent employer-side payroll tax. The person's employer will now have to pay 5 percent of the worker's salary or $10,000 to the state.

Economists usually think that employer-side payroll taxes are taken pretty much dollar-for-dollar out of workers' wages. The idea is that if an employer is willing to pay $200,000 to hire a worker, they don't especially care whether they are paying that money to the worker or to the government. If the company now has to pay the government a $10,000 payroll tax, they will look to lower the worker's pay to $190,000.

It is worth noting that this adjustment may not apply everywhere and typically is not going to happen immediately. In other words, we wouldn't expect that employers will suddenly cut their workers' pay by 5 percent. Rather, workers might see smaller pay increases than would otherwise be the case so that after two or three years their pay ends up being 5 percent less than otherwise would have been the case. (Actually, since employers just got a big tax cut, it would be nice to see them eat some of this payroll tax and let workers enjoy some real wage gains.)

Anyhow, this matters for federal taxes, because after this adjustment takes place this worker would only have $190,000 of taxable income, rather than $200,000. This worker is left with the same amount of money after paying their state taxes as when they had the income tax, but their federal tax burden will be substantially less. If this person is in the 25 percent tax bracket, this little trick saves them $2,500 a year on their taxes.

This benefit even goes to people who don't itemize. Imagine a more middle-income person who earned $60,000 a year before the employer-side payroll tax was put into effect. They would see their taxable income fall to $57,000. If they are in the 22 percent tax bracket, they will save $660 a year from this switch.

There will be some complications from this policy. Many people work in one state and live in another. We would want to make sure that this means neither that they escape state taxation nor get taxed by two states. This will require some work, but it is a problem that already exists under the current system.

There also is a problem of preserving progressivity. For many reasons it is best to keep a flat payroll tax, but we would want lower-income people to pay a smaller share of their income and higher-income people to pay a larger share. This can be addressed with an Earned Income Tax Credit, which many states already have, and maintaining an income tax for high earners, as well as for income from stocks and other property.

There are undoubtedly other details that have to be worked through and the end product will surely not be perfect. But an employer-side payroll tax is a great way for progressive states to fight back against this Republican tax scam.

Categories: Latest News

Trump's Nuclear Threat Warrants Removal From Office

Truthout - Sun, 01/07/2018 - 21:00

A man watches a television news broadcast showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's New Year's speech, at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, on January 1, 2018. (Photo: JUNG YEON-JE / AFP / Getty Images)

Donald Trump's veiled threat to use nuclear weapons against North Korea is illegal as well as horrifying; it warrants his removal from office, under the 25th Amendment or by impeachment. Impeachment is a political, not a legal, process, but we cannot expect the Republican-controlled Congress to take action to remove Trump.

A man watches a television news broadcast showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's New Year's speech, at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, on January 1, 2018. (Photo: JUNG YEON-JE / AFP / Getty Images)

Exposing the wrongdoing of those in power has never been more important. Support Truthout's independent, investigative journalism by making a donation!

Donald Trump's veiled threat to use nuclear weapons against North Korea is not only horrifying, but also illegal. It warrants his removal from office.

On New Year's Day, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un asserted, "The entire area of the US mainland is within our nuclear strike range. The United States can never start a war against me and our country," adding, "The United States should know that the button for nuclear weapons is on my table." Kim clarified that he would not use those weapons except in response to aggression.

Not to be outdone by Kim, Trump tweeted in response, "I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!"

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

The president's cavalier threat to start a nuclear holocaust cannot be dismissed as the rant of an immature bully. Trump controls a powerful nuclear arsenal. In fact, a few days after Trump's nuclear button tweet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared it would sponsor a public meeting to cover "planning and preparation efforts" in the event of a nuclear attack.

Trump's Tweet Is Illegal

Trump's tweet violates several laws. Threatening to use nuclear weapons runs afoul of the United Nations Charter, which forbids the use of or threat to use military force except in self-defense or when approved by the Security Council. North Korea has not mounted an armed attack on the United States nor is such an attack imminent. And the UN Security Council has not given the US its blessing to attack North Korea. Trump's tweet also constitutes a threat to commit genocide and a crime against humanity.

The ominous tweet follows Trump's promise last summer that North Korean threats would be "met with fire and fury," a phrase that found its way into the title of Michael Wolff's explosive new book. Trump also told the UN General Assembly he would "totally destroy North Korea."

"Nuclear war is not a game," said Derek Johnson, executive director of Global Zero, the international movement for the elimination of nuclear weapons, in a statement. "We are flirting with unacceptably high risks that carry catastrophic consequences for the country and the world. No one can afford to not take Trump's threats seriously -- least of all the North Koreans, who could be provoked into striking first in order to preempt what they perceive as an imminent attack."

Lawmakers are echoing the concerns of advocates like Johnson.

"A nuclear conflict on the Korean peninsula would be a catastrophe, leading to the deaths of potentially millions of people, including American service members and families stationed there," Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts) stated.

Indeed, "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," The Intercept reported.

Jeffrey Lewis, an expert in nuclear policy at Middlebury Institute of International Studies, told HuffPost that after a nuclear strike, "there would be survivors for days trying to make their way out of the rubble and back home, dying of radiation poisoning."

Markey said that Trump's tweet "borders on presidential malpractice," adding, "We cannot let this war of words result in an actual war."

Eliot A. Cohen, assistant to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during the George W. Bush administration, was alarmed by Trump's nuclear button tweet.

A president can be constitutionally removed from office without actually committing a crime.

Cohen tweeted, "Spoken like a petulant ten year old," adding, "But one with nuclear weapons -- for real -- at his disposal. How responsible people around him, or supporting him, can dismiss this or laugh it off is beyond me."

Some of those surrounding Trump are indeed laughing: Consider the disturbing comments of Michael Flynn Jr., son of Trump's former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, who recently pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Flynn Jr. thought Trump's tweet was "just awesome." Flynn Jr. tweeted, "This is why Trump was elected. A no bulls#t leader not afraid to stand up for his country."

Removal Under the 25th Amendment

A president can be constitutionally removed from office -- either by using the 25th Amendment or impeachment -- even without actually committing a crime.

The 25th Amendment provides for the vice president to assume the presidency when he and a majority of the president's cabinet declare in writing that the president "is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office." If the president challenges that determination, two-thirds of both houses of Congress are required to affirm that the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.

"This tweet alone is grounds for removal from office under the 25th Amendment," tweeted Richard Painter, ethics lawyer for George W. Bush and currently vice chairman of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington DC. "This man should not have nukes."

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told The New York Times in October that Trump was setting us "on the path to World War III." He said, "I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it's a situation of trying to contain him." Corker noted that those apprehensions "were shared by nearly every Senate Republican." 

In his new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, Wolff writes that his interviewees "all say [Trump] is like a child." One source said it was frequently impossible for staff to determine what Trump wished to do. It was like "trying to figure out what a child wants."

Wolff wrote in the Hollywood Reporter, "Hoping for the best, with their personal futures as well as the country's future depending on it, my indelible impression of talking to them and observing them through much of the first year of his presidency, is that they all -- 100 percent -- came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job."

Impeachment of the President

The Constitution provides for impeachment when the president commits "high crimes and misdemeanors." This does not require actual law breaking. A president can be impeached for abuse of power or obstruction of justice, which were two of the articles of impeachment charged against Richard Nixon. 

Impeachment is a political, not a legal, process. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 65, offenses are impeachable if they "proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust." Hamilton added, "They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself."

As I described in my article, "Time to Impeach Trump," his illegal threats against North Korea and his efforts to obstruct justice regarding the Russia investigation constitute grounds for impeachment.

But we cannot expect the Republican-controlled Congress will either impeach Trump or affirm a decision to remove him under the 25th Amendment. They are thrilled that Trump spearheaded their tax cuts for the rich and is appointing radical right-wing judges who will eliminate reproductive and LGBTQ rights.

"By all accounts," Eric Levitz wrote in New York Magazine, "most GOP Congress members recognize that Donald Trump" maintains "only peripheral contact with reality." But, Levitz added, "They have, nonetheless, decided to let him retain unilateral command of the largest nuclear arsenal on planet Earth because it would be politically and personally inconvenient to remove his finger from the button."

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) introduced a bill that would establish a commission to evaluate Trump's fitness for office. It has 57 co-sponsors.

Tell your Congress member to sign on as a co-sponsor to H.R. 1987, the Oversight Commission on Presidential Capacity Act.

Categories: Latest News

Watch Oprah Winfrey's Powerful Lifetime Achievement Award Acceptance Speech at Golden Globes

Truthout - Sun, 01/07/2018 - 21:00

Hollywood actors and actresses celebrated the #MeToo movement and demanded gender and racial justice at Sunday night's Golden Globe Awards. Many attendees answered the call to wear black and wore pins that read "Time's Up!" On Sunday, Oprah Winfrey made history by becoming the first African-American woman to win the Golden Globe lifetime achievement award. The first African American to receive the honor was Sidney Poitier in 1982. During the ceremony, Golden Globes host Seth Meyers joked with Oprah, suggesting she should run for president. The joke, and Oprah's powerful acceptance speech, fueled a wave of speculation and enthusiasm about a possible 2020 bid by the actress. In response, Oprah's longtime partner Stedman Graham said, "It's up to the people. She would absolutely do it." We air Oprah's acceptance speech, as well as speeches by Golden Globes host Seth Meyers and award winners Nicole Kidman and Laura Dern of "Big Little Lies," Elisabeth Moss of "The Handmaid's Tale," Frances McDormand of "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," and Sterling K. Brown of "This Is Us."

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: "Time's Up!" That was the message at last night's Golden Globes ceremony in Hollywood, where actors embraced the #MeToo movement and called for gender and racial justice in the post-Harvey Weinstein era. The red carpet went dark, as many actors answered the call to wear black and wore pins that read "Time's Up!" Golden Globes host Seth Meyers kicked off the evening with a speech focused on sexual harassment in Hollywood, taking aim at disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and actor Kevin Spacey.

SETH MEYERS: It's 2018. Marijuana is finally allowed, and sexual harassment finally isn't. … Harvey Weinstein isn't here tonight, because, well, I've heard rumors that he's crazy and difficult to work with. But don't worry, he'll be back in 20 years, when he becomes the first person ever booed during the "in memoriam." … Well, despite everything that happened this year, the show goes on. For example, I was happy to hear they're going to do another season of "House of Cards." Is Christopher Plummer available for that, too? I hope he can do a Southern accent, because Kevin Spacey sure couldn't.

AMY GOODMAN: Eight actresses brought social justice activists with them to the Golden Globes this year: Michelle Williams brought #MeToo movement founder Tarana Burke; Meryl Streep walked the red carpet with Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance; Shailene Woodley was accompanied by Suquamish Tribe member Calina Lawrence; Emma Stone brought tennis champ and LGBT advocate Billie Jean King -- Stone portrayed the athlete in the film Battle of the Sexes; Susan Sarandon brought media justice activist Rosa Clemente; and Amy Poehler's guest was Saru Jayaraman, president of Restaurant Opportunities Center. In a few minutes, Clemente and Jayaraman will join us from Los Angeles, after their long night at the Golden Globes. This is Golden Globes host, comedian Seth Meyers.

SETH MEYERS: I want to point out that sitting next to Amy is Saru Jayaraman. Give it up for Saru, everyone. She is one of many activists from outside of this industry who have been invited here tonight in support of the #TimesUp initiative. It's great, yeah. Give it up. It's great that this movement understands that what tarnished our world this year tarnishes so many others, and it's reaching out to help them, too.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, the first Golden Globe of the night went to actress Nicole Kidman for her performance in HBO's the Big Little Lies. Kidman won for best actress in a limited series for her performance.

NICOLE KIDMAN: My mama was an advocate for the women's movement when I was growing up. And because of her, I'm standing here. My achievements are her achievements. Antonia Kidman, my sister, and I say say, "Thank you, Janelle Kidman, for what you fought for so hard." And this character that I played represents something that is the center of our conversation right now: abuse. I do believe, and I hope, we can elicit change through the stories we tell and the way we tell them. Let's keep the conversation alive. Let's do it.

AMY GOODMAN: Also from Big Little Lies, Laura Dern took home the award for best supporting actress in a limited series or TV movie.

LAURA DERN: The most outrageous, complicated woman and a terrified mother, terrified because her little girl was being abused and bullied, and she was too afraid to speak up. Many of us were taught not to tattle. It was a culture of silencing, and that was normalized. I urge all of us to not only support survivors and bystanders who are brave enough to tell their truth, but to promote restorative justice. May we also please protect and employ them. May we teach our children that speaking out, without the fear of retribution, is our culture's new North Star.

AMY GOODMAN: Elisabeth Moss won the award for best actress in a television series -- drama, for her role in "The Handmaid's Tale." The series is based on the novel by author Margaret Atwood, which was originally published in 1985. Moss used her acceptance speech to honor Atwood.

ELISABETH MOSS: This is from Margaret Atwood: "We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories." Margaret Atwood, this is for you and all of the women who came before you and after you who were brave enough to speak out against intolerance and injustice and to fight for equality and freedom in this world. We no longer live in the blank white spaces at the edge of print. We no longer live in the gaps between the stories. We are the story in print, and we are writing the story ourselves. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: A movie that connects to the #MeToo moment emerged as the night's top film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, about a mother avenging the rape and murder of her daughter, won best picture -- drama, best supporting actor, best screenplay and best actress -- drama, for Frances McDormand, who referred to being part of a "tectonic shift" in Hollywood.

FRANCES McDORMAND: I keep my politics private. But it was really great to be in this room tonight and to be a part of the tectonic shift in our industry's power structure. Trust me, the women in this room tonight are not here for the food. We are here for the work. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: In another historic first for the night, actor Sterling K. Brown became the first African-American man to win a Golden Globe for best actor in a TV series -- drama, for his role in "This Is Us."

STERLING K. BROWN: Throughout the majority of my career, I have benefited from colorblind casting, which means, you know, like, "Hey, let's throw a brother in this role." Right? It's always really cool. But, Dan Fogelman, you wrote a role for a black man, like that could only be played by a black man. And so, what I appreciate so much about this thing is that I'm being seen for who I am and being appreciated for who I am. And it makes it that much more difficult to dismiss me or dismiss anybody who looks like me.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Sterling K. Brown. Well, among all of the major achievements and speeches at Sunday night's Golden Globes, the most talked about was Oprah Winfrey, who became the first African-American woman to win the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement. The first African-American to receive the honor was Sidney Poitier in 1982. This is Oprah Winfrey.

OPRAH WINFREY: In 1964, I was a little girl, sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother's house in Milwaukee, watching Anne Bancroft present the Oscar for best actor at the 36th Academy Awards. She opened the envelope and said five words that literally made history: "The winner is Sidney Poitier." Up to the stage came the most elegant man I had ever seen. I remember his tie was white, and, of course, his skin was black. And I had never seen a black man being celebrated like that. And I have tried many, many, many times to explain what a moment like that means to a little girl, a kid watching from the cheap seats, as my mom came through the door bone tired from cleaning other people's houses. But all I can do is quote and say that the explanation in Sidney's performance in Lilies of the Field: "Amen, amen. Amen, amen." In 1982, Sidney received the Cecil B. DeMille Award right here at the Golden Globes. And it is not lost on me that, at this moment, there are some little girls watching as I become the first black woman to be given this same award.

It is an honor. It is an honor, and it is a privilege, to share the evening with all of them and also with the incredible men and women who have inspired me, who have challenged me, who have sustained me and made my journey to the stage possible: Dennis Swanson, who took a chance on me for A.M. Chicago; Quincy Jones, who saw me on that show and said to Steven Spielberg, "Yes, she is Sofia in The Color Purple"; Gayle, who has been the definition of what a friend is; and Stedman, who's been my rock -- just a few to name.

I'd like to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, because we all know that the press is under siege these days. But we also know that it is the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice, to -- to tyrants and victims and secrets and lies. I want to say that I value the press more than ever before, as we try to navigate these complicated times.

Which brings me to this. What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I'm especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories. Each of us in this room are celebrated because of the stories that we tell. And this year, we became the story. But it's not just a story affecting the entertainment industry. It's one that transcends any culture, geography, race, religion, politics or workplace. So I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault, because they, like my mother, had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue. They're the women whose names we'll never know. They are domestic workers and farmworkers. They are working in factories, and they work in restaurants. And they're in academia, in engineering, in medicine, in science. They're part of the world of tech and politics and business. They're our athletes in the Olympics, and they're our soldiers in the military.

And there's someone else: Recy Taylor -- a name I know and I think you should know, too. In 1944, Recy Taylor was a young wife and a mother. She was just walking home from a church service she had attended in Abbeville, Alabama, when she was abducted by six armed white men, raped and left blindfolded by the side of the road, coming home from church. They threatened to kill her if she ever told anyone. But her story was reported to the NAACP, where a young worker by the name of Rosa Parks became the lead investigator on her case. And together, they sought justice. But justice wasn't an option in the era of Jim Crow. The men who tried to destroy her were never persecuted. Recy Taylor died 10 days ago, just shy of her 98th birthday. She lived, as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. For too long, women have not been heard or believed, if they dared to speak their truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up! Their time is up. And I just hope -- I just hope that Recy Taylor died knowing that her truth, like the truth of so many other women who were tormented in those years, and even now tormented, goes marching on. It was somewhere in Rosa Parks's heart almost 11 years later, when she made the decision to stay seated on that bus in Montgomery, and it's here with every woman who chooses to say "Me, too," and every man -- every man who chooses to listen.

In my career, what I've always tried my best to do, whether on television or through film, is to say something about how men and women really behave, to say how we experience shame, how we love and how we rage, how we fail, how we retreat, persevere, and how we overcome. And I've interviewed and portrayed people who have withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you, but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights. So I want all the girls watching here now to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say "Me, too" again. Thank you. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Oprah Winfrey, accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement Sunday night at the Golden Globes. Just after her speech, Natalie Portman took the stage to announce what she noted were the all-male nominees for best director. During the ceremony, Golden Globes host Seth Meyers joked with Oprah, suggesting she should run for president. The joke, and Oprah's powerful acceptance speech, fueled a wave of speculation and enthusiasm about a possible 2020 bid by the actress. In response, Oprah's longtime partner Stedman Graham said, quote, "It's up to the people. She would absolutely do it," he said.

When we come back, we'll speak with two of the social justice activists who accompanied actresses on the red carpet and to the Sunday Golden Globes. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "Remember Me" by Miguel and Natalia Lafourcade. It's the theme song to the movie Coco, which just won a Golden Globe for best animated motion picture.

Categories: Latest News

Time's Up: Activists Join Actresses on Golden Globes Red Carpet to Call for Gender and Racial Justice

Truthout - Sun, 01/07/2018 - 21:00

At Sunday night's Golden Globes ceremony in Hollywood, actors embraced the #MeToo movement and called for gender and racial justice in the post-Harvey Weinstein era. Eight actresses brought social justice activists with them: Michelle Williams brought #MeToo movement founder Tarana Burke; Meryl Streep walked the red carpet with Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance; Shailene Woodley was accompanied by Suquamish Tribe member Calina Lawrence; Emma Stone brought tennis champ and LGBT advocate Billie Jean King; Susan Sarandon brought Puerto Rican media justice and former Green Party vice-presidential nominee Rosa Clemente; and Amy Poehler's guest was Saru Jayaraman, president of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. For more, we speak with Rosa Clemente and Saru Jayaraman.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman.

"Time's Up!" That was the message at last night's Golden Globes ceremony in Hollywood, where the actors embraced the #MeToo movement and called for gender and racial justice in the post-Harvey Weinstein era. Eight actresses brought social justice activists with them: Michelle Williams brought #MeToo movement founder Tarana Burke; Meryl Streep walked the red carpet with Ai-jen Poo, the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance; Shailene Woodley was accompanied by the Suquamish Tribe member Calina Lawrence; Emma Stone brought the tennis champ and LGBT advocate Billie Jean King, who Stone portrayed in the film Battle of the Sexes; Susan Sarandon brought the Puerto Rican media justice activist, former Green Party vice-presidential nominee Rosa Clemente; and Amy Poehler's guest was Saru Jayaraman, president of the Restaurant Opportunities Center.

We're joined right now by Rosa Clemente and Saru Jayaraman, after a very long night, I am sure. Rosa Clemente's latest project is -- she'll talk all about it -- "PRontheMap.com." And Saru Jayaraman is the director of the Food Labor Research Center at University of California, Berkeley. Her latest book is titled Forked: A New Standard for American Dining, author of Behind the Kitchen Door.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Saru, let's begin with you. Talk about your experience last night at the Golden Globes, certainly a breakthrough night in so many ways.

SARU JAYARAMAN: It was incredible. It was electric. And it was especially moving for me to be with Amy Poehler, because she actually worked in the restaurant industry, in which I organize, for many years. She experienced a lot of the things that the women in our industry experience, and was able to really let the media know that there are very clear policy solutions to getting rid of harassment in our industry, which really impacts -- our industry actually really impacts even the women in Hollywood, because one in two Americans, like Amy and many celebrities, worked in our industry in their youth.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about what it was like in the room, the whole approach, the theme, #MeToo, so many people wearing that. Talk about, you know, something you may have watched on TV before, or maybe you never did, and, as well, we just heard Oprah Winfrey's speech describing her own breakthrough experience.

SARU JAYARAMAN: I saw so many people moved. And it wasn't just in the room, outside of the room. I can't tell you the number of people in Hollywood and outside of Hollywood who said that this was the most important moment of their careers, that so many people in Hollywood told me that the Golden Globes never meant as much, or anything at all, until last night. And I think, for women outside of Hollywood, the women in the restaurant industry, domestic workers, farmworkers, women in Puerto Rico, women all over, last night was also incredible because it was women standing together, across so many different sectors and places and, you know, situations, to say, "Enough is enough, and our power is collective, and we're going to, as Oprah said, see another horizon."

I mean, in our case, last night actually wasn't just about Hollywood. It wasn't just about women wearing black. It wasn't just a show of solidarity. In fact, in our case, last night -- because of last night and everything last night represents, we're seeing real policy change in our industry. We've been fighting for many years for One Fair Wage, which is the elimination of the lower wage for tipped workers, which really is the source of harassment in our industry, because you've got a mostly female workforce living on tips, having to tolerate all kinds of inappropriate customer behavior. And you can cut that in half. Our research shows you can cut that in half by getting rid of that lower wage for tipped workers, because women actually then get a wage and don't tolerate, you know, harassment for tips. And actually, as a result of the movement and the moment and last night, Governor Cuomo in New York has suggested that he will move forward to eliminate lower wages for tipped workers in New York. Now, we have to make that happen, but wow! What an extraordinary thing that women coming together, it's not just about wearing black, it's not just about an awards show, but it could actually result in policy change for millions of the lowest-wage women in the United States. And that is historic. That's historic.

AMY GOODMAN: Rosa Clemente, talk about how you got involved with the #TimesUp movement, what your experience was last night, going to the Golden Globes with Susan Sarandon.

ROSA CLEMENTE: Well, first, we have to say that if it wasn't for Mónica Ramírez from the Farmworkers Alliance, and the Farmworkers Alliance writing a letter to Hollywood women, letting Hollywood women know you're just not actresses, you're also workers, and there's this entertainment industry where you're exploited, as well, and you're subject to sexual violence, none of us would have been there, because Mónica and them wrote that letter and then reached out to Tarana Burke of #MeToo, and then Tarana Burke reached out to the rest of us, and that's how we got there.

I think it's critically important also to uplift actresses of color that were not nominated, because you don't get into the Golden Globes unless you're nominated, like America Ferrera and Tracee Ellis Ross and Ava DuVernay and so many women of color who are actresses, who also suffer from violence and racial injustice in that industry, who wanted to also make sure we were there. You know, so, of course, because Susan Sarandon has been one of the most left, radical actresses or advocates in that peer group, me and Susan know each other, especially through our mutual work and political leanings in the Green Party.

You know, so, obviously, as a Puerto Rican, it was an interesting moment, because I knew most of my people in Puerto Rico could not see me, because they don't have power. And it was also a good moment, because --

AMY GOODMAN: In a lot of senses of the world -- in a lot of senses of the word, Rosa.

ROSA CLEMENTE: -- the energy was -- it was very overpowering, in this sense, that every person in that room, that we know have access and power to something and resources that can help us take these movements to another level, were very serious. And there were many women who people would assume because of their visibility and their perceived power that have never been affected by violence, and the amount of hugs and gratitude and thank-yous that we got shows that we have a shared empowerment at this moment. And it was fantastic.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what some have described as this elite group, obviously, Hollywood? Even if the pay grade, for example, is different between men and women, still women make much more, obviously, than the women you represent, Saru, in the restaurant industry, than the people who are in crisis right now, Rosa, where you just were, in Puerto Rico. But how Hollywood can set a tone, can change the climate, can really shape mores in America? Rosa, the importance of Hollywood?

ROSA CLEMENTE: Well, look, you know, even at the end of the day, these are people that financially are multimillionaires and part of what, you know, our movement and our people have rightfully deemed the 99 percent. I think this is going to take a lot of conversations about how we talk about capitalism and what that means when everything in the society is monetized. With that said, #TimesUp has raised $16 million, and all that money will go to those, particularly mostly women, who don't have any money to pursue any type of case, any type of reparation and damage that has been done to them, and to have lawyers to represent them.

I also think it's important that people understand this, right? It is Hollywood, but there's levels of inequality in Hollywood. And I really think people need to know these names of actresses that have spoken out about Harvey Weinstein for over 20 years and were some of the most targeted, that, I know from conversations, have felt marginalized from this group, like a Rose McGowan, an Annabella Sciorra, a Mira Sorvino, a Rosanna Arquette. You know, and that's something that these women are going to have to, with our support, more advocate for themselves. But the first group of women, who I just named, who came out around Harvey Weinstein were the ones that have most been affected in this sense. Most of them have not worked in a decade. Most of them have not worked in 15 years, because they were some of the first ones to speak out. And also they were some of the ones that were subjected to rape, not only once, but twice.

Salma Hayak was there. And it was powerful to see her, and it was powerful to talk to her, in the sense that even with all the power and money that she has, it was only through the #MeToo movement and through the work of social and racial justice activists, like all of us, that she felt it was her time to speak up.

So, there's a lot of nuances to it. And at the end of the day, #TimesUp is also going to have to support all of our organizations. They're going to have to support all of our work. But primarily, right now, they have to step up hard and set aside a fund, that would allow the women to not only have like reparations, some type of settlement, where they can live, if they're never going to work in the industry again, but also that these women can have access to mental health services to get them through the crisis that they're in right now.

AMY GOODMAN: I want --

SARU JAYARAMAN: Yeah, I was really pleasantly amazed, actually, how genuine the women in that room, that are part of #TimesUp, actually recognize their privilege, recognize their station in life and their situation and how different it is from other people, and continuously kept saying, you know, "If I have felt very disempowered, you know, afraid to speak up, imagine how restaurant workers and domestic workers and farmworkers and so many other women around the world feel. How could they possibly speak up?" And yet, like you said, I mean, the leverage that this group has, they recognize their privilege, which is why they were so willing to extend it to us, in an incredible moment, to actually leverage that situation and privilege for power for all of us.

It's so funny. I mention that, because of this moment, Governor Cuomo is moving, is talking about eliminating the lower wage for tipped workers, for 400,000 tipped workers in New York. And that's obviously a long time in coming. We've been working on these issues for many years. But Amy Poehler said it well. She said, "We're so happy to help unscrew a lid that you've been unscrewing for decades. We're so happy to stand there with you while we take it off together." That is what this moment represents. Yes, it is women with power, but women with power extending their privilege and their platform to other women, who also have -- as Mónica Ramírez has said, from the farmworkers, "We have power, too. Farmworkers have power. Restaurant workers have power. It's our collective power." It's the power of women who've been working on these issues for decades and decades, now standing together with women who have a platform, to announce #TimesUp, and we can actually make not just -- we can not just dethrone individuals. We can not just come out and name our truths. We can actually create policy and structural change on these issues.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to break and then come back to this discussion with Saru Jayaraman, who's president and co-founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, or ROC United, representing restaurant workers. Rosa Clemente is a well-known Puerto Rican activist, independent journalist, walked the Golden Globes red carpet Sunday night with actress Susan Sarandon. We'll find out more about their work in a moment.

[break]

Categories: Latest News

Can Prisons Be Flipped for Good?

Truthout - Sun, 01/07/2018 - 21:00

Imagine a rural oasis of sustainable agriculture and community. There are aquaponic ponds filled with fish, fields lined with vegetable rows, pastures for farm animals, and hives buzzing with bees. There are dormitories for staff, a community kitchen for culinary classes, and even a climbing wall for energetic kids. Now picture all of this at the site of a former jail in Wagram, North Carolina.

GrowingChange is engaging youth in the process of flipping an old North Carolina prison into a sustainable agriculture hub. (Photo courtesy of GrowingChange)

This story is the eighth piece in "America's Toxic Prisons," an investigative, collaborative series between Truthout and Earth Island Journal. This series dives deeply into the intersection between mass incarceration and environmental justice.

Imagine a rural oasis of sustainable agriculture and community. There are aquaponic ponds filled with fish, fields lined with vegetable rows, pastures for farm animals, and hives buzzing with bees. There are dormitories for staff, a community kitchen for culinary classes, and even a climbing wall for energetic kids. Now picture all of this at the site of a former jail in Wagram, North Carolina -- the fish swimming in tanks in old jail cells, the cows contained by old prison fence lines, and the climbing wall converted from a guard tower. That's the vision put forth by GrowingChange, a nonprofit that's flipping old detention facilities into bastions of local food and social justice.

The concept could hardly be more ambitious, or more necessary. The United States incarcerates more people than any other nation on the planet. Roughly 2.2 million people were behind bars in the country in 2017, most of them from poor communities of color. But in 2016, for the first time since the 1970s, the US saw a small decline in its prison population. And between 2011 and 2016, some 20 states around the country announced plans to close more than 90 prisons and jails.

Though the prison population decline has so far been modest, jail closures beg the question of what should be done with detention facilities that are no longer in use; a question that may become more pressing if prisoner populations continue to drop. There are no straightforward answers, it seems. Former detention centers can be difficult to repurpose. They can also be a hard sell to new investors. 

"Prisons are very punitive and austere environments," says Nicole Porter, director of advocacy with the nonprofit Sentencing Project and author of a report on the repurposing of old prisons. "Particularly in the US, their architecture is campus-like structures with multiple buildings. The idea of repurposing them for a future project is oftentimes challenged by the lack of imagination or the lack of real possibility for what the closed prison can actually be."

Still, some groups are getting creative. In urban areas like New York, advocates have begun transforming old jails into reentry centers to serve the same communities that were once locked behind bars. Others have proposed use of old facilities for everything from movie studios, to homeless shelters, to tourist attractions, not unlike the conversion of Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary into a well-known landmark in the San Francisco Bay.

In rural areas, however, the challenges posed to repurposing can be greater. A remote former jail may not make the best re-entry facility, for example, because it is difficult to reach. That's not to say these facilities are impossible to reuse. In Tennessee, a former maximum security prison is being transformed into a whiskey distillery. In California, entrepreneurs are turning an old prison into a medical marijuana farm. And in North Carolina, Noran Sanford, founder of GrowingChange, is re-imagining prison "brownfields" into so-called "greenfields," while addressing a whole host of other social justice issues at the same time. 

Sanford hasn't always been involved in the business of prison repurposing. A clinical social worker who specializes in working with youth, he returned to his hometown of Laurinburg in North Carolina's Scotland County several years ago to help care for his aging mother. Scotland County, however, posed unique challenges to serving at-risk youth. It has some of the highest unemployment and food insecurity rates in the state, not to mention some of the worst health outcomes for residents. Sanford realized he needed a new approach to working with youth in this rural setting, one that empowered the young people he was trying to reach.

Driving around the region, he began to notice several decommissioned prisons that weren't being put to any use. He found six within a fifty-mile radius of his home. The discovery of these unused facilities sparked the idea for GrowingChange, which was founded in 2011.

The organization's mission is far-reaching. GrowingChange engages at-risk youth with the goal of keeping them out of the juvenile criminal-legal system. In the process, kids receive valuable job training and life skills. Veterans retiring from military service are eligible for leadership roles within the organization. They are also provided onsite housing, and while working for the nonprofit they also work towards college degrees with partner universities. 

GrowingChange harvested its first crop fo pumpkins in October. The nonprofit is in the early stages of transforming an old prison into a sustainable agriculture enterprise. (Photo courtesy of GrowingChange)

Eventually, GrowingChange will roll out a sustainable agriculture and culinary educational program for the surrounding community. A former prison bus will become a roving museum, and volunteers will participate in environmental restoration efforts along with farming. 

As Sanford puts it, "The intersection of economic, social, environmental, and food justice is where we stand, and this is where we have to work, because in rural areas … you have to do a whole lot with a whole little."

GrowingChange's first repurposing project is being rolled out at Scotland Correction Center in Wagram, NC. Contrary to what one might expect, Sanford says that the design of the facility has actually enhanced its use. "Exactly what makes a prison a prison is what helps our model," he says. "Where one might see a perimeter, I see a pasture."

"For us, the sturdiness of the buildings is an asset," he adds. "We look to the building itself to determine what it should be."

The organization involves young people in the planning process as well. "Our youth determined that we should take the lead guard tower and transform it into a repelling wall and adventure slide," Sanford says. "The adults in the room would have missed this opportunity."

When it comes to building community for young people, the organization seems to be excelling. "From day one I felt like I was at home," says Gerald Jacobs, a 15-year-old high school student and GrowingChange member. "I was comfortable around everyone…. They treated me as the person I always wanted to be." 

Of course, the process of transforming an old prison site is a long one. "We are still in a very humble phase of renovation," Sanford says, explaining that the nonprofit held its grand opening at the site in October. So far, they've turned on power, water, and the septic system, and are gearing up for a capital campaign to begin renovations.

Porter finds the repurposing of old prisons for agricultural use promising, "especially given the history of rural areas looking to prisons as economic options as the local agricultural sector got weaker," she says, referring to frequent though often-inaccurate perception that prisons bring local jobs. She adds, "The idea that there is a future opportunity now that prisons have closed down in rural areas for those same communities to look at supporting the agricultural industry … is really exciting."

Unfortunately, converting correctional facilities to farms can also pose challenges. In Peoria, Illinois, the county government considered a proposal to repurpose a decommissioned jail into an agricultural incubator. According to Kathleen Brown, extension specialist with the Community & Economic Development department at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, after careful study, the project was deemed infeasible due to high renovation costs, the remote location of the property, and federal restrictions on use of the land.

Still, Sanford hopes that the GrowingChange project can serve as a model for other rural communities around the country. He plans to develop a toolkit on prison-to-sustainable agricultural conversion that can be used elsewhere, and GrowingChange has set the lofty goal of assisting 25 other communities to repurpose their old prisons and jails by 2025. 

Grassroots, not-for-profit news is rare -- and Truthout's very existence depends on donations from readers. Will you help us publish more stories like this one? Make a one-time or monthly donation by clicking here.
Categories: Latest News

What Jeff Sessions' Latest Attack Means for the Future of Legal Marijuana

Truthout - Sun, 01/07/2018 - 21:00

Lawmakers say Jeff Sessions' decision to rescind an Obama-era guidance instructing federal prosecutors to take a hands-off approach to cannabis in states where it's legal will give them the momentum they need to pass legislation tying the Justice Department's hands. So why did Sessions do it? As we have learned from the war on drugs, marijuana prohibition gives law enforcement power over millions of people.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions looks on during a press conference after the Strategic Dialogue on Disrupting Transnational Criminal Organizations with Mexican officials at the State Department in Washington, DC, on December 14, 2017. (Photo: NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP / Getty Images)

The timing seemed ironic, if not intentional, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era policy on Thursday that had generally instructed federal prosecutors to leave legal marijuana businesses operating within the bounds of state law alone. In California, home to a booming cannabis industry that rapidly expanded during the Obama administration, a ballot initiative legalizing recreational cannabis sales had just gone into effect on January 1. Sessions' decision to ditch the policy, which was laid out in a 2013 guidance known as the Cole Memo, cast a cloud of legal uncertainty across the state.   

However, the timing was perfect for a bipartisan group of lawmakers from states with legally regulated weed. Congress faces a January 19 deadline to pass a federal budget, and they say the mounting political backlash generated by Sessions' move is just what they need to ensure the bill is passed along with two amendments that would bar the Justice Department from using federal funds to interfere with medical and recreational marijuana businesses that abide by state law. Sessions told Congress he opposes such provisions in a letter last year.

"Even the more reluctant members [of Congress] will say this is a bad decision and join us in our efforts moving forward," said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California), during a Thursday press call with other lawmakers from states where voters have legalized recreational pot, including Nevada, Colorado and Oregon.

Voters are clearly on these lawmakers' side, and not just in states where recreational weed was legalized by voter referendum. A recent Gallup poll shows marijuana legalization is now supported by 64 percent of voters nationwide -- including 51 percent of Republicans.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer said the move was "perhaps one of the stupidest decisions the attorney general ever made."

Another major poll, this one by Quinnipiac, found support for medical marijuana at 94 percent. Politicians from both parties slammed Sessions' decision to rescind the marijuana guidance accordingly. 

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from California, said on the press call that Sessions' decision to rescind the Cole Memo was a "wakeup call" that would "mobilize people throughout the country" to support legislation protecting legalized states from a federal crackdown. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) said the move was "perhaps one of the stupidest decisions the attorney general ever made."

"One wonders if Trump was consulted -- it is Jeff Sessions after all -- because this would violate his campaign promise not to interfere with state marijuana laws," Blumenauer said in a statement.

Congress could put the issue to rest tomorrow by ending federal prohibition, but don't expect the GOP majority to legalize weed before the midterms. Instead, reformers like Rohrabacher and Blumenauer want to protect state-level legalization from federal interference. Framing marijuana as a "states' rights" issue is easier for Republicans with socially conservative constituents to stomach, and 73 percent of voters oppose enforcement of federal prohibition in legalized states. This means marijuana regulation and decriminalization will likely continue to be decided on a state-by-state basis, at least for now.

Why Did Sessions Do It?

Sessions clearly dislikes marijuana, but systematic federal raids on peaceful neighborhood clinics and dispensaries would enrage voters and create a public relations nightmare for an administration already dealing with plenty of snafus. The Justice Department doesn't have enough resources to dismantle a booming, multi-billion dollar industry anyway. So, what exactly is Sessions trying to do by rescinding the Obama-era policy?

The Cole Memo gave the legal marijuana industry confidence to expand and generate tax revenue for several states, so it's possible that Sessions is retaliating against lawmakers like Lee and Rohrabacher who are working to withhold funding for marijuana enforcement from the Justice Department. The attorney general may also be encouraging cops to make more arrests. Marijuana is widely used and ubiquitous, so its prohibition gives law enforcement power over millions of people.

From day one, Sessions has sought to empower law enforcement after what he saw as years of disparagement under the Obama administration, when the Justice Department entered into consent decrees with major police forces after the country rose up against the extrajudicial killings of Black people. Sessions and Trump have also given new life to the war on drugs by making bogeymen out of Latin American gangs and international drug cartels in their effort to rally nationalist support around crackdowns on immigration and small crimes.

Sessions' own memo nixing the Cole Memo signals to federal prosecutors that their boss has no problem with busts on legal weed businesses, particularly if they reflect his own "enforcement priorities."

Marijuana prohibition gives law enforcement power over millions of people.

Sessions has said he suspects that "dangerous drug traffickers" are using state legalization as cover for black market operations. He wants cops to have all the "tools" they need to go after "large-scale distributors," as White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders put it last week.

The Cole Memo did not remove marijuana sales from the grips of the prison industrial complex; it instructed prosecutors to prevent sales to minors and pursue loosely defined "criminal gangs" capitalizing on legalized markets. Unsurprisingly, the number of youth of color arrested for marijuana in Colorado has risen dramatically since pot was legalized. Cops have long used marijuana as an excuse to profile and arrest young men of color for simply being out in public, so we can easily imagine how Sessions' policy provides a new "tool" for the police.

Under Sessions' policy, federal prosecutors do not need any actual evidence to raid a legal marijuana business suspected to have ties to -- or even information about -- some apparent illegal activity, because marijuana possession alone is illegal under federal law. Investigators could even arrest individual consumers and use the threat of federal drug charges to extract information unrelated to marijuana, such as the whereabouts of undocumented immigrants.

This is a real threat to those who use marijuana or work in and around the industry, particularly members of low-income communities and people of color, who have long been disproportionately targeted for drug crimes. Some federal prosecutors have already pledged not to interfere with legal weed businesses following state laws, but it's unclear how each individual prosecutor will interpret Sessions' policy.

Cops have long used marijuana as an excuse to profile and arrest young men of color for simply being out in public.

There are 93 US attorneys of varying political stripes serving districts across the country, and Sessions used his executive authority to name 17 interim US attorneys a day before rescinding the Cole Memo.

"This change will allow any US attorney who is looking to make a name for themselves to take unilateral action, thus depriving any semblance of certainty for state-lawful consumers or businesses moving forward," said Justin Strekal, the political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, in a statement.

Congress Poised to Act on Marijuana

Sessions has already rolled back restrictions on civil asset forfeiture, the unpopular police practice of seizing personal property and assets from those suspected of crimes, even if they have not been charged. In the past, police departments have used civil asset forfeiture to pad their coffers with extra cash and equipment. Without the Cole Memo, lawmakers fear local police now have a perverse incentive to work with federal prosecutors to raid marijuana businesses, which often keep large amounts of cash on hand because banks refuse to work with them due to legal liabilities.

"We are increasing the chances and incentives for law enforcers to bust into some people's places and take the assets of people who are not doing any harm to anybody else," Rohrabacher told reporters.

Lawmakers from California, Nevada, Colorado, Alaska and beyond will be raising these concerns in the next two weeks leading up to the vote on the budget bill. A budget amendment passed annually since the Obama years has barred the Justice Department from using federal funds to interfere with medical marijuana, and proponents say Sessions' high-profile move has set the stage to pass it again, along with another protecting recreational marijuana that has slipped through the cracks in the past.

Pro-legalization lawmakers say the blowback against Sessions also puts new momentum behind a bill that would bar the Justice Department from interfering with state marijuana regulation for good. Other bills would legalize weed outright, although they've had a harder time attracting Republican co-sponsors. However, Republicans would be wise to make marijuana reform a priority; otherwise, Democrats could use the issue to peel moderate GOP voters away from Republican candidates who refuse to stand up to Sessions in the midterms.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether Sessions' new policy will result in more raids, arrests and unnecessary prison sentences in states that have legalized weed. Sessions can't stop the inevitable, but he can still harm a lot people trying. 

Want to see more coverage of the issues that matter? Make a donation to Truthout to ensure that we can publish more original stories like this one.
Categories: Latest News

Real Estate Greed Caused the Deadly Bronx Fire

Truthout - Sun, 01/07/2018 - 21:00

The deadliest fire in recent New York City history killed four children and eight adults in a Bronx apartment building this month.

Among the dead were Karen Stewart-Francis, her two daughters -- 2-year-old Kiley Francis and 7-year-old Kelly Francis -- and her niece, 19-year-old Shawntay Young. Stewart-Francis' husband, Holt Francis, is surviving on life support.

"I don't know what to do and I don't know how to feel," Stewart-Francis' mother Ambrozia Stewart told the Guardian. "Four at one time, what do I do?"

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio didn't have an answer for Ambrozia Stewart's heartbreaking question. Instead, he rushed to assure reporters that the city and the landlord were not to blame for the fire's deadly toll, declaring that there was "nothing problematic about the building that contributed to this tragedy."

De Blasio was lying. The truth is that New York City and the real estate interests that run it decided long ago that Karen, Kiley, Kelly and Shawntay's lives were worth gambling with -- and that it is perfectly acceptable for working-class Bronx residents to burn alive in their homes if it means more profit for the super-wealthy.

They decided long ago that extra profit was worth 7-month-old Amora and her grandmother Maria Batiz dying in a bathtub surrounded by flames as Amora's mother listened helplessly to their screams in a last phone call.

The immediate cause of the fire was a 3-year-old boy playing with the burners on his family's stove. Mainstream media accounts blamed the boy's mother for not closing the apartment door as she fled with her two children, allowing the fire to spread rapidly up the stairwell to the rest of the building.

By law, however, the apartment building was required to have self-closing, fireproof doors -- because fire safety shouldn't depend on the split-second decisions of panicked parents trying to save their children.

Such a door on the apartment where the fire originated could have prevented the fire from spreading for 90 minutes. Instead, when firefighters arrived three-and-a-half minutes after the first calls to emergency services, they found burned bodies in the five-floor building's lobby as panicked residents rushed to descend an icy fire escape.

What's worse, this violation was far from an isolated incident: In the past year, the city has cited 7,752 code violations of the self-closing door requirement. Because safety codes are poorly enforced, this is likely a dramatic underestimation of the actual number of violations.

***

The apartment building at 2363 Prospect Avenue in the Belmont neighborhood was a century-old structure, constructed of flammable brick and plaster that wasn't fireproofed.

Its age made it exempt from requirements such as sprinkler systems and interior steel construction. The building also had multiple additional outstanding safety violations, including at least one nonfunctional smoke detector.

But a spokesperson for the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) insisted that the building had a "relatively low history of repair violations." Either the HPD, like de Blasio, is downplaying how decrepit the building was, or the average building in New York City is disturbingly unsafe.

New Jersey has legislation requiring all landlords to retrofit stairwells to make them fireproof. According to fire safety expert Glenn Corbett, this law has saved lives because firewalls in stairwells give residents hours to escape from a building safely, as opposed to minutes.

In New York, older buildings are not required to meet this standard, so the Belmont fire spread to every floor in the building rapidly. Not all residents had access to a fire escape, and some of the victims died trying to descend the staircases.

By not requiring landlords to implement basic safety measures like sprinklers and fireproof stairwells, the city is protecting the financial interests of landlords at the risk of tenants' safety. The only reason not to make safety measures mandatory is so that landlords can squeeze maximum profit out of working-class tenants.

Those laws that do exist to protect the 70 percent of New York City residents who rent are poorly enforced.

In 2016, two toddlers died in a fire in Bronx public housing just hours after a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) worker falsely reported that the smoke alarms in their apartment were working.

This incident prompted a review by the city's Department of Investigation (DOI), which found that NYCHA routinely lied about performing required safety checks, falsifying work orders. As Reuters reported:

The department conducted inspections of 240 apartments that had been recently visited by maintenance workers and found more than half had deficiencies in one or more of the six safety conditions, including smoke alarms, that NYCHA workers must check upon each visit. The report also said 104 of the original work orders for those apartments were missing, in violation of NYCHA policy. Nearly one-third of the work orders for the remaining 136 apartments inaccurately showed that smoke or carbon monoxide detectors were working when they were not.

***

This month's fire was the deadliest in New York City since 1990, when 87 people died in a fire at the Happy Land Social Club less than a mile away from the Belmont fire.

Deaths by fire are dramatically lower than their peak in the 1970s, when city officials pushing an agenda of austerity closed fire stations in poor, Black and Brown neighborhoods.

But the Belmont blaze was hardly an aberration.

In fact, just a few hours later, two men died in an apartment fire in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, bringing December's death toll to 24. Two elderly people died the following day in another Bedford-Stuyvesant apartment fire. And earlier this week, 23 people were injured in a seven-alarm blaze in the Bronx.

Fires are especially common in winter, as tenants unable to afford rapidly rising energy prices in cold weather turn to more dangerous methods of staying warm, such as space heaters. Undocumented immigrants are especially at risk because they are ineligible to receive heating assistance benefits.

The fatal fires almost never affect wealthy New Yorkers. Time after time, it is poor and working-class New Yorkers who die in fires. Landlords are literally getting away with murder.

***

Fires are one particularly horrifying symptom of a larger problem in New York: As real estate developers continually remake the city in their interests, the working-class majority finds itself increasingly squeezed to the margins, concentrated in old, run-down and unsafe apartments.

More than half of New York City renters pay more than they can afford in rent, and 44 percent of New Yorkers live at or near the poverty line -- disproportionately women and people of color. Homelessness in the city is at its highest levels since the Great Depression, with almost 130,000 people sleeping in shelters in 2017 and thousands more living on the streets.

De Blasio has made affordable housing a central part of his administration's identity since taking office in 2014.

In his State of the City address last February, the mayor said, "This affordability crisis threatens who we are, threatens the very soul of this city. We have to right some wrongs. We have to fight an inequality that has grown. I'm very proud to say we have the biggest affordable housing plan in the history of the city."

The de Blasio administration's Housing New York plan promises to build 80,000 units and preserve 120,000 units of affordable housing over 10 years, at a cost of $41 billion. The city now claims that it created 62,500 units in its first three years. The mayor recently doubled down on this promise, pledging $1.9 billion to create an additional 10,000 units for those making less than $40 thousand per year.

Yet de Blasio's housing plan, which relies on rezoning a dozen working-class neighborhoods to incentivize developers to create more affordable units, follows a neoliberal script that will actually worsen the problem.

De Blasio has initiated the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program (MIH) as a central part of his plan for affordability.

MIH allows developers to build large, mostly market-rate buildings in newly rezoned neighborhoods, with a certain percentage of the units set aside as "affordable." This plan relies on real estate developer profit-making as a precondition for the creation of any new affordable units.

Any plan set up this way is destined to fail from an affordability perspective for multiple reasons. For one thing, the set-aside units are not nearly affordable enough, nor are there enough of them being built.

Then there's the broader impact of allowing a large amount of mostly market-rate development, which will be a general loss of affordability throughout the neighborhoods being targeted. Though each new development may include some affordable apartments, at least as many units that already exist with low rents will be lost, as nearby landlords raise rents in anticipation of a rising market.

Finally, most of the new "affordable" units being built will be allowed to return to market rate in 30 years. So while the plan is made to sound good for advocates of affordability, its real intended audience is the developers and landlords who will be allowed to continue their profit-making at the expense of ordinary New Yorkers.

This is not at all surprising, as developer money is central to all New York City politics, including the de Blasio administration.

***

As politicians cry crocodile tears over the lives lost in this month's fire, it is up to us to demand changes that can prevent these tragedies from happening again and again.

New Yorkers should not be paying an arm and a leg to live in death traps. The city's powerful landlord and developer class must be held accountable to ensure that all New Yorkers live in safe, affordable housing.

Specifically, landlords should be required to retrofit all buildings with safety measures such as sprinkler systems and fireproofing, and the city must actively enforce all safety requirements.

Moreover, everyone, regardless of their documentation status, deserves help paying for heat. The fights against gentrification in many neighborhoods are encouraging. But the next step is a citywide movement to sink de Blasio's crooked rezoning and development plans and to demand safe housing for all and justice for the fire survivors.

After the Grenfell Towers fire in London killed almost 100 people this past June, thousands took to the streets in anger, and they won free housing for the survivors.

As this article was being written, survivors of the fire in Belmont are sleeping in a local high school, mourning their loved ones and wondering where they will go next -- in a city where half of Midtown's luxury apartments, including more than half of the apartments in Trump Tower, sit empty, owned as investment properties by the global ruling class.

Zach Zill contributed to this article. If you believe in the importance of a free and independent press, take a moment to support Truthout's news and analysis by making a donation now!
Categories: Latest News

The Fallout of Police Violence Is Killing Black Women Like Erica Garner

Truthout - Sun, 01/07/2018 - 21:00
Support from readers keeps Truthout 100 percent independent. If you like what you're reading, make a donation!

The sting of the premature death of 27-year-old Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, is still fresh.

On Christmas Eve, Erica Garner suffered a massive heart attack which caused extensive brain damage. She died on Dec. 30. This latest loss emphasizes something we have known: Black women are dying from the trauma of police violence and this issue must be grappled with before more die.

When I heard the news of Erica Garner's heart attack, a wave of familiar shock and pain ran through me. I immediately recognized the correlation between her heart attack and her father's death because I had seen it before.

As an anthropologist who studies the impact of police violence on black communities in Brazil and the United States, I was familiar with many stories like Erica's. My research examines the ways that police violence kills black women slowly through trauma, pain and loss.

Some may find this idea startling. Let me explain.

Trauma, Pain and Loss

In the wake of the deaths of black people at the hands of the state -- from the police to the prison system -- the living are often weighted with a sadness that is too heavy to bear, and in the weeks and months following the initial death of a loved one, they become sick and many die prematurely.

When we think of police lethality, we typically consider the immediate body count: The people that die from bullets and baton blows. The death toll gives the impression that black men are the disproportionate victims of police killings. But these numbers do not reveal the slow death that black women experience. The long-range trauma police brutality causes can be as deadly as a bullet. The pain of loss kills with heart attacks, strokes, depression and even anemia.

This is not to say that black women do not also die from the immediate physical effects of police abuse. The work of researchers like Andrea Ritchie and Kimberle Crenshaw, and black women's organizations like Assata's Daughters and Let Us Breathe Collective clearly demonstrate that they do. But in addition to working tirelessly to draw attention to the immediate ways that black women are killed and abused by the police, it is also important to consider what happens to black women in the weeks and years after lethal police encounters.

To be sure, black men also suffer from the trauma and pain of brutal policing. But I believe that the people most affected by the sequelae, the fallout of state violence, are black women, particularly black mothers. This is true beyond the United States.

Mothers and Grandmothers

It happens in Brazil.

Consider the case of Dona Iraci, the 45-year-old grandmother who died of a heart attack when the police in Salvador, Bahia, raided her home looking for her grandson in 2002. Anthropologist Keisha-Khan Perry chronicles this story in her research on black land rights struggles.

There is also the story of Joselita de Souza, the mother of a 16-year-old boy who was gunned down and killed when the police ambushed the car he was riding in with his friends in Rio de Janeiro in 2015. Less than a year after her son's death, de Souza died of what her family members said was "sadness." After Roberto was killed, she stopped eating everything but soup, developed a severe case of anemia and passed away from its complications.

In the United States similar cases hit home.

In 2016, Venida Browder died of complications from a heart attack at St. Barnabas hospital in New York. Sixteen months earlier she lost Kalief, her baby boy, to suicide. Kalief had been suffering from depression since his release from Rikers Island, where he spent three years awaiting trial for allegedly stealing a backpack. His case was eventually dismissed, but not before he suffered permanent damage. While locked up, he was severely beaten and subjected to more than 800 days of solitary confinement. Venida Browder worked relentlessly to release her son from prison. But, by the time she succeeded, the trauma of his confinement had taken a deadly emotional toll. It eventually took a toll on her as well.

"I'm struggling"

In one of her last interviews before her death, Erica Garner talked about the death of Venida Browder, and her own health challenges.

"Look at Kalief Browder's mother, she died of a broken heart," Erica Garner said. "I'm struggling with my health right now. … The system beats you down."

In multiple interviews, Garner talked about her deep sadness. She also talked about the financial obstacles that black families living on public assistance, like hers, face when they need therapy to deal with grief.

Racism kills black women, yes. And Erica Garner's passing cannot be separated from the growing research that demonstrates that the toxic stress of living with gender-based racism in America, "misogynoir" has a deadly impact on black women's health in pregnancy. Erica Garner had a baby boy in August. She named him Eric after her father. The enlarged heart that in part caused her heart attack was strained due to her recent pregnancy. But the added dimension of her father's death complicates the difficult yet familiar story of black women, maternal death and racism. In addition to the cumulative effects of misogynoir that no doubt took a toll on her body, the extreme trauma of having her father choked to death by Staten Island police officers and then having to watch the video of his killing loop endlessly on social media and television exacerbated her experience with stress in her everyday life. Indeed, she said as much.

The links between stress and disease are clear and corroborated; just consider the connections between stress and cancer. The impact that stress has on black women is acute. Black women already exhibit signs of accelerated aging due to the stress of gendered racism in our everyday lives. One study found that "At ages 49-55, black women are 7.5 years biologically 'older' than white women." We can only imagine what that looks like for a young woman who has been through all that Erica Garner experienced.

Erica knew that the aftershocks of her father's death were killing her slowly. This is what in part makes her death so painful. The fallout of police violence, not just the chokeholds and baton blows, are killing black women. If the world is to truly begin to take steps to preserve black women's lives, then we must take this into account in our discussions. Given Erica's passion for justice, and her fearless and fervent efforts to fight police violence, I believe that is one fight she would want to see tackled right now. I also believe that she would be leading this fight if she were here today.

Categories: Latest News

"Do Kids Die, Mom?" Facing the Future With Trepidation in the Age of Trump

Truthout - Sun, 01/07/2018 - 21:00

An activist holds a child during the Science March on April 22, 2017, in Washingdon, DC. (Photo: Geoff Livingston)

As a mother and an activist, here's what I've concluded as 2018 begins: it's getting harder and harder to think about the future -- at least in that soaring Whitney Houston fashion. You know the song: "I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way..." These days, doesn't it sound quaint and of another age?

The truth is I get breathless and sweaty thinking about what life will be like for my kids -- three-year-old Madeline, five-year-old Seamus, and 11-year-old Rosena. I can't stop thinking about it either. I can't stop thinking that they won't be guaranteed clean air or clean water, that they won't have a real healthcare system to support them in bad times, even if they pay through the nose in super high taxes. They may not have functional infrastructure, even if President Trump succeeds in building a yuge gilded wall on our southern border (and who knows where else). The social safety net -- Medicare, Medicaid, and state assistance of various sorts -- could be long gone and the sorts of nonprofit groups that try to fill all breaches a thing of the past. If they lose their jobs or get sick or are injured, what in the world will they have to fall back on, or will they even have jobs to begin with?

The country -- if it even exists as the United States of America decades from now when they're adults -- will undoubtedly still be waging war across the planet. Our Connecticut town, on a peninsula between Long Island Sound and the Thames River, will be flooding more regularly as sea levels rise. And who knows if civil discourse or affordable colleges will still be part of American life? 

What, I wonder all too often, will be left after Donald Trump's America (and the possible versions of it that might follow him)? Will there, by then, be an insurgent movement of some sort in this country? Could Indivisible go rogue (please)? Maybe they'd have a nonviolent political wing the way the Sandinistas did in Nicaragua in the 1980s? With the help of volunteers from all over the hemisphere, they eradicated illiteracy, brought in the coffee harvest, and vaccinated against diseases (while their armed wing fought against the US-backed Contras). Maybe in our city, my grown-up kids can harvest potatoes -- no coffee grows here, not yet, anyway -- teach reading, and write revolutionary propaganda.

And when it comes to dystopian futures, I've got plenty more where that came from, all playing in a loop on the big screen in the multiplex of my mind as I try to imagine my kids as adults, parents, grandparents. Please tell me I'm not the only one in America right now plagued in this fashion. I'm not fixated on passing our modest family house down to my three kids or making sure that our ragtag "heirlooms" survive their childhood. What preoccupies me is the bleak, violent, unstable future I fear as their only inheritance.

It's enough to send me fumbling for a parental "take back" button that doesn't exist. I just don't know how to protect them from the future I regularly see in my private version of the movies. And honestly, short of becoming one of those paranoid, well-resourced doomsday preppers, I have no idea how to prepare them.

Recently, I had a chance to school them in the harshness of life and death -- and I choked. I just couldn't do it.

Death and Breakfast

"When will I die, mama?" Madeline asked at breakfast one day recently. She'll be four next month. Her tone is curious, as if she were asking when it will be Saturday or her birthday.

"Not for a long time, I hope," I responded, trying to stay calm. "I hope you'll die old and quiet like dear Uncle Dan."

"I want to die LOUD, mama!"

I'm not sure what she means, but already I don't like it.

"I want to die like a rock star!" her brother Seamus interjects. He is in kindergarten and thinks he's both wise and worldly.

Great, I think, just great. What does that mean? "Yes," I say, my voice -- I hope -- neutral, "rock stars do tend to die, buddy."

"Do kids die, mom?" he asks suddenly.

"Yes," I reply, "kids die sometimes."

My head, of course, is suddenly filled with images of dead kids, little Syrian bodies washing up on Turkish beaches, little Afghan bodies blown to bits, little Yemeni bodies brittle with starvation or cholera. There's no shortage of images of dead children in my head as I talk with a kind of painful calmness to my two small ones on a school-day morning in southeastern Connecticut.

"Do teenagers die?" Seamus asks. They love teenagers.

"Yes," I say, my voice heavy and sad by now, "teenagers die sometimes, too." New images swirl through my head of teenagers drunk, in cars, on drugs, in stages of undress, in mental anguish, dying because they don't believe they can. I keep all of this to myself.

"People die," I say, trying to regain control of the conversation. "We all die eventually. But you don't have to worry. You have a lot of people working hard to make sure you have what you need to live long, happy lives."

Long, Happy Lives and Other Lies

And that was the end of that. Their existential, morbid curiosity satisfied for the moment, they moved on to an argument about the fantasy character on the back of their cereal box.

I, on the other hand, haven't moved on. I'm still right there, sitting at that breakfast table discussing life and death -- the when, the where, and the grim how of it all -- with my three-year-old and five-year-old. And wondering if I've already failed them.

When I was a kid, my own parents, Phil Berrigan and Liz McAlister, Catholic peace activists who spent long stretches of time in jail as nuclear weapons disarmament activists, never missed a chance like this to knock some hard lessons about the power structure's monopoly on violence into my head. Innocent queries about life and death were regularly met with long discourses on nuclear weapons and how such Armageddon weaponry threatened to ultimately cheapen all life, including mine and those of my brother and sister.

To this day, I can still replay those homemade history lessons that regularly began with tales of rapacious white colonizers landing on these shores, wiping out Native Americans from sea to shining sea, and launching the succession of seizures, invasions, and wars that built the United States into an imperial power and guaranteed its future global dominance. (At a certain age, we could even follow along in our own copies of A People's History of the United States by their friend Howard Zinn). Those lessons were an education in violence and its bloody, brutal efficacy, at least in the short term. They were also an introduction to its fundamental failures, to the way such violence, deeply embedded in a society, requires an accompanying culture of pathological distraction, fearfulness, and deep insecurity.

That was my childhood. Some version of that once-upon-a-time-in-America, no-sleep-for-you nuclear nightmare of a bedtime story was always playing in my house. And thanks to their clear-eyed, full-disclosure approach to parenting, I grew up feeling prepared for a brutal, unequal, unfair world, but in no way protected from it. At least as I now remember it, I felt exposed, terrified, and heart-broken too much of the time.

If Madeline and Seamus were 10 years older and asking such questions, what would I have told them? If their big sister and my step-daughter Rosena (who lives with us half the time) were there, would I have been less circumspect? Could I have shared my fears of the future and the myriad ways I dread the passing of each year? Like my parents, would I have held forth on the long-term consequences of our settler-colonial origins, the ways the use of force and violence at the highest levels have come to permeate society, corroding every interaction and threatening us all? Could I have lectured them on guns, drugs, and sex -- on the cheapening of life in the era of the decline of this country's global version of a Pax Americana? Would I have pulled back the curtain to show them that everyone is not working hard to make sure that they -- or any other kids -- have what they need to lead long, happy lives? I don't think so.

All these years later, I'm not convinced of what such rants -- however well reasoned and well footnoted -- truly accomplish. I'm not convinced of what such demoralizing verbal versions of a Facebook scroll of bad news and hypocrisy do for any of us, which is, of course, why I'm sparing my kids, but dumping all my fears on you.

A World on Fire and on the Move

As for my kids, I tried my best to keep that breakfast of ours in the upbeat realm of death-is-part-of-life. That's where I want to live with them. That's how my father died -- as he lived, surrounded by the people who loved him. His two closest brothers died that way, too. When I imagine the deaths of those I love, I hear a last gasp of breath, feel a last grip of fingers, witness a peaceful slumber that doesn't end.

But the peace that I treasured in my father's death, the joyful stability I want for my children, these things that I can tell myself are the bedrock of a meaningful life, are already denied to so many people on this planet. In fact, in a world engulfed in flames (both the literal and figurative fires of war), increasing numbers of them are running as fast as they can in hopes of somehow getting away.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance, 1.7 million people are reportedly displaced, mostly fleeing from one part of that vast African nation to other regions to escape spreading violence. In total, four million people are displaced within that fractured land alone. Similarly, in Myanmar, the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group subjected to terrible violence, have been on the move in staggering numbers. In the wake of a deadly crackdown by that country's security forces, 647,000 Rohingya fled into neighboring Bangladesh where many are now living in fetid, desperately overcrowded refugee camps. And that's just to mention two countries on an increasingly desperate planet.

Last year, an estimated 65.6 million people were displaced, a record for the post-World War II period, and tens of millions of them crossed a border, becoming refugees as they fled war, poverty, persecution, and the destruction of urban areas (from major cities to small towns). They regularly left their homes with what they could carry, kids on their hips, in search of imagined safety somewhere over the horizon, just as people have done for millennia, but increasingly -- with a twenty-first-century twist -- consulting Google maps and WhatsApp, while constantly sharing intel on social media.

And scientists are predicting that this world in motion, this world already aflame, is just the prologue. As the effects of global climate change become more pronounced, the number of displaced people will double, then triple, and possibly only continue to grow.

Charles Geisler, an emeritus development sociologist at Cornell University, predicts that two billion people may be displaced by rising sea levels by the turn of the next century. Coastal peoples will press inland, while farmland off the coasts is likely to be increasingly compromised by drought and desertification. He concludes: "Bottom line: Far more people are going to be living on far less land, and land that is not as fertile and habitable and sustainable as the low-elevation coastal zone... And it's coming at us faster than we thought."

Madeline and Seamus will be in their eighties (god willing) when Geisler's predictions come to pass. They can't, of course, know about any of these possible catastrophes, but I already sense that they're picking up on something subtly fragile and vulnerable about our relatively settled lives together. How do I respond to them? What do I as a parent do in the face of such a potentially bleak future? How and when do I break news like that? Am I supposed to help my children cultivate a taste for crickets instead of hamburger or start building a solar powered hydroponic farm in our basement? Worse yet, whatever I could imagine suggesting wouldn't be enough. It wouldn't protect them. It wouldn't even prepare them for such a future.

I'm No Fireman

In 1968, my uncle, Dan Berrigan, called Vietnam the "land of burning children" in a beautiful polemic he wrote to accompany a protest by a group that came to be known as the Catonsville Nine. He and eight other Catholics -- including my father (long before he was a parent) -- publicly burned hundreds of draft files at a selective service office in Catonsville, Maryland, a symbolic attempt to obstruct the sending of yet more young men to the killing fields of Vietnam. My father served years in prison due to actions like that one. Throughout my life, my family drew hope from such creative acts of resistance, elaborate and effective performances of street theater that extended right into the courtroom and sometimes the jailhouse. My uncle, a poet and Jesuit priest, turned that Catonsville trial into an award-winning play that's still performed.

And yet, despite their sacrifices, almost half a century later, children are still on fire and I'm no fireman. I'm not breaking into whatever the equivalent of draft boards might be in the era of the all-volunteer/all-drone military. I'm not sitting in at my congressman's office either. I'm nowhere near a "movement heavy" (a Sixties-era term I often heard applied to my dad). I'm just a gardener who tries to be a good neighbor, a mother who tries to look after a whole community of kids. I'm just one more set of hands. And even though these hands of mine are working hard, my efforts feel ever more paltry, inadequate, token.

Still, I'll get up tomorrow morning and do it again, because if my efforts don't matter, what does? I'll hug my kids tight, answer their endless questions, and try to equip them for a future that scares the hell out of me. Even if I can't see that future clearly, I do know one thing: it will be desperate for love, humor, some kind of balance, and the constant if distracted probing of inquisitive children.

Ready to challenge injustice and spark real change? So are we. Support Truthout's mission today by making a tax-deductible donation.
Categories: Latest News

Pages

Subscribe to Peace Action of San Mateo County aggregator - Latest News