Latest News

CPP Repeal: US Brings Nothing But Oil, Gas, Coal to COP23

Commondreams - Tue, 10/10/2017 - 11:33
Corporate Accountability International

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director Scott Pruitt is to file his proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan today. While this announcement is catastrophic for U.S. climate policy, it also has implications for next month’s round of the negotiations at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Categories: Latest News

Report Reveals Dire Needs of Rohingya Refugees

Commondreams - Tue, 10/10/2017 - 09:50
The International Rescue Committee
  • Half of pregnant women have not received medical care; a third of families forced to defecate in the open  
  • Three most urgent needs are money, household goods and food 
Categories: Latest News

Clean Power Plan Repeal Will Not Bring Back Coal: White House Puts Ideology Over Science and Law

Commondreams - Tue, 10/10/2017 - 09:34
Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will issue a proposal today to repeal the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan—continuing its pattern of putting ideology over science, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The purported rationale for this proposal is that the Clean Power Plan is unlawful, a position that is directly contrary to what the EPA and the Justice Department argued in court just last fall.

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Renowned Surfers Rally to Support a U.S. Ban on Shark Fins

Commondreams - Tue, 10/10/2017 - 09:19
Oceana

Today, over 85 surfers, surf businesses and surf publications sent a letter to Congress in support of the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act (S. 793/H.R. 1456), which would ban the buying and selling of shark fins in the United States.

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Pruitt’s War on Kids’ Health Continues With Repeal of Clean Power Plan

Commondreams - Tue, 10/10/2017 - 09:13
Environmental Working Group (EWG)

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt’s decision to scrap the Clean Power Plan is not only a complete collapse of U.S. leadership on climate change, but a direct attack on public health that will trigger tens of thousands more asthma attacks among American children, said EWG President Ken Cook.

“Scott Pruitt says the so-called war on coal is over, but the Trump administration’s war on children’s health is escalating,” said Cook.

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IMF Warns Climate Impacts on Poor Countries Can Affect Growth and Stability

Commondreams - Tue, 10/10/2017 - 08:39
Jubilee USA Network

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) released its biannual report on the state of the global economy, predicting that economic growth for several wealthy countries will continue.

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Trump Administration's Clean Power Plan Repeal Will Deliver Dirtier Air, More Global Warming

Commondreams - Tue, 10/10/2017 - 08:36
Environment America

Today, the Trump administration will announce its plans to repeal  the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, the nation’s program to limit carbon pollution from dirty power plants. If fully implemented, the Clean Power Plan would reduce U.S. power plant emissions 32% by 2030 with huge corresponding health and environmental benefits. Anna Aurilio, Director of Environment America’s Washington DC office, released the following statement in response:

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Racial Justice Group Condemns Suspension of Jemele Hill

Commondreams - Tue, 10/10/2017 - 07:52
Color of Change

Color Of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization, issued the following statement in response to ESPN's suspension of Jemele Hill, co-host of Sports Center. Hill's suspensions come after her recent tweets critiquing Donald Trump and Dallas Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones.

Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of Color Of Change:

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New Analysis Finds About 20 Percent of US Coal-Fired Electricity Generation Comes from Uneconomic Plants

Commondreams - Tue, 10/10/2017 - 07:47
Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)

Despite political rhetoric to the contrary and recent actions by the Trump administration, the market reality is that coal-fired power has become increasingly uneconomic and is the main factor driving the U.S. electricity sector to rapidly transition away from coal. Of the more than 700 coal units operating in the U.S. in 2016, 163 units that produce 13 percent of all coal-fired electricity generation are already scheduled for closure or conversion to natural gas.

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Parliament to be 'Shut Out' of Post-Brexit Trade Deals

Commondreams - Tue, 10/10/2017 - 05:40
Global Justice Now

The Trade Justice Movement has welcomed the government’s recognition in its trade white paper, released yesterday, of the need for trade policy to be “transparent and inclusive”. However it has criticised the government’s commitments so far as woefully inadequate, in particular the lack of any clear role for parliament in scrutinising trade deals.

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The Real Reason Why Trump and Pruitt Are Repealing the Clean Power Plan

Truthout - Mon, 10/09/2017 - 21:00

For Trump, coal holds the key to voters in the regions thought to have thrust him into the White House. His administration's love affair with the coal industry is not about jobs or "energy independence." It's about base politics and re-election in 2020.

President Donald Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt speak about the US role in the Paris climate change accord in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC on Thursday, June 1, 2017. (Photo: Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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As concerns about climate disruption and pollution continue to seep into markets and political systems across the globe, coal will never be "clean" enough to keep up with other sources of energy. However, coal is intimately connected to an industrial past that President Donald Trump glorified on the campaign trail. That's why Trump hired Scott Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and give coal a helping hand.

On Tuesday, Pruitt and the EPA released a proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan, President Obama's signature environmental achievement, which requires power generators to clean up their coal-burning operations or switch to a different fuel source. The rules were principally designed to help the nation meet international climate commitments -- commitments that Trump has said he wants to ditch -- by reducing carbon emissions. The new regulations would also prevent thousands of premature deaths each year by reducing other types of air pollution.

From the destructive act of mining to the toxic pollution that coal plants spew into the air and leave behind in massive sludge pits, coal is one of the dirtiest ways to generate power. It's the nation's largest source of carbon dioxide emissions and responsible for about one-third of US greenhouse gas emissions.

For Trump, though, coal holds the key to voters in the regions thought to have thrust him into the White House: the Appalachian rust belts and Midwestern industrial corridors where heavy loads of coal mined from rural hillsides were once loaded onto trains and transported to steel mills and manufacturing plants before globalization sent those jobs overseas, leaving a disgruntled -- and in some areas, a mostly white -- working class behind. Coal-burning power plants survived these economic shifts, thanks to a constant demand for cheap domestic energy.

The EPA spent much of the Obama administration working to clean up the coal industry, but the industry kicked and screamed in the face of regulations that require costly investments in much-needed pollution controls and give cleaner fuels a competitive advantage, accusing Obama of waging a "war on coal." Once in office, Trump appointed Pruitt to turn back the clock.

"The war on coal is over," Pruitt said on Monday as he announced his plans to repeal the Clean Power Plan in a coal-producing region of Kentucky.

Going to bat for coal helped Pruitt launch into national politics and become the head of a major environmental agency despite his skepticism of climate science. While serving as attorney general of Oklahoma, a power company complained directly to Pruitt, even providing him with a report detailing how Obama-era regulations would force power generators to spend millions of dollars on equipment upgrades to reduce smog and carbon emissions. Pruitt went on work with the coal, oil and gas industry to challenge nearly all of the Obama administration's environmental initiatives in court.

In its proposal for repealing its own rules, Pruitt's EPA argues that the Clean Power Plan "exceeds the bounds" of the Clean Air Act by setting goals for each state that would require some power generators to switch from coal to cleaner alternatives and even shut down some aging coal plants altogether. Indeed, the question of whether the federal government has the power to shape energy markets in order to thwart climate disruption was bound to end up in court, and the Supreme Court issued a stay on the Clean Power Plan last year while lower courts heard industry challenges to the rule. Now it will be environmentalists' turn to challenge Pruitt's repeal proposal in court.

Theoretically, Pruitt doesn't see a problem with requiring coal plants to install modest upgrades, as long they aren't forced to shut down or switch from coal to another fuel like natural gas. He may even propose such rules at the behest of the industry, which fears falling behind technologically and being unprepared if a Democrat reenters the White House and brings tougher regulations back in force.

However, under Pruitt, the EPA is already reconsidering other Obama-era regulations limiting the amount of mercury and other toxic pollutants that coal plants can spew into the air, as well as rules that would require tougher standards for storing the toxic coal ash sludge generated by power plants. Coal ash sludge ponds have contaminated waterways across the country and are responsible for massive environmental disasters in North Carolina and Tennessee. The industry has long opposed these standards, even though required upgrades have caused only a few plants to shut down.

Meanwhile, climate disruption continues at an alarming pace, and the US continues to suffer from coal pollution. By setting caps on carbon, the Clean Power Plan would both take steps toward addressing climate disruption and also reduce emissions of dangerous air pollutants that lodge deep in the tissue of the lungs and cause an array of health problems. Under Obama, the EPA estimated that if the Clean Power Plan were implemented, 90,000 asthma attacks in children and 1,700 heart attacks would be avoided by 2030, creating billions of dollars worth of public health benefits. (Pruitt's EPA now argues that the Obama administration overestimated these benefits, a claim critics say is not based in science.)

"You’d hope the head of the EPA would champion policies that shield kids from the life-threatening risks of asthma, but Pruitt and the Trump administration have clearly shown whose interests they care most about: the failing coal industry, not America’s children," said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, in a statement.

Americans want cleaner energy and less pollution. Polls show that a majority of voters in all 50 states support the Clean Power Plan's limits on pollution from coal plants, and 61 percent of voters disapprove of Trump's environmental policies. However, as his polarizing outbursts about football protests and North Korea suggest, Trump is not concerned about the majority of voters. He is concerned with nurturing the base that brought him into office, and his environmental agenda remains popular among a majority of Republicans.

The Trump administration's love affair with the coal industry is not about jobs or "energy independence," as Trump claimed in his executive order that set the stage for a Clean Power Plan repeal. Investors now understand the need for clean energy, and market forces and state-level initiatives are already shifting some parts of the country away from coal. For Trump, the coal issue is a source of base political power that clearly shows his opposition to Obama's policies. With Congress stalled on health care and taxes, issuing administrative orders to roll back environmental regulations will provide "accomplishments" for Trump to campaign on in 2020. Unfortunately, the health of our communities -- and our climate -- will suffer because of it.

Categories: Latest News

Charlottesville Victim of Neo-Nazi Beating Charged With Assault

Truthout - Mon, 10/09/2017 - 21:00

African-American school teacher DeAndre Harris, victim of a beating by neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, has been charged with assaulting the white supremacists who beat him with boards, iron rods and brass knuckles. Several of Harris' attackers remain on the run -- and local and federal officials show little interest in going after them. Yet, the Charlottesville Police Department issued a warrant to arrest Harris yesterday.

DeAndre Harris, who was severely beaten in August by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, has now been charged with the same crime as his attackers: "unlawful wounding." (Photo: Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images)

Note: This article contains graphic photos of anti-Black violence.

African-American school teacher DeAndre Harris, victim of a beating by neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, has been charged with assaulting the white supremacists who beat him with boards, iron rods, and brass knuckles.

That is correct. Harris, who was shown being beaten close to death in photos released by Truthout and carried worldwide, has now been charged with the same crime as his attackers: "unlawful wounding."

Several of Harris' attackers remain on the run -- and local and federal officials show little interest in going after them. Yet, the Charlottesville Police Department issued a warrant to arrest Harris on October 9.

Harris is accused of taking a swing at a neo-Nazi who tried to stab a friend of Harris with the staff of a flag pole holding a Confederate flag. On the advice of his lawyer, Harris was unable to be reached for comment.

White supremacists beat Black schoolteacher DeAndre Harris in a parking garage in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017. (Photo: © Zach D. Roberts 2017)

(Photo: © Zach D. Roberts 2017)

(Photo: © Zach D. Roberts 2017)

Zach Roberts, for Truthout, spoke with Lee Merritt, Harris's attorney and a legal specialist on police brutality and corruption. Merritt stated, "This is probably the most extreme case I've seen. Not only is [the victim] charged with a crime but he's charged at the same level as the men who broke his bones, who caused serious bodily injuries, caused him to get 18 staples in his head … the men who beat him within an inch of his life. [Harris] is getting the same charge as [those] involved in a violent supremacist group who were involved in attacks, not only of DeAndre, but attacks of other people all weekend."

It should be noted that our photographer Roberts was also attacked with what appears to be a wooden flagstaff by a man identified as Dan Borden of Cincinnati, one of those charged in the attack on Harris.

White supremacist Borden, hours before attacking Harris, threw the metal-tipped wood at photographer Roberts' head. Roberts photographed the weapon as it whizzed by his head.

A magistrate judge, without talking to witness Roberts, issued a warrant, apparently on the complaint of lawyers for the white nationalists. 

Charlottesville police have charged two of Harris's attackers, but only after a national campaign demanded they do so. One charged, Dan Borden, is shown beating Harris with a four-foot piece of lumber.

The other, Michael Ramos, who claims he acted in self-defense, is shown striking Harris with brass knuckles while Harris is crawling helpless on the ground.

On August 14, US Attorney General Sessions said that neo-Nazi brutality in Charlottesville was the Justice Department's top priority. "There's no bigger case right now we're working on."

So far, federal authorities have taken no action to identify the man holding what appears to be a 9mm Glock semi-automatic handgun threatening Harris, despite high-resolution photos supplied by Roberts to the FBI.

Crossing state lines with intent to cause harm is a federal offense. Nevertheless, direct pleas to FBI agents by this reporter have failed to get Justice Department action to charge Harris attackers and Roberts' assailant with these crimes.

Days after the attack, one FBI agent assigned to the investigation told Truthout he was "appalled" by the lack of immediate response to Roberts' offer of photos to identify Harris' attackers, but insisted the Department would act. As of today, two months on, there is no sign Sessions' Department has moved to identify nor apprehend Harris's attackers.

(Photos by Zach D. Roberts © 2017)

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Categories: Latest News

New Yorkers Call for Indigenous Peoples’ Day & Removal of Columbus Statue

Truthout - Mon, 10/09/2017 - 21:00

More than 50 US cities celebrated Indigenous Peoples' Day Monday in place of the federal holiday honoring Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer who massacred and enslaved Arawak indigenous people while opening the door to the European colonization of the Americas. In New York City, protesters rallied at a 115-year-old statue of Christopher Columbus near Central Park, calling for its removal and for the city to make the second Monday of each October Indigenous Peoples' Day. The protest came as the New York Police Department ringed the statue in metal barricades and said it was providing round-the-clock surveillance of the monument. Democracy Now! was there to speak with demonstrators. Special thanks to producer Andre Lewis.

Please check back later for full transcript.

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Betsy DeVos' Vision Goes Way Beyond Privatizing Education -- and She Is Alarmingly Close To Realizing It

Truthout - Mon, 10/09/2017 - 21:00
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If Betsy DeVos enjoys the occasional quaff of champagne on her private jet, the recent news that the Supreme Court is poised to deliver a knock-out blow to public sector unions presented a reason to celebrate. The announcement was made just hours before DeVos alit at Harvard last week, where she was the star attraction at a school choice conference. At Harvard's Kennedy School, DeVos was met by one of the largest protests she has encountered to date: an all-ages demonstration vs just about everything Trump's Secretary of Education has said and done during the past seven months. Inside, the event was tense, even hostile -- another rocky outing in a tenure replete with them. Or at least that is the conventional wisdom. 

Turning Red

The latest Supreme Court case to take aim at unions, Janus vs AFSCME Council 31, got its start two years ago with a suit filed by yet another right-wing billionaire: Illinois' Bruce Rauner. While it is framed by conservatives as a case about individual rights and freedom, the aptly named "Janus" is about politics and power. Public sector unions, among the only unions left at this point, provide the bank and the foot soldiers that get Democrats elected, and at their best they've spearheaded progressive causes that go far beyond the interests of their members. In Massachusetts, the teachers unions have been the driving force behind successful campaigns for a minimum wage hike, paid sick time for all workers, and are now pushing a tax on millionaires. The unions are also virtually the last organized defense of what's left of our safety net -- Social Security and Medicare; the right wants those next.

Just days before DeVos appeared at Harvard, she was back in Michigan, taking what was essentially a victory lap. She exhorted the crowd at a conservative gathering on Mackinac Island to pat themselves on the back for the Mitten State's having gone Republican in the 2016 Presidential election -- the first time since 1988. "We in Michigan have a lot to be proud of, but nothing more than that," DeVos said. The story of just how the DeVoses pulled off the feat of turning Michigan red is long and ugly, involving mountains of cash, the steady erosion of representative democracy, and a decades-long effort to dismember the state's once powerful teachers union: the Michigan Education Association.

Michigan went right-to-work in 2012, thanks to legislation that was ushered into the former cradle of industrial unionism via the DeVos' trademark combo of political arm twisting and largesse. Another DeVos-inspired law made it illegal for employers, including school districts, to process union dues, while simultaneously making it easier for corporations to deduct PAC money from employee paychecks. This summer the DeVoses succeeded in driving a final nail into the MEA's coffin. The GOP-controlled legislature essentially eliminated pensions, among the last tangible benefits that teachers in Michigan receive from their unions. The union leaders I spoke to when I traveled through the state last year, reporting on DeVos' education legacy, were candid about the increasingly precarious state of their organizations. But far worse lies ahead. The demise of retirement benefits means that new teachers have little incentive to join the unions; the shrinking terrain of collective bargaining gives veteran teachers little reason to remain in them.

Dark Money Days

The specter of Harvard students, standing in silent protest during DeVos' talk at the Kennedy School was a powerful one; the banner declaring "Our Students Are Not 4 Sale" a blunt rejoinder to a vision in which schools are akin to food trucks, a sentiment she expressed at the event. But the sign reading simply "Dark Money" may best have captured DeVos' ethos, her family's M.O., indeed her very path to the Trump cabinet.

The sign was actually a reference to a current dark money controversy simmering in Massachusetts, where the chair of the Massachusetts Board of Education, Paul Sagan, secretly chipped in $500K from his own deep pockets in an effort to sway last year's ill-fated campaign to expand the number of charter schools in the state. (Sagan's defense was that he didn't want to be perceived as politicizing the issue). The organization that bundled the contributions of Sagan and an array of out-of-state billionaires was later spanked with the largest campaign finance fine in Massachusetts history, a ruling that is now being touted as a potential gamechanger for states that are awash in untraceable cash.

Protesters carried signs demanding that both DeVos and Sagan be "dumped," but only the latter was tarred with the dark money brush. Even among DeVos' detractors, her role in ushering in our new era of dark money has gone largely unheralded. Campaign workers gathering signatures among the demonstrators for a ballot measure that would reduce the influence of money in politics had no idea, for example, that DeVos herself was a driving force behind Citizens United. But as Jane Mayer describes in Dark Money, removing any restrictions on political spending has been central to the family's mission, dating back decades. Long before Betsy DeVos was railing against the "red tape" that stifles public schools, she and her clan were seeking to free the campaign finance system from the burdensome regulations limiting the size of the checks they could write, and through them, the family's political influence.

The family funded one long-shot legal challenge after another targeting various campaign finance laws. In 1997, DeVos became a founding board member at the James Madison Center for Free Speech, an organization that had as its stated goal ending all legal restrictions on money in politics. "Soft money," DeVos wrote in a column for the Capitol Hill magazine Roll Call, was just "hard earned American dollars that Big Brother has yet to find a way to control."

That the balance of power has shifted from parties to a handful of outrageously wealthy zealots, "a tiny, atypical minority of the population," as Mayer described, is now undeniable. See for example, a recent New York Times story about the coming battle of the billionaires, in this case Mercer vs. Koch, over whose grim libertarian vision of the future will be imposed upon the rest of us. Unions are among the last brake on this transfer of power. Now they're under existential threat.

DeVos Lite

recent poll found that DeVos remains the most disliked official in Trump's cabinet -- not an easy feat to pull off in a gallery of rogues. The depths of her unpopularity are due, not to to the fact that liberals and progressives hate her harder, but because her divisiveness crosses partisan lines. When I traveled to Van Wert, OH this spring to take in the spectacle of a joint school visit by DeVos and the American Federation of Teachers' Randi Weingarten, I encountered one Trump supporter after another who still liked their guy, even his other cabinet members, but not DeVos. Her signature issue, using taxpayer dollars to send kids to private religious schools, has never been popular with voters, and her Margaret Thatcher "there is no school system" line makes little sense in places like Van Wert, where local schools play an outsized role in binding communities together.

In other words, this should be fertile territory for Democrats. But the coming decimation of public sector unions also means that the Democrats will be more dependent than ever on corporate money, especially from the financial sector. Accept the growing influence of the party's biggest donors, comprised of Wall Streeters, hedge funders and Silicon Valley elites, and you also get their cramped and narrow vision of what is possible. And the moneyed influencers within the Democratic Party share a vision of education -- personalized, privatized, union free -- that's increasingly difficult to distinguish from the one DeVos espouses.

After seven months on the job, DeVos may finally be shrugging off the "nitwit" rep she earned during her disastrous confirmation hearings. Her Title IX speech at George Mason was sophisticated and skillful, winning plaudits, even from critics. At the Harvard protest, I spotted but a single reference to grizzly bears, on a sign that lay abandoned on the sidewalk. As for the Secretary herself, she gives every indication of being quite pleased with the progress she's making, and why shouldn't she be? "Hasten slowly," is how DeVos described her family's motto in a recent interview. DeVos' own family, and the one she married into, have sought to impose their vision of a country free of unions and dependence on government, including "government schools," for two generations. Now, after decades of slow hastening, they're almost there.

Categories: Latest News

Your Tax Dollars Support Troops of Defense Contractor CEOs

Truthout - Mon, 10/09/2017 - 21:00

US soldiers protect a Lockheed Martin F-35 during parking at the 52nd International Paris Air Show at Le Bourget Airport near Paris, France on June 20, 2017. (Photo: Mustafa Yalcin / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

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Here's a question for you: How do you spell boondoggle?

The answer (in case you didn't already know): P-e-n-t-a-g-o-n.

Hawks on Capitol Hill and in the US military routinely justify increases in the Defense Department's already munificent budget by arguing that yet more money is needed to "support the troops."  If you're already nodding in agreement, let me explain just where a huge chunk of the Pentagon budget -- hundreds of billions of dollars -- really goes.  Keep in mind that it's your money we're talking about.

The answer couldn't be more straightforward: it goes directly to private corporations and much of it is then wasted on useless overhead, fat executive salaries, and startling (yet commonplace) cost overruns on weapons systems and other military hardware that, in the end, won't even perform as promised.  Too often the result is weapons that aren't needed at prices we can't afford.  If anyone truly wanted to help the troops, loosening the corporate grip on the Pentagon budget would be an excellent place to start.

The numbers are staggering.  In fiscal year 2016, the Pentagon issued $304 billion in contract awards to corporations -- nearly half of the department's $600 billion-plus budget for that year.  And keep in mind that not all contractors are created equal. According to the Federal Procurement Data System's top 100 contractors report for 2016, the biggest beneficiaries by a country mile were Lockheed Martin ($36.2 billion), Boeing ($24.3 billion), Raytheon ($12.8 billion), General Dynamics ($12.7 billion), and Northrop Grumman ($10.7 billion). Together, these five firms gobbled up nearly $100 billion of your tax dollars, about one-third of all the Pentagon's contract awards in 2016.

And remember: the Pentagon buys more than just weapons.  Health care companies like Humana ($3.6 billion), United Health Group ($2.9 billion), and Health Net ($2.6 billion) cash in as well, and they're joined by, among others, pharmaceutical companies like McKesson ($2.7 billion) and universities deeply involved in military-industrial complex research like MIT ($1 billion) and Johns Hopkins ($902 million).

The real question is: How much of this money actually promotes the defense of the country and how much is essentially a subsidy to weapons makers and other corporations more focused on their bottom lines than giving the taxpayers value for their money?

"Modernizing" the Military-Industrial Complex

Let's start with the obvious (but seldom said).  Some arms company expenditures clearly have no more of a national security rationale than Tom Price's air travel did for the promotion of American health. Take the compensation that defense company CEOs get, for example.  The heads of the top five Pentagon contractors -- Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman -- made a cumulative $96 million last year.  These are companies that are significantly or, in the cases of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, almost entirely dependent on government dollars.  That means one thing: your tax dollars are basically paying their exorbitant salaries.  And that $96 million figure doesn't even count the scores of other highly paid executives and board members at major weapons contractors like these. Don't you feel safer already?

Donald Trump initially spent a fair amount of tweeting energy bragging about how he was going to bring such contractors to heel on their pricing practices for weapons systems.  In fact, he's already turned out to be good news indeed for major contractors, most of whom have seen sharp upturns in revenues and profits in the first two quarters of this year (compared to the same period in what was still the Obama era).  Among other things, Trump has proven eager to lift restrictions on US weapons sales abroad (and enlist State Department and Pentagon officials to spend more of their time shilling such weaponry).  As a result, future American arms deals are already on a precipitous upward trajectory and, as one defense industry analyst has noted, "both commercial aerospace and the defense sectors expect improvement for the remainder of 2017 with the potential for new records in both revenue and operating profit."

Whether such increases in the funds flowing to major weapons contractors will accelerate yet more depends, in part, on the outcome of this year's budget debate in which Trump and Congress are competing to see who can sponsor the biggest increase in Pentagon spending.  Trump has backed a $54 billion budgetary rise, while the Senate, in the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act, backed a $90 billion increase.  The only thing standing between the contractors and another huge payday is the question of whether Congress can, in fact, pass a budget this year or if its representatives will have to fall back on a continuing resolution that would keep spending at last year's levels.

Needless to say, Lockheed Martin and its cohorts are doing everything in their power to break the budget deadlock and open the spigot to release the huge funding increases they feel entitled to.  In the process, they are spending impressive sums (undoubtedly, in part, also your tax dollars) to promote their interests in Washington.  The defense industry has, for instance, anted up $65 million on Political Action Committee contributions since 2009.

You probably won't be surprised to learn that the bulk of that sum has been lavished on the congressional representatives who are in the best position to help the industry -- particularly members of the armed services and defense appropriations committees of the House and Senate.  In recent years, these contributions have tilted Republican, with nearly two-thirds of the contributions going to GOP candidates.  But this ratio will shift back toward the Democrats, should they retake control of Congress at any point.  For weapons contractors, it's ultimately not about party or ideology but about buying access and influence with whoever has the power to appropriate money for them.

The arms industry's investment in lobbying is even more impressive.  The defense sector has spent a total of more than $1 billion on that productive activity since 2009, employing anywhere from 700 to 1,000 lobbyists in any given year. To put that in perspective, you're talking about significantly more than one lobbyist per member of Congress, the majority of whom zipped through Washington's famed "revolving door"; they moved, that is, from positions in Congress or the Pentagon to posts at weapons companies from which they could proselytize their former colleagues. 

This process, of course, allows newly minted lobbyists to use their privileged contacts with former government colleagues to promote the special interests of their corporate clients.  It also ensures that congressional staffers, military officers, and Pentagon bureaucrats nearing the end of their careers and looking toward a lucrative future will be inclined to cut major contractors some slack.  Why not, when they are looking forward to a big payday with that same cast of characters after they leave government?

An egregious example -- the case of Darleen Druyun -- offers an inside look at how a Pentagon official curries favor with future corporate employers.  Druyun was a high-ranking Pentagon procurement officer who rigged contracts for Boeing while negotiating for a job with that company (which was already employing her daughter and son-in-law).  The Druyun case was the exception that proves the rule.  She actually did nine months in prison for her actions, thanks in large part to Senator John McCain's dogged pursuit of the case.  Lesser cases of influence peddling, however, occur all the time and no one faces jail time for them. As long as the lure of big corporate payoffs remains so central to the lives of government employees, the game will regularly be tilted toward their potential future employers.

In other words, what we're getting in return for the hundreds of billions of dollars we shower on those weapons firms is a raw deal and that revolving door is but one example of it.  Don't forget the endemic waste, fraud, and abuse that is part and parcel of the Pentagon budget -- of that is, an outfit that has proven incapable of even auditing itself.  As with influence peddling, when it comes to that trio there's a scale that ranges from the criminal to the merely outrageous.  In the first category, you might start with the "Fat Leonard" scandal, named for a corporate executive who bribed dozens of Navy officials with money, vacations, and prostitutes to get the inside track on contracts to help maintain US ships based in ports in the Pacific. So far, 29 criminal indictments have been handed down in the case.

That one got the headlines, but the biggest sources of corporate waste when it comes to Pentagon dollars are such a part of everyday life in Washington that they go largely unnoticed.  The Pentagon, for example, employs more than 600,000 private contractors.  There are so many of them and they are so poorly monitored that the Pentagon (as it has reluctantly acknowledged) doesn't even have an accurate count of how many of them it has hired. What we do know is that many are carrying out redundant tasks that could be done more cheaply by government employees.  Cutting the contractor work force by 15% -- theoretically an easy task but light years beyond anything presently imaginable -- would save a quick $20 billion a year.

Then there are the big weapons programs. As the Project on Government Oversight has shown, the Lockheed Martin F-35 combat aircraft -- supposedly a state-of-the-art plane for the twenty-first century -- has had so many cost and performance issues that it may never be fully ready for combat.  That, however, hasn't stopped the Pentagon from planning to spend $1.4 trillion to build and maintain more than 2,400 of these defective planes during the lifetime of the program.

Last but hardly least, don't forget the Pentagon's misguided plan to spend more than $1 trillion in the next three decades on a whole new generation of nuclear-armed bombers, submarines, and land- and air-based missiles. The United States nuclear arsenal already has more than 4,000 nuclear warheads in its active stockpile, with 1,700 deployed and ready to be launched on a moment's notice. 

Even if one accepts the idea that there is a need for nuclear weapons to deter other countries (like, say, North Korea), this could be accomplished with an arsenal a fraction of the size of the current one. Two analysts from US war colleges have estimated that about 300 deliverable nuclear warheads would be enough to dissuade any nation from attacking the United States with a nuclear weapon. Anything else represents sheer excess, not to mention a huge source of unjustified revenue and profits for weapons contractors.  (And note that the current trillion-dollar "modernization" program for the nuclear arsenal was initiated under President Barack Obama, a man who won the Nobel Prize for his urge to abolish all such weaponry.  Take that as a measure of the power of America's corporate nuclear lobby.)

Military Spending Generates Jobs (for Lobbyists and Overpaid CEOs)

In addition to "supporting the troops," the other common argument in Washington for runaway Pentagon spending is: jobs, jobs, jobs.  And there can be no question that if you plow hundreds of billions of dollars into new weapons systems, you will create some new employment opportunities. What's surprising is how relatively few jobs actually flow these days from such Pentagon expenditures. 

In 2011, a study by economists from the University of Massachusetts made this blindingly clear.  What they showed was that military spending is the worst way to create jobs.  Putting the same money into any other area -- from infrastructure to transportation to alternative energy to health care or education -- creates up to twice as many jobs as military spending does.  If it's about jobs, there are plenty of alternatives to throwing vast piles of tax dollars at a wasteful Pentagon.

The challenge here is political, not economic.  The question at hand is how to get a president and a Congress who are willing to buck the arms lobby and invest in what would quite literally be more constructive activities.

Contractors aid and abet the process of investing in the Pentagon by routinely exaggerating the number of jobs their programs create.  The F-35 is a classic example.  Lockheed Martin has a handy interactive map on its website that claims the program supports 125,000 jobs in 46 states. When I took a closer look at the company's analysis and compared it with standard economic estimating procedures, however, I found that the true number is less than half that many jobs generated.

In fact, according to Lockheed's own figures, more than half of the jobs generated by the program are in just two states, Texas and California.  In short, the F-35 creates nothing like the number of jobs the company claims and those jobs aren't spread as widely or evenly across the country as their propaganda suggests.  In truth, the best jobs generated by Pentagon spending are the ones for well-heeled lobbyists and overpaid corporate executives.

So the next time someone suggests that the Pentagon needs yet more money for the troops, just remember that what they're actually talking about are troops of overpaid defense contractors, not members of the armed forces.  If you want to "defend" this country, maybe it's time to protect it from the predators that President Dwight D. Eisenhower once memorably called "the military-industrial complex."

Categories: Latest News

Our Parents Are the Original Dreamers: How to Fight for a Clean DREAM Act

Truthout - Mon, 10/09/2017 - 21:00

Today we bring you a conversation with Ricardo Aca, a last-year student at Baruch College and a member of Make the Road's Youth Power Project. Aca is also a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and discusses what losing DACA will mean for his future and others like him. Undocumented immigrants are asking for a clean DREAM Act. "We don't want to compromise the future of our families," says Aca. 

We're now several months into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this ongoing "Interviews for Resistance" series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators not only about how to resist but also about how to build a better world. Today's interview is the 80th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with Ricardo Aca, a last-year student at Baruch College and a member of Make the Road's Youth Power Project. Aca is also a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and discusses what losing DACA will mean for his future and others like him.

Sarah Jaffe: Today, we are talking on the deadline for DACA renewal, and Make the Road and other folks are calling for a clean DREAM Act. Can you tell me a little bit about the work that has been going on leading up to today and the ongoing demand for a passing of the DREAM Act?

Ricardo Aca: Yes, a number of us at Make the Road New York have had our offices open as soon as we found out that President Trump was rescinding DACA. We provided a lot of information services for family members of DACA recipients -- legal services. We were able to also create scholarships so that we can make the fee for the application accessible to as many DACA beneficiaries who are eligible to renew before today, to actually do this and make it as easy as possible.

But not everyone was able to do it on time. We see that today, the time is up, which went by really, really fast. I know that a lot of people -- not only in New York, but in other states -- they probably don't have access to all the same resources that we have or they don't have access to the news to be able to stay up to date, or [may not be] able to get the $500, which is a lot of money for someone to pay for a fee for a DACA renewal.

I think we were able to get a lot of people to come to our offices and then be able to receive all the help that they could get. But I think not everyone was able to do it. Right now, our job is to make sure that not only are we going to take it to the street, but also we are going to act more on the local and national level. We are going to take our actions to Congress and we are going to push Congress members like Peter King of Long Island and Don Donovan of Staten Island -- both are Republicans -- who are going to be key votes on a clean DREAM Act being passed.

What we are asking, in saying we want a clean DREAM Act, is that we don't want any add-ons to it. We don't want to compromise the future of our families. It goes against American values. It doesn't seem fair that you want us to stay, if you were to pass the DREAM Act, but then the other thing is that you want to separate us from our families. It doesn't seem reasonable and it is also very inhumane, if you want to profit from our contributions, which Donald Trump doesn't really want to acknowledge. But also, you want to separate us from our parents and send them back to our countries.

In addition to that, the kind of add-ons and things that would heighten funding for deportations, there is also talk about a trade-off for the border wall. I wonder if you could talk about that and the connection of that, or lack thereof, to the DREAM Act.

Donald Trump said to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer that he will support a DREAM Act if Congress is able to come up with a decision. But also, he wants massive border security, and … he still plans on building the wall. That was part of his message throughout his entire campaign. Basically, he wants to add on those things in exchange for supporting a DREAM Act or a path to citizenship for Dreamers like ourselves.

This is very scary, because … for someone like myself who lives in New York, I am sure I will be fine, but basically everyone who lives along those states on the border, they will be in constant fear of being stopped by ICE agents, of being separated from their families. That is why we are asking for a clean DREAM Act -- because we don't want to compromise the future of families in the South, near the border, and for them to be scared of driving their kids to school or being able to go shopping and go about their daily life, just because there will be an increased amount of border security.

Then, a massive border wall, which it is very unreasonable. It is going to be billions of dollars which we probably could put into different things, like helping those that have gone through hurricanes and earthquakes that we have seen recently all over the world.

Tell us a little bit about your story. Tell us about your experiences with DACA.

I am 26 years old. I was eligible for DACA four years ago. I am on my third renewal. With DACA, I was able to get a New York State ID for the first time, which besides being proud of being Mexican, I am able to show that I am a proud New Yorker whenever I was going to a different state. It also meant being able to travel to different states within the US without having to live in that fear that at some point someone might call ICE agents on me while I was at the airport. That relieved all that fear that I kind of grew up having … that really didn't allow me to move around and be able to discover other spaces in the United States.

It also means being able to finally be able to get a job legally with better working conditions. Before that, I was working off the books for a diner, and then I got a job at a Japanese food restaurant and it was my second job with DACA. I worked there for five years. I know from personal experience that a lot of restaurants and hotels in New York City rely on the work of undocumented immigrants like myself, some who have DACA.

I think for Trump to not acknowledge our contributions to this country is not only upsetting, but it is also very dishonest, because we are the backbone of this country, even though we are always at the back of the house and we are doing the jobs that not [many] native-born Americans want to do. That is why we are very important, because we complete a big part of the puzzle in this country. If you were to take us away, you will definitely see negative impacts on our economy and on our diversity that we have as a country.

What can people do to support DACA recipients and immigrants who are not DACA recipients, or people like you who were eligible, but can't renew it again?

Get involved more with local organizations like Make the Road. We are always looking for people who want to help, who want to take to the street. We have rallies almost every month since Trump was elected president. It is important for people to show their support so that we can feel accepted, because I think Trump right now is sending all these negative messages that he doesn't want us. Someone like myself, I am 26, I can take a lot. But at the same time, I know that for a younger generation or younger undocumented immigrants, this creates a sense of "You don't belong here." This is where you have family, this is where you guys have jobs, this is where you go to college, where at the end of the day, you contribute. This is where you want to be, where you have proven with all of your hard work that this is where you want to call your home. Trump has been sending all these messages and a lot of them will need emotional support.

Even though right now we were able to get a lot of people to sign up for the DACA renewals, there were so many others who will -- probably after the six-month period -- they will probably end up losing their jobs, they will probably have to go back into living in fear. They will need support in case something worse were to happen to them. I would say get involved with a local organization like Make the Road. We provide a lot of resources. We have a texting number where if you just text Road to 52886, you will get updates on our rallies and on when we are doing actions like the one today in Staten Island. We will definitely be taking to the streets, but we will also be more on pushing Congress to pass a clean DREAM Act that does not compromise the futures of our immigrant community, as well.

Tell us a little bit about the actions that are happening today as we are talking at the office of Pete King and Dan Donovan.

In New York, we are considering today a day of action where people have to choose what side they are on [for] this issue. We are your co-workers, we are your friends, we are your family members. A lot of us are living in this fear that we have this ticking bomb, this expiration date on our DACA. We want people to show their support for the undocumented immigrant community in their neighborhoods because they need to feel included, and they also need to support the DREAM Act.

After September 5, when DACA was rescinded, not a lot of people were talking about DACA. No one really knew what DACA meant, except for those who benefited from it. Right now, we need to keep on talking about it. We need to keep pushing our Congress members to pass a clean DREAM Act, to support the DREAM Act, to help the undocumented in our communities feel included in the United States.

Today, we are asking people to call their Congress members, to attend many of the events that are happening throughout New York City, for example, the one in Staten Island. I know, also, the CUNY Dreamers are doing something at [the Borough of Manhattan Community College] where people will get to share their stories, people can hear the stories of undocumented youth. That will also be very important, because you will not know what it is like to be us until you put yourselves in our shoes. We struggled a lot to get to where we are today.

Even this label "Dreamers" … we kind of no longer want to be associated with, because at the end of the day, we are the representations of our parents who are the original Dreamers and people need to know that. That is also part of the reason why we are asking for a clean DREAM Act, where we deserve to be here, but also, our parents deserve to be here. We don't want to compromise our future because we don't want to be separated from them, who are just as important as we are. We are the representation of them because they wanted us to get a better education, they wanted us to have better jobs, which we do have. We wouldn't have been able to do that without the work of our parents.

That is something that people don't really know in this narrative. People think our parents should be considered "criminals" because they broke the law, but they don't know what it is like to come from somewhere like Mexico or Venezuela or Colombia where there is a lot of political struggle. They don't know what it is like to be living in this country where you don't have access to resources, you don't have access to education, [where] you don't feel safe, [where] there are drug cartels. People need to know that there is a reason why we came here and now that we are here, this is where we consider our home and this is where we want to be.

We want people to be supportive and show up for the events. It shouldn't only be undocumented immigrants attending these events; it should be everyone who knows an undocumented immigrant.

How can people keep up with you and with Make the Road?

For Make the Road: text ROAD to 52886. We have locations here in New York City: one in Queens, in Jackson Heights, we have one in Bushwick and we also have one in Staten Island. Go to them, text the number, stay up to date on all of these issues.

I am Ricardo Aca. You can find me on social media. I have been doing this for a little over two years. I am always here to help anyone that needs help getting started or knowing what to do. I try to attend as many rallies as I possibly can. I am always willing to help allies get more involved or take other steps to becoming an activist or becoming an ally to the undocumented immigrant community.

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

Who are the powerful funders behind Truthout? Our readers! Help us publish more stories like this one by making a tax-deductible donation.
Categories: Latest News

It's a Conspiracy

Truthout - Mon, 10/09/2017 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

The Crisis Deepens After Catalonia's Vote

Truthout - Mon, 10/09/2017 - 21:00
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The government of the Spanish state is making a mockery of democracy by attacking the Catalan people's right to determine their future.

On October 5, the Spanish Constitutional Court suspended the Catalan parliament, prohibiting a session set for next Tuesday in which Catalonia's elected representatives were set to begin debate on declaring independence from Spain. This follows an October 1 referendum in which an estimated 90 percent of those voting cast their ballots in favor of independence.

"We have to apply the results of the referendum," Carles Puigdemont, president of the Catalan government, announced after Sunday's vote. "We have to present the results of the referendum to parliament."

For this simple democratic statement, Puigdemont now faces the real threat of arrest from the Spain's central government.

***

Arrayed against the Catalan independence movement is a rogue's gallery of hypocrites.

Conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the conservative People's Party has outrageously demanded a "return to legality" after sending 15,000 riot police -- the hated Guardia Civil -- into the region before and during the referendum to seize election posters, arrest public officials, destroy ballots and attack polling stations. Almost 900 Catalans were injured on the day of the vote, making October 1 the most violent day of repression in the Spanish state since the fascist Franco regime fell in the 1970s.

Clearly, the first step in any "return to legality" begins with the Spanish government withdrawing all its Guardias from Catalan territory, revoking its ban on the Catalan parliament and respecting the will of Catalan voters.

Meanwhile, Frans Timmermans, vice president of the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union (EU), sided with Rajoy, claiming that the "regional government of Catalonia has chosen to ignore the law."

Spanish King Felipe went on television to charge Catalonians -- even as they were under police assault -- with treating the nation with "scorn" and to demand "unity." Felipe forgot to mention that he owes his crown to the fascist dictator Francisco Franco restoring the monarchy after it was toppled by a popular rebellion in the 1930s.

Chief among the hypocrites, however, must be the fully neoliberalized Catalan Socialist Party -- closely aligned with the center-left Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), which has led the government of the Spanish state for most of the years since Franco's.

The party filed the complaint that Constitutional Court used to suspend the Catalan parliament. It bizarrely claimed that convening a session of the duly elected parliament would result in the "illegitimate demolition of the constitutional bloc in Catalonia."

In response, Catalan trade unions, civic organizations and political parties launched a general strike on October 3, demonstrating that Rajoy's gambit has only stiffened the resolve of the independence movement and edged Spain toward a showdown. Sectors with the highest participation included teachers, doctors and public-sector workers.

The questions raised by the day of protest go beyond the need to oppose repression. As Catalan socialist Luc Salellas said in a recent interview with Jacobin, the strike "also had many republican themes, with people hoping that a Catalan Republic will be declared by the Catalan government. I expect the size of the strike and demonstrations today will accelerate that process."

Outside of Catalonia, huge solidarity demonstrations in support of Catalans' right to decide took place in several Spanish cities like Madrid and Burgos, showing that the Spanish people are not the same as the Spanish state.

And far from being an isolated clash, all this comes on the heels of growing polarization across the European Union -- with different aspects represented by the years of mass strikes and anti-austerity struggles in Greece; the Brexit vote and left-winger Jeremy Corbyn's rise in Great Britain; and the shocking rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany party that won 13 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections; to name a few examples.

***

So what's behind Catalonia's independence movement?

In the immediate sense, in the weeks preceding October 1, as the Spanish state sought to delegitimize the referendum and mainstream media created an environment of fear, many Catalans joined campaigns organized from the bottom up.

One of the most celebrated of these was the Committees in Defense of the Referendum, which became the place for hundreds of people to come together to collectively discuss and plan how to respond to Rajoy's threats.

The central government's unprecedented actions convinced many people that a vote for independence was about much more than separating from Spain. The referendum became a vote to exercise a basic democratic right and to resist the Spanish state's violations of legality.

There's no doubt that Catalan and Spanish politics have been changed forever by this past week, and left-wing forces supporting independence, like the Candidatura d'Unitat Popular (CUP), are well-positioned to both grow and influence the course of events.

But what happens next is highly dependent on what sectors of the population get involved in the effort to build a Catalan state, as well as a contest between the left and right wings of the movement.

Today's movement has deep roots in the history of Catalonia, which has had an uneasy relationship with the central government in Madrid going back centuries. In the modern period, tensions rose dramatically when Spain suffered a series of military defeats in 1898 -- leading to the ruling class losing much of its remaining colonial possessions and the majority of the population falling into devastating poverty.

Throughout this period, the Spanish state repressed Catalan institutions, culture and language. Franco's fascist dictatorship, from 1939 to 1975, only reinforced this long-running national oppression. Catalan was not even recognized as an official language in Catalonia. Textbooks were produced exclusively in Spanish, and history books were rewritten to match the extremely conservative ideology of Francoism.

Economically, the region suffered especially badly. In the eyes of the newly consolidated fascist dictatorship, the people of Barcelona -- who rose up against Franco's forces in 1936 under the leadership of socialists and anarchists, before they were finally defeated and massacred by Franco's forces -- had to be taught a lesson.

Franco's death in 1975 led to a transition directed by the top layer of the traditional political parties and King Juan Carlos I from a dictatorial regime to a liberal democracy with the signing of the 1978 Constitution. Part of this transition included a "pact of silence" between the main politicians, agreeing that no investigations were to take place about anything that happened during the civil war or the Franco years.

Erasing all historical memory of the Franco era has been a top priority for Spanish rulers over the last 40 years. In order to access the stories of those years, we have had to read English or French texts, or read and watch fiction. As all of Spain was integrated into the EU -- and while this national trauma remained unresolved -- movements from below pushed to recover the real stories of Spain's darkest period as a precondition for moving on to real democracy.

The claim that there are still unresolved issues tied to the dictatorship isn't an abstract or historical complaint.

The same politicians involved in Franco's regime created Rajoy's Popular Party (PP), a conservative formation attached to neoliberalism, which has been governing Spain for the past six years and had previously introduced the starkest neoliberal policies when it was in power from 1998 to 2004.

The PP has been at the forefront of smashing any attempts to change politics as usual in Spain. It has alternated in power with the PSOE -- which immediately abandoned its socialist past to become one of the two leading neoliberal parties after Franco's death.

***

This difficult history, together with the deepening of the economic crisis, both in Spain and across Europe, have been the main rallying points that pushed Catalans to consider their position as a region fully subordinated to Spain.

Since 2005, there have been attempts by different Catalan governments to pass resolutions through the central government that would allow for Spain as a whole to become a federal state, with Catalonia attaining independence. The PP and the PSOE blocked these initiatives at every step.

These efforts, however, were led by parties at the top of the Catalan capitalist class and had very little organized support from below.

These parties also proved incapable of responding to the worst aspects of the economic crisis beginning in 2008. Unemployment for youth in 2009 reached over 50 percent, and millions of people lost their ability to pay bills, as state sectors, such as energy and electricity, were sold off to private companies.

The situation was never as dire as that of Greece, but Spain is the fourth-largest EU economy, and while the rich are getting richer, official unemployment remains over 17 percent.

In 2011, Spain's youth took to the squares and occupied them to protest the lack of real democracy and what they called the "dictatorship of the banks and the corrupt." The protests became known by the name for their participants: the Indignados.

Itself inspired by the uprisings of the Arab Spring earlier in the year, the strategy of occupying public spaces spread around Europe in a matter of weeks and months -- and eventually all the way to the US, in the form of the Occupy movement.

The movement didn't remain mobilized past those opening months, but the pull to the left continued.

In 2012, the CUP -- the only truly left-wing party supporting independence -- won seats in the Catalan parliament for the first time. Movements in defense of immigrants and health care and against evictions won significant victories. The left-wing Podemos party emerged in 2014 based on a model of a decentralized agglomeration of local organizers. In less than a year, it became the third-strongest party across Spain.

Thus, the mobilization in support of the referendum and the open defiance of violent repression are only the latest expressions of the polarization going on in the country.

Whether this continues to the left or can be co-opted by the usual players remains to be seen. But one thing is for certain. The people of Catalonia must not be isolated and forced to fight on their own. As the revolutionary socialist organization Anticapalistas wrote following the vote:

[I]t is increasingly evident that a new project for the working classes [all across the Spanish state] will only be possible by promoting constituent processes that go beyond the 1978 regime...[It is] urgent to promote a democratic movement which defends the legitimacy of the decisions of the Catalan people and which, at the same time, confronts the reactionary offensive of the PP. Only in this way will we be able to build a social majority capable of doing what the regime cannot: dialogue among equals, without repression. 

Categories: Latest News

Congress Uses Las Vegas Massacre to Push Abortion Ban

Truthout - Mon, 10/09/2017 - 21:00

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) (R) is joined by anti-abortion leaders while introducing the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act during a news conference at the US Capitol on November 7, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Congress is seeking to end abortions after 20 weeks gestation, a move that would further devastate access to necessary care across the country. In addition to being an infringement on people’s rights, such legislation could be costly to taxpayers.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) (R) is joined by anti-abortion leaders while introducing the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act during a news conference at the US Capitol on November 7, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

This week, the Senate takes up an unconstitutional bill recently passed 237-189 in the House that would ban all abortion after 20 weeks. The deceptively named "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" (H.R. 36) would "make it a crime for any person to perform or attempt to perform an abortion if the probable post-fertilization age of the fetus is 20 weeks or more."

The claim that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks has been thoroughly debunked. Published at the Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, a 2011 review of more than 150 studies has confirmed that a fetus's neurological system is not developed enough at 20 weeks to register pain; the connection between the brain and the rest of the body simply doesn't exist.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the lungs don't develop until 26 weeks, making any delivery before then of the highest risk. A 2015 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine followed babies delivered before 27 weeks from birth through their toddler years and found that only 18 of the 78 "22-weekers" had survived, only seven were without moderate or severe impairments, and these were preemies with access to exceptional neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) care.

The evidence is not new, and yet abortion opponents continue to draw a line in the sand at this arbitrary point during pregnancy. Its arbitrariness makes this bill and those like it unconstitutional as well. As Roe v. Wade and subsequent Supreme Court decisions have determined over the past 44 years, states have a vested interest in "potential life," but may not prohibit the termination of a pregnancy before the fetus can survive on its own -- albeit with great assistance from modern medicine. Abortion opponents in Congress seem undeterred by constitutional precedent or the bounds of medical technology.

In addition to being an infringement on people’s rights, this legislation could be costly to taxpayers.

Currently, 18 states unconstitutionally prohibit later abortion with exceptions for when the life or physical health of the pregnant person is in severe danger. These laws take time and money to fight, though ultimately it is the state whose finances are drained. Arizona, for example, recently lost the fight defending its 20-week ban. An extensive report from the Arizona Capitol Times found that the state has paid out $2.2 million in legal fees in the past eight years to the groups that have successfully fought to overturn several abortion restrictions. When the costs to the attorney general's office are included, Arizona has spent an estimated $2.3 million on laws that were indefensible on their face. The federal government would have similar responsibilities should it pass H.R. 36 and lose the battle with the courts to keep it on the books. In addition to being an infringement on people's rights, this legislation could be costly to taxpayers.

Bans Impact Young People, Rural People, Poor People

There are myriad reasons why pregnancies are terminated at 20 weeks and after. Lives and circumstances change, transforming a wanted pregnancy to one the pregnant person cannot continue. Rural residents must first find a clinic and often navigate additional state-imposed restrictions like waiting periods and bans on insurance coverage. Low-income people in all parts of the country may find that just as they've managed to raise enough money, they have moved far enough along in their pregnancy to need a more expensive procedure and must race to raise additional funds. Immigrants and communities of color are disproportionately impacted because of systemic oppression and barriers.

Youth in particular often don't realize they're pregnant in the first several weeks, then must gather information and support -- not to mention money. Parental notification laws in 37 states complicate the path to an appointment at a clinic; judicial bypass laws designed to allow minors to circumvent their guardians can be a terrifying burden to navigate as the pregnant teen watches the weeks go by.

Dené Dryden, a student at Kansas State University and a journalism intern for the youth-driven reproductive justice leadership organization Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity, told Truthout about the 20-week ban already in place in her state.

"Anti-abortion policies disadvantage every person seeking care, but [they are] especially hindering for people who live far away from abortion clinics," said Dryden. "Young people living in rural areas already face added barriers to abortion: it's harder for us raise the funds and we have to figure out transportation."

Kansas also requires additional counseling beyond what is medically necessary and typically provided by physicians.

"In Kansas, we have to make two trips to the abortion clinic," said Dryden. "All of these restrictions can push a young person later in pregnancy, which means they might not be able to get an abortion because of the 20-week ban."

Plus, the 20-week point is the time at which many in utero tests can be performed. Complications with the fetus and/or pregnant person can make an appearance and tests can show anomalies that are incompatible with life. Decisions about whether to continue carrying a fetus that will most certainly die or live a short, painful life often occur at 20 weeks.

Dr. Julie Bindeman, a psychologist and co-director and cofounder of Integrative Therapy of Greater Washington, told Truthout about her experiences with facing this decision -- twice.

"In a moment when so many urgent national priorities demand our attention, Congress is choosing to maintain their focus on restricting abortion access. It's unconscionable, and once again, I am sharing my story," said Bindeman. "As a woman who ended two pregnancies after 20 weeks, I am deeply concerned about the prospect that our anti-abortion government will pass a national ban on the very care I needed. I can only imagine how much more painful it would have been for all of us if this personal, important decision was taken away from us because we didn't find out until after an arbitrary cutoff. Or if we found out just before the cutoff, and were prohibited from making a decision on our own time."

Bindeman isn't only worried about herself and her family.

"As a reproductive psychologist, I am likewise concerned about the impact of stigma and restrictive laws on women's mental well-being," she said. "Bans on abortion later in pregnancy interfere with personal medical decisions; these bans also disrupt and threaten a woman's ability to process the experience of pregnancy loss."

Sung Yeon Choimorrow, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, echoed Bindeman's and Dryden's anger about the legislators' focus on abortion restrictions.

"Banning safe and medically proven abortion care harms Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women by taking away our decisions about our bodies, our pregnancies and our families," Choimorrow told Truthout. "The 20-week abortion ban is just another attempt at advancing this administration's anti-women agenda. It criminalizes women's bodily autonomy, as well as the doctors who provide women with the care they need."

Choimorrow explained that the AAPI community already faces challenges that would be amplified by a federal 20-week ban.

"Abortion restrictions are uniquely harmful to the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, many of whom are immigrants and who face financial and linguistic barriers to culturally competent reproductive health care," said Choimorrow. "We are also subject to racist and sexist stereotypes about our reproductive decision-making. Congress has yet to address the many urgent issues facing our community, including the need to ensure long-term stability for immigrant communities, as well protecting funding for the Violence Against Women Act. Attacking abortion is a dangerous distraction."

Trump "Strongly Supports" the Bill

With just a 52-seat majority, Senate Republicans would need to gather 60 votes to prevent Democrats from filibustering. In an effort to create a sense of urgency, House Republican leaders issued a statement declaring that their inspiration to vote on H.R. 36 came from the mass shooting in Las Vegas. They wrote that after the shooting, "we are reminded just how precious life is … We spoke of the potential of life -- especially lives cut short through abortion."

NARAL Nevada Las Vegas Organizing Coordinator Cyndy Hernandez responded with a statement of her own: "This horrific, politically motivated response is not what those of us here in Las Vegas need. On behalf of families across the state of every political background, NARAL Nevada calls on Rep. Amodei and Congressional Republicans to retract these offensive remarks and commit to never again using the pain and suffering of our community to justify taking away our rights."

Youth often don’t realize they’re pregnant in the first several weeks, then must gather information and support -- not to mention money.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) called the bill a "waste of precious time" on October 3.

"Let me be clear: This bill is as dead on arrival in the Senate," she said, "just like it was the last time Republicans tried to pander to their extreme base by playing this particular political game with women's health."

The Republicans have never attempted to pass this legislation with control of Congress and the support of the White House, however. The Office of Management and Budget confirmed in a statement last week that the administration "strongly supports" the bill and "applauds the House of Representatives for continuing its efforts to secure critical pro-life protections." This position is consistent with Trump's letter to "Pro-Life Leader[s]" during the election which said he was "committed to…[s]igning into law the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act."

Meanwhile, reproductive rights advocates point to the bill as an attempt to feed the president's base, at the expense of pregnant people.

"Abortion after twenty weeks of pregnancy is rare and almost always medically complicated. There is no place in these conversations for politicians pursuing an ideological agenda with no knowledge of the medical specifics of each case," said NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue in a statement. "Given the complete failure of the GOP to deliver on their promise to rob healthcare from millions of Americans, this bill is designed entirely to mollify an agitated base and avoid Donald Trump's ire at the lack of legislative action under Republican leadership. It's unsurprising that the anti-choice GOP would make women foot the bill." 

If you would like to contact your senator about this bill, their information is available in the US Senate directory.

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Categories: Latest News

"An Inferno Like You've Never Seen": Deadly Wildfires Ravage California

Truthout - Mon, 10/09/2017 - 21:00

Smoldering Peters Canyon Regional Park on October 9, 2017 in Orange, California. (Photo: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

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More than ten people have been killed, thousands have been left without power, and tens of thousands have been forced to evacuate as more than a dozen wildfires tore through Northern California overnight Monday, forcing Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency in eight counties.

"Presently, these fires continue their path of destruction," Brown said in a statement late Monday. "Many residents had little time to flee due to the fires' rapid and erratic rate of spread through the rural terrain. Tragically, these fires have already taken lives and emergency responders anticipate the number of fatalities could grow."

Brown also asked President Donald Trump -- who spent his morning tweeting insults at ESPN host Jemele Hill and the NFL -- to issue a disaster declaration.

At least eighteen total wildfires have been counted, and firefighters have struggled to contain the inferno as powerful winds Monday night rapidly pushed the flames from rural areas into cities. As the Wall Street Journal reports, at least 2,000 homes have been destroyed, along with schools, grocery stores, and community centers.

"Essentially, we are in a mode of saving lives and getting people out of harm's way at the moment," one firefighter said in an interview Monday night.

The fires, which began Sunday night, have already been characterized as "among the most destructive in state history." Environmentalist and author Bill McKibben described one image that emerged from Napa Valley as akin to "a city after a bombing."

"It was like Armageddon," California resident Mike Turpen told Yahoo News. "Every branch of every tree was on fire."

Another resident, speaking with USA Today, said the fires are "an inferno like you've never seen before. Trees were on fire like torches."

The pictures from the Napa wildfire look like a city after a bombing. Some ways to help: https://t.co/YXP5NlNDDL pic.twitter.com/fq8imZ4R26

— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) October 10, 2017

Amy Head, fire captain spokesperson for Cal Fire, a state agency tasked with fire protection, told the Guardian that the fires are "unprecedented," even in a state that often experiences multiple wildfires simultaneously.

"I hate using that word because it's been overused a lot lately because of how fires have been in the past few years, but it truly is -- there's just been a lot of destruction," Head concluded.

Many have warned in the aftermath of intense wildfires that the effects of climate change are likely to intensify such devastating events, and similar concerns were issued Monday as the fires continued to spread relatively unconstrained.

"More dangerous wildfires and longer spells of drought have long been predicted among the many devastating impacts of climate change," notes Cody Fenwick of the local Napa Valley Patch. "Research published last year has borne out these predictions, finding that about half the increase in damage from wildfires since the 1970s could be attributed to climate change."

Local authorities said Monday that it is unclear what initially set off the fires, but noted that exceptionally dry conditions coupled with strong wings have allowed the fires to spread quickly.

As the fires raged overnight, horrifying videos and images spread on social media and firefighters expressed doubt that they will be able to "get in front" of the flames any time soon.

Satellite imagery of the #wildfires in #California today captured by the VIIRS instrument DayNight Band. More info @ https://t.co/MPP390W64K pic.twitter.com/7KAvRMh9uT

— NOAA Satellites (@NOAASatellites) October 9, 2017
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