Latest News

Win Without War’s Statement on Today’s Senate Vote on the Sale of Precision-Guided Munitions to Saudi Arabia

Commondreams - Tue, 06/13/2017 - 14:24
Win Without War

Win Without War Director Stephen Miles issued the following statement regarding today’s Senate vote on whether to block precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia:

 Today’s unprecedented opposition to yet another arms sale to Saudi Arabia is a welcome step towards restoring sanity and common sense to America’s foreign policy. In the coming weeks, Congress should turn its attention towards charting a bold new path towards a foreign policy rooted in our values, rejecting the President’s abandonment of America’s historic commitment to human rights.  

Categories: Latest News

CODEPINK Response to Resolution 42 Vote on Saudi Weapons

Commondreams - Tue, 06/13/2017 - 12:55
CODEPINK

Today, shamefully, the US Senate voted 53 to 47 to approve the Trump administration’s plan to sell precision-guided munitions to the Saudi regime, munitions that will be used to bomb innocent civilians in neighboring Yemen, as the Saudis have been doing for over two years now.

Categories: Latest News

ACLU Statement on Restrictions of Press Interviews in Capitol

Commondreams - Tue, 06/13/2017 - 11:33
ACLU

Senate staff has started barring reporters from recording video or audio interviews in the halls of the Capitol without permission, reversing decades of common practice.

American Civil Liberties Union Political Director Faiz Shakir had this statement:

“Preventing the press from informing the public about the workings of their own government goes against the core values of our democracy. For decades, the Capitol building has been open for recorded interviews, which provide a critical window into the legislative process.

Categories: Latest News

Message in a Bottle: Flint Sending Out More Than an SOS

Commondreams - Tue, 06/13/2017 - 10:31
Progress Michigan

It’s been 1,145 days since the Flint Water Crisis was forced onto the community by a Snyder administration-appointed emergency manager. Today, dozens of residents delivered 1,145 — one for each day since the crisis began — “You Owe Me” messages in empty water bottles to Governor Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette in Lansing. 

Categories: Latest News

Treasury Report Proposes to Demolish Wall Street Reform

Commondreams - Tue, 06/13/2017 - 09:29
Public Citizen

Note: On June 12, the U.S. Treasury Department released the first in a series of reports mandated under an executive order to review financial reform laws.

Categories: Latest News

Momentum grows as more sites and organizations join Internet-Wide Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality on July 12th

Commondreams - Tue, 06/13/2017 - 09:26
Fight for the Future

Momentum is building for an “Internet-Wide Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality” scheduled for July 12th to oppose the FCC’s plan to slash Title II, the legal framework for net neutrality rules that protect online free speech and innovation.

Categories: Latest News

Historic Lawsuit Launched Against Trump, Alleging Constitutional Violations

Truthout - Tue, 06/13/2017 - 07:30

President Trump boards Marine One at the White House for a trip to Ohio, in Washington, June 7, 2017. Maryland and Washington, DC, sued President Trump, claiming specific harm caused by Trump's ongoing business activities. (Photo: Al Drago / The New York Times)

Maryland and Washington, DC sued President Donald Trump on Monday, charging the Commander in Chief with improperly accepting foreign payments and gifts in violation of the US Constitution.

Attorneys General in DC and Maryland -- Karl Racine and Brian Frosh -- brought the suit. It marks the first time ever that government bodies have sued a sitting President for betraying the Emoluments Clause.

The plaintiffs allege that, despite handing off the Trump Organization to his sons two be managed, Trump is still very much involved in its operations, and, therefore, receiving payments from foreign governments, which is prohibited by the Emoluments Clause.

The President has never relinquished ownership of the Trump Organization. Public statements made by Eric Trump suggest that Trump regularly briefs his father on business matters. And ProPublica discovered in April that the President can withdraw money from his many business holdings at any time.

"President Trump's continued ownership interest in a global business empire, which renders him deeply enmeshed with a legion of foreign and domestic government actors, violates the Constitution and calls into question the rule of law and the integrity of the country's political system," the filing states.

The suit specifically cites the Embassy of Kuwait deciding to hold its National Day celebration at Trump's International Hotel in Washington, DC. The diplomatic post had originally booked the Four Seasons hotel to host the event, but changed reservations to the President's property reportedly under pressure from officials within Trump Organization, the suit alleges. The cost of the gala was estimated at between $40,000 and $60,000.

A lobbyist for Saudi Arabia also reported spending more than a quarter-million dollars at the same hotel between October 2016 and the end of March 2017.

Maryland and DC claim they are specifically harmed by the President's ongoing business activities. They allege that Trump has used the presidency to draw attention to his properties, and that foreign and domestic officials have openly stated they're more likely to stay in Trump hotels in order to curry favor with the President.

"The District and Maryland have an interest in protecting their economies and their residents," the suit states. It notes that Trump's local competitors are "injured by decreased business, wages, and tips resulting from economic and commercial activity diverted to the defendant and his business enterprises due to his ongoing constitutional violations."

Even if the parties are unsuccessful in their legal endeavor, a judge simply allowing the lawsuit to advance could provoke a major revelation about President Trump, regarding his taxes.

Attorney General Frosh told The Washington Post that the case "at its core" is about citizens having the right to know about their President's business dealings and possible breaches of the constitution.

To that end, "we'll need to see his financial records, his taxes that he has refused to release," Frosh said.

After the President handed day-to-day operations of Trump Organization to his sons, the company claimed it would identify foreign revenues and donate them to the US Treasury in order to avoid implicating the emoluments clause.

In May, however, the company informed the House Oversight Committee that fulfilling such a task would be "impractical." Instead, they would rely on patrons to self-identify.

"It is not the intention nor design of this policy for our Properties to attempt to identify individual travels who have not specifically identified themselves as being a representative of a foreign government entity on foreign government business," the company said in response to an inquiry from the oversight panel.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member of the committee, said he had "grave concerns" about the operations at Trump Organization.

"Complying with the United States Constitution is not an optional exercise, but a requirement for serving as our nation's President," Cummings wrote in a letter to the White House last month.

Although the lawsuit marks the first time a state or municipality has sued the President for emoluments violations, DC-based watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), brought a similar action in April.

The Department of Justice responded to the CREW suit in a filing last Friday, arguing that it should be dismissed.

During Monday's White House Press Briefing, spokesman Sean Spicer said the suit was brought by two Democratic Attorneys General and an "advocacy group with partisan ties."

"It's not hard to conclude that partisan politics might be one of the motivations behind the scenes," Spicer claimed.

Categories: Latest News

Seven in 10 Smartphone Apps Share Your Data With Third-Party Services

Truthout - Tue, 06/13/2017 - 06:57

Our mobile phones can reveal a lot about ourselves: where we live and work; who our family, friends and acquaintances are; how (and even what) we communicate with them; and our personal habits. With all the information stored on them, it isn't surprising that mobile device users take steps to protect their privacy, like using PINs or passcodes to unlock their phones.

The research that we and our colleagues are doing identifies and explores a significant threat that most people miss: More than 70 percent of smartphone apps are reporting personal data to third-party tracking companies like Google Analytics, the Facebook Graph API or Crashlytics.

When people install a new Android or iOS app, it asks the user's permission before accessing personal information. Generally speaking, this is positive. And some of the information these apps are collecting are necessary for them to work properly: A map app wouldn't be nearly as useful if it couldn't use GPS data to get a location.

But once an app has permission to collect that information, it can share your data with anyone the app's developer wants to -- letting third-party companies track where you are, how fast you're moving and what you're doing.

The Help, and Hazard, of Code Libraries

An app doesn't just collect data to use on the phone itself. Mapping apps, for example, send your location to a server run by the app's developer to calculate directions from where you are to a desired destination.

The app can send data elsewhere, too. As with websites, many mobile apps are written by combining various functions, precoded by other developers and companies, in what are called third-party libraries. These libraries help developers track user engagement, connect with social media and earn money by displaying ads and other features, without having to write them from scratch.

However, in addition to their valuable help, most libraries also collect sensitive data and send it to their online servers -- or to another company altogether. Successful library authors may be able to develop detailed digital profiles of users. For example, a person might give one app permission to know their location, and another app access to their contacts. These are initially separate permissions, one to each app. But if both apps used the same third-party library and shared different pieces of information, the library's developer could link the pieces together.

Users would never know, because apps aren't required to tell users what software libraries they use. And only very few apps make public their policies on user privacy; if they do, it's usually in long legal documents a regular person won't read, much less understand.

Developing Lumen

Our research seeks to reveal how much data are potentially being collected without users' knowledge, and to give users more control over their data. To get a picture of what data are being collected and transmitted from people's smartphones, we developed a free Android app of our own, called the Lumen Privacy Monitor. It analyzes the traffic apps send out, to report which applications and online services actively harvest personal data.

Because Lumen is about transparency, a phone user can see the information installed apps collect in real time and with whom they share these data. We try to show the details of apps' hidden behavior in an easy-to-understand way. It's about research, too, so we ask users if they'll allow us to collect some data about what Lumen observes their apps are doing -- but that doesn't include any personal or privacy-sensitive data. This unique access to data allows us to study how mobile apps collect users' personal data and with whom they share data at an unprecedented scale.

In particular, Lumen keeps track of which apps are running on users' devices, whether they are sending privacy-sensitive data out of the phone, what internet sites they send data to, the network protocol they use and what types of personal information each app sends to each site. Lumen analyzes apps traffic locally on the device, and anonymizes these data before sending them to us for study: If Google Maps registers a user's GPS location and sends that specific address to maps.google.com, Lumen tells us, "Google Maps got a GPS location and sent it to maps.google.com" -- not where that person actually is.

Trackers Are Everywhere

More than 1,600 people who have used Lumen since October 2015 allowed us to analyze more than 5,000 apps. We discovered 598 internet sites likely to be tracking users for advertising purposes, including social media services like Facebook, large internet companies like Google and Yahoo, and online marketing companies under the umbrella of internet service providers like Verizon Wireless.

We found that more than 70 percent of the apps we studied connected to at least one tracker, and 15 percent of them connected to five or more trackers. One in every four trackers harvested at least one unique device identifier, such as the phone number or its device-specific unique 15-digit IMEI number. Unique identifiers are crucial for online tracking services because they can connect different types of personal data provided by different apps to a single person or device. Most users, even privacy-savvy ones, are unaware of those hidden practices.

More Than Just a Mobile Problem

Tracking users on their mobile devices is just part of a larger problem. More than half of the app-trackers we identified also track users through websites. Thanks to this technique, called "cross-device" tracking, these services can build a much more complete profile of your online persona.

And individual tracking sites are not necessarily independent of others. Some of them are owned by the same corporate entity -- and others could be swallowed up in future mergers. For example, Alphabet, Google's parent company, owns several of the tracking domains that we studied, including Google Analytics, DoubleClick or AdMob, and through them collects data from more than 48 percent of the apps we studied.

Data transfers observed between locations of Lumen users (left) and third-party server locations (right). Traffic frequently crosses international boundaries. ICSI, CC BY-ND

Users' online identities are not protected by their home country's laws. We found data being shipped across national borders, often ending up in countries with questionable privacy laws. More than 60 percent of connections to tracking sites are made to servers in the US, UK, France, Singapore, China and South Korea -- six countries that have deployed mass surveillance technologies. Government agencies in those places could potentially have access to these data, even if the users are in countries with stronger privacy laws such as Germany, Switzerland or Spain.

Connecting a device's MAC address to a physical address (belonging to ICSI) using Wigle. ICSI, CC BY-ND

  Even more disturbingly, we have observed trackers in apps targeted to children. By testing 111 kids' apps in our lab, we observed that 11 of them leaked a unique identifier, the MAC address, of the Wi-Fi router it was connected to. This is a problem, because it is easy to search online for physical locations associated with particular MAC addresses. Collecting private information about children, including their location, accounts and other unique identifiers, potentially violates the Federal Trade Commission's rules protecting children's privacy.

Just a Small Look

Although our data include many of the most popular Android apps, it is a small sample of users and apps, and therefore likely a small set of all possible trackers. Our findings may be merely scratching the surface of what is likely to be a much larger problem that spans across regulatory jurisdictions, devices and platforms.

It's hard to know what users might do about this. Blocking sensitive information from leaving the phone may impair app performance or user experience: An app may refuse to function if it cannot load ads. Actually, blocking ads hurts app developers by denying them a source of revenue to support their work on apps, which are usually free to users.

If people were more willing to pay developers for apps, that may help, though it's not a complete solution. We found that while paid apps tend to contact fewer tracking sites, they still do track users and connect with third-party tracking services.

Transparency, education and strong regulatory frameworks are the key. Users need to know what information about them is being collected, by whom, and what it's being used for. Only then can we as a society decide what privacy protections are appropriate, and put them in place. Our findings, and those of many other researchers, can help turn the tables and track the trackers themselves.

Disclosure statement: Narseo Vallina-Rodriguez receives funding from NSF and DataTransparencyLab. Srikanth Sundaresan receives funding from the Hewlett Foundation and the Princeton CITP IoT Security and Privacy Consortium, and has received funding in the past from the National Science Foundation.

Categories: Latest News

Why Afghanistan? Fighting a War for the War System Itself

Truthout - Tue, 06/13/2017 - 06:50

US Army paratroopers watch as a CH-47 Chinook helicopter descends to pick them up for an air-assault mission July 17, 2009, during a dust storm at Forward Operating Base Kushamond, Afghanistan. Many careers, reputations and programs tied to the war industry depend upon the continuation of the failed Afghan war. (Photo: Pfc. Andrya Hill / US Army)

The strategy of empowering local warlords to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan has failed for over 10 years, yet the US shows no signs of ending the first of its endless wars of this century. Could it be because the purpose of these wars is to serve, first and foremost, the careers and interests behind the US war industry itself?

US Army paratroopers watch as a CH-47 Chinook helicopter descends to pick them up for an air-assault mission July 17, 2009, during a dust storm at Forward Operating Base Kushamond, Afghanistan. Many careers, reputations and programs tied to the war industry depend upon the continuation of the failed Afghan war. (Photo: Pfc. Andrya Hill / US Army)

President Donald Trump is hesitating to agree to thousands of additional troops for the war in Afghanistan as recommended by his secretary of defense and national security adviser, according to a New York Times report over the weekend.

So, it's a good time to put aside, for a moment, the troop request itself and focus on why the United States has been fighting the Taliban since 2001 -- and losing to them for well over a decade.

Some of the war managers would argue that the United States has never had enough troops or left them in Afghanistan long enough. But those very figures are openly calling for an indefinite neocolonial US military presence. The real reason for the fundamental weakness of the US-NATO war is the fact that the United States has empowered a rogues' gallery of Afghan warlords whose militias have imposed a regime of chaos, violence and oppression on the Afghan population -- stealing, killing and raping with utter impunity. And that strategy has come back to bite the Pentagon's war managers.

The Taliban hold the same sexist ideas as many members of rural Afghan society about keeping girls out of schools and in the home. But the organization appeared in 1994 in response to the desperate pleas of the population in the south -- especially in a Kandahar province divided up by four warlords -- to stop the wholesale abduction and rape of women and pre-teen boys, as well as the uncontrolled extortion of tolls by warlord troops. The Taliban portrayed themselves as standing for order and elementary justice against chaos and sexual violence, and they immediately won broad popular support to drive the warlords out of power across the south, finally taking over Kabul without a fight.

Then in 2001 the United States ousted the Taliban regime -- implicitly as retribution for 9/11, even though the Taliban leader Mullah Omar had not been informed of Osama bin Laden's plot and had strongly opposed any such plotting. Instead of forcing the Taliban to give up its power or simply letting Afghan society determine the Taliban's fate, the United States helped its own warlord allies consolidate their power. President Hamid Karzai was encouraged to appoint the most powerful warlords as provincial governors and their private militias were converted into the national police. The CIA even put some of the militias on their payroll along with their warlord bosses to help track down Taliban and al Qaeda remnants.

These early US decisions created the plague of abuses by the "police" and other militias that has remained the underlying socio-political dynamic of the war ever since. Ron Neumann, US ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007, explained the accepted rules for the warlords and the commanders of their militias toward those who are not part of their tribal in-group. "You take the people's land, their women -- you steal from them -- it's all part of one package," he told me in a 2009 interview.

It was not long before the Taliban began to reorganize for a second resistance to the warlords. From 2003 to 2006, they were taking the offensive across the Pashtun area of the south, with a rapidly increasing tempo of attacks.

In 2006 the US-NATO command responded to the Taliban offensive by creating the "Afghan National Auxiliary Police" (ANAP). ANAP officers were given new AK-47 assault rifles and uniforms like those of regular police, but the group was in essence another warlord militia, composed of the same individuals as other warlord militias. As a senior official in the Afghan Ministry of Interior told Human Rights Watch, the ANAP "was made for the warlords." They were "the same people, committing the same crimes, with more power."

The ANAP program was abandoned in April 2008, an apparent failure, but the US-NATO reliance on the warlords' militias continued. When US and British troops moved back into Lashkar Gah district of Helmand Province in mid-2009, their plan was to rely on police to reestablish a government presence there. But the police, commanded by mujahideen loyal to province warlord Sher Mohammed Akhunzadeh, had terrorized the population of the district with systematic violent abuses, including the frequent  abduction and rape of pre-teen boys. The residents and village elders warned the British and Americans stationed in the district that they would again support the Taliban if necessary to protect themselves against being victimized by the police.

By September 2009 as the US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal was pressing Obama to add 40,000 more troops, his command was no longer under any illusions about being able to regain the support of the rural Pashtun population as long as it was so closely associated with the warlords. In his initial assessment of August 2009, McChrystal referred to "public anger and alienation" toward the US and NATO troops, because of the general perception that they were "complicit" in "widespread corruption and abuse of power."

But by then McChrystal and the US-NATO command chose to continue to rely on their warlord clients, because the US military needed their militias to supply all the US and NATO troops in the country. In order to get food, fuel and arms to the foreign troops at over 200 forward-operating military bases and combat outposts, the command had to outsource the trucking of the supplies and the security to private companies. Otherwise the command would have had to use a large percentage of the total foreign troops in Afghanistan to provide security for the convoys, as the Russians had done in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

But the only plentiful and instantly available supply of armed forces to provide the security was in the ranks of the warlords' own militias. So, the Pentagon designed a massive $2.16 billion annual logistics contract in 2008-09 under which about 25,000 militiamen were paid by dozens of private trucking companies and security companies owned by the warlords. The warlords were paid tens of millions of dollars a year, further consolidating their hold on the society.

The abuses by militias continued to be the primary complaint of village residents. The district governor in Khanabad district of Kunduz province told Human Rights Watch, "People come to me and complain about these arbakis [militias], but I can do nothing about this. They collect ushr [informal tax], take the daughters of the people, they do things against the wives of the people, they take their horses, sheep, anything."

When he assumed command in Afghanistan in mid-2010, Gen. David Petraeus immediately decided to turn yet again to the same warlord source of manpower to create the "Afghan Local Police" or ALP to provide 20,000 men to patrol the villages. Each ALP unit had its own Special Forces team, which gave its officers even greater impunity. The chief of the Baghlan Province council recounted a meeting with the US Special Operations Forces officer in charge of the ALP at which he had warned that the militiamen were "criminals." But the officer had flatly rejected his charge.

In theory, the ALP was supposed to be accountable to the chief of police in each district where it was operating. But one district chief of police in Baghlan province complained that it was impossible to investigate ALP crimes because the US Special Operations Forces were protecting them.

A Green Beret officer interviewed by the Christian Science Monitor in 2011 explained the US Special Operations Forces' perspective on the depredations of its Afghan clients:  "The ugly reality," he said, "is that if the US wants to prevail against the Taliban and its allies, it must work with Afghan fighters whose behavior insults Western sensibilities."

By 2013 the ALP had grown to nearly 30,000, and even the State Department annual report on human rights in Afghanistan acknowledged the serious abuses blamed on the ALP. The 2016 State Department report on human rights in Afghanistan refers to "credible accounts of killing, rape, assault, the forcible levy of informal taxes, and the traditional practice of 'baad' -- the transfer of a girl or woman to another family to settle a debt or grievance" -- all attributed by villagers to the ALP.

The linkage between warlord militia abuses and the cooperation of much of the rural population with the Taliban has long been accepted by the US command in Afghanistan. But the war has continued, because it serves powerful interests that have nothing to do with Afghanistan itself: the careers of the US officers who serve there; the bureaucratic stakes of the Joint Special Operations Command and the CIA in their huge programs and facilities in the country; the political cost of admitting that it was a futile effort from the start. Plus, the Pentagon and the CIA are determined to hold on to Afghan airstrips they use to carry out drone war in Pakistan for as long as possible.

Thus Afghanistan, the first of the United States' permanent wars, is in many ways the model for all the others that have followed -- wars that have no other purpose than to serve the US war system itself.

Categories: Latest News

This Is It: We Have the Next Three Weeks to Fight for the Affordable Care Act

Truthout - Mon, 06/12/2017 - 21:00

The Senate is our last line of defense against the GOP's terrible health care bill, and the US public deserves public hearings before anything happens, says Angel Padilla, policy director at The Indivisible Project. Meanwhile, people should be calling every Republican and Democratic senator nonstop, writing letters to the editor and holding sit-ins to make their displeasure known.

Indivisible Pasco greets Rep. Gus Bilirakis with a die-in at his new office opening. (Photo: Indivisible)

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 47th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with Angel Padilla, policy director at Indivisible, on the ongoing fight to prevent the Senate from covertly jamming through legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act and pass Trumpcare legislation that would revoke health insurance from 24 million people in the United States. 

Sarah Jaffe: This week the Republicans are going to try to ruin all of our lives. You have a guide out on action for this week. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Angel Padilla: Actually, I think it is more than just this week. It is the next three weeks, is what we are hearing, that are the key weeks here for stopping this terrible health care bill from getting through the Senate. We put out a guide for our groups that is instructing them and suggesting tactics that they can use to stop this bill from getting through the Senate. We really do think that the Senate is the last line of defense here, and if it gets through the Senate then there is little hope of stopping this bill. This is why stopping it in the Senate is super important.

We need to be calling every day to make sure that Senate offices are hearing about this bill and about how people don't want it. We are also asking that people consider doing sit-ins.

We will obviously link to your guide itself, but what are some of the tactics you are recommending?

We are at a point now where we really just can't hold back. In this guide, we have suggestions like letters to the editor and nonstop calls. We need to be calling every day to make sure that Senate offices are hearing about this bill and about how people don't want it. We are also for the first time, in one of our more recent toolkits, asking that people consider doing sit-ins. In our original guide we have instructions for how to hold a sit-in, and we feel that this is one of those moments when we really have to do everything we can. Sit-ins are one of those things that constituents, that groups, can do to make it clear to senators that we are not OK with them trying to take away people's health care.

Reports today came out that they are not even going to release anything right now, which obviously seems like a deliberate strategy to keep people from getting fired up about it. Do you think that is working? Is that, in itself -- a refusal to release the draft of the bill -- getting people more angry?

There are plenty of reasons to be angry about this bill. If they release it, then we all see exactly how bad it is. We will see that millions of people are going to lose their health coverage, but it is also very telling that they don't want to release it. It is because they know that it is really bad and they are hoping to tamp down some of the opposition. Honestly, when we are talking about a sixth of the US economy, when we are talking about millions of people who might lose their coverage, the fact that they don't want to release it is a terrible thing, which is why we are asking that there really shouldn't be any kind of Senate activity -- Democrats have tools available to them that they are not using, and until we get public hearings, we don't think anything should be happening in the Senate. Democrats should slow this down as much as they can. Again, the American public deserves a transparent process. They deserve to hear and to know how this bill will affect them.

To be clear, you are recommending that people call Democratic senators as well as Republican senators and insist they do something about this?

Yes. As we have all seen, when constituents go down to town halls and they get in front of their member and they tell them about how passionately they don't want to see this bill become law, that is the same kind of passion that we also want from Democrats. It is not enough to say that you will vote against the Trumpcare bill. It is not enough to say that you oppose it. You need to do more and they do have certain tools available to them that they are not using. We don't think that is acceptable, not when people's lives are on the line.

Republican senators are hiding from their constituency because they know they are pushing this bad bill that is going to harm them. That is why we have to bring the fight to them.

During the last Senate recess, there were I believe no town halls held by senators?

Yes. Republican senators are hiding from their constituency. They are afraid of facing them because they know they are pushing this bad bill that is going to harm them. It is a bill that is literally going to harm thousands and thousands of their own constituents and they are doing it simply because they want to give Donald Trump a win. That is why they are hiding. That is why we have to bring the fight to them.

They are hiding, but constituents can go down to regional offices and they can make their voices heard. They can have sit-ins. They can keep calling. Even if [the senators] are not willing to meet with their constituents, they are paying attention. They know that people don't want it. The only way we are going to stop this bill is if they really get the sense of how widely opposed this bill is. That is the truth.

The news cycle in the past few weeks has been packed with stories coming out of this administration -- even though they have not been able to succeed in passing much or doing much. Has it been hard, with the Comey mania and now with the Sessions testimony, to get people to focus back on this?

Yes. It was a problem for us, too. We changed our position now. We had been calling for an independent commission to go along with the independent counsel. Now we are pushing for impeachment hearings because we think that Donald Trump has done enough, has committed enough of a violation that it warrants impeachment hearings. We are there. I think a lot of our groups were already there weeks ago.

But … that is a process that will play out over the course of months and maybe even longer than a year. For now, the thing that is most important is defending the ACA and even though Sessions is testifying, the only thing people should be talking about right now is ACA. That is the thing that matters.

Certainly, Mike Pence would happily sign ACA repeal.

Yes, definitely.

If we can't stop it here in the Senate, then it is going to be really hard to stop it at all.

And certainly, Paul Ryan would if we get that far down the chain.

This is the moment. This is a do-or-die moment. That is what it says in our toolkit because this is really it. In January, when Trump took office, a lot of groups thought that the House was going to easily pass the bill and the fight was really going to be in the Senate. Luckily, because of all the constituents that came out, we slowed it down in the House and we almost won. We almost killed it four times in the House. It had to get pulled or delayed a number of times. But now we are where we thought we would be, which is in the Senate. This is where we need to stop it, and if we can't stop it here in the Senate, then it is going to be really hard to stop it at all.

We were talking about the need to call everybody, but are there particular targets or particular Republican votes that you think you can flip on this?

Yes. We actually just created a new website. It is called TrumpcareTen.org where we have the 10 states that matter the most. To be clear, I think the most important message that Republicans need to see and hear is that there is widespread national opposition to this bill. Again, there is. No one wants this bill. It doesn't matter if you are in California or if you are in Alabama. You should be out there telling your senators that you do not want this bill.

But, we do have the 10 states where we really do think that we can apply a little bit more pressure. I think the biggest ones are Alaska, West Virginia and Maine. We also have Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Ohio and Pennsylvania [plus Louisiana and Arkansas]. All of these places are important in this fight and they are going to make the difference.

Indivisible has been around now for a while. Tell us how it is going. Are people still forming new groups? Where are things?

We do have new groups. Every day we have another few groups that join. We are over 6,000 and actually, some of these -- we were at 7,000 but the number went down a little bit because some of these groups ended up consolidating, joining forces locally. It is actually our six-month anniversary this Wednesday. Groups are still mobilized. People are still activated. Now we have a few more staff people that we can use to provide more resources to the group. The excitement is still there. I think with all of these groups, the main thing on their mind is still the Affordable Care Act. That is what gets them out to town halls and that is what they are focused on now.

How do people keep up with you and find their local Indivisible group?

If they go to IndivisbleGuide.com, we have a directory where people can type in their zip code and find their local group. We know that there is a local group near them because there are at least two in every congressional district and an average of 13 in every congressional district.

Wow.

Yes, we are everywhere. If for any reason there isn't a group nearby, if there is some issue, you can always start your own.

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.

Categories: Latest News

Politics of a Parade: How Pro-Independence Puerto Ricans Resisted Colonial Tactics in New York City

Truthout - Mon, 06/12/2017 - 21:00

Those who benefit from colonialism, both in Puerto Rico and in the diaspora, are doing their best to make the fight for independence difficult. On the very day that Puerto Rico held a widely boycotted referendum on the island's political status, Puerto Ricans in New York City faced classic colonial divide-and-rule tactics from politicians and corporations seeking to pit Brooklyn and Manhattan's Puerto Rican Day Parades against each other, in an attempt to punish Manhattan organizers for honoring pro-Puerto Rican independence activist Oscar Lopez Rivera.

Thousands of marchers, including Puerto Rican leader and recently freed political prisoner Oscar López Rivera, filled Manhattan's 5th Avenue for the 60th Annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade on June 11, 2017. (Photo: Joe Catron / Flickr)

In a modern-day manifestation of the old colonial divide-and-rule tactic, corporations and New York City politicians, including the mayor, were recently caught trying to engage in backdoor deals to divide the city's Puerto Rican community over a pro-Puerto Rican independence activist's participation in the Puerto Rican Day Parade.

The corporate and political efforts to divide the Puerto Rican community came after Manhattan's annual Puerto Rican Day Parade -- one of the diaspora's largest celebrations of Puerto Rican culture -- announced that it would honor Oscar Lopez Rivera, a pro-Puerto Rican independence political prisoner who had recently had his sentence commuted by President Barack Obama after being imprisoned for over 35 years for "seditious conspiracy."

The controversial parade in question took place on Sunday, June 11, the same day that Puerto Rico, currently facing a financial crisis, held a referendum on the island's political status, leaving Puerto Ricans divided over choosing between its present "Commonwealth" status, statehood or independence. With a historically low 23 percent voter turnout due to a boycott of the election by independistas, who say the referendum was rigged in favor of statehood, statehood won with 97 percent of the vote. But the referendum was essentially meaningless.

With an independista like Lopez Rivera vilified as a "terrorist" in the leadup to the parade, it's no surprise that those who benefit from colonialism, both on the island and in the diaspora, are doing their best to make the fight for independence difficult. The results of the referendum and the controversy surrounding Lopez Rivera in New York City both clearly show the colonial status of Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans, even in the diaspora. Back on the island, this colonial status was thrown into high relief in August 2016, when the United States government set up a colonial fiscal control board for Puerto Rico that has since imposed drastic austerity measures, including cutting funds to schools and social services.

After the announcement in New York City that the National Puerto Rican Day Parade would honor Lopez Rivera during its June 11 event from 12 pm to 3 pm, Lopez Rivera -- a former member of the militant Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN) who carried out a series of bombings in the 1970s -- was quickly demonized by right-wingers, the police and both of NYC's major local newspapers.

Corporate sponsors of the parade, including GoyaJet Blue, the New York YankeesAT&T and Coca-Cola, announced that they would boycott the parade due to Lopez Rivera being honored.

Local media outlets like the NY Daily NewsUnivisionNBC New York and Telemundo47 said they would pull out of the parade. Commissioner James O'Neill of the New York City Police Department and officials like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzales also announced that they would not be marching in the parade either. Nonetheless, the board of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade stood firm in its decision to honor Lopez Rivera. Mayor Bill de Blasio at first claimed that he would march in the parade, but behind the scenes, he was working to get Lopez Rivera to step aside as an honoree at the parade.

"I made clear to [the board of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade] that I was uncomfortable with the situation and I wanted them to resolve it, I really believe they could resolve it," Mayor de Blasio told NY1. "If it wasn't resolved, I wasn't going to be a part of it."

Amidst these boycotts of the main parade in Manhattan, corporations and politicians started to express interest in the smaller, more local, third annual Sunset Park Puerto Rican Day Parade scheduled for 5 pm in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

The Sunset Park parade also began to attract backdoor offers of financial support, especially from those same corporations and local politicians. What they didn't realize is that the organizers of the Sunset Park parade are also independistas who support Lopez Rivera.
"That's the history of political repression under US colonialism," Dennis Flores of the community activist group El Grito de Sunset Park said regarding the boycotts and vilification of Lopez Rivera. "This is what's it's been like for the independence movement from the very beginning, when the US bombed their way and invaded Puerto Rico in 1898."

Flores and El Grito de Sunset Park organize the neighborhood's parade. As a result, many of the politicians and corporations that boycotted the main parade began to get in contact with him, sending him emails and text messages and requesting conference calls. Flores says that many of them offered him money and other forms of support in exchange for being able to march in the Sunset Park parade and asked Flores to openly denounce Lopez Rivera and the main parade. He recounted one call he received from the NYPD Hispanic Society, which also included representatives from Goya on the line.

"They basically were feeling me out and asking me if we were honoring Oscar Lopez in our parade," Flores told me.

They also asked Flores if Lopez Rivera was going to attend the Sunset Park parade too. When Flores informed them that Lopez Rivera was technically not getting an award and that Lopez Rivera would not be at the Sunset Park parade, they made their offer.

"Clearly, they already knew who I was," Flores said. "They knew what I was about, but they were trying to find the safe ground to be able to say 'How about if we support what you guys are doing? How about if we partake, we sponsor your parade, we bring some people out there to march?"

However, Flores said, there was a catch: "They basically said: 'Are you willing to disassociate yourself from anything about Oscar Lopez? Denounce what they're doing, and we'll come out and support your parade.'"

Flores then refused, informing them that he's an independista as well as a supporter of Lopez Rivera. Flores even later released a statement on the day of the parade saying, "We honor the freedom fighter Oscar Lopez Rivera and we stand in solidarity with the Puerto Rican people back on our home island."

"They didn't get the opening that they were hoping for," Flores told me. "But they were clearly shopping around."

And they weren't the only ones shopping around. People from Univision reportedly contacted Flores and asked if he supported Lopez Rivera. Flores showed me emails and text messages proving that he was contacted by the staff of politicians like Public Advocate Letitia James, Brooklyn DA Gonzales, Mayor de Blasio and even the right-wing New York State Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis. All of these politicians are also either facing an upcoming election or looking to pursue higher office.

Marco Carrión, the commissioner of de Blasio's Community Affairs Unit, contacted Flores on behalf of the mayor. Emails show that Carrión invited Flores to coffee at the Aroma Espresso Bar on May 19. At these meet-ups for coffee, Carrión tried to convince Flores to let Mayor de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner O'Neill march in the Sunset Park parade.

Flores, who is a member of the Coalition to End Broken Windows, decided this was a good opportunity to force the mayor, the commissioner, and all the other politicians to publicly address Broken Windows policing, a policing strategy that purports to reduce larger crimes through strict enforcement of small quality-of-life crimes but which, in fact, is used as an excuse to target, harass and arrest poor people and people of color. Mayor de Blasio has supported this policing approach since he first entered office and hired one of Broken Windows' biggest advocates, Bill Bratton, as NYPD Commissioner. Bratton resigned in September 2016 amidst protests, but the mayor has persisted in defending Broken Windows despite criticism from immigrant and anti-police-brutality activists.

"He had asked me if the mayor and the police commissioner could come to the [Sunset Park] Puerto Rican Day Parade," Flores told me. "I said the only way that could ever happen is if the mayor and the police commissioner sit down at a town hall, hosted by us, to address issues around Broken Windows."

According to Flores, Carrión didn't say no at that point but claimed he'd try to get an answer from the mayor and the commissioner. Flores later met with fellow anti-police-brutality activists in the Coalition to End Broken Windows to discuss setting up the town hall, but Carrión never got back to Flores. More than a week later, when they finally met up again, Flores said it seemed clear that Carrión was stalling. A town hall on Broken Windows, opposition to which has gained some steam amongst liberal establishment politicians, would not look good for Mayor de Blasio, even if it meant he could march in the Sunset Park Parade.

Unsurprisingly, Brooklyn DA Gonzalez, who is currently campaigning to keep his job against a number of strong contenders, did agree to participate in a town hall set to take place within the next two weeks. He recently had to square up with some of his opponents at a forum, where it was made clear to Gonzalez that he needs to present himself as progressive on policing issues in order to win.

Also, unsurprisingly, the right-wing Assemblywoman Malliotakis, who is currently running for mayor, had the most clumsy interaction with Flores. Malliotakis, never one to pass up a chance to bash Mayor de Blasio, had recently called Lopez Rivera a "terrorist" and loudly denounced de Blasio for saying that he'd march in the main parade.

"While we are pleased that Oscar Lopez Rivera will not be recognized at the Puerto Rican day parade as a freedom fighting hero," her campaign wrote in a statement on June 5, "the fact remains that this terrorist has shockingly shown more integrity in doing what is right for the parade than our own city leadership who refuse to denounce him and instead waited until he declined the award."

But behind the scenes, her staff was contacting Flores, an independista and copwatcher, in order to ask if she could "donate" and march in the Sunset Park parade -- a parade which officially began as a response to police brutality and has always included an Oscar Lopez Rivera contingent.

"Mr. Flores I am writing on behalf of Assemblywoman Malliotakis who would like to march in the Sunset Park parade," says a text message sent to Flores from a number belonging to the Staten Island-based Von Agency, the public relations agency working for Assemblywoman Malliotakis' mayoral campaign. "Can we still donate and participate?"

Before Flores could even respond to the text, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle published a whole article claiming that Assemblywoman Malliotakis would be marching in the Sunset Park parade, which was presented as the good parade as opposed to the Manhattan parade "honoring political extremist" Oscar Lopez Rivera. These were classic colonial divide-and-rule tactics, where conflict and division is encouraged amongst a colonized people in order to more easily rule them, and Flores made sure to publicly state that Malliotakis was not welcome at the Sunset Park parade.

"Clearly, that's all she wanted. She wanted that type of exposure," Flores told me. "She didn't care about Sunset Park. She didn't care about us. She had no respect for the organizers. She didn't even wait for us to give a response to say 'yes, you can come to the parade' or 'no, you cannot.' Nothing!"

Truthout contacted the offices of Malliotakis, Marco Carrión and de Blasio for comment in the days leading up to the parade but did not receive a reply.

By demonizing Lopez Rivera as a "terrorist," boycotting the main parade, and attempting to get a Puerto Rican organizer to publicly denounce both the main parade and Lopez Rivera, corporations and local politicians have shown that while they will gladly accept Puerto Rican dollars and votes, they will not tolerate Puerto Ricans who dare fight for the freedom of their people. Even after Lopez Rivera had announced in a June 1 op-ed that he would be marching "not as your honoree but as a humble Puerto Rican and grandfather," they refused to end their boycotts.

But these recent events have also shown that Puerto Ricans, as well as Black and Brown people in general, can resist modern colonial divide-and-rule tactics and can even flex their political muscles against the colonialists in the process. So far, Flores' town hall on Broken Windows scheduled for June 30 is set to feature Public Advocate James, DA Gonzales and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, himself a former cop, originally agreed to attend the town hall but, less than 24 hours after the parade, backed out, which resulted in El Grito de Sunset Park releasing a statement on June 13 banning him from ever marching in the Sunset Park parade again. Meanwhile, voters have learned the damaging truth about the attempts made by both Mayor de Blasio and Assemblywoman Malliotakis at backdoor deals.

As long as the colonized have just a little bit of integrity and solidarity, they can take on their oppressors. And for now, politicians and corporations will know that the Puerto Rican community will fight back against efforts to divide it.
"You're pitting us against other people," Flores told the NY Daily News regarding Malliotakis trying to march in the Sunset Park parade. "You're using our parade to say, 'These are the good Puerto Ricans and those are the bad ones.' That's not cool with us."

Categories: Latest News

Naomi Klein: Climate Movement Is Growing Even More Ambitious as US Goes Rogue and Exits Paris Accord

Truthout - Mon, 06/12/2017 - 21:00

Also see: Naomi Klein: Trump Is Not the Crisis -- He Is the Symptom of the Crisis

The United States has refused to sign on to a G7 pledge saying the 2015 landmark Paris climate accord is "irreversible." On Monday, the US said it would not join the six other member nations in signing on to the pledge. This comes after President Trump announced he was pulling the US out of the historic accord. For more on Paris, the climate and the Trump administration, we speak with best-selling author and journalist Naomi Klein, whose new book is No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Naomi Klein on Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and Youth-Led Grassroots Progressive Insurgencies

Truthout - Mon, 06/12/2017 - 21:00

Also see: Naomi Klein: Trump Is Not the Crisis -- He Is the Symptom of the Crisis

Over the weekend, more than 4,000 people gathered for the People's Summit in Chicago. Among those who spoke was Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who called the Democratic Party's strategy an absolute failure and blamed the party for the election of President Trump. This comes after the Labour Party in Britain won a shocking number new seats in the British election. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is now poised to possibly become the next British prime minister. For more on these insurgent progressive politicians, we speak with best-selling author and journalist Naomi Klein, whose new book is No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Who's Dividing Us?

Truthout - Mon, 06/12/2017 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

The Koch Brothers and Trump: The Men Who Sold the World

Truthout - Mon, 06/12/2017 - 21:00

When he withdrew from the Paris climate agreement, Donald Trump gave a speech so filled with falsehoods that it triggered detailed rebuttals by publications ranging from Politifact to Scientific American.

The Washington Post's "Fact Checker" column, which hands out "Pinocchios" for false or misleading statements, was forced to note that "we do not award Pinocchios in roundups of speeches." But by then Trump probably had more Pinocchios than the Disneyland gift shop.

But Trump is not the only truth-denier in the Republican Party. In a front-page story by Coral Davenport and Eric Lipton, the New York Times documented the GOP's transformation from a party with leaders like John McCain and Newt Gingrich, who accepted the scientific consensus on the climate, to one whose leader believes it is a hoax perpetrated by China.

When Trump pulled the US from the Paris agreement, "the Senate majority leader, the speaker of the House and every member of the elected Republican leadership were united in their praise."

And the Times laid this transformation squarely at the feet of the Koch Brothers:

"Republican lawmakers were moved along by a campaign carefully crafted by fossil fuel industry players, most notably Charles D. and David H. Koch, the Kansas-based billionaires who run a chain of refineries (which can process 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day) as well as a subsidiary that owns or operates 4,000 miles of pipelines that move crude oil."

The Koch network of funders spent an estimated $1 billion over the last few election cycles telling the Republican Party what to do. "It is, perhaps, the most astounding example of influence-buying in modern American political history," wrote Jane Mayer in the New Yorker.

You could call Trump, Paul Ryan, and Mitch McConnell "the men who sold the world," after the David Bowie song of the same name.

Climate Cronies

Trump and his party have been marching in lockstep with the fossil-fuel industry for some time now. Even before Trump took office, the Washington Post reported that "the fossil fuel industry is enjoying a remarkable resurgence as its executives and lobbyists shape President-elect Donald Trump's policy agenda and staff his administration."

That influence can be seen in Trump's appointments, in his deeds and now in his budget.

The head of the EPA is the person responsible for protecting our air, land, and water. Trump chose Scott Pruitt, a longtime ally of the fossil fuel industry, to lead that agency. Pruitt is known for his unusually close ties to the that industry, which are extensive even by Republican Party standards.

As Oklahoma's Attorney General, Pruitt sued the agency he now runs many times. A CMD review of Pruitt's emails showed that he allowed the industry to write the comments that he filed with federal agencies. The Koch Brothers' network of shell "advocacy groups," which CMD has analyzed at length, turned out in force to support Pruitt's nomination.

Other Trump cabinet appointees are also closely allied with the fossil-fuel industry, including Commerce Sec. Wilbur Ross, Transportation Sec. Elaine Chao, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and of course Rex Tillerson, who led Exxon for years.

The fossil-fuel connection runs deep in the Trump Administration. The Sabin Center analyzed lower-level appointments in agencies responsible for energy, the environment and natural resources. It found that more than half of those appointed "appear(ed) to lack expertise and/or experience" related to their new responsibilities, while more than one-quarter "had close ties to the fossil fuel industry."

Dirty Deeds

In March, Trump signed an executive order and made a number of other moves that helped the fossil fuel industry by cutting the EPA, easing up on regulations, approving the KXL pipeline, and overturning Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan.

Trump's proposed budget, which was released in late May, would cut the EPA by nearly one-third. That budget also includes a number of deep cuts in science spending, including cuts in the kind of research that helps us understand how fossil fuels are harming our health and our planet. Those cuts would end funding for NASA's Carbon Monitoring System (CMS), which was established by Congress to track the effects of both natural and human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Other carbon research programs would be cut under the Trump budget. Science, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, observed that additional cuts to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) would "drastically cut into the agency's climate research's climate research, shuttering a host of labs and programs." The Department of Energy's climate research would also be cut significantly under the Trump budget.

Science noted that climate expert David Victor believes that Trump's proposed NASA cuts alone "would be a long-lasting setback to combating climate change."

With Trump's pullout from the Paris agreement, the US becomes one of only three nations that is not part of that agreement. One of the other two, Nicaragua, wants a stronger agreement. The other is Syria, which is in the middle of a catastrophic civil war.

With the help of the Koch Brothers, Trump and the Republican Party have "moved in the opposite direction from virtually the rest of the world," wrote Jane Mayer.

It's time the world began to hold them to account.

Categories: Latest News

"America Last": Will Trump Set a Record for the History Books?

Truthout - Mon, 06/12/2017 - 21:00

In its own inside-out, upside-down way, it's almost wondrous to behold. As befits our president's wildest dreams, it may even prove to be a record for the ages, one for the history books. He was, after all, the candidate who sensed it first. When those he was running against, like the rest of Washington's politicians, were still insisting that the United States remained at the top of its game, not an -- but the -- "indispensable nation," the only truly "exceptional" one on the face of the Earth, he said nothing of the sort. He campaigned on America's decline, on this country's increasing lack of exceptionality, its potential dispensability. He ran on the single word "again" -- as in "make America great again" -- because (the implication was) it just isn't anymore. And he swore that he and he alone was the best shot Americans, or at least non-immigrant white Americans, had at ever seeing the best of days again. 

In that sense, he was our first declinist candidate for president and if that didn't tell you something during the election season, it should have. No question about it, he hit a chord, rang a bell, because out in the heartland it was possible to sense a deepening reality that wasn't evident in Washington. The wealthiest country on the planet, the most militarily powerful in the history of... well, anybody, anywhere, anytime (or so we were repeatedly told)... couldn't win a war, not even with the investment of trillions of taxpayer dollars, couldn't do anything but spread chaos by force of arms.

Meanwhile, at home, despite all that wealth, despite billionaires galore, including the one running for president, despite the transnational corporate heaven inhabited by Google and Facebook and Apple and the rest of the crew, parts of this country and its infrastructure were starting to feel distinctly (to use a word from another universe) "Third Worldish." He sensed that, too. He regularly said things like this: "We spent six trillion dollars in the Middle East, we got nothing… And we have an obsolete plane system. We have obsolete airports. We have obsolete trains. We have bad roads. Airports." And this: "Our airports are like from a third-world country." And on the nation's crumbling infrastructure, he couldn't have been more on the mark.

In parts of the US, white working-class and middle-class Americans could sense that the future was no longer theirs, that their children would not have a shot at what they had had, that they themselves increasingly didn't have a shot at what they had had. The American Dream seemed to be gaining an almost nightmarish sheen, given that the real value of the average wage of a worker hadn't increased since the 1970s; that the cost of a college education had gone through the roof and the educational debt burden for children with dreams of getting ahead was now staggering; that unions were cratering; that income inequality was at a historic high; and... well, you know the story, really you do. In essence, for them the famed American Dream seemed ever more like someone else's trademarked property. 

Indispensable? Exceptional? This country? Not anymore. Not as they were experiencing it.

And because of that, Donald Trump won the lottery. He answered the $64,000 question. (If you're not of a certain age, Google it, but believe me it's a reference in our president's memory book.) He entered the Oval Office with almost 50% of the vote and a fervent base of support for his promised program of doing it all over again, 1950s-style.

It had been one hell of a pitch from the businessman billionaire. He had promised a future of stratospheric terrificness, of greatness on an historic scale. He promised to keep the "evil ones" away, to wall them out or toss them out or ban them from ever traveling here. He also promised to set incredible records, as only a mega-businessman like him could conceivably do, the sort of all-American records this country hadn't seen in a long, long time.

And early as it is in the Trump era, it seems as if, on one score at least, he could deliver something for the record books going back to the times when those recording the acts of rulers were still scratching them out in clay or wax. At this point, there's at least a chance that Donald Trump might preside over the most precipitous decline of a truly dominant power in history, one only recently considered at the height of its glory. It could prove to be a fall for the ages. Admittedly, that other superpower of the Cold War era, the Soviet Union, imploded in 1991, which was about the fastest way imaginable to leave the global stage. Still, despite the "evil empire" talk of that era, the USSR was always the secondary, the weaker of the two superpowers. It was never Rome, or Spain, or Great Britain.

When it comes to the United States, we're talking about a country that not so long ago saw itself as the only great power left on planet Earth, "the lone superpower." It was the one still standing, triumphant, at the end of a history of great power rivalry that went back to a time when the wooden warships of various European states first broke out into a larger world and began to conquer it. It stood by itself at, as its proponents liked to claim at the time, the end of history.

Applying Hard Power to a Failing World

As we watch, it seems almost possible to see President Trump, in real time, tweet by tweet, speech by speech, sword dance by sword dance, intervention by intervention, act by act, in the process of dismantling the system of global power -- of "soft power," in particular, and of alliances of every sort -- by which the US made its will felt, made itself a truly global hegemon. Whether his "America first" policies are aimed at creating a future order of autocrats, or petro-states, or are nothing more than the expression of his libidinous urges and secret hatreds, he may already be succeeding in taking down that world order in record fashion. 

Despite the mainstream pieties of the moment about the nature of the system Donald Trump appears to be dismantling in Europe and elsewhere, it was anything but either terribly "liberal" or particularly peaceable. Wars, invasions, occupations, the undermining or overthrow of governments, brutal acts and conflicts of every sort succeeded one another in the years of American glory. Past administrations in Washington had a notorious weakness for autocrats, just as Donald Trump does today. They regularly had less than no respect for democracy if, from Iran to Guatemala to Chile, the will of the people seemed to stand in Washington's way. (It is, as Vladimir Putin has been only too happy to point out of late, an irony of our moment that the country that has undermined or overthrown or meddled in more electoral systems than any other is in a total snit over the possibility that one of its own elections was meddled with.) To enforce their global system, Americans never shied away from torture, black sites, death squads, assassinations, and other grim practices. In those years, the US planted its military on close to 1,000 overseas military bases, garrisoning the planet as no other country ever had. 

Nonetheless, the cancelling of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, the withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, threats against NAFTA, the undermining of NATO, the promise of protective tariffs on foreign goods (and the possible trade wars that might go with them) could go a long way toward dismantling the American global system of soft power and economic dominance as it has existed in these last decades. If such acts and others like them prove effective in the months and years to come, they will leave only one kind of power in the American global quiver: hard military power, and its handmaiden, the kind of covert power Washington, through the CIA in particular, has long specialized in. If America's alliances crack open and its soft power becomes too angry or edgy to pass for dominant power anymore, its massive machinery of destruction will still be left, including its vast nuclear arsenal. While, in the Trump era, a drive to cut domestic spending of every sort is evident, more money is still slated to go to the military, already funded at levels not reached by combinations of other major powers. 

Given the last 15 years of history, it's not hard to imagine what's likely to result from the further elevation of military power: disaster. This is especially true because Donald Trump has appointed to key positions in his administration a crew of generals who spent the last decade and a half fighting America's catastrophic wars across the Greater Middle East. They are not only notoriously incapable of thinking outside the box about the application of military power, but faced with the crisis of failed wars and failing states, of spreading terror movements and a growing refugee crisis across that crucial region, they can evidently only imagine one solution to just about any problem: more of the same. More troops, more mini-surges, more military trainers and advisers, more air strikes, more drone strikes... more.

After a decade and a half of such thinking we already know perfectly well where this ends -- in further failure, more chaos and suffering, but above all in an inability of the US to effectively apply its hard power anywhere in any way that doesn't make matters worse. Since, in addition, the Trump administration is filled with Iranophobes, including a president who has only recently fused himself to the Saudi royal family in an attempt to further isolate and undermine Iran, the possibility that a military-first version of American foreign policy will spread further is only growing.

Such "more" thinking is typical as well of much of the rest of the cast of characters now in key positions in the Trump administration. Take the CIA, for instance. Under its new director, Mike Pompeo (distinctly a "more" kind of guy and an Iranophobe of the first order), two key positions have reportedly been filled: a new chief of counterterrorism and a new head of Iran operations (recently identified as Michael D'Andrea, an Agency hardliner with the nickname "the Dark Prince"). Here's how Matthew Rosenberg and Adam Goldman of The New York Times recently described their similar approaches to their jobs (my emphasis added):

"Mr. D'Andrea's new role is one of a number of moves inside the spy agency that signal a more muscular approach to covert operations under the leadership of Mike Pompeo, the conservative Republican and former congressman, the officials said. The agency also recently named a new chief of counterterrorism, who has begun pushing for greater latitude to strike militants."

In other words, more! 

Rest assured of one thing, whatever Donald Trump accomplishes in the way of dismantling America's version of soft power, "his" generals and intelligence operatives will handle the hard-power part of the equation just as "ably."

The First American Laster?

If a Trump presidency achieves a record for the ages when it comes to the precipitous decline of the American global system, little as The Donald ever cares to share credit for anything, he will undoubtedly have to share it for such an achievement. It's true that kings, emperors, and autocrats, the top dogs of any moment, prefer to take all the credit for the "records" set in their time. When we look back, however, it's likely that President Trump will be seen as having given a tottering system that necessary push. It will undoubtedly be clear enough by then that the US, seemingly at the height of any power's power in 1991 when the Soviet Union disappeared, began heading for the exits soon thereafter, still enwreathed in self-congratulation and triumphalism. 

Had this not been so, Donald Trump would never have won the 2016 election. It wasn't he, after all, who gave the US heartland an increasingly "Third World" feel. It wasn't he who spent those trillions of dollars so disastrously on invasions and occupations, dead-end wars, drone strikes and special ops raids, reconstruction and deconstruction in a never-ending war on terror that today looks more like a war for the spread of terror. It wasn't he who created the growing inequality gap in this country or produced all those billionaires amid a population that increasingly felt left in the lurch. It wasn't he who hiked college tuitions or increased the debt levels of the young or set roads and bridges to crumbling and created the conditions for "Third World"-style airports.

If both the American global and domestic systems hadn't been rotting out before Donald Trump arrived on the scene, that "again" of his wouldn't have worked. Thought of another way, when the US was truly at the height of its economic clout and power, American leaders felt no need to speak incessantly of how "indispensable" or "exceptional" the country was. It seemed too self-evident to mention. Someday, some historian may use those very words in the mouths of American presidents and other politicians (and their claims, for instance, that the US military was "the finest fighting force that the world has ever known") as a set of increasingly defensive markers for measuring the decline of American power.

So here's the question: When the Trump years (months?) come to an end, will the US be not the planet's most exceptional land, but a pariah nation? Will that "again" still be the story of the year, the decade, the century? Will the last American Firster turn out to have been the first American Laster? Will it truly be one for the record books?

Categories: Latest News

In the Depths of the Oceans, Human Activities Are Beginning to Take Their Toll

Truthout - Mon, 06/12/2017 - 21:00

Once seen as too remote to harm, the deep sea is facing new pressures from mining, pollution, overfishing and more. Human activities are poised to radically affect the deep sea even more in the decades to come. Attention we pay and decisions we make now could make all the difference in its fate.

Edited Landsat 8 image of one of the deep blue holes in the Caribbean Sea. Once seen as too remote to harm, the deep sea is facing new pressures from mining, pollution, overfishing and more. (Photo: Stuart Rankin / Flickr)

Imagine sinking into the deepest parts of the Central Pacific Ocean, somewhere between Mexico and Hawaii. Watch as the water turns from clear to blue to dark blue to black. And then continue on for another 15,000 feet (4,600 meters) to the seafloor -- roughly the distance from the peak of California's Mount Whitney to the bottom of nearby Death Valley.

"As soon as you start to descend, all of the wave action and bouncing goes away and it's like you're just floating and then you sink really slowly and watch the light fade out through the windows and then you really are in another world," says Erik Cordes, a researcher at Temple University and frequent visitor to the deep ocean.

Finally, you come to a stop 12,000 feet (3,700 meters) below the last bits of light from the surface. The water here is strangely viscous yet remarkably transparent, and the light from your flashlight extends for hundreds of yards. You are in the heart of the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone, a region of the ocean seafloor roughly the size of the United States, populated by colorless invertebrates adapted in astounding ways to the sparse, crushing conditions found here.

And all around you -- as far as the eye can't see -- are small, spherical rocks. Varying from microscopic to the size of a volleyball, they look like something stolen from the set of "Gremlins" or maybe "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

And they're worth millions. Because inside these mysterious little eggs are untouched stores of copper, titanium, cobalt and especially manganese -- crucial for making anything from the steel in your car's frame to the circuitry that tells you how much gas is left in it. Some metals exist in larger quantities here than on all the continents of the world -- and you had better believe they have caught the eye of mining companies.

The deep ocean, which in some places extends farther below Earth's surface than Mt. Everest stands above, is facing threats from humans despite its remoteness.

It's hard to draw a line exactly where the deep ocean starts. Starting at about 650 feet (200 meters), there's not enough light to support photosynthesis, and at around 3,000 feet (1,000 meters) there's no light at all. From there to the deepest spot, at the bottom of the 36,000-foot-deep (11,000-meter-deep) Mariana Trench between Japan and Papua New Guinea (deep enough to hold Mount Everest with New Hampshire's Mount Washington stuck on top of it) is loosely defined as the "deep sea."

However it's defined, the deep sea today is a place of change. Human activities already are affecting it -- and are poised, as these mineral stores suggest -- to radically affect it even more in the decades to come. Attention we pay and decisions we make now could make all the difference in its fate.

Mining the Depths

The mineral riches of this deep ocean are vast and nearly untouched for now. But that's changing as new technologies are allowing humans to access ever-deeper parts of the seafloor.

Current mining strategies break down along two rough categories. First is nodule mining -- gathering up those bizarre seafloor billiard balls that have slowly collected minerals over the centuries as they trickled down like rain from above or seeped up from below and congregated around some central particle like rock candy around a string. There is no industry standard for sweeping up nodules so far below the surface -- about 4,000 to 6,000 meters (13,000 to 20,000 feet) -- though companies have proposed ideas as varied as deepwater vacuum cleaners and massive trawlers dragging across the seafloor. One 1985 study estimated 550 billion metric tons (610 billion tons) of nodules in the sea.

The second form of mining is targeted around sulfur vents and other types of seeps. These operations would be in shallower water -- 4,000 to 12,000 feet (1,200 to 3,700 meters) -- and look more like traditional mining operations scraping sulfur, phosphorus or precious metals from the sides of underwater ridges.

So far, all of these projects are theoretical. Most of the permits currently granted for deep-sea mining are for nodules, but the first ones to actually break ground are likely to be around ocean vents. Nautilus Minerals, a Canadian company working off the coast of Papua New Guinea, has begun implementing a project to mine gold and copper at a ridge about 5,000 feet (2,000 meters) below the surface and in April began receiving equipment.

Company executives have pointed out that they have passed environmental impact reviews and that their project is friendlier to the Earth than other mining operations because the ore is so rich they can get more of it by disturbing less of the soil. But scientists point out that much remains unknown about what deep-water strip mining will do to the environment. In the case of ocean vents, there are some animals that may live only in that spot, and a single mine could wipe out entire species. In addition, both styles of mining would kick up potentially toxic plumes of ultra-fine sand that could travel hundreds of miles through a part of the ocean that has remained undisturbed for thousands of years.

"They're going into new environments with a lot of environmental impacts," says Lisa Levin, an expert in the deep sea at Scripps Institute of Oceanography. "We are going to lose stuff before we ever discover it."

Climate Change and the Deep Ocean

Because life in the deep ocean is more sensitive to change than in the shallows, the smallest shift in pH, oxygen or temperature can have huge effects. Thus, one of the most serious concerns about the deep ocean is climate change.

According to Andrew Thurber, an assistant professor at Oregon State University, a quarter to a third of the CO2 humans have released has gone to the deep ocean. Some of it gets absorbed into the water itself or turns to particulate, thus lowering the pH and oxygen levels, and some is buried and turned to stone, where it effectively neutralized and stored for millions of years.

A quarter to a third of the CO2 humans have released has gone to the deep ocean.Ironically, the deep ocean is one of the greatest mitigators of climate change as well, since it absorbs a massive portion of the Earth's heat and CO2. In fact, one recent study showed that the ocean is absorbing phenomenally more heat now than ever before -- about the same amount between 1997 and 2015 as it had in the previous 132 years. As a result, scientists are already seeing incremental temperature rise in the deep sea. Though less than at the surface, changes down there tend to represent more permanent ocean shifts.

Trickle Down Effects

Then there is chemical pollution. While mining the deep sea might be new, polluting it is not. Recent studies have found toxic terrestrial chemicals like PCBs and PBDEs in the tissues of animals living in the deepest places on Earth. In fact, where once scientists assumed the deep ocean was rather isolated from the surface, new studies have shown that the two are closely connected and that material can pass quickly into the depths.

The most spectacular example of this was the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico. It was assumed at the time that much of the millions of barrels of oil released by the faulty offshore drilling rig would float; they did not. It was assumed that the dispersant would neutralize the oil; in fact it was more toxic to deep sea corals than the oil itself.

"The probability of an accident goes up with depth," and thus the potential for harming ocean life, Cordes says of deep-sea operations. "The deeper you go, the more stable the environment is; the more stable it is, the less those organisms can deal with changes."

Cordes studies all sorts of pollution effects beyond the reach of sunlight. He and colleagues published pioneering research looking at the first evidence of acidification in the deep ocean in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Norway.

He says it's easy to think of the deep sea as some kind of wasteland, while in fact it's brimming with life.

"People don't realize that there are massive coral reefs all over the Gulf of Mexico, there's corals right off shore in California, there's corals up in New England," he says.

To overload this system or tinker with it at all is to play with fire.

"If we put something in the deep ocean, we pretty much can't clean it up," Thurber says.

And we can't depend on the animals down there to adapt and clean up after us as they often do at the surface. Cordes says microbes at the surface can double their numbers in 12 hours; in the deep ocean it takes half a year. Because the generation time is so much slower, Thurber says, it takes decades for carbon-munching deep water microbes to battle, say, higher methane levels than the days or weeks it would take critters at the surface. Thus, our decisions around greenhouse gas emissions at the surface have now affected every ecosystem on Earth.

Permanent Decline

And it's not just the microbes that grow slowly -- fish in the deep ocean also take their time. As a result, fishing is another threat to the deep ocean. With most normal, surface fishing practices, it's possible to manage a population such that what you take out is the same as what the population can replenish. But because fish found far from the surface grow slowly, some scientists have gone so far as to say that deep sea fishing is more analogous to mining than to fishing.

The classic case of this is the common slimehead. The slimehead is a delicious, bulky, dark red fish found from 180 to 1,500 meters (590 to 4,920 feet) below the surface in many of the world's oceans. In the late 1970s, concerned that cod was on a permanent decline, seafood marketers in New Zealand began pushing slimehead under the more palatable name, orange roughy, because it turns orange after death.

Why this seemed like a good idea is a mystery. Slimehead spawn only 4 percent of the number of eggs as cod and take 20 to 30 years to reach maturity (rather than about two for cod). Within a couple decades the Australian government started reducing allowable harvest and then closing fisheries altogether as they tried to figure out catch limits that wouldn't decimate the creature.

Some scientists now say there is no such number. One team estimated The New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries in 2009 estimated that a single 40-square-mile (100-square-kilometer) deep ocean fishery in the Pacific can only sustainably produce about 200 kilograms (400 pounds) of product per year. That's about 57 adult slimehead. But that particular fishery produces 8,000 metric tons (9,000 tons) of slimehead per year. A similar story is playing out in other slimehead fisheries across the world, as well as other deepwater creatures like grenadiers, sharks and toothfish (otherwise known as Chilean seabass).

Direct Connection

In many ways, the deep sea truly is a new world waiting to be explored. But in our rush to exploit that new world, unless we think carefully about the impacts, we may find ourselves harming it before we even understand it -- with implications for ourselves.

"[The deep oceans] are supporting these fish that we are depending on for food, they're helping to recycle nutrients that come back to shallow waters, fuel the productivity of the ocean, produce half of the oxygen we breathe," says Cordes. "We are directly connected to them."

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