Eight environmental organizations launched a series of petition deliveries to the California offices of Attorney General Xavier Becerra asking him to investigate what Exxon knew about climate change, when it knew it, and what it did with that knowledge.
Two months ago, Jeanette Vizguerra skipped a scheduled check-in with ICE officials and instead sought refuge in the First Unitarian Society church, along with her four children, three of whom are US-born. Democracy Now! recently visited Jeanette and her 10-year-old son, Roberto, at the First Unitarian Society church in Denver.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman. We go now to Denver, Colorado, where a mother of four is fighting against possible deportation by seeking sanctuary in a church. Jeanette Vizguerra skipped a scheduled check-in with ICE officials and instead sought refuge in the First Unitarian Society church along with her four children, three of whom are US-born. Jeanette came to the US from Mexico in 1997. She's one of the founders of the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition. She's helped other undocumented immigrants seek sanctuary. She previously won five postponements of deportation, but said on Wednesday she doubts she could win a similar reprieve under the Trump administration.
We interviewed her as soon as she went into the church two months ago. But this weekend, when I went to Denver, I visited Jeanette to follow up on how her stay has been. And I spoke to her as well as her 10-year-old son, Roberto, at the church. I began by asking Roberto why his mother is staying in the church.
ROBERTO VIZGUERRA: She's in the church because there are these people, which are like a group of people named ICE, that she -- she wanted to go to one of her, like -- [speaking Spanish]
JEANETTE VIZGUERRA: Check-in.
ROBERTO VIZGUERRA: Yeah, on her check-in, she tried to make some papers so she can stay here even longer, and then they denied it. But before she went to the check-in, she decided to come here. And then, one of my mom's friends, which is a pastor named Ann, went to do the process for her. And Ann said that when she went inside, there were already ICE officials in there, ready to arrest my mom. So when she came in, she just did the papers, and that's it. And my mom thought that it was a good idea to do that before, because she knew that there might be a problem and she might have gotten arrested. And we visit her sometimes, because we don't want her to just stay in here and have nothing to do, be lonely. And we just come here so she feels happy to see us still.
AMY GOODMAN: What are you afraid of?
ROBERTO VIZGUERRA: That like some ICE person will just pop out and pick her up and take her away.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you consider yourself an activist?
ROBERTO VIZGUERRA: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: What does that mean to you?
ROBERTO VIZGUERRA: Being an activist? It means a lot, because now I know that I'm not only going to be a normal boy, I know that I'm going to be someone that's going to be helping someone else going through a big problem.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do your friends say to you?
ROBERTO VIZGUERRA: They're like, "I'm really happy that your mom didn't get tooken by ICE, because if she did, I know you would be really sad." And they support me a lot, because they know what I'm going through. And almost every day there's someone asking me, "Hey, is your mom still OK?"
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you tell them?
ROBERTO VIZGUERRA: She's fine. Nothing has happened to her. And nothing will happen to her.
AMY GOODMAN: And you know that because?
ROBERTO VIZGUERRA: Because I know that she's in a safe place. And it would just be disrespectful if they just broke in here and took my mom. That would give them a bad profile.
AMY GOODMAN: So she can't go outside, but you go outside for her?
ROBERTO VIZGUERRA: Yes. I am kind of like her voice.
AMY GOODMAN: I am my mother's voice. That was 10-year-old Roberto, the son of Jeanette Vizguerra. Jeanette is fighting against possible deportation by seeking sanctuary in the Unitarian church in Denver. When I talked to Roberto and Jeanette, they were also sitting with her 6-year-old daughter Zury. I asked Jeanette what her plans were now, now that she's spent nearly two months in the church.
JEANETTE VIZGUERRA: [translated] Yeah, it has been almost two months. I haven't noticed it has been so long, because I'm very busy. There is no plans going forward. We just need to wait. My lawyer is working really hard on my case, while at the same time I'm exploring some community-oriented strategies, because he is in charge of the legal aspect, and I, as an activist, am in charge of the community aspect. So, I can only wait. I have said that I am a very patient person.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you prepared for ICE to come in at any time?
JEANETTE VIZGUERRA: [translated] Yes. We have an internal plan here at the church, and not only at this church, also at the church where Ingrid is, who is at the other church in Mountain View. She has been in sanctuary for over three months. Both churches are part of the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition, and each church has its own emergency plan. I am also prepared. Before coming here, I prepared a family plan in case ICE were to go to my house. Part of the plan with my children was that one of them would be filming, and the other one would be calling people from a list that I gave them. And here, we have a similar plan. So I am prepared, and so are the people here. We hope that Donald Trump will respect these spaces. It would look wrong from a moral standpoint if he came after mothers who are just fighting for their families.
AMY GOODMAN: You are receiving death threats?
JEANETTE VIZGUERRA: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: How?
JEANETTE VIZGUERRA: [translated] I have been receiving several hate messages from men and women through Facebook.
AMY GOODMAN: And the police captain came to say he supports you?
JEANETTE VIZGUERRA: [translated] Yes. They have come in person to offer support. They have asked us to keep a record if we see something weird on the street or if people send strong messages of hate against me on social media, because these people will suffer the consequences.
AMY GOODMAN: How can people be supportive to you? What is most helpful to you?
JEANETTE VIZGUERRA: [translated] I feel very grateful, because I have more people supporting me than people hating me, and not only in this country. There are many messages of support coming from my own country, also from many other countries, because my case is now known worldwide.
AMY GOODMAN: That's Jeanette Vizguerra, sitting with two of her children in the church she's taken sanctuary in, Roberto and Zury. Jeanette is one of the founders of the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition, but she herself has taken sanctuary, after Donald Trump became president. To see our full interview with her when she first entered the church two months ago, go to democracynow.org.
Coming up, we'll speak with the acclaimed Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli about her new book, Tell Me How It Ends. This is about her time working with children in immigration court. Stay with us.
Trump Rejects Calls for Transparency, Vowing to Keep Tax Returns and White House Visitor Logs Secret
The White House is facing new criticism over its lack of transparency, as President Trump is refusing to release his tax returns as well as logs of White House visitors. On Monday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Trump did not plan to release his tax returns, saying Trump was under an audit. Spicer's comments came just two days after more than 100,000 people took to the streets on Saturday to call on Trump to release his taxes. Crowds gathered in more than a dozen cities from coast to coast, including Washington, DC, New York City, Chicago, Seattle, and in South Florida, where activists marched to Trump's private Mar-a-Lago resort, where Trump was staying over the weekend. Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers are vowing not to work with Trump on reforming or rewriting the tax code unless Trump releases his own taxes. More than a dozen Republican lawmakers are also calling on Trump to release his taxes. For more, we speak with Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York. She was on the steering committee for the NYC Tax March.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: The White House is facing new criticism over its lack of transparency, as President Trump is refusing to release his tax returns as well as logs of White House visitors. On Monday, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer said Trump did not plan to release his tax returns, saying Trump was under an audit.
REPORTER: On the tax question, you've been asked about this, obviously, a thousand times.
PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: Thank you.
REPORTER: You always talk about, well, under audit. The president says under audit. Is it time to say, once and for all, the president is never going to release his tax returns?
PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: We'll have to get back to you on that.
REPORTER: You won't -- I mean, you see -- I mean, really.
PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: Really.
REPORTER: So he may?
PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: No. I said I'd have to get back to you on that. I think that we're -- he is still under audit. The statement still stands.
AMY GOODMAN: Trump is the first US president in more than four decades to refuse to release his tax returns. The IRS says being under an audit does not prevent anyone, including the president, from releasing your tax returns. On Monday, Sean Spicer also defended the administration's decision not to make public a log of White House visitors.
PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: The president wants to make sure that people can come in the same way they can go into a members of Congress's office, provide information and details. And there's people who want to be able to come have that conversation with -- with members of the administration the same way that they would do with members of Congress, go into their office.
REPORTER: Why didn't he take this opportunity to one-up the transparency game, if Obama was so bad at it?
PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: Because it's -- because -- I think I'm -- I'm trying to explain that to you. I think that we recognize that there's a privacy aspect to allowing citizens to come, express their views.
AMY GOODMAN: Spicer's comments came just two days after more than 100,000 people took to the streets Saturday across the country to call on Trump to release his taxes. Crowds gathered in more than a dozen cities from coast to coast, including Washington, DC, here in New York City, in Chicago, Seattle, and in South Florida, where activists marched to Trump's private Mar-a-Lago resort, where Trump was staying over the weekend. Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers are vowing not to work with Trump on reforming or rewriting the tax code unless he releases his own taxes. More than a dozen Republican lawmakers are also calling on Trump to release his taxes.
Well, for more, we're joined by Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York. She's on the steering committee for the NYC Tax March.
Susan Lerner, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about what these mass protests were about, that clearly Donald Trump was upset by, because he tweeted about them.
SUSAN LERNER: Yes, I think we got under his skin. And that was one of the goals. The Tax March was about a very simple demand: Donald Trump should come clean with the American people and disclose his full tax returns, not just a sheet here or there from a random year, but the full long 1040 form for at least the last five to 10 years. He needs to answer questions that Americans across the country have as to whether he is working for the American people or he's working for his own bottom line.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let's talk about what exactly it would mean. Talk about what the taxes would show. Talk about why this is so important.
SUSAN LERNER: Well, what we believe the taxes would show is who actually owns a piece of Donald Trump. There's been speculation that -- based on things that his son and others have said, that he owes substantial amounts of money to Russians who are close to the Kremlin, and that therefore he is subject to influence by the people who own his credit. It would tell us what sorts of deals he has in foreign countries. It would let us know who would be able to influence the 45th president so that he would be making decisions based on what's best for the people who he owes money to or he is in business with, rather than what's best for the American people. So it would help us determine if there's foreign influence. It would help us determine if he is actually working first and foremost for the Americans, and whether he's putting the best interest of the people that he is allegedly elected to represent first and foremost.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to something that has just recently come out. On Monday, President Trump called the president of Turkey, Erdogan, to congratulate him on winning the referendum. Trump has major business interests --
SUSAN LERNER: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: -- in Turkey. Now, this is at a time when there's mass criticism of this referendum, that could lead to a dictatorship in Turkey.
SUSAN LERNER: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: So Trump has major business interests in Turkey. In 2015, Trump even admitted that he had conflicts of interest in dealing with Turkey, while speaking on Steve Bannon's radio show Breitbart News Daily.
DONALD TRUMP: Well, I also have -- I have a little conflict of interest, because I have a major, major building in Istanbul, and it's a tremendously successful job. It's called Trump Towers, two towers instead of one. Not the usual one, it's two. And I've gotten to know Turkey very well, and they're amazing people. They're incredible people.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that's Donald Trump back in 2015.
SUSAN LERNER: And, you know, we have so many concerns regarding conflicts of interest, a president who refuses to acknowledge his ethical responsibilities to separate himself from his extensive business interests, to refuse to come clean with the American people as to how extensive those business interests actually are, and simply fueling endless speculation that he is not working for the American people. And there is absolutely no justification.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me turn to NBC's chief White House correspondent, Hallie Jackson, questioning President Trump in January about his taxes.
HALLIE JACKSON: Will you release your tax returns to prove what you're saying about no deals in Russia?
PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP: Well, I'm not releasing tax returns, because, as you know, they're under audit.
HALLIE JACKSON: But every president since the '70s --
PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP: Oh, gee, I've never heard that. Oh, gee, I've never heard that. I've never heard that. You know, the only one that cares about my tax returns are the reporters. OK? They're the only ones.
HALLIE JACKSON: You don't think the American public is concerned about that?
PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP: But, no, I don't think so. I won. I mean, I became president. No, I don't think they care at all. I don't think they care at all. I think you care. I think you care.
AMY GOODMAN: OK, so that was Donald Trump. Who else cares about it?
SUSAN LERNER: Well, Americans across the country, lawmakers, members of Congress. Last night, Congressman Donovan, who represents Staten Island, had a teletown hall. And he chimed in, in response to questions from his constituents, that he believes that Donald Trump should release his tax returns. Now, what's really interesting about that is Congress actually has the power to order Donald Trump to release his tax returns. There's no statute which requires a candidate to release tax returns when they're running for president, but there is a law that was passed back in the 1920s, with the Teapot Dome scandal, that gives Congress the ability to require the disclosure of a president's tax returns. And repeatedly, Congress has refused to exercise that power.
AMY GOODMAN: Repeatedly throughout history or throughout Donald Trump's almost 100 days?
SUSAN LERNER: In the current presidency. I think it's the first time in a long time that the ability has come up. It was used during the Nixon years to get Nixon's tax returns. And the Congress has been asked repeatedly by Democratic members of the House to order, to take advantage of this law, and they have refused.
AMY GOODMAN: And then talk about what's one of the lead stories in The New York Times today, "Trump's Promise to Fix Tax Code Is Bogging Down: His Refusal to Release Returns Fuels Fight by Democrats."
SUSAN LERNER: Absolutely, and appropriately so. This is clearly a president who has no relationship to the truth, feels no obligation to follow through on the promises that he made in his campaign. They are hollow. He repeatedly said, "Oh, if only I could release my tax returns. Once I'm elected, of course I'll release my tax returns." And now, of course, he's spitting in everyone's face to say, "I don't have to bother. The election is over," as he tweeted at all of us on Sunday. Well, the election may be over, but his conflicts of interest continue to mount.
AMY GOODMAN: President Trump responded to the demonstrations by tweeting, "Someone should look into who paid for the small organized rallies yesterday. The election is over!" Trump's claim is ironic, because, as NBC points out, Trump himself used paid actors to pose as rally attendees during his campaign.
SUSAN LERNER: Well, I think, Amy, you've put your finger on something that's very obvious about the 45th president, that when he makes an accusation, we should first and foremost look at his own conduct. He's not a person of great imagination. So he accuses people of things which he himself either has done or has contemplated doing. And it's absolutely ironic that this guy, who paid people to show up and increase the number of his rallies, would accuse everyday Americans, who are concerned about the lack of integrity and ethics in this White House, that they would in some way have to be paid or urged to make their wishes very clearly known. Across the country, everyday Americans sent a clear message to Donald Trump, based on their own feelings: "Come clean, you chicken. Release your tax returns." That's why the chicken balloons were so very popular across the country.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you have Democrats, and increasingly Republicans are demanding that he release his tax returns. But then you have others who are saying, instead of protesting around his taxes, just don't pay your taxes. There's this long history of tax resistance going back to Henry David Thoreau, especially now, as President Trump announces he's calling for $50-plus billion increase in the military budget and slashing diplomatic departments, like the State Department, and international aid organizations. What are your thoughts on that, Susan?
SUSAN LERNER: Well, I've been part of some interesting discussions here in New York City, where people are really trying to figure out what is the right thing to do. You know, there is a long history, as you've said, of tax resisters. But now there's a broader discussion, which is: How do we redirect our tax dollars? Because what's very interesting about Americans is Americans feel very strongly about paying their taxes. This is a country that has extremely high voluntary tax compliance. And one of the things that was chanted at the march in New York City was "We pay our taxes in this town." Another thing that we don't know is whether Donald Trump is carrying his weight at all or whether he's allowing working families, immigrants and the working poor to pay for civilization, which is what taxes are, after all. And he gets the benefit. We carry the burden.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Susan Lerner, about another subject: the Trump administration's new policy to keep the logs of White House visitors secret. On Monday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer defended the policy.
PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: We're following the law as both the Presidential Records Act and the Federal Records Act prescribe it. So, it's the same policy that every administration had up until the Obama administration. And frankly, the faux attempt that the Obama administration put out, where they would scrub who they didn't want put out, didn't serve anyone well.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the White House logs.
SUSAN LERNER: So, the White House logs are a record of every single person who comes in and out of the White House. And the Obama administration made the determination that they were going to make those logs public to the maximum extent possible. It's impossible to have absolute clarity on it. There are some people who have security concerns. But the Obama administration, while it wasn't perfect disclosure, was better disclosure than we've seen previously. And they went so far as to put the public parts of the logs up on the White House website, so you, as an individual, could go on the White House website, you could put in the name of a CEO or a lobbyist or anybody else that you were interested in, and you could find out when and how many times that particular person visited the White House. In February, all of a sudden, that information disappeared off the White House website. This is a significant retrenchment and yet another way in which this particular administration refuses to come clean with the American people and absolutely is opaque, as opposed to transparent. What I think Saturday made very clear is that Americans care about having a transparent and accountable government. And this administration wants to be sure they don't get it.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you say about Sean Spicer saying we want to protect the privacy of citizens who want to meet with the president or people in the White House?
SUSAN LERNER: Now, that is truly extraordinary and a way in which to ensure that the swamp, that the 45th president claims that he was going to drain, simply increases, because the people who are being hidden are not ordinary citizens. They're not everyday Americans coming in to petition the White House. They are the CEOs of large corporations. They are bankers. They are lobbyists. They are people who want something from the federal government and who basically want to pick the pockets of the taxpayers. And this is a way to hide the fact that this administration is in the pockets of wealthy special interests.
AMY GOODMAN: We're going to leave it there. Susan Lerner, I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of Common Cause New York, was on -- is on the steering committee of the NYC Tax March.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go into a Denver church, where a Mexican immigrant has taken refuge with her children. Stay with us.
Mississippi has long been a site of acute oppression -- racially, socially, economically -- and a refuge for companies with bad employment practices. If we can change the conditions in Mississippi, it speaks to what we can achieve in the fight against oppression globally, says Jackson mayoral candidate Chokwe Antar Lumumba.
In 2013, radical attorney Chokwe Lumumba was elected mayor of Jackson, Mississippi on a platform of economic self-determination for the people of Jackson, but his untimely death cut his plans short. Now, Lumumba's son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba (above), is running for mayor of the city, to expand on the work his father began years ago. (Credit: Chokwe Antar Lumumba)
Since election night 2016, the streets of the US have rung with resistance. People all over the country have woken up with the conviction that they must do something to fight inequality in all its forms. But many are wondering what it is they can do. In this ongoing "Interviews for Resistance" series, experienced organizers, troublemakers and thinkers share their insights on what works, what doesn't, what has changed and what is still the same. Today's interview is the 30th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.
In 2013, radical attorney Chokwe Lumumba was elected mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, on a platform of economic self-determination for the people of Jackson, a plan that community organizer Kali Akuno described as aimed at "transforming the economy, creating a democratic economy leading towards the creation and construction of a socialist economy, but through a democratic bottom-up process." Lumumba's untimely death less than a year into his term put some of those plans on hold, though the movement continued its work outside of political power, founding the organization Cooperation Jackson to create a network of worker cooperatives in the city. Now, Lumumba's son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, also an attorney, is running for mayor of the city, to expand on the work that began years ago.
Sarah Jaffe: For people who don't know the history of what has been going on in Jackson, Mississippi, over the last several years, give us a little bit of a background on the movement you come out of.
Chokwe Antar Lumumba: I am a member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and also a member of Cooperation Jackson, the Coalition for Economic Justice, and the Human Rights Collective, which are organizations steeped in the idea of creating self-determination and seeing human rights for human beings. What we have been engaged in are initiatives to see a solidarity economy come into fruition for the people of Jackson and give people more control over their destinies. [We are] looking to do it in a comprehensive fashion through the engagement of electoral politics and a number of other community-based initiatives that we believe will change the order of the world, in terms of giving people more control over their governance, more control over there conditions, and not only changing the order of Jackson, but the order of the world.
Tell us a little bit about how the campaign is going. You have got a couple of weeks before the election?
Yes, we are right at the edge of this thing. The election is May 2. We announced our candidacy nearly a year ago. To this point, it has been going strong. We are performing well. The response has been great. We are, by most accounts, the likely victors. However, we don't put all of our faith in polls and such. It is not a substitute for working. We are trying to make certain we don't get complacent and that we see this thing all the way through.
What are some of the issues people have been most concerned with while you are out campaigning?
The primary issue that you hear about most is the infrastructure. Our roads are in a horrible state. We have our pipes, which are over a hundred years old. They are decaying and corroded and breaking throughout the city. Those are the issues that you hear most about. But there are also budgetary issues with the city. Our city employees are furloughed at this time. We have a lack of economic development. Our school system is suffering and crime is high. All of which -- there is a symbiotic relationship, there is a nexus between those things. We believe there are some steps we can employ that we believe will really help bring a change in the city of Jackson.
Chokwe Antar Lumumba supports Nissan workers in Canton, Mississippi. (Credit: Chokwe Antar Lumumba)
Talk about Cooperation Jackson and its roots in the period when your father was briefly mayor.
Cooperation Jackson actually was founded after my father passed, shortly after he passed. Cooperation Jackson came out of the Lumumba Center for Economic Democracy and Development, which is named after my father. What we are trying to achieve is creating a solidarity economy and empowering underserved communities economically and having economic justice and exploring new and creative measures of how we do that. Jackson, like a number of cities, is not a city that has a problem producing wealth. It is a city that has a problem maintaining wealth.
We have to create a better environment that helps aid in the retention of wealth within underserved communities. We have had business come -- it takes the idea of a need for business development and looks at the best practices to do so, making certain that we invite and create and nurture and have an incubator for small home-grown businesses that are needed in the community, but also that we create businesses that by their very nature are owned by and support the community.
We are looking at the cooperative business model, where a cooperative business could essentially be anything you could imagine. One thing people are frustrated about, even though we are a city of 175,000+, there is no movie theater in the City of Jackson. All the movie theaters are in the bedroom communities. We feel that where we see a void, where we see a need, we can create it for ourselves and create a cooperative movie theater. Therefore, the community is able to fill its gaps, fill its voids, and at the same time the people who work and labor have the opportunity to dictate what their labor will be and dictate what the fruits of their labor will be.
This would be pretty big, radical change for the city of Jackson. Tell us a little bit about the opposition to all of the work you're doing.
There are different forms of opposition. There is the opposition from the big power brokers who have benefited from the way the system currently exists. We have a situation that is much like the nation where you have so many with so little and so few with so much. They represent those interests and want to fight against any type of change that might level a playing field. That is on one hand.
Then you have misinformation. You have confusion. You have people who are being told that it is not in their best interest…. We just have to make certain that we really are clear in our message and clear in the delivery of what we are trying to accomplish. That we are not trying to push anyone from the table, we are trying to bring more people to it and expand and broaden the tent. That is what we really want to do and we believe that there is opportunity to do so.
When we talk about creating wealth, one thing that I have as a stated goal is that on city contracts, if I am fortunate to be elected mayor, I want to see 60 percent of the boots on ground to be Jacksonian. Fifty percent of the subcontracting I want to be minority subcontracting. Jackson is 85 percent African American. My vision is not even a question of color, as it is a question of economics. If 85 percent of your population is left handed, then you need some left handed jobs.
That is an excellent way to put it. I like that. When I talked to Kali back in January, he was talking about a couple of the challenges being that the state could potentially take over both the school system and the water system. Can you talk a little bit about that?
What we are seeing throughout the country is that there is communication between different oppressive institutions. We are seeing a lot of what took place in Detroit [with the emergency managers]. Now there is an effort to implement that here in Jackson. What took place in Charlotte, North Carolina, where they tried to take over the airport, is now underway here in Jackson. There is an effort to do so. Many people don't know that in a place like Detroit, before Detroit when bankrupt, they lost control of their water.
There are lessons learned and battle stories being exchanged on both sides. We have to make certain that we have to be prepared and share information so that we can stop those efforts being employed on our community and other communities similarly positioned. There is an effort to stress a need to regionalize our water, which I am against. One [among] our clientele is a bedroom community, the West Rankin community, which is a client to our water system and they are threatening to get off of the system and create their own water treatment facility. They represent less than 25 percent of our clientele. They are looking for a 50/50 split or even greater on their side in terms of the decision-making from the board. I believe that makes no sense. That doesn't make sound, rational sense to me. I think we have to fight that effort.
The City of Jackson owns its own airport. Jackson is in Hinds County. However, the airport is in Rankin County. It is in a plot of land that the city purchased of more than 3,000 acres, of which, 800 of those acres the actual airport sits on. All of which is owned by Jackson and some of which has been incorporated into the City of Jackson. A lot of development has gone on in the area and it is prime real estate. There is an effort to steal it from Jackson so that they could develop for their needs as opposed to what meets the needs of the citizens of Jackson.
We are trying to fight those things. Part of that requires leadership that knows how to advocate. People have often said, "You need those friendships in order to get the job done and to make certain that you aren't stepped on." I think friendships are important; however, beyond just relationships, is respect. A marriage without respect won't produce much. They need to understand that Jackson will have leadership that -- when it comes to the table -- will find the points of leverage, will find the points that highlight our strengths versus their weaknesses and negotiate for things that are amenable to both sides. If you don't have that posture, if you are not willing to do what it takes to rescue your sales, then no one else is going to come in. The cavalry isn't coming to save you.
We live in Trumplandia now. For somebody who has been in Mississippi and working and organizing in Mississippi for a long time, what have you been thinking watching the last couple of months of the Trump administration and what advice do you have for people who are -- Kali said to me -- "Everybody woke up in Mississippi on November 9."
Yes, that has been my statement when people ask, "How did you feel the Wednesday after the election?" I said, "Well, I woke up in Mississippi." What that means to me is that no matter whether Trump is president or whether Obama was president, in Mississippi if you were poor before Obama, you were most likely poor after Obama. Mississippi has not had the opportunity to feel great booms or big busts in the financial market of our country, because no matter whether the country was excelling or on a decline, we still were at the bottom. We have always been at the bottom. Mississippi has been largely neglected by everyone.
The real opportunity to win Mississippi or to organize in Mississippi is to address the needs of the people in this space. I think it is a real opportunity to develop, because if you take a place like Mississippi (which has been the haven of oppression in many regards, whether we are talking about racially, culturally, socially, or even economically), it is a haven for bad employment practices. If you can change the conditions in Mississippi, right here in the belly of the beast, then it speaks to what we can achieve across the globe. We no longer want Mississippi to be the refuge for companies that want to pay low wages and create conditions in which employees are treated in a devastating fashion. If we can change that dynamic here, then it makes it unsafe for them to go to any place to do that. We start creating an agenda and creating the model for what we can achieve as a people and what principled leadership can achieve, so there is no safe space for that type of oppression.
Anything else you want people to know about your campaign or the work in Jackson?
I want people to understand that this is sincere work. I do not believe that electoral politics is the end. It is the means to an end. We have to make certain we have a comprehensive and holistic approach to how we change conditions for people. That is why we have organizations like the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and Cooperation Jackson. It is why we have been engaged in a number of efforts throughout the years in order to really address where people are hurting most. But, it is also why we see a unique opportunity to expand our approach and to bring more people into the fold and really start addressing what people are dealing with.
I want people to understand that what is happening in Mississippi isn't exclusively important to Mississippi, but it is important to the world that we have things like people's assemblies where we try to pressure the leadership and receive information from the leadership and at the same time, get the leadership information. That we are always engaged in the process.
We want to change the way we look at electoral politics. No longer should we just buy someone's agenda, listen to how they are going to do all these great things for us, only to find ourselves disappointed in the end result. We need to start creating the agenda for ourselves as a community and draft the leadership that represents the agenda we have created, draft the leadership we know is fully committed to that, even if people hadn't envisioned themselves being in electoral politics, such as myself. But, I understand that our leadership must come less out of political ambition and more out of necessity.
I want to encourage your audience to look at our website. Go to www.lumumbaformayor.com. We are on social media, @lumumbaformayor on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Engage in the campaign. If people want to join us and help in the effort, come on down. If people cannot come and be a part of what we are building, send some resources. You can donate to the campaign on our website.
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.
Years ago, I worked for a wealthy television executive in Washington, DC, who had a posh Georgetown townhouse with a courtyard.
In the center of his courtyard was a small fountain, and he became obsessed with getting hold of a certain dye for it that the National Park Service used in fountains and pools at various historic sites around the capital.
The dye turned the water an opaque black, so murky you couldn't see to the bottom. The park service claimed it was more aesthetically pleasing.
I think you can see this blunt instrument of a metaphor coming: the waters of Washington intentionally made shadowy and dark, secrets hidden. That's what is happening right now. The Trump White House and its congressional allies are doing their best to obscure the truth, darkening the waters as black as they can to hide what's really going on.
On Friday, the White House announced that it would no longer make public the logs of who visits the White House. The Obama administration had a policy, with a few exceptions, of keeping such records open and available. But Donald Trump and his gang don't want you to know with whom they're doing business.
They say it's because of "grave national security risks and privacy concerns." Bull. They might as well say it's more aesthetically pleasing. The names are hidden for the same reasons Trump's tax returns and other financial transactions are hidden. And for the same reasons that when he's signing legislation or executive orders that are unpopular or especially harmful to the public, he does it behind closed doors instead of at those big ceremonies where he signs with a flourish and holds his seismograph-like signature up for all to see.
He hid out this past Thursday when he signed one law that allows states to withhold federal family planning funding from clinics providing abortions and another eliminating a regulation that allowed the expansion of retirement savings accounts. He did the same with the "revised" travel ban, getting rid of federal guidelines for transgender students using school restrooms and the rule that would keep guns from the mentally disabled.
Nor does Trump want you to know what the military is doing until it's done and the spin is ready to be spun. He claims it's because he wants to be "unpredictable" -- he doesn't want to tip his hand to the bad guys. It's more like this: if he goes ahead and drops something big and explosive without revealing the plan, there's less time for opposition or dissenting points of views. Or, perhaps more probable, he has no real idea what he's doing, and action, no matter how impulsive or wrong, feels better to him than stopping and thinking things through.
This has always been the Trump way: flashy, ostentatious displays of self-promotion and conspicuous consumption while behind the scenes, shady deals and connections are made. And it continues today as we watch the new administration and its hires trumpet the most minor accomplishments or take credit for those they did not accomplish or shout foul on someone else to distract the rest of us from whatever nefarious doings really are afoot.
The ongoing tale of Trump and Russia proves this well. He and his crew continue to scream that they have been unfairly besmirched, that they are the innocent parties targeted and tailed by an Obama administration committed to manufacturing dirt and leaking false information.
It's a three-card monte game designed to divert the eye, but for all their false shuffling of the deck, the evidence continues to build. The Guardian reported on April 13 that in the course of communications surveillance, British intelligence and several other European spy agencies discovered contacts between Russia and Trump campaign staff:
"The alleged conversations were picked up by chance as part of routine surveillance of Russian intelligence assets. Over several months, different agencies targeting the same people began to see a pattern of connections that were flagged to intelligence officials in the US."
A source told The Guardian:
"They [the European agencies] were saying: 'There are contacts going on between people close to Mr. Trump and people we believe are Russian intelligence agents. You should be wary of this.'
"The message was: 'Watch out. There's something not right here.'"
On April 6, Eric Lichtblau of The New York Times wrote that thanks in part to the European intercepts, the CIA had told congressional leaders as early as last summer, "that it had information indicating that Russia was working to help elect Donald J. Trump president, a finding that did not emerge publicly until after Mr. Trump's victory months later, former government officials say.
"The briefings indicate that intelligence officials had evidence of Russia's intentions to help Mr. Trump much earlier in the presidential campaign than previously thought. The briefings also reveal a critical split last summer between the CIA and counterparts at the FBI, where a number of senior officials continued to believe through last fall that Russia's cyberattacks were aimed primarily at disrupting America's political system, and not at getting Mr. Trump elected, according to interviews."
In addition to prior reporting that the Foreign Intelligence Secrecy Act (FISA) courts had issued secret orders to allow the monitoring of two banks thought to have connections to Russian intelligence, it now turns out that there also was a FISA warrant that gave the go-ahead to monitor Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.
"This is the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents…"
"The government's application for the surveillance order targeting Page included a lengthy declaration that laid out investigators' basis for believing that Page was an agent of the Russian government and knowingly engaged in clandestine intelligence activities on behalf of Moscow, officials said."
When all is said and done, Page may be small potatoes indeed -- even one of the Russian agents who first made contact with him said he was an "idiot" -- but the FBI and congressional investigations still have a long way to go and much remains unanswered as to how deeply Trump staffers and friends may have been involved assisting in the interference with our election.
There are, too, the many outstanding questions surrounding the apparent financial legerdemain of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Millions that he was paid by a Russian oligarch and pro-Putin politicians in Ukraine allegedly moved through banks in Cyprus and elsewhere, as Manafort was busily creating shell companies and taking out mortgages on real estate properties in a way that experts say smells of money laundering.
And finally, there remain all the questions about Donald Trump's own connections with Russian oligarchs and in turn their ties to the Russian government and organized crime. Josh Marshall of Taking Points Memo has been vigilant in his pursuit of this side of the story and wonders how much the FBI and CIA knew about Trump and his Russia connections long before he ever considered running for president.
Even without the hacking scandal, Marshall writes, Trump's contacts with Russia's kleptocrats "would seem like an extraordinarily big deal. And indeed it is an extraordinarily big deal.
"What that means is that we -- as reporters and as a concerned public -- should probe these relationships on their own terms just as much as the most logical place to hunt looking for the evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow."
There is an irony here. Trump and his cohorts grumble, moan and shriek about the hidden "Deep State" of intelligence agencies and other government and corporate interests they claim have conspired to undermine and defeat the great Trump agenda. But over the years, they themselves have used the very same apparatus of networks and connections to help make fortunes and grease the way to power and influence.
No wonder they're so desperate to keep the waters of Washington dark and fathomless.
Think of it as a silver lining to the gathering dark clouds. We live in an era of extraordinary disruption, from the serial crises of a changing climate to the wrenching shifts of a globalized economy. But in that disruption lies the potential for positive transformation.
Addressing climate change requires adapting to the impacts that are already here -- heat waves, droughts, superstorms and more -- while preventing and mitigating future impacts. Taking these challenges seriously calls for radical changes in the way we live. It calls us to zero out our carbon emissions, and to rethink the systems that shape our lives, including the economy, food and power. It calls us to fundamentally transition from a world of domination and extraction to a world of regeneration, resilience, and interdependence.
It's a tall order, no doubt, but that transition is already underway. In our work with movement builders on the front lines of the transition, we've identified two key guideposts -- connectedness and equity -- that point us toward the world we want.
Connectedness is the recognition that our well-being is inextricably tied to that of other people and the planet itself. It means there are no throwaway people, no throwaway places, no throwaway anything. In fact, there's no "away"; there's just here. In practice, connectedness is about lifting up the voices of the marginalized, and it means regenerating forgotten places, from industrial brownfields to hollowed-out rural towns and Rust Belt cities. The second guidepost, equity, is about recognizing and repairing the harm generated by situations of extreme power imbalance. Equity is about building power from the bottom up.
When communities are fully engaged in problem-solving, they come up with holistic solutions that address complex, interlocking challenges. Here are three.
Sunset Park, Brooklyn, New York
When Superstorm Sandy ripped through the Eastern Seaboard in 2012, the waterfront neighborhood of Sunset Park was hit hard. Power lines toppled and businesses were shuttered. The neighborhood's industrial district flooded, washing toxic residue into nearby residential areas.
But as the people of Sunset Park worked together to rebuild, a hopeful possibility emerged. What if the neighborhood rebuilt in ways that made the local economy more resilient and equitable, while limiting the impact of climate change? That's the vision of UPROSE, a grassroots environmental justice group that took root in Sunset Park 50 years ago.
"Superstorm Sandy was a real wakeup call for our community," says UPROSE director Elizabeth Yeampierre. "Climate change is here now, and waterfront communities like ours are extremely vulnerable." The neighborhood's low-income, immigrant residents were especially at risk, so in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, they turned to UPROSE for a community organizing effort to prepare for a wetter, more uncertain future.
The plan they came up with builds climate resilience while protecting the environment, health, and -- crucially -- jobs.
The point is not simply to rebuild what was there before; UPROSE members don't want more jobs in the same dirty industries that had polluted the neighborhood for decades. "We have a lot of businesses on the waterfront, and we want to keep them here because people need places to work," Yeampierre says. "But we want safe places to work." To that end, UPROSE has joined forces with labor unions, the Center for Working Families, and business owners to transform Sunset Park's industrial space into a manufacturing hub that produces environmentally friendly building and construction materials, powered by renewable energy. And they are encouraging these industries to hire locally.
It's a plan that addresses many problems at once. In a city with skyrocketing inequality and rampant gentrification, it could help preserve the blue-collar jobs that once anchored the middle class. At the same time, it could reduce toxic hazards and make Sunset Park a safer, healthier place to live. And it could reduce the carbon emissions that are driving that change.
The process of developing the plan was as transformational as the plan itself. UPROSE consults with residents on the future they want, then arms them with the tools they need to make that vision a reality. Some residents take on the role of block captains and gather input and educate their neighbors on city planning processes. Through partnerships with researchers, residents conduct participatory action research on issues of concern. It's a deeply democratic, holistic approach that builds local power and increases community control over resources -- key elements of community resilience.
Buffalo, New York
Left behind by the globalized economy, Buffalo has lost more than half its population since 1950. By 2005, when the community group People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH) Buffalo was founded, residents of the West Side neighborhood were struggling with unemployment, rampant blight, and high energy costs.
At that time, there were an estimated 23,000 vacant homes in Buffalo. PUSH took on a state housing agency that was using vacant buildings to speculate on Wall Street, and got the buildings turned over to the community -- with funding to fix them up.
Next, PUSH brought together hundreds of community residents to craft a plan for a large, blighted area. The result is a 25-square-block Green Development Zone (GDZ), which is now a model of energy-efficient, affordable housing. PUSH and its nonprofit development company rehabilitate homes in the GDZ, installing efficiency upgrades, like insulation and geothermal heating, that dramatically lower residents' utility bills. The organization won a New York state grant to build 46 new homes, including a net zero house, which produces as much energy as it consumes.
The GDZ doubles as a jobs program. Through its construction projects, PUSH has cultivated a growing network of contractors who are committed to hiring locally. And PUSH successfully advocated for New York's Green Jobs-Green New York program, which seeks to create 35,000 jobs while providing energy upgrades and retrofits for 1 million homes across the state.
Across the West Side, PUSH has transformed the urban landscape. In partnership with Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper and the Massachusetts Avenue Project, PUSH has turned trash-strewn, vacant lots into state-of-the-art rain gardens, small urban farms, and aquaponics greenhouses. These urban oases bolster food security, while providing much-needed green space.
A predominantly low-income community of color is challenging the oil giant that has long dominated their city.
In Richmond, the 3,000-acre Chevron refinery looms over the city with towering smokestacks and tangled pipes going in every direction. The largest of its kind in California, the Chevron refinery showers Richmond with unpronounceable toxic chemicals and periodic fiery explosions that put residents at risk. As a major source of jobs and tax revenue, Chevron has long held outsized influence on the city's politics. But, fed up with their toxic neighbor, residents are working to counterbalance the company's political muscle.
The first step was to activate community power. A coalition of local nonprofits including the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), the Richmond Progressive Alliance, and Faith-Works brought residents together to devise solutions to community problems.
The coalition organized forums and rallies, held regular learning institutes for decision-makers, and encouraged public participation at planning commission meetings. In this way, residents reshaped their city's General Plan to make Richmond less reliant on Chevron. The new General Plan emphasizes green industries, anti-displacement policies, and better mass transit systems. Now, the coalition is at work translating the plan into projects, programs, and laws.
At the same time, the Our Power campaign in Richmond is working to build community control over essential resources, such as food, land, water, and energy. Our Power partners with Cooperation Richmond, a local co-op incubator and loan fund that helps low-income residents create their own cooperatively owned businesses. The group holds the annual Our Power Festival, which brings together residents, small businesses, and the public sector to envision a transition to local energy management.
Despite this groundswell of community organizing, Chevron continued to hold sway on the City Council. So the organizers switched to electoral tactics to supporting progressive candidates who would stand up to the oil giant. And it worked. In 2014, despite millions of dollars invested in the election by Chevron, residents voted in candidates aligned with community values and renewable energy.
"Winning political power, especially in this political moment, is critical for communities at the intersection of poverty and pollution," says APEN Action executive director Miya Yoshitani. "If we are going to win back our democracy from the hands of corporations, and win the powerful vision we have for living local economies, we need to invest in organizing the power of the people and the polls in all our neighborhoods."
The IRS announced the start of a program allowing private contractors to collect tax debt. (Photo: mseery / Flickr)
The IRS, earlier this month, announced the start of a program allowing private contractors to collect tax debt. On Monday, another federal agency warned that the move is giving an opening to con artists.
The Federal Trade Commission published a blog post outlining rules governing the privatized tax collection scheme. Commission officials said Americans should be aware of the guidelines, cautioning them against falling prey to scams.
"Anyone who says they're collecting for the IRS and asks you to make a payment over the phone is a scammer," said Colleen Tressler, an FTC consumer education specialist.
There are some strict guidelines governing the program, which was mandated by Congress in late 2015: Agencies can only pursue debts that are more than two years old; the IRS is only working with four private debt collectors (CBE, ConServe, Performant, and Pioneer); the collection process will start with a letter from the IRS itself, and robocalls have not been authorized by the agency.
But in spite of these rules, advocates are warning that grifters will be emboldened by the new policy.
"This change will most likely increase or sustain the number of attempts made by scammers," BBB marketplace director Kirstin Davis said.
More worryingly, the four authorized contractors themselves could end up ripping off tax debtors in a perfectly legal manner.
One consumer advocate told NBC News that most of those in long-term arrears are below the poverty line and, therefore, eligible for tax debt abatement programs. Collection agencies lack the incentive to divulge the availability of these programs.
"We're concerned that some of these vulnerable taxpayers will agree to pay more than they can afford and more than they should be paying given the availability of these programs," said Chi Chi Wu, staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center.
Suzanne Martindale, a lawyer for Consumer Union, also told NBC News that there is an incentive for agencies "to be very aggressive."
The four licensed contractors have already been the subject of numerous grievances in the recent past. There are more than 1500 complaints about the four companies combined, in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's public complaint database (CBE has 833 entries; Conserve has 275; Performant, 420; Pioneer, 18).
The IRS was ordered by Congress to employ private tax collection in December 2015. According to the agency, "a few hundred taxpayers" were being chased down by collection agencies earlier this month. That is expected to grow to "thousands""thousands" later this spring and summer.
US Air Force crew chiefs with the 772nd Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit observe the start-up procedures of a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft in Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, November 7, 2011. (Photo: Senior Airman David Carbajal / US Air Force)
Make no mistake: after 15 years of losing wars, spreading extremist movements, and multiplying failed states across the Greater Middle East, America will fight the next versions of our ongoing wars. Not that we ever really stopped. Sure, Washington traded in George W. Bush's expansive, almost messianic attitude toward his Global War on Terror for Barack Obama's limited approach to an unnamed version of the same war for hegemony in the Greater Middle East. Sure, in the process kitted-up 19 year-olds from Iowa became less ubiquitous features on Baghdad's and Kabul's busy boulevards, even if that distinction was lost on the real-life targets of America's wars -- and the bystanders (call them "collateral damage") scurrying across digital drone display screens.
It's hardly a brilliant observation to point out that, more than 15 years later, the entire region is a remarkable mess. So much worse off than Washington found it, even if all of that mess can't simply be blamed on the United States -- at least not directly. It's too late now, as the Trump administration is discovering, to retreat behind two oceans and cover our collective eyes. And yet, acts that might still do some modest amount of good (resettling refugees, sending aid, brokering truces, anything within reason to limit suffering) don't seem to be on any American agenda.
So, after 16 years of inconclusive or catastrophic regional campaigns, maybe it's time to stop dreaming about how to make things better in the Greater Middle East and try instead to imagine how to make things worse (since that's the path we often seem to take anyway). Here, then, is a little thought experiment for you: what if Washington actually wanted to lose? How might the US government go about accomplishing that? Let me offer a quick (and inevitably incomplete) to-do list on the subject:
As a start, you would drop an enlarged, conventional army into Iraq and/or Syria. This would offer a giant red, white, and blue target for all those angry, young radicalized men just wanting to extinguish some new "crusader" force. It would serve as an effective religious-nationalist rallying cry (and target) throughout the region.
Then you would create a news-magnet of a ban (or at least the appearance of one) on immigrants and visitors of every sort from predominantly Muslim countries coming to the United States. It's hardly an accident that ISIS has taken to calling the president's proposed executive order to do just that "the blessed ban" and praising Donald Trump as the "best caller to Islam." Such actions only confirm the extremist narrative: that Muslims are unwelcome in and incompatible with the West, that liberal plurality is a neo-imperial scam.
Finally, you would feed the common perception in the region that Washington's support for Israel and assorted Arab autocrats is unconditional. To do so, you would go out of your way to hold fawning public meetings with military strongmen like Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and suggest that, when it came to Israel, you were considering changing American policy when it comes to a two-state solution and the illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine. Such policies would feed another ISIS narrative: US support for illiberal despots and the failure of the Arab Spring is proof that practicing Muslims and peaceful Islamists will never successfully gain power through the democratic process.
Key to such a losing strategy would be doing anything you could to reinforce ISIS's twisted narrative of an end-of-days battle between Islam and Christendom, a virtuous East versus a depraved West, an authentic Caliphate against hypocritical democracies. In what amounts to a war of ideas, pursuing such policies would all but hand victory to ISIS and other extremist groups. And so you would have successfully created a strategy for losing eternally in the Greater Middle East. And if that was the desired outcome in Washington, well, congratulations all around, but of course we all know that it wasn't.
Let's take these three points in such a losing strategy one by one. (Of course "losing" is itself a contested term, but for our purposes, consider the US to have lost as long as its military spins its wheels in a never-ending quagmire, while gradually empowering various local "adversaries.")
Just a Few Thousand More Troops Will Get It Done...
There are already thousands of American soldiers and Marines in Iraq and Syria, to say nothing of the even more numerous troops and sailors stationed on bases in Kuwait, Bahrain, Turkey, and other states ringing America's Middle Eastern battlefields. Still, if you want to rush into the fastest way to lose the next phase of the war on terror, just acquiesce in the inevitable requests of your commanders for yet more troops and planes needed to finish the job in Syria ( and Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Yemen, and so on).
Let's play this out. First, the worst (and most plausible) case: US ground forces get sucked into an ever more complex, multi-faceted civil war -- deeper and deeper still, until one day they wake up in a world that looks like Baghdad, 2007, all over again.
Or, lest we be accused of defeatism, consider the best case: those endlessly fortified and reinforced American forces wipe the floor with ISIS and just maybe manage to engineer the toppling of Bashar al-Assad's Syrian regime as well. It's V-Day in the Middle East! And then what? What happens the day after? When and to whom do American troops turn over power?
* The Kurds? That's a nonstarter for Turkey, Iran, and Iraq, all countries with significant Kurdish minorities.
* The Saudis? Don't count on it. They're busy bombing Houthi Shias in Yemen (with US-supplied ordnance) and grappling with the diversification of their oil-based economy in a world in which fossil fuels are struggling.
* Russia? Fat chance. Bombing "terrorists"? Yes. Propping up an autocratic client to secure basing rights? Sure. Temporary transactional alliances of convenience in the region? Absolutely. But long-term nation-building in the heart of the Middle East? It's just not the style of Vladimir Putin's Russia, a country with its own shaky petro-economy.
* So maybe leave Assad in power and turn the country back over to what's left of his minority, Alawite-dominated regime? That, undoubtedly, is the road to hell. After all, it was his murderous, barrel-bombing, child-gassing acts that all but caused the civil war in the first place. You can be sure that, sooner or later, Syria's majority Sunni population and its separatist Kurds would simply rebel again, while (as the last 15 years should have taught us) an even uglier set of extremists rose to the surface.
Keep in mind as well that, when it comes to the US military, the Iraqi and Afghan "surges" of 2007 and 2009 offered proof positive that more ground troops aren't a cure-all in such situations. They are a formula for expending prodigious amounts of money and significant amounts of blood, while only further alienating local populations. Meanwhile, unleashing manned and drone aircraft strikes, which occasionally kill large numbers of civilians, only add to the ISIS narrative.
Every mass casualty civilian bombing or drone strike incident just detracts further from American regional credibility. While both air strikes and artillery barrages may hasten the offensive progress of America's Kurdish, Iraqi, and Syrian allies, that benefit needs to be weighed against the moral and propaganda costs of those dead women and children. For proof, see the errant bombing strike on an apartment building in Mosul last month. After all, those hundred-plus civilians are just as dead as Assad's recent victims and just as many angry, grieving family members and friends have been left behind.
In other words, any of the familiar US strategies, including focusing all efforts on ISIS or toppling Assad, or a bit of both, won't add up to a real policy for the region. No matter how the Syrian civil war shakes out, Washington will need a genuine "what next" plan. Unfortunately, if the chosen course predictably relies heavily on the military lever to shape Syria's shattered society, America's presence and actions will only (as in the past) aggravate the crisis and help rejuvenate its many adversaries.
"The Blessed Ban"
The Trump administration's proposed "travel ban" quickly became fodder for left-versus-right vitriol in the US Here's a rundown on what it's likely to mean when it comes to foreign policy and the "next" war. First, soaring domestic fears over terror attacks in this country and the possible role of migrants and refugees in stoking them represent a potentially catastrophic over-reaction to a modest threat. Annually, from 2005 to 2015, extremists killed an average of just seven Americans on US soil. You are approximately 18,000 times more likely to die in some sort of accident than from such an attack. In addition, according to a study by the conservative Cato Institute, from 1975 to 2015 citizens of the countries included in Trump's first ban (including Iraq and Syria) killed precisely zero people in the United States. Nor has any refugee conducted a fatal domestic attack here. Finally, despite candidate and President Trump's calls for "extreme vetting" of Muslim refugees, the government already has a complex, two-year vetting process for such refugees which is remarkably "extreme."
Those are the facts. What truly matters, however, is the effect of such a ban on the war of ideas in the Middle East. In short, it's manna from heaven for ISIS's storyline in which Americans are alleged to hate all Muslims. It tells you everything you need to know that, within days of the administration's announcement of its first ban, ISIS had taken to labeling it "blessed," just as al-Qaeda once extolled George W. Bush's 2003 "blessed invasion" of Iraq. Even Senator John McCain, a well-known hawk, worried that Trump's executive order would "probably give ISIS some more propaganda."
Remember, while ISIS loves to claim responsibility for every attack in the West perpetrated by lost, disenfranchised, identity-seeking extremist youths, that doesn't mean the organization actually directs them. The vast majority of these killers are self-radicalized citizens, not refugees or immigrants. One of the most effective -- and tragic -- ways to lose this war is to prove the extremists right.
The Hypocrisy Trap
Another way to feed the ISIS narrative is to bolster perceptions of diplomatic insincerity. Americans tend to be some of the least self-aware citizens on the planet. (Is it a coincidence that ours is about the only population left still questioning the existence of climate change?) Among the rare things that Democrats and Republicans agree on, however, is that America is a perennial force for good, in fact the force for good on Earth. As it happens, the rest of the world begs to differ. In Gallup global polls, the United States has, in fact, been identified as the number one threat to world peace! However uncomfortable that may be, it matters.
One reason many Middle Easterners, in particular, believe this to be so stems from Washington's longstanding support for regional autocrats. In fiscal year 2017, Egypt's military dictator and Jordan's king will receive $1.46 and $1 billion respectively in US foreign aid -- nearly 7% of its total assistance budget. After leading a coup to overturn Egypt's elected government, General Sisi was officially persona non grata in the White House (though President Obama reinstated $1.3 billion in military aid in 2015). Sisi's recent visit to the Trump White House changed all that as, in a joint press conference, the president swore that he was "very much behind" Egypt and that Sisi himself had "done a fantastic job." In another indicator of future policy, the State Department dropped existing human rights conditions for the multibillion-dollar sale of F-16s to Bahrain's monarchy. All of this might be of mild interest, if it weren't for the way it bolstered ISIS claims that democracy is just an "idol," and the democratic process a fraud that American presidents simply ignore.
Then there's Israel, already the object of deep hatred in the region, and now clearly about to receive a blank check of support from the Trump administration. The role that Israeli leaders already play in American domestic politics is certainly striking to Arab audiences. Consider how unprecedented it was in 2015 to see Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticize a sitting president before a joint session of Congress in an Israeli election year and receive multiple, bipartisan standing ovations. Even so, none of this prevented the Obama administration, domestically labeled "weak on Israel," from negotiating a record $38 billion military aid deal with that country.
While violent Palestinian fighters are far from blameless, for 40 years Israel has increasingly created facts on the ground meant to preclude a viable Palestinian state. Netanyahu and his predecessors increased illegal settlements in the Palestinian territories, built an exclusion wall, and further divided the West Bank by constructing a network of roads meant only for the Israeli military and Jewish settlers.
Although most world leaders, publics, and the United Nations see the Jewish settlements on the West Bank as a major impediment to peace, the current US ambassador to Israel was once the president of a fundraising group supporting just such an Israeli settlement. The notion that he could be an honest broker in peace talks borders on the farcical.
All of this, of course, matters when it comes to Washington's unending wars in the region. Even Secretary of Defense James Mattis, soon after leaving the helm of US Central Command (CENTCOM), recognized that he "paid a military security price every day as a commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel." So, you want to lose? Keep feeding the ISIS narrative on democracy and Israel just as the Trump administration is doing, even as it sends more troops into the region and heightens bombing and drone raids from Syria to Yemen.
Send in the Cavalry...
If the next phase of the generational struggle for the Middle East is once again to be essentially a military one, while the Trump administration feeds every negative American stereotype in the region, then it's hard to see a future of anything but defeat. A combination of widespread American ignorance and the intellectual solace of simplistic models lead many here to ascribe extremism to some grand, ethereal hatred of "Christendom."
The reality is far more discomfiting. Consider, for instance, a document from "ancient" history: Osama bin Laden's 1998 fatwa against the United States. At that time, he described three tangible motives for extremism: US occupation of Islam's holiest lands in the Middle East, US attacks on and sanctions against Iraq, and American support for Israel's "occupation" of Jerusalem. If ISIS and al-Qaeda's center of gravity is not their fighting force but their ideology (as I believe it is), then the last thing Washington should want to do is substantiate any of these three visions of American motivation -- unless, of course, the goal is to lose the war on terror across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa.
In that case, the solution is obvious: Washington should indeed insert more troops and set up yet more bases in the region, maintain unqualified support for right-wing Israeli governments and assorted Arab autocrats, and do its best to ban Muslim refugees from America. That, after all, represents the royal road to affirming al-Qaeda's, and now ISIS's, overarching narratives. It's a formula -- already well used in the last 15 years -- for playing directly into the enemy's hands and adhering to its playbook, for creating yet more failed states and extremist groups throughout the region.
When it comes to Syria in particular, there are some shockingly unexamined contradictions at the heart of Washington's reactions to its war there. President Trump, for instance, recently spoke emotionally about the "beautiful babies cruelly murdered" in Idlib, Syria. Yet, the administration's executive order on travel bans any Syrian refugees -- including beautiful babies -- from entering this country. If few Americans recognize the incongruity or hypocrisy of this, you can bet that isn't true in the Arab world.
For ISIS, today's struggle in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere is part of an unremitting, apocalyptic holy war between Islam and the West. That narrative is demonstrably false. The current generation of extremists sprang from tangible grievances and perceived humiliations perpetrated by recent Western policies. There was nothing "eternal" about it. The first recorded suicide bombings in the Middle East didn't erupt until the early 1980s. So forget the thousand-year struggle or even, in Western terms, the "clash of civilizations." It took America's military-first policies in the region to generate what has now become perpetual war with spreading extremist insurgencies.
Want a formula for forever war? Send in the cavalry... again.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the US government.
As rifts between liberal-leaning blue cities and largely conservative red states widen across the South, much of the focus has been on the political jockeying between local, state and federal officials over who has power to set local agendas on issues ranging from environmental protections and minimum wage to immigrant integration.
But while preemption undermines local officials' authority to govern, they are not the only ones to feel its impact. The brunt of those consequences are borne disproportionately by women, people of color, LGBT people, low-income communities, immigrants and those at the intersection of these identities.
With some preemption efforts, the impacts on vulnerable communities are fairly clear. Recent efforts by state lawmakers to limit local leaders' ability to set bathroom policies affecting transgender people or to extend nondiscrimination policies to protect LGBT communities are one example.
According to a recent report by the National League of Cities, three states now have such preemption laws, all of them in the South: Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee. While North Carolina recently repealed portions of its infamous HB2 "bathroom" law, the compromise replacement continues to bar localities from regulating public bathrooms or passing local LGBT non-discrimination ordinances until 2020.
"I don't like to show that these laws have affected me, but they do."
As controversy has erupted around such laws, transgender individuals and their allies have voiced opposition to such measures, laying out their very real and personal impacts.
"I don't like to show that these laws have affected me, but they do," Lara Americo, a transgender woman living in North Carolina, recently told Mother Jones. "I don't want to stop at a gas station when I'm running out of gas. I don't want to join the YMCA or the swim team because I worry about someone seeing my body. My partner worries -- when I leave the house, I can usually count on her texting me within an hour, and if I don't respond she gets really upset."
State and federal preemption efforts have also targeted immigrant communities and demonized cities that take steps to welcome immigrants, who are increasingly making their homes in urban centers across the South. Some Southern cities have sought to integrate immigrants, including those who are undocumented, through measures like issuing municipal IDs or limiting local entanglement in federal immigration enforcement (so-called "sanctuary city" policies). However, state legislatures have blocked such efforts.
State preemption also undermines low-income families and workers by barring cities from increasing the local minimum wage. Five states in the South (Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee) have not set any statewide minimum wage, and another five (Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia and Texas) have one that is lower than the federal rate of $7.25 an hour. In both cases the federal rate prevails.
At the same time, 10 states in the region have banned local governments from increasing their minimum wage, according to the National League of Cities' report; most overlap with Southern states that have minimum wages lower than the federal rate. They are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
While such policies affect low-income workers across the board, the issue has critical racial and gender implications because people of color and women are disproportionately represented among low-wage workers. Nationwide, over half of minimum wage workers are women.
Consider Georgia, which bans both local minimum wage increases and local requirements for paid leave. In 2014, according to the National Equity Atlas, 16.6 percent of women of color and 17.7 percent of men of color in the state were considered working poor, defined as those working full-time and living below 200 percent of the poverty level. That compares to only 7.8 percent of white men and 6.1 percent of white women.
In Birmingham, Alabama, which passed a local minimum wage increase in 2015 only to have the state preempt it in 2016, 70 percent of those who would have benefited from the wage increase were African-American. Not surprisingly, race is at the center of the legal battle now underway between the state on one hand and the Alabama NAACP and Greater Birmingham Ministries on the other.
The lawsuit argues that a state law passed by a majority-white legislature to nullify a local policy set by a majority African-American city is tainted by "racial animus." While the suit was initially dismissed by a US District Court judge, it's now under appeal.
"We think we have solid grounds for the appeal and we're hopeful we'll prevail in having the case sent back to the district court for a trial on the merits," Richard Rouco, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, said today that its Washington, D.C., headquarters has received a racist, Islamophobic letter sent from Michigan portraying former President Obama as a monkey and containing a page from an English translation of the Quran smeared with a "foreign substance" that is assumed to be feces.
Constituents of Sen. Dianne Feinstein and members of the Center for Biological Diversity will gather outside her San Francisco office tomorrow at noon to demand that the senator and her Democratic colleagues resist right-wing attacks on wildlife and civil rights.
The Supreme Court will not hear a case brought by more than two dozen families who have been ordered deported without having their full cases heard by an immigration judge. The families fled horrific violence and human rights abuses in Central America. Many of the families have been held for more than a year in immigration detention facilities, most recently in Berks County, Pennsylvania. The denial by the Supreme Court could result in the families being deported imminently.
Corporate executives have swamped President Donald Trump’s White House to an astonishing degree, a Public Citizen review of news reports and White House press releases reveals.
Since his inauguration, Trump has met with at least 190 corporate executives – averaging more than two a day, according to Public Citizen’s analysis. Counting repeat attendees, Trump has had at least 222 corporate executive meetings.
Trump administration officials are expected to meet tomorrow to deliberate whether the United States’ should end its participation in the Paris climate agreement. This comes as movements for climate, jobs and justice gear up for the April 29 Peoples Climate March in the nation’s capitol and across the country.
In response, 350.org Executive Director May Boeve issued the following statement:
Combat operations at Ia Drang Valley, Vietnam, November 1965. (Photo: US Army)
You could hear the deep sadness in the preacher's voice as he named "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government." With those words, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., launched a scathing indictment of America's war in Vietnam. It was April 4, 1967.
That first antiwar sermon of his seemed to signal a new high tide of opposition to a brutal set of American policies in Southeast Asia. Just 11 days later, unexpectedly large crowds would come out in New York and San Francisco for the first truly massive antiwar rallies. Back then, a protest of at least a quarter of a million seemed yuge.
King signaled another turning point when he concluded his speech by bringing up "something even more disturbing" -- something that would deeply disturb the developing antiwar movement as well. "The war in Vietnam," he said, "is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit."
Many of those who gathered at antiwar rallies days later were already beginning to suspect the same thing. Even if they could actually force their government to end its war in Vietnam, they would be healing only a symptom of a far more profound illness. With that realization came a shift in consciousness, the clearest sign of which could be found in the sizeable contingent of countercultural hippies who began joining those protests. While antiwar radicals were challenging the unjust political and military policies of their government, the counterculturists were focused on something bigger: trying to revolutionize the whole fabric of American society.
Why recall this history exactly 50 years later, in the age of Donald Trump? Curiously enough, King offered at least a partial answer to that question in his 1967 warning about the deeper malady. "If we ignore this sobering reality," he said, "we will find ourselves... marching... and attending rallies without end." The alternative? "We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values."
Like many of my generation, I feel as if, in lieu of that radical revolution, I have indeed been marching and attending rallies for the last half-century, even if there were also long fallow periods of inactivity. (In those quiet times, of course, there was always organizing and activism going on behind the scenes, preparing for the next wave of marches and demonstrations in response to the next set of obvious outrages.)
If the arc of history bends toward justice, as King claimed, it's been a strange journey, a bizarre twisting and turning as if we were all on some crazed roller-coaster ride.
The Trump era already seems like the most bizarre twist of all, leaving us little choice but to march and rally at a quickening pace for years to come. A radical revolution in values? Unless you're thinking of Trump's plutocrats and environment wreckers, not so much. If anything, the nation once again finds itself facing an exaggerated symptom of a far deeper malady. Perhaps one day, like the antiwar protestors of 1967, anti-Trump protestors will say: If the American system we live under can create this atrocity, there must be something wrong with the whole thing.
But that's the future. At present, the resistance movement, though as unexpectedly large as the movement of 1967, is still focused mainly on symptoms, the expanding list of inhumane 1% policies the Republicans (themselves in chaos) are preparing to foist on the nation. Yet to come up are the crucial questions: What's wrong with our system? How could it produce a President Trump, a Republican hegemony, and the society-wrecking policies that go with them both? What would a radically new direction mean and how would we head there?
In 1967, antiwar activists were groping their way toward answers to similar questions. At least we have one advantage. We can look back at their answers and use them to help make sense of our own situation. As it happens, theirs are still depressingly relevant because the systemic malady that produced the Vietnam War is a close cousin to the one that has now given us President Trump.
Challenging the Deeper Malady
The Sixties spawned many analyses of the ills of the American system. The ones that marked that era as revolutionary concluded that the heart of the problem was a distinctive mode of consciousness -- a way of seeing, experiencing, interpreting, and being in the world. Political and cultural radicals converged, as historian Todd Gitlin concluded, in their demand for a transformation of "national if not global (or cosmic) consciousness."
Nor was such a system uniquely American, they discovered. It was nothing less than the hallmark of Western modernity.
In exploring the nature of that "far deeper malady," Martin Luther King, for instance, turned to the European philosopher Martin Buber, who found the root of that consciousness in modernity's "I-It" attitude. From early childhood, he suggested, we learn to see other people as mere objects ("its") with no inherent relation to us. In the process, we easily lose sight of their full humanity. That, in turn, allows us free rein to manipulate others (or as in Vietnam simply destroy them) for our own imagined benefit.
King particularly decried such dehumanization as it played itself out in American racism: "Segregation substitutes an 'I-it' relationship for the 'I-thou' relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things." But he condemned it no less strongly in the economic sphere, where it affected people of all races. "The profit motive, when it is the sole basis of an economic system," he said, "encourages a cutthroat competition and selfish ambition that inspire men to be more I-centered than thou-centered... Capitalism fails to realize that life is social."
Another influential thinker of that era was a German-American philosopher, Herbert Marcuse. (Some radicals even marched in rallies carrying signs reading "Marx, Mao, Marcuse.") For him, the dehumanization of modernity was rooted in the way science and technology led us to view nature as a mere collection of "things" having no inherent relation to us -- things to be analyzed, controlled, and if necessary destroyed for our own benefit.
Capitalists use technology, he explained, to build machines that take charge both of the workers who run them and of aspects of the natural world. The capitalists then treat those workers as so many things, not people. And the same hierarchy -- boss up here, bossed down there -- shows up at every level of society from the nuclear family to the international family of nations (with its nuclear arsenals). In a society riddled with structures of domination, it was no accident that the US was pouring so much lethal effort into devastating Vietnam.
As Marcuse saw it, however, the worst trick those bosses play on us is to manipulate our consciousness, to seduce us into thinking that the whole system makes sense and is for our own good. When those machines are cranking out products that make workers' lives more comfortable, most of them are willing to embrace and perpetuate a system that treats them as dominated objects.
Marcuse would not have been surprised to see so many workers voting for Donald Trump, a candidate who built his campaign on promises of ever more intensified domination -- of marginalized people at home, of "bad hombres" needing to be destroyed abroad, and of course, of nature itself, especially in the form of fossil fuels on a planet where the very processes he championed ensured a future of utter devastation.
One explanation for the electoral success of Trump was the way he appealed to heartland white working-class voters who saw their standard of living and sense of social status steadily eroding. Living in a world in which hierarchy and domination are taken for granted, it's hardly surprising that many of them took it for granted as well that the only choice available was either to be a dominator or to be dominated. Vote for me, the billionaire businessman (famed for the phrase "You're fired!") implicitly promised and you, too, will be one of the dominators. Vote against me and you're doomed to remain among the dominated. Like so many other tricks of the system, this one defied reality but worked anyway.
Many Trump voters who bought into the system will find themselves facing even harsher domination by the 1%. And as the Trumpian fantasy of man dominating nature triggers inevitable twenty-first-century blowback on a planetary scale, count on growing environmental and social disasters to bring disproportionate pain to those already suffering most under the present system. In every arena, as Marcuse explained back in the 1960s, the system of hierarchy and domination remains self-perpetuating and self-escalating.
"The Long and Bitter but Beautiful Struggle for a New World"
What's the remedy for this malady, now as lethally obvious at home as it once was in Vietnam?
"The end of domination [is] the only truly revolutionary exigency," Marcuse wrote. True freedom, he thought, means freeing humanity from the hierarchical system that locks us into the daily struggle to earn a living by selling our labor. Freedom means liberating our consciousness to search for our own goals and being able to pursue them freely. In Martin Luther King's words, freedom is "the opportunity to fulfill my total capacity untrammeled by any artificial barrier."
How to put an end not only to America's war in Vietnam, but to a whole culture built on domination? King's answer on that April 4th was deceptively simple: "Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door... The first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word."
The simplicity in that statement was deceptive because love is itself such a complicated word. King often explained that the Greeks had three words for love: eros (aesthetic or romantic love), philia (friendship), and agape (self-sacrificing devotion to others). He left no doubt that he considered agape far superior to the other two.
The emerging counterculture of those years certainly agreed with him on the centrality of love to human liberation. After all, it was "the love generation." But its mantra -- "If it feels good, do it" -- made King's rejection of eros in the name of self-negating agape a non-starter for them.
King, however, offered another view of love, which was far more congenial to the counterculture. Love unites whatever is separated, he preached. This is the kind of love that God uses in his work. We, in turn, are always called upon to imitate God and so to transform our society into what King called a "beloved community."
Though few people at the time made the connection, King's Christian understanding of love was strikingly similar to Marcuse's secular view of erotic love. Marcuse saw eros as the fulfillment of desire. He also saw it as anything but selfish, since it flows from what Freud called the id, which always wants to abolish ego boundaries and recover that sense of oneness with everything we all had as infants.
When we experience anyone or anything erotically, we feel that we are inherently interconnected, "tied together in a single garment of destiny," as King so eloquently put it. When boundaries and separation dissolve, there can be no question of hierarchy or domination.
Every moment that hints at such unification brings us pleasure. In a revolutionary society that eschews structures of domination for the ideal of unification, all policies are geared toward creating more moments of unity and pleasure.
Think of this as the deep-thought revolution of the Sixties: radically transformed minds would create a radically transformed society. Revolutionaries of that time were, in fact, trying to wage the very utopian struggle that King summoned all Americans to in his April 4th speech, "the long and bitter but beautiful struggle for a new world."
Fifty Years Later: The Thread That Binds
At this very moment 50 years ago, a movement resisting a brutal war of domination in a distant land was giving birth to a movement calling for the creation of a new consciousness to heal our ailing society. Will the resistance movement of 2017 head in a similar direction?
At first glance, it seems unlikely. After all, ever since the Vietnam War ended, progressives have had a tendency to focus on single issues of injustice or laundry lists of problems. They have rarely imagined the American system as anything more than a collection of wrong-headed policies and wrong-hearted politicians. In addition, after years of resisting the right wing as it won victory after victory, and of watching the Democrats morph into a neoliberal crew and then into a failing party with its own dreary laundry lists of issues and personalities, the capacity to hope for fundamental change may have gone the way of Herbert Marcuse and Martin Luther King.
Still, for those looking hard, a thread of hope exists. Today's marches, rallies, and town halls are packed with veterans of the Sixties who can remember, if we try, what it felt like to believe we were fighting not only to stop a war but to start a revolution in consciousness. No question about it, we made plenty of mistakes back then. Now, with so much more experience (however grim) in our memory banks, perhaps we might develop more flexible strategies and a certain faith in taking a more patient, long-term approach to organizing for change.
Don't forget as well that, whatever our failings and the failings of other past movements, we also have a deep foundation of victories (along with defeats) to build on. No, there was no full-scale revolution in our society -- no surprise there. But in so many facets of our world, advances happened nonetheless. Think of how, in those 50 years just past, views on diversity, social equality, the environment, healthcare, and so many other issues, which once existed only on the fringes of our world, have become thoroughly mainstream. Taken as a whole, they represent a partial but still profound and significant set of changes in American consciousness.
Of course, the Sixties not only can't be resurrected, but shouldn't be. (After all, it should never be forgotten that what they led to wasn't a dreamed of new society but the "Reagan revolution," as the arc of justice took the first of its many grim twists and turns.) At best, the Sixties critique of the system would have to be updated to include many new developments.
Even the methods of those Sixties radicals would need major revisions, given that our world, especially of communication, now relies so heavily on blindingly fast changes in technology. But every time we log onto the Internet and browse the web, it should remind us that -- shades of the past -- across this embattled Earth of ours, we're all tied together in a single worldwide web of relations and of destiny. It's either going to be one for all and all for one, or it's going to be none for 7.4 billion on a planet heading for hell.
Today is different, too, because our movement was not born out of protest against an odious policy, but against an odious mindset embodied in a deplorable person who nonetheless managed to take the Oval Office. He's so obviously a symptom of something larger and deeper that perhaps the protesters of this generation will grasp more quickly than the radicals of the Vietnam era that America's underlying disease is a destructive mode of consciousness (and not just a bad combover).
The move from resisting individual policies to transforming American consciousness may already have begun in small ways. After all, "love trumps hate" has become the most common slogan of the progressive movement. And the word love is being heard in hard-edged political discourse, not only on the left, but among mainstream political voices like Van Jones and Cory Booker. Once again, there is even talk of "revolutionary love."
Of course, the specific policies of the Republicans and this president (including his developing war policies) must be resisted and the bleeding of the immediate moment staunched. Yet the urgent question of the late 1960s remains: What can be done when there are so many fronts on which to struggle and the entire system demands constant vigilant attention? In the age of a president who regularly sucks all the air out of the room, how do we even talk about all of this without being overwhelmed?
In many ways, the current wave of regressive change and increasing chaos in Washington should be treated as a caricature of the system that we all have been living under for so long. Turn to that broader dimension and the quest for a new consciousness may prove the thread that, though hardly noticed, already ties together the many facets of the developing resistance movement.
The largest mobilization for progressive politics since the Vietnam era offers a unique opportunity to go beyond simply treating symptoms and start offering cures for the underlying illness. If this opportunity is missed, versions of the same symptoms are likely to recur, while unpredictable new ones will undoubtedly emerge for the next 50 years, and as Martin Luther King predicted, we will go on marching without end. Surely we deserve a better future and a better fate.
Arkansas's plan to carry out an unprecedented series of executions has been thrown into chaos, after judges ruled to temporarily halt the state's plan. Hundreds of death penalty opponents rallied at the State Capitol in Little Rock on Friday, as state Judge Wendell Griffen issued a temporary stay of the executions over concerns the state used false pretenses to obtain the drug vecuronium bromide, which is one of a cocktail of drugs slated to be used in the executions. The following day, federal Judge Kristine Baker also temporarily blocked the state's execution plans from proceeding over concerns about another one of the execution drugs: the sedative midazolam. Arkansas is appealing the rulings. If Arkansas prevails, it's slated to begin the executions today.
Please check back later for full transcript.
Advocates Urge Trump to De-escalate With North Korea, Not Ratchet Up Threats and Military Aggression
Vice President Mike Pence has made an unannounced visit to the Demilitarized Zone separating South and North Korea, following North Korea's attempted missile launch and a massive military parade celebrating the birthday of the country's founder on Saturday. Pence's visit comes at a time when tension between the United States and North Korea is quickly ratcheting up. A US armada, including an aircraft carrier and multiple warships, has been deployed to the Korean Peninsula. Last week, NBC News reported the Trump administration is prepared to launch a preemptive attack on North Korea if it proceeds toward a nuclear weapons test. Hours before Pence arrived in South Korea, North Korea attempted to test launch a new ballistic missile, but the test failed as the missile blew up almost immediately.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Vice President Mike Pence has made an unannounced visit to the Demilitarized Zone separating South and North Korea. Speaking at the border, Pence warned that the era of strategic patience with North Korea is over and that all options are on the table.
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Just in the past two weeks, the world witnessed the strength and resolve of our new president in actions taken in Syria and Afghanistan. North Korea would do well not to test his resolve or the strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region.
AMY GOODMAN: Vice President Pence's visit comes at a time when tension between the United States and North Korea is quickly ratcheting up. Last week, NBC News reported the Trump administration is prepared to launch a preemptive attack on North Korea if it proceeds towards a nuclear weapons test. Hours before Pence arrived in South Korea, North Korea attempted to test launch a new ballistic missile, but the test failed as the missile blew up almost immediately.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: It's unclear if the US had any role in the missile's failure. According to The New York Times, the US has a covert program to sabotage North Korea's missile program using cyber and electronic strikes. During his trip to North Korea, Pence also announced the US would move ahead with deploying the THAAD missile defense system in South Korea, despite opposition by China. This comes as China is urging the United States and North Korea to de-escalate the conflict.
LU KANG: [translated] We have reiterated many times that the situation on the peninsula is highly sensitive, complex and risky. We have always insisted that parties concerned should exercise restraint and refrain from mutual provocation and stimulating moves, and should dedicate themselves to efforts that will help reduce the current tension on the peninsula, so as to create the necessary conditions for them to come back to the table and resolve the Korean Peninsula issue in a peaceful way.
AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about North Korea, we're joined by two guests. In Chicago, Bruce Cumings, professor of history at University of Chicago. His recent piece for The Nation headlined "This Is What's Really Behind North Korea's Nuclear Provocations." He's the author of several books on Korea, including Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History and North Korea: Another Country. And joining us by Democracy Now! video stream, Christine Hong, associate professor at University of California, Santa Cruz, executive board member of the Korea Policy Institute. She's spent time in North Korea, including a visit to the country as part of a North American peace delegation.
Professor Hong, let's begin with you. The significance of what's taken place in the last few days, starting with today, the surprise visit of Vice President Pence to the Demilitarized Zone?
CHRISTINE HONG: You know, I think what we're witness to is a kind of revisionism, both with Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Tillerson. They've made comments that Obama's policy of strategic patience is a thing of the past. And I think that that fundamentally misconstrues what the nature of strategic patience was. You know, as you mentioned in your opening description, Obama waged a campaign of cyberwarfare against North Korea. And so, you know, far from being a kind of kinder, gentler or even softer policy toward North Korea, Obama's policy toward North Korea was, in point of fact, one of warfare.
The other thing that I would mention with regard to this is, even the possibility of military action against North Korea, a military option, if you will, that's -- that was -- it would be inconceivable, if the Obama administration hadn't made the militarization of the larger Asia-Pacific region one of its topmost foreign policy objectives. And under the Obama strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, the US concentrated its naval forces to a tune of 60 percent -- to 40 percent in the Atlantic -- in the Pacific region.
And so, you know, right now we have the situation in which the Obama administration is stating that all options are on the table. And I would want to remind your listeners and viewers that the United States performs the largest war games in the world with its South Korean ally twice annually. And in the course of performing these military exercises, it actually rehearses a number of things. It rehearses the decapitation of the North Korean leadership, the invasion and occupation of North Korea, and it also performs a nuclear first strike against North Korea with dummy munitions. And so, we have as one of the possibilities a nuclear -- a preemptive nuclear strike against North Korea. That is the nature of the unhinged foreign policy that we're seeing on the part of the Trump administration.
I would also say that even though North Korea and Kim Jong-un serves as a convenient foil, a kind of bad guy for US foreign policy within the larger Asia-Pacific region, we have plenty of reason to be frightened of Donald Trump's America-first foreign policy, which doesn't serve Americans, much less anyone else around the world.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Bruce Cumings, professor of history at the University of Chicago, you have raised the issue that the media treats every -- every crisis with Korea separate and apart from the previous crises that have occurred. Could you talk about that?
BRUCE CUMINGS: Well, that's right. It's not only that, but each crisis is treated as if it has really no background. The fact is that American nuclear intimidation of North Korea goes back to the Korean War. After the Korean War, in 1958, we installed hundreds of nuclear weapons in the south, the first country to bring nuclear weapons onto the peninsula. And North Korea has, essentially, since the late 1950s, had to find a way to deter the US from using those weapons. For decades, they built underground. They have something like 15,000 underground facilities of a national security nature. But it was inevitable that when threatened with nuclear weapons -- and Chris is right: President Obama threatened North Korea with nuclear weapons many times by sending B-2 bombers over the south, dropping dummy bombs on islands and so on. It was just inevitable that North Korea would seek a deterrent.
And what is, to me, so insane about this -- particularly this last weekend, when somebody purposely leaked to NBC that the US was considering a preemptive strike, but what's so terrible about it is that you essentially get a standoff, with North Korea having nuclear weapons, the US having nuclear weapons, but North Korea not being able to use them anywhere without being turned into a charcoal briquette. That was General Colin Powell's reference to what would happen if North Korea launched a nuclear weapon in anger. So, somehow, I think the Trump administration quite purposely ratcheted up the tension. A week ago it was talk of assassinating Kim Jong-un; this weekend, talk of a preventive strike. I don't think Vice President Pence is right that what President Trump has done shows strength and resolve. It's one of the easiest things to fling 59 cruise missiles into Syria. Apparently, the military has wanted to test this MOAB, "Mother of All Bombs," for some time, and it went ahead and did it. It's not clear what the outcome of either strike is. And it seems that Mr. Trump, who ran on an anti-interventionist platform, is actually enjoying the toys that the military can provide to him, and perhaps using them in Korea, which would be a complete disaster.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Bruce Cumings, I wanted to ask you again about the historical record here. A lot of people forget the severe crises that have occurred between the United States and North Korea over the years. Back in 1968, for example, Korea seized the Pueblo, which was a surveillance ship right off its shores, and held more than 80 US sailors prisoner for a year, before the United States apologized as part of a settlement. And a year later, in 1969, North Korea shot down a US surveillance aircraft, where more than 30, I think, US Air Force members were killed in that -- in that incident. So there's been a historical brinksmanship situation between the United States and North Korea, especially with the US constantly, as Christine Hong said, displaying aggressive military actions and surveillance over North Korea.
BRUCE CUMINGS: Well, that's right. I actually was in Seoul when that -- when the Pueblo was seized in January of 1968. I was in the Peace Corps at that time. That created an enormous crisis. Lyndon Johnson wanted to hit North Korea in retaliation, but was informed that our bombers in South Korean bases, our bases in South Korea, only had nuclear weapons.
But I think the crisis that most clearly resembles the one over the weekend, or the one we're in the middle of now, is in June 1994, when Bill Clinton nearly launched a preemptive strike at the Yongbyon plutonium facility. You may remember that former President Jimmy Carter flew to Pyongyang, had a discussion with Kim Il-sung, and out of that came an 8-year freeze on all of North Korea's plutonium.
So, an easy way to solve this problem would be to revive direct talks with North Korea, normalize relations with North Korea, assure them that we don't plan to attack them, and, just through those means, bring down the really terrible tension that existed over the weekend.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, during his trip to South Korea, Vice President Pence announced the US would move ahead with deploying the THAAD missile defense system in South Korea, despite opposition by China.
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: We will continue to deploy the THAAD missile defense system as a defensive measure, called for by the alliance and for the alliance. We will continue to evolve a comprehensive set of capabilities to ensure the security of South Korea. And as our secretary of defense made clear here in South Korea not long ago, we will defeat any attack, and we will meet any use of conventional or nuclear weapons with an overwhelming and effective response.
AMY GOODMAN: So, if you could talk about this, Professor Cumings, as well as the failed missile launch this weekend of North Korea, what it's about, and their parade, where they had these two huge -- it's not clear what was in them. Was it intercontinental ballistic missiles, or meant to -- you to believe that? Talk about each of these.
BRUCE CUMINGS: Well, the THAAD installation is completely political. The THAAD antimissile system does nothing to stop North Korean ICBMs. It's for short- and medium-range missiles. Furthermore, it's not clear that it works. Anyway, South Korea has been under threat from North Korea's short- and medium-range missiles for decades. It's political in the sense that they shoehorned it in there before the May 9th election, when a progressive named Moon Jae-in may well become president and return to a policy of engagement with North Korea. And there will be a lot of estrangement between Seoul and Washington and the Trump administration if that election comes out as most people predict.
The missile launch on Sunday morning apparently was a failure, but it hasn't been reported what kind of a missile it was. David Sanger of The New York Times has been writing several articles, very interesting ones, about the US using cyberwarfare against North Korea. And it might be that they succeeded in sabotaging that launch. But, of course, by doing that, you're playing with fire, because the North Koreans are capable of their own cyberwarfare. In 2014, they took down 70 percent of Sony's computers in response to a film about killing Kim Jong-un.
And as for the parade, I mean, it's just the same thing they do every April -- April 15th. We pay taxes. They honor the founder of the country, Kim Il-sung. And they parade both the latest military hardware, and they like to fool foreign experts by bringing these big tubes out, where they may or may not have an ICBM inside. So that was just classic North Korean showmanship.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Christine Hong, I'd like to ask you about the role of China. President Trump is now alluding to the fact that China is supposedly cooperating with the United States in trying to bring, according to the president, North Korea under control. Your sense of what are the options and what is the policy of China right now?
CHRISTINE HONG: Well, I think that we should all be mystified that successive US administrations in the post-Cold War period have attempted to outsource their North Korea policy to China, as though the United States and China maintain the same strategic interests within the larger Asia-Pacific region. You know, Bruce wrote a piece, which you mentioned in the opening, in The Nation, and he pointed out that North Korea recently timed one of its missile tests to coincide with Trump's dinner with the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and that this missile was figuratively aimed at Mar-a-Lago. More recently, Donald Trump also responded in kind. So it's not simply his tweets that we have to attend to. It's these like dumb shows that he's putting on during dinner. He was having a meal -- many people reported this -- of dry-aged steak and chocolate cake with Xi Jinping. And, you know, over this beautiful piece of chocolate cake, as he described it, he let Xi Jinping know that he had struck Syria with approximately 60 Tomahawk missiles. And, you know, I can only imagine that this must have been indigestion-inducing, indeed. And, you know, the message seems to be pretty straightforward. The message is, you know, "China, you either rein in North Korea, or the United States will take unilateral action."
But I think that there's a deeper subtext to this, as well. And it goes to the question of THAAD. You know, there isn't -- there's no way that China and the United States are going to see eye to eye on the controversial deployment of THAAD, which China understands as encroaching upon its sovereignty and enabling the United States to peer, in terms of surveillance, into its territory. Even a CIA official, a former CIA official, Bruce Klingner, who's a Heritage Foundation North Korea watcher, he basically stated that China regards THAAD as a dagger that's aimed at the heart of China. And so, you know, basically, what you have is the United States attempting to get China to rein in North Korea, but the fact of the matter is, is if you even look back to the previous administration, the Obama administration, every single weapon sales, every single acceleration of the THAAD missile defense system into the Asia-Pacific, every single amplified and ratcheted-up war game with various different regional allies was justified in the name of a dangerous and unpredictable nuclear North Korea. But China understood full well what was happening, which was the encirclement of China. So North Korea has served as a very convenient ideological ruse for the US military-industrial complex, when the real target is China.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Bruce Cumings, we just have 30 seconds. The national security adviser, McMaster, General McMaster, said the problem is coming to a head. And then you have Pence talking about the bombings of Afghanistan and Syria, clearly suggesting this was a message for North Korea. But you say that direct talks could happen. How could they happen?
BRUCE CUMINGS: Well, China is trying to get the US and North Korea back to the table. They sponsored six-party talks for a number of years during the Bush administration. I think that's probably their preferred venue. But the fact is, you know, four countries there don't really count. The two that count are North Korea and the US talking to each other. And as I said earlier, direct talks have shown North Korea willing to completely freeze their nuclear program. So, it's certainly worth a try. It's a lot better than rattling sabers and making empty threats. We're not going to attack North Korea, because it might set off the second Korean War, which would be just catastrophic for the region.
AMY GOODMAN: Bruce Cumings, we want to thank you for being with us, professor of history at University of Chicago. We'll link to your piece in The Nation, "This Is What's Really Behind North Korea's Nuclear Provocations." And we want to thank Christine Hong for joining us, associate professor at University of California, Santa Cruz, executive board member of Korea Policy Institute.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we look at Arkansas and the number of people who are set to be executed because a execution cocktail is set to expire. Stay with us.
(Photo: Pictures of Money; Edited: LW / TO)
We seem poised for a great debate over tax policy in the next few months. Donald Trump and the Republican Congress are likely to push for various plans to reduce taxes on the wealthy. Progressives, and hopefully most of the Democrats, will be fighting back. While concerns over deficits are hugely exaggerated, at the end of the day we will need some revenue, and it makes much more sense that it come from people like Donald Trump and his cabinet members than ordinary workers.
While the tax debate is undoubtedly important, it is less important than the rules of the game that determine before-tax income distribution. This is an arena in which the right has been active for decades, and progressives have been largely absent.
In a wide variety of policy areas, the right has pushed policies that have the predicted and actual effect of redistributing income upward. The most obvious and unambiguous one is its efforts to weaken unions. They have pushed measures such as bans on contracts requiring that all who benefit from a union share in the cost of maintaining the union (a.k.a. "right to work") in both the public and private sector. This is leads to fewer and weaker unions and lower pay.
They also have pushed deregulation in sectors where workers once enjoyed reasonably good wages and benefits, such as trucking, telecommunications and air travel. In each case the result has been downward pressure on pay and the weakening of unions.
If progressives want to score real and lasting victories against the right, it can't just focus on taxes, like the right it has to contest the rules of the game. Fortunately, there are lots of rules that can be contested to our advantage.
The first one is right in front of our faces. The Federal Reserve Board is on a course where it is raising interest rates every few months. The purpose of raising interest rates is to slow the economy and keep people from getting jobs.
Not only does this deprive workers of employment (disproportionately Black and Latino workers), but it also weakens workers' bargaining power. If workers are going to get back the income shares they lost in the Great Recession, the Fed has to stop raising rates and allow the labor market to further tighten.
Another area in which the rules have been structured to hand huge amounts of money to the rich is the strengthening and lengthening of patent and copyright protections. This is an especially large problem in the case of prescription drugs. We will spend more than $440 billion this year on drugs that would cost less than $80 billion in a free market. The $360 billion gap between the protected price and the free market price would be enough to raise the pay of the bottom half of the labor force by more than 20 percent.
The obvious remedy is to get prices closer to their free market level and to develop alternative mechanisms for finance research. A recent bill introduced in the Senate by Sherrod Brown and 16 co-sponsors is a big step in this direction with a provision for public funding of clinical trials.
The financial sector is another place where rewriting the rules would have a huge impact on the distribution of income. This is where many of the richest people in the country get their money. A modest financial transactions tax, comparable to the sales tax that other sectors pay, could hugely downsize the sector. Similarly, rules for ending the tax avoidance industry, along with requirements for increased transparency in pension fund dealings, would mean a lot less money for finance billionaires and more for the rest of us.
The right has been playing hardball for decades, looking for areas in which rules can be rewritten to redistribute money upwards. Often this means delving into obscure topics that attract little public attention, like the length and scope of patent protections. Their efforts have been incredibly successful, which is why we have seen the share of income going to the richest 1 percent more than double over the last four decades.
If this upward redistribution is to be reversed then it will be necessary for the left to get into the same policy writing weeds. We can't afford to let the right continue to redistribute before-tax income upward with the hope that we can get a few more dollars in taxes from them to partially reverse the process.
One of President Trump's favorite themes is what he calls "American carnage" -- typified by "the violence" and "the gangs."
To that end, he's repeatedly highlighted the violence in Chicago. A few days after he was inaugurated, he even issued this warning via Twitter: "If Chicago doesn't fix the horrible 'carnage' going on… I will send in the Feds!"
Trump, a vocal supporter of stop-and-frisk, additionally pledged that his administration will "stop the gangs and the violence" and "stop the drugs from pouring into our communities" by empowering police offers.
To be sure, Chicago is facing a uniquely violent moment in its history: The city witnessed 762 murders and 4,331 shooting victims in 2016 -- more than in New York and Los Angeles combined. The homicide rate was the highest it's been since 1996.
Yet the police are a critical component of this violence. A 2016 Justice Department investigation revealed scores of abuses by Chicago police, from racial discrimination to witness intimidation to endangering civilians.
In a particularly memorable anecdote from 2013, an off-duty Chicago cop watched a man enter a vacant building. Deeming him suspicious, the officer pursued the man. When confronted, the man produced a shiny object, prompting the officer to fire his weapon, killing the man on the spot.
As for the shiny object, it wasn't a gun: It was the man's watch.
Despite not waiting for backup and initiating a deadly confrontation, the officer was put back on the beat. Last November, the same cop killed another man he claimed had brandished a gun. No gun was found.
Under the Obama administration, the federal government played a key role in exposing abuses like these in scores of local police departments.
Yet Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has promised to "pull back on" suits against police departments over civil rights violations. He recently ordered a review of all reform arrangements the Department of Justice reached with local police under Obama, which could imperil programs that have been shown to produce enduring positive changes.
Why? "It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies," Sessions insists.
All this exposes Trump's promises to curb violence in America's cities to be what many suspected all along: a meaningless ruse. After all, when it comes to civil rights, he's actually pulling the feds out.
Need more evidence? The administration has also proposed depriving the Department of Justice of over $1 billion in funding, including major cuts to the Civil Rights Division, which is in charge of managing police reform. And it's attempting to vacate another reform arrangement with the Baltimore Police Department, where the last administration found many similar civil rights abuses.
It's no great surprise that choosing an attorney general like Sessions, another stop-and-frisk proponent who's complained that civil rights protections undermine police officers, spelled trouble for police reform. Now trouble has come -- and it seems like more is on its way.