Bradley Foundation Fueled "Independent Women's Forum" Campaign Against Paid Sick Leave Laws and More
The Bradley Files provide new insights into who underwrote recent efforts to undermine popular public policies that help women and families, such as paid sick leave laws. The Bradley Foundation did, through funding the controversial Independent Women's Forum.
The files indicate that Bradley gave the Independent Women's Forum more than one million dollars over the years.
That includes nearly half a million dollars in the past three years in response to its proposals for a campaign against public support for requiring paid sick leave, providing better child care policies, addressing the wage gap, and ensuring Americans can access life-saving medical treatment through the Affordable Care Act, known as "Obamacare."
The Independent Women's Forum said the campaign -- dubbed "Working for Women" -- would cost at least $720,000 last year. Bradley staff recommended a gift of $200,000 in 2016 to cover more than a quarter of that budget.
In 2015, the group had sought $350,000 from Bradley for the precursor to that project. Bradley obliged by providing nearly half the amount requested, $150,000.
The Details about the Independent Women's Forum Campaign
Its sales pitch to Bradley was that it would develop "messaging to women which counter progressive appeals for ever-larger government programs to address policy issues of most concern to women."
The Bradley Files described IWF's preparations for the project as follows:
"One such controlled message experiment looked at whether women could be persuaded that the expanded family leave mandate is a bad idea.
Without any additional information or conservative arguments, women are broadly supportive of government-mandated paid leave: 59% to 16 in the control group IWF created.
In that same control group when free market arguments are introduced about how the mandate would hurt the economy and job market, support for proposal (sic) drops dramatically.
For example, even among progressive women a persuasive argument focused on how mandated leave creates a real economic threat of job loss drives down the margin of support among liberal women from 69% to 29%."
The Bradley Files note the project was based on a book the Independent Women's Forum published in 2014 called "Lean Together," which the Foundation promoted on its website, noting it funded IWF.
In 2014, IWF sought nearly a quarter of its annual budget from Bradley or $250,000.
That proposal was spearheaded by the Independent Women's Forum's board President, Heather Higgins. She is an heiress whose fortune comes from the corporation that was most famous for Vicks vapor rub and was most infamous for being the sole U.S. distributor of Thalidomide, which caused severe malformations of the limbs of babies born to women who were given the drug, as CMD documented last year.
The Bradley Files emphasize that her group "provides a voice to the many women not represented by liberal feminist organizations."
Bradley added: "IWF has built its reputation nationally as a leader in combatting the liberal conventional argument "women as victims" needs (sic) government: specifically, an ever expanding set of government programs to protect women and children."
And then, in a nod to their shared political agenda, the proposal summary noted: "IWF works to expand the conservative coalition by increasing the number of women committed to conservative policy reform. Moreover, IWF is dedicated to educating policymakers about how policy issues impact women and families." IWF's 990s, its tax filings, routinely tell the IRS that it spends zero on "lobbying."
The Bradley files contain proposal summaries for IWF from only 2014-2016. It is not known if Bradley has approved additional funding for this project in 2017.
What is known is that the six-figure sum from Bradley was specifically to create messaging to women to try to weaken public support for paid sick leave, increasing the minimum wage, and better government subsidies for the child care needs of American families.
What Did Bradley Buy With Its Big Investment in IWF?
IWF's "Working for Women" proposal is all about countering the very popular vision mainstream women's groups have advanced to help women and men in the workplace and the public square to insist on public policies that address the real world challenges people face, because everyone gets sick, most people have children, and most men and women have to work to survive. Those basic public policy needs include:
- having paid time off if they are sick or caring for a child or parent who is ill,
- having better public support for childcare arrangements,
- addressing low pay and lesser retirement security, and
- making sure people can access affordable health care to save their lives.
Two months before the election, IWF unveiled polling commissioned for the Working for Women project on paid leave. That polling promoted the idea of "Personal Care Accounts" (PCAs) as an alternative to what IWF calls "Universal Paid Leave Mandates."
The Independent Women's Forum touted that if women were given an "honest" message about these two options, their support for PCAs would increase. Here is how IWF's pollsters explained that message:
"Supporters of so-called 'universal paid leave,' which forces almost all businesses to provide paid family and medical leave benefits, aren't being honest -- they ignore the very real costs of these government mandates. Let's be honest about the tradeoffs.
Many businesses can't afford a costly new beneﬁt, and they will either reduce pay, cut jobs and hours, or go out of business. That's bad news for everyone,especially low-income workers who are most vulnerable to losing hours or their jobs.
A government mandate also means fewer choices for workers. Some people want to take home more money save up in case they need time off. Some want more benefits and will take a lower salary for that security.
Others want to work part-time, work from home, or arrange something else at work. Government-mandated paid leave gets in the way of that kind of flexibility.
Nearly 8 out of 10 full-time workers already have paid sick leave. Almost 9 out of 10 have paid vacation time. And taking time off to deal with a family medical problem is already guaranteed by law.
What people need most are good job opportunities and a growing, stable but flexible job market. This government mandate will actually hurt those they are supposed to help.
It's a costly, one-size-fits-all government mandate that will impact all workers—even those who already have plenty of paid leave.
We can't just wave a magic wand and give people unlimited time off. The real world doesn't work that way. There are flexible solutions to help more people. But we can't fall for the false promise of a one-size-fits-all government mandate.
IWF's video on this issue repeats much of the messaging from the polling, along with folksy music and cutesy cartoon characters. That video has more than 16,000 views.
Despite the contention that this represents the honest message on paid leave, IWF's messaging is misleading, for example, through what it omits or obscures.
Although IWF claims 80% of full-time workers already have paid sick leave, that means that at least 25 million Americans who work full-time do not have paid sick leave and millions of Americans who work part-time do not either.
With a U.S. workforce of nearly 150 million people that means one in every three American workers does not have "a single paid sick day to recover from common, short-term illnesses," as noted by the National Partnership for Women and Families. That includes "more than 80% of low-wage workers" in the private sector. NPWF has issued a renewed call for a national paid leave policy to help Americans care for their families.
The failure to have a federal law requiring paid sick leave falls disproportionately on women. As the Kaiser Family Foundation documented last year, "the lower likelihood of paid sick days for part-time workers has a disproportionate impact on women, who are more likely than men to hold part-time jobs. Women are also more likely than men to care for children when they are sick and have to stay home from school."
Yet, the Independent Women's Forum, which describes itself as representing mainstream women in the U.S., is advocating against the interests of millions of women in the workplace. Its claim is that women need "flexibility" more than they need laws that guarantee they will not lose income needed to pay for basic necessities just because they or their children get sick.
These are just a few of the problems with IWF's messaging on this issue.
IWF's new Executive Director Carrie Lukas has argued that to address the desire for paid sick leave "Policymakers can start by making it easier for people to save on their own for periods of leave and encourage Americans to assist those with lower incomes who lack paid leave benefits through tax incentives or private charity."
Private charity? IWF's "solution" is an unrealistic, elitist non-"solution" for most working Americans, whose median take-home income is about $36,000 a year.
IWF's deep roots in Koch doctrine are plain when it rails against public policy solutions that would help make people's lives better and instead proposes that the "free market," i.e. the private sector and private charity, will solve working people's problems.
Need paid sick leave? Here's a solution that works for millionaires but not for most Americans: just pay yourself. Just take money out of your paychecks each month to fund personal savings accounts you can use every time you get sick or need to care for someone in your family, urges IWF as part of its "solution." Or you can seek charity from a church. Just don't support laws requiring corporations to pay sick leave -- like the rest of the world -- if you want to follow the IWF "Working for Women" plan.
The U.S. is, in fact, the only industrialized country that has no national law requiring employers to provide paid sick leave, including paid maternity leave. Indeed, out of 170 countries, only the United States and the island nation of New Guinea require no paid maternity leave.
However, IWF's Lukas has argued against paid sick leave laws by contending that requiring paid leave results in European women holding fewer management jobs -- concerns she says she has heard from friends abroad. There may be a range of factors for the relative rates of management jobs for women in different countries, including the persistence of sexism or chauvinism, aside from equating a correlation with causation for paid leave laws.
Notably, Ellen Bravo of Family Values @ Work has documented the many benefits for American women and men who have paid leave:
"Women who take paid leave after a child's birth are more likely to be employed the following year and report increased wages than women who do not take leave. First-time mothers who utilized paid leave were 26.3% less likely to quit their jobs and 18.2% more likely to work for the same employer after the birth of their first child. Family and medical leave insurance also increases men's role in caregiving by making it possible for them to be involved without the family taking a big financial hit. In Rhode Island, during the first year that paid time off for caregiving was available, nearly one-third of all leave takers were men. Fathers in the U.S. who take longer paternity leave are more involved with their child's care nine months later...."
That's partly why such measures have proven so popular, but such successes are not touted in IWF's messaging to try to undermine support for paid leave laws.
It has been ten years since San Francisco passed the first paid sick leave law by initiative. Since then, several states and more than two dozen cities and some counties "have passed laws requiring that eligible employees get paid time off to care for themselves or sick children. Several of these laws also specifically allow workers to use paid sick days for reasons related to caring for other sick family members, or in cases of sexual assault, harassment, or domestic violence," as the Kaiser Family Foundation noted.
With six-figure sums from the Bradley Foundation and other funders, however, IWF is busy trying to undermine support for these popular initiatives and other progressive ideas.
So far, IWF has produced messaging kits on paid leave, childcare, and the wage gap that are available with passwords that IWF published in its 2016 annual report to help readers "check out all of the messaging kits from 2016." Earlier this year, IWF also created a messaging kit to help support the controversial effort to repeal the ACA/Obamacare.
The Bradley Files indicate that the IWF messaging kits cost $120,000 a piece: "Of that amount $60,000 is allocated for on-going messaging testing, kit materials development requires $25,0000, briefings/promotions/distribution will cost $15,000, and $20,000 for video creation."
Who Are the Architects of IWF's "Working for Women" Project and What's Next?
As noted, the big money for the Independent Women's Forum from Bradley began to roll in when it asked the Foundation for $350,000 to fund what is was calling its "Women's Policy Project" to expand its "Lean Together" book into a series of messaging kits.
In 2014, IWF told Bradley it was creating a high-profile working group of experts to develop materials on "pay equity, childcare and preschool subsidies, family leave policies, workplace fairness, tax policies (including women as second earners and child tax policy), and retirement and social security."
By 2016, as described in the Bradley Files' proposal summaries, IWF expanded its vision for the messaging kits to include "toolkits" on:
- "economic opportunity for women (alternative to the minimum wage, deregulation, job creation);
- workplace flexibility (reforming labor laws such as [the] Fair Labor Standards Act);
- personal care -- paid leave -- savings accounts (alternative to paid leave mandate or entitlement);
- child-center tax relief (alternative to government daycare subsidies);
- equal pay for equal work (alternative to Paycheck Fairness Act [introduced each year since 1997, most recently by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)] and government Standardization of Compensation);
- affordability and control (tax reform and spending reform to return resources to women and families rather than more government waste)."
That year, IWF released a "Working for Women" report. It consisted of twenty recycled rightwing policies without any solid record of working for real people in real life. IWF repackaged and presented yet another report late that year entitled, "Working for Young Women," which largely promoted the same old ideas -- the primary difference being a younger demographic focus/images and the occasional insertion of the word "young." The substance of the report was again the fervent promotion of tax cuts and deregulation to solve all of the legitimate challenges that millennial women face. IWF presented its Working for Women report at ALEC's annual meeting last year, as Wisconsin state Rep. Chris Taylor has confirmed to CMD.
According to IWF's 2016 annual report, the advisory committee for the "Working for Women" project ultimately consisted of three men (academics Brian Brenberg and Casey Mulligan plus Randel Johnson from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) and two women (Tammy McCutchen and Diana Furchtgott-Roth) from outside IWF, plus the group's top leaders (Carrie Lukas and Sabrina Schaeffer, who has since stepped down as IWF's director).
The Chamber of Commerce's participation in the IWF effort to undermine support for paid sick leave laws is noteworthy, in part, because the Chamber and its state affiliate Chambers of Commerce were instrumental to in-depth polling of CEOs in December 2015 that perhaps surprisingly documented wide support by business leaders across the country for progressive measures, as CMD detailed last year.
CMD's investigation revealed the Chambers' polling by the Frank Luntz group and showed how state chambers of commerce were being given arguments to overcome the "empathy" CEOs had expressed toward employees. The Luntz powerpoint sought to overcome that empathy in order to help combat popular support for state and city laws requiring paid sick leave, raising the minimum wage, and more.
According to the Bradley Files, IWF's initial advisory group also included Kim Strassel.
Strassel, of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, was given a $250,000 award from the Bradley Foundation in 2014. She subsequently wrote a book attacking CMD, among others, for its exposure of the Koch-funded ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which Bradley also funded to help respond to CMD's continuing investigation.
Another member of the IWF working group with Koch ties is Furchgott-Roth. She is with the Manhattan Institute, a think tank has received more than $3 million from Bradley, at least half a million from the Koch family fortune, and Exxon funding as well. She is known for her opposition to raising the minimum wage for American workers and so, perhaps unsurprisingly, was named to the Trump Transition Team for the U.S. Department of Labor.
IWF's Kellyanne Conway (and Donald J. Trump)
It's not just IWF ally Furchgott-Roth who is aligned with Trump.
There is an IWF insider literally inside the Trump White House.
One of Trump's main advocates on TV, the controversial Kellyanne Conway, is on a "leave of absence" from IWF's board. She has worked closely with IWF for years.
IWF is not the only group Conway is closely tied to. According to a recent required public financial disclosure report, Conway's consulting firm, "the polling company/Woman Trend," had $800,000 in revenue last year. Her main clients included: Donald J. Trump for President, Trump for America Inc., Mike Pence for Indiana, the Kochs' network of billionaires called "Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce," David Koch's Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFP/AFPF), and FreedomWorks (which was formed from the predecessor of AFP).
Other Conway clients include IWF's 501(c)(4) that Higgins directs, the Independent Women's Voice (IWV), along with the group called "Citizens United," the Judicial Crisis Network, and Steve King for Congress, among others. Notably, one of Conway's clients last year was Cambridge Analytica, the murky corporation controlled by the billionaire Mercer family and Steve Bannon, which has taken credit for the deployment of a sophisticated strategy of social media attack ads against Hillary Clinton that helped Trump register wins in key Electoral College states.
Conway's dissembling defense of whatever Trump does -- as a White House "Counselor" who is slated to be paid nearly $200k a year by taxpayers -- has led to a major ethics complaint by law professors from across the country seeking her disbarment from the practice of law. Among other things, Conway infamously deployed the phrase "alternative facts," claimed repeatedly there was a "Bowling Green Massacre" even though that was completely false, and even shilled for Ivanka Trump's retail sales, which was a violation of federal ethics rules.
Nevertheless, IWF has announced that it plans to honor Conway with its highest award, the Woman of Valor, at its annual gala on November 15, 2017.
While the U.S. military gives it highest Medal of Honor for acts of valor or "great courage in the face of danger," IWF is recognizing Conway for a different kind of valor, one that seems audacious or even brazen -- which is one way to describe her statements for Trump.
In many ways, the "Working for Women" project that the Bradley Foundation has funded is consistent with just that kind of alternative facts approach to public policymaking.
Sidebar: What Else Do the Bradley Files Reveal About IWF?
One of the most revealing pieces of information about the Independent Women's Forum from the Bradley Files is that as of February 2014, the group had only a couple dozen funders.
Specifically, Bradley noted that: "In the past 18 months, the organization has received support from individuals, corporations, and foundations totaling 60 in number."
That is, in a nation with a population of more than 300 million people, more than half of whom are women or girls, a women's group that claims to "provide a voice for responsible, mainstream women" was funded by .0000004 of the female population -- if all 60 of those funders were women, but they were not. The figure includes corporations and foundations, but Bradley does not list the corporate underwriters of IWF.
The Bradley Files list just three of IWF's major individual donors, two of whom are men: William "Jerry" Hume and John Templeton, Jr.
Hume has been described as one of the "California power brokers" working "to further inequality." He made his fortune through his family's instant mashed potato company, and he has spent it on efforts that undermine public schools and unions. He has also been a director of Donors Trust, which Mother Jones called the "dark money ATM" for secretive funding of groups by billionaires who are part of the Koch network. Donors Trust is the second largest foundation funder of IWF, with donations totaling more than $3.7 million.
Templeton, who passed away in 2015, ran the $3 billion Templeton Foundation, which was founded through his father's wealth. He and his wife spent millions and millions on rightwing groups, including giving at least $1 million to the Proposition 8 campaign to bar gay marriage in California.
The only other individual donor listed for IWF in the Bradley Files was Mary Kohler of Wisconsin. She's the widow of Terry Kohler, who was the heir to the Kohler faucet fortune, and like Templeton and Hume, a major GOP donor.
Among the 60 donors to IWF, the Bradley Files list several foundation donors whose gifts are required by law to be disclosed in tax filings, including rightwing foundations started or controlled by the uber-rich Coors, Pope, Maclellan, and Taube families.
The Bradley Files also list the biggest publicly known funder of IWF: the Randolph Foundation. It is controlled by Higgins, who is also the President of IWF's Board and the leader of its related 501(c)(4), IWV. According to Conservative Transparency, the Randolph Foundation has given IWF $3,779,850 as of 2015.
It is not known how many of IWF's 60 donors referenced in the Bradley Files are women.
This question is significant because the group describes itself as representing independent women of America and, yet, last year CMD discovered that IWV's biggest publicly reported funders were actually men, like the billionaire Foster Friess.
That is, IWF's sister group, which calls itself the "Independent Women's Voice," was actually throwing the voices of men. It did so through ads and robo-calls backing some of the most controversial U.S. Senate candidates in the War on Women. CMD's investigation showed how IWV had spent the money of men who funded it to back other men, like extreme U.S. Senate candidate Todd "legitimate rape" Akin, in the name of "independent women." (CMD has also filed an FEC complaint against IWV based on its investigation, which is available here, as reported by NBC News.)
Other Revelations: Bradley Funded IWF to Undermine Title IX
The Bradley Files also list all funding provided to the Independent Women's Forum since 1993. That includes not only general support but also funding for three specific projects.
The list shows that the Bradley Foundation funded an IWF project called "Play Fair," which was focused on attacks on Title IX, a law that has transformed generations of women's lives by ensuring that girls and women have equal opportunities to play sports in publicly funded schools.
Through that project, IWF attacked Title IX and even took the side of men's wrestling teams claiming that Title IX's protections for women discriminated against men.
The National Women's Law Center and Women's Sports Foundation, along with other groups that actually represent mainstream women, debunked the kind of headline-grabbing myths about Title IX that were peddled by IWF.
Bradley also helped fund IWF's "The American Promise" project in 2006, which was focused on the "Break Down of the American Family." IWF has said that project was about addressing "deterrents" to "family formation" that lead to children being "born out of wedlock." That project also pushed for "school choice" to address what IWF called the "Failing Public Education System."
Bradley also spent more than $165,000 funding fellowships for Kate O'Beirne and related work. O'Beirne, who passed away in April, was described by the National Review, which published her column for many years, as "the den mother of the modern American right." She was a regular commentator on the "Capital Gang."
As the New York Times noted, "She was the author of 'Women Who Make the World Worse and How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Schools, Families, Military and Sports' (2005), which cited Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem and Eleanor Smeal, the former president of the National Organization for Women..." (The Bradley Foundation did not fund her to write that book.)
This is how the Bradley Foundation described IWF's role in the rightwing infrastructure, in the files:
"[IWF] has been working hard to creating for women a sensible, attractive alternative to the radical leftist feminist organizations focused on making women actively committed to exercising their rights to secure benefits and status owing to their gender, from the municipal, state, and federal government. IWF aspires to stand for a vision which is in stark contrast to leftist organizations such as the National Organization of Women, National Women's Law Center, Emily's List, and the [American] Association of University Women."
IWF's website routinely describes one of its goals as reclaiming "real feminism," asserting, for example, that American women's groups have narrowed their "focus to magnifying discrimination where there may be none and scaring young woman into thinking that we are constantly victims of some atrocity or another where government law is the only solution."
That is typical of IWF's approach to issues, deploying straw man -- or straw woman -- fallacies. Meanwhile, IWF has vociferously objected to the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in the U.S. and has even attacked reporting about the epidemic of rape on campuses.
As CMD recently noted in its investigation of Tucker Carlson:
"IWF has sponsored a forum where its panelists contended that 'rape culture statistics have been blown out of proportion in the United States, and that this is largely a product of the media's focus on rape and sexual assault.' That's the description from The Daily Caller's coverage of the event. Another piece, titled 'Restraining Orders Hurt Women' also credited IWF's analysis."
IWF has made a name for itself by making claims at odds with public policies that most women support -- all the while claiming to represent mainstream women.
As CMD noted, IWF was founded to defend Clarence Thomas in the midst of the uproar over the testimony of Professor Anita Hill that Thomas had sexually harassed her when he led the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In the words of Bradley, though, now IWF's "primary goal is to change how women think about conservative political principles and their relationship to the formation of public policy."
IWF's legal policy agenda recites the mantra of almost all Koch-fueled groups, including the GOP: "personal responsibility, free markets, and limited government." As CMD has documented, IWF has deep ties to the billionaire Koch brothers, including shacking up with David Koch's Americans for Prosperity and its predecessor and being led for years by Koch Industries' former top DC lobbyist.
CMD's report illustrates how IWF is not independent, mainstream, and neutral, despite its claims.
As Joan Walsh noted in the Nation: "the IWF website looks like it still shares content with Americans for Prosperity, with posts devoted to lowering corporate tax rates and ending the 'death tax,' criticizing food stamps... alongside screeds against Hillary Clinton and on how Title IX hurts boys. On its website, IWV says its five core issues areas are 'healthcare, responsible government, workplace regulation, energy and economic literacy,' which are all core concerns of the Kochs and their allies."
About the Bradley Foundation
IWF's approach to women's issues was richly rewarded by Bradley with Dan Schmidt as the foundation's Vice President. During Schmidt's tenure, Bradley steered more than $1 million to IWF.
Schmidt has been credited on the right with turning Bradley into "one of the most influential" foundations in the country, working for former RNC lawyer Michael Grebe and Michael Joyce. Bradley's new leader is Rick Graber, who helmed the Wisconsin Republican party for years shortly before Reince Preibus, who later became the RNC chair and now is Trump's Chief of Staff.
Schmidt's recommendations for major funding for IWF and other groups went to Bradley's Board of Directors, which includes two of the biggest GOP funders in the country: Koch allies Art Pope and Diane Hendricks.
They each have reputations for using millions of their own billions to push aggressively divisive legislative and their personal political wish lists, like right to work in Wisconsin for Hendricks and an array of disastrous legislation in Pope's home state of North Carolina.
Through their role on Bradley's board, they now have the ability to have influence beyond even their own vast personal fortunes. They are tasked with helping to direct the nearly one billion in assets of the Bradley Foundation, whose assets exceed the Koch brothers' foundations, though not the personal wealth of the billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, themselves.
CMD's research team, including David Armiak and Evan James, assisted on this report, with the help of Nick Surgey.
When women are incarcerated, their children become "collateral damage" within a system that's more focused on punishment than providing the support needed by women struggling with poverty, abuse or addiction. Mary Fish, herself an incarcerated mother and grandmother in Oklahoma, interviews fellow prisoners about how incarceration has affected their relationships with their children.
This story is the ninth piece in the Truthout series, Severed Ties: The Human Toll of Prisons. This series dives deeply into the impact of incarceration on families, loved ones and communities, demonstrating how the United States' incarceration of more than 2 million people also harms many millions more -- including 2.7 million children.
Oklahoma continues to be number one in the incarceration of women. Its maximum-security prison, Mabel Bassett Correctional Center -- where I am incarcerated -- houses many mothers. Many of them also had parents who were incarcerated. A report from the Oklahoma Children of Incarcerated Parents Advisory Committee found that nearly 4,000 children in Oklahoma have a mother in prison. And in Oklahoma, 96,000 children -- or 10 percent of Oklahoma's children -- experienced parental incarceration between 2011 and 2012.
As of May 22, 2017, Mabel Bassett had 1,321 women in custody and new arrivals in the Assessment and Reception Center for mental and physical evaluations numbered 107. As is true in women's prisons across the country, the majority of the women here at Mabel Bassett are mothers. Here are some of their stories.
A Childhood-Long Prison Sentence
Twenty-seven-year-old Ashleigh Jenkins has a father currently in prison. As a young girl, Jenkins was curious as to how people lived in prison and why her dad kept going back. Her own experience brings that childhood memory back, along with unanswered questions about why anyone would keep coming back to prison.
Jenkins was arrested May 5, 2015, for "assault and battery with a deadly weapon with intent to kill." Jenkins felt the arresting officers added the latter to make her sound "so bad." Jenkins told Truthout that the reason she stabbed her friend was because she did not want to be with him, yet felt trapped with no other way out. "I was in a domestic emotional abuse situation," she said. Jenkins' victim was not the father of either of her sons.
"I was always on drugs, so the state ended up terminating my rights when Keylan [one of her sons] was nine months old, before I was arrested for the assault charge," she said. "I still had my kids' best interest in mind. I didn't know it at the time but I was later diagnosed by a doctor that I was suffering from postpartum depression. That was something I had never heard of before. I grew up in a single-parent home, and my mother Stacy suffered from severe depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. And my dad, who was in and out of prison, used to beat my mom unmercifully."
When Jenkins was arrested, one-year-old Keylan went to live with his dad. Three-year-old Khylan, her other son, whom she had already potty-trained, went to live with her best friend."The courts don't know me. They just think the worst of every mom that gets into trouble."
In April 2016 Jenkins' grandmother adopted Khylan and took him to her home in Georgia. Jenkins is at ease about her children's placement now, but the period before it was settled was one of her most trying times. The court administrators advised against Jenkins having contact with the children.
"The courts don't know me," she said. "They just think the worst of every mom that gets into trouble."
Jenkins visits weekly with Keylan, now almost three, but five-year-old Khylan comes only twice a year from Georgia. Jenkins also writes her children letters and they send her colored pictures. She saves every single one of them.
"Distance is a huge barrier for me and Khylan because he lives in Georgia and the phone calls are so expensive," she said, "We have managed to stay connected through mail. I send pictures, painted cups that I've made in Arts and Crafts, crocheted hats that I've made, and letters galore telling them that I love them. The last time I talked to Keylan's dad, he told me they had been riding around in the car and when he woke up, he started saying, "Mama Ashleigh, Mama Ashleigh. He must have thought that he was waking up and arriving to come in to visit me."
Jenkins has a 25-year split sentence: 13 years in prison and the remaining 12 on probation. Even if she is granted parole, she will have to complete at least 11 and a half years behind bars due to Oklahoma's 85 percent law, which requires physically remaining in prison for the whole amount in calendar years except for about 18 months. "So far I have two years done. So, another nine and a half years. My kids will be teenagers when I am released."
"They Tore Us Apart and Threw Us Away"
At least Jenkins knows where her sons are and will have some time with them before they are grown. For some mothers, incarceration means a complete break from their children.
"I don't know right now where any of my children are," 45-year-old Geneva Phillips said. "Prison has become a barrier [too] deep and hard to chisel through to have a relationship with my children. Too many years of missed birthdays and Thanksgivings and Christmases and lost quality time of their childhoods have severed the tie that binds mother and child."
Phillips has four children. She was initially arrested in 2006 for an old warrant that had been adjudicated two years earlier. Her older children lived in Arkansas and her youngest, Zen, who is severely autistic, was living with Geneva's ex-husband who was Zen's biological father. Zen's father had remarried and Zen now had a stepmother. Zen eventually ended up in state custody because his father went to jail and the school nurse said Zen was sent to school with a dirty diaper by his stepmother. That was when DHS intervened and Zen was placed into the system. Meanwhile, Phillips' roommate said she would keep the other kids from the moment when Phillips was arrested until she got out of jail 10 days later. The roommate was unable to follow through on her promise after only two days, however: She called DHS and the children were put into a shelter two days after Phillips was arrested. Upon release 10 days later, Phillips had to follow a tedious treatment plan to get her children out of state custody.
Phillips noted that while in state custody, her children were moving five times in one month between one court docket date to the next. She recalled that the family court judge even commented on the number of moves, shortly after they were placed in separate group homes on the same property. They were later split up and unable to see each other except for rare visits.
For the next two years, Phillips tried to get her children back, but family court still terminated her rights. Phillips was never given a reason as to why nor was there a hearing that she was told about. After that, she says, she just gave up trying to live.
"I had been working the program they gave me, had entered college full time, and had an apartment," Phillips said. "Once they terminated my rights I fell apart and spent the next several years heavily medicated along with illegal narcotics. That is what I was arrested for -- robbery to get money for narcotics -- while in a drug-induced blackout. I entered prison in 2013."
Over the years Phillips has had only sporadic correspondence. Her daughter, now 19, aged out of a shelter. Her son wrote her for a year and a half, then was moved to yet another foster home that prohibited their correspondence. He is still being shuffled from foster home to foster home. Last year, DHS sent her a form letter stating that one of her children was about to "age" out of the system and he would need a place to spend holidays, so that he would have a sense of "family." Phillips did not think the social worker realized that she was sending the letter to the mother in prison.
Phillips says that parenting was difficult for her due to her own traumatic childhood, but she never abused, neglected or hurt her children. Her children knew they were loved, well-provided for and valued. She sent them to school, they had good clothes and they never went hungry."They loved me and they loved each other. The state took all that away and broke us apart and cast us to the wind."
"They loved me and they loved each other," Phillips recounted. "The state took all that away and broke us apart and cast us to the wind without a thought. I was completely broken after that. I am in prison and I have no idea where my children are now but I know they are broken, too. The state did not help us -- not me or my children. They tore us apart and threw us away -- from one system to another."
No Visits, No Calls, No Letters
Forty-six-year-old Jordon is the mother of three boys, all over the age of 21, and a daughter who turned 16 in January. By the time she was arrested, Jordon did not have much of a relationship with her three sons; at the time, her two oldest, ages 13 and 14, were with their adopted family, while her nine-year-old was with her best friend. Only her five-year-old daughter lived with her, and she was sent to her grandmother after Jordon's arrest.
Jordon does not receive visits, phone calls, or letters from her children. The last time she saw, spoke or heard from any of them was a year ago when her daughter came to the prison with the Girl Scouts program. The Girl Scouts Beyond Bars program brings 25 children to visit their mothers once a month for two hours.
"Girl Scouts was the only time I was able to be in contact with my daughter Shannon," she said.
Her daughter has now aged out of the program, and Jordon does not know when she'll see her -- or any of her children -- again.
Brenda Rayburn also knows something about being completely cut off from her children. Rayburn had already spent 22 years in Texas prisons before she arrived here eight years ago, for another case. Rayburn was 22 years old and in an abusive marriage when her husband went to jail for beating her. As a direct result of the domestic abuse, Rayburn's two children, aged two and three were taken by Child Protective Services (CPS) in California.
"I didn't feel like I had anything left to live for after my kids were taken from me," Rayburn said. She met another man through a mutual friend and left all that she had known to go on a three-state crime spree with him. They were arrested in Texas. After serving time in Texas, Rayburn is now serving two 30-year sentences in Oklahoma.
Rayburn's daughter went to live with her in-laws, who prohibited Rayburn from any contact. It wasn't until recently that Rayburn's nephew, whom she has kept in touch with for all these years, informed her that he had found her daughter, now 31, on Facebook. Now they are corresponding and rebuilding a mother-daughter relationship through a request to the warden for permission and authorization to correspond. It is an eight-week process. Rayburn's 30-year-old son is now a two-time recidivist himself and only corresponds when he is in prison. Rayburn's daughter has been to prison three times and is presently court-ordered to an in-prison drug treatment facility. It is worth noting that studies show children of incarcerated parents are more likely to become incarcerated themselves, demonstrating the multigenerational impacts of imprisonment.
Nearly 20 percent of Oklahoma's women prisoners are African American, although on the outside Black people make up only 7.7 percent of the state's population. Dorothy Faye Marshall, a mother of four, is one of those 20 percent. Marshall has been locked up for 25 years. Her own parents never had a chance to visit because her mom couldn't get her birth certificate to prove she was Dorothy's real mother. This was necessary because only immediate family were allowed on each individual visitation card, plus one friend. Both parents died while Marshall was in prison.
When she was arrested, Marshall's four children went to her mother's home. Now, they're grown up and have families of their own. Their last visit was five years ago. When Marshall saw her oldest son, she didn't recognize him; her oldest daughter had to introduce mother and son.
She said, "Mom, this is Jeremy!' and I said 'WHAT!... that's Jeremy?' She said, 'Yes' and he hugged me so tight and I grabbed him and hugged him and he held my hand the whole time. Jeremy has a little son named Cue and his mama wants to meet me," She said of that visit. "They told me, 'Mom, no matter what, we're always gonna love you.' And when Jeremy was up here, he asked me all kinds of questions about my case. It was hard but I had to do it. It was hard for me to explain it but I did it."
Moms Weigh In on How to Change the System
Each of these mothers feels that incarceration devastated their relationships with their children. They all have ideas on how to keep the mother-child bond stronger.
Marshall believes there needs to be more programs like Oklahoma's Messages Project, which allow some mothers to record a 15-minute message to their children and grandchildren, even though restrictions apply, and not every mother receives permission from guardians to participate and send books or messages. The Mommy and Me program also sends recorded messages along with a photo and age-appropriate books for the little ones. At one time, there was a rumor that video calls were going to be implemented at our prison, but this has not occurred.
However, no matter how many connections are able to be built from behind bars, it's no replacement for seeing each other in person.
"There needs to be a connection and more social contact between mothers and their children," Marshall said. She now has grandchildren, and has only met them once.
These questions of "connection" raise the issue of why all these mothers are imprisoned in the first place. Jenkins thinks criminal court systems need to look more deeply into the reasons why a mother has committed a crime and not just say, "Bad mother -- put on your prison shoes, that's it and that's all."
In Jenkins' case, the reasons were addiction and depression. She needed help, she says, and instead she was put in prison, where she struggles to ensure that her children won't forget her. "There has got to be a better way -- putting people in prison for an illness seems sacrilegious in a state that is in the Bible belt," she said.
Jordon, too, believes that on the criminal court level, the judges need to order mandatory investigations into the "why" of it all. If mitigating circumstances exist, she says, a restorative justice committee should convene on behalf of the mother. The system shouldn't "just throw her away."
Countless lives -- including those of millions of children -- could be considered to be "collateral damage" of mass incarceration. Plus, as these women's stories have shown, other state systems also intersect with imprisonment to disrupt families and separate mothers and children.
"Most of my experience was from the child welfare system, and that system is just as much in need of reformation as the criminal justice system," said Phillips. "Warehousing children in various homes with people who are not emotionally invested in them is only going to perpetuate the cycles of brokenness in those lives. Placing siblings in separate homes, moving them multiple times, giving them to families for adoption who give them back when faced with the emotional and behavioral problems of children stored in the systems for 8-10 years only damages them further. The state needs to invest in the successes of a child's future and stop warehousing them and guaranteeing their failure."
Rayburn, who has been locked up in other states, reflected, "Oklahoma is very much behind other states and I believe that is why they rank number one in the incarceration of women." She pointed to programs like California's Civil Addict Program, in which people with drug addictions may receive a "civil addict commitment" instead of a criminal sentence. When Rayburn participated in the program, she was offered classes on how to cope with trauma. She also pointed to New York, where coalitions are advocating for better conditions within prisons -- and to shut down prisons instead of building more of them.
"Mass incarceration of mothers and fathers begets more prisoners," Rayburn said.
Immigrant rights advocates and attorneys describe how, in his first 100 days in office, Donald Trump has coordinated an unprecedented crackdown on immigration, poured hundreds of millions of dollars into state attacks on undocumented immigrants and funded a brutal expansion of the US deportation infrastructure.
Silvia Maceda, a native of Mexico who lives in Staten Island under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, at a march in New York, January 29, 2017. (Photo: Yana Paskova / The New York Times)
In his first 100 days in office, Donald Trump has coordinated an unprecedented crackdown on immigration, poured hundreds of millions of dollars into state attacks on undocumented immigrants and funded a brutal expansion of the US deportation infrastructure.
The force and viciousness of this new immigration regime led even a federal court judge to remark on its inhumanity. In his opinion on one case, Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the Ninth Circuit Court wrote, "The government forces us to participate in ripping apart a family … three United States citizen children will now have to choose between their father and their country."
Yet none of this is surprising. Trump has not broken stride in stoking the flames of hate and distrust -- even his comments on the Portland murders of two people who were defending two Muslim women against verbal abuse rang hollow and hypocritical. Both during and after his campaign, Trump set the stage for such incidents and even provided a kind of script for it. These new policies and practices are having immediate and often profound effects on the way immigration law is practiced at the grassroots level.
Ilyce Shugall, directing attorney of the Immigration Program at Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, California, confirms the new intensity and aggressiveness of the Trump regime. She told Truthout that in immigration court, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of the General Counsel is opposing "essentially every motion -- basic motions for continuance are being opposed, motions for administrative closure or motions to terminate in cases of children who are eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status are being opposed when those were routinely agreed upon previously."
This comes at a cost to both humanitarian principles and also to efficiency -- huge backlogs are being created as new immigration cases fill the system. Shugall fears that "Every case is suddenly going to have to be litigated, and every case is suddenly going to be a battle." She believes that the ICE attorneys have directives from above.
Lucas Guttentag, a professor at Stanford Law School who founded the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project and recently served as a senior immigration advisor in the Obama administration, agrees. "I think we're going to see Attorney General Sessions taking much more aggressive action both on criminal prosecutions, which he's threatened, but also on reinterpreting the immigration laws and how they apply," Guttentag told Truthout.
He added that Sessions has certain authority in that respect and is likely to issue decisions that reinterpret the law in ways that "might not get huge attention right away but will have really, really pervasive consequences." For example, Guttentag said, Sessions could try to erode domestic violence as a basis for getting political asylum in the United States.
Guttentag's perception is that the Trump administration is also trying to gradually change the culture within the Department of Homeland Security. "Everything's gone out the window -- it's a free for all," he told Truthout. He explained that even though the Trump administration has retreated somewhat in the face of legal challenges to its sweeping orders, damage has already been done in the message sent to ICE and Customs and Border Protection officers.
"What happened in the sanctuary litigation is the government went into court and said, 'Oh, we're not really going to cut off everybody's funding ... we're only going to go after cities after giving them notice,'" Guttentag said.
This kind of erratic behavior, which has become a hallmark of this administration, is often not easily constrained by the US Constitution, since the executive orders are often vague, though Trump's intent is clear. The result of this combination of this erratic behavior with newly aggressive enforcement and litigation is increasing fear. Guttentag believes this is deliberate: "I think part of the Trump administration's strategy is to make people so afraid that they'll leave. It's causing people to abandon jobs, homes, schools, even their kids in some instances where they have US-citizen kids. I think that's a conscious strategy to create as much fear as possible."
The Trump administration has also threatened to expand the use of the "Expedited Removal" initiative -- under which it can deport people without any immigration court check. The initiative has been used at the border, but now the government may use it in the interior -- it allows ICE agents to make extrajudicial decisions to deport individuals on the spot.
Another aspect of this new mode of enforcement and judgment is that more people who are seeking asylum are not being granted parole and are being detained. As a result, the non-detained, non-priority cases get dragged out. That now includes children's cases, which have become deprioritized. Consequently people are reluctant to even make a case and apply for what they may well qualify for.
With all these actions taking place or being threatened, there is a widening disconnect between the goals of the federal government and the aims of local law enforcement. Shugall gives an example from San Mateo County, where the sheriff's department doesn't want to deputize its law enforcement officers to be immigration agents for fear that doing so would decrease the safety of the community. The sheriff's department has expressed fear that doing so could "prevent immigrants from reporting crimes and it could very well prevent people in mixed-status families from reporting crimes," Shugall told Truthout. "We've already seen statistics coming out of Los Angeles that there's been a decrease in reporting of domestic violence and sexual assault. And the belief is that it's because people are afraid to work with law enforcement."
Ultimately, Guttentag says there is an even larger issue at hand -- something that goes to the heart of what we are as a nation: "I don't think it's just about undocumented immigrants. I think it's about changing the perception and the reality of America and its composition. I think the Trump administration wants to change the immigration laws far more deeply than just what we're talking about now," he says. "It feels like we are in a period like at the beginning of the 1900s that lead to the 1920s National Origins Quota Act. That was -- as you know -- an openly racist and exclusionary law designed with the explicit goal using immigration to return to an era of America as a white, northern European, Christian nation. Barring all Asian immigration, and virtually no Jewish, Southern or Eastern European immigration."
In the face of the retrenchment of racist exclusionary practices, however, Guttentag said there is also some good news: The movement against these practices "has broadened and deepened the voices in support of immigrant communities, and made those communities feel there is a larger movement supporting them and that immigrants are not alone."
Shugall adds that, "Local advocacy is really key, because advocacy at the federal level is not going to be super successful at this point." She asks people who want to help to look at the websites of nonprofits like hers in their local communities to learn how they can support their efforts.
This focus on the local seems entirely reasonable, given the chaos that seems to reign in Washington these days. It is crucial to address the immediate impact these new practices are having on people in one's own community, to help shine a light on their dilemmas and to gather broader support for their defense. In all these areas, local nonprofits are fighting an increasingly costly and exhausting fight.
This truly is about what we are as a nation. Those who voted for Trump, at least in part because of his promise to "Make America Great Again," need to be answered: We must counter the premise that the US was "great" in past eras when injustice, racism and sexism flourished. The recent votes in France and in the UK might be taken as signs that anti-immigrant fears are not always able to guarantee overwhelming votes for right-wing candidates, but we cannot take that for granted. Here in the United States, we have immediate damage to contend with.
On Feb. 26, 2008, a $9-million underground seed vault began operating deep in the permafrost on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, just 810 miles from the North Pole. This high-tech Noah's Ark for the world's food varieties was intended to assure that, even in a worst-case scenario, our irreplaceable heritage of food seeds would remain safely frozen.
Less than 10 years after it opened, the facility flooded. The seeds are safe; the water only entered a passageway. Still, as vast areas of permafrost melt, the breach raises serious questions about the security of the seeds, and whether a centralized seed bank is really the best way to safeguard the world's food supply.
Meanwhile, a much older approach to saving the world's heritage of food varieties is making a comeback.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, a group of volunteers in the northern Montana city of Great Falls met in the local library to package seeds for their newly formed seed exchange, and to share their passion for gardening and food security.
"We don't know what's going to happen to our climate in the future," said Alice Kestler, a library specialist. "Hopefully, as the years go by, we can develop local cultivars that are really suited to the local climate here."
For millennia, people the world over have selected the best edible plants, saved the seeds, and planted and shared them in sophisticated, locally adapted breeding projects that created the vast array of foods we rely on today. This dance of human intelligence, plant life, pollinators, and animals is key to how human communities became prosperous and took root across the planet.
The Great Falls Library Seed Exchange is continuing that tradition even while a modern agribusiness model works to reduce the genetic diversity of our food stocks and consolidate control over the world's seeds. Six seed companies now control three quarters of the seed market. In the years between 1903 and 1983, the world lost 93 percent of its food seed varieties, according to a study by the Rural Advancement Foundation International.Especially in a time of climate change, genetic diversity is what we need to assure food security and resilience.
Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that giant agribusiness companies have no interest in the vast varieties and diverse ways people breed plants. It is hard to get rich off of an approach based on the distributed genius of people everywhere. Such a model doesn't scale or centralize well. It is intensely democratic. Many people contribute to a common pool of knowledge and genetic diversity. Many people share the benefits.
Making big profits requires scarcity, exclusive knowledge, and the power to deny others the benefits. In this case, that means the appropriation of the knowledge built up over generations, coupled with the legal framework to patent seed varieties and punish those who fail to comply.
Especially in a time of climate change, though, genetic diversity is what we need to assure food security and resilience.
The Great Falls Library Seed Exchange is on the second floor of the library, which sits less than a mile from the Missouri River. Climb the brick building's big, central staircase, and you can't miss the brightly painted seed catalog. Borrowers are encouraged, but not required, to save some of the seeds and return them to the library for others to plant."The seed in its essence is all of the past evolution of the Earth."
The exchange began just over a year ago, and is one of 500-some seed libraries worldwide. It sources its seeds from local organic farms and distant companies that specialize in plants that can grow in the rugged terrain of the northern plains, as well as heirloom varieties that have proven their worth over generations of seed saving. Locals also bring in their favorite varieties to share.
Each grower chooses which of each variety to save for seed, and those choices shape future availability.
"Since we have such a short growing climate here, getting seeds from plants that fruit early is really advantageous," Kestler said. Some growers, though, select for the biggest fruit; others for the best-tasting. This built-in diversity helps to secure a resilient food supply.
"The seed in its essence is all of the past evolution of the Earth, the evolution of human history, and the potential for future evolution," author and seed saver Vandana Shiva told me when I interviewed her in 2013. "The seed is the embodiment of culture because culture shaped the seed with careful selection. That is a convergence of human intelligence and nature's intelligence.""Seed saving is such an important political act in this time."
The Norwegian doomsday vault makes an important statement about the irreplaceable value of the genetic diversity of our planet, and it may prove to be an important failsafe in the event of disaster. But the time-honored process of saving and sharing seeds is dynamic. It naturally adapts to changing conditions, like climate change, and keeps the power with people everywhere to make choices that assure local resilience.
"Seed saving is such an important political act in this time," Shiva said. "Save the seeds, have a community garden, create an exchange, do everything that it takes to protect and rejuvenate the seed."
In Georgia's special election, Karen Handel dimmed, if not doused, Democratic hopes that younger candidates will bring younger voters to polls. As both parties' strategists evaluate the lessons of the race, their attention will turn to the role that Ossoff's age played in his initial pre-runoff success and eventual failure.
Jon Ossoff, Democratic candidate for Georgia's 6th Congressional District, at a campaign stop in Dunwoody, Georgia, April 11, 2017. (Photo: Kevin D. Liles / The New York Times)
Tuesday night, 55-year-old Republican candidate Karen Handel defeated 30-year-old Democratic hopeful Jon Ossoff and secured the seat in Georgia's 6th District in the most expensive congressional race in US history. The $28 million raised by the candidates drew national attention, but the contest was also viewed as an early test of each political party's strength since Trump's election.
Handel dimmed, if not doused, Democratic hopes that younger candidates will bring younger voters to polls. As both parties' strategists evaluate the lessons of the race, their attention will turn to the role that Ossoff's age played in his initial pre-runoff success and eventual failure. From a political perspective, youth has its appeal. Ossoff's age created a buzz and a political story of promise, which helped propel him into the runoff but didn't deliver him the big finish.
In the aftermath of the 2016 election, several progressive Democratic groups formed to support millennial-aged candidates running for public offices across the country. Among those groups: the Alliance for Youth Action, the Arena and Run For Something. "We entice millions of young voters into our sweet democracy," the Alliance's website declares.
Will the numerous-yet-elusive millennial voters go to the polls for candidates who are their own age, as strategists presume? Arguably, they should. Many issues under debate in Congress concern the long-term direction of the country -- policies about which those youthful voters share the longest-term stakes like health care, Social Security and climate change.
Young progressive candidates have other advantages. For Democrats in their 20s and 30s, the 2016 election was a cycle in which winning candidates in both parties and those leading Congress were several generations older. When the presidential race ended in a historic upset, resulting in the election of a president who stands in opposition to the values they view as most important, they lost faith in the predictions and assumptions of those party leaders. The 2016 election created a kind of moral directive for these young Democrats, which is why so many hundreds have expressed interest in running, according to groups like Run for Something.
Young candidates also benefit from the explosion of social media, since its pervasiveness and accessibility make name recognition a more realistic possibility for political newcomers, the category into which younger candidates invariably fit.
Youthful candidates, however, face obstacles; Ossoff faced many.
Being young is more a matter of fact than an individual accomplishment, and Handel used Ossoff's relative youth in her attack ads against him. One Republican strategist in charge of a wealthy super PAC said of Ossoff, "He wants to play dress-up and pretend to be a grownup and say, for five years he was a national security adviser when, in fact, he's just a spoiled frat boy, playing dress-up and advocating for underage drinking."
Other young candidates haven't managed to tap into the millennial voting bloc promise either.
In May, Alexis Frank, a 26-year-old Democrat, lost a primary race for South Carolina's 5thCongressional District. "The greatest thing I have received from this election is the realization that I care about this country way more than I ever thought I did," she told supporters on Facebook.
In mid-June, Hannah Risheq, a 25-year-old Democrat from Virginia, lost a primary race for Virginia's 67th Legislative District. As the daughter of a Muslim Palestinian immigrant father and a Jewish-American mother, she cast herself as a candidate informed by her age and background and focused on grass-roots support. She said, "They say they want young people to get involved. And then when you show up after getting an education and getting life experience, and you come back to your hometown and you are ready to make the difference, they're like. 'Well, you've been gone too long.' …Well? I'm 25. When did you want me to get involved? So, I'm here."
Those defeats have not stopped Lindsay Brown, a 28-year-old progressive millennial, from running in a primary for New Jersey's 7th Congressional District. Notably though, Brown whose campaign platform calls for addressing man-made global warming, raising the minimum wage and welcoming Syrian refugees, is running in the Republican primary. Why? The New Jersey Democratic party "is not supportive of young people who don't have deep, deep, deep political experience or a lot of money to fund their own race," she said.
Ossoff's loss shows Democrats cannot alone pin their hopes on the appeal of young candidates who often face longer odds than more established candidates. But losses don't indicate the strategy's failure. Millennial turnout in the 2016 presidential election was only slightly less than in 2012, and skewed more heavily for Clinton it did for than Obama. Millennial voters prevented more devastating losses in swing states like Michigan. As for Ossoff's runoff in Georgia, the 2016 election was not determined by strikingly low millennial turnout so much as strikingly high Republican turnout. If candidates like Ossoff, Frank, Risheq and Brown lead more Democrats to become lifelong voters in midterm and local elections, they are fighting one of the party's biggest weaknesses.
Trump took an oath to defend the First Amendment, but when peaceful demonstrators outside the Turkish embassy were assaulted by Turkish presidential bodyguards, Trump's prolific Twitter account was strangely silent. Was the silence owing to diplomatic discretion or a conflict of interest in the shape of two luxury towers in Istanbul bearing the Trump name?
President Donald Trump leaves after making a joint statement with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey, at the White House in Washington, May 16, 2017. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)
In May, employees of a foreign government attacked US demonstrators, injuring at least 11 people. The main response has come not from the White House, but from a local police department. And all this occurred against the backdrop of Donald Trump's disdain for freedom of speech, his admiration for foreign strongmen, his vulnerability to foreign government pressure on his businesses, and his team's seeming penetration by foreign agents.
On a pleasant sunny day, about two dozen demonstrators gathered peacefully in a grassy area across from the Turkish ambassador's residence at Sheridan Circle in Washington, DC. They were protesting the visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and holding the flag of a Kurdish political party when black-suited men from President Erdoğan's security detail assaulted them. Videos from the scene show the Turkish presidential bodyguards kicking and punching the demonstrators as Erdoğan watched. The DC police intervened to stop the attack, but the Turkish bodyguards continued to attack the demonstrators even while police tried to control the chaos.
President Trump wasn't at Sheridan Circle beating those demonstrators. He was in the White House, having just posed for a press opportunity with President Erdoğan. But he is not entirely blameless either.
First, he has repeatedly incited violence against peaceful protesters at his own events. This isn't a secret; the video is on the internet. He urges crowds to "knock the crap" out of protesters. When the crowds do just that, he says it's "appropriate" and "what we need more of," and offers to pay their legal fees. So it's not surprising that when protesters annoy him, he tells supporters to "get 'em outta here!" and then the protesters are beaten. His lawyers spin this as something other than incitement to violence, but a federal judge was not fooled. And Erdoğan's bodyguards don't seem to have read those legal briefs.
But it's also no coincidence that this was Turkey rather than some other country. Turkey is a US ally, but in recent years, it has descended into authoritarianism under President Erdoğan. (Turkey's response to the event, in fact, was to file a formal complaint with the United States for allowing a "provocative" demonstration.)
And it's no coincidence that this tepid response happened under the Trump administration rather than another, because the president is locked in a sordid embrace with the Turkish government.
Trump himself has openly admitted that he has a "little conflict of interest" in dealings with Turkey because of his buildings there -- the Trump Towers Istanbul. In a December 2015 radio interview on Breitbart News, host (now White House chief strategist) Steve Bannon asked Trump if Turkey was a "reliable partner." Trump responded:
I have a little conflict of interest 'cause I have a major, major building in Istanbul. It's a tremendously successful job. It's called Trump Towers -- two towers, instead of one, not the usual one, it's two.
Erdoğan (who, as Ivanka Trump tweeted, was present for the 2012 launch of the real estate project) has not hesitated to use this leverage. In June 2016 after a statement by Trump angered Erdoğan, the Turkish leader threatened to remove the name "Trump" from the buildings -- a threat he only dropped after Trump praised Erdoğan's strongman tactics in dealing with opposition. Since then, Erdoğan has reciprocated by defending President Trump against protesters in the United States.
Then there is the disgraced Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who served as a key campaign adviser to candidate Trump while being secretly paid to represent Turkish government interests. The Trump administration's transition team knew that he might be required to register as a foreign agent under the federal Foreign Agents Registration Act. But Trump appointed him as national security adviser nonetheless, until he was forced to resign after just 24 days on the job. In March, General Flynn belatedly filed foreign agent registration paperwork, disclosing that he had earned over half a million dollars as an unregistered Turkish agent while advising Donald Trump on national security matters.
It gets worse. According to James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, in September 2016, General Flynn met with Turkish government officials to discuss kidnapping a Pennsylvania resident (originally from Turkey) and whisking him out of the country to a fate unknown.
This web of squalid connections may explain why the White House did not say a word that day, or the next, about the Turkish presidential bodyguards' assault on peaceful protesters on US soil. On the day of the assault, the only government agencies to report the event were the DC Fire Department and the Turkish-language edition of Voice of America. Belatedly, a State Department spokesperson eventually issued a short statement, and the department summoned the Turkish ambassador to its offices.
The DC police announced criminal charges and arrest warrants against 12 Turkish security officials in June, but these officials are back in Turkey and are unlikely to see the inside of DC Superior Court.
As for President Trump and his prolific Twitter account? Silence.
Of course, it is possible that a president operating in good faith might decide to tread carefully with a key US ally in a problematic region of the world. But Donald Trump is not a good-faith president, and we will never know whether his silence is because of a considered national security judgment, or because of a pair of luxury buildings with his name on them.
Those peaceful demonstrators have a constitutional right under the First Amendment to speak and "peaceably to assemble." Trump swore an oath to "protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." That includes defending the First Amendment, and it includes defending people on US soil from attack by security forces from a foreign country. And there's no exception for a pair of fancy buildings.
The healthcare bill proposed by Senate Republicans would reduce key benefits for millions of Americans and defund Planned Parenthood for a year, making breast cancer screenings and basic reproductive services more difficult for women to secure. We get response from Dr. Willie Parker, a physician, abortion provider and the board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health. "The Affordable Care Act expanded access to the preventive services of contraception and family planning," Parker notes. "It strikes me as odd that the people who are ideologically driven to reduce abortion in this country are going to reduce the very services that make abortion unnecessary. So, hundreds of thousands of women got their birth control through Medicaid coverage because it was a preventive service, and as a result of that, we’ve seen the lowest number of abortions in this country since it became legal."
Please check back later for full transcript.
Gay marriage leads to "the deterioration of marriage and the family" and "societal collapse." Keeping same-sex couples from marrying isn't discrimination, but simply enforcing "God's idea." These are just a few of the ugly statements by Vice President and religious bigot Mike Pence about marriage equality.
And it doesn't stop there. In 2015, Trump's second-hand man signed a "religious freedom" law as governor of Indiana that gave permission to businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people.
During his short time in office, Trump has already come close to implementing a similar executive order, but he was forced to back down after a series of humiliating defeats on other issues and pressure from LGBTQ organizations.
With Trump and Pence controlling the White House and a Republican majority in Congress, it's understandable that millions of LGBTQ people, their family, friends and supporters are fearful that rights won in recent years will be rolled back.
There's no predicting what will happen in the next four years, but with LGBTQ rights under threat in the Trump era, it's important to look back at how marriage equality was won -- and generalize the lessons for the struggles ahead.
It's hard to overstate how profoundly social attitudes and legal rights for LGBTQ people in the US have advanced in the past 20 years. In order to understand where we've come from and how we've gotten here, some history is in order.
In 1992, in response to pressure from the gay and lesbian movement and AIDS activists, Democratic President Bill Clinton ran on a platform of supporting gay rights. But on February 1994, only a year into his first term, Clinton turned his back on the LGBT community and caved to the religious right, instituting the military's "don't ask, don't tell policy that prohibited gays and lesbians from coming out in the country's largest employer.
Then, in September 1996, in response to a ruling by the Hawaii Supreme Court opening the door to legalizing same-sex marriage, Clinton signed the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage for federal purposes as a union between a man and women. DOMA also allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriage granted in other states. It passed the House and Senate by veto-proof, bipartisan majorities.
The LGBTQ movement encountered major setbacks in the 1990s with these policies and laws that were supported by a supposed Democratic "ally."
But important social and cultural shifts were underway during the late 1990s and early 2000s that couldn't be reversed: More people, especially millennials, were coming out. As time went on and more and more Americans now knew someone who was LGBT, the future of discriminatory laws became more and more untenable.
On November 18, 2003, history was made when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage.
In the case of Goodridge v. Health Department, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples had the right to marry. The court's ruling stated in unambiguous terms that separate was not equal:
The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens...We declare that barring an individual from the protections, benefits and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution.
Despite attempts to delay implementation of the ruling by anti-gay Republican Gov. Mitt Romney -- later the Republican candidate for president -- and homophobic state legislators of both parties, the movement beat the bigots. On May 17, 2004, the first marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples in Massachusetts.
Over time, more people realized that far from leading to "societal collapse," marriage equality was a guarantee of basic civil rights.
The victory in Massachusetts inspired a wave of protests for marriage equality in towns and cities across the country.
In San Francisco, thousands of couples lined up for marriage licenses when Mayor Gavin Newsom defied California's discriminatory state law banning gay marriage and ordered the county clerk's office to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples. This continued until the state Supreme Court stepped in.
But beyond exceptions like Newsom, the Democratic Party worked to shut down the new movement for same-sex marriage. Marriage equality activists were accused of being divisive and told to get behind John Kerry's unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2004, despite the fact that Kerry opposed marriage equality.
The best-known openly gay member of Congress, Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, told couples in San Francisco that the "timing wasn't right." "When you're in a real struggle, San Francisco making a symbolic point becomes a diversion," he lectured.
Not only did Kerry lose to Bush in the 2004 election, but 11 states passed constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage in that vote, taking the total number of states with anti-gay marriage laws to 38. Once again, the strategy of relying on the Democratic Party proved to be an enormous failure.
Four years later, the fight for marriage equality entered a new phase.
In June 2008, the California Supreme Court overturned its previous ruling and legalized same-sex marriage. Thousands of couples began receiving marriage licenses.
But the victory was short-lived. On Election Night in November, as the country was celebrating the election of the first African American president, Californians learned that Proposition 8, a ballot measure funded by the Religious Right and Mormon Church, had passed, overturning the state Supreme Court ruling and once again banning same-sex marriage.
This time, though, the response was immediate and overwhelming. Starting on Election Night itself, hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands poured into the streets in cities across California and around the country for the largest protests for marriage equality yet.
Young LGBTQ activists new to organizing took the lead, and the movement spread largely through the Internet. Generation Stonewall 2.0 took matters into their own hands, motivated by the gap between increasing social acceptance of LGBTQ people on the one hand and the persistence of legal discrimination on the other.
In the face of spreading protests, Barack Obama came out against Prop 8, but maintained his shameful opposition to gay marriage. Obama, the son of an interracial couple, hypocritically declared that marriage was a "state's rights" issue, using the same rhetoric once spouted by segregationists to oppose civil rights for African Americans.
The established LGBT organizations were ill-equipped to respond to the task at hand -- and caught completely caught off guard by the outpouring of protests against Prop 8. To fill the vacuum, new activist groups emerged, like Join the Impact, and became centers of grassroots organizing where new people could plug into the movement and participate in democratic debates and discussions about its direction.
The wave of protests built and built, culminating in the call by veteran LGBT activist and union organizer Cleve Jones and others for the National Equality March in Washington, DC, on October 11, 2009.
Organized by the new generation of activists and on a shoestring budget, the march drew over 250,000 people to the first national demonstration for LGBT rights in over 15 years. Organizers intentionally broke from Gay Inc.'s myopic politics and emphasized the importance of solidarity, incorporating a wide spectrum of LGBT issues, including transgender rights, into the March's platform.
That platform came down to a simple demand: full LGBT equality now!
Speakers were a diverse group, including the parents of murder victim Matthew Shepard, same-sex couples, undocumented immigrants, union militants, queer and trans activists of color, youth organizers, open socialists, Broadway performers, poets and artists, and, yes, even Lady Gaga.
The call for the repeal of Prop 8 was in the spotlight, but marchers challenged "don't ask, don't tell" and DOMA as well and called for federal protections in employment and housing and full equality for trans people.
Only at the last minute, when it became clear that the march was gaining momentum, did mainstream LGBT organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force sign on to endorse the march, after initially opposing it.
But Barney Frank showed his disdain for grassroots activism yet again, lecturing that the National Equality March would be a "waste of time at best" that would do little to make change. "The only thing they're going to be putting pressure on is the grass," Frank smirked. History proved him wrong.
The level of protests as well as grassroots organizations ebbed in the following years. The movement became dominated by a legalistic strategy that emphasized court battles over bottom-up organizing. But the eruption of anger after Prop 8 leading to the National Equality March marked a turning point in the battle for marriage equality and LGBT rights.
Over the next six years, the victories rolled in as laws codifying discrimination and second-class citizenship were torn down.
In September 2011, Congress repealed "don't ask, don't tell." In June 2013, in the landmark United States v. Windsor case, the US Supreme Court ruled DOMA was unconstitutional.
Between 2008 and 2012, seven states legalized gay marriage; in 2013, eight more were added their names to the list; and in 2014, 19 joined the ranks. By 2015, there were 37 states -- three quarters of the total, accounting the vast majority of the US population -- where same-sex marriage was legal. In October 2012, responding to the accumulated pressure, Obama reversed himself to become the first sitting president to come out for marriage equality.
Then, on June 26, 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that the right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples under the 14th Amendment. Gay marriage became law of the land in all 50 states.
In the matter of 10 years, same-sex marriage went from being a "wedge issue" that the right wing could count on to mobilize their base and win referendum victories to a widely supported civil right -- because an ascending movement flipped public opinion, secured legal victories and forced Republican and Democratic politicians alike to change their tune.
The demonstrations after Prop 8, leading to the National Equality March, were central to breaking the debate about marriage equality out of the confines of a narrow state-by-state issue and into the national arena. Protest gave confidence and momentum to legal battles by challenging and changing public opinion until marriage equality was the majority opinion.
This sea change in popular consciousness put pressure on politicians and judges, altering altered the landscape in which legal campaigns were taking place.
Court battles were important to winning marriage equality, but it was the pressure from below, created by masses of ordinary people participating in a grassroots movement, that drove the struggle forward to victory.
That's the lesson to take with us in the struggles ahead as we tell Trump and his legion of bigots and reactionaries that we won't go back.
Watching disabled people protesting Trumpcare outside Mitch McConnell's office being bloodied and dragged away was deeply disturbing. But their courage was also a reminder of what this moment demands of us -- all of us -- especially those Democratic senators who have so proudly dubbed themselves "The Resistance."
A disabled demonstrator is dragged from her wheelchair outside of the offices of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as people gathered to protest Medicaid cuts, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC, June 22, 2017. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)
In a moment that profoundly encapsulated what the Trumpcare is all about, more than 40 people, including disabled protesters, were dragged from a Senate office hallway in Washington, DC on Thursday, leaving streaks of blood on the hallway floor. The scene was deeply disturbing, but it's one we should all feel compelled to confront, because it is the truth of what 24 million people could be up against, as of next week.
The protest was organized by ADAPT, a group focused on the direct-action efforts of disabled people. The group noted in its press release that the action was staged on the 18th anniversary of Olmstead v. L.C., a Supreme Court decision that affirmed the right of disabled people to live in the community. As the die-in commenced, outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office, participants chanted, "I'd rather go to jail than die without Medicaid."
Tense situation outside McConnell's Russell office as protesters gather. Capitol Police blocking off hallway pic.twitter.com/48H3KUipfK— Andrew Desiderio (@desiderioDC) June 22, 2017
Forty-three people were arrested, shortly after the GOP finally released the text of a bill that predictably outlined provisions that would destroy or end the lives of a great many people. The hallway strewn with empty wheelchairs, after disabled protesters were dragged from the premises, stood as a gut-wrenching reminder of what's at stake over the next week. The courage of those who were removed from that hallway on Thursday was a reminder of what this moment demands of us.
But here's the thing: The majority of those making sacrifices, and taking chances, are those who can least afford to do so: disenfranchised people, disabled people and those living on a fixed income. Have we chosen to be a society where, across the board, those most impacted by the issues we claim to care about are solely responsible for their own survival? Have we become so consumed by the American cult of self-oriented politics that we're incapable of fighting for each other's lives? If so, we have rendered ourselves incapable of forming any front wide or strong enough to save anyone.
So, as we make demands of the senators who have a voice in what happens next, let's remember to demand that they also answer these tough questions, both in words and in action. After watching those disabled individuals being dragged from their wheelchairs, chanting as they were hauled from their legislative halls of decision, the question screaming in my mind was both rageful and clear: Where are the Democratic senators who have proudly dubbed themselves "The Resistance"?
Last year, Democratic Congress members sat in on the House floor in an effort to bring a law about gun control to a vote, in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting. The bill at issue would have had no significant impact on gun violence in the US, but the gesture was nonetheless applauded as having signified that our elected representatives were "doing something."
It's time to make clear that the broad category of "something" is not enough.
Stating one's position in opposition to Trumpcare is not enough.
Symbolically holding the Senate floor on Monday was not enough.
Voting against the bill is not enough.
These senators have the opportunity to throw themselves in the path of what's coming, and they should be held to a standard of resistance that is commensurate with the harm with which we are all being threatened.
As I reflect on the chanting and singing of House Democrats, who mocked their Republican opponents as Trumpcare passed the House, I am reminded of the reality of US politics: Those in power think it's a game, and they think it's a joke. If they thought otherwise, they would be throwing down as hard as disabled people did in the Senate hallways on Thursday.
We all have roles to play, and some of us have numerous roles to play. We can make phone calls and apply pressure through direct action, rallies, vigils and more. We can make ourselves heard in any number of venues, if our voices are forceful. But when we call Democratic senators, what is our demand? It can't be limited to their votes. If they want a place in history that removes them from this crime against marginalized people, they must engage in genuine resistance. They have much less to lose by doing so than many of us. They would be handled much more gently by police for sitting in, blocking traffic, or nearly any other stunt or action they might pull, and they have been duly elected by the people to protect our interests.
I don't believe in this system, and I expect very little from politicians, but expectations cannot govern demands if we have any hope of seeing justice in this world. There is no moral position, in the face of this legislation, but resistance and obstruction -- and after what happened Thursday, any senator that doesn't embrace resistance and obstruction should be ashamed. No one should be allowed to say they are acting in solidarity with the marginalized while enjoying a secure position of comfort and safety. There is simply no excuse for that level of submission to "the order of things."
I don't say this with any lack of awareness about the vast distinctions between Democrats. Some have expressed a strong belief in health care as a human right. Some have even taken to the streets, at some point in their lives. But what I am saying to you right now, is that even you admire those people, it must be made clear to them that, in this moment, talk is cheap. There was blood streaked across the floor outside their offices on Thursday -- the blood of disabled people -- and that calls for more than a verbalization of solidarity. It is a challenge being leveled by those living in the margins. It is a bar that's been set, and we have every right to demand that they follow the lead of those brave individuals.
And while we are on the subject of bravery, I want to speak to what that word means, in a time when people sometimes conflate a statement of belief with concrete action.
There is a reason we refer to brave people as having the courage of their convictions, rather than the courage of their beliefs. There is nothing inherently courageous about our beliefs or positions. Our beliefs can be tucked away, to afford us safety, or bandied about in settings where they prove more fashionable. Your belief in my right to survive is unimpressive unless your actions back up that belief.
Your political perspective, by itself, is about as relevant as what I had for breakfast -- which, by the way, was nothing.
Our actions in the world define us, and until our convictions are tested, our words are purely theoretical, and establish nothing about who we are in the world. So, when you call your Democratic senators, remind them of that. Remind them that their obligations are not limited to obstructive parliamentary maneuvers -- which we should all encourage -- but also encompass the demands of a higher law, one that defines our view of humanity. That higher law, grounded in fundamental human rights, should inform any notion of why government exists. Because regardless of rules of procedure, power that cannot justify itself should be upended and undone, and if those in power will not defend our lives with every tool at their disposal, then there should be hell to pay.
Republican candidate Karen Handel during her viewing party on the day of the special election for Georgia's 6th Congressional District, at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta Perimeter, in Atlanta, June 20, 2017. (Photo: Kevin D. Liles / The New York Times)
In 1920 journalist Walter Lippmann wrote in Liberty and the News, of World War I, "[n]obody, for example, saw this war. Neither the men in the trenches nor the commanding general. The men saw their trenches, their billets, sometimes they saw an enemy trench, but nobody, unless it be the aviators, saw a battle." Dark money in our elections leads to similar myopia where the public can't tell what's really going on as they are asked to do their civic duty and cast their ballots.
On Tuesday, there was a special election to replace Rep. Price who was elevated to become the Secretary of Health and Human Services in Georgia's 6th District. In the end Karen Handel (R) won the open seat against Jon Ossoff (D). This special election turned into the most expensive congressional race in American history. As of Election Day, reported spending by the candidates alone clocked in at $27.5 million. The total cost including outside spending is estimated to be roughly $55 million.
But the Georgia's 6th District race was also notable because of the amount of dark money spent in the race. By "dark money," I mean money spent in an election which is untraceable for voters. Most dark money becomes dark by being routed through opaque nonprofits such as 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations or 501(c)(6) trade associations.
Among the dark money in the special election supporting the Republican candidate was $1.5 million from America First Policies a secretive group created by Trump advisers including one Brad Parscale who has been in the news recently as being a person that the House Intelligence Committee wants to interview in its investigation into the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The FEC has zero information about America First Policies so far.
Another source of Republican dark money was a group called Ending Spending, which spent $1.2 million. Ending Spending was created by TD Ameritrade founder and billionaire Joe Ricketts. If that name rings a bell, it could be because his children own the Chicago Cubs. While Ending Spending has not reported its spending for 2017 yet, its FEC reports for 2016 show $2.6 million in spending and zero contributors. This isn't a typo. This is the problem with dark money. We can tell it is being spent at high levels but we can't tell where the heck the money really came from.
A third big source of Republican dark money was the trade association the US Chamber of Commerce which provided $1.1 million. This is par for the course for the Chamber, which has been one of the largest sources of dark money since the Supreme Court's Citizens United v. FEC in 2010. They have already spent $29 million in dark money nationwide in 2016-2017. The Chamber's independent spending in the two weeks before the Georgia 6th election included "Voter file purchase supporting Karen Handel."
And then there's a daisy chain of dark money that flowed into the race, including $1.5 million from American Action Network to Congressional Leadership Fund on April 17, 2017. American Action Network was created in 2010 by Fred Malek and AAN is chaired by former Sen. Norm Coleman and and ex-GOP-congressmen Vin Weber, Jim Nussle, and Tom Reynolds sit on the board. And if there is any question if this is a dark money group, look at its FEC filing for 2016, which lists $5.5 million in expenditures and zero donors.
The Democratic candidate was also supported by dark money. The largest spender was Planned Parenthood Action Fund for $800,000, including money for staff time and travel time for direct voter contact in the two weeks before the election. Now to be fair, Planned Parenthood Action Fund is not a completely dark group like the ones listed above on the right. Some of their donors are disclosed and can be tracked on the FEC. But they also fail to disclose all of their donors.
So who cares? Well, voters for one. Often busy voters rely on cues to navigate who deserves their votes. And a key cue is who is funding each candidate. But with millions of dark money in elections no one gets a clear picture of what interests are pulling the strings in the election. And thus voters are like the soldiers in the trenches in World War I. They can see bombs flying above the trench, but they cannot see the whole battle.
One month ago today a burly, middle-aged reporter set out from the offices of the news weekly Riodoce that he co-founded some fourteen years ago, walking toward his car at high noon. In the preceding days, the internationally renowned journalist had admitted to people close to him that he felt anxious about his safety.
He had just penned what would be his last column that morning when his life was brought to an abrupt end by two unknown assassins using a silencer. The killers reportedly dragged him from his car and shot as many as 13 rounds into his body, in the middle of a city street.
To the shock of the nation and his many readers, fellow journalists and admirers in Mexico and abroad, Javier Valdez Cárdenas was murdered openly in his hometown of Culiacan, Sinaloa -- a capital city notorious for being located in the middle of a fierce drug war.
The reason behind the shock was not that hit men struck a journalist. There have been eight journalists assassinated in Mexico this year alone, a record-breaking statistic that has propelled the nation to the top of the list of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to practice journalism, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The reason for the shock was also not because Valdez covered a safe beat. He didn't. His reporting, along with others at Riodoce, focuses on the politics and on-the-ground realities of the drug war.
The reason the murder shocked so many people out of complacency is that Valdez was arguably the most recognized journalist yet to have been assassinated in Mexico's long and sordid history of impunity.
Valdez was a prolific and widely read author. In the span of his 50 years he published seven books and earned numerous national and international awards. Riodoce has been an invaluable news source due to its incisive reporting and commentary on the drug war, a rarity in the region where many other news outlets have shuttered because of safety concerns. Valdez was also the Sinaloa correspondent for La Jornada, a nationally-distributed daily.
Previously, Mexico-based journalists believed that a high profile gained by publishing in high-circulation outlets or racking up awards would serve as a measure of protection. Several years ago when I met Valdez and asked him about reporting on sensitive drug war-related material, he advised me to seek outlets with as major a circulation as possible. Many journalists thought 2017 couldn't get any worse, following the murder of the La Jornada correspondent in another drug war-infested area (Chihuahua) this past March, and now they were confronted with a nightmare scenario: Who could truly be safe if they could assassinate someone as famous as Javier Valdez in broad daylight?
Marcos Vizcarra, a reporter for the newspaper Noroeste in Culiacan, told the Associated Press that reporters across the country "don't know what to do," following the Valdez murder and felt, "nervous, unsettled."
Despite the widespread outcry that came in the aftermath of Valdez's assassination, authorities have not made a single arrest in the case. An examination of official developments and the concerns behind those who most closely monitor journalism safety and the lack of justice in Mexico helps shed light on where matters have gone and how they are expected to progress.
"We Had Never Interviewed a Drug Lord"
Javier Valdez was born, raised and seasoned as a journalist in his native Culiacan, Sinaloa. Sinaloa serves as the operating hub of the world's largest and most powerful drug cartel, the Sinaloa Cartel, which produces and transits methamphetamine, marijuana and heroin almost exclusively bound for the US market. Unsurprisingly then, Sinaloa also breeds and hides many of the country's most powerful drug lords.
Valdez's path diverged from that of other journalists covering the narco beat who aspired, and sometimes succeeded, to venture into the highlands of Sinaloa to make contacts with and interview drug lords. Instead, Valdez wielded his craft from the bars, cafes and street-side seafood stalls of Culiacan. He often left out names, dates and places, but the information coming from Valdez's columns were chock full of on-the-ground information based on sources cultivated over many years of street-beat journalism.
Ismael Bojorquez, the other co-founder of Riodoce and Valdez were both there when someone hurled a grenade into the offices of Riodoce in 2009. Miraculously, no one was hurt.
This year, however, Valdez did something different. He interviewed a drug lord. When an important Sinaloa cartel representative acting on behalf of a kingpin whose importance had recently risen came knocking, Valdez decided to do the interview.
In what was probably the most embarrassing moment for any Mexican President in recent memory, on July 15, 2015, Sinaloa cartel and drug kingpin leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman escaped from prison through a multi-million dollar tunnel nearly a mile long that he built in captivity. This being the second time that Guzman escaped, the international humiliation forced a heightened effort to recapture him. Less than half a year later he was caught, but not before he gave an interview to Sean Penn that was published in Rolling Stone. This past January, just a year after El Chapo's recapture, he was extradited to a prison in New York City, where he continues to be held.
Guzman wielded absolute power over the cartel he led, matched only by his partner, Ismael "Mayo" Zambada. It was not long before Mexican news outlets started reporting on a power struggle between "El Chapo's" right-hand man Dámaso López Núñez (nicknamed "El Lienciado") and Chapo's sons, including one particularly violent incident in Tijuana this past February, among others. López sent a representative to Riodoce's offices to dispel notions of him being an enemy of El Chapo or his sons.
"Chapo's sons found out that we had interviewed Damaso and they pressured Javier (Valdez) not to publish the story," wrote Boroquez in his column after the assassination of his friend and coworker. The paper denied the request. Boroquez said the representative offered to buy up the entire edition, but that was also denied. Valdez also went on to publish about the incident for La Jornada.
Like in the gangster movies from the Al Capone era, as soon as the batches of weekly newspapers were dropped off at newsstands throughout Culiacan, they were snatched up by cars following close behind the delivery trucks. The entire print run was brought up before nearly anyone else in Culiacan could even read it.
This was an unprecedented action and Valdez knew something was up and stated as much to the Spanish daily, El Pais. He described the situation as "fucking hot."
Prompted by advice from his friend and colleague, Carlos Lauria, the program director of the Mexico chapter of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Valdez left Culiacan for two weeks. Then on May 2, the authorities arrested López in Mexico City. Valdez returned to Culiacan to continue his life's work in his native city and longtime stomping grounds.
"When I visited Culiacán last week to attend Javier's funeral, many of his colleagues said they believed there was no longer any immediate danger to Javier and other reporters [following the arrest of López]," wrote Lauria in an op-ed for The New York Times.
But that assumption was a mistake. Drug kingpin arrests often destabilize the cities where they take place. Lauria also wrote that Valdez spoke to him of continued concerns following the arrest and his decision not to speak publicly about cartel-related violence.
Presidential-Led Reforms Fail to Crack Impunity
Before Valdez was killed in Culiacan, the murder of La Jornada and Chihuahua-based correspondent Miroslava Breach on March 19 sparked demonstrations of journalists calling for protection and justice. President Enrique Peña Nieto launched a series of initiatives to reform protection services and attempt to prevent additional journalist killings.
Following a meeting with a visiting delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists, Peña Nieto announced measures on May 4 to combat impunity. He promised to refund a federal protection mechanism that was slated to end by October of this year.
The federal mechanism's roots date back to 2012 when it was first started as a program called the Federal Mechanism for Protecting Human Rights Defenders and Journalists. Services included providing journalists under threat with police escorts, surveillance cameras, and even portable panic buttons to alert authorities of an emergency or an attack. However, many journalists complained that none of these measures were effective in helping them remain protected and in some cases they hindered them in being able to carry out their jobs.
Data from the program reveals a dark side of the narco-state: journalists fear violent reprisals from public officials as much as from any other sector. The Washington Office of Latin America (WOLA) and Peace Brigades International found that of 316 requests for protection, 38% of the alleged aggressors were public servants -- the largest single group of attackers.
Peña Nieto also promised to replace Ricardo Nájera as the lead prosecutor for Crimes Committed Against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE). Since 2010, FEADLE has only managed to achieve three convictions and has often refused cases, while a recent investigation by Reporters Without Borders found that the program did not have the necessary resources to secure the safety of journalists, and lacked the "political will" to do so.
According to Edgar Corzo Sosa, a Mexican official and inspector general with Mexico's National Human Rights Commission, conviction rates for journalist killings hover around 10 percent. Of the 114 journalist murders that have occurred in Mexico since the turn of the century, the special prosecutor's office has investigated just 48 since 2010.
"To be a journalist in Mexico seems like more of a death sentence than a profession," wrote Tania Reneaum, the director of Amnesty International Mexico, in a press release. "The continuing bloodshed that the authorities prefer to ignore has created a deep void that is damaging the right to freedom of expression in the country," added Reneaum.
Attorney General Raul Cervantes Andrade appointed Attorney Ricardo Sanchez Perez del Pozo as the new head of FEADLE.
"He will review each case currently under investigation, maintain permanent contact with all organizations of civil society and journalists, propitiating a permanent and transparent dialogue with society and reinforce coordination with authorities from the three levels of government," the official statement read.
These actions happened before the Valdez killing, prompted by the prior assassinations of the year and civil society pressure. In addition to the demonstrations, the Committee to Protect Journalists met with the president and other officials and released a searing report entitled, "No Excuse: Mexico Must Break Cycle of Impunity in Journalists' Murders." The international organization released the report at another drug war-torn area -- the eastern port city of Veracruz in what the CPJ dubs as the most deadly region for journalists in the Western hemisphere.
After the Valdez killing, the government offered a reward of up to 1.5 million pesos ($83,000 USD) for information leading to the arrests of those responsible for the murders of five of the Mexican journalists killed this year, including Valdez, as well as an attempted murder of a sixth journalist.
Journalist advocates remain skeptical of these measures, especially in light of the failure to make arrests and prosecute in the cases of the eight journalist assassinations this year alone. In this vein, Lauria told PBS that "any reforms that Mexico decides to carry out are going to be impossible if journalists continue to be killed with total impunity."
Journalists Take the Initiative
Many journalists have little faith that the reward or the Mexican government's reforms will make them safer. They organized a conference in Mexico City this week and expect thousands to attend. More than 50 national and international media organizations have come together with about 360 journalists in a group called the Journalists' Agenda. The group's website vows to construct "an agenda with short and medium-term goals to protect journalists," in light of a "context of systemic violence against journalists."
Mexican journalists, usually a disparate bunch, have risen up since the murders of Beach and Valdez. Foreign governments have joined journalists, and human rights groups and freedom of expression watchdog organizations to call the Mexican government's attention to the urgent situation. The president has promised to directly address their demands.
Will the promise be kept? Mexico-based journalists aren't holding their breath. But one thing is certain -- society and especially organized journalists are demanding protection and an end to impunity louder than ever before.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell departs a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC, June 22, 2017. Senate Republicans took a major step Thursday toward repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, unveiling a bill that would make deep cuts to Medicaid and leave possibly millions of people without health insurance. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)
The fate of millions now stands upon the fulcrum of the coming week. This reconciliation was drafted in total secrecy, and in the light of day stands as little more than a smash-and-grab robbery favoring the wealthy and powerful. That this bill exists at all is an embarrassment to the nation.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell departs a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC, June 22, 2017. Senate Republicans took a major step Thursday toward repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, unveiling a bill that would make deep cuts to Medicaid and leave possibly millions of people without health insurance. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times)
The Senate's answer to the House bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act -- cheerily titled "The Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017" -- hit my desk like a bag of dung late Thursday morning. As I read through its largely inscrutable text, I started flashing back to junior high school and the first time I tried to read Shakespeare in the raw. Take, for one example, this nugget from p. 74, sec. 1903A, lines 18-24: "1903A ENROLLEE. -- The term '1903A enrollee' means, with respect to a State and a month and subject to subsection (i)(1)(B), any Medicaid enrollee (as defined in paragraph (3)) for the month, other than such an enrollee who for such month is in any of the following categories of excluded individuals …"
Clear as mud, Mr. McConnell. After a couple of false starts, I found my groove and with slowly dawning horror realized I was reading one of the most ruthless, soulless, vicious documents ever put to print. While not as bloodthirsty as the House version it seeks to correct, the Better Care Reconciliation Act is a genuinely cruel piece of work that will deliver millions of people to the gutter or the grave.
1. The Dismantling of Medicaid
Let's start with a baseline: Some 20 percent of Americans are enrolled in Medicaid; 39 percent of children in the US are enrolled in Medicaid; 49 percent of births are covered by Medicaid; and a full 64 percent, or nearly two-thirds of nursing home patients, are covered by Medicaid.
Here's the treatment Medicaid gets in this reconciliation bill: "Beginning with fiscal year 2020, any State (as defined in subsection (e)) that has an application approved by the Secretary under subsection (b) may conduct a Medicaid Flexibility Program to provide targeted health assistance to program enrollees."
And: ''(A) FEDERAL PAYMENT. -- Subject to sub-paragraph (D), the Secretary shall pay to each State conducting a Medicaid Flexibility Program under this section for a fiscal year, from its block grant amount under paragraph (2) for such year, an amount for each quarter of such year equal to the Federal average medical assistance percentage (as defined in section 1903A(a)(4)) of the total amount expended under the program during such quarter, and the State is responsible for the balance of the funds to carry out such program."The Better Care Reconciliation Act is a genuinely cruel piece of work that will deliver millions of people to the gutter or the grave.
In short, control of Medicaid will devolve to the states, essentially ending the program as we have known it. States will not be allowed to expand Medicaid after three years, a large sticking point for several GOP senators who are still on the fence. States will be responsible for at least a portion of the costs beyond what is provided by a federal block grant, and as described in later language, can opt out of the whole thing whenever they choose. The amount of that block grant will diminish over time after 2021, which lessens the immediate impact on Medicaid but does far more damage to the program in the long run. Medicaid itself will essentially cease to exist after 2025.
That last piece is a clever bit of sleight-of-hand often practiced on 42nd Street in New York City by guys with three nutshells and a pea: Stretching out the attack on Medicaid over a longer time period leavens the headline-grabbing conclusions that will be reached by the Congressional Budget Office's score, which is slated to be released on Monday. Any way you slice it, tens of millions of people will take it right in the teeth, and many of them are the poorest and neediest among us.
2. Attacks on Elderly People, Women and Working People
Under this new reconciliation, insurers will be allowed to charge older policyholders as much as five times more than younger policyholders. Tax credits for insurance will be based on age, geographic location and income, but will only be applied to the shabbier plans available, and will end in 2020 if President Trump doesn't cancel them sooner, which he will have the power to do. States will be allowed to alter the definition of an "essential health benefit," so services like emergency care and prenatal care could face the chopping block.
In the bill, Planned Parenthood is stripped of federal funding, a direct attack on basic, necessary reproductive health care. This amounts to yet another front in the GOP’s long-standing quest to relegate women to second-class status in the US, and if successful, will represent a huge victory for the anti-choice right wing. Planned Parenthood, crucially, offers abortion, but it also addresses many other needs. It performs cancer screening and offers birth control, along with a wide assortment of other health care services, often for women who cannot afford health insurance or OBGYN care. If this provision is allowed to stand, it will be a devastating blow.Medicaid itself will essentially cease to exist after 2025.
One woefully under-reported aspect of this bill is the fact that the employer mandate to provide insurance is gone. This has the potential to do grave damage to the middle-class and working-class families who depend on employer-provided insurance. With no financial incentive to provide employee coverage, and plenty of financial incentive to denude or do away with employee coverage entirely, look for a grim number of businesses, large and small, taking advantage of this provision to the detriment of millions.
3. The Loot
And then, of course, there is the loot. Beyond the $800 billion that will be stripped from Medicaid over time and shuttled to the rich, the guts of this reconciliation bill are bursting with repealed taxes that will favor the wealthy and the health care industry itself. To the delight of John Boehner and presumably Trump as well, p. 29, line 17, sec. 118 repeals the "Tanning Tax," but a whole battalion of other tax repeals follow like the tolling of a dinner bell for the ravenous few.
This reconciliation bill is so ruthless that it inspired former President Obama to denounce it in a large Facebook missive on Thursday afternoon. "Simply put," he wrote, "if there's a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family -- this bill will do you harm. I still hope that there are enough Republicans in Congress who remember that public service is not about sport or notching a political win, that there's a reason we all chose to serve in the first place, and that hopefully, it's to make people's lives better, not worse."
The latter sentiment reminded me of a recent comment by Charles P. Pierce regarding President Obama and the Republicans: "This may be the final example of the worst part of the Obama presidency," wrote Pierce, "namely, his persistent, unfounded belief in the rationality of his political opposition." Anyone who reads and comprehends the core nature of this bill must, I fear, be forced to agree. Nice people did not draft this thing, and the tiny slice of the public the drafters are serving with it couldn't give less of a damn about the damage that will be done by it -- in fact, many of them will benefit from it.
Will It Fly?
Now that the cat is finally out of the bag, the central question remains: Will this thing fly? McConnell has bet every chip he has that moderate Republicans who are wary of the Medicaid restrictions and conservative Republicans who see this as too much like the ACA will eventually fall in line, lest the whole thing collapse in ignominy and wind up around their necks like a rancid albatross in 2018. McConnell has already made it abundantly clear that if this reconciliation fails, he intends to move on to other matters.One woefully under-reported aspect of this bill is the fact that the employer mandate to provide insurance is gone.
It's a very tall gamble. Conservatives like Rand Paul have already attacked the thing, and moderates like Shelley Capito, Rob Portman and Susan Collins remain very leery over the current version of the bill. As of Thursday evening, Paul, along with fellow senators Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson and Mike Lee, had voiced their grave displeasure with the bill as currently constituted and threatened to vote "No" on anything they deem to be "Obamacare Lite." They may mean it, or they could just be positioning themselves for negotiations on the final language that are almost certainly already underway.
McConnell has 52 Republican senators in his caucus and needs 50 votes, with Vice President Pence waiting in the wings to cast a tie-breaking vote if need be. He can't lose more than two. It will be a close shave. The CBO scoring will hit on Monday, and McConnell has vowed to bring the bill to the floor next week whether or not he has the votes.
Bear in mind, of course, that in this day and age, the words "moderate" and "Republican" seldom find each other comin' through the rye. A "moderate" Republican today is akin to the snipe, a mythical creature that has been hunted by millions to no avail. Provisions to address the opioid crisis and to elongate the assault on Medicaid both made it into the bill as a sop to these wavering "moderates." There's a lot of talk coming from that quarter right now, but I suspect these fence-sitters will eventually line up with the majority leader. It will likely be the hard-liners like Paul who will decide if this thing lives or dies. The margin is indeed miniscule if, as expected, no Democrats vote in favor.It will likely be the hard-liners like Paul who will decide if this thing lives or dies.
The fate of millions now stands upon the fulcrum of the coming week. This reconciliation was drafted in total secrecy, and in the light of day stands as little more than a smash-and-grab robbery favoring the wealthy and powerful at the brutal expense of the poorest and weakest among us. With the removal of the employer mandate, middle-class and working-class families likewise face a future of uncertainty and pain. That this bill exists at all is an embarrassment to the nation. The "Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017" must be cast out with the refuse like the bag of dung it is.
This week's episode discusses the declining California State University system, Trump vs. coal industry realities, Hudson Yards for the mega-rich vs. New York's social needs, and how lotteries and legalizing pot have the same economic motives. Also included are major discussions on politics and economic betrayal, Trump's new austerity budget and why worker co-ops deserve government support.
Visit Professor Wolff's social movement project, democracyatwork.info.
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Today in the corporate media, Venezuela's economic problems are used to paint the country as a failed state, in need of foreign-backed regime change.
To get the Bolivarian government's side of the crisis, Abby Martin interviews Venezuela's Minister of Economic Planning, Ricardo Menéndez. They discuss shortages, oil dependency, the role of the US-backed opposition movement and more.
The Empire Files joined him in Cojedes, Venezuela, where he was speaking to mass community meetings, organizing the population to fight against what he calls an economic war.
Those who expected Trump to keep his promise to bring drug prices "way down" are in for a shock. His planned executive order on drug pricing reads like a Big Pharma wish list of eased regulation and extended monopolies. It even calls for restricting the discounts that pharma companies benefiting from the lucrative Medicaid market currently offer providers that serve low-income patients.
(Photo: TBIT; Edited: LW / TO)
Sadly, skepticism about the true impact of Trump's populist posturing on drug pricing has proven to be well justified. As a worried nation focuses on the looming danger of the Senate vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the pharmaceutical industry has joined hands with the president who once said its corporate members are "getting away with murder."
This week, the New York Times obtained a draft of a planned President Trump executive order on drug pricing. As Patients for Affordable Drugs founder and cancer patient David Mitchell told the Times, the text indicates that "Pharma has captured the process."
The order, which appears likely to be rolled out after the dust settles on the Affordable Care Act repeal effort, was reportedly written largely by Trump budget staffer Joe Grogan, who was hired by the administration fresh from his role as a drug industry lobbyist. But Grogan is certainly not the only one carrying Big Pharma's interests into the Trump administration. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price has been a heavy investor in the pharma industry, and FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb spent years collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees from pharma companies. Predictably, Trump's team has written an executive order that reads like a Big Pharma wish list of eased regulation and extended monopolies.
Conspicuously absent from the proposed Trump order are the most logical and popular reform proposals, including allowing the Medicare program to use its massive purchasing power to negotiate lower drug prices. Trump has explicitly endorsed Medicare negotiation in the recent past, and the shackles on Medicare are a key contributor to patients in the US paying the highest medicines prices in the world. But there is no mention of Medicare drug price negotiation in the draft order.
Also missing is any embrace of the movement to allow US patients to import their medicines from Canada or other nations with far cheaper prices. Nor are there provisions to take advantage of the government's extensive legal rights to allow generic drug production and break the monopolies of over-priced patented drugs, especially the many critical drugs that were developed thanks to taxpayer funding. A majority of states are considering legislation to require increased drug price transparency and justification for large price increases, and some have passed such legislation -- but the Trump administration's draft order does not enhance transparency.
Instead, in an audacious example of blaming the victim, the draft order takes aim not at the industry whose profits rival those of banks and oil companies, but at low-income patients, both in the US and in developing countries. The proposal calls for restrictions on the 340B Drug Pricing Program, in which pharma corporations that benefit from the lucrative Medicaid market for their drugs are required in return to give some discounts to hospitals and clinics that serve low-income patients. And the order pushes for ramped-up trade pressure on developing countries that try to reduce the duration of drug monopolies that make medicines unaffordable for their citizens.
Not only are such measures mean-spirited, they would also be completely ineffective at reducing medicine prices for US patients. Rolling back limited drug price discounts for the poor would only increase revenue for pharmaceutical corporations that have a proven track record of directing their dollars into marketing, lobbying and breathtakingly high CEO pay, not lowered prices.
The argument that lower drug prices outside the US are hurting medicine research has been thoroughly debunked: High US prices have been proven to be fueling corporate profits, not industry research. Even if the Trump administration harbors legitimate concern that other countries are getting a free ride on US research investments, extended monopolies are not the answer. Knowledge Ecology International's Jamie Love and others have proposed several ways the Trump administration could make increased medicine research contributions part of its ongoing trade negotiations with other nationsg -- a far more effective way to spur increased research than hiking drug prices overseas.
As Public Citizen's Peter Maybarduk says of the executive order, "The way to reduce medicine prices in the United States is to reduce them in the United States. Making medications more costly for the world's poor won't make them more affordable in the US, and won't help Americans who are forced to choose between paying for their health care and paying the rent."
But making medications even more expensive than they already are is precisely what Big Pharma wants. And President Trump appears determined to give it to them, all promises to the contrary be damned.
More than 10,000 people have died amid the ongoing U.S.-backed, Saudi-led war in Yemen, which has also destroyed the country's health, water and sanitation systems, sparking a deadly cholera outbreak. The cholera death toll has risen to 1,054. The United Nations warns some 19 million of Yemen's 28 million people need some form of aid, with many of them at risk of famine. We speak to Kristine Beckerle of Human Rights Watch.
Please check back later for full transcript.
Author Ha-Joon Chang. (Photo: New America; Edited: LW / TO)
Income inequality is not caused by globalization itself but rather by economic policies that, since the 1980s, have increasingly been set by transnational corporations, Ha-Joon Chang and Noam Chomsky point out. But globalization during the era of industrial capitalism has always enhanced dependence, inequality and exploitation, often to horrendous extremes.
Author Ha-Joon Chang. (Photo: New America; Edited: LW / TO)
Since the late 1970s, the world's economy and dominant nations have been marching to the tune of (neoliberal) globalization, whose impact and effects on average people's livelihood and communities everywhere are generating great popular discontent, accompanied by a rising wave of nationalist and anti-elitist sentiments. But what exactly is driving globalization? And who really benefits from globalization? Are globalization and capitalism interwoven? How do we deal with the growing levels of inequality and massive economic insecurity? Should progressives and radicals rally behind the call for the introduction of a universal basic income? In the unique and exclusive interview below, two leading minds of our time, linguist and public intellectual Noam Chomsky and Cambridge University economist Ha-Joon Chang, share their views on these essential questions.
C. J. Polychroniou: Globalization is usually referred to as a process of interaction and integration among the economies and people of the world through international trade and foreign investment with the aid of information technology. Is globalization then simply a neutral, inevitable process of economic, social and technological interlinkages, or something of a more political nature in which state action produces global transformations (state-led globalization)?
Ha-Joon Chang: The biggest myth about globalization is that it is a process driven by technological progress. This has allowed the defenders of globalization to brand the critics as "modern Luddites" who are trying to turn back the clock against the relentless progress of science and technology.
However, if technology is what determines the degree of globalization, how can you explain that the world was far more globalized in the late 19th and the early 20th century than in the mid-20th century? During the first Liberal era, roughly between 1870 and 1914, we relied upon steamships and wired telegraphy, but the world economy was on almost all accounts more globalized than during the far less liberal period in the mid-20th century (roughly between 1945 and 1973), when we had all the technologies of transportation and communications that we have today, except for the internet and cellular phones, albeit in less efficient forms.
The reason why the world was much less globalized in the latter period is that, during the period, most countries imposed rather significant restrictions on the movements of goods, services, capital and people, and liberalized them only gradually. What is notable is that, despite [its] lower degree of globalization … this period is when capitalism has done the best: the fastest growth, the lowest degree of inequality, the highest degree of financial stability, and -- in the case of the advanced capitalist economies -- the lowest level of unemployment in the 250-year history of capitalism. This is why the period is often called "the Golden Age of Capitalism."
Technology only sets the outer boundary of globalization -- it was impossible for the world to reach a high degree of globalization with only sail ships. It is economic policy (or politics, if you like) that determines exactly how much globalization is achieved in what areas.
The current form of market-oriented and corporate-driven globalization is not the only -- not to speak of being the best -- possible form of globalization. A more equitable, more dynamic and more sustainable form of globalization is possible.
We know that globalization properly began in the 15th century, and that there have been different stages of globalization since, with each stage reflecting the underlying impact of imperial state power and of the transformations that were taking place in institutional forms, such as firms and the emergence of new technologies and communications. What distinguishes the current stage of globalization (1973-present) from previous ones?
Chang: The current stage of globalization is different from the previous ones in two important ways.
The first difference is that there is less open imperialism.
Before 1945, the advanced capitalist countries practised [overt] imperialism. They colonized weaker countries or imposed "unequal treaties" on them, which made them virtual colonies -- for example, they occupied parts of territories through "leasing," deprived them of the right to set tariffs, etc.
Since 1945, we have seen the emergence of a global system that rejects such naked imperialism. There has been a continuous process of de-colonialization and, once you get sovereignty, you became a member of the United Nations, which is based upon the principle of one-country-one-vote.
Of course, the practice has been different -- the permanent members of the Security Council of the UN have a veto and many international economic organizations (the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank) are run on the principle of one-dollar-one-vote (voting rights are linked to paid-in capital). However, even so, the post-1945 world order was immeasurably better than the one that came before it.
Unfortunately, starting in the 1980s but accelerating from the mid-1990s, there has been a rollback of the sovereignty that the post-colonial countries had been enjoying. The birth of the WTO (World Trade Organization) in 1995 has shrunk the "policy space" for developing countries. The shrinkage was intensified by subsequent series of bilateral and regional trade and investment agreements between rich countries and developing ones, like Free Trade Agreements with the US and Economic Partnership agreements with the European Union.
The second thing that distinguishes the post-1973 globalization is that it has been driven by transnational corporations far more than before. Transnational corporations existed even from the late 19th century, but their economic importance has vastly increased since the 1980s.
They have also influenced the shaping of the global rules in a way that enhances their power. Most importantly, they have inserted the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism into many international agreements. Through this mechanism, transnational corporations can take governments to a tribunal of three adjudicators, drawn from a pool of largely pro-corporate international commercial lawyers, for having reduced their profits through regulations. This is an unprecedented extension of corporate power.
Noam, are globalization and capitalism different?
Noam Chomsky: If by "globalization" we mean international integration, then it long pre-dates capitalism. The silk roads dating back to the pre-Christian era were an extensive form of globalization. The rise of industrial state capitalism has changed the scale and character of globalization, and there have been further changes along the way as the global economy has been reshaped by those whom Adam Smith called "the masters of mankind," pursuing their "vile maxim": "All for ourselves, and nothing for other people."
There have been quite substantial changes during the recent period of neoliberal globalization, since the late 1970s, with Reagan and Thatcher the iconic figures -- though the policies vary only slightly as administrations change. Transnational corporations are the driving force, and their political power largely shapes state policy in their interests.
During these years, supported by the policies of the states they largely dominate, transnational corporations have increasingly constructed global value chains (GVCs) in which the "lead firm" outsources production through intricate global networks that it establishes and controls. A standard illustration is Apple, the world's biggest company. Its iPhone is designed in the US. Parts from many suppliers in the US and East Asia are assembled mostly in China in factories owned by the huge Taiwanese firm Foxconn. Apple's profit is estimated to be about 10 times that of Foxconn, while value added and profit in China, where workers toil under miserable conditions, is slight. Apple then sets up an office in Ireland so as to evade US taxes -- and has recently been fined $14 billion by the EU in back taxes.
Reviewing the "GVC world" in the British journal International Affairs, Nicola Phillips writes that production for Apple involves thousands of firms and enterprises that have no formal relationship with Apple, and at the lower tiers may be entirely unaware of the destination of what they are producing. This is a situation that generalizes.
The immense scale of this new globalized system is revealed in the 2013 World Investment Report of the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development. It estimates that some 80 percent of global trade is internal to the global value chains established and run by transnational corporations, accounting for perhaps 20 percent of jobs worldwide.National wealth by conventional measures has declined. But US corporate ownership of the globalized economy has exploded.
Ownership of this globalized economy has been studied by political economist Sean Starrs. He points out that the conventional estimates of national wealth in terms of GDP are misleading in the era of neoliberal globalization. With complex integrated supply chains, subcontracting and other such devices, corporate ownership of the world's wealth is becoming a more realistic measure of global power than national wealth, as the world departs more than before from the model of nationally discrete political economies. Investigating corporate ownership, Starrs finds that in virtually every economic sector – manufacturing, finance, services, retail and others -- US corporations are well in the lead in ownership of the global economy. Overall, their ownership is close to 50 percent of the total. That is roughly the maximum estimate of US national wealth in 1945, at the historical peak of US power. National wealth by conventional measures has declined from 1945 to the present, to maybe 20 percent. But US corporate ownership of the globalized economy has exploded.
The standard line of mainstream politicians is that globalization benefits everyone. Yet, globalization produces winners and losers, as Branko Milanovic's book Global Inequality has shown, so the question is this: Is success in globalization a matter of skills?
Chang: The assumption that globalization benefits everyone is based on mainstream economic theories that assume that workers can be costlessly re-deployed, if international trade or cross-border investments make certain industries unviable.
In this view, if the US signs NAFTA with Mexico, some auto workers in the US may lose their jobs, but they will not lose out, as they can retrain themselves and get jobs in industries that are expanding, thanks to NAFTA, such as software or investment banking.
You will immediately see the absurdity of the argument -- how many US auto workers do you know who have retrained themselves as software engineers or investment bankers in the last couple of decades? Typically, ex-auto-workers fired from their jobs have ended up working as night-shift janitors in a warehouse or stacking shelves in supermarkets, drawing much lower wages than before.
The point is that, even if the country gains overall from globalization, there will always be losers, especially (although not exclusively) workers who have skills that are not valued anymore. And unless these losers are compensated, you cannot say that the change is a good thing for "everyone".…
Of course, most rich countries have mechanisms through which the winners from the globalization process (or any economic change, really) compensate the losers. The basic mechanism for this is the welfare state, but there are also publicly financed retraining and job-search mechanisms -- the Scandinavians do this particularly well -- as well as sector-specific schemes to compensate the "losers" (e.g., temporary protection for firms to promote restructuring, money for severance payments for the workers). These mechanisms are better in some countries than others, but nowhere are they perfect and, unfortunately, some countries have been running them down. (The recent shrinkage of the welfare state in the UK is a good example.)
In your view, Ha-Joon Chang, is the convergence of globalization and technology likely to produce more or less inequality?
Chang: As I have argued above, technology and globalization are not destiny.
The fact that income inequality actually fell in Switzerland between 1990 and 2000 and the fact that income inequality has hardly increased in Canada and the Netherlands during the neoliberal period show that countries can choose what income inequality they have, even though they are all faced with the same technologies and same trends in the global economy.
There is actually a lot that countries can do to influence income inequality. Many European countries, including Germany, France, Sweden and Belgium are as unequal as (or occasionally even more so than) the US, before they redistribute income through progressive tax and the welfare state. Because they redistribute so much, the resulting inequalities in those countries are much lower.
Noam, in what ways does globalization increase capitalism's inherent tendencies toward economic dependence, inequality and exploitation?
Chomsky: Globalization during the era of industrial capitalism has always enhanced dependence, inequality and exploitation, often to horrendous extremes. To take a classic example, the early industrial revolution relied crucially on cotton, produced mainly in the American South in the most vicious system of slavery in human history -- which took new forms after the Civil War with the criminalization of Black life and sharecropping. Today's version of globalization includes not only super-exploitation at the lower tiers of the global value chains system but also virtual genocide, notably in Eastern Congo where millions have been slaughtered in recent years while critical minerals find their way to high-tech devices produced in the global value chains.
But even apart from such hideous elements of globalization ... pursuit of the "vile maxim" quite naturally yields such consequences. The Phillips study I mentioned is a rare example of inquiry into "how inequalities are produced and reproduced in a [global value chains] world [through] asymmetries of market power, asymmetries of social power, and asymmetries of political power." As Phillips shows, "The consolidation and mobilization of these market asymmetries rests on securing a structure of production in which a small number of very large firms at the top, in many cases the branded retailers, occupy oligopolistic positions -- that is, positions of market dominance, and in which the lower tiers of production are characterized by densely populated and intensely competitive markets…. The consequence across the world has been the explosive growth of precarious, insecure and exploitative work in global production, performed by a workforce significantly made up of informal, migrant, contract and female workers, and extending at the end of the spectrum to the purposeful use of forced labour."
These consequences are enhanced by deliberate trade and fiscal policies, a matter discussed particularly by Dean Baker. As he points out, in the US, "from December 1970 to December of 2000, manufacturing employment was virtually unchanged, apart from cyclical ups and downs. In the next seven years, from December of 2000 to December of 2007, manufacturing employment fell by more than 3.4 million, a drop of almost 20 percent. This plunge in employment was due to the explosion of the trade deficit over this period, not automation. There was plenty of automation (a.k.a. productivity growth) in the three decades from 1970 to 2000, but higher productivity was offset by an increase in demand, leaving total employment little changed. This was no longer true when the trade deficit exploded to almost 6 percent of GDP in 2005 and 2006 (more than $1.1 trillion in today's economy)."
These were substantially consequences of the high-dollar policy and the investor-rights agreements masquerading as "free trade" -- among the political choices in the interests of the masters, not the results of economic laws.
Ha-Joon Chang, progressives aim to develop strategies to counter the adverse effects of globalization, but there is little agreement on the most effective and realistic way to do so. In this context, the responses vary from alternative forms of globalization to localization? What's your take on this matter?
Chang: In short, my preferred option would be a more controlled form of globalization, based on far more restrictions on global flows of capital and more restrictions on the flows of goods and services. Moreover, even with these restrictions, there will inevitably be winners and losers, and you need a stronger (not weaker) welfare state and other mechanisms through which the losers from the process get compensated. Politically, such a policy combination will require stronger voices for workers and citizens.
I don't think localization is a solution, although the feasibility of localization will depend on what the locality is and what issues we are talking about. If the locality in question is one village or a neighborhood in an urban area, you will immediately see that there are very few things that can be "localised." If you are talking about a German land (state) or US state, I can see how it can try to grow more of its own food or produce some currently imported manufactured products for itself. However, for most things, it is simply not viable to have the majority of things supplied locally. It would be unwise to have every country, not to speak of every American state, manufacture its own airplanes, mobile phones, or even all of its food.
Having said that, I am not against all forms of localization. There are certainly things that can be more locally provided, like certain food items or health care.
One final question: The idea of a universal basic income is slowly but gradually gaining ground as a policy tool in order to address the problem of poverty and concerns over automation. In fact, companies like Google and Facebook are strong advocates of a universal basic income, although it will be societies bearing the cost of this policy while most multinational firms move increasingly to using robots and other computer-assisted techniques for performing tasks traditionally done by labor. Should progressives and opponents of capitalist globalization in general support the idea of a universal basic income?
Chang: Universal basic income (UBI) has many different versions, but it is a libertarian idea in the sense that it puts emphasis on maximizing individual freedom rather than on collective identity and solidarity.
All citizens in countries at more than middle-income level have some entitlements to a basic amount of resources. (In the poorer countries, there are virtually none.) They have access to some health care, education, pension, water and other "basic" things in life. The idea behind UBI is that the resource entitlements should be provided to individuals in cash (rather than in kind) as much as possible, so that they can exercise maximum choice.
The right-wing version of UBI, supported by Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman, the gurus of neoliberalism, is that the government should provide its citizens with a basic income at the subsistence level, while providing no (or little) further goods and services. As far as I can see, this is the version of UBI supported by the Silicon Valley companies. I am totally against this.
There are left-wing libertarians who support UBI, who would set its level quite high, which would require quite a high degree of income redistribution. But they too believe that collective provision of "basic" goods and services through the welfare state should be minimized (although their "minimum" would be considerably larger than the neo-liberal one). This version is more acceptable to me, but I am not convinced by it.
First, if the members of a society are collectively provisioning some goods and services, they have the collective right to influence how people use their basic entitlements.
Second, provision through a citizenship-based universal welfare state makes social services like health, education, child care, unemployment insurance and pensions much cheaper through bulk purchases and pooling of risk. The fact that the US spends at least 50 percent more on health care than other rich countries do (17 percent of GDP in the US compared to at most 11.5 percent of GDP in Switzerland) but has the worst health indicators is very suggestive of the potential problems that we could have in a system of UBI combined with private provision of basic social services, even if the level of UBI is high.
Chomsky: The answer, I think, is: "it all depends" -- namely, on the socioeconomic and political context in which the idea is advanced. The society to which we should aspire, I think, would respect the concept "jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen": to each according to their needs. Among the primary needs for most people is a life of dignity and fulfillment. That translates in particular as work undertaken under their own control, typically in solidarity and interaction with others, creative and of value to the society at large. Such work can take many forms: building a beautiful and needed bridge, the challenging task of teaching-and-learning with young children, solving an outstanding problem in number theory, or myriad other options. Providing for such needs is surely within the realm of possibility.
In the current world, firms increasingly turn to automation, as they have been doing as far back as we look; the cotton gin, for example. Currently, there is little evidence that the effects are beyond the norm. Major impacts would show up in productivity, which is in fact low by the standards of the early post-World War II era. Meanwhile there is a great deal of work to be done -- from reconstructing collapsing infrastructure, to establishing decent schools, to advancing knowledge and understanding, and far more. There are many willing hands. There are ample resources. But the socioeconomic system is so dysfunctional that it is not capable of bringing these factors together in a satisfactory way -- and under the current Trump-Republican campaign to create a tiny America trembling within walls, the situation can only become worse. Insofar as robots and other forms of automation can free people from routine and dangerous work and liberate them for more creative endeavors (and, particularly in the leisure-deprived US, with time for themselves), that's all to the good. UBI could have a place, though it is too crude an instrument to achieve the preferable Marxist version.
Just hours after a 24-story London apartment building went up in flames on June 14, Faiza Shaheen appeared on Britain's Sky TV to connect the dots between this horrific tragedy and the city's rank as one of the world's most unequal.
Inequality.org co-editor Chuck Collins and I sat down with Shaheen the following day, as the death toll, now estimated at 79, continued to rise. We talked about the public anger over the fire and what she sees as the related outcry for economic and racial equity that resulted in an unexpectedly strong showing for the UK Labour Party in the country's June 8 election. Shaheen directs the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class), a London-based think tank.
Inequality.org: What's the connection between the Grenfell Tower fire and London's extremely high levels of inequality?
Faiza Shaheen: The neighborhood surrounding the tower has the biggest gap between rich and poor of any in the country. It's a very wealthy area, but the people living in this particular tower were mostly working class ethnic minorities. Also, in terms of voice, you see the disparities. People living in this building had clearly spoken out about the problems with safety -- you can find their blogs online. But they also said they knew nothing would be done until there's a catastrophe. Well, now that's happened and we need to make sure the authorities can't just brush this away anymore.
How much was the recent election about inequality?
I would say inequality was fundamental to understanding the narrative of this election. When it was first announced, people thought it would be about Brexit again. But the Labour Party very effectively pivoted away from that. Their language was about the elites and about the rest of us not getting salary increases and facing cuts to public services.
We've had these cuts for the past seven years, but people were far more aware of them in this election than in the last one. We heard about parents getting letters from their children's teachers saying they didn't have money because of the budget cuts and asking for donations. With the terror attacks in London and Manchester, there was a lot of talk about the culling of police officers and how that had affected community policing.
The conservatives thought we could have a conversation about being strong and stable. But as a country it's very obvious that we're not strong and stable right now.
Didn't Prime Minister Theresa May initially make some proposals to reduce inequality?
When she first became prime minister less than a year ago, she spoke in quite strong terms about inequality. But in this election she didn't appeal to that language very much. And on some things, she reversed her position. For example, at one point she called for requiring large corporations to have worker representatives on their boards. Then later she said this could be voluntary and the "workers" could be managers. So it's completely meaningless. Conservatives showed themselves to be very out of touch by sticking with the status quo.
In the end, the Labour Party did gain 30 seats and the Conservative Party lost their majority, but Prime Minister May is still hanging on to power by pursuing a coalition with a small Northern Ireland party. Where do you see things going in the next year?
Most people think they'll be going into election before the end of the five-year term because the Conservatives are really weakened. To build support, they'll need to put more money into education and the National Health Service. They came across as quite mean in the campaign. When nurses asked ministers why they haven't had a pay raise, they were told very dismissively that there isn't a "magic money tree." We've got nurses going to food banks. That really connects with people emotionally.
Brexit negotiations began on June 19. How might this affect inequality?
The decision to withdraw from the European Union has already weakened the pound, making inflation worse. Because they don't know what will happen, businesses are holding back on investments that could boost productivity. And while wages don't always rise with productivity, this means we're likely to continue to have stagnation in most sectors. Combined with automation and the lack of strong trade union rights, this could mean even worse inequality under Brexit.
Where's the movement energy now for tackling inequality?
With Labour doing so well, we feel there's a mandate now to lift the pay cap on public service workers. We also feel May will have to abandon her plans to expand grammar schools, which are free schools that are academically selective. The evidence shows they don't help with social mobility and they tear the school system apart. That can't happen now.
We also think we can take advantage of the Conservative Party's statements about addressing excessive pay at the top. They pledged to require corporations that receive public contracts to report their CEO-worker pay ratio. And even May's weak current position on worker representation on boards gives something to push for that could affect executive pay. From the experiences in Germany and elsewhere we've seen that executives don't want to talk about giving themselves bonuses with workers at the table.
Labour proposed to tax the top 5 percent much more and leave bottom 95 percent as is. That drew a lot of support but the Conservatives are very unlikely to support that.
Like Bernie Sanders, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn did very well among young voters. Do you think this block will continue to be mobilized?
It was amazing to see tons of people coming out to volunteer for the campaign for the first time and really passionate about what Labour was calling for, especially young people. There was an app so that you could find your nearest marginal neighborhood, where it could go one way or another, and you could just turn up and help knock on doors. But they had so many volunteers they had to turn many away.
Labour had much less money than the Conservatives, but they really won the branding war. Corbyn definitely came out as cooler. There was even #Grime4Corbyn. People made videos with grime music mixed with Corbyn speeches, which worked well to encourage turnout by young people and ethnic minorities.
We're in a political quagmire now in terms of the makeup of parliament. In terms of the movement, people are really enthused and passionate. Horrible things keep happening but they are a reminder that we need to keep fighting. It will be really important to keep the pressure up and find ways to campaign -- it might be single issues, it might be Grenfell Tower and how we get justice there. Some of it will happen naturally because people have made friends through their political work.
We're in permanent campaign mode now.