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Trump's National Defense Strategy: Something for Everyone (in the Military-Industrial Complex)

9 hours 48 min ago
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Think of it as the chicken-or-the-egg question for the ages: Do very real threats to the United States inadvertently benefit the military-industrial complex or does the national security state, by its very nature, conjure up inflated threats to feed that defense machine? 

Back in 2008, some of us placed our faith, naively enough, in the hands of mainstream Democrats -- specifically, those of a young senator named Barack Obama. He would reverse the war policies of George W. Bush, deescalate the unbridled Global War on Terror, and right the ship of state. How'd that turn out? 

In retrospect, though couched in a far more sophisticated and peaceable rhetoric than Bush's, his moves would prove largely cosmetic when it came to this country's forever wars: a significant reduction in the use of conventional ground troops, but more drones, more commandos, and yet more acts of ill-advised regime change. Don't get me wrong: as a veteran of two of Washington's wars, I was glad when "no-drama" Obama decreased the number of boots on the ground in the Middle East. It's now obvious, however, that he left the basic infrastructure of eternal war firmly in place. 

Enter The Donald.

For all his half-baked tweets, insults, and boasts, as well as his refusal to read anything of substance on issues of war and peace, some of candidate Trump's foreign policy ideas seemed far saner than those of just about any other politician around or the previous two presidents. I mean, the Iraq War was foolish, and maybe it wasn't the worst idea for America's allies to start thinking about defending themselves, and maybe Washington ought to put some time and diplomatic effort into avoiding a possibly catastrophic clash or set of clashes with Vladimir Putin's Russia. 

Unfortunately, the White House version of all this proved oh-so-familiar. President Trump's decision, for instance, to double down on a losing bet in Afghanistan in spite of his "instincts" (and on similar bets in Somalia, Syria, and elsewhere) and his recently published National Defense Strategy (NDS) leave little doubt that he's surrendered to Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, the mainstream interventionists in his administration.

In truth, no one should be surprised. A hyper-interventionist, highly militarized foreign policy has defined Washington since at least the days of President Harry Truman -- the first in a long line of hawks to take the White House. In this context, an ever-expanding national security state has always put special effort into meeting the imagined needs (or rather desires) of its various component parts. The result: bloated budgets for which exaggerated threats, if not actual war, remain a necessity. 

Without the threat of communism in the previous century and terrorism (as well as once again ascendant great powers) in this one, such bloated budgets would be hard to explain. And then, how would the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines get all the weaponized toys they desired? How would Congressional representatives in a post-industrial economy get all those attractive "defense" jobs for their districts and how would the weapons makers get the government cash they crave?

The 2-2-1 Threat Picture

With that in mind, let's take a look at the newly released National Defense Strategy document. It offers a striking sense of how, magically enough, the Pentagon's vision of future global policy manages to provide something for each of its services and their corporate backers.

Start with this: the NDS is to government documents what A Nightmare on Elm Street is to family films; it's meant, that is, to scare the hell out of the casual reader. It makes the claim, for instance, that the global "security environment" has become "more complex and volatile than any we have experienced in recent memory." In other words, be afraid, very afraid. But is it true? Is the world really more volatile now than it was when two nuclear superpowers with enough missiles to destroy the planet several times over faced off in a not-so-Cold War?

Admittedly, the NDS does list and elaborate some awesome threats -- and I think I know just where that list came from, too. When I went through the document, I realized that I had heard it all before. Back in 2015, when I taught history at West Point, a prominent departmental alumni -- a lieutenant general by the name of H.R. McMaster who, today, just happens to be President Trump's national security advisor -- used to drop by occasionally. Back then, he commanded the Army Capabilities Integration Center, which was basically a future-planning outfit that, in its own words, "develops concepts, learns, and integrates capabilities to improve our Army." 

In 2015, McMaster gave us history instructors a memorable, impromptu sermon about the threats we'd face when we returned to the regular Army. He referred, if memory serves, to what he labeled the two big threats, two medium threats, and one persistent threat that will continue to haunt our all-American world. In translation: that's China and Russia, Iran and North Korea, and last but not necessarily least Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. And honestly, if that isn't a lineup that could get you anything you ever dreamed of in the way of weapons systems and the like, what is? 

So can we be surprised that, in the age of McMaster and Mattis, the new NDS just happens to lay out the very same lineup of perils? 

The Two Bigs: "Revisionist Powers"

The document kicks off with a pivot of sorts: forget (but not forever!) the ongoing war on terror. The US military is on to even more fearsome things. "Inter-state strategic competition [which, in Pentagonese, means China and Russia], not terrorism, is now the primary concern in US national security," the document insists. Those two countries are -- the Pentagon's most recent phrase of eternal damnation -- "revisionist powers" that "want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model." In other words, they have the staggering audacity to actually want to assert global influence (the very definition of evil in any power other than you-know-who).  

This section of the NDS reads like a piece of grim nostalgia, a plunge back into the pugnacious language of the long-gone Cold War. It's meant to be scary reading. It's not that Russian irredentism or Chinese bellicosity in the South China Sea aren't matters for concern -- they are -- but do they really add up to a new Cold War?

Let's begin, as the document does, with China, an East Asian menace "pursuing" that most terrifying of all goals, "military modernization" (as, of course, are we), and seeking as well "Indo-Pacific Regional hegemony" (as, of course, has... well, you know which other country).

The National Defense Straregy isn't, however, keen on nuance. It prefers to style China unambiguously as a 10-foot-tall military behemoth. After all, countering a resurgent China in the Taiwan Straits and the South China Sea ensures a prominent role for the Navy and its own air force of carrier-based naval aviators. In fact, the military's latest "AirSea Battle" doctrine hinges on a potential conflict in a place that bears a suspicious similarity to the Taiwan Straits (and thanks to the catchy name, the Air Force gets in on the action as well). Consider all of this a formula for more blue-water ships, more advanced fighter planes, and maybe even some extra amphibious Marine Corps brigades.

But what about the poor Army? Well, that's where that other revisionist power, Russia, comes in. After all, Putin's government is now seeking to "shatter" the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. No point, naturally, in reminding anyone that Washington was the country that expanded what was, by definition, an anti-Russian military alliance right up to Russia's borders, despite promises made as the Soviet Union was collapsing. But this is no time to split hairs, so bottom line: the Russian threat ensures that the Army must send more combat troops to Europe. It may even have to dust off all those old Abrams tanks in order to "deter" Vladimir Putin's Russia. Ka-ching! (Consider this, by the way, a form of collusion with Russia that Robert Mueller isn't investigating.) 

If you look at the Pentagon's 11 "defense objectives" included in the National Defense Strategy document, you get a sense of just how expansive the one great non-revisionist power on the planet actually is. Yes, the first of those sounds reasonable enough: "defending the homeland from attack." Skip down to number five, though -- "Maintaining favorable regional balances of power in the Indo-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, and the Western Hemisphere" -- and you're offered a vision of what an expansionist attitude really is. Although the NDS claims this country is threatened by the rise of Russia or China in just two of these areas (the Indo-Pacific and Europe), it asserts the need for favorable "balances of power" just about everywhere! 

By definition, that's an urge for hegemony, not defense! Imagine if China or Russia staked out such claims. An unbiased look at that set of objectives should make anyone (other than a general or an admiral) wonder which is really the "rogue regime" on this planet.

The Two Mediums: "Rogue States"

Now, on to the next group of threats, Uncle Sam's favorite bad boys, North Korea and Iran. North Korea, we're told, is a land of "outlaw actions" and "reckless rhetoric" (never to be compared to the statesmanlike "fire and fury" comments of President Donald Trump). And indeed, Kim Jong-Un's brutal regime and the nuclear weapons program that goes with it are cause for concern -- but they also turn out to be deeply useful if you want to provide plenty of incentive for the funding of the Air Force's and the Navy's trillion dollar nuclear "modernization" effort (that already looks like it may actually cost more like $1.7 trillion). In other words, more nuclear subs, heavy bombers, and intercontinental ballistic missiles, not to speak of the immense cost of recent investments in such missile defense systems as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD).

In this way, "rogue states" couldn't be more helpful. Take Iran, which, according to the NDS, "remains the most significant challenge to Middle East stability." Hmmm. It's hard not to wonder why ISIS, Bashar al-Assad's rump Syria, Saudi terror bombing in Yemen, even old-fashioned al-Qaeda (and its new-fashioned affiliates) don't give Iran at least a run for its money when it comes to being the clearest-and-presentest danger to the region and to the United States. (And that's assuming that, in the Middle East, the US hasn't been the greatest danger to itself. Exhibition one being the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.) 

No matter. Anti-Iranian hysteria sells fabulously in Washington, so who wouldn't want to run with it? In fact, the alleged Iranian threat to us is the gift that just keeps giving inside the Beltway. Iran's nuclear threat -- though there's no evidence that the Iranians have cheated on the nuclear deal President Obama signed with them in 2015 and that President Trump is so eager to abrogate -- guarantees yet another windfall for all the services. The Army's air defense programs, for example, should get a long-needed shot in the arm; the Navy will clamor for more Aegis cruisers (with anti-ballistic systems on board); and the Air Force will certainly need yet more bombers for the potential preemptive strike against the nuclear threat that isn't there. Everyone wins (except perhaps the Iranian people)!

One "Persistent Condition": Terrorism

And then, of course, there's terrorism or, to be more exact, Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, that surefire funder of the twenty-first century. It may no longer officially be the military's top priority, but the National Defense Strategy assures us that it "remains a persistent condition" as long as terrorists "continue to murder the innocent." The proper question, though, is: How big of a threat is it? As it turns out, not very big, not for Americans anyway. Any of us are so much more likely to choke to death or die in a bicycle or car accident than lose our lives at the hands of a foreign-born terrorist. 

And here's another relevant question: Is the US military actually the correct tool with which to combat persistent terrorism? The answer, it seems, is no. Though US Special Operations forces deployed to 75% of the world's countries in 2017, the number of Islamic fundamentalist threat groups has only risen in certain areas like Africa thickest with those special operators. It turns out that all the advising and assisting, all the training and coaching, has only made matters worse. As for those overstretched forces, relentless deployments are evidently breaking them down as reports indicate that rates of mental distress and suicide are again on the rise among them.

Still, here's the positive part of the NDS's continuing emphasis on "degrading" terrorist groups and "countering extremism": it ensures a financial and manpower bonanza for US Special Operations Command (SOCOM). In the Obama years, that "elite" set of forces already experienced a leap in numbers to almost 70,000. (By the way, at what point in the escalation game do such troops stop being so "special"?) Since SOCOM, a joint command that's home to personnel from all the services, hadn't yet been dealt into this NDS version of largesse, it's lucky that terrorism and the war on it isn't going anywhere anytime soon, which means that SOCOM will never want for funds or stop growing.

Guns Versus Butter

In 1953, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, a West Point graduate and retired five-star general, gave a speech that couldn't have been more unexpected from a career military man. He reminded Americans that defense and social spending were always in conflict and that the "guns" versus "butter" tradeoff couldn't be a more perilous one. Speaking of the growth of the defense budget in that tense Cold War moment, he asserted that:

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed... This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."

Those words still seem salient today. As Americans experience acute income inequality, the rising cost of a college education, and ongoing deindustrialization in the heartland, the country's runaway spending continues to rise precipitously. The planned 2019 Pentagon budget is now expected to hit a staggering $716 billion -- more than much of the rest of the world's defense spending combined.

The battle between "guns and butter" is still raging in the United States and, if the new NDS is any indicator, the guns are winning.

Categories: Latest News

At White House Lie-in, Teens Call on Congress to "Protect Kids, Not Guns"

10 hours 8 min ago

Washington, DC, area students and supporters protest against gun violence with a lie-in outside of the White House on Monday, February 19, 2018, after 17 people were killed in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last week. (Photo: Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call)

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Building on the nationwide mourning and outrage that followed a Florida school shooting last week that left 17 people dead, dozens of teenagers held a "lie-in" at the gates of the White House on Monday to protest years of congressional inaction on gun control and highlight the National Rifle Association's pernicious influence on the political process.

The demonstration began with protesters -- many of them from the group Teens for Gun Reform (TGR), which organized the event -- lying on the ground in front of the White House for several minutes, symbolizing "how quickly someone, such as the Parkland shooter, is able to purchase a gun in America."

"We have organized this protest in solidarity with all of those who were affected by the horrific school shooting in Florida," TGR said in a statement. "We call on President Trump and leaders from both parties to finally act in the interest of America's youth and end these tragic mass shootings. It is imperative that American children are safe in their classrooms, churches, malls, movie theaters, and streets."

Hoisting signs that read "NRA: There Is Blood on Your Hands" and "Protect Kids, Not Guns," demonstrators also directed "Shame on you!" chants at the White House.

But President Donald Trump -- whose speech in the aftermath of the Florida shooting didn't mention guns once -- was not in the White House to hear the chants or listen to the protesters' demands, as he spent President's Day playing golf at his club in West Palm Beach, Florida.

"We're tired of hearing thoughts and prayers from Congress," concluded one mother in an interview with the New York Daily News. "We want action from Congress."

Watch video of the demonstration:

Dozens of students hold a "lie in" outside the White House to call for tougher gun laws after the Florida shooting

— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) February 19, 2018

Students chant “shame on you” at the White House during a protest calling for tougher gun control laws following the Florida shooting

— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) February 19, 2018
Categories: Latest News

The "Alt-Right" Is Building a White Nationalist Mass Movement With "Operation Homeland"

10 hours 48 min ago

Borrowing ideas from the European New Right and "Generation Identity" in France, the "alt-right" is looking to expand a so-called identitarian movement onto US soil. The recently launched "Operation Homeland" project will attempt to recruit young folks on college campuses, beginning in March with an event at Michigan State University.

Surrounded by his bodyguards, alt-right leader Richard Spencer answers questions of reporters during a rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, June 25, 2017. (Photo: Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The "alt-right" didn't really enter the spotlight of mainstream US culture until it dropped back into the gutter. For the first years of its infancy, from the founding of "" in 2010 until the popularization of the #AltRight hashtag in early 2015, members had focused on trying to rehabilitate the image of white nationalism.

A bad public image, terrorist violence, a history of mass genocide and vulgar racism had understandably made white nationalists pariahs, and Richard Spencer, the essential founder of the movement, wanted to wash all that away. Instead, the "alt-right" would take the example of the European New Right and focus on making a pseudo-academic movement that could influence what Spencer identified as "meta-politics" -- ideas and identities that are "pre-political." 

It wasn't until the slew of trolls, podcasters and hashtags flowed into their world that the "alt-right" was able to expand, although it came at the cost of their previous base-building "intellectual" work. Now, their major publications have returned to their white supremacist roots, filled with expletive-laced vitriol toward non-white people.

As the "alt-right" movement tries to move from its online world, which has largely kicked members off of their web platforms and into real-world activism, members are having a tough time reconciling their online persona with practical organizing. Spencer is trying to repair that with a new project coming out of his National Policy Institute nonprofit and its tabloid "" This project, aptly titled "Operation Homeland," was launched in the beginning of December 2017 by Spencer and is taking its inspiration from the "identitarian" movement in Europe.

"Identity Is Our Movement"

The European New Right helped build a philosophical fascist system that was more appealing to Baby Boomers raised on New Left and post-colonial rhetoric, but it was usually separated from practical political organizing. Starting in the late 1960s, far-right philosophers led by Alain de Benoist worked decided to reframe fascist values and ideas in the language of popular national liberation struggles that were erupting across the colonized Global South.

Instead of vulgar racism, they would talk about the "right to difference," and argue for "Ethno-pluralism," which they called a "nationalism for all people." Nationalist politics in France has been dominated by Le Pen's Front National party that, while still marginal, came close to winning the presidential election last year. Marine Le Pen's second place at the finish line is a high-water mark for a party constantly muddled in controversy, but shows the power they are truly gaining. The European New Right's conception of politics, on the other hand, is revolutionary, not reformist, and its meta-political vision was more about building a sense of identity and counter-power.

The European New Right opposes wars because of isolationist views that reject intervention in foreign nations. This fascist movement is anti-capitalist, as members view international trade as culturally homogenizing, and have a vision of communities trading and living in mono-racial exclusivity. They even buck Europe's historically Christian character for its distant pagan roots -- all in an effort to reclaim a romantic mythology about their own heritage and identity.

Out of that philosophical tradition emerged a movement that was more radical than the nationalist parties known throughout Europe, and looking to build a ground-up grassroots movement rather than winning seats in parliament. This has broadly been called the "identitarian" movement; a well-crafted brand name for a movement that members claim is about identity rather than racial animus.

The best known piece of this movement is "Generation Identity" in France, which has banked its success on opposing refugee resettlement in Western Europe, going as far as blocking refugee boats and risking the lives of Syrian children. Generation Identity started as the youth wing of the nationalist Bloc Identitaire movement, bringing together young French people around the amorphous concept of "identity" as a unifying motivator. Immigration -- specifically in regard to immigrants from Muslim-majority countries -- has been Generation Identity's focus, taking the call from European New Right author Guillaume Faye that there is a battle with Islam for the fate of Western Civilization.

"Identity America"

The "alt-right's" Operation Homeland will be a further attempt at reviving the "identitarian" movement in the US, bringing Generation Identity's format to a broad-based far-right US audience. Operation Homeland will stake its claim on immigration, just as Generation Identity has -- an issue the US far right pursues since it has popularity with the mainstream GOP electorate.

"Our positions are clear: we support immigration restriction and free speech, and we resolutely oppose more wars fought in the interest of foreigners," wrote Richard Spencer in his announcement on "Homeland is not a broad-based membership organization or social club. Rather, it is a core of part- and full-time activists who provide leadership to the movement as a whole."

From here, the "alt-right" wants to take the atomized world of young, mostly anonymous activists and train them to be leaders in the movement. Organizations like Identity Evropa have already been doing this for almost two years, focusing primarily on college-aged men in a fraternally modeled organization. Operation Homeland will expand that pool, becoming another organization that will work as an independent organization and movement.

Spencer has been building this cadre ever since the creation of and his push into public protests and college speeches. He has brought over a whole new host of young people to support his podcast, security teams and National Policy Institute operations -- many of whom have been publicly doxxed and fired from their previous careers because of their white nationalist views.

It is this group that has helped to organize many of Spencer's events over the past 18 months, including the disaster at Charlottesville, Virginia, last year, and the "alt-right" wants to employ those skills into a professionalized setting. This includes new "alt-right" figures like podcaster Gregory Conte, contributor Christoffer Dulny, Spencer's event-organizer Cameron Padgett, and Eli Mosley, who had a very brief tenure as leader of Identity Evropa. All of these figures publicly signed a letter of declaration on, showing a new willingness to be public with their white nationalism.

Spencer has always had an entourage around him, usually lesser-known commentators and writers in the white nationalist scene. His newest class has aged down significantly, most in their early to mid-20s, and who have given up careers and normal social lives to support his racialist mission. This newest formation owes more to Milo Yiannopoulos's inner circle's inner circle than Spencer's previous efforts, as well as to Spencer's renewed focus on college campuses.

Spencer has staked his claim on forcing state schools to allow him to use their spaces for public speeches and recruitment events. This has been supported by successful lawsuits from his attorney, white nationalist Kyle Bristow, and Bristow's organization, the Foundation for the Marketplace of Ideas. The most recent success has been forcing Michigan State University, of which Bristow is an alumnus, to allow an "alt-right" conference on March 4 and 5. This will allow Operation Homeland, along with Identity Evropa, to continue to recruit, which will likely pull from dissident college Republican types and from crossover "alt-light" organizations like Turning Point USA.

While Operation Homeland actually held its first public action on December 3, 2017, along with the neo-Nazi allied Traditionalist Workers Party, it has remained relatively silent since then. The rally, held at Lafayette Square in Washington, DC, focused on Trump's border wall promise, and towed the line on immigration restrictionism. This acted as more of a "coming out" event rather than a part of the organizational program.

Instead, March could signal the real blitz from Operation Homeland, using the hype from campus appearances to start a wave of recruitment and public outreach. This gives an even larger impetus to student-faculty alliances like the Campus Antifascist Network, as well as other student-based antifascist organizing efforts that are seeing the effects of far-right growth on campus.

While the "alt-right" is seeing some level of decline, this may be a way for members to continue bringing new blood into a movement that needs a youth base to stay alive. If they are not challenged, they could become as large as Generation Identity, mobilizing reactionary anger into the kind of violent edge that can cost real lives.

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Categories: Latest News

The Pentagon Is Using an Environmental Law Meant to Protect Us Against Us

11 hours 58 sec ago

A ground crew member signals to an EA-18G Growler as it returns from a flight during heavy snows at Naval Air Facility Misawa. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Kenneth G. Takada / US Navy)

The National Environmental Policy Act, a law requiring federal agencies like the Department of Defense (DOD) to assess the environmental effects of proposed actions prior to implementation, has been used instead by the DOD to place millions of US citizens in harm's way.

A ground crew member signals to an EA-18G Growler as it returns from a flight during heavy snows at Naval Air Facility Misawa. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Kenneth G. Takada / US Navy)

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While it has long been known the US military is one of the biggest polluters in the world, the egregious and intentional nature of its actions is less well known.

Canadian researchers recently revealed how an extremely toxic chemical used in US military explosives that the Pentagon has been downplaying for decades has been seeping into surrounding communities for years.

Meanwhile, as Truthout has reported extensively, US Naval warplanes are producing deadly levels of jet noise around airstrips in the Pacific Northwest, despite widespread public outcry.

For years, the Department of Defense has been using the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a 1970 law designed to protect people from harmful environmental actions by federal agencies, to allow military entities to engage in operations harmful to millions of civilians.

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

"NEPA requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions," the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website states about the law.

But experts are calling out the Department of Defense for repeatedly violating the spirit, intent, and often even the letter of this federal law.

Whether by dumping toxic waste in areas where people are exposed to it, or by conducting training exercises that subject people to harmful levels of noise, instead of protecting civilians, the military is willfully harming them.

The Military's Playbook

Using the NEPA process, the US military is required to evaluate the environmental and related social and economic effects of their proposed actions. The military is also required by NEPA to provide opportunities for public review and comment on those evaluations.

But critics say the military has stacked the deck in its own favor in order to get what it wants, oftentimes even doing so illegally.

Karen Sullivan, a retired endangered species biologist, cofounded the West Coast Action Alliance, which acts as a watchdog of naval activities in the Pacific Northwest.

Sullivan has compiled a document that she believes to be akin to a DOD "NEPA Playbook," which she shared with Truthout.

The pattern Sullivan sees the DOD use to insure its operations or trainings are never held up or denied by NEPA begins with the military always finding, in its environmental assessments, that its activities will have "no significant impact" on the environment or civilians.

Sullivan explained how in October 2017, she asked the Navy to provide examples within the last 10 years in the Pacific Northwest region where, during an environmental assessment (EA) process for any of their requests, impacts were determined to be significant. In such a case, the Navy would need to begin an environmental impact statement (EIS) process. Sullivan told Truthout that a Navy spokesperson told her, "There have been no regional Navy projects over the past 10 years that stopped an EA process, and elevated it to become an EIS process."

How is this possible? Sullivan pointed out that if impacts from the military's activities are likely to be significant for a particular project, the military segments that project into multiple pieces, so that several EAs (rather than one comprehensive EIS) can be prepared. This strategy allows it to portray the impacts described in each EA as below the threshold of significance. This is illegal. It is called "impermissible segmentation" under NEPA (40 CFR 1500-1508), which prohibits the breaking up of a larger project into smaller components that separately might have negligible impacts, but would, if considered together, likely be significant. It's illegal for an agency to do this. 

Sullivan pointed out that the Navy has "piecemealed" its aircraft testing and training activities in the Pacific Northwest, thereby hiding broader cumulative impacts of all of their war planes. "As a result of this piecemealing and not examining cumulative impacts, the Navy stated in its latest Growler [war plane] EIS that it could not promise that regional air quality would not fall below [federal] standards," Sullivan said. "This would render our [Puget Sound] air quality closer to that of big cities like Chicago or New York."

Another part of the "playbook" includes splitting larger EIS projects into "phases" and rolling them out in rapid succession. This tactic makes it nearly impossible for people to keep up with what the Navy is doing and functions as sort of an informational "shock and awe" tactic on the public, which is often left with thousands of pages of documentation to read and comprehend in an extremely short amount of time. Another entails the military citing an absence of controversy or public opposition to their plans as a justification to stay beneath "threshold triggers" for an EIS. Sullivan pointed out that this ignores the fact that actual environmental impacts from the Navy's actions are what triggers the necessity of an EIS to be carried out.

Another play the military uses: It makes its public notifications of the meetings about proposed activities as cryptic as possible. It even removes the names and email addresses of vocal opponents from their mailing lists, according to Sullivan, who said she has been removed from Navy email lists for notifications at least three times.

The military also makes it difficult for the public to participate in its meetings and speak on the record, according to Sullivan. This is accomplished by limiting online public comments on complex issues to a low word count, and abbreviating and/or limiting some public comment periods. This is illegal according to NEPA policy.

In fact, the military often makes decisions on plans and commits funding for them before even initiating the public process, according to Sullivan. This, too, is against the law: Obviously, the NEPA process must be followed, in a correct order; hence, carrying forward on making plans and commitments of funding before the public process has been completed is yet another violation of the NEPA process..

Moreover, Sullivan said the military never proposes or considers any "preferred alternatives" to its plans that would actually reduce environmental or human impacts.

Sullivan explains that in evaluating potential impacts, the military also selectively ignores recent peer-reviewed scientific literature. "They cherry-pick statements from scientific papers and use them ambiguously and out of context, even if those papers concluded the opposite," Sullivan, who has written at length about this tactic and its illegality, said.

The Military's "Guidelines for Success" for Training on Public Lands

Carol Miller is a researcher and member of New Mexico's Peaceful Skies Coalition, a coalition of groups working to hold unbridled and unchecked military expansionism in check in the state.

Miller pointed out to Truthout that, in response to the creation of Earth Day in 1970, the US Army War College hired a retired US Forest Service employee to create a guide for enabling more military operations on public lands.

"That darn Earth Day movement had created all the pesky environmentalists who felt they had an obligation to protect the land," Miller said. "This document ["Military Training on Public Lands: Guidelines for Success"] is still the Bible of military land grabs for the public lands."

The document contains a whole section on NEPA. Altogether, "Military Training on Public Lands: Guidelines for Success" is essentially a step-by-step guide instructing the military on how to get what it wants.

"Because many Americans have an increased awareness of environmental, social, and economic issues related to natural resource management, the military often faces adverse public reaction to conducting training on these lands," reads page one of the report, which was authored by former US Forest Service employee Michael King. "My purpose here is to discuss the issue of military training on public lands and to identify guidelines that military decision makers can apply to meet their training objectives within the strictures that Americans expect of proper public land management."

Page four of the document discusses an "Interdepartmental Agreement" between the DOD and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) that requires the USDA to include making allowances for military "needs."

"This Agreement updates earlier policy statements and identifies the procedure for planning, scheduling, and conducting military activities on National Forest Lands," the document reads on pages 4-5. "It also affirms the long-standing policy that national forests can provide a variety of settings to conduct military training exercises." In a section titled "Trends in Society," the document discuss how the US "underwent a transformation toward an increased awareness and appreciation for natural resource lands and improved environmental laws. Legislation in Congress produced the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Wilderness Act, the National Trails Act, and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act."

"In 1970, America experienced its first 'Earth Day' -- April 22, 1970," it reads. "The words 'ecology,' 'environmentalist,' 'environmental analysis' and 'special interest group' became the buzz words of the natural resource community."

Then on page 7, the report discusses how "segments of the population feel that the bases and training centers scattered around the United States are the proper places to train" because "people are sensitized through television news, movies, and personal experience to equate training with destruction."

"The idea of training on natural resource lands also violates a widespread belief that military training is not an appropriate use of these lands," the report adds. "Wild lands are essentially 'zoned' for recreational enjoyment, wildlife, grazing, timber, and minerals management. Many people think military use violates the 'psychological experience' one comes to expect from public lands."

Outlining a long-time part of the military's strategy, page 11 states, "The congressional delegations and their staffs should be consulted and informed of the proposals to enter into agreements with public land or large private landowners." This is because, as the report goes on to state, "Often the first place a concerned citizen or group turns to is their senators or representatives in Washington, D.C."

One example of the effectiveness of this tactic comes in the form of the Washington Military Alliance (WMA), which works directly with Washington State's Department of Commerce to assist in making all of the state "more compatible" with military activities, according to the WMA website. The WMA was convened and supported by Washington's "green governor" Jay Inslee, and uses taxpayer money to fund studies supportive of bringing more military jobs to the state.

It is a perfect example of how a state bends over backwards to not only give the military everything it wants, but even more, to bring military money into the state economy, regardless of negative impacts on the environment or civilian populations.

Ignoring the Impacts

Glen Milner is a researcher and member of the activist group Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, which has been involved in two NEPA lawsuits against the Navy.

Milner told Truthout that the Navy consistently avoids conducting environmental impact statements, using the segmentation strategy Sullivan mentioned. One example of many he provided entailed the Navy ignoring impacts from vessel operations in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound in compiling an environmental assessment regarding Coast Guard vessels escorting naval submarines into the Sound. Milner filed a comment in the Navy's EA on the issue last January.

"This type of segmenting is like building a bridge across a river, in which the agency obtains an EA for one side of the river, and [builds] half of the bridge before conducting an environmental review for the other side of the river," he said. "By then, half the project is built and the full impacts of the project are never addressed."

Given the vast scale of munitions and nuclear weapons stored by the Navy in the Puget Sound region, Milner warned that Washington State's Hood Canal is "becoming an industrial corridor. An accident at the second Explosives Handling Wharf could cause a catastrophic explosion and spread plutonium across our region."

Milner noted that the courts nearly always defer to the military when they are challenged by a lawsuit about the impacts of their plans.

Carol Miller said she has yet to see one example of the Department of Defense following the law when it comes to NEPA. She believes everyone should be concerned about how the Pentagon is handling its NEPA obligations.

"Anyone who cares about their health needs to get informed about military operations," she said. "Anyone who cares about the environment needs to understand that the Pentagon is the biggest environmental threat to Planet Earth. The military does not care about the environment, whether human or natural; it's all just terrain to them."

Several examples she provided of the military contaminating water near their bases included Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and in Hawaii. Miller also cited those living downwind from nuclear weapons testing sites and the prevalence of thyroid cancer among them. In fact, nuclear waste has a legacy that is popping up everywhere, even in the suburbs of St. Louis, where the Pentagon did not bother doing anything to protect human health or the environment. Soil near a local creek in a St. Louis suburb was contaminated by nuclear weapons waste stored there during the 1960s and '70s, and led to people living there now getting sick.

The military's practice of ignoring civilians' needs and interests is widespread. Sullivan pointed out how, in 2014, the Navy failed to notify affected communities of the creation of an electronic warfare range over Olympic National Park, Olympic National Forest and the west end of the Olympic Peninsula, including tribal lands. As a result, nobody knew about the EA and nobody was able to comment.

"Immediately after the short comment period closed, the Navy issued a 'Finding of No Significant Impact' that basically said nobody was concerned about it, therefore the impacts are minimal," Miller said. "They then slammed the door and refused to accept any public comments after these communities found out about it."

Karen Sullivan also mentioned that the Navy's NEPA coordinator, John Mosher, told her there had been no Navy projects in the Puget Sound region over the last decade that had been stopped by an EA or EIS, which according to Sullivan, "means the outcomes were predetermined."

Sullivan has spent the last several years of her retirement tracking the Navy's ongoing NEPA violations in her region, and expresses frustration at the Navy's lack of concern about the impacts of its activities.

"I don't know how to say this any plainer: The Navy deliberately, routinely and chronically violates the law in order to prevent public input from altering or mitigating actions it has long decided on before initiating NEPA," she said. "After studying the Navy's NEPA compliance for several years, I believe it's safe to say that our oldest environmental law has become the doormat on which they wipe their feet."

Categories: Latest News

Tips Are for Servers, Not CEOs

11 hours 15 min ago
No "alternative facts" here -- we publish the uncensored, uncorrupted news you rely on. Support Truthout by making a donation!

When we give someone a tip, we expect the money will go to the workers who provided us with service.

We might leave a little extra because someone went above and beyond for us. Or because we want that person to have a slightly easier time getting by.

Whatever the circumstance, we trust that the money will help the workers who served us.

But the National Restaurant Association -- a group controlled by owners of major restaurant chains -- has long been promoting the idea that business owners, not workers, should control the tips we leave.

If they have their way, the Department of Labor will soon let minimum wage employers confiscate all tips left by customers. Business owners would not have to disclose to patrons what happens to tips, and could simply pocket the tips themselves.

This would apply to anyone who receives tips -- from the housekeeper who makes up your hotel room, to the valet who parks your car, to the assistant who pushes your wheelchair at the airport.

Overall, women represent two out of three tipped workers.

The NRA's key leadership includes Olive Garden, IHOP and Applebee's, Denny's, Cracker Barrel, Chili's, and Outback Steakhouse. These companies already have an egregious track record of squeezing workers while inflating CEO pay. If the new rule is finalized, they could use tips to fuel even more stock buybacks and CEO pay hikes.

By doing these companies' bidding, the Trump administration is poised to make life even harder for restaurant workers and their families. A recent study shows that more than half of hourly earnings for servers and bartenders come from tips.

Restaurant lobbyists claim that giving employers control over tips would let them redistribute tips from servers to non-tipped workers like dishwashers. But there's nothing in the rule to require this. And even if they do redistribute, there's a good chance employers would cut base wages to make up the difference.

With the rule change, employers would have a strong incentive to pay only the federal minimum of $7.25 and then claim ownership of all tips. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that changing the rule would transfer $5.8 billion from workers directly to employers, and 80 percent of that amount would come from the pockets of women who earn tips.

To be clear, this rule will hurt workers -- and the Labor Department knows it. Revelations that senior political officials there tried to bury a damaging economic analysis of the proposal have led to an internal investigation.

Even with tips, servers and bartenders take home only $10.11 per hour. This is already far below what workers throughout the country need to make ends meet. These employees need more wage protections, not fewer.

And voters seem to agree.

Recent polling from the National Employment Law Project shows 83 percent of voters disapprove of the proposal to give employers control of worker tips, and most respondents say they would tip less often if the rules are changed.

This is an attempt by lobbyists to transfer a massive amount of wealth and power from consumers and workers to corporate restaurant chains and their private equity owners.

That's backwards: Tips are for servers, not CEOs.

Categories: Latest News

Intra-Party Battles Fuel Primary Spending

11 hours 17 min ago

Voters still have more than eight months before the 2018 general elections, but some incumbent members of Congress are facing much earlier primary tests from members of their own party. 

While these elections might not determine who controls the House and Senate next year, they could shift the ideological balance of power within the two parties. 

Here, we explore the money side of some of the earlier contests where the incumbent faces being "primaried." 

Illinois has one of the country's earliest primaries, and two Illinois congressional races are seeing Democratic incumbents struggle to raise money against primary challengers. In Illinois' 7th District  -- which covers downtown Chicago and extends to the western suburbs -- incumbent Danny Davis faces Anthony Clark, a high school teacher and local activist. Although neither candidate has raised much money (Davis has raised $189,000, and Clark has raised only $47,000), Clark has raised more money from individual donors both large and small than Davis.

Davis, having represented the district since 1997, has the advantage of a sizable war chest with close to $300,000 cash on hand compared to Clark's $9,000. Clark is best known as a progressive activist, but Davis isn't particularly moderate and has previously received the endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of America. 

The 3rd District faces what appears to be a closer race, certainly as far as money is concerned. The 3rd District shares some borders with the 7th but is more suburban. Businesswoman Marie Newman is challenging Rep. Daniel Lipinski  -- who originally won the seat thanks to the influence of his father, Rep. William Lipinski -- and has outraised him among individual donors. She also has received some money from prominent political action committees, including Planned Parenthood and Kirsten Gillibrand's Off the Sidelines leadership PAC, which is rare for a challenger. 

Lipinski is seen as one of the most moderate Democrats in the House, and Newman's campaign is positioning her to his left. Although the amount of money raised this cycle puts Newman just slightly behind Lipinski ($530,894 to his $695,149), he has $1.6 million cash on hand compared to her $236,612, which demonstrates how difficult it can be for challengers to compete with incumbents. In the heavily Democratic district, the March 20 primary is essentially a general election, but the winning candidate is likely to face Art Jones, a Holocaust denier and the only candidate seeking the Republican nomination.

Illinois and Texas have the first primary elections, so candidates in all other states still have over three months in which to fundraise. North Carolina's primary elections are in early May, and unlike in Illinois, the incumbents fighting off challengers from their own party are Republicans. Walter Jones Jr., who represents the coastal 3rd District, is being outraised by Scott Dacey, a local county commissioner. Jones voted against the Republican tax bill, arguing that it would increase the deficit, and Dacey is positioning himself as more in line with President Trump's agenda. Although no candidate is raising record sums, Dacey is outraising Jones $264,000 to $200,000. It is extremely rare for a challenger to outraise an incumbent -- only 15 incumbents are being outraised by challengers so far, and only three of those are challengers from the same party. Dacey, a federal lobbyist, may have connections other challengers usually don't.

In a much more expensive race in North Carolina's 9th District, Republican incumbent Robert Pittenger is facing well-financed challengers in both the primary and the general. Pittenger is seen as vulnerable in the general election and has raised $780,000 compared to his Democratic challenger Dan McCready's $1.2 million. First, he needs to fend off his primary challenger -- pastor and activist Mark Harris -- who has raised more than twice as much money from individual donors as Pittenger. Harris also has nearly as much cash on hand as does Pittenger ($221,911 compared to Pittenger's $286,607). Harris was narrowly defeated by Pittenger in 2016, so this race looks like a tight one for Pittenger both in May and November, if it makes it that far.  

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Categories: Latest News

Robert Reich: Morality and the Common Good Must Be at Center of Fighting Trump's Economic Agenda

Mon, 02/19/2018 - 21:00

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump made a promise to the American people: There would be no cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Well, the promise has not been kept. Under his new budget, President Trump proposes a massive increase in Pentagon spending while cutting funding for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Trump's budget would also slash or completely eliminate core anti-poverty programs that form the heart of the US social safety net, from childhood nutrition to care for the elderly and job training. This comes after President Trump and Republican lawmakers pushed through a $1.5 trillion tax cut that overwhelmingly favors the richest Americans, including President Trump and his own family. We speak to Robert Reich, who served as labor secretary under President Bill Clinton. He is now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. His most recent book, out today, is titled The Common Good.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump made a promise to the American people: There would be no cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

DONALD TRUMP: Save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, without cuts. Have to do it. Get rid of the fraud. Get rid of the waste and abuse. But save it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, that promise has not been kept. Under his new budget, President Trump proposes a massive increase in Pentagon spending while cutting funding for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Trump's budget would also slash or completely eliminate core anti-poverty programs that form the heart of the US social safety net, from childhood nutrition to care for the elderly and job training. This comes after President Trump and Republican lawmakers pushed through a $1.5 trillion tax cut that overwhelmingly favors the richest Americans, including President Trump and his own family.

AMY GOODMAN: Our next guest has been one of the vocal critics of President Trump's economic policies. Robert Reich served as labor secretary under President Bill Clinton. He's now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. Most recent book is out today, it's called The Common Good.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It's great to have you back, Robert Reich.

ROBERT REICH: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: So, respond to what we see today. You have this fall in Wall Street, which doesn't necessarily reflect what happens on Main Street, and you have this budget that's been introduced, that we just heard, and the broken campaign promises of President Trump. Who's winning and who's losing at this point?

ROBERT REICH: Well, I think we're all losing. That is actually the theme of my book. The rich in America cannot continue to do well when most others are not. If the social contract, that is the basis of this country, is coming apart, if we are basically saying to everyone, "You're on your own," we're all going to be worse off. There is a common good. At least there was a common good. I think the purpose of the book is to ignite a discussion about whether we can re-establish a sense of common good in America.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, when you say there has been a common good, talk about that historically in terms of the how the concept developed.

ROBERT REICH: Well, in the Constitution, Juan, it says, "We the people." We, the people, are establishing a government, and one of the purposes is for our own domestic well-being. And the Declaration of Independence and our founding documents and the Gettysburg Address -- I mean, go through everything over the last 200 years that has talked about who "we," what the pronoun "we" means, and it means equal political rights. And that has been a goal. It hasn't been effectuated. We've sought it. We certainly -- I don't want to romanticize a past in which we certainly have not had equal political rights. But there was -- for much of our history, we've at least been seeking it. The same with equal opportunity. The same with the rule of law, that no person is above the law. And you go -- you go down the list. Again, I want to emphasize these are aspirations, these are ideals, that kept us together, again and again.

And I fear we're losing them. I mean, Donald Trump is sort of the essence of the problem, but he is not the cause of the problem. I mean, his election was, I believe, a result, at least in part, of a great deal of disillusionment and anger and cynicism that many people have toward a system, toward a ruling class, that did not deliver, that has not delivered. And Trump's conflicts of interest, his narcissism, his sort of inability to understand that there is something called America that is greater and more important than flag salutes and standing for a national anthem or securing the borders, is symptomatic of something that is much deeper that's gone wrong in America.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Robert Reich, who was the labor secretary under President Clinton. And you had a lot of problems with Clinton. I mean, you talked about walking the streets the day he signed off on welfare reform, what some called "welfare deform," walking the streets of Washington, wondering where all the people were. Well, today, actually, there are a number of people in the streets. They are young people. They are high school kids, who could turn the entire system on its head, not only around gun control. These are the survivors of the massacre in Florida. They're on a bus to Tallahassee. They're doing lie-ins and die-ins in Washington, DC. And they're saying what even the media -- though the media has come out, except for Fox, pretty anti -- pretty much for gun control. They always start off by saying, "Well, you can't get an automatic weapons ban. We will start there. But what is it you think you can do?" They are questioning everything right now. They're talking about corruption. They're talking about money in politics. These are kids in 10th, 11th and 12th grade, and younger.

ROBERT REICH: Well, they give me a great deal of encouragement, Amy, you know, that young lady, Emma Gonzalez, for example, that very powerful speech she gave Saturday about gun control. What I see around the country is that there's a silver lining to Trump and to everything that's going on right now in our nation's capital and elsewhere. That silver lining is that you have young people, you also have many activists, who are becoming more active than ever before. A lot of people who had given up on politics, had become cynical, are saying to themselves, "I can't afford to be cynical, because this country is too important to me and my children and my grandchildren." They are becoming engaged in politics in a way I haven't seen since the Vietnam War or the anti-Vietnam War movement. I teach young people. And I can say that every day I count my blessings, because I'm surrounded by kids who care about this country, care about the future, and are not going to allow us to continue to ignore the common good.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And yet, the supporters of Trump have doubled down even more in their backing of him, as we've seen, repeatedly been seeing, most recently the Oprah interview with a group of a cross-section of Americans, half of whom had voted for Trump, and then Trump started blasting, on Twitter, attacking Oprah for the interviews. There is a sense among his supporters that he's doing exactly what they expected him to do.

ROBERT REICH: Well, I think, to a large extent, Juan, those supporters have been watching, you know, the propaganda arm of the White House, which is Fox News. And if you get into that propaganda arm, you know, you begin to accept the lies that Trump has been propagating and Fox News has been propagating. I mean, he -- in his whole life, he has been a con man. And I think there are a lot of Americans, sadly, who have been conned by him.

I mean, look at the tax bill. I mean, the idea that the working class is going to do better under that tax bill is absurd. That tax bill, that went through Congress, tax plan, is overwhelmingly favoring the very wealthy, and it's being paid for -- they're already talking about paying for it. I'm talking about Paul Ryan and Trump, are already talking about paying for it by cutting programs like Medicare and Social Security and Medicaid, that so many Americans depend on, many Trump voters depend on. I mean, the Trump voters are the ones who are being shafted almost worse than anybody else.

And yet, because of the lies, the big lies, they don't know it -- or at least don't know it yet. I think they will. They can't help but understand it. In fact, I have spent a lot of time over the last year and a half in so-called red states talking to people who voted for Trump, and many of them are becoming deeply disillusioned. I mean, look at the -- look at even the escapades that are coming out about paying off Playboy bunnies and prostitutes. And, I mean, you've got evangelicals in America who are saying, "Wait a minute, this can't -- we trusted that this man was somebody who he said he was, but he's somebody entirely different." The truth is going to catch up with them.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, you wrote recently, though, that in the 2016 election, that "he sucked all the oxygen out of the race by making himself its biggest story. Now, he's sucking all the oxygen out of America by making himself our national obsession." And you go on to say, "Schooled in reality television and New York tabloids, Trump knows how to keep both sides stirred up: Vilify, disparage, denounce, defame, and accuse the other side of conspiring against America. Do it continuously. Dominate every news cycle."

ROBERT REICH: And that's his -- if you want to call it a gift. It's certainly his technique. And that is what he knows how to do: divide and conquer, make us all feel as if we are against one another, that the most important kind of conflict in America is between them -- the "they" being either Trump voters or the people who are against Trump -- and disguise the fact that most Americans are now battling over a smaller and smaller share of an economic pie. I mean, you've got, for example, white working-class people who are on a downward escalator -- they still are on a downward escalator -- and they are now being taught to believe that African Americans and Latinos and foreigners and DACA children are somehow responsible for their plight. I mean, it's taking their eyes off the system, what has happened as a system. This is why I wrote the book. Again, if we don't start focusing on the common good and what we mean by that, and taking our eyes, at least occasionally, off of this egomaniac in the White House, who knows how to aggravate us and obsess us, then we are going to, in a kind of ironic way, allow him to succeed.

AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Robert Reich, chancellor's professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, former labor secretary under President Clinton. He has a new book out. It's out today. It's called The Common Good. We'll be back with him in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: "Silver Dagger" by Joan Baez. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we turn to President Trump talking about the infrastructure plan that he's just presented.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This morning I submitted legislative principles to Congress that will spur the biggest and boldest infrastructure investment in American history. The framework will generate an unprecedented $1.5 to $1.7 trillion investment in American infrastructure. We're going to have a lot of public-private. That way it gets done on time, on budget.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that's President Trump introducing his infrastructure plan. From infrastructure, if you can respond to that, to the budget, to the tax plan, talk about what he's proposed and what would be a plan for the common good.

ROBERT REICH: Trump is proposing what he says is $200 billion of federal money, that somehow, magically, creates $1.5 trillion of infrastructure spending. Well, first of all, there's no money left in the federal budget. All of the money that was there has been basically taken with the big tax cut. So, he -- on closer inspection, he and the White House are saying, "Well, that $200 billion is going to have to come out of other programs." Now, when they say "other programs," we know what they mean. That means programs for the working class and the poor. They've been the first on the chopping block for the entire administration so far.

But beyond that, where does the rest of the money come from? It comes from private developers, private investors. How can we attract private investors for that much infrastructure? By giving them the receipts of tolls and fees and user fees -- basically, turning the future infrastructure of America, and much of the present, over to the private sector. So we pay twice. We pay not only through our taxes, but we also pay through all of the tolls. And money --

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But they also expect large contributions from local, city and state governments --


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: -- that would also be us paying, as well.

ROBERT REICH: Exactly. And the state governments are not going to just be able to come up with the money. They are going to have to raise taxes, as well. And so, you've got a system that is Trumpian in all its dimensions, again, without any understanding of the common good. It is going to cost more people more money, and it's not even going to be infrastructure where we most need it. I mean, where we most need it is repairing old bridges and old highways and water treatment facilities. But where do private investors want to see infrastructure? Where can they get the biggest return? On brand-new highways and brand-new bridges, that will basically skirt the poor areas of this country, not only the poor rural areas, but many of our minority communities.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about the -- in terms of the tax cut, because I remember, before the election, both Democrats and some Republicans, like John Kasich, were talking about using an amnesty for corporate profits that were being held offshore, when they would repatriate it, to use that for infrastructure, because that was a one-time shot in the arm to the US economy. And that didn't happen, actually. Most of that money seems to have gone into the overall plugging the gap of this plan. But you've also focused on stock buybacks and how companies are using stock buybacks now with this tax plan, while all the attention is going into the pittances that they're giving in bonuses to their workers.

ROBERT REICH: Exactly. And those bonuses have proven to be very, very tiny relative to the amount of profits that companies are now sinking into buying back their shares of stock, which is a technique used by companies to artificially raise stock prices. Why are they doing this? Largely because CEO pay is so intimately related to share prices, that CEOs, even in an era like this, when there's almost no reason for share prices to go up -- in fact, they're going down -- but artificially keep them up, or keep them from falling as much as they would, by buying back the shares of stock. Now, this has nothing whatever to do with the promise that the Trump --

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And how has the buybacks increased now, in the past year, compared to previously?

ROBERT REICH: Buybacks were already at a record level in 2017. And so far this year, they are even at a higher level. So, all of that corporate tax in the new tax plan that's gone into effect, that was supposed to inspire and encourage a lot of new investment -- you know, the trickle-down economics theory -- well, it's already proved to be bankrupt.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this month, Senator Sanders questioned Budget Director Mick Mulvaney about President Trump's budget plan.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Explain to me the morality of a process by which we give the third-wealthiest family in America -- major contributor, I might add, to the Republican Party -- over a billion dollars a year in tax breaks, and yet we cut a program which keeps children and the elderly warm in the winter.

MICK MULVANEY: Here's the morality of the LIHEAP proposal, Senator: 11,000 dead people got that benefit the last time the GAO looked at it. That's not moral, to take your money, to take my money, to take the money from the people that you were just mentioning --

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Eleven thousand people got it who shouldn't have. Correct that. But 7 million people get the program. To say that 11,000 out of 7 million -- deal with that.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that's Bernie Sanders questioning Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. Robert Reich?

ROBERT REICH: Well, morality is very much at the center of all of this. I mean, this is the discussion we ought to be having. I mean, say what you want about Donald Trump. He has at least brought us back to first principles. Why are we together in this nation? What -- who are we? Are we just a bunch of individuals who happen to be born here and who should be making as much money and accumulating as much power as possible? Is that the meaning of America? Or is it that we are a bunch of white Christians who were all born here and speak English as a first language? Is that the meaning of America? Well, I'm sorry, that is not the meaning of America as we've understood it for much of the 200 years -- more than 200 years of our existence. There are ideals that undergird our understanding of why we are a nation. As a great political philosopher Carl Friedrich once said, you know, "To be a Frenchman is a fact. To be an American is an ideal." You know, we are not a creed. We are not a religion. We are a conviction, a conviction about the importance of certain ideals.

Donald Trump obviously doesn't understand the common good. He's never uttered the words "the common good," I'm sure. But they were understood. You know, I'm old enough to remember people like Robert F. Kennedy, who talked in terms of the common good. I even worked -- my first job in government was working for Robert F. Kennedy in his Senate office in 1967. And I, like many of my generation, went out and campaigned for Eugene McCarthy 50 years ago, because we believed so deeply that there was a common good that was being violated by the Vietnam War. Many of us sacrificed our time. And some of my -- a friend of mine, very good friend, sacrificed his life in the civil rights movement. Most of us, many of us, were weaned on the notion that this country had moral principles. When Bernie Sanders asks Mick Mulvaney about morality, he is asking a question about what this country once represented and should represent.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, in your book, when you're talking about what are some of the shifts that have begun to tear away at the concept of the common good, you talk about the notion of whatever it takes to win. Can you talk about that?

ROBERT REICH: Well, that has become -- and again, Donald Trump is sort of the emblematic of that idea, but it's been growing for the last three or four decades, whatever it takes to win. In politics, it doesn't matter what you do, doesn't matter the effect on the institutions of our democracy, if you can still just win. The same thing with business. If you just show a profit and show a bigger and bigger profit, it doesn't matter what effect you're having on communities or on employees or the consequences for the nation. You just win.

All of this win-at-any-cost mentality is actually rather new. You know, we, as Americans, we went through a Depression, we went through World War II. We understood, at some point, that we're all in the same boat together. It's not -- and again, I want to emphasize this, I don't want to romanticize the past. It's not that we were an equal society that adhered in every respect to an understanding of the common good, but we at least strove for it -- you know, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, the Environmental Protection Act. We at least were on the road to trying. And then there was a big U-turn, Juan, and you know as well as I. It starts with Ronald Reagan. And we no longer talk about the common good.

AMY GOODMAN: Talking about the common good, let's talk about immigrants for a moment. You are a professor at University of California, Berkeley. There are many students who have DACA at University of California, all over the country. We're talking about nearly a million young people, who are threatened now with not knowing what's happening, because President Trump says he was ending the program, a judge has now stopped it. But what's happening at universities, for example, in dealing with kids? How do you talk to young people who are dealing with this uncertainty, with this crisis, the ripping apart of their families, and if not them, the possibility that their parents will be deported, immigrant leaders around the country being targeted, being detained, being threatened with deportation right now, as President Trump talks about the national security of the country, explaining that's why he's ripping families apart? And yet you have this seven -- this 19-year-old shooter, self-confessed shooter, who has easy access to guns, and President Trump hardly talks about this.

ROBERT REICH: Well, I think this is again a good exemplar of the problem we're in and the ironies we find ourselves. These DACA kids were promised -- there was a promise made to them -- that if they registered, if they basically provided information about themselves -- they came here as children, it's not their fault that they came here as children -- that they would, if they registered, have an opportunity to stay, an opportunity to apply for permanent citizenship, an opportunity to work. And then, suddenly, arbitrarily, we have a president come along, a new president, who says, "Well, all of that is off. You are actually going to be targeted. You should not be here. Yes, well, it's too bad you came here as a child."

This kind of insensitive, amoral -- in fact, it's immoral -- approach to these kids, at the same time you've got guns in schools and guns all over the place, you know, a kind of an insensitivity to the reality of what this nation is experiencing, it seems to me, is, again, the essence of the problem we now face. Why is it so hard to understand that no nation, except the United States, suffers the gun violence we do, and no nation, except the United States, has as easy access to guns? You don't have to be a rocket scientist to connect up the dots. But you do have to at least have a concern for the common good.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask, briefly -- we have about a minute left. You talk in the book about bumping into the CEO of Wells Fargo one day at a light on a street corner at Berkeley and the conversations you had with him. Wells Fargo, probably a racketeering conspiracy all of its own, in terms of how it's dealt with its clients.

ROBERT REICH: CEOs today -- and the CEO of Wells Fargo at the time was just another example -- I think, don't understand that they have public obligations that go beyond public relations. You know, John Stumpf, who was the CEO, he said to me, over coffee -- and we did bump into each other -- that he wanted to just distinguish Wells Fargo from all the other banks that had been caught up in the 2008 banking crisis, and he wanted to make sure that the public understood that Wells Fargo really was a responsible bank. And he said this with a complete seriousness. I mean, he fooled me.

AMY GOODMAN: We have three seconds.

ROBERT REICH: Well, in three seconds, let me just say, it's not just Trump. It's all of us.

AMY GOODMAN: The Common Good is Robert Reich's new book. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Thanks for joining us.

Categories: Latest News

Mueller Probe Heats Up: Thirteen Russians Indicted, Ex-Trump Aide to Plead Guilty, Focus on Kushner Grows

Mon, 02/19/2018 - 21:00

There have been a number of significant developments in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump administration. CNN is reporting Mueller is now investigating Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and his attempts to secure financing for his family's business while working on the president's transition team. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times is reporting former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates has agreed to plead guilty and testify against Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager. Under the deal, Gates will plead guilty to money laundering and illegal foreign lobbying. These developments come just days after the Justice Department indicted 13 Russians and three companies in connection with efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election by orchestrating an online propaganda effort to undermine the US election system. We speak to Marcy Wheeler, an independent journalist who covers national security and civil liberties. She runs the website


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: There have been a number of significant developments in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump administration. CNN is reporting Mueller is now investigating Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and his attempts to secure financing for his family's business while working on the president's transition team. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times is reporting former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates has agreed to plead guilty and to testify against Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager. Under the deal, Gates will plead guilty to money laundering and illegal foreign lobbying.

AMY GOODMAN: These developments come just days after the Justice Department indicted 13 Russians and three companies in connection with efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election by orchestrating an online propaganda effort to undermine the US election system. The indictment claims the Russians spread negative information online about Hillary Clinton, and support Donald Trump, as well as Bernie Sanders. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the indictments Friday.

DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL ROD ROSENSTEIN: The indictment charges 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for committing federal crimes while seeking to interfere in the United States' political system, including the 2016 presidential election. The defendants allegedly conducted what they called "information warfare" against the United States, with the stated goal of spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: President Trump responded to the indictments on Twitter by lashing out at Democrats, the Mueller investigation, the Obama administration and the FBI. In one tweet, he wrote, quote, "Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign–there is no collusion."

AMY GOODMAN: Trump also criticized National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster, who said the indictments offer incontrovertible evidence that the Russians interfered in the 2016 election.

H.R. McMASTER: And as you can see with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain, whereas in the past it was difficult to attribute, for a couple of reasons. First, technically, it was difficult, but then also you didn't want divulge your intelligence capabilities. But now that this is in the arena of a law enforcement investigation, it's going to be very apparent to everyone.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about these developments, we go to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to talk to Marcy Wheeler, independent journalist who covers national security and civil liberties, runs the website

Marcy, welcome back to Democracy Now! Why don't you lay out what came down on Friday and then the response of Trump? I mean, this is in the midst of the horror that took place in Florida, the 17 people killed in the massacre at the high school. The weekend, President Trump spends, in a massive tweetstorm around this, hardly mentioning the massacre.

MARCY WHEELER: Right. So, the indictment was for online trolling done by an organization called the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg. And it involves both Facebook ads, Facebook posts, Twitter accounts, Instagram -- a range of social media activity that purported to be American, but in fact was Russians trying to gin up bad blood here in the United States and ultimately supporting Donald Trump. As Rosenstein said in the quote you had, it's 13 Russians and a number of Russian businesses.

But what is interesting about the case, that the charges are conspiracy to defraud the United States -- and I'll come back to that -- but then wire fraud and identity theft. So, there are real crimes here, the crimes that these trolls used to pretend to be American but weren't really American. But what Mueller actually laid out in the indictment is that the problem with this is that in the United States it's illegal to engage in certain kinds of activity without making it clear who's behind the activity. And in this case, this is the activity tied to electing one or another presidential candidate. And that's how he got to the conspiracy to defraud the United States charge, which is interesting because it's the same primary charge that Paul Manafort and Rick Gates got charged with.

So you're beginning to see where Mueller is going with the larger investigation. And as McMaster said, you're seeing now real evidence tied to claims that Russia was behind this activity. And I think you'll see more Republicans like him, and even Republicans who were involved. I mean, the indictment doesn't charge any Americans, but it lays out activities that a lot of good-faith Trump volunteers and campaign workers were engaged in. And their actions are perhaps now tainted or got touched or got spun by Russians, which, you know, isn't fair to them, much less Hillary Clinton, who was -- you know, who was ultimately targeted by it. So, I think you're going to see a change in how, especially Republicans, but even skeptics, more generally, how they approach this issue. But we also now, I think, see where Mueller is going with the rest of the investigation better.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, Marcy, what do you make about the statement by Rod Rosenstein that no Americans willingly participated, according to this indictment, and that there's no evidence that the alleged interference actually altered the election outcome?

MARCY WHEELER: Well, for one, I'm sure he said that to keep Trump happy and keep himself in his job. But I think it's actually really important he said that. As I said, you can look at the indictment -- and I do this in a post I did on Saturday -- and there are at least 20 Americans who were just engaging in politics. They were putting together campaign events. They were engaging in online speech. That's like, you know, the most sacred part of being an American citizen. And yet, they were unknowingly interacting with Russians, who were trying to and, at times, actually funding or encouraging certain activities.

So, I do think it's important -- he didn't say no Americans were involved. There are ways in which the indictment suggests certain events may show up later in the investigation. For example, the indictment focuses on two events, a pro-Hillary -- an anti-Hillary and pro-Trump event, that took place in the summer of 2016, and it focuses on a great deal of Florida activity. The Florida activity is of particular interest because the Guccifer 2.0, who's the persona that is believed to have been used by the Russians to leak stolen documents, that figure released a ton of documents on -- from the Democrats on Florida campaigns. So, Florida Republicans are actually the ones who most concretely can be shown to have benefited from the stolen documents from the Democrats. So, it may be that we're going to see the Florida activity tied back in to the actual hack and leak later on. But what Rosenstein was importantly saying is that all of these Americans -- most of them named in the indictment were Trump supporters -- they didn't do anything wrong. They were just engaging in politics, and Russians came in and used them, basically, to kind of turn their politics into something that it wasn't.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the key here -- and Rosenstein said it, Trump said it throughout the weekend -- is that this didn't prove any kind of collusion. But Rosenstein said this. This is separate from it. It has to do with Russians interfering with the elections -- something the US government knows well about over the decades -- right? -- in being involved with interfering with other countries' elections. But can you talk about what happened in Florida, for example, the protests? And also, describe this internet troll farm in St. Petersburg and how it operates.

MARCY WHEELER: Well, I mean, Amy, you make a good point, that the indictment calls this information "warfare." It says that the troll farm considered themselves to be engaged in information warfare. But sure, we do that, absolutely. And so, one of the questions is, you know: Where are the lines going to be drawn? What are the norms? But, basically, these are people in St. Petersburg who were fluent English speakers, who were paid to engage in certain themes, use fake Twitter accounts, basically, to engage in certain themes and kind of just press the limits of certain partisan divides that already exist here, and not just partisan divides. They were also playing on religion and race, guns. So, they were basically paid to rile up Americans even further than our politics already do. Although I'll also say that all sides engaged in similar kind of behavior in 2016. I mean, campaigns do this, as well. Campaigns even had bots. The difference here, according to the indictment, is that these bots were hiding the fact that it was a Russian effort, whereas, you know, Hillary or Trump bots were claiming correctly to be Hillary or Trump bots.

One of the most interesting things about the indictment is it describes how much, how well these trolls were able to get actual people here in the United States to go out and, say, pay an actress to pretend to be Hillary Clinton, and pay somebody to build a cage, so that they could, you know, drag around a fake Hillary Clinton in a fake cage to play on the theme of Hillary going to prison. So, that's the sort of alarming thing, is that from St. Petersburg, they were able to get actual campaign events put together by pretending to be Americans. And I think, again, none of this -- none of the American side of this was charged. And the people described in the indictment probably -- you know, they were just engaging in good-faith politics. Whether or not I agree with their politics, they were just doing what we're supposed to do in the United States, which is engage in politics. But we do know, as I said, that the Guccifer 2.0 figure leaked a bunch of Democratic targeting data on the Florida races, and so that state is one to watch, and those events are ones to watch, I think.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Marcy, could you talk about this now L.A. Times report that Rick Gates, the former aide to Trump's presidential campaign, is expected to plead guilty and testify against Paul Manafort? What's the significance of this, potentially?

MARCY WHEELER: Well, it's another cooperating witness there. With the Internet Research Agency indictment on Friday, there actually was not another guilty plea that was announced, for a guy who had sold bank accounts that the trolls used to set up PayPal accounts. So, Gates, if he does flip, will be the fourth cooperating witness for Mueller. He is important because he was Paul Manafort, campaign manager's deputy throughout the summer of 2016, which is when -- Gates was not at the June 9th meeting, where Russians sort of promised to sell -- to offer dirt on Hillary Clinton. But Gates was, for example, in the loop on discussions about setting up a meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin. Manafort forwarded him an email and said, "We need to kind of hide -- we need to not signal" -- it's unclear what that means. Gates probably knows what that means. But "we need to not signal on this."

And so, you know, the public report in the L.A. Times is that Gates will be testifying predominately against Manafort, not against Trump. But I'm a little bit skeptical of that, one, because Gates was very much in the loop throughout the summer, and, two, because Gates stayed on. He was still working in the transition team all the way through the inauguration. So, I suspect Gates has more to tell the Mueller team than the L.A. Times piece makes out. And it just adds to the pressure. You get the feeling -- and Trump has even said as much. Trump, a couple of weeks ago, said to Howard Fineman that he doesn't think Manafort will flip on him, and so he thinks he's OK. But with Gates flipping and cooperating with the Mueller team, it makes it far more likely that Manafort is going to be forced to do so. And that gets into things like that June 9th meeting.

AMY GOODMAN: Marcy Wheeler, I wanted to get your response to The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald, who wrote a piece, "A Consensus Emerges: Russia Committed an 'Act of War' on Par with Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Should the US Response Be Similar?" He writes, "All of this underscores the serious dangers many have pointed to for more than a year about why all this unhinged rhetoric is so alarming. If you really believe that Russia -- with some phishing links sent to John Podesta and some fake Facebook ads and Twitter bots -- committed an 'act of war' of any kind, let alone one on par with Pearl Harbor and 9/11, then it's inevitable that extreme retaliatory measures will be considered and likely triggered. How does one justify a mere imposition of sanctions in the face of an attack similar to Pearl Harbor or 9/11?" That's the question of Glenn Greenwald, Marcy.

MARCY WHEELER: Well, so, with the trolling, let's be really clear that while Russia did spend a lot of money to do this, it's a drop in the bucket compared to what either side, the Republicans or Hillary Clinton, spent to do the same kind of activity. So, it could have made the difference in Michigan -- I'm in Michigan. It could have made the difference here, in Wisconsin. But it is not -- it is a drop in the bucket compared to the kinds of activities that go on in a political campaign.

We don't know what else Mueller is going to show. We don't know what kinds of quid pro quo, if in fact that happened. I always raise the fact that the Shadow Brokers, these leaked NSA files that were closely associated with all this, if that's shown to be part of this same operation, that's a great deal of damage to the United States.

That said, the trolling -- you and I already said this. This is stuff the United States engages in all the time. It's considered fair game for intelligence agencies. Even stealing hacking tools, fair game for intelligence agencies. Hacking political candidates, the United States does that, as well.

So, I do think we need to ask about what the appropriate response to this is. But part of that is understanding precisely what happened. And part of it is understanding what the best response is to prevent it from happening. I mean, one of the reasons Putin did this is because of the sanction regime put in place, because of what he perceives as the same kind of activity in 2011 and 2012 in elections in Russia. So, is more of the same going to --

AMY GOODMAN: He felt that Hillary Clinton supported protests against him.

MARCY WHEELER: Precisely, and with the same kind of online activity and the same -- I mean, we call it "democracy promotion," but it uses some of the same kind of tactics as these troll farms used on us. And, you know, the more important question is: Is the issue keeping America safe and free from foreign intervention, or is it needing to retaliate against Putin? And, you know, that may not be a binary choice. But, you know, it seems like this was a pretty remarkable attempt to interfere with the United States. The question is: What is the best response the United States can make, going forward, to prevent it from happening in the future? Is ratcheting up the pressure the thing to do, or is making ourselves resilient, is fixing our own politics? Which is really what Russia did, is they exploited both divisions within our own country, but also how easy it is to get money into our own politics or to have outsiders interfere in our own politics. We'll be better off fixing that, fixing our politics, rather than ratcheting up again against Russia. And, I mean, I hope that we have a real debate about this, going forward, but people should not dismiss Glenn's concerns out of hand.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Marcy, could you give us a quick take on this latest report from CNN, that Mueller is now looking into Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and possible negotiations he had with foreign entities about business deals for his company during the transition period? Is this going somewhat far afield from Mueller's mandate?

MARCY WHEELER: I don't think so, and here's why. I said that the main charge in the Internet Research Agency was conspiracy to defraud the United States by basically pretending to be something you're not, by pretending to be engaged in good-faith politics when you weren't. That's actually the same charge that Paul Manafort and Rick Gates are facing. They are pretending, according to Mueller, to be engaged in lobbying for American interests, when in fact they were representing the interests of pro-Russian Ukrainian political party. So, exact parallel there. The idea is that Paul Manafort was engaging in politics and pretending to be interested in the United States' best interest, but in fact doing the bidding of pro-Russian money.

What you, I think -- the reason why Kushner's business deals are important, we've talked -- and in the intro, this wasn't the only example of -- there's the Don Jr. We've talked about how poorly Trump's people have separated his business interests from the interests of the country. The same is even more true for Jared Kushner, whose family business is basically bankrupt. And over and over again, he's been shown to be in negotiations with entities, including Russians, but also Chinese and Middle Eastern. So, you know, he'll go in and say, "OK, we'll talk about this grand peace plan," which is not about peace at all, "but, oh, by the way, can you bail out our 666 Park Avenue building, which is badly underwater?" And I think Mueller could make the same argument he's made with the IRA indictment and the Manafort indictment, and say that Jared Kushner is pretending to be serving America's foreign policy interests, but in fact he is just doing his own bidding. He's just trying to bail out his own company. So I wouldn't be surprised if he's moving towards a very similar indictment on conspiracy to defraud the United States, having to do with his conflicts of interest.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, interesting that Kushner also hasn't managed to get top security clearance, when he's a senior adviser to President Trump, as Porter didn't because he beat his wives, etc. And then you've got Donald Jr. now in India promoting Trump businesses, as, of course, Donald Trump is the president of the United States. And he's standing with the prime minister of India as he does this, promoting the Trump brand, Marcy.

MARCY WHEELER: Exactly. I mean, if Trump and his son and his son-in-law are pretending to be doing the business of the United States but are instead just trying to enrich themselves, again, I don't think it's a -- you know, we've talked about the Emoluments Clause and how you go after the Trump campaign -- the Trump officials for their egregious conflicts of interest. And, frankly, it extends into his Cabinet. But what Mueller seems to be doing, with some very good appellate lawyers, by the way, is to be laying out this framework that if you are pretending to be doing something in the interest of the United States but are actually doing something else, serving somebody else's bidding, whether it's Russia, pro-Russian Ukrainian political party, or whether it's your own family business, then they're going to go after you for a conspiracy charge. And I wouldn't be surprised if these conspiracy charges all kind of link up at the end, in this kind of grand moment of -- I think that's where he's headed.

AMY GOODMAN: Marcy Wheeler, I want to thank you for being with us, independent journalist covering national security and civil liberties issues for We'll link to your piece, "What Did Mueller Achieve with the Internet Research Agency Indictment?"

This is Democracy Now! When we return, we speak with economist Robert Reich, former labor secretary under President Clinton. He has a new book; it's called The Common Good. Stay with us.

Categories: Latest News

"Black Panther": Rip Off the Racial Mask

Mon, 02/19/2018 - 21:00

Some masks free us, some disguise us and some protect us. The movie Black Panther has allowed Black people to wear the masks that make us free. The film offers us imagery of Black people, not as problems and victims -- tropes that feed both racism and liberalism -- but as a people strong enough to challenge an empire.

Cosplayers portraying characters from the 2018 US superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character, Black Panther, pose in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi on February 14, 2018. (Photo: Tony Karumba / AFP / Getty Images)

Editor's Note: This review contains spoilers.

Was this the Promised Land? Black people partied on the escalator. I was going to my seat and asked if the movie was good. "Yooo," they cheered; a teen mimed a silent explosion from his head. We laughed and slapped hands.

Black Panther is more than a film. For two hours, it lets us leave the imagery of people of color as problems or victims.

The cinema looked like an international airport. Parents in dashikis, posed for selfies with kids in tribal face paint. Young men, flashed cowrie shell necklaces. Women fluffed afros. Here was Black joy. Here was Black pride. The doors opened and the staff scanned tickets like passports to escape the US.

Marvel's new Black Panther is more than a film. For two hours, it lets us leave the imagery of people of color as problems or victims. Against racist contempt for us or liberal pity, Black America is embracing a nationalist version of Afro-Futurism, in which technology and heroism define us. Even as we wore costumes to the theater, we came to take off our masks.

Faces Inside Faces

Before the film began, I looked at the brothers and sisters in Black Panther costume and thought of my trip to the National Museum of African Art. A year ago, nose near the glass box, I studied centuries-old outfits and ceremonial masks that invited the spirit to possess the wearer.

In contrast, hours ago, I taught in my Harlem Renaissance class a James Weldon Johnson poem where he wrote, "We wear the mask that grins and lies." It was a magnifying glass for how we, people of color, hide our true selves to survive in the US. Black people have expressed in art the anxiety at biting one's tongue at racism or clowning to ease white people's fears. Behind the "mask," rage poisons the body it's bottled up in.

Some masks free us. Some disguise us and some protect us from harm. The premiere of Black Panther allowed us to take off the masks we wear for protection and put on the ones that make us free.

Black Panther dramatizes this conflicted use of the mask. It begins with a bright meteor, smashing into a valley in Africa. Pulsing with energy, it transforms the local flora. One man eats an affected plant and becomes an enhanced being who unites the warring tribes into the nation of Wakanda.

The new king wears a black panther's guise. He hides Wakanda under a hi-tech hologram to protect the meteor's powerful metal, vibranium, from exploitation by the West. Again, the mask has a double meaning: a connection to a secret power and a way to disguise it from enemies. It repeats a traditional trope in Black art, where the central conflict is between one's true self and the need to conceal it from those that would destroy it.

I've watched Black people as slaves, criminals or victims since my earliest movie-going.

This conflict tears families apart. Early on, a modern monarch, King T'Chaka (played with stately grace by John Kani) in Black Panther suit and mask confronts his brother, Prince N'Jobu (a pensive Sterling K. Brown) in Oakland. The prince pleads that Wakanda must come out of isolation and rescue Black people oppressed in the West. The king says, no. They struggle, and N'Jobu is killed. The king hides the murder, but his brother's son, little Erik, watches T'Chaka leave in a Wakandan jet.

The boy is us. His upward gaze at the royal family abandoning him is the other major trope in Black art:  We're an exiled people in search of a home. Jamaican Rasta prayed to leave Babylon and go to Zion. Marcus Garvey bought ships for the Black Star Line to return us to Africa. And Malcolm X demanded we leave "the wilderness of North America" and get our own land. Afro-Futurists made art that imagined a hi-tech, future home. For instance, artist, musician and philosopher Sun Ra, a pioneer of Afro-Futurism, created a 1974 film titled Space Is the Place. And now, we have Wakanda, a gleaming, sci-fi African city of Tomorrow. All of it repeats a long-standing, deep mythos that like Erik, we are strangers in a strange land. We want to take off the mask and come home.

Damage Control

During a slow scene, I whispered to my friend, "I watched 12 Years a Slave but nobody got dressed as a slave for the premiere." She shook her head, "No. I don't think the theater would appreciate us running around barefoot in chains." Someone shushed us. It struck me that I was so thirsty to see Black Panther because I've watched Black people as slaves, criminals or victims since my earliest movie-going.

In high school, I saw a man lynched in a class showing of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. In Roots, Amistad and Glory we were slaves. In the '90s hood movies Boyz n the HoodMenace II Society, Juice and New Jack City, brothas were shot left and right. Sometimes, the gunfire was real, as gangs fought in theaters over petty beef. In the media, I've seen Black bodies whipped, raped, sold, beaten, shot and insulted throughout my life. And it was liberals who wanted me to see it.

Black pain sells liberalism. In his 1997 book Contempt and Pity: Social Policy and the Image of the Damaged Black Psyche, Daryl Michael Scott dissected how activists across the political spectrum used Black damage imagery to promote their ideology. He wrote, "Liberals proceeded as if most whites would have been willing to grant black people equal rights ... if they were made to appear psychologically damaged. In so doing ... they reinforced the very belief system that made whites feel superior in the first place." Showing us damaged by slavery, prison and insult was key for liberalism. Whippings, gangs, single-parent homes and abuse are the vocabulary of Black damage imagery.

White liberal savior movies, from Freedom Writers to Amazing Grace to The Help need Black pain to guarantee their morality. They also lock us into a toxic image of damaged helplessness. Against this liberalism, we created nationalism and Afro-Futurism. Black artists and mystics from Noble Drew Ali to Octavia ButlerJonelle Monae to Marvel's Black Panther showed a new identity, emerging within a new future. Instead of victims or problems, we create space-faring civilizations and the stars are close enough to touch.

On the surface, it seems that Black Panther has opted out of damage imagery. T'Challa (a poised Chadwick Boseman) is T'Chaka's son and crown prince. After seeing his father's death, he returns to Wakanda to ascend the throne. The kingdom is prosperous, hi-tech and the people rejoice at his coronation. It seems absolutely ideal.

We don't need to see Black Panther to find our strength. We just need it to show us who we already are: a people strong enough to challenge an empire.

Yet the damage is present but purified from the audience through a cathartic identification with T'Challa. When he fights, we fight with him. When he attacks Boko Haram-style smugglers who traffic women, we're purified of the African warlord stereotype. When he walks with swagger in next-level tech gear, we're purified of the primitive Black stereotype. And when he visits his father T'Chaka in the spirit world and questions the tradition of hiding Wakanda, we can ask if it's time to take off our mask and show our glory.

Ultimately, the central conflict comes when Erik Killmonger (an excellent Michael B. Jordan) challenges T'Challa for the crown. He is the lost son of Prince N'Jobu, grown and driven by rage to seize Wakanda's vibranium weapons and unleash war against the West. Like his slain father, he wants to rescue all oppressed Black people. He is a deeply intimate portrayal of Black damage that seeks ruthless revenge for all the death and slavery and imprisonment visited upon it. I loved him more than T'Challa.

Killmonger and T'Challa fight. Two sides of the same diasporic soul, slashing each other in nearly identical Black Panther suits. One wanting war, the other wanting reconciliation. Falling into the vibranium mine pit, T'Challa shouts, "We can't become the monsters we fight."

We can, but we don't, because it's a Marvel movie. Liberal Hollywood morality needs for Erik to be killed. In his last moments, the Black Panther takes him to the ledge so he can see his last sunset in his true homeland.

"Bury me in the ocean with my people," Killmonger asks, "they knew death is better than bondage." He dies and the implicit hope of the narrative is that some of our rage dies with him.

A New Exodus

School groups are going to see this film. Families and church groups are going. Celebrities like Kendrick Lamar are buying tickets for the poor. Millions of Black people fill the theaters, popcorn in lap, traveling to a fictional world that reflects our real desires. A new exodus is underway -- not physical, but spiritual, to find a heroic Blackness, cleansed of racism that can protect itself. It is needed now because we are under attack.

Nowadays, Neo-Nazis parade through towns, beating and killing. The president is openly racist. His attorney general wants to continue and expand the drug war. Whole swaths of the American public put bigots into office to use state power against people of color and immigrants. The West convulses in reaction to its loss of power.

The wonder of it all is that we fought and keep fighting. When our men and women were slain by police (as they continue to be), we marched through tear gas, carrying their names. We blocked highways. We were hit by cars and shot and beaten. We staged die-ins. We crashed political rallies. We voted to stop bigots from getting into office.

We don't need to see Black Panther to find our strength. We just need it to show us who we already are: a people strong enough to challenge an empire. Our soul force outshines any law. Our Black Lives Matter youth are already heroes.

At the end of the movie, T'Challa unveils Wakanda to the world and promises to aid the refugees and the poor. He visits Oakland, where his nephew Erik was abandoned. It's time to build outreach centers to rescue the lost children of the Diaspora. The film ends. A great cheer erupts. Our faces are bright, as if we stared into the sunset with Erik. And for those precious moments, we are home.

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Categories: Latest News

School of Glock

Mon, 02/19/2018 - 21:00
Categories: Latest News

Four Conservative Politicians Facing Major Challenges in the Midterms

Mon, 02/19/2018 - 21:00

Conservatives have a lot to worry about in the upcoming midterms, especially if recent special election results are any indication. But some politicians -- both incumbents and challengers -- face even more daunting tasks than they may realize when it comes to winning in November.

Here are four conservative politicians who are in major trouble in their local races:

1. Kelli Ward

Tea Party-backed Ward is scrambling hard to try to win a GOP primary against Arizona Rep. Martha McSally -- both of whom want to replace retiring Republican Jeff Flake as Senator in 2018. With such strong competition, Ward needs every advantage she can find, which is why having the endorsement of the Arizona Monitor was such good news. Or it was, until it turned out to be "fake news."

Politico reports:

It looked as if Arizona Senate candidate Kelli Ward had scored a big endorsement: On Oct. 28, she posted a link on her campaign website and blasted out a Facebook post, quoting extensively from a column in the Arizona Monitor.

There was just one problem: Despite its reputable sounding name, the Arizona Monitor is not a real news site. It is an anonymous, pro-Ward blog that has referred to her primary opponent Martha McSally as "Shifty McSally," frequently blasted Flake and, at the top of its home page, proclaims its mission as "Striking Fear into the Heart of the Establishment." The site launched just a few weeks before publishing the endorsement, and its domain registration is hidden, masking the identity of its owner. On its Facebook page, it is classified as a news site, but scant other information is offered.

Too be fair though, it's probably no less legitimate than Breitbart.

2. Marsha Blackburn

In Arizona, Republicans are trying to decide which GOP candidate will have the best chance of keeping Flake's seat red. But Tennessee Republicans have given up on winning with a new candidate; instead, they're begging retiring Senator Bob Corker to reconsider his decision and run for one more term.

And that's exceptionally bad news for Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who was considered the likely GOP primary winner. Vox reports:

Corker is reportedly "listening" to some Republican colleagues encouraging him to run for reelection, according to Politico, amid concern that the party's leading candidate, Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn, could lose the Tennessee Senate seat to a Democrat in the 2018 midterms. Blackburn, who launched her bid for Corker's seat last October with a clear conservative message against congressional Republican leadership, fell behind former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen in a hypothetical matchup poll. The internal poll, conducted by Glen Bolger of the Republican research firm Public Opinion Strategies and obtained by Politico, showed Bredesen up 47 to 45.

President Donald Trump, meanwhile, remains solidly team Blackburn. The question is whether that's good news for her.

3. Dan Lipinkski

Not every conservative politician in danger right now is in the Republican party, either. In Chicago, Representative Dan Lipinski is one of the last remaining conservative Democrats -- a pro-life, anti-union, anti-living wage congressman being challenged by a far more progressive Marie Newman.

Now, Newman is bringing in big money for her race, and left-leaning organizations are dropping their Lipinski endorsements, opting to back her instead. The Intercept reports:

Newman has the backing of NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Human Rights Campaign, immigrant rights groups, and a host of national progressive organizations. Lipinski has traditionally had the backing of the state machine and its labor unions, but cracks in that wall may be forming. The Illinois Federation of Teachers plans to make its endorsement decision this weekend and the national AFT will follow the locals lead, a spokesperson said. That it is even an open question given Lipinski's longtime relationship with labor suggests Newman has a real chance of winning the endorsement. EMILY's List announced Friday it is endorsing Newman.

The endorsement came after news that the SEIU, which has thousands of members in the district, was breaking with Lipinski, who recently came out against the union's signature $15 per hour minimum wage.

4. Kevin Nicholson

And then there is Kevin Nicholson, the GOP's best hope to take out Democratic Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin. Still he's struggling for support -- including from his own family.

"One way for your parents to show they disapprove of your political aspirations is to donate -- to your opponent. That's exactly what the parents of Wisconsin GOP Senate hopeful Kevin Nicholson did, maxing out donations to his Democratic opponent, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, according to Federal Election Commission records," ABC News reports.

Lucky for him, Nicholson has lots of super PAC backing to help make up for the fact that his parents actually prefer Baldwin's politics to their own son's platform.

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How Trump's Medicaid Restrictions Will Stop People From Voting

Sun, 02/18/2018 - 21:00

(Photo: Andrew Cline /

This article was published by

The Trump administration released its fiscal year 2019 budget, and it doubles down on what the administration has already been doing to undermine Medicaid -- including more than $300 billion in cuts to the program and a call to take health insurance from those who can't find a job.

Last month, the administration began testing these policies at the state level. On January 11th, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) announced that states can now compel low-income people who rely on Medicaid to meet "work and community engagement requirements" in order to keep their health insurance. Within a day of making this announcement, CMS approved Kentucky's plan to implement such requirements. The plan strips Medicaid coverage from most adults who fail to comply, including those who do not complete paperwork on time or report "changes in circumstances" quickly enough.

All told, Gov. Matt Bevin's office estimates that around 350,000 Kentucky residents will be subject to the new requirements and 95,000 will likely lose their Medicaid benefits. But once those people are booted from the program, Kentucky is giving them a chance to get it back: through "a financial or health literacy course."

Of course, this is not the first time that Americans have been required to meet economic standards or pass a literacy test to exercise their rights. Discriminatorily applied literacy tests, known for their impossible difficulty, were administered by election officials who were given immense discretion over who to test, what to ask, and how to assess the answers when (mostly black) citizens attempted to vote. Similarly, extractive poll taxes disenfranchised poor black populations (and sometimes poor whites) from the end of the 19th century until the advent of the 24th Amendment (1964) and the Voting Rights Act (1965).

These methods were incredibly effective at preventing black people from voting. They led to dramatic drops in black voter registration in the South, and in the states that were the most egregious offenders -- like Louisiana -- black voter registration decreased by as much as 96 percent over an eight-year span.

Of course, the electoral arm of white supremacy in the postbellum era stretched well beyond such tools (and all the way to violent repression). Nevertheless, taxes and tests stand out as especially contemptible because they officially codified a logic of exclusion aimed at those presumed unworthy of American citizenship.

On the surface, Kentucky's new Medicaid rules don't look exactly like poll taxes or literacy tests. But there's an equivalent logic of exclusion that holds across both domains: Those who are unworthy -- either because of their race or due to their inability to access decent jobs -- are ousted. Their political and social rights (like the right to vote and the right to be healthy) are sacrificed on an altar built by those with power.

Since social rights like health care are connected to political rights like voting, undermining one deteriorates the other. When Medicaid recipients are made to jump through hoops to prove that they are worthy of health care, they quickly figure out where they stand in the American social hierarchy. And once that's clear, they have a diminished desire to participate in politics.

I know this because I spent years studying Medicaid and wrote a book about the politics surrounding it. I had in-depth conversations with people who use Medicaid; I observed  Facebook groups filled with Medicaid beneficiaries who readily recounted their experiences; I examined thousands of responses to large national surveys; and I scoured administrative records that detailed the actions that people with Medicaid took when they had scuffles with the government. I got to know some of the people who will find themselves at the losing end of the new Medicaid regulations, and I discovered how Medicaid shapes their political choices.

Take Angie, for example. Michigan's Medicaid program stripped her coverage for not completing paperwork that she never even received. After battling for several months with local bureaucrats, she finally got her benefits restored. But by then she knew who she was in the eyes of the government:

"It's like you are uneducated and you just want to get these free services and somehow you are inferior to other people if you receive those benefits … Once they hear Medicaid its 'oh, one of those people.'"

Alienated from the government, Angie stopped voting and trying to advocate for herself. "I don't do politics," she said. When we talked about why she wouldn't appeal devastating benefit cuts, she explained that she was a "nobody" and that the "powers that be" would not bend very far for her.

Angie was hardly alone. Ahmad fought back tears when he told me about the bureaucratic hurdles he faced after losing a limb in Iraq. Again and again he had to re-certify his enrollment, refile paperwork and find new medication when the old ones were no longer covered by Medicaid. He was clear on what this implied about his social status. "They treat us like we are stupid animals; like we don't know anything," he says. "I feel like I'm nothing, because when you are in Medicaid, they do whatever. You have to be on their rules."

Just as literacy tests were applied unfairly by the election officials who administered them, adding stipulations to Medicaid will create opportunities for racial inequity. Blacks and Latinos face more labor market discrimination, have a harder time finding quality child care, and -- because of biases in the justice system -- are more likely to have a criminal record. In the face of such barriers, work and health literacy requirements pose burdens that will fall disproportionately on people of color.

That brings us back to where we started. Both types of literacy testing are predicated on assumptions about who deserves access to fundamental social and political rights, like health care and voting. Both also reinforce racial and economic inequality, whether purposely or inadvertently. Most crucially, both lead to the erosion of democratic citizenship among Americans whose political power has long been systematically suppressed.

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"Violence Is in the DNA of American Society": Henry Giroux on Gun Violence and Administration Agendas

Sun, 02/18/2018 - 21:00

Donald Trump holds up a replica flintlock rifle awarded him by cadets during the Republican Society Patriot Dinner at the Citadel Military College on February 22, 2015, in Charleston, South Carolina. (Photo: Richard Ellis / Getty Images)

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How should we think about the recent gun violence in Parkland, Florida? How do we understand the ascent of Donald Trump as part of a longer trend? What does the coming administration portend? And what is the way forward? Allen Ruff is in conversation with radical social critic and educator Henry Giroux.

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

In this interview, Giroux discusses his recent Truthout article, "The Ghost of Fascism in the Age of Trump," and how the corporate media influence US society. Giroux also argues that the US does not have a democracy in crisis, but rather a democracy that has disappeared.

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A Note to Media: Don't Tell Us Republicans Care About Deficits

Sun, 02/18/2018 - 21:00

Republicans do not act like people who are concerned about budget deficits. Given the opportunity, they pursue policies that increase budget deficits. This is not just true in the present; it was also true when George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan were in the White House.

President Donald Trump, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Vice President Mike Pence arrive to speak about newly passed tax reform legislation during an event December 20, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images)

Most Republicans in Congress, along with the Republican president, supported tax cuts and increased spending, consequently raising the projected deficits for 2018 and 2019 by nearly $380 billion a year. This is an increase of almost 2 percent of GDP -- roughly the size of the stimulus pushed through by Barack Obama at the trough of the recession in 2009. That's real money.

There are grounds on which the merits of the tax cuts can be debated, although it does seem hard to justify giving still more money to the country's richest people. There are also arguments for the spending -- although the increases for the military, which got the majority of the additional spending, may be hard to justify.

But one thing is not debatable. The Republicans who supported this tax cut and additional spending do not place a priority on deficit reduction and balanced budgets.

While this deduction should be obvious, sort of like Kim Jong-un not being a big promoter of human rights, many in the media feel the need to tell us the opposite. There is a never-ending flow of articles telling us about how Republicans feel the "urgency" to reduce the deficit, or that they are not concerned about deficits created by the tax cut because they "embrace" the belief that the tax cut will pay for itself with additional growth.

There is one point that should be very clear by now: Republicans do not act like people who are concerned about budget deficits. Given the opportunity, they pursue policies that increase budget deficits. This is not just true in the present; it was also true when George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan were in the White House.

In each case, Republican administrations had large tax cuts which substantially reduced government revenue. While they did push through some cuts to spending on the domestic side, their increased spending on the military was more than offsetting.

In the prior two cases, and now under Trump, we see a huge expansion of the deficit. This is not behavior that is consistent with being concerned about large budget deficits or committed to balanced budgets.

But in spite of consistently supporting measures that raise budget deficits, perhaps in their heart of hearts, the Republicans all believe in balanced budgets. The correct response is: Who cares?

After all, maybe Kim Jong-un really is a very strong believer in the importance of human rights, he just happens to head a totalitarian regime that imprisons and executes people for arbitrary reasons. In the effort to understand the conduct of Kim Jong-un and North Korea, his innermost views about the importance of human rights really don't matter.

This rule should be taught in Journalism 101: Reporters should not infer views or beliefs. Reporters don't know what people believe about deficits or anything else. They know what they say and do. Reporters should restrict their reporting to what they know.

This rule is especially crucial in the case of politicians. After all, it is the job of a politician to convince people that they agree with them, even when they don't. This is how successful politicians get elected.

The problem of reporters telling us about people's motives and actual beliefs goes well beyond telling us about Republican politicians' concerns over budget deficits. Reporters do this all the time when they clearly are not in a position to know people's thoughts. The case of Republican deficit hawks, who continually act in ways that lead to higher deficits, is just a particularly egregious example.

I and others have argued that concerns about budget deficits are hugely overblown. Over the last decade, Washington's excessive concern with deficits prevented an adequate stimulus that could have employed millions of additional workers. As a result, lives were ruined and we needlessly lost trillions of dollars of output that could have gone to better housing, health care and improving the environment.

Unfortunately, the harm from excessive focus on the deficit is little recognized due to the poor quality of reporting on the topic. It would be good if the corporate media would drop silly moralizing about lower deficits somehow being good. Part of that change would be to stop making up stories about Republicans' commitments to balanced budgets.

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"The US's Culture of Violence Contributes to the Sanctification of the Second Amendment": An Interview With Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

Sun, 02/18/2018 - 21:00

A gun display showing the Statue of Liberty holding a pistol is seen at a National Rifle Association outdoor sports trade show on February 10, 2017, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The Second Amendment was born of slave patrols and militia massacres of Indigenous people. (Photo: Dominick Reuter / AFP / Getty Images)

The Second Amendment had little utility while white supremacy reigned, says Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of Loaded. It was only in the post-World War II era -- with the rise of the Black, Indigenous and Mexican freedom movements -- did white nationalists, including state and local officials, being using it as a legal tool to preserve or restore white dominance.

A gun display showing the Statue of Liberty holding a pistol is seen at a National Rifle Association outdoor sports trade show on February 10, 2017, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The Second Amendment was born of slave patrols and militia massacres of Indigenous people. (Photo: Dominick Reuter / AFP / Getty Images)

In Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz details the white supremacist background of the Second Amendment and the perennial NRA cry of gun rights. She reveals the irony of the gun lobby's equation of gun ownership with freedom. Guns, after all, she notes, were vital tools in the suppression and killing of the Indigenous population and Black people before the Bill of Rights was written. Get the book now with a donation to Truthout.

As far as guns are concerned, the word "freedom" represents the "right" of white gun-owners to preserve white nationalism. The Second Amendment is a product of white settler colonialism, says author Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz in this exclusive interview.

Mark Karlin: What is your response to the National Rifle Association's (NRA) perennial contention that freedom is ensured by gun ownership?

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: Because the federal government, especially the judiciary in the beginning, was the conduit for civil rights reform victories, white nationalists, non-governmental organizations, as well as elected officials in the former Confederate states and in Indian Country west of the Mississippi adopted anti-federal government politics. The NRA was a part of that trajectory that sought to shrink federal government powers, again focusing on the Supreme Court, but increasingly dominating US Congress and the presidency. "Freedom" was and is the watchword for this white nationalist agenda: freedom from the federal government, which has led to the related neoliberal politics of privatization of public goods.

The culture of violence is inherent to colonialism of any type.

What do you think the United States would be like if the Second Amendment had never been included in the Bill of Rights?

Guessing at alternative outcomes to historical events is tricky. But I doubt that absence of the Second Amendment would have changed the course of US history, which is a history of inherently violent settler-colonialism and chattel slavery. The Second Amendment was the writing into constitutional law what already existed in the British colonies -- the use of citizens' militias to drive out Native people and appropriate their land, and for slave patrols. They would have continued [even] without the Second Amendment. As long as the US was totally a white-ruled republic, the Second Amendment was never at issue, and there were government (local, state, federal) regulations on firearms. However, as I argue in Loaded, with the post-World War II rise of the Black freedom movement, which spawned Native and Mexican civil rights movements, white power had to cede rights that had previously been possessed exclusively by the white majority. This, in turn, gave rise to white nationalist organizations, such as the John Birch Society and their affiliated armed Minutemen, among others. The NRA, pretty much a benign organization of recreational hunters and gun collectors (albeit predominately white), experienced a coup by a white nationalist group that seized leadership. Only in the 1990s did the Second Amendment become a legal weapon in the racist backlash to the freedom movements.

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. (Courtesy of City Light Books)

The Second Amendment was seized upon by white nationalists as a legal tool to preserve or restore white dominance.

What does the word "militia" mean in the context of the massacres and oppression of Indigenous Americans?

I would call "massacres and oppression of Indigenous Americans" a government policy of genocide, total war, total ethnic cleansing. The citizens' militias [were] one aspect of that policy; the other was the formal US Army and Marine Corps, which spent the first century of US independence carrying out this project. The role of settler-colonial landowners as voluntary militias in initiating massacres to drive Native communities out and seize their land was acted out as "individual rights." Inevitably, Native resistance led to settlers calling on the federal government to make all-out war; this happened time and again in the 100-year genocidal war across the continent.

Why was it so important to slave-owning states that the Second Amendment be included in the Bill of Rights?

The slave-owning colonies, particularly Virginia, were dominant in the secession movement. By the mid-1700s, the plantation agricultural system was agribusiness and made up the primary source of wealth in the new republic. There was no debate about including the individual right to bear arms and form militias in inscribing the Second Amendment among the first 10 amendments to the constitution, as these features already existed in the colonies. Colonial citizens' militias already existed, and by time of independence, the slave-owning colonial militias had been transformed into slave patrols.

Roosevelt's "wilderness" conservation project annexed dozens of Indigenous sacred sites calling the federal theft "national parks."

How does the Second Amendment contribute to the United States' culture of violence?

I would reverse that relationship to how the US culture of violence contributes to the sanctification of the Second Amendment. The culture of violence is inherent to colonialism of any type, and becomes homicidal with settler colonialism and the racial regime of African enslavement. In a way, the Second Amendment turned out to be a time bomb that had little meaning or utility while white supremacy reigned absolute; it was seized upon by white nationalists, including local and state officials, as a legal tool to preserve or restore white dominance.

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What is the real and symbolic significance of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge armed occupation in Oregon in 2016?

On January 2, 2016, armed men arrived at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon and began an occupation of the headquarters and surrounding territory for the next 40 days. In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt had carved out and appropriated most of Northern Paiute territory in Oregon -- territory that had been guaranteed to the Paiutes by treaty; this then became the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. It was a part of Roosevelt's "wilderness" conservation project that annexed dozens of Indigenous sacred sites, such as Yellowstone, Yosemite and [the] Grand Canyon, calling the federal theft "national parks."

All these sacred sites and "public" lands must be returned to the stewardship of the Native nations from whom they were illegally seized; none should be privatized.

Most Native land in the West was seized without the agreement of Native nations as "public domain," which, ever since, has been leased at minimal cost to corporations and individuals for private ranching, and to corporations for commercial mining, oil drilling and pipelines, and timber harvesting. The private exploitation of public lands is in addition to the vast privately-owned ranch lands grabbed by settler-ranchers under federal homesteading measures in the wake of the ethnic cleansing of Native communities by the US Army of the West. Wealthy cattle ranchers, like those who seized Malheur, have long been lobbying and clamoring for the federal public lands to be transferred to the states, which, unlike the federal government, can sell off land and privatize all of it. In light of Native peoples' demands for restitution of sacred sites and all federal- and state-held lands that were taken without treaties or agreements, this is a continuation of the Indian wars, fronted by ranching and fossil fuel resource interests, but made possible by the continuing US system of colonialism and a public blinded to its history. All these sacred sites and "public" lands must be returned to the stewardship of the Native nations from whom they were illegally seized; none should be privatized.

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Why Are More Cities Divesting From Big Oil? It's Moral -- and Practical

Sun, 02/18/2018 - 21:00

Direct divestments and lawsuits that began on the West Coast are spreading, with New York being the latest city to pull its funding out of oil and coal. The global financial and insurance industries are starting to recognize that fossil fuel investments don't make moral or economic sense.

Thousands of New Yorkers came together for the #Sandy5 march on October 28, 2017, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. Participants demanded powerful climate action from New York's elected officials. (Photo: Erik McGregor / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images)

In January, New York City announced that it would both divest its $189 billion pension fund from fossil fuel companies and sue the world's five biggest oil companies for their contributions to catastrophic climate change. The city plans to move the $5 billion it now invests in fossil fuel companies into other investments within the next five years. The lawsuit, in turn, cites climate change-caused damage, such as flooding and erosion and future threats, and asks BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell to pay for it.

This playbook was written on the West Coast. In September, San Francisco and Oakland filed separate lawsuits against the same five oil companies seeking payment for the construction of new seawalls and other infrastructure required to protect the cities from rising sea levels. Marin and San Mateo counties, and the city of Imperial Beach in San Diego County, sued dozens of fossil fuel firms, making similar arguments.

These actions are accelerating under the Trump administration's multipronged effort to undercut environmental protections and boost fossil fuel production and use, which would exacerbate climate change. States, cities, and the people retain considerable power to effectively challenge the administration's reckless quest to pump more and more greenhouse gas into the rapidly warming atmosphere.

They're using that power: Direct divestment programs and lawsuits are products of people power -- activists organizing in coalitions of aligned interest groups and working with like-minded elected officials -- and they are not the only tools available to us.

Activists around the world are effectively pressuring the fossil fuel industry by taking on the financial institutions that make pollution possible. In Europe and elsewhere, financial institutions and insurers are already disentangling from the fossil fuel industry. In Australia, for example, energy company Adani's proposed Carmichael coal mine, once slated to be the biggest coal mine in the world, is now imperiled after lenders around the world have ruled out participation. European insurance companies, including Axa, Zurich Insurance Group, and Munich Re, are planning to stop insuring new coal investments.

In North America, the divestment movement is led by Indigenous activist groups like Mazaska Talks and their allies. Inspired by the Standing Rock Sioux and their powerful protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), grassroots groups across the country sprang up last year to carry on the work of Standing Rock by targeting the banks that finance extreme fossil fuel infrastructure.

In Oakland, Defenders of Mother Earth-Huichin, an Indigenous-led coalition bearing the Ohlone name for the surrounding parts of the East Bay, successfully got amendments to local law enacted that require any financial institution seeking to provide banking services to the city to disclose whether it finances DAPL or other projects that violate Indigenous sovereignty. The changes also include required disclosures about financing of other fossil fuel infrastructure, and private prisons and detention centers. Allied groups in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle have won similar victories targeting the banks that back dangerously polluting fossil fuel projects, causing the banks to incur reputational damage and lose valuable municipal contracts.

The lawsuits brought by New York and others accuse the oil companies of creating a "public nuisance," the same tactic used by states in the 1990s to successfully extract significant settlements from tobacco companies. In these cases against Big Oil, the cities and counties contend that the oil companies created and contributed to global warming-induced sea level rise, and therefore should pay for the costs those cities have incurred and will continue to incur as they put adaptation measures in place.

These measures are extensive and costly; in San Francisco, short-term upgrades to the city's seawall are expected to cost more than $500 million, with long-term upgrades estimated to exceed $5 billion. Plans to protect the city's sewer system from sea level rise and associated shoreline erosion are estimated to cost an added $350 million. In Oakland, improvements to the dike protecting Oakland International Airport are estimated to cost $55 million.

Likewise, the complaint filed by New York draws on the city's detailed work on adaptation, including a $20 billion program to establish climate resiliency design guidelines for municipal infrastructure, and the Raised Shorelines Program, which will elevate shorelines to protect low-lying areas and is expected to cost $100 million for just the first nine out of 91 sites identified. New York City also is taking the oil companies to task for their contribution to rising global temperatures, which the city is fighting with public health initiatives such as Cool Neighborhoods NYC, a $100 million program to keep communities safe during periods of extreme heat.

Fossil fuel companies have been banned from Oakland's investment portfolio since 2014, and the city council has also called on CalPERS, which manages $326.4 billion in investments for state employees, and Oakland's public employee pension funds to divest. Across the Bay, the San Francisco Defund DAPL Coalition has been pushing officials to divest the San Francisco Employees' Retirement System (SFERS) from its $559 million in fossil fuel investments. The city's board of supervisors has repeatedly called on the pension fund to divest, and the late Mayor Ed Lee called for divestment in one of his last public statements before his sudden death in December 2017. In late January, the SFERS's board, spurred by grassroots energy and sustained pressure from the city, voted to begin a phased divestment of the fund's "riskiest dirtiest fossil fuel assets."

The global financial and insurance industries are starting to recognize that fossil fuel investments don't make moral or economic sense. The next step is to make this reality clear in the United States. The lawsuits brought by New York City, San Francisco, Oakland, and others signal to bank shareholders and management that fossil fuel firms bring with them significant litigation risks. Public divestment from these companies shows that public pension fund managers in the heart of Wall Street are now recognizing them as bad investments, dragged down by "stranded assets" in the form of fossil fuel reserves that cannot be tapped without causing catastrophic climate change. New York City's controller, Scott Stringer, cited the stranded assets argument in defending his decision, saying that "it would be irresponsible of us as fiduciaries" to avoid considering divestment.

Indeed, Stringer also noted that Bank of America's own analysts have predicted that global oil demand will peak by 2030, even as the bank is still financing DAPL and Keystone XL. Divesting our personal and public wealth from the banks that enable the fossil fuel industry, combined with direct divestment and lawsuits, can help bring pressure on banks to stop funding risky, money-losing fossil fuel projects. Climate change leaders in every community should use these tactics and every tool available to make these risks clear.

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Five Activism Suggestions That Worked: When Your Representatives Don't Listen

Sun, 02/18/2018 - 21:00
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Nearly every Friday since Trump took office, constituents of longtime Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) took time out of their busy lives to visit his Morristown, New Jersey office to encourage him to protect Obamacare, to vote no on a GOP tax plan, and most importantly, to hold a town hall meeting (which it seemed like he bent over backward to avoid). Members of this tireless group, NJ 11th for Change, a branch of the Indivisible movement, never did get that town hall, but their tenacity may have landed them something better: his retirement. 

Frelinghuysen, who served as the chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, announced recently that he would not seek reelection in New Jersey's 11th congressional district. He is the eighth long-serving Republican to call it quits in the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections, and the second in the last week, after Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania. Unlike Meehan, and fellow retiree Blake Farenthold, sexual harassment allegations didn't push Frelinghuysen out the door. It was activism.

"Frelinghuysen won his last election by 19 points, but by this November, his race had been called a tossup," Elizabeth Juviler, a co-executive director of NJ 11th for Change, told AlterNet. "That was the power of people's voices in a classically democratic process. People spoke up, they were heard, and our institutions and government are changing as a result. It's a shame that Frelinghuysen refused to hear our voices until it was too late for him." 

The group started in 2016, and in January 2017, Fridays Without Frelinghuysen, as their visits to his office became known, gained the group so much notoriety that one of Juviler's fellow co-directors, Saily Avelenda, lost her job. Frelinghuysen himself sent an article about the group to the board of the bank where she was senior vice president and assistant general counsel. On the back, he wrote, "One of the ringleaders works at your bank!" Despite this setback, Avelenda told local paper the Morristown Green that Monday's announcement was a win "for all those people who stood in the rain, the cold, the crazy heat, every Friday."

Juviler spoke to AlterNet about her experiences as a new activist, and offered a few tips for sustainability and long-term success.

1. Have a clear mission and focus.

NJ 11th for Change's goal was to force Frelinghuysen to hold a town hall. 

Juviler says:

"I think the biggest tip is that we had a mission that was exciting and welcoming to a broad group of people, but laser-focused at the same time. We are nonpartisan. We are unaffiliated with any party, though eventually we were campaigning against Frelinghuysen.

"We have tried as hard as possible to maintain deeply supportive, friendly, forward-thinking culture within the group, particularly on our Facebook group, which is the main social hangout. There's no question we benefited from a targeted focus on congressional representation rather than getting too far off into any one issue. We were confident that so many other groups were active on issues and watching senators and involved with legislative policy within the state... that we could keep our tent wide and our path narrow."

2. Diversify your tactics.

While your mission should be crystal-clear, sometimes the methods you use to carry it out will have to change, and it's important to be flexible.

Juviler explains:

"In the beginning, Fridays [Without Frelinghuysen] provided a huge amount of energy and focus. People took time off work, issue groups gathered, civic groups gathered -- but when it became clear that Rodney would never meet with us, and when his votes consistently betrayed his district's interests, we moved on to other activities."

3. Be hyper-local.

There's a reason the Tea Party's damage to our democracy has been so long-lasting. When Obama was in office, they didn't just direct their ire at the president, but at all of their representatives. Tea Party groups went to town hall meetings (although Frelinghuysen didn't give constituents that opportunity).

Juviler says:

"We started town teams in most of the towns within the district, and both teams carried out all kinds of activities like tabling at farmers markets and street fairs, having issue educational meetings at the library, etc. These hyper-local groups are able to speak to their neighbors about the things our neighbors most care about in a way that resonates, and we found this extremely effective...

"We were local, visible, persistent and effective opposition to his status quo of entitled representation."

4. Do your research and learn your representative's history.

It will help you better plan your strategy and fight back against attacks. Juviler says NJ 11th for Change did this, "and he didn't know how to handle it."

Juviler recalls the ethics complaints filed after Frelinghuysen got Saily Avelenda fired:

"[I]t was not only a terrible error in strategy, but pretty terrible period....He really expected we would fade away, and when we didn't, he'd already dismissed us, refused to meet with us in such silly public ways. And meanwhile, his voting record [showed he was] beholden to Paul Ryan in obvious ways [that] went against most of his constituents' desires."

5. Don't forget to celebrate the small victories.

Juviler recalls:

"One of the most amazing moments was at the end of March [2017], when the AHCA was due for a vote on a Friday, but before noon Frelinghuysen had announced that he could not support the bill. We turned our regular Friday meeting with his staff into a celebration. It was the first big sense that we regular people could together make a big difference on our government."

As for next steps, Juviler says despite Frelinghuysen's resignation, the group's plans remain largely the same. Until he's gone, they will continue to be "focused on educating constituents about Rodney's record and how it affects them."

"There is still a lot of bad policy coming out us from Washington," she continued, "and we will see how Republican candidates lineup, if they have been silent about the despicable things that are happening to New Jersey and the country or if they have a backbone."

The group is also looking toward the midterm elections. NJ 11th for Change is so far declining to endorse anyone in the primaries, but noted, "We already have an excellent field of candidates. We still are working to get an excellent representative into Congress from the 11th District, one who will advocate for us, be responsive, transparent, and accountable. One hurdle is behind us, but the goal still lies ahead."

Categories: Latest News

Trump Budget Would Undo Gains From Conservation Programs on Farms and Ranches

Sun, 02/18/2018 - 21:00
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Members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees are starting to shape the 2018 farm bill -- a comprehensive food and agriculture bill passed about every five years. Most observers associate the farm bill with food policy, but its conservation section is the single largest source of funding for soil, water and wildlife conservation on private land in the United States. 

Farm bill conservation programs provide about US$5.8 billion yearly for activities such as restoring wildlife habitat and using sustainable farming practices. These programs affect about 50 million acres of land nationwide. They conserve millions of acres of wildlife habitat and provide ecological services such as improved water quality, erosion control and enhanced soil health that are worth billions of dollars. 

Sixty percent of US land is privately owned, and it contains a disproportionately high share of habitat for threatened and endangered species. This means that to conserve land and wildlife, it is critical to work with private landowners, particularly farmers and ranchers. Farm bill conservation programs provide cost shares, financial incentives and technical assistance to farmers and other private landowners who voluntarily undertake conservation efforts on their land. 

President Donald Trump's 2019 budget request would slash funding for farm bill conservation programs by about $13 billion over 10 years, on top of cuts already sustained in the 2014 farm bill. In a recent study, we found that it is highly uncertain whether the benefits these programs have produced will be maintained if they are cut further.

Funding Cuts and Future Prospects

Conservation on private land produces tangible benefits for wildlifewater qualityerosion control and floodwater storage. The public value of these improvements extends far beyond the boundaries of any individual landowner's property. 

Studies have shown that farmers appreciate the direct benefits they receive from participating in these programs, such as more productive soil and better hunting and wildlife viewing on their lands. Conservation programs can also provide farmers with an important and stable income source during crop price downturns.

Congress made substantial cuts in farm bill conservation programs in 2014 – the first reductions since the conservation title of the bill was created in 1985. In total, the 2014 farm bill reduced conservation spending by 6.4 percent, or about $3.97 billion over 10 years.

These cuts reduced the number of farmers who were able to enroll in the programs. For example, the Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers to take environmentally sensitive land out of agricultural production and convert cropland into ecologically beneficial grasses. In 2016, due to budget cuts, it accepted just 22 percent of acres that farmers offered for enrollment. 

The Conservation Stewardship Program, which focuses on working lands in agricultural production, offers farmers financial incentives and technical advice for conservation measures such as cover crops or efficient irrigation systems. In 2015 USDA funded only 27 percent of CSP applications. 

The Trump administration's proposed cuts have drawn criticism from conservation groups and farmers. Meanwhile, these programs appear to have bipartisan support in Congress. 

In a June 2017 hearing, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, said: 

"I've heard repeatedly from farmers and ranchers about the importance of these programs, how they successfully incentivize farmers to take conservation to the next level, and the need for continued federal investment in these critical programs."

In October 2017, Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, introduced a bipartisan bill to strengthen the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which fosters private-public partnerships in regions of high conservation priority. The Trump administration has proposed to eliminate this program, along with the Conservation Stewardship Program. 

Funding will be tight for the 2018 farm bill, as USDA has acknowledged. A set of guiding principles the department released on Jan. 24 pledged to provide "a fiscally responsible Farm Bill that reflects the Administration's budget goals." Congress will soon face funding decisions that will have critical implications for conservation outcomes and landowners.

Without Funding, Fewer Farmers Will Conserve

Further budget cuts in farm bill conservation programs would undermine environmental protection in multiple ways. Less land and wildlife would be protected, and fewer farmers would be able to enroll in these programs. Moreover, as our study concluded, landowners are unlikely to continue their conservation efforts when payments end.

Federal agencies and environmental organizations generally would like to see owners keep up conservation practices even when they no longer receive federal incentives. We call this phenomenon "persistence." Designing incentives so that they produce lasting behavior changes is a challenge in many fields, including agricultural conservation.

Our search of relevant scientific publications found very limited research on landowner behavior after incentive program contracts end. What research has been done indicates that persistence is highly variable and often does not occur. 

Studies have found that after contracts expire, the percentage of landowners who continue conservation management can range from 31 to 85 percent. Persistence also depends on the practices landowners are required to perform. Structural actions like planting trees are more likely to have lasting effects than measures that landowners need to perform frequently and may abandon, such as treating invasive plants with herbicides.

Little is known about why landowners do or do not persist with conservation behaviors after incentive programs end. But we have identified several mechanisms that could support persistence behavior. 

As landowners participate in conservation programs, they might develop positive views of conservation. They also may continue to use conservation practices because they want to be perceived as good land stewards. Practices that involve repeated action, such as moving cattle for prescribed grazing, might become habits. Finally, landowners with sufficient financial and technical resources are more likely to persist with conservation behaviors.

Long-Term Costs of Defunding Conservation Programs

Our research shows that it is hard to predict how farmers and ranchers will respond if they are unable to re-enroll in farm bill conservation programs. Some might continue with conservation management, but it is likely that many landowners would resume farming formerly protected land or abandon conservation practices. 

To promote conservation more effectively over time, it would make sense to consider farm bill policy changes such as issuing longer-duration contracts and designing post-contract transitions that encourage continued conservation. Further budget cuts will only reduce future conservation on private land, and could undo much of the good that these programs have already achieved.

Disclosure statement: Ashley Dayer's research program at Virginia Tech receives research funding from USDA Farm Service Agency and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Seth Lutter's Masters research at Virginia Tech was funded in part by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

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Racist Preconceptions and an Ongoing Cover-Up Mark the Attica Rebellion's Legacy

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 21:00

Attica is a powerful reminder that people living behind bars are human beings, says Heather Ann Thompson, author of Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy. Thompson discusses the causes and consequences of the Attica rebellion and the extent of the cover-up that continues to this day.

Video grab of prisoners being rounded up after the four-day uprising at Attica Prison. (Photo: Henry Groskinsky / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images)

In September 1971, prisoners at the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York rose up and seized control of the prison to draw the world's attention to the terrible conditions they endured. But the state's bloody retaking of the prison, and the blame placed on prisoners for the death toll that ensued, paved the way for today's repressive mass incarceration apparatus. Get the true story of Attica in Heather Ann Thompson's gripping, award-winning book Blood in the Water. Order it by donating to Truthout today!

The reality of what happened at Attica in 1971 has long been suppressed, with an entirely fictional narrative -- in which violent prisoners cut the throats of hostages and mutilated their bodies -- taking precedence over the truth. In fact, the state of New York was responsible for ending negotiations and assaulting the prison with overwhelming force, knowing that this could and would end in the death and injury of the state's own employees. Thirty-nine people -- prisoners and hostages -- died as a result of shots fired by heavily armed troopers and correction officers, over a hundred more were wounded, and surviving prisoners were beaten, tortured and humiliated.

The Attica uprising itself inspired incarcerated people and others to keep struggling even in the face of overwhelming odds, but the backlash -- fueled by misinformation and racist preconceptions -- was used to justify repressive "law and order" policies and the further dehumanization of prisoners. As we once again face a racist backlash to anti-racist organizing, Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy is an essential and timely book. Michelle Alexander calls it "a true gift to the written history of civil rights and racial justice struggles in America."

Heather Ann Thompson. (Photo: Graham MacIndoe)Truthout spoke with historian and author Heather Ann Thompson about the causes and consequences of the Attica rebellion, the historic legal defense campaign fought by the Attica Brothers Legal Defense Fund (ABLD), and the extent to which authorities continue to cover up the truth to this day.

Joe Macaré: Could you start by telling people a little bit about the lead-up to the uprising at Attica? What were conditions like, not just in Attica but also in other New York State prisons?

Heather Ann Thompson: One of the ways to really begin to understand Attica is to go back to 1970. On the one hand, around the country there was a lot of optimism that things were getting much better in prisons -- in fact, that we were moving away from prisons toward community corrections. Certainly, in the body public there were a lot of folks who were against the death penalty and really thought that prisoners certainly deserved basic human rights.

The prisons were lagging behind all of that. The conditions were terrible. We know a lot about how bad Southern prisons were in this time, but we don't really know how bad Northern prisons were -- and they were horrendous. They were racially segregated usually; certainly, Black and Brown prisoners experienced much more abuse from guards. At places like Attica, they were being fed on a terrible diet, but also a very meager diet, on 63 cents a day -- well below what they needed to survive. The sanitary conditions were terrible.

It's in that environment, of both optimism from the outside but also the reality of terrible conditions on the inside, that prisoners began to ask for basic human rights. The key is to understand that they were quite hopeful. They wrote letters to state senators and the commissioner of corrections, and despite the fact that the prisoners were very politically motivated, very activist in many ways, they hoped to get these basic needs met kind of through the system, without a lot of horror and drama.

The state of New York had always planned on retaking this prison with force.

The problem was that the state of New York ignored those needs, and so places -- not just Attica but many prisons -- erupt because the sheer frustration of, for example, not having more than one square of toilet paper a day, is really politicizing to the folks on the inside. It really makes them understand that they are more humane than their captors.

In the case of Attica, the actual rebellion begins because of what is, in many senses, a completely accidental series of events. But the fact that it becomes such an articulate rebellion is down to how much this had been discussed in the months and years preceding Attica.

It's very striking in the book that that moment when the rebellion began was based on misunderstanding and chance, and initially was something very spontaneous. The structure and the political demands were something that certain prisoners had to impose on that chaos. Can you talk a little about what happened there and that process?

On the morning that we will now mark as the beginning of the Attica uprising, prison management had made a decision essentially to retaliate against a particular company of prisoners for some upheaval the night before by locking the doors to the recreation yard that they normally would have gone out of in this one tunnel.

The problem was, as was typical with management, they also ignored the concerns of the guards who worked there. They didn't tell them what was going on, they didn't tell the prisoners what was going on. In that very tense environment, everyone panicked and sheer chaos ensued. In that moment of chaos -- where everyone is backing away from each other and trying to arm themselves with anything they can find, fearing that something bad is about to happen on the part of prison management -- a gate comes open. That is why the chaos escalates. The entire prison is soon overrun by people trying to hide and seek safety, but in that chaos, a lot of people get hurt. It is nothing short of a riot by all definitions.

No one felt the need to corroborate this story, because it made ultimate sense to them.

But as you note, what is really incredible is the way in which the folks who had been having really intense discussions in the yard leading up to that -- about the importance of articulating prisoner rights and the importance of bringing the world's attention to what really goes on behind bars -- their cooler heads prevail. They manage to move everyone into the one yard, out in the open, and that's when the real rebellion begins. Folks elect officials to speak for them out of each cell block, they bring in observers, and they set up a medical tent and a food distribution area.

All of that was down to the fact that there had been so much discussion about the fact that, as L.D. Barkley said: "We are men! We are not beasts." It was this moment when everyone realized, Look, we're in charge for a moment, let's bring in the media, let's bring the state to the table and let's ask for -- again, this is key -- basic, basic human rights.

When it comes to the state's disastrous decision to send in state troopers and to assault the prison, to what extent was that a tactical error, and to what extent do you see this as ideologically driven? Had Gov. Nelson Rockefeller in particular decided to respond with a show of force, believing that whether or not the hostages were saved was an acceptable loss?

That's a great question, because my thinking when I went into the project was that there were numerable regrettable decisions made, and I certainly think that's the way most people have understood this event. That ultimately, the fact that this uprising ends with state troopers and guards shooting and killing 39 men -- hostages and prisoners alike -- all of that was down to a series of regrettable decisions, starting with sending in the state troopers.... That if they just would have waited a few more days, this could have been avoided.

The thing is, in the course of doing this book, which took 13 years, I was able to find documents that persuaded me that this was absolutely not a series of regrettable decisions. In fact, the state of New York had always planned on retaking this prison with force. In fact, what delayed it, if nothing else, was the fact that there were these observers inside, including a US congressman and numerous other elected officials.... It was also not accidental that they had the New York State Troopers take the prison, not the National Guard -- and not just the New York State Troopers, but the lowest-ranking troop battalions end up being in charge.

I now understand that that's in part because Rockefeller was intensely politically ambitious. He was determined to show his own party that he was as "tough on crime" as Richard Nixon, who he very much envied being in the White House. There was just no way that he was going to let this thing end with the prisoners coming out victorious.

Once I identified who was in charge and what the decisions were that were being made, it was pretty clear to me that while it remains the truth that it was totally avoidable -- there were a million things they could have done differently -- that they had no intention of doing things differently.

Untruths circulated in the immediate aftermath of that retaking, particularly the story that it was the prisoners who had killed hostages by cutting their throats. Reading the book, this seemed to me a pretty bold invention on the part of the state. Could you comment on how deliberate that piece of misinformation was and the impact that it had?

The book puts more emphasis on the impact than the intentionality, and that's because I'm actually not persuaded that the commissioner of corrections and the PR guy that step out in front of the prison and tell the world that the prisoners have killed the hostages -- that fateful lie -- I'm not persuaded that they did that knowing for a fact that the prisoners had not killed the hostages. I say that because, of course, in the chaos on the ground, rumors fly, god knows what happened, all people see is the carnage.

Even if the activists prevent the worst that the state might do left unchecked, it is nevertheless carceral, it is nevertheless inherently racist and inherently oppressive.

But here's the key: Those officials and the reporters who placed that story on the front page of The New York Times, intentionally or not, completely corroborated their own racial imagination. It completely made sense to them that prisoners, when given half the chance, would not just slash the throats of guards, but that they would castrate one of them and so forth. This fits their own preconceived and deeply held racial imagination. In that sense, I don't think it's intentional, but I think it's deeply illuminating ... how no one felt the need to corroborate this story, because it made ultimate sense to them. So, perhaps not intentional, but deeply, deeply disturbing.

The impact was profound. The story went out on the front page of The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and perhaps most importantly, out over the AP wire, which meant the front page of every small-town newspaper in [the US], virtually. It profoundly sours many people who had, maybe grudgingly, come along to the idea that prisoners are people and the civil rights movement is necessary. In a blink of an eye, for those people -- we're not talking about the committed activists who had always believed, but the broader public who had come around to that idea -- this was horrific. This persuaded them that in fact, civil rights are bankrupt, that prisoners are, in fact, "animals."

I argue in the book that while there is a glimpse of reforms that come after Attica, that if we really want to understand this punitive, punitive ethos that helps to build the world's largest carceral apparatus, we need to look to Attica.... Those lies had a profound impact on the nation.

Part of the book is a courtroom story, the tale of a legal battle. In terms of the fight in which the ABLD and others were engaged, what light does that shed on the possibilities and also the problems of using the courts as a tool to get justice for people who've been victims of state violence?

The middle third of the book is really about the extraordinary legal defense effort that is launched on behalf of the Attica brothers to make sure that they're not railroaded for all of the violence that goes down at Attica in the days of the retaking and after. It's a moment that I know law students read about, because it's this remarkable case study in the power of public defenders, the power of grassroots legal activism.

On the one hand, I think what it shows is that we completely underestimate that power. When folks with legal training work with grassroots activists, their power is profound. They can, in fact, bring the state to its knees. In Attica, in countless of those cases, they do exactly that. So, I love that that story is out there for us to reckon with.

But it's also the case -- and this is perhaps a separate conversation -- that even if they keep the state at bay, and even if they prevent the worst that the state might do left unchecked, it still remains the carceral apparatus. While perhaps it can be softened, it can be mitigated, it can be reformed, it can be made more livable, it is nevertheless carceral, it is nevertheless inherently racist and inherently oppressive.

Attica is a powerful reminder that people living behind bars are human beings and that is no less true today than it was in 1971.

So, I think there's two questions and I don't think they should necessarily be conflated. One is: Does the legal profession have an obligation to (and an impact on) the real lived lives of the people on the inside? The answer is absolutely yes. Attica teaches us that lawyers can't go at it alone, and folks in the community can't go at it alone, but combined, they're profoundly powerful. That's separate from: Can the system be made fully human? I think the answer to that is no.

In the process of writing the book, to what extent did you discover that the cover-up, the attempt to obscure the truth of what happened at Attica, is in fact still ongoing?

Most of the parties are no longer with us -- although some of the lawyers are still alive -- so I've gotten a lot of questions about: Why in the world are the documents still almost impossible to get? Why are the archives still not fully open?

The answer is complicated. I think that on the one hand, the state police remain committed to shutting down access. They know that there's no statute of limitations on murder, that plenty of people were murdered at Attica, and they imagine that that puts them at risk. I happen to believe that there is no prosecutor who will take this case now, and in fact, the cover-up that was launched for so many decades very much destroyed the chain of evidence. So, I think that their fears are ill-founded, but I think that they remain. In that sense, the cover-up continues, because the state police still block access to those records.

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It's harder to explain why the state officials don't just open the records. I think in part that's just the way bureaucracy works. No state official ... wants to be the guy that opens up Pandora's Box. They probably don't really know what's in there, they don't really know what the risks are, but they certainly don't want to be the guy who opens the can of worms.

The fact that we know what we know in the book -- and this should scare all of us -- was largely by happenstance. I found some of the most illuminative records to indicate the depth of the cover-up and to name some of the shooters, but the fact that that happened was not because the state revealed the records and not because they're sitting somewhere that anyone can find. It was a series of accidents that led to them, and that's alarming. So, in that sense the cover-up is still alive!

Finally, what is Attica's legacy in terms of organizing and resistance within prisons -- most recently in Florida with Operation PUSH?

Attica is a powerful reminder that people living behind bars are human beings and that is no less true today than it was in 1971. Prisons across the country are erupting today because we, as a nation, have failed to grasp this basic fact, and indeed, have made conditions even more unbearable. If folks on the outside stand up with those on the inside -- like those who have launched Operation PUSH -- all manners of abuse can finally be stopped.

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"Pro-Immigrant" Liberalism and Capitalist Exploitation: Why Corporate Democrats Do Not Support Immigrant Justice

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 21:00

Rep. Luis Gutierrez and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema pose for photos with immigration reform activists after a discussion on immigration reform October 23, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. With the fate of DACA up in the air, Democrats have been relatively silent on the plight of nearly 10 million other undocumented immigrants. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

The immigration debate, which teeters between racist vitriol from the right-wing and pro-immigrant discourse from corporate liberals and multicultural elites, deliberately ignores the fundamental issue of exploitation under a capitalist system. Immigrant workers are, above all, a means to turn a profit for both those in the detention and deportation business as well as industries that thrive on cheap labor.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema pose for photos with immigration reform activists after a discussion on immigration reform October 23, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. With the fate of DACA up in the air, Democrats have been relatively silent on the plight of nearly 10 million other undocumented immigrants. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

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"Liberal academics are busy supporting the DREAM Act or whatever helps them avoid being called racist."

This is how a member of Chicago's Moratorium on Deportations Campaign expressed her frustration at the lack of critical analysis surrounding the "comprehensive immigration reform" bill that had just passed the Democratic-led Senate in June 2013.

It's not hard to understand why: The legislation included $46 billion to further militarize the border with Mexico -- already guarded by nearly 20,000 Border Patrol agents, dozens of drones and 700 miles of border walls. This bill included a version of the DREAM Act, as well as a permanently temporary legal status for 5 million other undocumented immigrants, masquerading as a so-called "pathway to citizenship."

Today, President Trump's knack for throwing around demeaning and racist epithets and bringing official US government discourse in line with its corporate-backed policy in countries such as Haiti and El Salvador has liberals across the country and blogosphere up in arms. Paul A. Kramer has rightfully exposed the short-sightedness of this hand-wringing. He underscores the racist undertones that have long subtended official US immigration policy, and prods us to ask some very important questions:

To what extent are the countries of the global north implicated in forces that prevent people in the global south from surviving and thriving where they are? In what ways do restrictive immigration policies heighten the exploitation of workers? How does the fear of deportation make migrant workers easier to discipline, hurt and rob? In what ways does mass migration from the poorer parts of the earth to centers of wealth and power reflect the larger problem of global inequality?

The real challenge lies in answering these questions in a way that does not amount to a mere restatement of their premises accompanied with an ever-growing sense of moral indignation. It is absolutely vital to denounce the brutal legacy of colonialist plunder that set the capitalist system in motion over 500 years ago, but it must not be forgotten that the nation-states forged in the fire of colonialist violence have always been fraught with their own internal power struggles.

A concrete analysis of the explosive contradictions of contemporary capitalist globalization demonstrates that neither Trump's explicitly racist vitriol nor the paternalistic "pro-immigrant" discourse of corporate liberals and the multicultural elite challenges the structures allowing for the exploitation and oppression of immigrants and migrant workers.

This is not to say that there is no difference between the two. Quite the contrary, it is highly illuminating to consider the relationship between such apparently divergent rhetorical strategies and the material interests of specific groups of capitalists and their forms of profit-making. This will make it easier for the grassroots struggle for migrant and immigrant justice to clearly discern the true colors of the corporate, Democrat-led anti-Trump "resistance," and adopt a genuinely progressive platform.

The Political Economy of Anti-Immigrant Discourse

The radical social scientist Immanuel Wallerstein argues that the underlying tension between the formally universalistic ideology undergirding bourgeois democracy and the undeniably racist and sexist manner in which this political system actually functions is a reflection of the contradictory needs of capital accumulation. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels famously proclaimed that "the need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe," but what it produces above all are  its own grave-diggers in the form of "free" workers who must sell their labor power on the market. In the United States, the capitalist class quickly learned to keep the working class internally fractured by creating relatively privileged strata of (largely white male) workers alongside groups of particularly tractable workers whose "cheapened" labor power is rendered so disposable that its owners might even be expelled during times of economic crisis.

This deliberately reductionist framework has the merit of refusing to naturalize racist oppression and rhetoric as a mere manifestation of racism, as if this latter phenomenon did not in turn need to be explained. Its haphazard application can certainly lead to simplistic analyses, but this model may also serve as a fruitful backdrop to a deeper analysis of the present moment.

The strongest social base for the intensely racist discourse in currency today is arguably those capitalists who are invested in the business of immigrant detention and deportation. This is not because they are morally depraved, but because their ability to earn a profit is literally dependent on an endless supply of highly racialized and deportable bodies. They are painfully aware, and they use their considerable social power to shift public discourse in order to serve their own interests.

Activists and scholars have done an excellent job exposing the collusion of corporate executives and state legislators with ties to the private prison industry and the much larger "immigrant industrial complex." These lawmakers have passed extremely repressive anti-immigrant laws such as Arizona's infamous SB 1070 and Alabama's HB 56. From the buses used to transport immigrant detainees, to the corporations that provide woefully inadequate but highly lucrative medical services to them, and the phone companies that charge them $4 a minute, many seemingly innocuous sectors of the economy profit handsomely from this loathsome state of affairs.

This is indeed morally outrageous. Yet, it is not indicative of a crisis of individual morals, so much as a structural crisis of the global capitalist system that reduces human beings to the commodities they either produce, consume, or -- in the case of their labor power -- are forced to sell.

As William Robinson has argued, militarized accumulation -- whether it takes the form of constructing border walls and prisons or hiring and arming paramilitary-style organizations such as the Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- responds to this crisis in two crucial ways. First, it provides outlets to capital at a time when many other opportunities for productive investment have dried up. What is more, the systematic repression of racialized surplus populations is clearly an attempt to keep a lid on growing discontent among the most socially marginalized, who come to serve as scapegoats for the system's growing instability.

Immigrant workers have indeed grown increasingly organized in recent years, demonstrating that they are unafraid to withhold their labor power as a means of demanding justice. Precisely because they are some of the most highly exploited and legally vulnerable workers, they have not been rendered totally superfluous to global capital. Since the "immigrant industrial complex" treats immigrant bodies as raw materials in the production process, it actually poses a threat to other capitalists who seek to extract surplus value from them.

Quite simply, the detention of immigrants removes their labor power from the (non-prison) labor market. This is a fundamental contradiction, and the contemporary debate around immigration politics must be properly placed within this context.

Corporate Liberals to the Rescue?

In the face of intensified deportation campaigns, the liberal wing of the US-based transnational capitalist class -- including the CEOs of Silicon Valley giants such as Google, Apple and Facebook -- is even more willing than usual to put forward a seemingly progressive and even explicitly anti-racist discourse. Many top executives are immigrants themselves. They call for immigrant families to be kept together, and they will decry the most egregious cases of abuse of immigrant workers.

Denunciations of xenophobia and hate that are not simultaneously buttressed by an anti-capitalist critique practically invite co-optation by the multicultural corporate elite.

Yet when Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella advocates for the "right use" of the H-1B "guest-worker" program, he is calling for the utilization of "high-skill labor" to promote "American competitiveness," not challenging the highly precarious existence of the program's participants. He doesn't seem very concerned about the working conditions of the thousands of "unskilled" and low-wage immigrant workers who ensure that the "campuses" of these global corporations run smoothly, and must dispose of the toxic chemicals produced by this supposedly "eco-friendly" industry on a daily basis. Those who provide the vital labor sustaining the lifestyles of the industry's more affluent workers -- such as gardening, child care, cleaning, repair work and food service -- are hardly better off.

Billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates know that they are utterly dependent on immigrant labor. With this in mind, they have funded organizations such as in order to push for a "comprehensive immigration reform" along the lines of the Senate's 2013 bill. With a team comprising former congressional staffers, campaign managers and NGO professionals, uses online advocacy and local chapters in order to "mobilize the tech community to support policies that keep the American Dream achievable in the 21st century." The organization recognizes that "human ability provides the foundation for everything" the tech community does, and laments that $37 million is lost each day as a result of the country's "broken immigration system."

If it is true, then the "tech community" has its own formula for converting immigrants into dollar signs, and is shrewd enough to appropriate rhetorical themes that one often hears in more community-based organizing. Attempting to put a human face to those dollar signs -- rather than more dollars in the pockets of those humans -- it encourages immigrants to share their stories and demonstrate that "real lives hang in the balance." This lays bare an unfortunate but unavoidable fact: Moral pleas and strident denunciations of xenophobia and hate that are not simultaneously buttressed by an anti-capitalist critique practically invite co-optation by the multicultural corporate elite.

All social justice movements must be resolutely committed to an anti-racist politics, but turning "colorblind" ideology on its head by pointing out the ubiquity of "race" and denouncing all manifestations of racism is no substitute for the development of a long-term strategy grounded in a structural analysis of how the unequal and thoroughly racist class relations of global capitalist society are continually reproduced. This is not an easy task, but with an openly racist president in the White House, it acquires a new sense of urgency.

A Truly Progressive Platform

I have argued elsewhere that the three apparently antagonistic aspects of official US immigration policy -- mass detentions and deportations, a qualitatively new stage of border militarization, and attempts to pass a so-called "comprehensive immigration reform" -- lay the groundwork for a system of immigrant labor control anchored in "liminal legality." In short, recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protective Status -- as well as certain agricultural workers -- would most likely receive some sort of preferential treatment in any future "reform" bill. Yet the essentially temporary nature of those pseudo-legal statuses would be quietly smuggled into a deceptively definitive, decades-long "pathway to citizenship," as well as an expanded and revamped "guest-worker" program.

A truly anti-racist and progressive response would insist on the full and immediate "legalization" for all, while striving to abolish the exclusionary nature of national citizenship itself.

When Rep. Luis Gutiérrez attempts to claim the moral high ground from the Trump administration by tweeting that "$25 billion [for border security] as ransom for Dreamers with cuts to legal immigration and increases to deportations doesn't pass the laugh test," he is being dishonest. In fact, the "immigrant rights champion" vigorously supported a bill passed by the Democratic-led Senate in 2013 that allocated nearly double that amount of money for "border security," while also increasing funding to the deportation apparatus and making similar cuts to "legal" immigration.  

The point is not that Trump and Gutiérrez are hypocrites, but that they embody the contradictions built into the global capitalist system. They will continue to use Dreamers as a "bargaining chip" because of their structural role in upholding such a profoundly unequal social order, which cannot be effectively challenged by appealing to the moral sense of its most powerful guardians.

The White House has vocalized its "support" for Dreamers, but with the fate of DACA up in the air, Democrats have been relatively silent regarding the plight of the nearly 10 million other undocumented immigrants in the country -- let alone the hundreds of thousands of "guest workers" and the millions of "legal" immigrants struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis.

This only reinforces the "good immigrant/bad immigrant" divide that undocumented youth themselves have been tirelessly repudiating for years. Worse still, it will make the eventual inclusion of an interminable "pathway to citizenship" seem like a victory wrested from the jaws of xenophobic reaction. In reality, it is an insidious bid by capital to assert greater control over a highly precarious, mobile and increasingly active undocumented population.

The incredible amount of anti-deportation organizing around the country shines a beacon of light during these dark times. However, corporate liberals will seek to harness this grassroots energy by essentially insisting that "good immigrants" have the right to stay and be super-exploited as a legally vulnerable workforce. A truly anti-racist and progressive response, in contrast, would insist on the full and immediate "legalization" for all, while striving to abolish the exclusionary nature of national citizenship itself, and dismantle the walls that uphold it.

Liberal politicians can -- and must -- be pushed further to the left. Nonetheless, their hands are tied by the constitutionally enshrined rights of capitalist private property, so the struggle for true migrant and immigrant justice must ultimately serve as a key plank in a larger, mass-based movement to abolish this historically-transient form of social power.

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