Latest News

ACLU Acts to Block Court Order That Permits Discrimination Against Women, Transgender People Seeking Health Care

Commondreams - Mon, 01/09/2017 - 12:58
ACLU

The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a motion to stay a nationwide court order preventing the federal government from enforcing an Affordable Care Act regulation that protects transgender people and women from discrimination in healthcare. The ACLU also asked the court to issue a formal ruling on its request to intervene in the lawsuit.

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ACLU Challenges Kentucky’s New Abortion Ultrasound Law

Commondreams - Mon, 01/09/2017 - 10:56
ACLU

The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a legal challenge to block a Kentucky abortion restriction that was rushed through the state legislature just days into the new session.

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15 Years on, Obama Must Close Guantanamo Before It’s Too Late – Reprieve

Commondreams - Mon, 01/09/2017 - 08:43
Reprieve

International human rights organization Reprieve, which represents detainees at Guantanamo Bay, has urged President Obama to take steps to close the prison ahead of the 15th anniversary of its opening (Wednesday 11th).
 
President-elect Donald Trump has announced his intention to keep Guantanamo open. Last week, he tweeted that “there should be no further releases” from the prison.

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NNU Nurses to Testify in D.C., Call for National Standard to Prevent Workplace Violence in Healthcare Settings

Commondreams - Mon, 01/09/2017 - 08:41
National Nurses United

On Tuesday, January 10, at a public stakeholder meeting convened by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), registered nurse members of National Nurses United (NNU)—from states around the country—will demand that OSHA promptly pass regulations to prevent workplace violence in healthcare settings. 

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Warren Bill Would Require President Trump to Sell Business

Commondreams - Mon, 01/09/2017 - 08:40
Public Citizen

Note: Today, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced the ‘‘Prevention of Presidential Conflicts of Interest Act of 2017.’’ The legislation seeks to require the president to sell all assets that would create a financial conflict of interest. The bill also would apply to the vice president, the spouse of the president and to children of the president or vice president.

Below are statements from Public Citizen’s experts:

Robert Weissman, president, Public Citizen–

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Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Department of Justice Move to Dismiss Dakota Access Lawsuit

Commondreams - Mon, 01/09/2017 - 08:38
Earthjustice

On Friday, the SRST filed a motion with the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., asking District Judge James Boasberg to throw out Dakota Access’s lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers. The Department of Justice, which represents the Corps, filed a similar motion. 

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TODAY: Nationwide Rallies to Demand Senators Reject Trump’s ‘Climate Denial Cabinet’

Commondreams - Mon, 01/09/2017 - 08:07
350.org

WHAT: Rallies will be held across the country targeting U.S. Senators as part of a ‘Day Against Denial’ aimed at stopping Trump’s Climate Denial Cabinet, including: Rex Tillerson, recent former CEO of ExxonMobil for Secretary of State; Scott Pruitt for EPA Administrator; Ex-Gov. Rick Perry for Secretary of Energy; and Rep. Ryan Zinke for Department of Interior.

WHO: A coalition of climate and environmental organizations joined by people in dozens of states across the country who are concerned about the future of our climate and our communities.

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In Trusts We Trust?

Truthout - Mon, 01/09/2017 - 07:43

Our friends at the Tax Justice Network take a look at the new game in town: beneficial ownership avoidance, the booming industry in alternative escape vehicles from public registers and why we must shine the spotlight on all of them.

Plus, two big stories that could define 2017: the race to the bottom between nations on tax aka a transfer of wealth to the corporate community, and how the world's biggest havens are increasingly having to account for the devastating effect their tax and/or financial secrecy policies are having on human rights around the world.

Featuring: Lawyer Paul Beckett of cyber-intelligance agency Synceritas, journalist and financial sleuth Richard Smith of Naked Capitalism, and John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network. Produced and presented for the Tax Justice Network by Naomi Fowler.

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How Will Trump Change Nutrition Assistance Programs?

Truthout - Mon, 01/09/2017 - 06:57

As the government transitions, many advocates are concerned about the future of benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- SNAP, formerly known as "food stamps" -- under a Republican-dominated Congress and White House. Given that conservatives have historically been hostile to government benefits programs, pushing to curtail or eliminate them, those are some valid concerns.

(Photo: Unsplash; Edited: LW / TO)

As the government transitions, many advocates are concerned about the future of benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- SNAP, formerly known as "food stamps" -- under a Republican-dominated Congress and White House.

Given that conservatives have historically been hostile to government benefits programs, pushing to curtail or eliminate them, those are some valid concerns. The implications of a conservative government for entitlement programs could be huge. Even when these initiatives are administered by state governments, they take cues and set policy under federal guidance.

The White House itself doesn't establish the policies that govern the distribution of nutrition assistance, but it has tremendous influence on Congress, which does. Currently, SNAP is bound up in the annual Farm Bill, a massive, labyrinthine document that covers a range of agriculture and nutrition issues. The bill will be up for renewal in 2018.

The president-elect has historically indicated that he believes benefits programs are rife with fraud and demanded reform. Meanwhile, the party platform called for decoupling SNAP from the Farm Bill.

For the record, the USDA indicates that SNAP fraud is extremely low and much of the blame lies on retailers, not recipients.

While the Farm Bill is written in Congress, internal documents indicate the White House wants to take a more active role -- and you can bet SNAP will be on the table. If cut, the program will be even more vulnerable to defunding.

Trump, like other Republicans, also supports cutting government spending.

Under the Obama Administration, investment in anti-poverty programs like SNAP went up, and Congress may be interested in reducing their funding to cut costs. While the president-elect won't be the one in charge of that change, Trump's campaign promises to pressure Congress and make good on his pledge to eliminate government waste. Similarly, many Republicans in Congress campaigned for their seats with promises that they would reduce spending on entitlement programs, so they feel they have a mandate from constituents.

Though the president-elect hadn't selected a candidate for Secretary of Agriculture as of late Thursday, that, too, could influence the future of nutrition assistance. This includes not just SNAP, but also programs like free and reduced lunch in schools along with Women, Infants, Children (WIC) and a host of other benefit programs designed to keep America fed.

An Agriculture secretary hostile to such benefits programs could create an agency-wide mandate for cuts and eligibility changes that might make it harder for hungry people to get the support they need.

But there's another reason to be worried.

As ThinkProgress reports, individual states set out their own requirements for nutrition assistance programs, and many emboldened legislators and governors are taking the Republican sweep of federal government as a mandate. They hope to restrict the types of items that people can purchase on benefits, a kind of "poverty policing" that's popular because it allows politicians to claim they're taking a tough-on-spending stance.

For benefits recipients, however, the changes can be humiliating and create problems with accessing necessary nutrition, especially in food deserts. For people with complex food needs and allergies, some banned "luxury items" are actually quite necessary for their survival. For instance, it can be tough to purchase gluten-free or dairy-free goods when restrictions become arcane.

The person who approves these "waivers" to the federal standards? The Secretary of Agriculture.

Fortunately, many of these proposals are actually costly and impractical, making them ill-advised from a technical standpoint. However, if moral outrage about "waste" becomes the rule of the day at the USDA, conservative states might have better luck pushing bizarre restrictions through, creating a nightmare for shoppers, as well as stores that accept SNAP and other nutrition benefits.

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Defunding Planned Parenthood Would Leave Thousands of Women Without Care

Truthout - Mon, 01/09/2017 - 06:52

Republicans will likely bar states from providing Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood when they vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) early this year, if they use the reconciliation bill President Obama vetoed in 2016 as a guide. That would cause thousands of low-income women to lose access to care and raise state and federal Medicaid costs related to unplanned pregnancies.

Nearly 400,000 low-income women would have lost access to care under a one-year prohibition on Planned Parenthood funding that the House passed in 2015, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

Medicaid is the largest funder of family planning services, and Planned Parenthood is a major provider of those services for low-income women. In over two-thirds of counties with Planned Parenthood clinics, the clinics serve at least half of all women receiving publicly funded contraceptive services; in one-fifth of the counties, Planned Parenthood serves all such women. The women most likely to lose access to care under the House bill live in areas without other clinics serving low-income populations, CBO found.

Some states have tried to bar Planned Parenthood from their Medicaid programs by claiming it isn't qualified simply because it provides abortions, separate from its participation in Medicaid. Courts have deemed these attempts unlawful, as Medicaid prohibits states from disqualifying providers for reasons unrelated to their ability to provide services in a professionally competent, safe, legal, and ethical manner, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently reaffirmed this prohibition in guidance to states. (Federal Medicaid funds can't pay for abortions except in cases of danger to the life of the mother, rape, or incest.) But last year's ACA repeal bill would have accomplished what those states had tried, by changing federal law to prohibit all states from including Planned Parenthood in their Medicaid programs.

Defunding Planned Parenthood would have devastating effects. Texas eliminated Planned Parenthood from its state family planning program in 2013 after an earlier round of cuts in funding for family planning services. Researchers studying the impact found a 35 percent drop in women using long-acting contraception and a 27 percent rise in births among women who had previously used injectable contraception. After Planned Parenthood health centers closed in Wisconsin and Texas, fewer women got breast exams and Pap tests, other research found.

Planned Parenthood saw 2.5 million patients in 2014. About three-quarters of them have incomes below 150 percent of the poverty line, and about 60 percent get their care through Medicaid or the federally funded Title X family planning program. If Republican leaders bar Planned Parenthood from Medicaid, they'll leave many of these women without preventive and primary care, as well as family planning services.

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Repeal and Run? Republicans Move to Axe Obamacare, but What Will Replacement Look Like?

Truthout - Sun, 01/08/2017 - 21:00

Republicans in the newly sworn-in 115th Congress are moving swiftly to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's signature healthcare law. By a vote of 51 to 48 last week, the Senate approved a procedural measure clearing a way for a budget resolution that could repeal major sections of the law. The charge was led by Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who admitted his party has not yet decided how to replace the Affordable Care Act. "The Republicans' rebranded version of the Affordable Care Act will be much meaner and skimpier," says Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a primary care physician. She is a lecturer at Harvard Medical School. "It will have much more in the way of copayments and deductibles, particularly for poor people who are unable to afford it." Woolhandler is a professor at CUNY-Hunter College and the co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Senate to Begin Confirmation Hearings for Wealthiest Cabinet in US History Despite Lack of Vetting

Truthout - Sun, 01/08/2017 - 21:00

A barrage of Senate confirmation hearings is set to begin Tuesday for what could be the wealthiest Cabinet in modern American history. This comes despite concerns that ethics clearances and background checks are incomplete for several of President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet picks. "Each one of these people, by themselves, would be an outrage in any other administration. But the totality of what we're seeing from the Trump administration has no precedent in American history," says Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, which has just launched the CorporateCabinet.org website to track the corporate connections and conflicts of interest of Trump Cabinet appointees. We also speak with Richard Painter, professor of corporate law at the University of Minnesota. He was the chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush from February 2005 to July 2007.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: A barrage of Senate confirmation hearings is set to begin Tuesday for what could be the wealthiest Cabinet in modern American history. This comes despite concerns that ethics clearances and background checks are incomplete for several of President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet picks. Senator Jeff Sessions faces questions Tuesday for his nomination as attorney general, along with Trump's pick to head Homeland Security, retired Marine General John Kelly. On Wednesday, hearings are set for former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, along with education secretary [nominee] Betsy DeVos, Transportation Secretary nominee Elaine Chao and CIA director nominee Mike Pompeo.

Tillerson's net worth is at least $300 million, and several other nominees hold assets of more than a billion dollars, including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose confirmation hearing is on Thursday. As Cabinet appointees, the nominees are required to submit a financial disclosure report that's used by the agencies they're to take over, along with the Office of Government Ethics. The New York Times reports some of the nominees have so many assets, there are not enough boxes on the standard form for them.

The head of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, wrote in a letter to Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts that, quote, "This schedule has created undue pressure on [the Office of Government Ethics'] staff and agency ethics officials to rush through these important reviews." Senator Warren later tweeted, quote, "Cabinet officials must put our country's interests before their own. No conference hearings should be held until we're certain that's the case," she tweeted. Trump's transition team responded with a statement: quote, "In the midst of a historic election where Americans voted to drain the swamp, it is disappointing some have chosen to politicize the process," unquote. This comes as NBC reports it requested emails between the Office of Government Ethics and Trump's transition team and found Shaub had emailed Trump aides in November to say, quote, "We seem to have lost contact with the Trump-Pence transition since the election."

For more, we're joined by two guests. In Washington, Rob Weissman is with us, president of Public Citizen, which has just launched CorporateCabinet.org, website to track the corporate connections and conflicts of interest of Trump's Cabinet appointees. In Minneapolis, we go to Richard Painter, professor of corporate law at the University of Minnesota. He was the chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2007.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Professor Painter, let's go to you first. I mean, you were an ethics adviser, the ethics adviser for President Bush. How unusual is what's happening now, having these hearings this week, confirmation hearings, where the senators question President-elect Trump's picks without, in some cases, having these forms, questionnaires, completed, submitted? Explain who hasn't submitted, what these forms are, why the senators need them at this point.

RICHARD PAINTER: Well, it is unusual. And we have historic elections for the office of president of the United States every four years and a transition from one president to another at least every eight years. So we've all been through this process before, and so has the Office of Government Ethics. The Office of Government Ethics has been spending at least a year preparing for the transition that is taking place right now. But it's critically important for the nominees to have finished their Form 278, which is the financial disclosure form that lays out what their assets are and what their sources of income are, and then also to have entered into an ethics agreement with the agency that they're going to go into that specifies what assets are going to be sold in order to avoid conflicts of interest and what matters, government matters, they are going to have to recuse from in order to avoid financial conflicts of interest with respect to the remaining assets.

This is critically important because there is a criminal conflict of interest statute that prohibits any executive branch official from participating in a matter in which that person has a financial interest. So they either need to sell assets or recuse. We cannot have people who are going to be having leadership positions, with respect to national security, with substantial investments or any investments in Turkey, Russia, Indonesia -- countries that are strategically very sensitive for the United States. We can't have a secretary of education who's invested in the for-profit education business. These are investments that are going to have to be divested in order for the person to do their job.

And the job of the Office of Government Ethics is to make absolutely sure that happens and to work with the nominees and their lawyers before the Senate confirmation hearings begin, so the senators see exactly what the assets are, what the sources of income are and what the plan is with respect to addressing conflicts of interest. And that's what they've done with Rex Tillerson, and I believe they have a plan ready to go. The assets are fully disclosed. So I think the Senate can have that hearing.

But I understand that with respect to some of the others, that they do not have a complete Form 278. They do not have an ethics agreement in place. And those hearings will have to wait. This is exactly the point that Senator Mitch McConnell made in 2009 when he wrote a letter to Senator Harry Reid about it. We can't have the hearings until we have the financial disclosure forms and the ethics agreement. And Senator McConnell was exactly right on that. So that's what they need to do now, is make sure they have those agreements and those financial disclosure forms in place before they have the hearings.

AMY GOODMAN: Rob Weissman, can you talk specifically more about these Cabinet nominees that are up for scrutiny before the Senate this week, what your major concerns are?

ROBERT WEISSMAN: I think what we're seeing with the failure to comply with these ethics rules is a reiteration of what we knew early on after the election, which is we're going to see the most corrupt administration in the history of the United States. And we're going to see now two kinds of corruption, one that is extremely likely because of the failure to take ethics rules seriously, which is scandals and violation of the law. I mean, the reason you do this stuff in advance is to avoid breaking the criminal statutes that Professor Painter is referring to. It's actually to help the Cabinet officials themselves. And it's also to give the Senate its only opportunity to actually enforce these rules.

The second kind of corruption, which is guaranteed -- 100 percent guaranteed -- is the revolving door kind of corruption. So we have all kinds of people coming in from corporate America -- billionaires, huge contributors -- and they're going to rule on matters that directly relate to corporate interests, their own personal interests, whether or not they have -- are going to be transgressing the conflict of interest rules. So we have the amazing spectacle of the former CEO of Exxon nominated to be secretary of state. You know, Exxon runs its own foreign policy; now Exxon is effectively taking over the foreign policy of the United States.

At the Department of Labor, not up this week, I think, we have Andy Puzder, fast-food chain mogul, about the worst possible place to look for someone to enforce labor laws, now proposed to enforce national labor laws. At the Environmental Protection Agency, we have Scott Pruitt, the attorney general from Oklahoma, who has sued the agency, who has written letters on behalf of oil companies, drafted by oil companies, attacking EPA regulations, now proposed to run the agency. And you go on down the list, and it's kind of endless. Each one of these people, by themselves, would be an outrage in any other administration. But the totality of what we're seeing from the Trump administration has no precedent in American history.

AMY GOODMAN: What about Price? What about the man who would be the head of the Department of Health and Human Services and the revelations this weekend about trading stocks?

ROBERT WEISSMAN: Right. So, Tom Price is a member of Congress. He has been nominated to run the Department of Health and Human Services. It turns out he's been an active trader in pharmaceutical stocks. Thanks to a recently passed law, members of Congress are required to disclose what they trade and when. And we've seen that his stock trades seem to correlate very closely with another member of Congress, Representative Collins. Representative Collins sits on the board and owns a one-sixth share in a small Australian biotech company called Innate Immuno. And Representative Price has also traded in this penny stock from Australia, that very few people ever would have heard of, at moments that correlate closely with the trades by Representative Price -- by Representative Collins.

So we don't know for sure that something is wrong here, but it doesn't look good, and it certainly merits an investigation. We've actually -- Public Citizen has called on the Office of Congressional Ethics, the thing that was being attacked last week, to undertake that investigation. And we think that investigation ought to take place before Mr. Price is confirmed for the Department of Health and Human Services. You just don't want people who are transgressing ethics rules as a matter of course in charge of these vitally important agencies.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think there was a concerted effort? I mean, last week they attacked the Office of Government Ethics -- the Office of Congressional Ethics, not to confuse it with the one we're talking about now that's saying they cannot vet these candidates, these picks, fast enough, not to mention even get their questionnaires in.

ROBERT WEISSMAN: Well, I think there's a few things happening, but I think the biggest one is that President Trump -- President-elect Trump has shown his utter disregard and lack of concern for ethics rules as regards himself. And, you know, just like Meryl Streep was saying in those remarks last night, what the president-elect does and the president-to-be does, that filters down. So members of Congress figure, "Ethics rules don't matter for him. Why should they matter for -- why should we be bothered with them? Let's get rid of this pesky agency that actually enforces them." And the Senate Republicans figure, "Why should we bother with having these tough ethics reviews from the Office of Government Ethics, if this kind of standard doesn't apply to the president-elect and maybe he's able to get away with it?" Now, I think, actually, that's a miscalculation. They're not going to be able to get away with it, as we saw last week. And even if they do momentarily, it's going to come back to bite them, because we're guaranteed to see multiple scandals because of their casual disregard for ethics standards.

AMY GOODMAN: In 2008, Senator McConnell insisted that all of Obama's Cabinet appointments be fully vetted before their hearings. But speaking to "Face the Nation," this is what the Senate majority leader, Senator McConnell, had to say about Democrats who have been urging similar checks on Trump's Cabinet nominees.

SEN. MITCH McCONNELL: All of these little procedural complaints are related to their frustration at having not only lost the White House, but having lost the Senate. I understand that. But we need to sort of grow up here and get past that.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that's Senate Majority Leader McConnell today. Professor Painter, your response to his different approach in both cases and telling Democrats basically to grow up?

RICHARD PAINTER: Well, this isn't just a procedural issue. This is critical to the integrity of our government and avoiding violation of a criminal conflict of interest statute that prohibits a government official from participating in any matter that has a direct or predictable effect on that government official's financial position. And so, Senator McConnell was absolutely right in 2009 when he wrote that letter to Senator Reid. This is not just some procedural posturing. This is all about conflicts of interest. And we need to make absolutely sure that we don't have them in this administration, just like we did in the last administration and in the Bush administration. There needs to be proper vetting of the nominees for financial conflicts of interest before they go in.

And that's happened with some of them. Rex Tillerson has disclosed his assets, and he has disclosed that he's going to sell the oil company stock. And so far as I'm concerned, from the financial conflicts of interest perspective, that clears him to go into the hearing and then discuss his views on such critically important issues as global warming, which I understand he actually believes in the fact that there is global warming, which anybody but an idiot, of course, would believe by 2017. But that may put him in the top half of the class at the Trump University there. So, let's give him a chance, now that he's made his disclosures and divestment decisions.

But every one of these nominees has to do the same. And the president of the United States himself should set the right example by divesting himself of his own assets that create conflicts of interest. We're looking forward to an announcement on that this week. And I will give President Trump -- President-elect Trump credit for last week having blasted the United States House of Representatives for that absurd plan to abolish the Office of Congressional Ethics. They didn't get that idea from him. They've been planning that for a long time, because they don't like being investigated. And I think the voters ought to find out whether their congressmen voted for that. I know my congressman voted for getting rid of the Office of Congressional Ethics, and we're going to hold them accountable in 2018, because that's unacceptable.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Professor -- Professor Painter, he didn't exactly say it was wrong to do. He just said the timing was wrong. But let me ask you about the non-Cabinet appointees, people like, oh, Trump advisers, like Carl Icahn. How do they get vetted?

RICHARD PAINTER: Well, Carl Icahn -- the position the transition is taking right now with respect to Carl Icahn is that he is not going to be a government employee. Well, that's just wrong. If he is going to be advising the president and be given a title and advising the president as to who the next chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission is going to be, who the top regulators are going to be, he needs to disclose his assets and divest from the assets that create conflicts of interest. And you can't just get around a criminal statute by saying, "Well, he's not a government employee, because he doesn't want to get paid." He'd rather go in there and influence government policy with respect to his billions of dollars' worth of assets. That doesn't get around the criminal conflict of interest statute. So Carl Icahn needs to either be a government employee, subject to the same rules as everyone else, or he needs to butt out.

And I would ask every single person who is put up for a position, who has had communications with Carl Icahn, including the new nominee for the Securities and Exchange Commission -- the senators need to ask specifically what conversations took place with Carl Icahn. He has no business helping choose these nominees and performing United States government functions, when he's not going to be a United States government employee. And the senators need to know exactly what's going on and should refuse to confirm those nominees.

AMY GOODMAN: And Carl Icahn's significance as an American business magnate, investor, activist shareholder, former head of TWA, why you think he is particularly -- you're concerned about him, Professor Painter?

RICHARD PAINTER: Well, he's a well-known corporate raider and skirts very close to the edge of rules with respect to the securities laws that are enforced by the Securities and Exchange Commission. I don't understand why a president would put Carl Icahn in charge of choosing who the next SEC chair is going to be. And I want to know exactly what was said between the nominee, Mr. Clayton, and Mr. Icahn, before I even think about a confirmation vote on that one. Same with the energy sector and everything else. He owns a lot of energy companies that would like to see everything get deregulated over there, so he can make more money. Well, that may or may not be in the public interest.

Once again, if he is going to get involved in the United States government decision-making and advising the White House, he needs to be a United States government employee. He needs to file a financial disclosure form like everybody else and divest of the conflict-creating assets, or he's going to end up violating criminal statute. And they're not going to get around that simply by saying he's not a United States government employee. They can say that all they want, but if he's functioning as a US government employee, he has to follow the rules.

AMY GOODMAN: Trump has been named him as a special adviser. Again, Icahn now, overall, has held substantial controlling positions in many corporations, including Nabisco, TWA, Texaco, Phillips Petroleum, Western Union, Gulf & Western, Viacom, Uniroyal, Dan River, Marshall Field's, and it goes on from there -- Motorola, Netflix, Time Warner. Robert Weissman, a final comment on your concerns this week as this slew of hearings takes place? Do Democrats and concerned Republicans have any recourse other than holding hearings for some nominees who have not even handed in their questionnaires yet?

ROBERT WEISSMAN: Well, it's going to be a test for the Republicans to see if they're willing to say, "Look, they're not following the rules. We're not going to let this thing proceed." And so far, it looks pretty bad.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you say to Republican senators who say, "They'll have their questionnaires in by the time of the final vote"?

ROBERT WEISSMAN: Yeah, it's during the committee process that you have a chance to really hold them accountable. And, you know, this Carl Icahn example shows why the rules are so important and why Mitch McConnell is so wrong. These are not just procedural technicalities. Carl Icahn is not just making -- giving advice on matters that relate to enriching him personally, although he is doing that, because he's got huge stakes in the oil and gas industry, and he wants to get that regulated. And as Richard Painter was saying, he plays fast and loose with the SEC rules, and he wants to make sure those aren't too toughly enforced either. But he is giving advice on broad matters of policy that will materially affect all Americans, including by worsening the prospect of climate change. So these are not just technical matters, that, you know -- picayune rules that are kind of a pain to follow. They go to broad policy questions. And that's why it's so important that they be enforced. That's why it's so important that the traditions be respected. It's why it's so important that the committees have a chance to delve into these matters before they take votes. And it's why we're on course for the most scandal-prone and corrupt administration in American history.

AMY GOODMAN: So what's your website going to do, Robert?

ROBERT WEISSMAN: Well, folks can go to CorporpateCabinet.org and get a quick look at some of these worst nominees and their conflicts. Of course, we're trying, with many others, to mobilize opposition across the board, including to many of the worst, most conflicted and corrupt picks.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. Richard Painter, professor of corporate law, former White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush.

When we come back, we go to Louisville, Kentucky, where more than a thousand people took to the streets Saturday to protest a slew of controversial anti-choice, anti-labor laws rammed through a special session of the now supermajority Republican Legislature. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

Categories: Latest News

Beyond the Headlines: Camaraderie and Connection at Standing Rock

Truthout - Sun, 01/08/2017 - 21:00

(Photo: Tegra Stone Nuess Photography)

My chest tightened and my thoughts scurried on the morning of November 26 as we pulled onto the highway on our two-day journey to Standing Rock, North Dakota. Was this anxiety? I'm not usually an anxious person but I had no idea what to expect in the next week. Bad Sunday had just happened, when police shot people in the head with rubber bullets, tear-gassed them and fired water cannons on folks in 20-degree weather. Facebook was a stream of fear-inducing accounts about what was going on. But the calling for my father Mike, our friend Noel and myself to go see for ourselves and hopefully contribute was greater. We carried donated grass-fed beef from the Lazy R Ranch, cash from several friends and a large bag of winter coats -- all stuffed into dad's old Toyota Tercel.

(Photo: Tegra Stone Nuess Photography)

As soon as we arrived at Oceti Sakowin Camp, my anxiety lifted and the only feeling I had was excitement. 'Welcome home!' said the greeter at the gate. We drove slowly down Flag Road into camp and were met with smiles and waves. We set up our camp in the first winter blizzard and began to wander. We soon came upon a truck rolling to a stop. A woman emerged into the roaring snow, raised her arms to the sky and began whooping in obvious joy. She grinned at us as we approached. "I'm back!" she sang into the wind. Noel gave her a congratulatory hug and we celebrated the return of the Colville Confederated Tribe's Patty Sam Porter. It was only later that we learned of her courageous 250-mile paddle from the headwaters of the Missouri. And so we began an amazing week with 5000+ peaceful, prayerful and wonderfully fun people.

(Photo: Tegra Stone Nuess Photography)

The community of this incredible place is what struck me the most. I hadn't realized how much I missed this sense of camaraderie and connection in my world. Here people take care of each other and consciously practice calling in instead of calling out when differences are discovered. It felt like the way we're supposed to live -- hopefully it's the future of our world.

(Photo: Tegra Stone Nuess Photography)

Most media only shows 10% of what Standing Rock is about -- police and contractors attacking nonviolent protectors.  That's important, but "We're Missing 90% of the Dakota Access Pipeline Story," which is a celebration of both uniqueness and unity among tribes, cultures and races who respect our planetary home and are here to seek a sustainable future for all. So dad and I decided to bring you personal stories from a few of the many people we met during our brief stay, moments people shared with us, whose stories spoke to us and we hope they speak to you, too.

Magdelion Moondrop's Story

The Compassionate Power of the Feminine.

(Photo: Tegra Stone Nuess Photography)

 Hailing from Colorado, Moondrop is a quiet, young woman who is quick to smile and give you a hug. In her calm, peaceful voice, she told me the story of the women-led, silent action on the police-blockaded bridge on Sunday November 27th, seven days after Bad Sunday. When she arrived at the Oceti Sakowin Camp, she felt that many women shared her desire for a women's group. Having been a part of many women-focused circles before, she helped call a meeting together of about 40 women, which grew to a daily gathering. They created a safe place for women to share their stories, their challenges and to discuss the goal of a women-led action to cross the Missouri River.

Led by Cheryl Angel, Lyla June and Starhawk, three powerful and unitive indigenous leaders, the group gathered on the morning of the 27th to prepare their bodies and minds. Moondrop said the sweat lodge that morning cleared their spirits as they cried and released, providing room for strength and prayer. Then 100 or so women and men trained on how to remain silent and signal to each other. Starhawk taught them to stay grounded in their center and to do so by imagining what they stand for here. Moondrop was amazed at how completely unmovable they became when they stood for what they believe in. They drilled on their formation to protect the indigenous leaders as they performed their ceremonies.

Then it was time, and the women silently formed into a steam that would pass through the camps and onto the bridge. Moondrop said, "it was so powerful to feel the men so willing to step back and support us and stand behind us." People silently joined them as they walked through both Rosebud and Oceti camps and the stream of women became a river. They met resistance from the council of young men who weren't aware of what was happening, but Cheryl Angel had approval from the grandma elder, and 'the feminine walked forth', continuing. Another dam of male veterans resisted the woman again at the bridge, but they looked them silently in the eyes and conveyed that it was time to let the women lead, to trust them. LaDonna, the woman who started Standing Rock's opposition to DAPL, joined at this time and Moondrop knew they were now unstoppable. The veterans acquiesced and helped by asking the Army Corps if the women could come to the front and do a ceremony. With thousands of people behind them in total silence, the elder women walked across the bridge through the former war zone, through broken glass, shells, dried blood and teargas-soaked clothing; to the edge of the razor wire where they knelt. They offered forgiveness, wept for the atrocities, wept for their ancestors, prayed for the hearts of the police, and begged for their compassion. "It was the most beautiful moment of my life to witness these women being so vulnerable in the face of armed guards with guns and tanks on the other side of a razor wire fence and to witness them so open and humble and weak, but so strong in their vulnerability. "It was like a radiative, thick blanket of peace washing over everything," Moondrop recounted. A police officer offered to safely guide the elders down to the river to perform a water ceremony. It was the first time anyone had been allowed on the other side of the river. Afterwards, the supporting men back on the hill parted for the returning river of women who silently lead everyone back to camp. Moondrop felt like it was the rise of a matriarchy and the rise of women finding their voice and their power to create a peaceful outcome here. She could feel everyone's thankfulness as they reentered camp. As she finished her story, I was struck by how much sense it makes to enact change in this peaceful, compassionate and feminine way. When fear is released, walls can come down and understanding can take place. I myself am extremely thankful to these women for leading the charge.

Grandma Diane's Story

I'm doing this for my Grandchildren...

(Photo: Tegra Stone Nuess Photography)

Everyone knows Diane as Grandma. She greets them with a big hug and she's one of those women that feel like your own grandmother as soon as you meet them. Every day she runs the California Kitchen, creating delicious, healthy food for the camp. Her tribe, the Bishop Paiute, along with the Lone Pine Paiute Tribe and the Big Pine Tribe (all from Owens Valley near Bishop, CA) collaborated to set up one of several communal kitchens. Her original kitchen tent grew to three large military tents comprised of a dinning tent, a storage tent lined with shelves stacked high with donated food and a cooking tent full of volunteers prepping every meal. Diane loves to cook, and when back home she often cooks dinner for her large family. She also caters tribal community events, serving 500-700 people. So this is a perfect fit.

When I asked her why she came to Standing Rock, she said there were two main reasons. The first is that they have been fighting their own water battle with Los Angeles for years. The 1939 land exchange took 60,000 acres away from her tribe, taking all their water with it. The tribes filed a lawsuit against LA in 1998 that still hasn't been resolved. "Our tribe is known as the water protectors. So when the cry went out, we knew we had to come." She hopes this will bring light to other tribes' battles for land and water around the country.

The second reason is that her heart was pulling her here. She has 15 grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren and she wants them to have a future with clean water to drink. When she was about 9 or 10 years old her grandfather told her that there would be a cause that would bring all the native peoples together, as well as the rest of the world, and we would have to fight for something very important. As soon as she arrived at Standing Rock she felt his whole spirit and knew he'd brought her here. She said, "I'm doing this for my grandchildren and my future." Thank you so much, Grandma.

Sylvia's Story

How Compassionate Solidarity Dissolved my Fear.

(Photo: Tegra Stone Nuess Photography)

Sylvia is a white woman who came to stand in solidarity with her indigenous sisters and brothers at Standing Rock, to help protect Mother Earth. She was arrested and caged inside a chain linked 'dog kennel' with several other women. Her terror grew as she sat on the cold ground thinking about what would come: degrading searches, trumped up felony charges, the expensive logistics of long-distance court appearances.

Then a woman came and sat close, facing her. "I was scared and she could see it. 'You have to go somewhere inside yourself,' the woman said. Then she began to sing." Sylvia did not understand the words of the woman's native song but she felt it begin to soothe her. She felt all the women quietly, soothingly with her. She began to feel at ease. Everyone seemed to relax and feel at ease. And then, just as the last note of the song faded, a loud voice erupted from the speaker system, summoning her by name.

Suddenly all the women simultaneously reacted with hoots of laughter. Sylvia arose and walked to her fate, at ease in some calm place inside herself.

Wanda's Story

How the Police Blockade is Affecting Cannon Ball.

(Photo: Tegra Stone Nuess Photography)

Wanda lives in the Cannon Ball district of the Standing Rock Reservation. She cooks in the community center and is thankful for all the donations of food and clothing that have come to their community since the DAPL opposition began. However, the Army Corps' closure of Highway 1806 has negatively impacted their town. 1806 is the fastest and most direct route from the city of Bismarck south to Cannon Ball, which sits just a couple miles south of the police-blockaded bridge and the Oceti Sakowin Camp.

(Photo: Tegra Stone Nuess Photography)

On the night of November 28th, just as the three-day blizzard started to hit, Wanda's son had one of his bad seizures. He fell outside the community center. Friends found him and hurried to protect him from the 30 mile-an-hour gusts. The ambulance finally arrived and took him to Sanford Hospital in Bismarck. Wanda followed in her car for a harrowing 3 hour, a trip that normally takes 45 min in normal weather on 1806. But the 1806 closure forced her to take the longer Highway 24-to-Highway 6 route in a blizzard, at night with icy roads. "It was scary, but I had to get up there to be with my son." Whether or not it was deliberate, the roads weren't plowed until she got close to Bismarck.

She implores the police to please open 1806 because the closure makes it hard for the people who live here. She was also concerned for those who live in Bismarck and must travel the longer route for work. Her son is now back home and doing well, but Wanda hopes the road will open soon, for everyone's safety.

Raymond's Story

"Our ancestors make things happen."

(Photo: Tegra Stone Nuess Photography)

Raymond Kingfisher is an easygoing, friendly and humorous person of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in Montana who now lives in Western Washington State. He is a regular speaker at camp meetings who has a knack for addressing sensitive, serious and sacred issues before a large group and then switching it up with a subtle comment that restores laughter and lightness to a somber audience.

This was his third stay at Standing Rock.  He travels between stays to raise funds and collect supplies for the water protectors here. This third time he pulled a canoe down the Missouri with a Puyallup Canoe Family, together with The Colville Tribes, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe and others as far away as Alaska. Their group of about 40 people pulled past the Sacred Stones -- rocks ground round and polished by a whirlpool that lies at the confluence of the Cannon Ball and Missouri Rivers. At one point they were forced ashore in a massive, life-threatening (See Patty Sam Porter's Story) hailstorm and upon the land of local North Dakotans, who sheltered them until the storm passed. They finally arrived at Standing Rock, a long chain of canoes and dug outs roped together end-to-end, where their group was received by song. But, laughed Raymond, their greeters had to be told the custom was to receive each vessel with a welcoming song. And then everyone laughed and several welcoming songs were sung that day.

Raymond worries about supplies being cut off or confiscated and suppliers being ticketed, fined or arrested. "It's my third time back bringing supplies. I'm protecting water for not just native people but for people from all walks of life, and for future generations. That's why I'm here."

***

(Photo: Tegra Stone Nuess Photography)Perhaps Robert F. Kennedy was right when he recently came here and said that this peaceful convergence at Standing Rock "is kinda the spear tip of the front line in the battle over the transition from an old energy economy to a new energy economy. And we know that we have to do that. ... Today wind and solar are much cheaper. ... so the only way the carbon cronies can keep their domination of the marketplace is by constructing a lot of infrastructure, so that … the people who invested … the Citibanks, the pension funds … now have to see oil going through that pipeline for years … long after any justification for oil is long gone."

(Photo: Tegra Stone Nuess Photography)The water protectors of Standing Rock know how foolish that locked-in investment would be, how grievously it would harm not only water but also all of the exquisitely interdependent ecological processes of Mother Earth. They know a clean, sustainable and abundant future for all is possible, quickly available, and so urgently necessary. May the spear tip shine brightly and swiftly pierce all our hearts.

Categories: Latest News

The Age of Great Expectations and the Great Void: History After "the End of History"

Truthout - Sun, 01/08/2017 - 21:00

When the Berlin Wall fell, many interpreted it as a massive American victory. In the midst of another turning point for the US's place in the world, it's important to assess the impact of the "post-Cold War era." (Photo: Department of Defense)

The fall of the Berlin Wall in October 1989 abruptly ended one historical era and inaugurated another. So, too, did the outcome of last year's US presidential election. What are we to make of the interval between those two watershed moments? Answering that question is essential to understanding how Donald Trump became president and where his ascendency leaves us.

Hardly had this period commenced before observers fell into the habit of referring to it as the "post-Cold War" era. Now that it's over, a more descriptive name might be in order. My suggestion: America's Age of Great Expectations. 

Forgive and Forget

The end of the Cold War caught the United States completely by surprise. During the 1980s, even with Mikhail Gorbachev running the Kremlin, few in Washington questioned the prevailing conviction that the Soviet-American rivalry was and would remain a defining feature of international politics more or less in perpetuity. Indeed, endorsing such an assumption was among the prerequisites for gaining entrée to official circles. Virtually no one in the American establishment gave serious thought to the here-today, gone-tomorrow possibility that the Soviet threat, the Soviet empire, and the Soviet Union itself might someday vanish. Washington had plans aplenty for what to do should a Third World War erupt, but none for what to do if the prospect of such a climactic conflict simply disappeared.

Still, without missing a beat, when the Berlin Wall fell and two years later the Soviet Union imploded, leading members of that establishment wasted no time in explaining the implications of developments they had totally failed to anticipate. With something close to unanimity, politicians and policy-oriented intellectuals interpreted the unification of Berlin and the ensuing collapse of communism as an all-American victory of cosmic proportions. "We" had won, "they" had lost -- with that outcome vindicating everything the United States represented as the archetype of freedom.

From within the confines of that establishment, one rising young intellectual audaciously suggested that the "end of history" itself might be at hand, with the "sole superpower" left standing now perfectly positioned to determine the future of all humankind. In Washington, various powers-that-be considered this hypothesis and concluded that it sounded just about right. The future took on the appearance of a blank slate upon which Destiny itself was inviting Americans to inscribe their intentions.

American elites might, of course, have assigned a far different, less celebratory meaning to the passing of the Cold War. They might have seen the outcome as a moment that called for regret, repentance, and making amends.

After all, the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union, or more broadly between what was then called the Free World and the Communist bloc, had yielded a host of baleful effects. An arms race between two superpowers had created monstrous nuclear arsenals and, on multiple occasions, brought the planet precariously close to Armageddon. Two singularly inglorious wars had claimed the lives of many tens of thousands of American soldiers and literally millions of Asians. One, on the Korean peninsula, had ended in an unsatisfactory draw; the other, in Southeast Asia, in catastrophic defeat. Proxy fights in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East killed so many more and laid waste to whole countries. Cold War obsessions led Washington to overthrow democratic governments, connive in assassination, make common cause with corrupt dictators, and turn a blind eye to genocidal violence. On the home front, hysteria compromised civil liberties and fostered a sprawling, intrusive, and unaccountable national security apparatus. Meanwhile, the military-industrial complex and its beneficiaries conspired to spend vast sums on weapons purchases that somehow never seemed adequate to the putative dangers at hand.

Rather than reflecting on such somber and sordid matters, however, the American political establishment together with ambitious members of the country's intelligentsia found it so much more expedient simply to move on. As they saw it, the annus mirabilis of 1989 wiped away the sins of former years. Eager to make a fresh start, Washington granted itself a plenary indulgence. After all, why contemplate past unpleasantness when a future so stunningly rich in promise now beckoned?

Three Big Ideas and a Dubious Corollary

Soon enough, that promise found concrete expression. In remarkably short order, three themes emerged to define the new American age. Informing each of them was a sense of exuberant anticipation toward an era of almost unimaginable expectations. The twentieth century was ending on a high note. For the planet as a whole but especially for the United States, great things lay ahead.

Focused on the world economy, the first of those themes emphasized the transformative potential of turbocharged globalization led by US-based financial institutions and transnational corporations. An "open world" would facilitate the movement of goods, capital, ideas, and people and thereby create wealth on an unprecedented scale. In the process, the rules governing American-style corporate capitalism would come to prevail everywhere on the planet. Everyone would benefit, but especially Americans who would continue to enjoy more than their fair share of material abundance.

Focused on statecraft, the second theme spelled out the implications of an international order dominated as never before -- not even in the heydays of the Roman and British Empires -- by a single nation. With the passing of the Cold War, the United States now stood apart as both supreme power and irreplaceable global leader, its status guaranteed by its unstoppable military might.

In the editorial offices of the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the New Republic, and the Weekly Standard, such "truths" achieved a self-evident status. Although more muted in their public pronouncements than Washington's reigning pundits, officials enjoying access to the Oval Office, the State Department's 7th floor, and the E-ring of the Pentagon generally agreed. The assertive exercise of (benign!) global hegemony seemingly held the key to ensuring that Americans would enjoy safety and security, both at home and abroad, now and in perpetuity.

The third theme was all about rethinking the concept of personal freedom as commonly understood and pursued by most Americans. During the protracted emergency of the Cold War, reaching an accommodation between freedom and the putative imperatives of national security had not come easily. Cold War-style patriotism seemingly prioritized the interests of the state at the expense of the individual. Yet even as thrillingly expressed by John F. Kennedy -- "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" -- this was never an easy sell, especially if it meant wading through rice paddies and getting shot at.

Once the Cold War ended, however, the tension between individual freedom and national security momentarily dissipated. Reigning conceptions of what freedom could or should entail underwent a radical transformation. Emphasizing the removal of restraints and inhibitions, the shift made itself felt everywhere, from patterns of consumption and modes of cultural expression to sexuality and the definition of the family. Norms that had prevailed for decades if not generations -- marriage as a union between a man and a woman, gender identity as fixed at birth -- became passé. The concept of a transcendent common good, which during the Cold War had taken a backseat to national security, now took a backseat to maximizing individual choice and autonomy.

Finally, as a complement to these themes, in the realm of governance, the end of the Cold War cemented the status of the president as quasi-deity. In the Age of Great Expectations, the myth of the president as a deliverer from (or, in the eyes of critics, the ultimate perpetrator of) evil flourished. In the solar system of American politics, the man in the White House increasingly became the sun around which everything seemed to orbit. By comparison, nothing else much mattered.

From one administration to the next, of course, presidential efforts to deliver Americans to the Promised Land regularly came up short. Even so, the political establishment and the establishment media collaborated in sustaining the pretense that out of the next endlessly hyped "race for the White House," another Roosevelt or Kennedy or Reagan would magically emerge to save the nation. From one election cycle to the next, these campaigns became longer and more expensive, drearier and yet ever more circus-like. No matter. During the Age of Great Expectations, the reflexive tendency to see the president as the ultimate guarantor of American abundance, security, and freedom remained sacrosanct.

Blindsided

Meanwhile, between promise and reality, a yawning gap began to appear. During the concluding decade of the twentieth century and the first decade-and-a-half of the twenty-first, Americans endured a seemingly endless series of crises. Individually, none of these merit comparison with, say, the Civil War or World War II. Yet never in US history has a sequence of events occurring in such close proximity subjected American institutions and the American people to greater stress.

During the decade between 1998 and 2008, they came on with startling regularity: one president impeached and his successor chosen by the direct intervention of the Supreme Court; a massive terrorist attack on American soil that killed thousands, traumatized the nation, and left senior officials bereft of their senses; a mindless, needless, and unsuccessful war of choice launched on the basis of false claims and outright lies; a natural disaster (exacerbated by engineering folly) that all but destroyed a major American city, after which government agencies mounted a belated and half-hearted response; and finally, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, bringing ruin to millions of families.

For the sake of completeness, we should append to this roster of seismic occurrences one additional event: Barack Obama's election as the nation's first black president. He arrived at the zenith of American political life as a seemingly messianic figure called upon not only to undo the damage wrought by his predecessor, George W. Bush, but somehow to absolve the nation of its original sins of slavery and racism.

Yet during the Obama presidency race relations, in fact, deteriorated. Whether prompted by cynical political calculations or a crass desire to boost ratings, race baiters came out of the woodwork -- one of them, of course, infamously birthered in Trump Tower in mid-Manhattan -- and poured their poisons into the body politic. Even so, as the end of Obama's term approached, the cult of the presidency itself remained remarkably intact.

Individually, the impact of these various crises ranged from disconcerting to debilitating to horrifying. Yet to treat them separately is to overlook their collective implications, which the election of Donald Trump only now enables us to appreciate. It was not one president's dalliance with an intern or "hanging chads" or 9/11 or "Mission Accomplished" or the inundation of the Lower Ninth Ward or the collapse of Lehman Brothers or the absurd birther movement that undermined the Age of Great Expectations. It was the way all these events together exposed those expectations as radically suspect.

In effect, the various crises that punctuated the post-Cold War era called into question key themes to which a fevered American triumphalism had given rise. Globalization, militarized hegemony, and a more expansive definition of freedom, guided by enlightened presidents in tune with the times, should have provided Americans with all the blessings that were rightly theirs as a consequence of having prevailed in the Cold War. Instead, between 1989 and 2016, things kept happening that weren't supposed to happen. A future marketed as all but foreordained proved elusive, if not illusory. As actually experienced, the Age of Great Expectations became an Age of Unwelcome Surprises.

A Candidate for Decline

True, globalization created wealth on a vast scale, just not for ordinary Americans. The already well-to-do did splendidly, in some cases unbelievably so. But middle-class incomes stagnated and good jobs became increasingly hard to find or keep. By the election of 2016, the United States looked increasingly like a society divided between haves and have-nots, the affluent and the left-behind, the 1% and everyone else. Prospective voters were noticing.

Meanwhile, policies inspired by Washington's soaring hegemonic ambitions produced remarkably few happy outcomes. With US forces continuously engaged in combat operations, peace all but vanished as a policy objective (or even a word in Washington's political lexicon). The acknowledged standing of the country's military as the world's best-trained, best-equipped, and best-led force coexisted uneasily with the fact that it proved unable to win. Instead, the national security establishment became conditioned to the idea of permanent war, high-ranking officials taking it for granted that ordinary citizens would simply accommodate themselves to this new reality. Yet it soon became apparent that, instead of giving ordinary Americans a sense of security, this new paradigm induced an acute sense of vulnerability, which left many susceptible to demagogic fear mongering.

As for the revised definition of freedom, with autonomy emerging as the national summum bonum, it left some satisfied but others adrift. During the Age of Great Expectations, distinctions between citizen and consumer blurred. Shopping became tantamount to a civic obligation, essential to keeping the economy afloat. Yet if all the hoopla surrounding Black Friday and Cyber Monday represented a celebration of American freedom, its satisfactions were transitory at best, rarely extending beyond the due date printed on a credit card statement. Meanwhile, as digital connections displaced personal ones, relationships, like jobs, became more contingent and temporary. Loneliness emerged as an abiding affliction. Meanwhile, for all the talk of empowering the marginalized -- people of color, women, gays -- elites reaped the lion's share of the benefits while ordinary people were left to make do. The atmosphere was rife with hypocrisy and even a whiff of nihilism.

To these various contradictions, the establishment itself remained stubbornly oblivious, with the 2016 presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton offering a case in point. As her long record in public life made abundantly clear, Clinton embodied the establishment in the Age of Great Expectations. She believed in globalization, in the indispensability of American leadership backed by military power, and in the post-Cold War cultural project. And she certainly believed in the presidency as the mechanism to translate aspirations into outcomes.

Such commonplace convictions of the era, along with her vanguard role in pressing for the empowerment of women, imparted to her run an air of inevitability. That she deserved to win appeared self-evident. It was, after all, her turn. Largely overlooked were signs that the abiding themes of the Age of Great Expectations no longer commanded automatic allegiance.

Gasping for Air

Senator Bernie Sanders offered one of those signs. That a past-his-prime, self-professed socialist from Vermont with a negligible record of legislative achievement and tenuous links to the Democratic Party might mount a serious challenge to Clinton seemed, on the face of it, absurd. Yet by zeroing in on unfairness and inequality as inevitable byproducts of globalization, Sanders struck a chord.

Knocked briefly off balance, Clinton responded by modifying certain of her longstanding positions. By backing away from free trade, the ne plus ultra of globalization, she managed, though not without difficulty, to defeat the Sanders insurgency. Even so, he, in effect, served as the canary in the establishment coal mine, signaling that the Age of Great Expectations might be running out of oxygen.

A parallel and far stranger insurgency was simultaneously wreaking havoc in the Republican Party. That a narcissistic political neophyte stood the slightest chance of capturing the GOP seemed even more improbable than Sanders taking a nomination that appeared Clinton's by right.

Coarse, vulgar, unprincipled, uninformed, erratic, and with little regard for truth, Trump was sui generis among presidential candidates. Yet he possessed a singular gift: a knack for riling up those who nurse gripes and are keen to pin the blame on someone or something. In post-Cold War America, among the millions that Hillary Clinton was famously dismissing as "deplorables," gripes had been ripening like cheese in a hothouse.

Through whatever combination of intuition and malice aforethought, Trump demonstrated a genius for motivating those deplorables. He pushed their buttons. They responded by turning out in droves to attend his rallies. There they listened to a message that they found compelling.

In Trump's pledge to "make America great again" his followers heard a promise to restore everything they believed had been taken from them in the Age of Great Expectations. Globalization was neither beneficial nor inevitable, the candidate insisted, and vowed, once elected, to curb its effects along with the excesses of corporate capitalism, thereby bringing back millions of lost jobs from overseas. He would, he swore, fund a massive infrastructure program, cut taxes, keep a lid on the national debt, and generally champion the cause of working stiffs. The many complications and contradictions inherent in these various prescriptions would, he assured his fans, give way to his business savvy. 

In considering America's role in the post-Cold War world, Trump exhibited a similar impatience with the status quo. Rather than allowing armed conflicts to drag on forever, he promised to win them (putting to work his mastery of military affairs) or, if not, to quit and get out, pausing just long enough to claim as a sort of consolation prize whatever spoils might be lying loose on the battlefield. At the very least, he would prevent so-called allies from treating the United States like some patsy. Henceforth, nations benefitting from American protection were going to foot their share of the bill. What all of this added up to may not have been clear, but it did suggest a sharp departure from the usual post-1989 formula for exercising global leadership.

No less important than Trump's semi-coherent critique of globalization and American globalism, however, was his success in channeling the discontent of all those who nursed an inchoate sense that post-Cold War freedoms might be working for some, but not for them.

Not that Trump had anything to say about whether freedom confers obligations, or whether conspicuous consumption might not actually hold the key to human happiness, or any of the various controversies related to gender, sexuality, and family. He was indifferent to all such matters. He was, however, distinctly able to offer his followers a grimly persuasive explanation for how America had gone off course and how the blessings of liberties to which they were entitled had been stolen. He did that by fingering as scapegoats Muslims, Mexicans, and others "not-like-me."

Trump's political strategy reduced to this: as president, he would overturn the conventions that had governed right thinking since the end of the Cold War. To the amazement of an establishment grown smug and lazy, his approach worked. Even while disregarding all received wisdom when it came to organizing and conducting a presidential campaign in the Age of Great Expectations, Trump won. He did so by enchanting the disenchanted, all those who had lost faith in the promises that had sprung from the bosom of the elites that the end of the Cold War had taken by surprise.

Adrift Without a Compass

Within hours of Trump's election, among progressives, expressing fear and trepidation at the prospect of what he might actually do on assuming office became de rigueur. Yet those who had actually voted for Trump were also left wondering what to expect. Both camps assign him the status of a transformative historical figure. However, premonitions of incipient fascism and hopes that he will engineer a new American Golden Age are likely to prove similarly misplaced. To focus on the man himself rather than on the circumstances that produced him is to miss the significance of what has occurred.

Note, for example, that his mandate is almost entirely negative. It centers on rejection: of globalization, of counterproductive military meddling, and of the post-Cold War cultural project. Yet neither Trump nor any of his surrogates has offered a coherent alternative to the triad of themes providing the through line for the last quarter-century of American history. Apart a lingering conviction that forceful -- in The Donald's case, blustering -- presidential leadership can somehow turn things around, "Trumpism" is a dog's breakfast.

In all likelihood, his presidency will prove less transformative than transitional. As a result, concerns about what he may do, however worrisome, matter less than the larger question of where we go from here. The principles that enjoyed favor following the Cold War have been found wanting. What should replace them?

Efforts to identify those principles should begin with an honest accounting of the age we are now leaving behind, the history that happened after "the end of history." That accounting should, in turn, allow room for regret, repentance, and making amends -- the very critical appraisal that ought to have occurred at the end of the Cold War but was preempted when American elites succumbed to their bout of victory disease.

Don't expect Donald Trump to undertake any such appraisal. Nor will the establishment that candidate Trump so roundly denounced, but which President-elect Trump, at least in his senior national security appointments, now shows sign of accommodating. Those expecting Trump's election to inject courage into members of the political class or imagination into inside-the-Beltway "thought leaders" are in for a disappointment. So the principles we need -- an approach to political economy providing sustainable and equitable prosperity; a foreign policy that discards militarism in favor of prudence and pragmatism; and an enriched, inclusive concept of freedom -- will have to come from somewhere else.

"Where there is no vision," the Book of Proverbs tells us, "the people perish." In the present day, there is no vision to which Americans collectively adhere. For proof, we need look no further than the election of Donald Trump.

The Age of Great Expectations has ended, leaving behind an ominous void. Yet Trump's own inability to explain what should fill that great void provides neither excuse for inaction nor cause for despair. Instead, Trump himself makes manifest the need to reflect on the nation's recent past and to think deeply about its future.

A decade before the Cold War ended, writing in democracy, a short-lived journal devoted to "political renewal and radical change," the historian and social critic Christopher Lasch sketched out a set of principles that might lead us out of our current crisis. Lasch called for a politics based on "the nurture of the soil against the exploitation of resources, the family against the factory, the romantic vision of the individual against the technological vision, [and] localism over democratic centralism." Nearly a half-century later, as a place to begin, his prescription remains apt.

Categories: Latest News

"Unprecedented" Polar Melting Unfolds as Climate Disruption Denial Goes Wild

Truthout - Sun, 01/08/2017 - 21:00

(Photo: Unsplash; Edited: LW / TO)

Early January saw colder temperatures in Seattle than at the North Pole. Meanwhile, Antarctica's largest glaciers are losing more than 20 feet of height. Yet the incoming US president has been busy stuffing his cabinet with nine of the staunchest climate science deniers.

(Photo: Unsplash; Edited: LW / TO)

There was a moment in early January when it was colder in Seattle (27F) than it was on the North Slope of Alaska in the Arctic town of Barrow (30F).

On the day that this occurred, Barrow, whose normal high temperature for that day was negative 5 degrees, saw a record high temperature of 33 degrees above zero.

To see more stories like this, visit "Planet or Profit?"

This unprecedented phenomenon sums up the direction of this month's dispatch: a turn toward "global weirding" on all fronts.

As Truthout reported in mid-December, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) concluded in their annual Arctic climate report card, "The Arctic is unraveling." Record-breaking heat in the north has clearly pushed the region into uncharted climate territory.

In late December, the heating trend continued, with temperatures at the North Pole spiking to near melting point, a stunning 50 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, despite being the darkest time of the year, with literally no sunlight.

Antarctica saw equally shocking developments. Recent NASA photography revealed a 300-foot-wide rift along the Larsen C ice shelf, signaling the now imminent demise of the massive ice shelf, which will send an iceberg the size of Delaware into the southern ocean.

Words like "unprecedented" and phrases like "we haven't seen anything like this yet" are no longer uncommon among scientists studying the ice in Antarctica, where a break in the Pine Island Glacier has now revealed yet another mechanism for collapse. (That glacier, along with so many other massive glaciers in the Antarctic, is melting due to warmer sea water from below.)

Simultaneously, in East Antarctica, a region of the ice continent assumed to be relatively intact and, thus far, impervious to the impacts of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD), two recent scientific reports have exposed some seriously troubling warning signs. The studies, each of which focused in on a different East Antarctic ice shelf, showed that major melting is already occurring both from above and below that could eventually release the ice shelves -- and thus release all the ice above them on the continent. Given that East Antarctica contains roughly two thirds of all the ice on the continent, this is troubling news indeed: The entire region's stability is now under threat.

It is worth noting that by November, the Arctic and Antarctic had both hit record low sea ice coverage, and NASA recently released imagery showing how stunningly fast glaciers around the world are melting. Given that glaciers hold approximately 69 percent of all the fresh water on the planet, the implications for humans, coupled with sea level rise, are obvious.

Of course, President-elect Donald Trump's impending inauguration looms over all of these developments. A man will occupy the White House who says, "Nobody really knows if climate change is real." Last month, Anthony Scaramucci, an advisor from the executive committee of Trump's transition team, went on CNN and forcefully denied ACD -- while stating that the Earth is 5,500 years old.

Buckle up.

Earth

When one thinks of ACD's impacts on forests, droughts and wildfires generally come to mind. However, we would do well to recognize a lesser-known ACD-related impact on forests: bugs. A recent study predicts that insects will leave at least 63 percent of US forests at risk by 2027, and are already one of the single largest threats to biodiversity in the US. Surging beetle kills caused by ACD-driven warming temperatures and droughts, along with invasive species introduced via global trade, are two examples. "They are one of the few things that can actually eliminate a forest tree species in pretty short order, Harvard University ecologist David Orwig, who participated in the study, told the media. "Within years."

A recent study published by scientists from UC Davis and the US Forest Service showed that, disconcertingly, forests are failing to regrow after ACD-driven wildfires that have become larger, hotter and more frequent across the country. The study shows how recent fires have killed so many mature, seed-producing trees across such vast swaths of land, that forests are unable to reseed themselves. Study coauthor Kevin Welch, a forest researcher at UC Davis, said, "We aren't seeing the conditions that are likely to promote natural regeneration."

And when dramatic ACD-impacts are causing forests in the US to suffer, trees halfway around the world are simultaneously impacted, according to another recent study. When drought, insect infestation, heat or exploitation cause a significant number of trees to die in one area, the climate in forests in distant lands is also altered. Hence, according to the researchers, if enough woodlands are burned in North America, the consequences of this are felt in Siberian forests. If enough tropical rainforests are cleared in the Amazon, conifers in Siberia experience drought and greater cold, due to what the study describes as a "teleconnection": Activities in one region of Earth can disturb or alter the climate equilibrium in another, very far away.

"When trees die in one place, it can be good or bad for plants elsewhere because it causes changes in one place that can ricochet to shift climate in another place," Elizabeth Garcia of the University of Washington, who worked on the study, told the Climate News Network. "The atmosphere provides the connection."

Meanwhile, another recently published study showed that some plant species in the Himalayas, like the rhododendron, have shown indications that their spring blooming season has been moved three months forward by ACD.

Not surprisingly, wildlife continues to display distress signals from ACD impacts as well.

Another study shows that hundreds of species around the globe -- land, as well as marine -- are already experiencing localized extinctions, and researchers affiliated with the study said that this is just the beginning.

Not surprisingly, another study, this one coming from the University of Edinburgh, shows that ACD is already driving birds to migrate earlier as global temperatures continue to increase across the board. When the birds arrive at their breeding grounds earlier, however, they often miss out on food sources and starve to death.

In the far north, reindeer are physically shrinking, primarily due to an increasing lack of food. Their weight has gone down considerably since the 1990s.

Plus, the world's largest herd of reindeer, located on the Taimyr Peninsula of Russia, is plummeting in size, according to another report. The herd of wild reindeer has lost 40 percent of its population since just 2000, due to warming temperatures and human encroachment, and the numbers continue to decline rapidly.

Another warning sign from the north comes from steller sea lions, whose populations in the western Aleutian Islands continue to fall. Scientists blame ACD-driven warming waters that are causing food shortages and other health issues.

More distressing news from the north comes in the form of an expected change in the food chain: Experts warned recently that polar bears are likely to become prey to killer whales and Greenland sharks. Polar Bears are already the iconic species threatened by ACD, since they have increasingly had to swim further for food due to dwindling sea ice. This leaves them much more exposed to potential attacks from the killer whales and sharks. Meanwhile, the whales and sharks are eating the seals on which the polar bears rely for food themselves.

Canada's Hudson Bay, normally considered the "polar bear capital of the world," was as free of ice this past November as it was on a typical summer day. This indicates that, if trends continue, polar bears there could well be extinct by 2050.

Lastly in this section, the thawing of permafrost in Alaska and the Yukon has been shown, according to a recent study, to be literally changing the chemistry of the fabled Yukon River. "Essentially, what we found is, a lot of the common kind of minerals, and some of the nutrients in the Yukon River, and the Tanana River, had greatly increased over those 30 years," Hydrologist Ryan Toohy with the USGS Alaska Climate Science Center, told Alaska Public Radio. Impacts of this include declining numbers of salmon returning to spawn in the Yukon River, which hurts tribes that rely upon the fish to put food on their tables. The reductions in salmon populations also affects the culture of tribes that practice subsistence living.

Water

As usual, the most obvious ACD impacts are making themselves known across Earth's watery realms.

An amount of polar sea ice the size of India (or two Alaskas) has vanished amidst record-high ocean and atmospheric temperatures, according to climate scientists. It's not surprising, given that parts of the Arctic were 20 degrees Celsius (36F) above normal on some days during last November.

Another study showed that ACD-driven warming is sending mountain glaciers "off a cliff," and called these retreating glaciers "categorical evidence" of ACD, noting that the glacial retreat provides "sobering perspective on how far out of equilibrium these glaciers are."

A 2015 winter research expedition in the Arctic left researchers shocked by how thin and weak the Arctic sea ice was, in addition to being stunned by how early a summer phytoplankton bloom arrived. They attributed the bloom to the warmer-than-normal Arctic waters.

A recently published study brings more bad news for Greenland. The study showed that the Greenland Ice Sheet will likely be melting much faster than previously believed, which is also bad news for sea-level increase around the world.

New research has confirmed what has been known for quite some time now: that ongoing melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet is bringing us closer to an inevitable long-term consequence of collapsing the Atlantic Ocean's circulation, which would bring catastrophic climatic shifts to Northern Europe, North America and beyond.

Down in the Antarctic, things are no better. Recently released long-term satellite observations have revealed that dramatic ice loss is spreading rapidly up glaciers in the Antarctic, some of which are losing more than 20 feet of height per year.

ACD has been linked to massive changes taking place in the food web of the US Great Lakes region, as the base of the food chain drastically transforms. Warming water temperatures are causing an algae that forms the food chain's base to increase in number, which will have unforeseen impacts on everything else in that ecosystem.

If you live in Miami, New Orleans or New York, a recent report shows that you are in one of the top US cities already experiencing sea-level rise, which is expected to increase dramatically in the coming years.

More scientific research shows that the Everglades' water is now at risk from sea-level rise, which means the fabled "river of grass," as the area has long been referred to, is going to be inundated with saltwater.

Across the Atlantic, a recent study suggests that the only reason coastal communities in Britain have survived sea level rise and extreme weather events thus far has been luck. The study found that the winter of 2013-2014 saw storms generate the maximum recorded sea level at half of the tidal measuring sites around the UK, as well as the largest number of extreme sea-level events of any season in the last 100 years. However, troublingly, the study showed that none of those serious flooding events happened during a severe storm, which means that things could have been far, far worse. Hence, it is only a matter of time for an ACD-fueled extreme storm to coincide with a high tide, which will bring widespread destruction to wherever it lands on Britain's coastline.

Lastly in this section, recent research shows that the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, which was hammered by a coral bleaching event not long ago, is not likely to survive at all if oceanic warming continues, which it most assuredly will. The study projects that by the year 2050, more than 98 percent of global coral reefs will be afflicted by "bleaching-level thermal stress" every year.

Fire

The American Meteorological Society's annual attribution report released mid-December showed that ACD-driven heat was the key factor in Alaska's 2015 fire season, which was the second worst on record, in terms of the total area burned. The report also cited "snowpack drought" in Washington State that resulted from high temperatures as another factor that led to wildfires in that state, and indicated that in both places, rising temperatures will continue to predispose the areas to increasing frequency and duration of wildfires.

More than 100 active wildfires in South Africa, burning amidst conditions of warmer than normal temperatures, lack of rainfall and dry conditions fueled by ACD impacts, were burning at the time of this writing.

Air

Soon, 2016 will be deemed the warmest year recorded on the planet since record-keeping began. This is certainly true in the Arctic, where autumn temperatures soared to 36F above normal and even higher in some places. Jennifer Francis, a research professor at Rutgers University, explained to Yale Environment 360 that a rapidly warming Arctic will have profound implications on global weather in many ways, such as a shifting jet stream, more persistent and prolonged droughts, and heavy flooding, all of which will dramatically impact food production.

Last month, Climate Central produced this excellent graphic, which gives one a clear, visual perspective on how much warming occurred in the continental US during 2016. In summary, 2 percent of US weather stations reported colder-than-average temperatures for the year, 98 percent of them reported warmer-than-average temperatures for the year, and 10 percent of them reported temperatures that were the hottest on record.

Meanwhile, scientists in Vietnam point to ACD as the cause of an increase in vector-borne diseases like malaria and dengue fever, due to rising seawater levels and warmer temperatures creating conditions favorable for mosquito reproduction and transmission of diseases.

Denial and Reality

With an incoming Donald Trump presidency -- including a cabinet that amounts to an environmental demolition team -- we can expect this denial section to become quite lengthy in future dispatches.

The Center for Media and Democracy published a leaked transition team memo that outlined Trump's disastrous energy agenda. The plan will essentially lay waste to most federal environmental regulations that are left, and will halt efforts toward developing clean energy and addressing ACD, scant as they may be. It includes, but is not limited to, the following steps: withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, increase federal oil and natural gas leasing, lift the coal lease moratorium, give states greater say on energy leases on federal lands within state borders, expedite approvals on LNG [liquefied natural gas] export terminals, move full steam ahead on pipeline infrastructure, amend the Renewable Fuel Standard and relax federal fuel economy standards.

Conveniently, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson was named Secretary of State, despite the fact that investigations have been underway to look into Exxon's climate science disinformation campaigns.

Just as conveniently, Chris Shank, the deputy chief of staff to Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and a vocal ACD denier, was selected to head the NASA transition team. It is clear that most money slated for NASA to study climate/earth science will be slashed.

Australian climate scientists have already slammed Trump's plans to scrap NASA's climate science work, as outrage at the president-elect's anti-environment stance mounts around the globe.

Some of the environmental Cabinet picks read like a sick joke: Trump also picked Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a staunch ally of the fossil fuel industry and ACD denier, to head the EPA. Both Pruitt and Trump have been blatant opponents of the EPA itself.

In total, at least nine senior members of Trump's transition team deny the existence of ACD while demonstrating a completely pro-fossil fuel agenda. Deniers have been chosen to lead every single agency that deals with ACD.

As a result of all of this, US climate scientists are frantically copying, backing up and storing abroad any and all US climate data out of fear it could be scrubbed under the incoming Trump administration.

The Guardian recently published an excellent piece that outlines what it calls the "booming conspiracy culture of climate science denial" that is happening alongside (and along with) the incoming Trump administration. The article shows how conspiracy websites and outlets, such as Breitbart, are working to create massive online audiences who believe that ACD is a "hoax."

On the reality front, thankfully, there is some good news.

Divestments from the fossil fuel industry now represent at least $5.2 trillion, which is certainly heartening. That means that a record number of investors have agreed to withdraw, or already have withdrawn, money from the fossil fuel industry and are investing in renewables.

NASA satellites, scientists and super computers recently produced an amazing 3-D view of how CO2 flows through the atmosphere.

The single largest science event on Earth took place in San Francisco in December, when the American Geophysical Union convened for its annual meeting. There, with more than 20,000 earth and space scientists present, it was proclaimed that "the time has never been more urgent" for their work to continue.

And for the rest of us, "the time has never been more urgent" to bear witness to what is happening across the planet, and to act on the planet's behalf.

 

Categories: Latest News

North Carolina's Anti-LGBT Law Has Cost the State More Than $560 Million So Far

Truthout - Sun, 01/08/2017 - 21:00

Opponents of a North Carolina bill that limited transgender students' bathroom access protest in Raleigh, North Carolina, on April 11, 2016. The economic loss caused by the bill is estimated to be more than a half a billion dollars. (Photo: Ray Whitehouse / The New York Times)

At a Jan. 4 economic forum sponsored by the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce, newly elected Gov. Roy Cooper (D) asked businesses for help repealing the state's widely criticized House Bill 2, which, among other things, prevents transgender people from using the restroom that matches their gender identity and bars local governments from passing nondiscrimination protections for the LGBT community. Cooper said he thinks a clean repeal of HB2 would pass the Republican-dominated General Assembly, and he called on business leaders to pressure legislative leaders to put it to a vote. 

Last month state lawmakers held a special session to repeal the law after Cooper, who had not yet been sworn in, brokered a deal with Republican legislative leaders and the Charlotte City Council, which had approved a local anti-discrimination ordinance that led to HB2's passage. The deal called for Charlotte to fully repeal its ordinance, which it did on Dec. 21 after an initial partial repeal. But Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R) and his GOP caucus didn't fulfill their end of the bargain by introducing and passing a clean repeal bill. Instead, they tacked on a moratorium blocking local governments from passing any nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people until 30 days after the 2017 legislative session, which would likely be sometime in late summer or early fall. 

Democrats refused to vote for the measure, the deal collapsed, and so HB2 remains on the books. Besides taking a toll on the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, the bill has dealt a major economic loss to North Carolina as many businesses have canceled plans to expand in the state while popular sporting events have been canceled and film productions have moved to other states. 

Numerous news outlets have attempted to tally up the economic damage HB2 has inflicted on North Carolina. Back in September, Facing South conservatively estimated the law's cost at $230 million. Since then, the total has risen significantly, with documented economic losses resulting from HB2 now adding up to at least $562 million.

Here are the ways in which the law has cost North Carolina:

Companies flee: $297.4 million. PayPal was the first to go, nixing a data center that would have employed at least 400 people with a payroll cost of $20.4 million. Deutsche Bank ditched its plans to expand its North Carolina operations by 250 jobs, costing the state $27 million in payroll and construction. But the biggest and most recent hit was the loss of commercial real estate research business CoStar, which bypassed Charlotte because of HB2 and instead chose Richmond, Virginia, where the company is expected to create 732 new jobs and have a total economic impact of $250 million. This is a conservative estimate, as unnamed tech companies in Asheville and that together would have created 1,500 new jobs reportedly decided not to expand in North Carolina, while Google Ventures halted investments in the state. Because the economic damage caused by these decisions couldn't be verified, they are not included in the total cost.

Sporting events move elsewhere: $245.6 million. The first and largest loss was the NBA All-Star Game, which would have had a roughly $100 million economic impact in the Charlotte area. Next was the NCAA, which pulled seven national championship events from North Carolina, including the first and second rounds of the men's basketball tournament. NCAA losses include $16.1 million to the city of Greensboro and $2 million to Cary. The Atlantic Coast Conference removed its championship games from the state, including Charlotte's football final, which would have brought the city $32.4 million, and Durham's baseball tournament, representing $5.2 million in lost revenue. WRAL estimated that total losses resulting from ACC and NCAA cancellations were $90 million. But that's not all: The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association announced in August that it would relocate 10 championships; its men's and women's basketball tournaments alone earned Charlotte $55.6 million in 2015.

Conventions cancel: $18.4 million. WRAL reports that Raleigh has lost nearly $9 million from numerous cancelled conventions, and Greensboro has lost $6 million from eight conferences that moved out of state. As of late April, Asheville had lost around $2 million in tourism revenue. Orange County will lose a projected $1.2 million of previously expected tourism. By early April, at least 13 conventions had pulled out of Charlotte, and a May 20 estimate by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority based on seven of these put the lost revenue at $227,000.

Creating and defending HB2 costs taxpayers: $267,500. The North Carolina government is racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills to defend HB2, with more costs to come as legal battles over the law continue. As of July, the state had already spent $176,000 on court costs, and former Gov Pat McCrory (R) spent $7,500 of government funds on travel to defend the law on television. The bill was created in a "special session" that cost taxpayers $42,000, and the recent special session that failed to repeal HB2 cost another $42,000.

Major performances defect: $208,000. Ani DiFranco, Blue Man Group, Boston, Bruce Springsteen, Cirque du Soleil, Itzhak Perlman, Maroon 5, Nick Jonas, Pearl Jam and Ringo Starr all canceled North Carolina performances because of the law. It's hard to find definitive numbers for how much these cancellations cost the state, but Greensboro Coliseum and its vendors alone say they have lost at least $208,000 because of HB2-related cancellations.

Other losses are more difficult to quantify. Because of HB2, film companies A&E Studios, Turner Broadcasting and Lionsgate pulled planned future productions out of North Carolina. The Lionsgate production alone would have provided 100 jobs. Director Rob Reiner said he won't consider North Carolina for any future productions unless HB2 is repealed, and other film companies including 21st Century Fox say they'll reconsider future projects in the state.

Travel bans to North Carolina in effect in the United Kingdom, five US states and numerous cities are also costing the state money. Still more losses loom, including potentially $4.8 billion in annual federal funding, as the US Department of Justice has said that HB2 violates seven federal laws including Title IX of the Education Amendment, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Violence Against Women Act. However, federal action is less likely under the Trump administration.

Even if HB2 is fully repealed soon, its financial toll will last for some time. 

As University of North Carolina at Charlotte economics professor John Connaughton said at this week's economic forum, "HB2 has already done the damage, and it's going to be with us for a while."

Categories: Latest News

Donald Trump and His Cabinet of Criminals

Truthout - Sun, 01/08/2017 - 21:00

Donald Trump speaks to supporters at a hangar at Mesa Gateway Airport in Mesa, Arizona, on December 16, 2015. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Corruption in high places is hardly a new story in this country, yet Donald Trump seems determined to take corruption to a new level. He of course is setting the path himself, refusing to follow a longstanding precedent whereby presidents put their assets in a blind trust so that they are not in a position to profit personally from their policies. Trump has done the opposite, evidenced by including his business partners (i.e. his kids) in important meetings with foreign officials.

Not surprisingly, the lack of concern for ethics in his own dealings has spilled over into his picks for top administration positions. While his cabinet is filled with the incredibly rich who, thanks to Trump's proposed tax breaks, will be newly incentivized to steal, there are two individuals who stand out: Steven Mnuchin, Trump's pick for Treasury secretary, and Andrew Puzder, Trump's choice for Labor secretary.

These two nominees sat at the top of major corporations that had large scale violations of the law. They may not have known of the illegalities, but frankly as CEOs, they have the responsibility to ensure that their companies are following the law. Furthermore, if both are approved, they will be in a position where they are responsible for enforcing the laws that their own companies violated.

In Mnuchin's case, OneWest Bank, which he cofounded and ran, had a practice of rushing evictions to foreclose on underwater homeowners following the collapse of the housing bubble. An article in The Intercept by David Dayan reports on a memo from the California attorney general's office detailing the banks abuses. The article details a variety of dubious and illegal practices the bank pursued to dispossess homeowners.

In the former category, it mentions an instance where OneWest Bank pursued a foreclosure over a 27 cent payment shortfall. In the latter case, the memo documents backdated mortgage contracts. In several cases, the date listed was prior to date when OneWest Bank came into existence. This sort of backdating would be a clear case of fraud. The attorney general's staff recommended a civil case against the bank, which Attorney General Kamala Harris (now Sen. Kamala Harris) chose not to pursue. As Treasury secretary, Mnuchin will be overseeing a department that has substantial supervisory responsibilities over the banking system.

Puzder's run-in with the law is perhaps somewhat less egregious than Mnunchin's, but also involves violating laws that he will be expected to enforce if approved for his position. Mnunchin runs CKE Restaurants, which is the parent company for both Hardee's and Carl's Jr. Burger chain. According to the Huffington Post, Hardee's was forced to pay $58,000 in back pay to workers who were not paid overtime wages that were owed. There were also a number of instances in which franchisees of the companies were required to give back pay to workers who had been denied overtime they were owed.

One of the responsibilities of the Labor Department is enforcing wage and hour laws, which includes making sure that employers make required payments. While it is usually good to have a person as Labor secretary who has familiarity with these laws, being the target of an enforcement action is not the best sort of familiarity. It raises the obvious question of whether Puzder is likely to take seriously his responsibilities to protect workers or whether he will have more sympathy with the employers seeking to evade the law, possibly including his former colleagues.

These are the sort of conflicts of interest and questionable practices that would ordinarily be drawing considerable attention in the media as Donald Trump prepares for his inauguration. Unfortunately they have been largely ignored as issues like Republican plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act and gutting the Office of Congressional Ethics have occupied center stage. While these other issues are certainly important, they should not distract enough attention to allow Trump to install cabinet members whose conflicts of interest and past practices make them unqualified for their positions.

But the conflicts and questionable practices by his cabinet picks pale in comparison with Trump's plan to maintain his business empire even as he assumes the presidency. It speaks to the incredible degradation of ethical standards that this could be tolerated. Every president in the last half century, of both parties, has put their assets in a blind trust upon assuming the office.

If Donald Trump is not prepared to divest his empire, then he shouldn't have run for president. It is that simple. (It's also not hard for Trump to avoid conflicts of interests, even with his far-flung business interests.) If Congress allows Trump as president to flagrantly violate longstanding ethical standards, then we certainly can't expect anything better from cabinet nominees like Mnuchin and Puzder.

Categories: Latest News

Koch Astroturf Army Cheers Union Busting in Kentucky

Truthout - Sat, 01/07/2017 - 21:00

The Kentucky State capitol building. Recently, Speaker of the House Jeff Hoover rammed through the legislature three bills to break the back of unions and lower wages for highly-skilled construction workers. (Photo: Don Sniegowski)

On the first day that the Kentucky legislature got underway with a newly elected Republican House, a Republican Senate and a Republican governor, the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity group blew the whistle and legislators jumped to do their bidding.

This week, the Speaker of the House Jeff Hoover rammed through the legislature three bills to break the back of unions and lower wages for highly-skilled construction workers.

It was bare-knuckled partisan politics. "We can pretty much do whatever we want now!" crowed GOP Kentucky Rep. Jim DeCesare behind closed doors.

You have only to look at Trump's narrow victory in Rust Belt states to understand why the GOP is desperate to get rid of the Democratic Party's boots on the ground.

Trump won by narrow margins in Wisconsin and Michigan and took Indiana. These are three states where unions -- the only organized voice for working families able to stand up against CEOs and corporate elites -- were crushed by right-wing governors after Obama won them in 2008.

In Wisconsin, union membership is down an estimated 133,000 since Governor Scott Walker destroyed a 50 year tradition of peaceful collective bargaining for higher wages. Trumps margin of victory? Less than 30,000.

Tracy Sharpe of the Koch-backed State Policy Network (SPN) boasted of the success of the union-busting strategy in a recent Wall Street Joural article entitled "The spoils of a Republican State Conquest." "When you chip away at one of the power sources that also does a lot of get-out-the-vote. I think that helps for sure," she chirped.

Kentucky GOP Closely Follows Koch/ALEC Game Plan

The three bills being rushed though committee hearings this week borrow heavily from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) library of bills crafted by corporate lobbyists and politicians behind closed doors at ALEC meetings. ALEC and SPN groups work hand in hand to present the bills as innovative public policy, but scratch the surface and a pay to play model appears.

ALEC's, Michael Bowman, helpfully explained the key to success at a recent SPN meeting. "Legislators are not the trailblazers of developing policies," Bowman said according to a new report today in ProPublica. "They're actually the retail consumers."

Kentucky's HB1, dubbed "right to work" by supporters, harms unions by allowing workers to opt out of paying their fair share for union representation. The bill tracks the ALEC model as this side by side shows. SB6 makes it harder for unions to collect dues. ALEC calls this "paycheck protection." Both measures weaken and defund unions.

HB3 repeals the 76-year old prevailing wage law that rewards highly trained and skilled building trade workers who repeatedly train on new materials and technology with higher wages. This idea also borrows from the ALEC library, which contains a number of bills to lower wages, including by preempting local "Fight for 15" and "Raise the Wage" ordinances at the state level. Charles Koch even argues that eliminating the minimum wage would help the poor.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 11 percent of Kentucky's wage and salary workers are union members, these include distillery workers, miners, auto workers and a significant number of public employees and public school employees. In 2014, the Center for Media and Democracy exposed ALEC's efforts to achieve local "right to work" ordinances in Kentucky in the New York Times.

Many Kentucky workers and their families showed up to testify against the bills being rushed through various committees this week, but the Koch machine was prepared, taking over the hearing room Wednesday before the bill was called up, blocking the workers waiting to enter and cheering the Governor's entrance to the committee room for the TV cameras. Only two people were able to speak out against the bill: Bill Londrigan, President of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO, who explained that no worker can be forced to join a union and Anna Baumann, at the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, who explained how the measure harms workers, wages and the economy.

Julia Crigler, the State Director for Americans for Prosperity-Kentucky and a legislator with ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council, House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne (R-59), spoke for the bill.

In the Senate committee hearing ALEC member Rep. Jim DeCesare (R-21), lead the charge in favor of HB 1.

Koch-Funded Group and Organizations Provide "Scholarly" and "Grassroots" Cover for the Cookie-Cutter Agenda

The effort in Kentucky follows a playbook utilized by Team Koch in Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, and West Virginia. In all of these states, the anti-worker bills track template legislation written and promoted by ALEC, which receives a significant part of its funding from Koch Industries and other entities controlled and funded by the Koch brothers.

In addition, all of these states received support from "think tanks" in the Koch-funded State Policy Network. In Michigan, it was the Mackinac Center; in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute; in West Virginia, the Public Policy Foundation of West Virginia; and in Kentucky, the Bluegrass Institute.

The Koch astroturf army called Americans for Prosperity lent a thin veneer of support to the measure in each state, sponsoring tiny rallies in Wisconsin and Michigan that were overwhelmed by mass rallies in opposition to the bills.

Rally at the Kentucky Capitol Saturday

Using parliamentary tricks by labeling the bills as "emergency legislation" the GOP is hoping to avoid a showdown with the citizenry as there was in Wisconsin where protest rallies regularly topped 100,000 as Democratic legislators fled the state and students and union supporters occupied the Capitol.

The bills were moving so fast that most of the state's voters may only get word after the governor signs the measures into law.

The Kentucky AFL-CIO held a rally at the capitol at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday and is urging citizens to call their legislators.

A tweet from Speaker Hoover suggests that a final vote on the bills will come soon, "When you are wrestling for possession of a sword, the man with the handle always wins."

Missouri, New Hampshire and West Virginia Facing Union-Busting Battles

F. Vincent Vernuccio who works at the Koch-funded Mackinac Center and travels the country testifying as an "expert" on the bills said that Missouri and New Hampshire could follow Kentucky this year. Both Missouri and New Hampshire are trifecta Republican states. In West Virginia, the election of Governor Jim Justice, a Democrat who was previously a Republican, may give the GOP a second chance at passing the law, which was vetoed by the Democratic governor last year.

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Not Acting Is a Decision: The Obama Legacy's Empty Spaces

Truthout - Sat, 01/07/2017 - 21:00

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, December 6, 2016. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)

Obama is not and never was in charge of anything. No president is, in truth. The true power resides with the polluters, the war profiteers, the oil peddlers, the gun manufacturers, the insurance companies, the TV people, the stockbrokers and the bankers for the bankers.

President Barack Obama delivers remarks at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, December 6, 2016. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)

The farmer imagines power and place are fine things. But the President has paid dearly for his White House. It has commonly cost him all his peace, and the best of his manly attributes. To preserve for a short time so conspicuous an appearance before the world, he is content to eat dust before the real masters who stand erect behind the throne. 

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Having endured eight long nightmare years of George W. Bush, preceded by the media-driven priapic frenzy of the Clinton administration, and bearing fully in mind the unvarnished calamity to come, it is safe to say without shame or hesitation that I will miss the presidency of Barack Obama. Whatever else he may be, the man is cool. He is funny. He is breathtakingly intelligent, and more subtle than a subharmonic beat you feel without hearing.

Only a fool or a bald-faced liar could claim the president lacks any accomplishments after his eight years. He saved the US auto industry, nailed down a tepid but very real global agreement on climate change, passed a health care law that allows many previously uninsured people to access insurance, signed the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and supported same-sex marriage, established relations with Cuba, commuted the sentences of more than a thousand victims of the failed "war on drugs," placed a pair of non-Scalia justices (both women) on the Supreme Court, signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and all the while managed to run through the raindrops in DC without even the vaguest hint of scandal.

As a public speaker, President Obama rose to the occasion so often and so well that, for the first time in generations, exceptional political oratory became commonplace instead of rare, and that is something we are all going to miss in very short order. When he spoke words of comfort in my home city of Boston after the Marathon bombs ripped through us all -- "This special place, this state of grace" -- I loved him in that moment with a fierceness that is difficult to adequately describe.

Love is easy, however, when the band leader is playing your song just right. On that day, I needed those words and he delivered … but words are wind, as they say in Westeros, and winter has come. If the point of this exercise is to look upon the totality of the Obama experience, I am forced to fall back upon the judgment of Hunter S. Thompson written half a century ago: "It had been a bad trip ... fast and wild in some moments, slow and dirty in others, but on balance it looked like a bummer."

There are many who will despise me for being so harsh, and many who will despise me for not being harsh enough. I guess that makes this the perfect argument: Like the perfect deal, it leaves no one happy. I'm not happy. Why should you be? How about, for a refreshing change of pace, we take this thing by the teeth and just tell the damn truth.

Let's start with two areas of immediate import.

In August of 2014, President Obama stood before the world and admitted what everyone already knew: "We tortured some folks." He delivered this staggering admission as a throwaway line before going on to tell us not to be "too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had," because they were "patriots." The message came through in vivid Technicolor: Those who voice outrage over the torture of other human beings are "sanctimonious," while those who actually did the torturing -- by way of waterboarding, sleep deprivation, "rectal feeding," beatings, stress positions and other gruesome tactics -- are "patriots."

Mr. Obama had been president for six years when he made those remarks, and in all that time, not one single person -- from George W. Bush all the way down to the meanest private at Abu Ghraib -- was brought to justice for the crimes of torture and murder. It all just went away with a flippant "We tortured some folks," but violence of such magnitude rarely disappears on its own. More often than not, it multiplies. Case in point: President-elect Donald Trump has made it abundantly clear that torture will be back on the menu once he's in office, and despots all across the globe are licking their chops at the opportunity to follow suit.

Not acting is also a decision, and in this case, the decision to let torture stand unpunished means that torture itself will not only stand, but expand. The Obama administration could have set a legal precedent by prosecuting the perpetrators. It chose not to, and so this corpse flower of a policy will bloom once again. This was not the hope and change we were looking for.

Then there is the matter of Wall Street and the financial collapse of 2008. President Obama and his administration did yeoman's work holding the economy together after all the gaskets blew, and the recovery we have enjoyed since those dark days is not to be sneezed at. Yet that recovery is merely an accent in the symphony of financial fiction we labor under like so many cheese-seeking mice in an endless maze.

This is not Mr. Obama's fault, of course, but it is telling that, as with the torturers, none of the Wall Street thieves who eviscerated the economy to their great profit were ever prosecuted for any of their crimes. A number of them, in fact, got pretty sweet gigs with the administration, and many more besides were looking forward to their own civil service sinecures upon the election of Hillary Clinton. They all got away with the heist of the millennium and walked off into the Manhattan sunset with cash falling out of their pockets. Exactly one bankster from that era was prosecuted -- Bernie Madoff -- and the only reason he got clipped was because he stole from rich people.

Again, not acting is also a decision. The worst people from that massive smash-and-grab robbery found out just how untouchable they are, because the Obama administration chose not to reach out and touch them. No legal precedent was set, no firewall erected, and now the chickens are coming home to roost with high-flying security clearances and brand new offices thanks to President-elect Trump.

Stephen Mnuchin, who made his fortune by illegally foreclosing on people, is about to be secretary of the US Treasury. Jay Clayton, who made his bones as a top-gun Wall Street lawyer for the likes of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank, is about to become head of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The foxes are not merely guarding the henhouse; they've been handed knives and forks. They are going for the loot, plain and simple, because that is their way. Charlie Pierce had the right of it when he wrote on Wednesday, "It's not that we learned nothing from what happened eight years ago. It's that the wrong people learned all too much, and they learned it all too well."

In a nation willing to spend trillions of dollars on wars and weapons that don't work, President Obama time and again bought into the nonsense "austerity" arguments proffered by the wreckers on the Republican right. Instead of shredding those decades-doomed trickle-down tropes for being the brazen lies they are, he accepted the premise and made Social Security and Medicare actually seem negotiable instead of sacrosanct. Now, like the rest of us, he'll get to watch a Republican Congress destroy 75 years of progress because he failed to explain that we're not actually broke, we just have skewed fiscal priorities. Not acting is a decision.

The dualities are weighty enough to bend the very light.

The president who warns eloquently of climate change while all but ignoring Standing Rock as he champions fracking and tar sands oil pipelines.

The president who promises transparency while stomping on whistleblowers.

The president who denounces terrorism while making new terrorists by way of the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent people through his drone war.

The president who champions the middle class while peddling the disastrous Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The president who wept after Sandy Hook but did nothing of any measurable merit to stem the tide of gun violence in America; when schoolchildren are slaughtered and nothing changes, the argument is over and the NRA has won.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner who sold more weapons to the world than any administration since World War II.

Is everything Obama's fault, then? There are many who would like you to think so. Blaming him takes the onus off them -- "them" being everyone from high officeholders to the news media to the many voters who seem to choose candidates the way monkeys fling feces at the zoo -- but that is obvious nonsense. The man's first day at work involved two catastrophic wars and a melting economy, hey, howaya, lemme show you how the phones work. Upon arrival, he was greeted with a campaign of GOP obstructionism that knows no peer in American political history. What is wrong with this country has been a group effort spanning generations, and anyone trying to lay it all on one guy is looking to sell you something.

More than anything else, I am grateful to President Obama for showing me my country. No masks, no happy, sloppy paint jobs obscuring the holes in the plaster, but the real deal. The election and re-election of the first Black president -- touted properly as a transcendent moment in the annals of our history -- was followed by a detonation of brazen racism that cannot be ignored or dismissed. Herman Melville, writing of the berserk Ahab in Moby Dick, described how the captain piled upon the whale "the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it." That's eight years of "Thanks, Obama" in a nutshell. This racism is as much a part of our national DNA as corn and Coca-Cola.

President Obama showed me something else, too, and herein lies the ultimate heartbreak. He is not and never was in charge of anything. No president is, in truth. The true power resides with the polluters, the war profiteers, the oil peddlers, the gun manufacturers, the insurance companies, the TV people, the stockbrokers and the bankers for the bankers. Mr. Obama had a thousand chances to upset the applecart, and each time he came down on the side of the moneychangers in the temple. He was never in charge when it came to these matters, in no small part because he chose not to be, and thus surrendered what power he may have had.

People are ready for genuine change. I remember the luminous faces in the crowd when Mr. Obama spoke on the night of his victory in 2008. In my own neighborhood, people were out in the streets dancing and banging frying pans together. Today? They'd stay indoors for fear of getting shot down by some hyper-militarized cop in body armor with an AR-15 his department picked up on the cheap from the Iraq War.

It comes down to this, one more time for emphasis: Not acting is a decision. President Obama had eight years to show his mettle, to disembowel the facile arguments of the far right, and time after time he lined up with the very forces that are tearing us apart. It's hard to sell "change" to a disillusioned population that has heard too much empty talk already.

Missed opportunities. Opportunities missed by choice. We are all about to hurt, and that pain will be coming from those empty spaces, those squandered chances. Is it all too much to ask of one person? Perhaps. But then again, don't apply for the job if you're going to lie on the application form. Another Nobel laureate named Dylan can tell the president all about it:

I ain't saying you treated me unkind You could have done better but I don't mind You just kinda wasted my precious time But don't think twice, it's alright …
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How Savior Mentality Stands in the Way of Solidarity Organizing: An Interview With Jordan Flaherty

Truthout - Sat, 01/07/2017 - 21:00

History teaches us a lot about the "great men" who changed things and not enough about the collective struggles that forced that change, says Jordan Flaherty in this Truthout interview. Once we understand how real revolutionary change has always come about, we will stop being fooled by would-be heroes and saviors.

History teaches us a lot about the "great men" who changed things and not enough about the collective struggles that forced that change, says Jordan Flaherty. (Photo: AK Press)

In the real world, people don't need heroes or rescue: They need systemic solutions to racism, patriarchy, colonialism and capitalism. But the seductive myth of the savior complex all too often leads us astray, as Jordan Flaherty shows in No More Heroes: Grassroots Challenges to the Savior Mentality. Robin D.G. Kelley calls this book "A perfect gift for the age of Trump." Get your copy by making a tax-deductible donation to Truthout today!

"Social movements have an unfortunate history of following the leadership of charismatic hero figures," writes Jordan Flaherty, a social justice organizer, journalist, producer and author. "I've come to think of this as the savior mentality; the idea that a hero will come and answer our societal problems, like Superman rescuing Lois Lane, or a fireman rescuing a kitten from a tree."

In his new book No More Heroes: Grassroots Challenges to the Savior Mentality, Flaherty examines how the savior mentality has permeated movements for social justice and been used by the state to undermine gains won by decades of organizing. He traces the history of the savior, reaching all the way back to 1096 CE, when the Pope launched the Crusades under the guise of saving "heathens" (read: Jewish, Muslim and other non-Christian people) to post-Katrina New Orleans where Brandon Darby, who later announced his role as an FBI informant, rose to power and influence among activists seeking to rebuild while wide-eyed Teach for America volunteers displaced seasoned (and unionized) African American teachers.

But No More Heroes isn't simply about the problems and pitfalls inherent in the savior mentality. While Flaherty documents the numerous ways in which people with the best of intentions confuse charity with solidarity, he also highlights grassroots efforts to build systemic changes that are accountable to the communities most impacted. Some of these movements have been spearheaded by those most directly affected, such as high school students across New Orleans who organized walk-outs to protest the replacing of veteran African American teachers with inexperienced (and predominantly white) Teach for America recruits and punitive school discipline policies, and sex workers fighting both repressive policing and programs that seek to "save" them by arresting them.

Flaherty also explores ways in which organizers have worked together to connect issues. He recounts a 1995 protest against proposed budget cuts for the City University of New York (CUNY) in which he and other CUNY students were arrested for blocking the road to the Battery Park Tunnel connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan. While in jail, he learned that dozens of other groups had simultaneously blocked nearly every entrance into and out of Manhattan. These were not other student organizations, but organizers from ACT-UP protesting cuts to health care, disability rights activists protesting service cuts, activists from CAAAV (then known as Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence) and the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights protesting police brutality, and many other groups. These simultaneous direct actions were not accidental; instead, Flaherty explains, the "leadership from each of these organizations had met together and planned this action as a way to build unity in a sometimes fractured movement."

The recent election underlines the importance, if not urgency, of solidarity organizing and reminds us of the need to avoid the pitfalls of searching for a savior. Flaherty ends on an optimistic note and a call to action, which resonate now more than ever: "The changes we fear are impossible are already growing. We can build a better world, as long as we don't fall into traps of reform that leave out those who are most in need. If we listen to those who have the most to lose, and stand in principled struggle with those on the bottom, everything is possible."

Victoria Law: What was your initial reason for writing No More Heroes? Why now?

Jordan Flaherty: I'm very excited by this movement moment we are in, by the protests at Standing Rock, by Black Lives Matter, by the disability justice and Latinx and trans movements, and so much more. And I wanted to create another resource for people who want to support those movements. I work as a journalist, and try to do my work in a way that's accountable to social movements. One question I ask myself is, what is my role as white, cisgender, male journalist reporting on movements like sex worker rights and Black Lives Matter? One answer is, I can speak to other people coming from positions of privilege, and critique issues that I have seen come up in my own life and work, and in the work of other people with privilege. This savior mentality is something I have seen come up again and again. In US volunteers in Palestine. In post-Katrina Teach For America corps members in New Orleans. In social workers seeking to "save" sex workers through partnering with police to arrest them. I think it's crucial for people with privilege to confront this savior mentality.

At first glance, one might assume that this is a book directed towards white people. But as I read through it, I realized that that wasn't necessarily the case. Who are your intended audiences?

One of the first things people say when they hear the topic of this book is that they have people in their lives they want to buy this book for. The first image we have when we think of the savior mentality is a white male, but a wide range of people find themselves in positions of privilege. For example, class privilege, cisgender privilege, the privilege of US citizenship. A working class Black woman organizer I profiled in the book talked about a time when she feels she fell into the savior mentality, and how she worked to address that and change her approach.

At the end of your chapter on the history of saviors, you write, "I think I make fewer mistakes now, or at least different ones, but I hold past mistakes close to my heart, as a reminder to keep asking questions." Can you share an example?

Honestly, I think I make mistakes every day. Coming from privilege, it's inevitable. I think I'm really fortunate to have a community around me that often tells me when I am wrong, and helps to hold me accountable. The most important thing is to listen non-defensively and try to make things right. A key example I tell in the book is the story of FBI informant Brandon Darby, and the fact that I didn't do more to challenge his behavior in New Orleans post-Katrina, when he worked with the organization Common Ground.

You document the way that sexual assaults happening in Common Ground were dismissed and the women who spoke up often driven out. You note, "Many of us, especially those of us socialized as men, do not do enough to speak up against other men who have relationships with women they have power over" and also point out that the people willing to stand up for Brandon Darby against accusations of being an informant (which turned out to be true) had not been willing to do so for the women who spoke up about being assaulted by Darby. Can you talk more about what you've seen about the culture of male silence around sexual assault and sexual abuse? And can you tell us how men can work to end this silence -- and rape culture -- without falling into the savior mindset?

This is such an important question. Men need to challenge other men about sexual assault and abuse, just as white people need to talk to each other about racism and white supremacy. It's really easy, and we get a lot of points, for talking to women about how we are against patriarchy. It's like the old joke: "A male feminist walks into a bar ... because it was set so low." We need to have more difficult conversations.

I think even when we do condemn sexual assault and abuse, there is not enough speaking out about people abusing their positions of power. In the book, I also talk about professors abusing their position with their students. It's ironic that many corporations that are destroying our communities and planet have policies on harassment, while many of our movement organizations do not. And this silence has pushed a lot of women out of our movements.

I want to lift up men that are speaking out about patriarchy in public ways. For example, Damon Young at verysmartbrothas.com. And Chris Crass was maybe one of the first men I saw speak honestly and powerfully about his own struggles around sexism. This book also talks a lot about Hollywood and other popular culture, and in that spirit, I want to shout out the recent film Captain Fantastic. It has a scene of a father talking to his son about consent -- something I don't think I've ever seen on film before. We need more stories like that in our popular culture.

You also note that, while Darby may have been paid by the state for his disruptive role, "most of those who do the most damage are not paid by the state to disrupt, we just think we know what is best. Or we see the actions of someone like Darby and we stay silent, because we have bought into the idea of a savior, and he seems to look the part." Can you elaborate more on this and ways that people can speak up before the damage becomes too great?

Our schools mostly teach this "Great Man" theory of history. That President Lincoln ended slavery, or Presidents Kennedy and Johnson were responsible for the civil rights movement. Then, even in progressive films, it's almost always the lone hero saving the day. We are not taught enough about collective struggles. Living in New Orleans, I've been fortunate to spend time with civil rights movement activists who avoided headlines and instead stayed in the grassroots. People like Curtis Muhammad, Jerome Smith and Dodie Smith-Simmons. We need to learn these stories and teach these histories. I'm also really inspired by the visionary fiction movement, and authors like Walidah Imarisha, who are helping us to envision better stories that lead to a better world. Once we learn what real revolutionary change looks like, we won't be fooled by heroes and saviors. Until that time, my main advice is to listen to the communities most affected by your work, and help amplify their concerns.

You write about the Catalyst Project's 2014 online guide for activists of privilege seeking to shift their culture and organizing to support the Movement for Black Lives. Can you tell readers more about that?

I love the work of Catalyst Project -- which also played an important role in New Orleans post-Katrina, working to challenge racism among white volunteers who came to help rebuild the city. They also have a training program for white antiracists called the Anne Braden training program. Also, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) has done great work in organizing white solidarity with Black Lives Matter. I think many of the people radicalized during the time of Occupy Wall Street have been seeking to have more of a race and gender analysis, and I really appreciate folks like Catalyst that have helped white activists build that analysis.

Tell us about some other hopeful examples of organizing.

Truthout Progressive Pick

Jordan Flaherty explores why people with privilege can make things worse when they try to help.

Click here now to get the book!

One of the best parts of writing this book was that I got to speak to so many brilliant people who are thinking and writing and taking action. I talked to Caitlin Breedlove about her lessons from her work with SONG and Standing On The Side of Love, and Alicia Garza about her work with Black Lives Matter and the National Domestic Workers Alliance. I was able to spend time with Monica Jones as she organized for sex workers' rights in Phoenix, Tara Burns as she did similar work in Alaska, and Diné youth fighting genocide in their homeland. I'm also inspired by the organizing happening behind bars, and so grateful to you for your work to raise awareness of the organizing led by women prisoners. My hope with this book is to spread the lessons from these brilliant folks, and many more.

Given that the election has now assured us that the upper echelons of power have swung from hope and change to reactionary and racist, can you talk about the role of organizing and what we need to keep in mind about the savior mentality as we move forward?

I think one thing this election has made clear is that white people who believe in racial justice have either been doing the wrong things, or not been doing enough. It's definitely caused me to look at my life and the organizing I do. I think long and hard about how I can improve my work, and up my game. I think about the words of organizers with the Peoples Institute for Survival and Beyond, an antiracist training organization based in New Orleans. They say, if you're improving your organizing skills, but you're not also challenging racism, then you end up just becoming a more skillful racist. So my question for people with privilege, and especially other white people is, given that white people elected Trump, what can we do to challenge and organize in our communities more effectively? How can we challenge white supremacy in all aspects of our lives?

No More Heroes provides concrete examples of ways in which people have successfully organized to challenge racism and repression. Sadly, these conversations are needed more than ever right now.

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