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Experts on Bayou Bridge Robocalls Have Ties to TigerSwan, Industry Groups

Tue, 04/24/2018 - 07:10

In late March, residents across Louisiana picked up the phone to hear a recorded voice inviting them to join experts for a "free informational conference call on the Bayou Bridge pipeline."

But residents who stayed on the line were never informed that one of those experts -- James "Spider" Marks -- has close ties to TigerSwan, a mercenary private security firm that used counter-terrorism tactics against water protectors at Standing Rock and that's been denied a license to work in Louisiana.

That's not all listeners weren't told.

On a partial recording of the call shared by a Louisiana resident, moderator Craig Stevens identified himself as a "spokesman for Grow America's Infrastructure Now" (GAIN) and told listeners that he'd brought together some "really smart people" to tell them about the pipeline and take some of their questions.

The 163-mile Bayou Bridge pipeline is currently under construction and if completed, will stretch from Lake Charles to St. James Louisiana, cutting through 11 Louisiana parishes and crossing 700 bodies of water. It is part of a larger project slated to connect Energy Transfer Partners' controversial Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota to refineries in St. James Parish and nearby export terminals.

Stevens didn't divulge that he's is also a vice president at DCI Group, a Washington DC-area public relations and lobbying firm with ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is known for persuading legislators to introduce prepackaged bills written by the organization and which serve the interests of its corporate members.

DCI Group has a history of using astroturfing -- a type of campaigning that creates the illusion of having grassroots support -- to advocate against net neutrality, oppose health care reform and promote big tobacco. The firm was linked to a spoof of Al Gore, mocking him and his film, An Inconvenient Truth and was paid by Exxon to cast doubt on climate science.

On the call, Stevens introduced Marks as someone who "you may know from watching CNN and was also the military leader of our forces in Iraq."

Marks -- who was not the "military leader of our forces" in Iraq -- has been criticized in the past for giving what appears to be independent pro-war analysis on CNN and other media outlets without disclosing his connections to military weapons companies and the Pentagon.

In February 2017, Marks spoke in favor of the Bayou Bridge pipeline at a contentious public meeting in Louisiana, where he came under fire for failing to disclose that he was on the TigerSwan advisory board while commenting at the meeting and in an op-ed he wrote for a local paper.

It was one of several op-eds authored by Marks for outlets across the country. Nearly all favor ETP pipeline projects and paint water protectors as violent agitators. Almost none disclosed his ties to TigerSwan.

Since learning of Marks' connection to TigerSwan, at least one publication has banned Marks from future submissions and others have added disclosures.

Calls to confirm Marks' current role at TigerSwan were referred to Wesley Fricks, the company's vice president for governmental affairs and communication. Fricks, a former DCI Group lobbyist who served in the White House under the Bush administration, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Another expert on the call was Brigham McCown, who Stevens introduced as "the former head of the federal pipeline safety agency within the US transportation department."

Although not named by Stevens, that agency is the Pipeline Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA). A recently released report reveals that between 2005 and 2007 -- the years in which McCown oversaw PHMSA -- entities that have since merged into ETP's corporate family were responsible for more than 90 reported pipeline spills.

Listeners weren't told that McCown served as one of the "core infrastructure policy members" in President Trump's transition team and "helped develop the initial framework" for what would become Trump's infrastructure plan.

Nor were listeners told that McCown is currently chairman of the Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (AAII), a group that last year pushed for increased drilling in the Arctic, noting in a report that climate change could bring new economic opportunity to the arctic due to the thinning ice and increased navigability of Alaska's waters.

Like Marks, McCown also spoke at February 2017 public meeting in Louisiana, touting pipeline safety and speaking in favor of the project.

Stevens did not tell listeners that Marks and McCown are both advisors to GAIN, the organization hosting the call.

In an email, Stevens said not introducing McCown as an advisor was unintentional.

"First, I am almost certain that he was introduced as an advisor to GAIN. It was in my introductory notes. If he wasn't, that was an accidental oversight on my part," said Stevens, adding that McCown, who served as head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) under George W. Bush, is one of the leading pipeline safety experts in the world.

Stevens said he has no specific knowledge of associations Marks and McCown have with other organizations and said they are irrelevant to the coalition's work.

"General Marks is a trusted advisor to the coalition who brings an important national security perspective to the discussion of domestic energy production and distribution, and more broadly to infrastructure investment," said Stevens, who didn't explain why Marks wasn't introduced as a GAIN advisor.

GAIN publically identifies itself as a "diverse coalition of businesses, trade associations, and labor groups that share a vested interest in creating jobs and strengthening our nation's economy through infrastructure development".

In a blog post on its website, GAIN acknowledged the "tele-town hall" took place, telling readers that "experts in the field, ETP officials, and advisers to GAIN all took part in the event to answer questions from residents".

GAIN was formed in May 2017 and according to a press release issued at the time, many members "were also formerly aligned with the Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now (MAIN)". 

MAIN advocated in favor of the Dakota Access pipeline and has been linked to attempts to discredit water protectors at Standing Rock. According to its website, the group is a partnership of agriculture, business and labor groups that advocates for increased energy infrastructure and "energy independence". 

Stevens, who acknowledges working with both GAIN and MAIN, said the calls went out to about 200,000 Louisiana residents and about 16,000 stayed on to join the call.

He said ETP is not a member of GAIN, which is a 501(c)(4) organization.

Vicki Granado, a spokesperson for ETP, confirmed that the company is not a GAIN member.

"We were invited by GAIN to participate in two tele-town halls, which we gladly accepted. The calls presented us the opportunity to provide clear, accurate information to local residents about the Bayou Bridge pipeline project," said Granado, who said if invited, ETP would participate again.

Edward T. Walker, a professor of sociology at UCLA who studies the political activities of corporations and social movements, said the robo town hall is unusual.

"The robocall thing not new, but doing this type of thing as an expert town hall by phone is something I really haven't encountered very much," said Walker. He added that industries usually use astroturfing and other tactics when they feel they're under threat and facing a large amount of community resistance.

Walker, author of Grassroots for Hire: Public Affairs Consultants in American Democracy, said he's found that roughly 40 percent of all Fortune 500 companies are on the client lists of at least one firm that works to garner favorable public opinion through astroturfing and techniques like the tele-town hall.

"It's not just DCI, there's a whole field of organizations that do this kind of thing and help to mobilize mass pubic support on behalf of industries, especially when they're involved in some sort of controversial activity," said Walker, the UCLA professor.

Granado and Stevens both refused to say whether DCI Group is working on behalf of ETP.

Louisiana residents on the call had no way of knowing of the potential relationship between the two, nor were they told during introductions that the Bayou Bridge pipeline is an ETP project.

ETP's senior vice president of engineering was introduced by Stevens as simply "Chris Sonneborn from the company constructing the pipeline."

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Categories: Latest News

Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 21:00

On March 31st the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark interest rate for the sixth time in 3 years and signaled its intention to raise rates twice more in 2018, aiming for a fed funds target of 3.5% by 2020. LIBOR (the London Interbank Offered Rate) has risen even faster than the fed funds rate, up to 2.3% from just 0.3% 2-1/2 years ago. LIBOR is set in London by private agreement of the biggest banks, and the interest on $3.5 trillion globally is linked to it, including $1.2 trillion in consumer mortgages.

Alarmed commentators warn that global debt levels have reached $233 trillion, more than three times global GDP; and that much of that debt is at variable rates pegged either to the Fed's interbank lending rate or to LIBOR. Raising rates further could push governments, businesses and homeowners over the edge. In its Global Financial Stability report in April 2017, the International Monetary Fund warned that projected interest rises could throw 22% of US corporations into default.

Then there is the US federal debt, which has more than doubled since the 2008 financial crisis, shooting up from $9.4 trillion in mid-2008 to over $21 trillion in April 2018. Adding to that debt burden, the Fed has announced that it will be dumping its government bonds acquired through quantitative easing at the rate of $600 billion annually. It will sell $2.7 trillion in federal securities at the rate of $50 billion monthly beginning in October. Along with a government budget deficit of $1.2 trillion, that's nearly $2 trillion in new government debt that will need financing annually.

If the Fed follows through with its plans, projections are that by 2027, US taxpayers will owe $1 trillion annually just in interest on the federal debt. That is enough to fund President Trump's original trillion dollar infrastructure plan every year. And it is a direct transfer of wealth from the middle class to the wealthy investors holding most of the bonds. Where will this money come from? Even crippling taxes, wholesale privatization of public assets, and elimination of social services will not cover the bill.

With so much at stake, why is the Fed increasing interest rates and adding to government debt levels? Its proffered justifications don't pass the smell test.

"Faith-Based" Monetary Policy

In setting interest rates, the Fed relies on a policy tool called the "Phillips curve," which allegedly shows that as the economy nears full employment, prices rise. The presumption is that workers with good job prospects will demand higher wages, driving prices up. But the Phillips curve has proven virtually useless in predicting inflation, according to the Fed's own data. Former Fed Chairman Janet Yellen has admitted that the data fails to support the thesis, and so has Fed Governor Lael Brainard. Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari calls the continued reliance on the Phillips curve "faith-based" monetary policy. But the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), which sets monetary policy, is undeterred.

"Full employment" is considered to be 4.7% unemployment. When unemployment drops below that, alarm bells sound and the Fed marches into action. The official unemployment figure ignores the great mass of discouraged unemployed who are no longer looking for work, and it includes people working part-time or well below capacity. But the Fed follows models and numbers, and as of April 2018, the official unemployment rate had dropped to 4.3%. Based on its Phillips curve projections, the FOMC is therefore taking steps to aggressively tighten the money supply.

The notion that shrinking the money supply will prevent inflation is based on another controversial model, the monetarist dictum that "inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon": inflation is always caused by "too much money chasing too few goods." That can happen, and it is called "demand-pull" inflation. But much more common historically is "cost-push" inflation: prices go up because producers' costs go up. And a major producer cost is the cost of borrowing money. Merchants and manufacturers must borrow in order to pay wages before their products are sold, to build factories, buy equipment and expand. Rather than lowering price inflation, the predictable result of increased interest rates will be to drive consumer prices up, slowing markets and increasing unemployment – another Great Recession. Increasing interest rates is supposed to cool an "overheated" economy by slowing loan growth, but lending is not growing today. Economist Steve Keen has shown that at about 150% private debt to GDP, countries and their populations do not take on more debt. Rather, they pay down their debts, contracting the money supply; and that is where we are now.

The Fed's reliance on the Phillips curve does not withstand scrutiny. But rather than abandoning the model, the Fed cites "transitory factors" to explain away inconsistencies in the data. In a December 2017 article in The Hill, Tate Lacey observed that the Fed has been using this excuse ever since 2012, citing one "transitory factor" after another, from temporary movements in oil prices, to declining import prices and dollar strength, to falling energy prices, to changes in wireless plans and prescription drugs. The excuse is wearing thin.

The Fed also claims that the effects of its monetary policies lag behind the reported data, making the current rate hikes necessary to prevent problems in the future. But as Lacey observes, GDP is not a lagging indicator, and it shows that the Fed's policy is failing. Over the last two years, leading up to and continuing through the Fed's tightening cycle, nominal GDP growth averaged just over 3%; while in the two prior years, nominal GDP grew at more than 4%. Thus "the most reliable indicator of the stance of monetary policy, nominal GDP, is already showing the contractionary impact of the Fed's policy decisions," says Lacey, "signaling that its plan will result in further monetary tightening, or worse, even recession."

Follow the Money 

If the Phillips curve, the inflation rate and loan growth don't explain the push for higher interest rates, what does? The answer was suggested in an April 12th Bloomberg article by Yalman Onaran, titled "Surging LIBOR, Once a Red Flag, Is Now a Cash Machine for Banks."  He wrote:

The largest U.S. lenders could each make at least $1 billion in additional pretax profit in 2018 from a jump in the London interbank offered rate for dollars, based on data disclosed by the companies. That's because customers who take out loans are forced to pay more as Libor rises while the banks' own cost of credit has mostly held steady.

During the 2008 crisis, high LIBOR rates meant capital markets were frozen, since the banks' borrowing rates were too high for them to turn a profit. But US banks are not dependent on the short-term overseas markets the way they were a decade ago. They are funding much of their operations through deposits, and the average rate paid by the largest US banks on their deposits climbed only about 0.1% last year, despite a 0.75% rise in the fed funds rate. Most banks don't reveal how much of their lending is at variable rates or is indexed to LIBOR, but Oneran comments:

JPMorgan Chase & Co., the biggest U.S. bank, said in its 2017 annual report that $122 billion of wholesale loans were at variable rates. Assuming those were all indexed to Libor, the 1.19 percentage-point increase in the rate in the past year would mean $1.45 billion in additional income.

Raising the fed funds rate can be the same sort of cash cow for US banks. According to a December 2016 Wall Street Journal article titled "Banks' Interest-Rate Dreams Coming True":

While struggling with ultralow interest rates, major banks have also been publishing regular updates on how well they would do if interest rates suddenly surged upward. . . . Bank of America . . . says a 1-percentage-point rise in short-term rates would add $3.29 billion. . . . [A] back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests an incremental $2.9 billion of extra pretax income in 2017, or 11.5% of the bank's expected 2016 pretax profit . . . .

As observed in an April 12 article on Seeking Alpha:

About half of mortgages are . . . adjusting rate mortgages [ARMs] with trigger points that allow for automatic rate increases, often at much more than the official rate rise. . . .

One can see why the financial sector is keen for rate rises as they have mined the economy with exploding rate loans and need the consumer to get caught in the minefield.

Even a modest rise in interest rates will send large flows of money to the banking sector. This will be cost-push inflationary as finance is a part of almost everything we do, and the cost of business and living will rise because of it for no gain.

Cost-push inflation will drive up the Consumer Price Index, ostensibly justifying further increases in the interest rate, in a self-fulfilling prophecy in which the FOMC will say, "We tried – we just couldn't keep up with the CPI."

A Closer Look at the FOMC

The FOMC is composed of the Federal Reserve's seven-member Board of Governors, the president of the New York Fed, and four presidents from the other 11 Federal Reserve Banks on a rotating basis. All 12 Federal Reserve Banks are corporations, the stock of which is 100% owned by the banks in their districts; and New York is the district of Wall Street. The Board of Governors currently has four vacancies, leaving the member banks in majority control of the FOMC. Wall Street calls the shots; and Wall Street stands to make a bundle off rising interest rates.

The Federal Reserve calls itself "independent," but it is independent only of government. It marches to the drums of the banks that are its private owners. To prevent another Great Recession or Great Depression, Congress needs to amend the Federal Reserve Act, nationalize the Fed, and turn it into a public utility, one that is responsive to the needs of the public and the economy.

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Categories: Latest News

As Cuba Gains a New President, Raúl Castro Steps Back, Not Down, From Power

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 21:00

For the first time since the Cuban revolution toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista, a president who does not have the last name Castro has taken power. Miguel Díaz-Canel was sworn in as president last Thursday. He succeeds Raúl Castro, who served two consecutive 5-year terms in office. Castro is now 86 years old and will remain head of the Communist Party. Fidel Castro handed over power to his brother Raúl in 2008 while his health deteriorated, and died in 2016. Thursday's session was held on the 57th anniversary of Cuba's 1961 defeat of a CIA-backed Cuban exile invasion known as the Bay of Pigs. Díaz-Canel began his term with a promise to defend the socialist revolution led by the Castro brothers. We speak to Peter Kornbluh, who directs the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive at George Washington University.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to Cuba, where, for the first time since its socialist revolution toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, a president who does not have the last name Castro has taken power. Miguel Díaz-Canel was sworn in as president last Thursday. He succeeds Raúl Castro, who served two consecutive 5-year terms in office. Castro is now 86 years old, and he will remain the head of the Cuban Communist Party. Fidel Castro handed over power to his brother Raúl in 2008 while his health deteriorated, and Fidel Castro died in 2016. Thursday's session was held on the 57th anniversary of Cuba's 1961 defeat of a CIA-backed Cuban exile invasion known as the Bay of Pigs. Díaz-Canel began his term with a promise to defend the socialist revolution of Cuba.

PRESIDENT MIGUEL DÍAZ-CANEL: [translated] I accept the responsibility for which I have been elected, with the conviction that all Cuban revolutionaries, from the position we occupy, from the work we do, from every job and trench of the socialist motherland, will be faithful to the exemplary legacy, will be faithful to the exemplary legacy of the Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro Ruz, historic leader of our revolution, and also faithful to the example, the courage and the teachings of Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, current leader of the revolutionary process.

AMY GOODMAN: On Saturday, the newly sworn-in Cuban president received his first official visit by a foreign leader, the Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

PRESIDENT NICOLÁS MADURO: [translated] Cuba and Venezuela are on the best condition to unite forces. We've done it before, with great results. Every time we took a step forward, the enemies of our motherlands said, "You can't." And we always showed that, yes, we can.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we're joined by Peter Kornbluh, who directs the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive at George Washington University. He has a new cover story for Politico on reporter Lisa Howard's extensive back-channel diplomacy with Cuba. It's headlined "'My Dearest Fidel': An ABC Journalist's Secret Liaison with Fidel Castro." Kornbluh is also co-author of the book Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana.

Peter, welcome back to Democracy Now! First of all, talk about the significance of what has just taken place, the stepping down of Raúl Castro as president and who has replaced him.

PETER KORNBLUH: Well, in many ways, it's a historic moment, because there aren't going to be either Fidel or Raúl Castro prominently being the face of the Cuban revolution any longer. And this is, in a sense, the first step towards the post-Castro era. But the truth of the matter is that even though the conventional wisdom in the mainstream media is that the Castro era has ended, Raúl Castro is stepping back, but he's really not stepping down from power. As Juan pointed out, he remains head of the Cuban Communist Party. He also remains the highest official in the Cuban military, both very, very powerful positions. Plus, his son, Alejandro Castro, is one of the highest intelligence officials in Cuba and is certainly an important figure to be reckoned with there.

And it's important that Raúl Castro is still head of the -- is still secretary general of the Cuban Communist Party, because he really was not able to complete his agenda. And his disciple, Miguel Díaz-Canel, who readily admits to being his disciple, has to continue to push Cuba forward. And he can only do that -- since he has no legitimacy of his own as a histórico, as a historic figure in the Cuban revolution, he can only do that with the support of Raúl Castro. So it is important that Raúl is kind of staying in the game, if you will.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Peter, could you set for us: Who is Miguel Díaz-Canel? Because the reality is that over the decades there have been many supposed successors that emerged in the Cuban government to the Castro brothers, but they all sort of like fell by the wayside in different periods of time. And could you talk about, give a thumbnail sketch of who Miguel Díaz is?

PETER KORNBLUH: Well, I should say that those other potential successors were purged along the way, for various issues and problems that arose, when it was clear that neither Fidel nor Raúl were ready to kind of anoint a next generation of leadership.

And Miguel Díaz-Canel is the next generation of leadership. He has risen steadily, methodically, through the Cuban Communist Party. He was a electrical engineer by training, but he went into party politics. He became the provincial leader of Santa Clara during the special period after the collapse of the Soviet Union and kind of gained a reputation of being accessible and kind of an everyman. He rode his bike to meetings. People were able to talk to him. He encouraged debate. So, he was an accessible person. He was kind of picked, for the success of that, to be minister of education in 2009, and then anointed first vice president in 2013, which meant that he was Raúl's kind of designate, designated successor. And that's where we have arrived today.

Cuba faces a lot of significant challenges. The fact that Nicolás Maduro was there is obviously fraternal support from one of the key countries that Cuba still is very allied to in Latin America. But the truth is that Venezuela is in the midst of its own economic crisis and unable to truly support the Cuban economy now. And the Cuban economy is in a significant crisis. And this is what Miguel Díaz-Canel and the next generation of Cuban leadership is going to have to address.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, President Trump told reporters, "We love Cuba. We're going to take care of Cuba." State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert was later asked to clarify Trump's comment.

REPORTER: Today Donald Trump said, "We love Cuba. We're going to take care of Cuba. We're going to take care of it." Does that mean that the US believes that it can actually work with the new president in trying to --

HEATHER NAUERT: Well, as you know, we maintain diplomatic relations with the Cuban government, so that -- that continues. But we can certainly be disappointed with an election that we don't see to be free, as fair. We also recognize that there are strong people-to-people ties between Cuban Americans and some Cuban families who still live back home, and also there are some businesses that take part in the Cuban economy, as well.

REPORTER: So this doesn't mean that the Trump administration is going to roll back any kind of decisions or even looking at it?

HEATHER NAUERT: I'm not -- I'm not aware of any changes on our policy. I think the president was just recognizing some of the work and people-to-people ties that we have.

AMY GOODMAN: So that's State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. Peter Kornbluh, if you can talk about the status of US-Cuban relations? You know, anything with Obama's name on it, President Trump wants to push back. He said he was closing the -- he was ending the thaw of relations with Cuba. What actually has happened?

PETER KORNBLUH: Well, let me just say you two things. One is that the State Department's statement, which you just broadcast, really should be considered somewhat moderate, given Trump's rather hostile rhetoric over the last few months. And Trump saying, you know, "We're taking care of Cuba. We're going to take care of Cuba," is kind of ironic, because he's saying it on the anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion, which the Cubans chose deliberately and symbolically for this transfer of power, the day that one of the small countries of Latin America defeated the Colossus of the north, in April of 1961. And Cuba --

AMY GOODMAN: Under President Kennedy.

PETER KORNBLUH: Under President Kennedy. And, of course, Cuba has proven, since that time, that it can take care of itself and that it doesn't need the United States to take care of it. And this transition of leadership in Cuba doesn't change that in any way. Cuba will continue to take care of itself.

I mean, it should be clear, you know, Donald Trump has completely changed, 100 percent, the civil tone of relations that Barack Obama set. But he hasn't actually fully changed, or even significantly, in my opinion, changed, the actual policy. We still have diplomatic relations. There are a number of issues with the embassy being kind of reduced in staff, that are very significant for our kind of daily interaction and for Cubans to be able to come to the United States. They can no longer get visas in Havana itself. And Trump has scared US travelers away from going to Cuba, with travel alerts about the so-called sonic attacks in Cuba and kind of tweaking and restricting the kind of way we go, the licenses that we need, the categories that we travel under. And this has actually had an amazing impact on travel. I mean, American citizens are traveling less to Cuba. And this is having a significant impact on the private sector in Cuba, which had gotten all geared up for the tourist sector. And it is an important issue. So, even though the policy hasn't really changed, even just the hostile rhetoric and the tweaking has had an impact on US-Cuban relations.

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Activists Demand Release of Manuel Duran, Prominent Latino Journalist in Memphis Jailed by ICE

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 21:00

Immigrants rights activists are demanding the release of Manuel Duran, a prominent Latino journalist in Memphis who has been in ICE custody since early April. Duran was detained by immigration officials after he was arrested while covering a protest against immigrant detention outside a county jail. Duran, who was born in El Salvador, is a well-known reporter on Spanish radio stations in Memphis. He also runs the online site Memphis Noticias. Duran issued a statement while detained about the conditions in the LaSalle Detention Center in Jena, Louisiana, where he is being held. He writes, "Through this experience I have learned first hand details about the treatment our immigrants receive before they are deported. How they keep the lights on day and night and you have to sleep with a towel over your eyes. How they make you lie in bed for 45 minutes, in what seems to be at random after roll calling, and you cannot use the phone or the bathroom during that time."

TRANSCRIPT

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to the story of a prominent Latino journalist in Memphis detained by immigration officials after he was arrested while covering a protest against immigrant detention outside a county jail. Manuel Duran, who was born in El Salvador, is a well-known reporter on Spanish radio stations in Memphis. He also runs the online site Memphis Noticias. This is Duran beginning his coverage of the protest on April 3rd.

MANUEL DURAN: [translated] This protest is going to be held in front of 201 Poplar. And let me tell you what is the purpose of this demonstration. As you can see, everything is getting ready here. This protest is happening because of different reasons. One of them is that, according to the demonstrators and the organizations participating in this march, the reason for this protest is that due process is not being respected.

AMY GOODMAN: So that's Manuel Duran reporting on Facebook Live. About 15 minutes later, as he and other journalists covered demonstrators crossing a street bound together in chains, police stepped in to arrest an activist. Several officers then turned to Duran himself and ordered him to get out of the street. This is footage from Duran's phone.

POLICE OFFICER: Get out the street.

MANUEL DURAN Where are we going?

POLICE OFFICER: I don't care. Get on the sidewalk. Get on the sidewalk! Get him, guys.

AMY GOODMAN: That's one officer saying, quote, "Get him, guys," before Duran's phone falls to the ground. This confrontation between police and activists escalates, with two women trying to protect Duran, shouting, "He's a reporter!" This is footage from another camera.

POLICE OFFICER: Back up. Back up.

WOMAN: He's a reporter. He's a reporter. He's a reporter!

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Duran was arrested and held in Shelby County Jail. On April 5th, the state dropped criminal charges against him, but he was then detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. He was quickly transferred to the LaSalle Detention Center, six hours from Memphis, in Jena, Louisiana. Local immigrant groups are calling for his release.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we're joined by three guests. In Memphis, Tennessee, Melisa Valdez is with us, Manuel Duran's longtime partner; Mauricio Calvo, executive director of Latino Memphis, an immigrants' rights group. And Kristi Graunke, senior attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, joining us from Raleigh, North Carolina, one of Manuel Duran's lawyers.

Let's begin with Kristi Graunke, his lawyer. What's happened right now? Where is he? On what grounds did they arrest him and then hand him over to ICE?

KRISTI GRAUNKE: Well, he's now in LaSalle detention facility in Jena, Louisiana. And the grounds he was arrested, he was alleged to be blocking a roadway in Memphis and to be engaging in disorderly conduct. And, of course, those charges were dropped, but, unfortunately, he was turned over almost immediately, in very rapid fashion, to ICE and taken immediately to LaSalle Detention Center in Jena, Louisiana, where he is right now.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Mauricio Calvo, could you talk about the importance -- his importance in Memphis to the Latino community there in Memphis and what his role has been over the years?

MAURICIO CALVO: Absolutely. I mean, we believe every person is important. Manuel is not the first one, the only one or the last one who will be suffering of the consequences of the Trump deportation machine. But particularly Manuel, he played a very important role. He was a journalist for a community that often doesn't have somebody who sounds like them or looks like them or talks like them on the media. So Manuel played a very important role, reporting everything from government issues to cultural issues. He was really and truly the voice of the Latino community in Memphis.

AMY GOODMAN: Melisa Valdez, I know this is extremely hard for you, as your partner is now in jail in Jena, Louisiana. Can you talk about Manuel's life and also his passion of journalism in Memphis and covering particularly these kinds of protests?

MELISA VALDEZ: Yes. He was very passionate about his work. He's been doing journalism for a very long time, almost since he was a kid back in El Salvador, and then he brought it all the way to the U.S. when he immigrated here. So, he was very passionate. He would get up in the morning and go out and try to speak -- people would reach out to him and say, "OK, look, this happened to me. I need you -- I need you to try to investigate. Ask the police why is this happening." So he would go out and speak to the families and then bring the news to everybody else. He has a very large audience on social media and also on a personal level.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you seen him in jail?

MELISA VALDEZ: I have, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And what are the conditions there?

MELISA VALDEZ: Well, he looks -- to be honest with you, he looks miserable. He's never been locked up like this, for this amount of time. So, he's just trying to stay strong, I guess. He knows me. He wants me to stay strong, so he's trying to fake it. Sometimes he fails, and I can see him take a breath and try to calm down while he's inside. And actually, last time I saw him, it was on Monday morning. And he almost begged me not to leave. I mean, he's like, "I know you need to take a rest, but when are you coming back?" And I was like, "I'll be back soon. Don't worry about it."

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Kristi Graunke, could you talk a little bit about Manuel's legal status in terms of immigration? When did he come to the country? Was he originally here legally and then fell into a status that was not legal?

KRISTI GRAUNKE: So, he came to the country in 2006 and, shortly after arriving, was presented with papers by immigration authorities alleging that he was not in the country lawfully. He was then subsequently removed, what we call, in absentia, which means that there was an immigration hearing held, he did not attend. He did not get proper notice of that hearing, and so that in the absence of him actually being able to present arguments as to why he might be entitled to immigration relief, he was summarily ordered deported. And that order has been on the books since 2007.

So what we're trying to do right now is reopen that case. And, you know, Manuel's story is incredibly important on an individual level, but it also highlights some serious problems with due process in our immigration system. An extraordinarily high percentage of immigration orders are these in absentia orders, which are entered summarily. If an immigrant fails to show up at simply one hearing to present their arguments, they can be ordered removed in absentia. And that's what happened to him. So we're trying to reopen that and hopefully have an opportunity to present arguments that he faces danger, were he to be removed to El Salvador. As a journalist, he would face great danger, particularly practicing the type of journalism that he practices.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And your petition lays out certain First Amendment protections for him, as well, because of his journalism here?

KRISTI GRAUNKE: That's right. So we're proceeding on two legal tracks. One is trying to reopen his immigration case and get him the fair hearing that he never got in front of an immigration judge, and an opportunity, a chance to present his arguments as to why he has -- he's entitled to immigration relief.

The other petition that we filed is with federal court in the Western District of Louisiana, which is the area that Jena, the LaSalle detention facility, is located. And we're contending that his continued detention violates the First Amendment and the Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution, because his arrest was clearly without probable cause and without a warrant, and it was also retaliatory. This is a man who was very prominent in the press, in the local community, speaking out against the Memphis Police Department and ICE, and particularly the collaboration between the two. So, it's notable that he was the only journalist arrested at that protest. He was arrested when he was trying to comply with police orders, arrested on false charges. Those charges were dropped. And then he's rapidly turned over to ICE and taken to Louisiana, away from his community and away from the lawyers that he had at that point who were in Memphis. So that's very -- those are very striking facts, and we're arguing that his detention is unlawful and unconstitutional on those grounds.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to read from a statement that Manuel Duran released last week from ICE detention. He writes, "Through this experience I have learned first hand details about the treatment our immigrants receive before they are deported. How they keep the lights on day and night and you have to sleep with a towel over your eyes. How they make you lie in bed for 45 minutes, in what seems to be at random, after roll calling and you cannot use the phone or the bathroom during that time. How they would not let you know your attorney is on the phone. How you get paid dimes for work and you are on your own if you have no one outside adding funds to your commissary. How the visitation hours and your recreation hours happen at the time so you have to choose between seeing your family and getting some air. How the phones in the visitation room do not work and you have to scream 
through the soundproof windows."

And then I want to read ICE's statement, ICE officials issuing this statement about Manuel Duran's case, saying, "Mr. Duran-Ortega was ordered removed from the United States by a federal immigration judge in January 2007 after failing to appear for his scheduled court date. He has been an immigration fugitive since that time. Mr. Duran-Ortega is currently in ICE custody pending removal."

He's been a fugitive since that time. I wanted to ask Mauricio Calvo about his relationship with the public officials, the police in the community. He is a well-known reporter in Memphis, hardly a fugitive, hardly hidden away.

MAURICIO CALVO: I think, obviously, that's the wrong adjective, to call somebody a fugitive. I mean, one thing that people often make mistakes is, they need to understand that the immigration law is not criminal law. I mean, if Manuel had been a fugitive, he had been at the office of many officials, and he would have been arrested before. I mean, this is absolutely false. Obviously, this was politically motivated. As soon as immigration saw the opportunity to go after him, they are going after him, and they want to make a case. And we're going to make a case that we're not going to let ICE or anybody else just walk over our constitutional rights of people. And that's why we partnered with the Southern Poverty Law Center, and we are really working to make sure that every American's and every aspiring American rights are protected by the same rules.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Melisa, I wanted to ask you: In your private discussions and talks with Manuel, did you ever discuss the issue of the more public he was, given the fact that he had a deportation order, that he might be picked up? Because, obviously, he felt that it was more important to report the news than to worry about his personal safety.

MELISA VALDEZ: Yeah. I mean, being an immigrant here in the U.S., that's something you think about every -- on every -- you know, any given day. So, we knew it was a risk. He took it. He loved his work more. And so, but yeah, I mean, it's definitely on our minds at all times that deportation is a possibility. And, you know, it's not just him. It's everybody. It's everybody I know. I know a lot of people who are in the same situation. So, really, yeah, it was on our mind.

AMY GOODMAN: Mauricio, what is the relationship between the Latino immigrant community in Memphis and the police?

MAURICIO CALVO: For the most part, Memphis is a very welcoming community. And the police, even though this was clearly a mistake, for the most part, they have tried to make ties with the community. In fact, Manuel has been in conversations with the police director and with other officials on how to stretch those relationships.

I mean, my concern here is, you know, local municipalities and the states cannot fix the immigration problem by themselves, but they can certainly make it worse. And this is a perfect example of how they can make it worse. It was an unfortunate chain of events, and everything starts from a state law that mandates that the sheriff will hold people for ICE.

And again, this is one of those issues that makes no sense, this jurisdiction -- crossing over jurisdictions. Why is a local sheriff having to enforce immigration law? For some viewers or for some listeners who may say, "Well, because that's the law," and it absolutely is not. I mean, you would not think that a police officer will pull you over and ask you a question about your tax return, because the IRS law is enforced by the IRS, not by your local police department. Why? Because local police departments need and want to have reasonable relationships with all their citizens, first, because they have the duty to protect them, but also because if they ever become victims, they want to have the freedom and the certainty that they can report a crime without fear of deportation or a relationship with ICE.

So, for the most part, Memphis has been a very welcoming community. Again, this is an example of something that slipped through the cracks and that we all are going to have to be working to rebuild the trust between law enforcement and the local community.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you all for being with us, Mauricio Calvo, executive director of Latino Memphis; Melisa Valdez, Manuel Duran's partner; and Kristi Graunke, lawyer representing Manuel Duran, senior attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is accepting applications for our paid year-long social media fellowship. Also, I'll be speaking today in Teaneck, New Jersey at noon at the Puffin Cultural Forum. And Juan will be speaking Friday night at Columbia University.

Categories: Latest News

The Border Fetish: The US Frontier as a Zone of Profit and Sacrifice

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 21:00

Workers replace an old section of the wall between the US and Mexico following orders by President Donald Trump, in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, close to Ciudad Juarez in Mexico's Chihuahua State, on April 23, 2018. (Photo: Herika Martinez / AFP / Getty Images)

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At first, I thought I had inadvertently entered an active war zone. I was on a lonely two-lane road in southern New Mexico heading for El Paso, Texas. Off to the side of the road, hardly concealed behind some desert shrubs, I suddenly noticed what seemed to be a tank. For a second, I thought I might be seeing an apparition. When I stopped to take a picture, a soldier wearing a camouflage helmet emerged from the top of the Stryker, a 19-ton, eight-wheeled combat vehicle that was regularly used in military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He looked my way and I offered a pathetic wave. To my relief, he waved back, then settled behind what seemed to be a large surveillance display mounted atop the vehicle. With high-tech binoculars, he began to monitor the mountainous desert that stretched toward Mexico, 20 miles away, as if the enemy might appear at any moment.

That was in 2012 and, though I had already been reporting on the militarization of the US-Mexican border for years, I had never seen anything like it. Barack Obama was still president and it would be another six years before Donald Trump announced with much fanfare that he was essentially going to declare war at the border and send in the National Guard. ("We really haven't done that before," Trump told the media on April 3rd, "or certainly not very much before.")

Operation Nimbus II, as the 2012 mission was called, involved 500 soldiers from Fort Bliss and Fort Hood and was a typical Joint Task Force North(JTF-N) operation. Those troops were officially there to provide the US Border Patrol with "intelligence and surveillance." Since JTF-N was tasked with supporting the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on the border, its motto was "protecting the Homeland." However, it was also deeply involved in training soldiers for overseas military operations in ongoing American wars in the Greater Middle East.

Only weeks before, 40 Alaskan-based Army airborne engineers had parachuted into nearby Fort Huachuca as if they were part of an invasion force landing in Southern Arizona. That border operation (despite the dramatic arrival, all they did was begin constructing a road) "mirrors the type of mission the 40 soldiers might conduct if they were deployed to Afghanistan," JTF-N "project organizers" told the Nogales International. As JTF-N spokesman Armando Carrasco put it, "This will prepare them for future deployments, especially in the areas of current contingency operations."

So seeing combat vehicles on the border shouldn't have surprised me, even then. A "war" against immigrants had been declared long before Trump signed the memo to deploy 2,000-4,000 National Guard troops to the border. Indeed, there has been a continuous military presence there since 1989 and the Pentagon has played a crucial role in the historic expansion of the US border security apparatus ever since.

When, however, Trump began to pound out tweets on Easter Sunday on his way to church, Americans did get a vivid glimpse of a border "battlefield" more than 30 years in the making, whose intensity could be ramped up on the merest whim. The president described the border as "getting more dangerous" because 1,000 Central Americans, including significant numbers of children, in flight from violence in their home countries were in a "caravan" in Mexico slowly heading north on a Holy Week pilgrimage. Many of them were intending to ask for asylum at the border, as they feared for their lives back home.

Fox & Friends labeled that caravan a "small migrant army" and so set the battlefield scenario perfectly for the show's number one fan. The end result -- those state National Guards caravaning south -- might have been as ludicrous a response to the situation as a tank in an empty desert pointed at Mexico, but it did catch a certain reality. The border has indeed become a place where the world's most powerful military faces off against people who represent blowback from various Washington policies and are in flight from persecution, political violence, economic hardship, and increasing ecological distress. (Central America is becoming a climate-change hot spot.) Yet these twenty-first century border "battlefields" remain hidden from the public and largely beyond discussion.

The Fetish of the Border

As I moved away from the Stryker that day, I wondered what that soldier was seeing through his high-tech binoculars. It's a question that remains no less pertinent six years later as yet more National Guard troops head for the border. Even today, such forces aren't likely to ever see a caravan of 1,000 refugees, only -- possibly -- tiny groups of crossers moving through the US borderlands to look for work, reunite with family, or escape potentially grave harm. Such people, however, usually travel under the cover of night.

Even less likely: anyone carrying drugs into the United States. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, the majority of illicit narcotics that cross the border into the world's largest market (valued at approximately $100 billion per year) arrive through legal ports of entry. Least likely of all: a person designated as a "terrorist" by the US government, even though that's became the priority mission of Joint Task Force North and Customs and Border Protection. A flood of money has, in these years, poured into border budgets for just such a counterterrorism mission, yet no such person, not a single one, has been reported crossing the southern border since 1984. (And even that incident seems dubious.)

Indeed, the most likely thing to glimpse along that divide is evidence of the countless billions of dollars that have been spent there over the last 30 years to build the most gigantic border enforcement apparatus in US history. You would be quite likely, for instance, to see armed US Border Patrol agents in their green-striped vehicles. (After all Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, the Border Patrol's parent outfit, is now the largest federal law enforcement agency.) You might also catch glimpses of high-tech surveillance apparatuses like aerostats, the tethered surveillance balloons brought back from American battle zones in Afghanistan that now hover over and monitor the borderlands with long-range cameras and radar.

Those binoculars wouldn't be able to see as far as the small town of Columbus, New Mexico -- the very town that Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa so famously raided in 1916 -- but if they could, you might also see portions of an actual border wall, built with bipartisan support after the Secure Fence Act of 2006 passed, with votes from Democrats like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Chuck Schumer. Those 650 miles of walls and barriers cost an average of $3.9 million per mile to build and additional millions to maintain, money that went into the coffers of the military-industrial complex.

In 2011, for example, CBP granted the former Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root (a company known for its profiteering in Iraq) a three-year, $24.4 million contract for border wall maintenance. And you can multiply that so many times over since, year after year, bigger and bigger budgets have gone into border and immigration enforcement (and so into the pockets of such corporations) with little or no discussion. In 2018, the combined budgets of CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement amount to $24.3 billion, a more than 15-fold increase since the early 1990s, and a $4.7 billion jump from 2017.

So, in those desert borderlands, that soldier was really looking at a market, a profit zone. He was also viewing (and himself part of) what sociologist Timothy Dunn, author of the pioneering book The Militarization of the US-Mexico Border, 1978-1992, calls the "fetishization of the border." That Stryker -- the "Cadillac of combat vehicles" made by General Dynamics -- fit the bill perfectly. The slick armored beast, which can travel at speeds up to 60 miles per hour, could track down just about anything, except the real forces that lay behind why people continually arrive at the border.

Low Intensity Doctrine and the Hidden Battlefields

In 2006, George W. Bush's administration sent 6,000 National Guard troops to the border during Operation Jump Start, the largest military deployment there of the modern era. Those troops, however, were meant as no more than a placeholder for a post-9/11 enforcement apparatus still to be organized. Before then, as Timothy Dunn told me in an interview, there had normally been only 300 to 500 soldiers in border operations at any given time, whose justification then was the war against drugs.

That Bush deployment was, as Dunn put it, "the first to have them out there in high-profile, explicitly for immigration enforcement." Still, what those soldiers could do remained largely limited to reinforcing and supporting the US Border Patrol, as has been the case ever since. As a start, the US military operates under grave restrictions when it comes to either making arrests or performing searches and seizures on US soil. (There are, however,loopholes when it comes to this, which means that National Guard units under state control should be watched carefully during the Trump deployments.) What those troops can do is perform aerial and ground reconnaissance, staff observation posts, and install electronic ground sensors. They can supply engineering support, help construct roads and barriers, and provide intelligence -- in all, Dunn reports, 33 activities, including mobile teams to train the Border Patrol in various increasingly militarized tactics.

However, the Border Patrol, already a paramilitary organization, can take care of the arrests, searches, and seizures itself. It is, in fact, the perfect example of how the Pentagon's low-intensity-conflict doctrine has operated along the border since the 1980s. That doctrine promotes coordination between the military and law enforcement with the goal of controlling potentially disruptive civilian populations. On the border, this mostly means undocumented people. This, in turn, means that the military does ever more police-like work and the Border Patrol is becoming ever more militarized.

When Bush launched Operation Jump Start, Washington was already undertaking the largest hiring surge in Border Patrol history, planning to add 6,000 new agents to the ranks in two years, part of an overall expansion that has never ended. It has, in fact, only gained momentum again in the Trump era. The Border Patrol has increased from a force of 4,000 in the early 1990s to 21,000 today. The Bush-era recruitment program particularly targeted overseas military bases. The Border Patrol, as one analyst put it, already operated like "a standing army on American soil" and that was how it was sold to future war vets who would soon join up. To this day, veterans are still told that they will be sent to "the front lines" to defend the homeland.

The Border Patrol not only recruits from the military and receives military training, but uses military equipment and technology prodigiously. The monoliths of the military-industrial complex -- companies like Lockheed MartinBoeing, and Elbit Systems -- have long been tailoring their technologies to homeland security operations. They are now deeply involved in the increasingly lucrative border market. As one vendor told me many years ago, "we are bringing the battlefield to the border."

Much like the military, the Border Patrol uses radar, high-tech surveillance, complex biometric data bases, and Predator B drones that fly surveillance missions across the Southwest, at the border with Canada, and in the Caribbean. Such forces operate in 100-mile jurisdictions beyond US international boundaries (including the coasts), places where they essentially have extra-constitutional powers. As one CBP officer told me, "We are exempt from the fourth amendment." Border zones, in other words, have become zones of exception and the DHS is the only department the federal government permits to ethnically profile people in such areas, a highly racialized form of law enforcement.

By deploying heavily armed Border Patrol officers, building walls, and using surveillance technologies in urban areas that traditionally had been crossing spots for the undocumented, such migrants are now forced to traverse dangerous and desolate areas of the southwestern deserts. It's a strategy that anthropologist Jason De Leon has described as creating "a remote deathscape where American necropolitics are pecked onto the bones of those we deem excludable."

Instances of overt violence on the border, the sort that might be associated with increased militarization, sometimes make the news, as in multiple incidents in which Border Patrol officers, deputized police, or even military troops have shot and killed people. Most border crossers, however, are now funneled away from the television cameras and reporters to those distant desertscapes where hidden "battles" with the elements remain unseen and so are no longer a political problem. According to Dunn, this is the low-intensity-conflict doctrine at work.

Along the US border with Mexico, 7,000 corpses have been found since the early 1990s and a reasonable estimate of the actual death toll is triple that number. Thousands of families still search for loved ones they fear lost in what journalist Margaret Regan has termed the Southwest "killing fields." Recently, while I was giving a talk at a New York state college, a young man approached me, having realized that I was from Arizona. He told me that he'd last seen his mother in the desert near Nogales and asked if I had any idea how he might search for her, his eyes brimming with tears.

Globally, since 2014 the International Organization on Migration has recorded 25,000 migrant deaths -- a figure, the group writes, that "is a significant indicator of the human toll of unsafe migration, yet fails to capture the true number of people who have died or gone missing during migration." On such hidden battlefields, the toll from the fetishization of the world's borderlands remains unknown -- and virtually ignored.

Securing the Unsustainable

At a global level, the forecast for the displacement of people is only expected to rise. According to projections, when it comes to climate change alone, by 2050 there could be between 150 million and 750 million people on the move due to sea level rise, droughts, floods, super storms, and other ecological hazards. Former Vice President Al Gore's former security adviser, Leon Fuerth, wrote that if global warming exceeded the two degree Celsius mark, "border problems" would overwhelm US capabilities "beyond the possibility of control, except by drastic measures and perhaps not even then."

At the same time, estimates suggest that, by 2030, if present trends continue, the richest one percent of people on this planet may control 64% of global wealth. In other words, what we may have is an unsustainable world managed with an iron fist. In that case, an endless process of border militarization and fortification is likely to be used to control the blowback. If the booming border and surveillance markets are any indication, the future will be as dystopic as a Stryker in the beautiful desert highlands of New Mexico -- a world of mass displacements that leave the super-rich hunkered down behind their surveillance fortresses.

Pouring billions of dollars into border zones to solve political, social, economic, and ecological problems is hardly a phenomenon limited to the United States. The border fetish has indeed gone global. Border walls now commonly zigzag between the global north and south and are being built up ever more as a rhetoric -- caught perfectly by the Trump administration -- focusing on criminals, terrorists, and drugs only ratchets up, while the huge forces that actually fuel displacements and migrations remain obscured. Borders have become another way of making sure that nothing gets in the way of the sanctity of business as usual in a world that desperately needs something new.

Categories: Latest News

The Supreme Court Is About to Weigh In on Trump's Muslim Ban

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 21:00

The Supreme Court is preparing to weigh in for the first time on the constitutionality of President Donald Trump's travel ban  -- which, due to the curious list of countries it includes and Trump's own rhetoric on the matter, has been widely perceived as an attempt to ban Muslim immigrants from coming to the United States. Now, experts seem to agree that the highest court's decision will have a major impact on the question of whether religious discrimination will be deemed legally acceptable in the United States.

"Here the United States has really unique conceptions of religious liberty that are broader than most any other country in the world," Gadeir Abbas, an attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Washington DC, told Salon. "And the establishment clause prohibits any part of the federal or state government from wielding government authority in a way that's aimed at stigmatizing Muslims and demonizing our faith. So the Supreme Court could look at the cornucopia of evidence that Donald Trump's Twitter account and other statements from various administration officials which make it really clear that the purpose of the Muslim ban was to express animosity toward Muslims and to in fact increase the level of anti-Muslim sentiment in the country."

He added, "And the Trump administration has succeeded in doing that."

Kica Matos, a spokesperson for Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), had similar observations.

"What we've seen is this horrific intentional trajectory of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim policies that have been implemented with a frightening level of aggression and speed and without much attention to the constitutionality of these policies that he's moving forward," Matos told Salon.

She also explained that Trump's various anti-immigrant measures, both against Muslims and against other immigrant groups like Mexicans, had created a climate of fear among many minority communities in the United States.

"There's a lot of anxiety in the immigration world writ large since Trump has come into power," Matos told Salon. "I recall that when he was running for office, during his first press conference, he went out of his way to malign Mexican immigrants. He called them 'rapists' and said that they are 'criminals,' and shortly after that he went on a rampage against Muslims and said that if he were a president, he would impose a complete and total ban against Muslims entering this country. And then after he became president, what was one of the first things that he did? He imposed the first of three travel bans prohibiting Muslims."

The path that brought Trump's Muslim ban to the Supreme Court has been a long and winding one. There have been three different versions of the ban -- the first one being issued shortly after Trump took office -- and each has been found by various lower courts to have been invalid because they were motivated by animus toward Muslims, according to The Washington Post. Two of the courts that took the most aggressive stances against the Muslim ban were the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which found that it violates the First Amendment's guarantee against religious discrimination, and the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which Trump tried to circumvent by enacting a second version of his plan (which was ultimately stopped by two regional court of appeals).

"Both the 4th and the 9th circuit have concluded that the Muslim ban is illegal for a variety of reasons," Abbas told Salon. "The 9th circuit concluded that the Muslim ban is illegal primarily because it engages in discrimination based on an immigrant's country of origin, which is something that Congress prohibited decades ago. And so the US used to have a very racist immigration system, the Trump administration's Muslim ban is attempting pretty transparently to go back to a racist immigration system and the Supreme Court could say that Congress has already dealt with this type of issue and said that you can't discriminate over who gets a visa and who doesn't get a visa based on what country they're from. That's something that the 9th circuit emphasized in its ruling that the Trump administration should be forbidden from implementing its Muslim ban."

He added, "In the 4th circuit, they did something a little different. They focus on the constitutional right of the people that are challenging the Muslim ban rather than the statutory rights."

That said, there is also the chance that the Supreme Court could uphold the travel ban in order to protect the president's prerogative to protect Americans' national security as he sees fit.

"The scope of this court's decision here will have an impact on this (and future) president's ability to protect our national security interests as he (and Congress) sees fit. At the end of the day, it is not the role of the judiciary to intercede in such matters, and this court should clearly say so," explained a brief filed by national security experts supporting Trump.

Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco made a similar argument to the Supreme Court.

"The Constitution and acts of Congress . . . both confer on the President broad authority to suspend or restrict the entry of aliens outside the United States when he deems it in the nation's interest," Francisco wrote.

The biggest sign that the court may plan on ruling in favor of the Trump administration is that they issued a stay of a lower court's injunction back in December, allowing one of the Muslim bans to take effect until they had a chance to review the case. Josh Blackman, a professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, has said that there has only been one other occasion when the John Roberts court issued a stay that wasn't ultimately followed by them reversing the lower court's opinion.

He also argued that this might be a good thing.

"If the court rules here for President Trump, I don't see that many lingering problems; I don't know that we'll ever have a president again like Trump, who says such awful, awful things on a daily basis," Blackman told the Post. He added, "I worry much more if they rule against President Trump, and they give courts [a] green light to parse campaign statements and the like, this could potentially hamstring not just this president, but also future presidents."

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Categories: Latest News

Dog Whistles of Our Times: Identity Politics

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 21:00

Categories: Latest News

Nation's Richest -- Including Trump -- About to Enjoy $17 Billion Windfall Thanks to Huge Tax Loophole

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 21:00

(Photo: Pixabay)

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As the US's largest Wall Street banks continue to count the billions they've already raked in thanks to the Trump-GOP tax law, a government report published Monday shows that America's millionaires -- as well as many rich lawmakers and President Donald Trump himself -- are getting ready to share a $17 billion windfall thanks to a last-minute loophole tucked into the Republican plan.

Marketed as relief for "small businesses," the GOP tax law's 20 percent deduction for owners of "pass-through" entities like law firms and hedge funds will overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest Americans, according to an analysist by the Joint Committee on Taxation.

"In 2018, the lion's share of the benefit -- $17.4 billion, or 44.3 percent of the total -- will go to roughly 200,000 Americans making $1 million or more who claim the pass-through deduction, the committee said. Another $3.6 billion, or 8.9 percent, will go to a similar number of taxpayers who earn $500,000 to $1 million," NBC News noted on Monday, summarizing JCT's findings. "By 2024, the tax deductions will amount to $60.3 billion, and those making $1 million or more will account for $31.6 billion (52.4 percent) of that."

The GOP's special "pass-through" provision became the source of tremendous controversy and outrage last year after the International Business Times ran a series of reports showing that the tax cut would personally enrich Trump, his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, and several congressional leaders -- including Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who dropped his opposition to the $1.5 trillion tax bill after the provision was included in the final version.

Because the Trump Organization oversees "at least 500" pass-through businesses, "Trump could get an annual tax cut worth $23 million," and Kushner "could see a cut of up to $17 million," ThinkProgress noted on Monday.

JCT's new analysis comes as Republicans are struggling to sell their plan to the majority of Americans who -- unlike massive Wall Street firms and ultra-wealthy corporate executives -- have reported seeing little to no benefit from the new tax law.

"At this point, it's just brazen," wrote Sen. Tammy Baldin (D-Wis.) of the tax law's massive rewards for the rich.

Categories: Latest News

Top Democrats Embrace Marijuana Reform Ahead of Midterm Elections

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 21:00

Marijuana reform is finally a priority on Capitol Hill, where leading Democrats are backing bills that would decriminalize the plant at the federal level. Polls show voters support marijuana reform and increasingly oppose prison time for drug-related offenses, and now that President Trump and Jeff Sessions have revived the war on drugs, Democrats are using weed as wedge issue. 

Elizabeth Owens protests on the steps of New York City Hall on July 9, 2014, in New York City. (Photo: Andrew Burton / Getty Images)

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has introduced legislation that would decriminalize cannabis at the federal level, a sign that the Democratic leadership is finally ready to align itself with a majority of voters and embrace marijuana reform ahead the 2018 midterm elections.

Senator Schumer announced his legislation on April 20 or "4/20," a festive national holiday for marijuana fans. He joins a growing list high-profile Democrats who have thrown their support behind marijuana reform packages, including New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who are all thought to be eyeing presidential bids in 2020.

Laws prohibiting marijuana use are gradually unraveling on a state-by-state basis, and polls show that public support for legalizing and decriminalizing that nation's favorite illicit drug has steadily climbed to about 61 percent. Since 2014, tax revenues from legal weed sales have surpassed $700 million in Colorado alone.

"With this announcement, Senator Schumer has effectively made it clear that a legislative priority for the Democratic Party is to end the federal prohibition of marijuana," said Justin Strekal, political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana laws, in a statement.

Schumer's legislation would remove marijuana from the psychoactive substances listed on the Controlled Substances Act to end the federal cannabis prohibition. Legalization and regulation of marijuana would be left up to the state governments, a process that has already started across the country.

However, under Schumer's bill, federal police would still be able to arrest people for "trafficking" marijuana from states where it's legal to states where it's prohibited, ensuring that some people would continue being criminalized for taking marijuana across state lines.

Legislation introduced by Senator Booker and Sen. Ron Wyden would go even further by using federal funding to encourage states where marijuana is illegal to change their laws, particularly if low-income people and people of color are disproportionately arrested on marijuana charges.

The bill -- known as the Marijuana Justice Act for its focus on addressing the racist legacy of marijuana criminalization -- is a direct challenge to the President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who have revived tough-on-crime rhetoric from the failed war on drugs as part of a well-publicized crackdown on immigration and illegal drug sales.

The Marijuana Justice Act would also expunge federal marijuana crimes from criminal records and allow prisoners incarcerated for federal marijuana offenses to petition a court for resentencing -- an idea that a majority of voters appear to support.  

A new survey by DrugAddictionNow.com, an online addiction and recovery resource, shows that more than 90 percent of Democrats and 86 percent of Independent voters believe drug offenders should be pardoned or at least have their sentences reduced if the drug they were charged with using or selling is decriminalized. A whopping 89 percent of Democrats and 73 of Independents said sentencing for drug crimes is racially biased.

Nine in 10 Black people surveyed said drug sentencing is racially biased, but less than half of Republicans agreed. While a majority of Republicans said prisoners of the drug war should be pardoned or at least have their charges reduced, 23 percent said nothing should change for drug offenders after decriminalization. That's only a few points higher than the percentage of the total United States population that voted for Trump in the last election.

In general, a majority of people surveyed said those convicted of simply possessing hard drugs like heroin and methamphetamine should not go to prison, and actual incarceration rates for drug crimes tend to be higher than most Americans prefer, according to the survey.  

Still, bipartisan sentencing reforms have repeatedly stalled in Congress, thanks in part to opposition from Sessions, who has clashed with Republican colleagues over the issue. Sessions also suspects that violent criminals are operating in medical cannabis markets and has used the opioid crisis as an excuse to demand stiffer sentences for drug crimes, a position that no longer appeals to a clear majority of voters.

While sentencing and broader drug policy reforms are not gaining steam in the GOP-controlled Congress, Democrats are betting they can connect with voters on marijuana during the midterms. Advocates have spent years pushing mainstream politicians to embrace cannabis decriminalization, and now that Trump and Sessions have revived the war on drugs, Democrats are finally ready to use weed as a wedge issue.

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Categories: Latest News

"A Complete Disaster": Noam Chomsky on Trump and the Future of US Politics

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 21:00

President Donald Trump speaks during a joint presser with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, on April 18, 2018. (Photo: Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images)

Just how bad are things with Trump in the White House? And what does having a racist, misogynist, xenophobic and erratic president who continues to enjoy unquestionable support from his base tell us about the state of US politics and the dangers to the future of democracy in the US and in the world? Noam Chomsky shares his thoughts on these and other related questions in an exclusive interview with Truthout.

President Donald Trump speaks during a joint presser with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, on April 18, 2018. (Photo: Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images)

Truthout is your go-to source for news about the most critical issues of our time. If you want to see more stories like this one, make a tax-deductible donation today!

Just how bad are things with Donald Trump in the White House? And what does having a racist, misogynist, xenophobic and erratic president who continues to enjoy unquestionable support from his base tell us about the state of US politics and the dangers to the future of democracy in the US and in the world on the whole? Noam Chomsky shares his thoughts on these and other related questions in an exclusive interview with C. J. Polychroniou for Truthout.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, it's been already 14 months into Donald Trump's turbulent White House tenure, but sometimes we still need to pinch ourselves to make sure that it's not a nightmare that a racist, misogynist, homophobic man who apparently cares only about himself runs the world's most powerful nation. But, really, how bad is it having Trump in the White House?

Very bad. As Trump began his second year in office, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists advanced their Doomsday Clock to two minutes to midnight, citing increasing concerns over nuclear weapons and climate change. That's the closest it has been to terminal disaster since 1953, when the US and USSR exploded thermonuclear weapons. That was before the release of Trump's Nuclear Posture Review, which significantly increases the dangers by lowering the threshold for nuclear attack and by developing new weapons that increase the danger of terminal war.

On climate change, Trump is a complete disaster, along with the entire Republican leadership. Every candidate in the Republican primaries either denied that what is happening is happening or said ... we shouldn't do anything about it. And these attitudes infect the Republican base. Half of Republicans deny that global warming is taking place, while 70 percent say that whether it is or not, humans are not responsible. Such figures would be shocking anywhere, but are remarkably so in a developed country with unparalleled resources and easy access to information.

It is hard to find words to describe the fact that the most powerful country in world history is not only withdrawing from global efforts to address a truly existential threat, but is also dedicating itself to accelerating the race to disaster, all to put more dollars in overstuffed pockets. No less astounding is the limited attention paid to the phenomenon.

When we turn to matters of great though lesser import, the conclusion is the same: disaster. While Trump's antics occupy the attention of the media, his associates in Congress have been working intensively to advance the interests of their actual constituency -- extreme wealth and corporate power -- while dismantling what is of value to the general population and future generations. With justice, the Republican leadership regard the tax bill as their greatest triumph. Joseph Stiglitz rightly describes the triumph as "The US Donor Relief Act of 2017," a vast giveaway to their actual constituency -- and to themselves. As he points out, the Republican leaders "are stuffing themselves at the trough -- Trump, Kushner and many others in his administration are among the biggest winners -- thinking that this may be their last chance at such a feast." And "Après moi, le deluge" -- literally in this case.

The grand triumph brings an extra advantage. It explodes the deficit (a trademark of Republicans since Reagan), which means that they can move on to cut away at entitlements, as the chief architect, Paul Ryan, announced happily at once. The US already ranks near the bottom of the [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] countries -- the 35 richer and more developed countries -- in social justice measures. The Republican triumph will sink it even lower. The tax scam is only the most prominent of the devices being implemented under the cover of Trump buffoonery to serve wealth and corporate power while harming the irrelevant population.

Many other policies are simply [unconscionable], such as Trump's initiative to have the Department of Homeland Security separate children, even infants, from their mothers in order to discourage immigration -- 700 families have been split in this fashion since October, a New York Times investigation found. Many of these families are fleeing from the murderous consequences of US policies: Honduras has been the main source of refugee flight since the US, almost alone, endorsed the military coup that ousted the elected president and the fraudulent election that followed, initiating a reign of terror.

We also must endure the sight of Trump wailing in terror because a caravan of victims reached Mexico, most hoping to settle there. Trump's suggestion that these victims are threatening the security of the US is reminiscent of Reagan strapping on his cowboy boots and calling a national emergency because Nicaraguan troops were a two days march from Texas, and about to overwhelm us. It's amazing that such performances do not evoke profound national embarrassment.

To the extent that politics is the art of the possible, would you say that Trump has been consistent so far with the promises he made to voters during the 2016 campaign?

In some cases, yes. He is fulfilling the wishes of the Evangelicals who are a large part of his voting base. He is greatly increasing the military budget, as he promised. ... Most of his promises are about as close to fulfillment as his commitment to "drain the swamp," which is now overflowing. [Scott] Pruitt's [Environmental Protection Agency] alone is a cesspool, though its dismantling of efforts to deal with the impact of climate change are far more serious than the wholesale robbery, which seems to be a Pruitt specialty from well before he was handed the wrecking ball.

We don't need Comey to tell us that Trump is morally unfit.

On trade, though the policies, insofar as they are coherent, are generally harmful, the rhetoric is not completely false. Thus it is true that China is using devices that violate World Trade Organization rules -- devices that were critical to the growth of the rich societies, from England to the US and beyond, and are now banned by the investor rights agreements mislabeled "free trade agreements." This is a textbook illustration of what economic historians call "kicking away the ladder": First we climb up, then we kick the ladder away so that you can't follow.

And Trump is right that the [North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)] should be revised. Some sensible proposals have been put forth by the partners in NAFTA. For example, Canada has proposed that the revised NAFTA should ban harsh US anti-labor laws, like the right-to-scrounge laws called "right-to-work" in contemporary Newspeak. These laws are soon to become federal policy, it seems, under the reactionary Roberts Court, which was made more extreme by [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell's shameful parliamentary maneuvers to prevent even consideration of Obama's nomination, opening the way to the appointment of Neil Gorsuch -- another gift to the far right.

The Canadian proposal was prominently reported in the major Canadian press, but, oddly, is missing from the discussions of NAFTA revision here, which keep to Trump proposals.

Allegations of collusion continue to haunt Donald Trump's presidency, primarily over his alleged ties to Russia and Putin, and former FBI Director James Comey said in a recent interview with ABC News that Trump is "morally unfit" to be president. What's your take on all this, and what does Trump's disrespect for law and the fact that his base is refusing to abandon him tell us about the current state of American democracy and US politics in general?

We don't need Comey to tell us that Trump is morally unfit. He made that abundantly clear in the primaries, if not before. The fact that the Oval Office is coming to resemble a schoolyard on a bad day may be obnoxious, but it doesn't rank high among the misdeeds of the administration, in my opinion. ... Same with his alleged ties to Russia and Putin. Much more serious is the clique that now surrounds him. It's a sad day when one has to hope that General [James] Mattis will keep the ... [rest] in check. The [John] Bolton appointment in particular should send shivers up the spine of any person.

As for Trump's base, they are indeed quite loyal. Most Trump voters were relatively affluent and probably are fairly satisfied with the ultra-reactionary policies. Another important segment was non-college-educated whites, a group that voted overwhelmingly for Trump (a 40 percent advantage). There is a close analysis of this group in the current (Spring 2018) issue of the Political Science Quarterly. It found that racism and sexism were far more significant factors in their vote than economic issues. If so, this group has little reason to object to the scene that is unfolding, and the same with the white Evangelicals who gave Trump 80 percent of their vote. Among justly angry, white, working-class Trump voters, many apparently enjoy watching him stick his thumb in the eyes of the hated elites even if he doesn't fufill his promises to [working-class voters], which many never believed in the first place.

What all this tells us, yet again, is that the neoliberal programs that have concentrated wealth in a few hands while the majority stagnate or decline have also severely undermined functioning democracy by familiar mechanisms, leading to anger, contempt for the dominant centrist political forces and institutions, and often anti-social attitudes and behavior -- alongside of very promising popular reactions, like the remarkable [Bernie] Sanders phenomenon, [Jeremy] Corbyn in England and positive developments elsewhere as well.

Ryan, an influential architect of the Republican economic platform, announced that he is stepping down from Congress. Do you think his decision was motivated by the fear that a "blue wave" may be coming in November as a result of a growing backlash against Trump and Trumpism?

There is much talk about how this "admirable" figure, who bedazzled the media with fraudulent spreadsheets, wants to spend time with his family. Much more likely, I think, is that he decided to leave Congress because he had achieved his long-standing goals, particularly with the "Donor Relief Act of 2017" and the deficit cuts that open the way to sharp reduction of entitlements: health, social security, pensions -- whatever matters to the people beyond the very privileged. And perhaps he prefers to be out of town when it becomes too hard to conceal what's being done to the general population and someone will have to face the music.

With regard to foreign affairs, what do you consider to be the most menacing elements of Trump's handling of US foreign policy?

Trump inherited multiple crises. His own policies have been largely incoherent, but he has been consistent in some areas, primarily the Middle East. He has provided strong support for the Saudi war in Yemen, a major catastrophe, and is exulting in the huge arms sales to the dictatorship. Last December, UN agencies warned that the Saudi blockade of Yemen could lead to "one of the largest famines in modern times." Yemen already has the world's worst cholera outbreak, which is not under control. The Saudi blockade is hindering desperately needed imports of food, medicine and fuel.

"Make America great" means great at destroying, and that's where the greatness ends.

Apart from the human disaster it is creating, the Saudi dictatorship, always with firm US backing, seems intent on carrying forward the Taliban and ISIS projects of destroying precious antiquities. Reviewing the systematic Saudi destruction, the chair of Yemen's Organization of Antiquities and Museums charges that the attacks on 60 sites are "a conscious campaign to wreck Yemen's heritage and demoralize its citizens." Western experts agree that the destruction seems deliberate, using information provided by the [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] on cultural heritage sites to direct bombing attacks, with no military objective.

The US-led attack on ISIS in Raqqa destroyed the city, and nothing is being done to reconstruct or help the victims. Under the influence of [US-UN Ambassador] Nikki Haley, one of the more sinister (and, it seems, ambitious) figures in the administration, Trump has sharply cut funding to the [United Nations Relief and Works Agency], which barely keeps millions of Palestinian refugees alive. In general, "make America great" means great at destroying, and that's where the greatness ends. It's by no means entirely new, but is now raised to a higher level and becoming a matter of principle.

In May, Trump will presumably refuse to renew sanctions relief for Iran, as required by the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA). That does not constitute formal withdrawal, though that's the likely effect. Even if the European signers formally persist, the consequences will be severe because of the central role of the US in the international financial system -- not to speak of the danger that their persistence might arouse the ire of the unpredictable Trump, who can do a great deal of damage if crossed. Effective withdrawal might provide an opening for the new national security adviser, Bolton, a genuine war criminal who publicly calls for bombing Iran, presumably in collaboration with Israel and with tacit Saudi approval. Consequences could be horrendous.

There is much fevered debate as to whether Iran might have violated the JCPOA, contrary to the firm conclusion of [the International Atomic Energy Agency] Director General Yukiya Amano on March 5, 2018, that "Iran is implementing its nuclear-related commitments." But we hear virtually nothing about US violations, though these have been clear enough. Thus the JCPOA commits the signers to support the successful implementation of the agreement, including in their public statements, and to refrain from any adverse effect on trade and economic relations with Iran that conflict with their commitments to successful implementation of the JCPOA. The US has been in flat violation of all of these commitments, which have serious consequences.

Unmentionable as always is the obvious way to alleviate whatever threat Iranian nuclear programs are imagined to pose: establishing a nuclear weapons-free zone in the region. The way is clear. The proposal is strongly supported by Iran, the Arab states and the world generally. But there is an impediment. It has regularly been blocked by the US, for familiar reasons: Israel's nuclear weapons. Also ignored is that the US [and] UK have a special commitment to work for this goal, having committed themselves to it in the UN [Security Council] resolution they invoked in an effort to find some thread of justification for their invasion of Iraq.

Trumpism is one of many manifestations of the effects of the neoliberal policies of the past generation.

There is more to say about this troubled region, but there are crises elsewhere as well. One involves North Korea, and here there might be some rays of light. Trump has so far accepted the moves of the two Koreas toward improving relations, and has agreed to negotiations with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un that so far look promising. If these initiatives succeed, they might go as far as the September 2005 agreement in which North Korea pledged to abandon "all nuclear weapons and existing weapons programs." Unfortunately, the Bush administration immediately violated all of its commitments under the agreement, and North Korea proceeded with its nuclear weapons programs. We may hope that Trump will be willing to accept success in denuclearizing the peninsula and in further steps toward accommodation. And if he wants to brag about the achievement as a demonstration of his brilliance as a deal-maker, just fine.

This by no means exhausts the foreign policy issues that should be seriously addressed -- topics that would carry us far afield.

What's your overall sense about Trumpism? What is it really all about, and do you think Trumpism is showing us the future of right-wing politics in the US?

The Democratic Party is now split between the donor-oriented New Democrat managers and a growing activist social democratic base.

Trumpism is one of many manifestations of the effects of the neoliberal policies of the past generation. These have led to extreme concentration of wealth along with stagnation for the majority. There have been repeated crashes of the deregulated financial institutions, each worse than the last. Bursting bubbles have been followed by huge public bailouts for the perpetrators while the victims have been abandoned. Globalization has been designed to set working people throughout the world in competition with one another while private capital is lavished with benefits. Democratic institutions have eroded. As already mentioned, all of this has led to anger, bitterness, often desperation -- one remarkable effect is the increasing mortality among middle-age whites discovered by Anne Case and Angus Deaton, analyzed as "deaths of despair," a phenomenon unknown in functioning societies. While there are variations from place to place, some features are common. One is the decline of the centrist parties that have long dominated political life, as we see in election after election. In the US, in recent years, whenever candidates arose from the base in the Republican primaries, the established powers were able to crush them and impose their own choice: Mitt Romney, most recently. In 2016, for the first time they were unable to do so, but they quickly rallied to the winning candidate, who proved quite willing to front for the more brutal wing of the traditional party. The real surprise in the election was the Sanders campaign, which broke with a long tradition of pretty much bought elections, and was stopped only by machinations of the Obama-Clinton party managers. The Democratic Party is now split between the donor-oriented New Democrat managers and a growing activist social democratic base.

What all of this portends, worldwide, is far from clear. Though there are also significant signs of hope, some commentators have -- with good reason -- been quoting Gramsci's observation from his prison cell: "The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear."

Categories: Latest News

People Have to Strengthen the Laws Protecting Our Water

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 21:00

Residents of Flint, Michigan, have been told that the state that poisoned their drinking water will no longer provide them free bottled water. Meanwhile, Michigan approved a permit letting the Nestlé Corporation pump more fresh water out of the Great Lakes Basin to sell. 

(Photo: Pixabay)

Janine Jackson: It is impossible, really, not to connect two recent pieces of news: Residents of Flint, Michigan, have been told that the state that poisoned their drinking water will no longer provide them free bottled water. They'll be going back to paying some of the highest prices in the country, some $200 a month, for water that may still be making them sick. The Washington Post reports at least 12,000 homes in Flint still waiting for replacement of lead pipes.

At the same time, Michigan approved a permit letting the Nestlé Corporation pump more fresh water out of a well in the Great Lakes Basin to bottle and sell at a profit, more than half a million gallons a day, the right to which will cost Nestlé…wait for it…around $200 a year. And that won't increase, although the amount of water they are taking will -- by 60 percent.

This is, in fact, how water rights work in this country, but if it feels wrong to you, you are far from alone. What can be and what is being done? Joining us now to discuss this critical story is Peggy Case. She's president of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation. She joins us now by phone from near Traverse City. Welcome to CounterSpin, Peggy Case.

Peggy Case: Thank you.

This Nestlé in Michigan fight is a new fight for many people, but it's not for you. When news articles refer to the years of fight that Nestlé, the biggest food and beverage company in the world, has faced since they moved into Michigan, a lot of that fight has come from your group, hasn't it?

Yes, that's how our group was formed, actually, back in the year 2000, when we discovered that Nestlé was pumping 400 gallons per minute from a spring well in Mecosta County, Michigan. When they put up the bottle plant was when people realized they were even there. So our organization formed way back then to oppose it, because there were already damages showing up to a stream and a lake, and the environment was already being impacted with that level of withdrawals.

It took a nine-year court battle and a million dollars to win a case. It was a partial victory. We didn't get Nestlé out of there. They had to reduce their pumping by a half, down to 218 gallons per minute, and the judge ruled that anything more than that is damaging to the environment.

So that's a court precedent case that still stands on the books, and it's important to know that, because almost two years ago, Nestlé applied for a permit to increase their pumping at a well in Evart, Michigan, 20 miles down the road from where the original battle was, to 400 gallons per minute, the exact amount they were told they really couldn't take from Mecosta.

It's spring water, which is bottled as "Ice Mountain," and they were given an increase of 100 extra gallons per minute with no public comment, no chance for anybody to go through the proper procedure, and we think it really violated the existing water withdrawal laws. Then they tacked on another 150 when they applied for the 400 permit. So it gets very complicated after a while and your head starts to spin. But the bottom line is that Nestlé's wanting to take even more out of a stream that's already damaged. So of course we're contesting that again.

On April 2, Nestlé was granted the permit for 400 gallons per minute. Eighty thousand people sent in public comment. Out of those 80,000, only 75 thought Nestlé should pump and get that permit. The rest of them were all opposed to it. We were told by the Department of Environmental Quality that those comments don't matter, that they were following the rule of law, and they could grant the permit.

Now, we know they intended to grant it all along. So it depends on how you read the law. They read it in Nestlé's favor. We say that it can be read quite differently, can be read to show that that permit can't be delivered.

So there are several issues that are unresolved, that should have been resolved before the permit was issued, and one of them has to do with the township. The township denied a permit for a booster station, which is necessary for them to be able to increase their pumping to 400 gallons per minute, and so Nestlé took the township to court. The judge ruled in Nestlé's favor. The township voted unanimously, almost, to appeal that ruling. So that ruling is still sitting in limbo and is still a contested case, which means that the DEQ should not have granted a permit when there was a local issue that was unresolved.

So there are a number of issues that we are working on right now. We are going to contest the ruling, of course, that they could have the permit. That's the first step in the process.

Right. Right.

And I just wanted to say that I'm really glad that you started your comments out by mentioning Flint, because that's been really significant for us. We have been connected to the Flint battles over water from the beginning. We were invited to come and consult in Flint four years ago, when things first began to develop. We find it totally outrageous that Flint is still in the condition that it's in, and people are getting shut off from their water.

And you mentioned the high water bills. They're even higher than you suggested. Some people we know are paying $350 or $400 a month for water that they still can't drink.

Wow.

And at the same time, the water that the city claims is good water, now, people are being shut off from that water as well. It's not just that they're not delivering bottled water to people, they're also cutting people off at the tap, in the same way that they've been doing in Detroit now for a number of years. We think those issues, Detroit and Flint, are intimately related to what's going on with Ice Mountain.

Absolutely. Absolutely connected. And on another level of connection, Nestlé's spokesperson used to be, I'm not sure if she's still there, but it used to be a woman named Deborah Muchmore, who was the wife of Dennis Muchmore, Gov. Rick Snyder's chief of staff, who retired and then became a lobbyist. Meanwhile, the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, you've been funding yourselves largely with garage sales. I'm just trying to think about the forces opposed here.

Yes, yes. Debbie Muchmore's not with the governor, and neither's Dennis. They're not with the governor anymore. They're private lobbyists.

Yeah, he retired and became a lobbyist. Oh, they both are. OK.

Yeah, they both are gone. We won't be surprised when the governor, who's term-limited, is out of office in November, that he also becomes a lobbyist for a corporation like Nestlé. So it won't surprise us if that happens.

But we paid off our $1 million debt, as you say: garage sales, bake sales, pasty sales, and the donations of our members over quite a period of time. We are totally a grassroots organization. We have no paid staff. We are all volunteers, so it was definitely a very grassroots effort.

What goes on at the state level is just the opposite kind of thing. Before the Flint crisis, the state had cut Flint off of revenue-sharing money that could have been used to fix their infrastructure. They get money taken away from them. Nestlé gets profits given to them, in the form of free water. It's just completely unjust.

There is the public process thing, and there's the DEQ, as you mentioned, saying, "Yes, we did get these public comments that were overwhelmingly opposed to this," but they implied, not just that those just didn't matter, but that they were somehow legally prohibited from caring about this intense public opposition. I don't really understand that.

That's how they read the law, and they read it wrong. There are sections of the law -- and we're busy exploring those right now; we do have good legal counsel on our side -- that do, in fact, require the public comments. So why would you require it if it's irrelevant?

Right. There's not been a tremendous amount of coverage, but those stories that have existed, that are deeper, will mention that this has been a twisty road for Nestlé, and that in fact they were initially rejected by the state's water withdrawal assessment tool, that said, "You're going to harm streams, you're going to harm fish."

But Nestlé appealed that decision, and it's that appeal that is now being approved. So it's not as though it was always obvious, you know, there's no environmental impact, or no harm here.

Yeah, the water assessment tool, which they got scored a D on it -- that's the lowest grade you can get -- so they didn't pass that. So they go to the site-specific review, which is not site-specific at all. qIt's a computer model. It takes place in an office. They never visit the actual site to determine what's really going on there.

So in both cases, you're dealing with computer models; you're not dealing with reality. Whereas, we walk out and walk around in the woods and tromp around in the streams and the wetlands, and take reporters who are interested to look at the actual site where the streams are dried up, where Nestlé claims that water is pumping at 250 gallons per minute, and you're looking at a puddle that's one-foot wide and there's no water moving in it at all. They were given a lot of expert testimony, legal testimony, extensive, that was submitted as part of those 80,000 comments. They chose to ignore that as well.

I guess it's a question of, "Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?" Because Nestlé's natural resources manager for Michigan says, "We never take out more than nature's bringing back in."

Yes, that's probably Arlene, right?

Yes.

Yes. We've gone to their dog-and-pony shows, which is what we call them, where they do their PR work. It's very fancy, charts and graphs, and they keep passing the same information out to people all the time. The other issue is that they create 3,000 plastic bottles -- I can't remember whether it's in an hour or what. So there's the plastic bottle issue as well. Another story.

It's really all sides of it, though, and the connection to Flint, and it all is of a piece. Absolutely. We can all see these connections. But it's also that people can see that this is an issue of whether water is a right, of whether corporations can take a vital public resource, because, as I said, this is the law of the land.

Yeah.

The law says if you can pump it and extract it, you can get it essentially for free, and sell it at a profit.

Well, that's only going to increase. That's only going to come to your state and your community. And yet the lesson seems to be that elected officials are not going to necessarily be on the public's side, and it's going to be down to people advocating for themselves. And I guess I would just ask you, what would you say to people who hear that now a company, Nestlé or another company, is coming to their community to pump their water out from under them?

Well, one of the things that has to happen is that people have to strengthen the laws that are supposed to be protecting the water. Because we do have the public trust doctrine in Michigan, which requires that the state of Michigan protect the water for all of us. And if that were actually honored, they wouldn't be able to come and take it and send it off in bottles elsewhere, and they wouldn't be allowed to destroy the environment.

In 2008, however, the state of Michigan weakened its laws a bit. They gave themselves the loophole to send it out as much as they wanted to, in small plastic bottles that end up in the Pacific Ocean. There's some pieces of that Safe Drinking Water Act that could be used by the government to protect the water, but they don't choose to use those pieces of the law.

So I would tell people, "Get those laws in place that actually make the government protect the water."

Particularly it's important that the state laws get strengthened, and that the people who are paying attention continue to put pressure on the various agencies to do it. Our agencies, like the Department of Environmental Quality, at the same time that they're not doing what they should be on this, they are being defunded themselves. So they don't have the resources to do most of the work that they should be doing anyway.

And the state legislature is busy trying to pass laws that would take away their right to even regulate anything. They want industry to sit on a board that oversees the regulations of themselves. So there's three bills in our legislature right now that are just horrible. So people need to contest those. They need to talk to their legislators, and make sure that don't let those pass through the legislature unnoticed. That kind of stuff.

And when the company says, "Oh, you know what, this new permit is going to call for unprecedented levels of monitoring and oversight"…

Hmm, hmm. And we're glad about that.

Right.

But we're saying that all these years, Nestlé's doing its own monitoring is the fox watching the chicken house. We're saying that that monitoring must be done by an independent agency, like the US Geological Survey. We're making that demand. It can't be Nestlé monitoring itself.

All right, then. We've been speaking with Peggy Case. She's president of Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation. You can find them and follow their work online at SaveMIWater.org. Peggy Case, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

Thank you for having me.

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Categories: Latest News

Why Young People Are Joining Unions Again

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 21:00
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This article was published by TalkPoverty.org.

At the March for Our Lives in Washington, DC, rays of sunlight break through an unseasonably cold March, through the ordered, brutalist buildings that line Pennsylvania Avenue. Hundreds of thousands of people crowd the avenue, just as they have been crowding legislators' phone lines and email inboxes in recent weeks. On a stage strategically positioned in line with the Capitol building, 17-year-old Cameron Kasky, a Parkland shooting survivor, delivers this proclamation:

To the leaders, skeptics, and cynics who told us to sit down and stay silent, wait your turn: Welcome to the revolution. It is a powerful and peaceful one because it is of, by, and for the young people of this country. Since this movement began some people have asked me, do you think any change is going to come from this? Look around, we are the change. Our voices are powerful, and our votes matter. We hereby promise to fix the broken system we've been forced into and to create a better world for the generations to come. Don't worry, we've got this.

Kasky's statement was, of course, about guns. Seventeen of his classmates and teachers had been taken from him, and from their families, friends, and their own futures, five weeks earlier by a gunman who used an automatic weapon to kill 17 people in 6 minutes and 20 seconds. But they were also taken by a system -- a political system wherein a vast majority of Americans, and particularly young Americans, support policies to clamp down on gun deaths but politicians, bought off by the NRA, do not listen.

Young people are at a tipping point. They are frustrated by a system whose cracks were etched into place by preceding generations, but have only fully metastasized for theirs. They experience suffocating levels of student debt alongside declining wages and income equality while watching companies monopolize entire industries, and sometimes even nationwide elections. Representation -- actual representation -- feels more like theory than reality.

People are, finally, beginning to take notice of young people's activism to fix that system. However, many are mistaking the new wave of media coverage dedicated to young people's political activism for young people's newfound political activism. It's not that young people were ever politically dormant; it's just that their activism has existed in places where older generations aren't used to looking: on college campuses, like the Know Your IX movement and tuition equity campaigns for undocumented students, and inside activist movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #ByeAnita and #Occupy.

And now, increasingly, unions.

For the first time in decades, union membership is on the rise among young people. Historically, younger people have not been unionized, and their rates of union membership trail older adults by wide margins. But, just like the gun laws that are already being amended, that too is beginning to change.

According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), in 2017, there were 262,000 new union members in the United States. Seventy-five percent of this increase came from young people (which EPI considers those aged 34 and under, but for the purposes of this article, broadly refers to the older subset of Generation Z and most Millennials, ages 16 to 35). Young people also hold the most favorable attitudes towards labor of any generation, and their support for political parties skews heavily towards those that support pro-worker policies (like standing against "right-to-work" laws), including the Democrats and, increasingly, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

But for some reason, unlike previous generations, young people's workplace organizing isn't seen as an integral part of their organizing, writ large. While plenty of people are documenting the rise of young people's union membership and plenty more describing young people's leadership in activist spaces, what's missing is the idea that these two phenomena are actually one: Young people are turning to outside outlets that allow them to exercise their politics in the wake of a political system that, by and large, does not.

***

In a piece for Jacobin Magazine, Micah Uetricht sketches out the ebbing relationship between democracy inside and outside the workplace, and, relatedly, the relationship between economic and political democracy. To Uetricht -- a sociology graduate student who focuses on labor, member of the DSA, and associate editor at Jacobin -- activism is activism, whether it takes place at the workplace or outside of it. "It's a relatively recent development that we think of what happens at work as some kind of separate sphere of our lives in general," he says. He adds: "Young people understand that and don't like living in a dictatorship in the place where they spend 8 or 10 hours of their day."

Uetricht experienced something similar at his first job out of college, when he worked as a cashier at an airport making minimum wage. He says he and his co-workers were treated as less than human on a daily basis, and they eventually decided to unionize, granting him a newfound sense of agency: "I had never felt as powerless as I did when I was a cashier making minimum wage. Conversely, I had never felt as powerful as I did when I joined with my co-workers, confronted my boss, and won."

That fact -- that unionization campaigns often center around not simply better wages or benefits, but a sense that your voice will be heard -- often goes misunderstood by those who are not connected to the labor movement. But for Uetricht, who went on to become a union organizer, the idea of worker voice, even if it's to voice complaints about stagnant pay or subpar health benefits, is not simply one benefit of unions; it is the benefit. "The thing that you learn immediately as an organizer," he tells me, "is that even in low-wage workplaces, the number one issue people have with their workplaces is not their low wages but a lack of respect."

A lack of respect is also primarily driving young people's frustration with the political system. When Kasky, the 17-year-old Parkland survivor, spoke at the March for Our Lives, he said "our voices are powerful, and our votes matter." He said that in contrast to the status quo, in which young people's voices are not seen as powerful, nor their votes. And, looking at recent history, it's not hard to understand why that might be Kasky's understanding of the status quo. Young people's votes were spurned by an electoral college that favors rural, sparse areas, disproportionately discounting the large numbers of young people who lived in cities in 2016. Their ideas of stronger restrictions on gunsreigning in big banks, and support for the rights of LGBTQ peopleimmigrantspeople of color, and people of varying religious views have been continually overpowered by older generations and special interests.

Seen through that lens, it's no wonder young people have found working inside the US political system ineffective, and, quite frankly, not worth their time. Instead, young people have redirected their activism toward different kinds of outlets, where their efforts may actually bring about tangible results. Outlets like unions.

What does this mean for the labor movement? A workplace is, at the most fundamental level, a microcosm of the political system. There are those who hold power, the bosses, and those who don't, the workers. Over time, the balance of power ebbs and flows; when unions are strong, the balance shifts more heavily to the workers, and when unions are weak, the balance favors the bosses. When unions are powerful, workers have something akin to a voice in the direction of their workplace. And when unions are at their most powerful, workers have something akin to a voice in the direction of their country, a counterbalance to special interest groups like ALEC or the US Chamber of Commerce.

***

Julia Ackerly is working to build unions up to that level. Now 27, she's worked on Democratic campaigns for most of her adult life: She worked as a field organizer and regional field director for the Bernie Sanders campaign in the 2016 primary elections, and then for Larry Krasner's bid to be Philadelphia's District Attorney (DA), a race that drew national attention for how Krasner sought to use the DA position to enact a progressive vision for the criminal justice system. Ackerly has always worked on campaigns that worked closely with organized labor. But she had never been in a union herself.

That changed when the Campaign Workers' Guild (CWG) formed. The idea behind the CWG is pretty simple: It hopes to unionize campaign staffers, who experience harsh working conditions where poor pay and benefits and long hours run rampant, justified by managers as sacrifices for an important cause. CWG is currently organizing campaigns one-by-one: Its first successful organizing campaign was that of Randy Bryce, the candidate hoping to win House Speaker Paul Ryan's Congressional seat, and it's organized 10 more campaigns since, for a total of 11 as of March 2018. But it ultimately hopes to organize entire parties' campaign staffs at once in the future.

Ackerly, who helps organize campaign staffs and is now a dues-paying member of CWG herself, says that having a collective ability to be heard and respected in the workplace is a "very motivating factor towards unionization campaigns." She singles out creating protocol and reporting structures for sexual harassment and discrimination as one of the biggest motivations staff members have for organizing. Which, tellingly, is also the one of the biggest activist movements dominating living room and water cooler conversations across the country as the #MeToo movement continues.

Young people dominate the junior staffs on campaigns and have also made up a significant portion of the driving force behind recently organized campaign staffs, according to Ackerly. Jake Johnston, the Vice President of Organizing for the Non-Profit Professional Employees Union (NPEU) (which includes some members of the TalkPoverty staff), has similarly seen young people take the lead at the organizations that have recently organized under NPEU, and at NPEU itself.

For Johnston, collective action has implicit ties to activism, writ large. "The reality is that our political system really has cut out a significant part of this country. I think there's clearly a rejection of the status quo, and yet there are so few avenues to try and change that," he says. "Whether it's joining the DSA, joining a union, joining an advocacy campaign, or joining an electoral campaign, people are trying to change that. Everyone needs an outlet for activism."

That's true for young people in particular. For far too long, they've been on the receiving end of an economic and political system that does not work for them, while being denied the opportunity to change that system.

Whether it's students like Cameron Kasky shouting about the NRA into a microphone that reverberates from the Capitol to the White House, young people like Julia Ackerly organizing an industry that has never been unionized before, or activists like Micah Uetricht organizing his own workplace, young people are refusing to take part in a political system that has consistently and methodically drowned out their voice. Instead, they've taken their voices elsewhere, to outlets like unions and activist movements where -- finally -- their voices are being heard.

Categories: Latest News

History Shows Hypocrisy of US Outrage Over Chemical Weapons in Syria

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 21:00

Given the US culpability in the deaths of tens of thousands of people by Iraqi chemical weapons barely 30 years ago, even many of Bashar al-Assad's fiercest opponents have to question US motivations for bombing Syria earlier this month.

Protesters demonstrate against the UK's military involvement as the US and its allies conduct airstrikes against Syria. (Photo: Olga Akmen / AFP / Getty Images)

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There are serious legal and strategic concerns regarding the decision by the United States, along with France and Great Britain, to bomb Syria in response to its alleged use of chemical weapons in Douma. Even if one considers the April 13 airstrikes on a series of targets in two Syrian cities to be legitimate, it would be naïve to assume that Western powers conducted the bombing out of any sincere moral concern about Syria's apparent use of these horrific banned substances.

To begin with, conventional ordnance provided by the United States, France and Britain to the armed forces of Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, Iraq and other allied governments have killed many times more civilians than those who have died from chemical attacks in Syria. While, both legally and historically, there is indeed a qualitative difference between chemical and conventional weapons, the use of any ordnance on civilian targets is illegal under international law and is a moral outrage.

Regarding the specific use of chemical weapons, however, the reaction by the United States government nations has been inconsistent.

It was the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, that used chemical weapons on a scale far greater than any country had dared since the weapons were banned 95 years ago. The Iraqis inflicted close to 100,000 casualties among Iranian soldiers using banned chemical agents, resulting in 20,000 deaths and tens of thousands of long-term injuries.

They were unable to do this alone, however. Despite ongoing Iraqi support for Abu Nidal and other terrorist groups during the 1980s, the Reagan administration removed Iraq from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism in order to provide the regime with thiodiglycol, a key component in the manufacture of mustard gas and other chemical precursors for their weapons program.

Walter Lang, a senior official with the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), noted how "the use of gas on the battlefield by the Iraqis was not a matter of deep strategic concern" to President Reagan and other administration officials since they "were desperate to make sure that Iraq did not lose." Lang noted that the DIA believed Iraq's use of the chemical was "seen as inevitable in the Iraqi struggle for survival." In fact, DIA personnel were dispatched to Baghdad during the war to provide Hussein's regime with US satellite data on the location of Iranian troop concentrations in full knowledge that the Iraqis were using chemical weapons against them.

Even the Iraqi regime's use of chemical weapons against civilians was not seen by the US as particularly problematic. The March 1988 massacre in the northern Iraqi city of Halabja, where Hussein's forces murdered up to 5,000 Kurdish civilians with chemical weapons, was downplayed by the Reagan administration, with some officials even falsely claiming that Iran was actually responsible. The United States continued sending aid to Iraq even after the regime's use of poison gas was confirmed.

When a 1988 Senate Foreign Relations committee staff report brought to light Hussein's policy of widespread extermination in Iraqi Kurdistan, Sen. Claiborne Pell introduced the Prevention of Genocide Act to put pressure on the Iraqi regime, but the Bush administration successfully moved to have the measure killed. This came despite evidence emerging from UN reports in 1986 and 1987, prior to the Halabja tragedy, documenting Iraq's use of chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians -- allegations that were confirmed both by investigations from the CIA and from US embassy staff who had visited Iraqi Kurdish refugees in Turkey.

However, not only was the United States not particularly concerned about Iraq's use of chemical weapons, the Reagan administration also continued supporting the Iraqi government's procurement effort of materials necessary for their development.

Ironically, long after Iraq had rid itself of these banned weapons, US politicians of both parties retroactively used the Hallabja massacre as a rationalization for the US invasion and occupation of Iraq 15 years later.

Given the US culpability in the deaths of tens of thousands of people by Iraqi chemical weapons barely 30 years ago, even many of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's fiercest opponents have to question US motivations. Indeed, the United States blocked efforts by the United Nations Security Council and the Syrian government itself to establish a region-wide ban on chemical weapons prior to the outbreak of the civil war, which may have very well prevented the subsequent attacks.

It should also be noted that the first country to use chemical weapons in the Middle East was Great Britain in 1920, as part of its efforts to put down a rebellion by Iraqi tribal leaders when British forces seized the country following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Indeed Winston Churchill, who then held the position of Britain's secretary of state for war and air, said: "I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisonous gas against uncivilised tribes."

None of this should minimize the horror of what the Assad regime has unleashed upon the Syrian people with both its chemical and conventional weapons, nor does it mean that the United States and other Western nations should be complacent in the face of such serious war crimes. At the same time, in addition to questions about the legitimacy and efficacy of the recent attacks on Syria by the United States and its allies, this history makes it difficult for the United States and its allies to take the moral high ground.

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How Black Students Helped Lead the 1968 Columbia Strike Against Militarism and Racism 50 Years Ago

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 21:00

Fifty years ago today, on April 23, 1968, hundreds of students at Columbia University in New York started a revolt on campus. They occupied five buildings, including the president's office in Low Library, then students barricaded themselves inside the buildings for days. They were protesting Columbia's ties to military research and plans to build a university gymnasium in a public park in Harlem. The protests began less than three weeks after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The 1968 Columbia uprising led to one of the largest mass arrests in New York City history -- more than 700 people arrested on April 30. It also inspired student protests across the country. Today, we spend the hour looking back at this pivotal moment. We are joined by Raymond Brown, former leader of the Student Afro-American Society; Nancy Biberman, a Barnard College student who joined the protests as a member of Students for Democratic Society; Mark Rudd, chair of the Columbia University chapter of SDS during the student strike; and Paul Cronin, editor of the new book A Time to Stir: Columbia '68. We also feature excerpts from the 1968 documentary Columbia Revolt by Third World Newsreel.

TRANSCRIPT

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Fifty years ago today, on April 23rd, 1968, hundreds of students at Columbia University in New York revolted -- started a revolt on campus. Students went on strike. They occupied five buildings, including the president's office in Low Library. They barricaded themselves inside the buildings for days. They were protesting Columbia's ties to military research and plans to build a new gymnasium in a public park in Harlem. The protests began less than three weeks after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The 1968 Columbia uprising led to one of the largest mass arrests in New York City history, as more than 700 people were arrested on April 30th. It also inspired student protests across the country.

Today we spend the hour looking back at this pivotal moment. Several of the student organizers are joining us in a minute. As one of them writes today in an op-ed in The New York Times, quote, "In popular memory, the Columbia protests were a high point of the campus movement against the Vietnam War, and a mile marker in its radicalization. But this history, which privileges the actions and concerns of white students like myself, is incomplete, and it misrepresents what made the protests so powerful -- the leadership of the black students." Those are the words of Mark Rudd, who will join us in a minute. We'll also speak with Raymond Brown, former leader of the Student Afro-American Society, and with Nancy Biberman, who, like Rudd, was a member of Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS. But first we begin with excerpts from the documentary Columbia Revolt by Third World Newsreel.

STUDENT ORGANIZER 1: We now demand -- we no longer ask -- a say in decisions that affect our lives. We call on all students, faculty, staff and workers of the university to support our strike. We ask that all students and faculty not meet or have classes inside buildings. We have taken the power away from an irresponsible and illegitimate administration. We have taken power away from a board of self-perpetuating businessmen who call themselves trustees of this university. We're demanding an end to the construction of the gymnasium, a gymnasium being built against the will of the people of the community of Harlem, a decision that was made unilaterally by powers of the university without consultation of people whose lives it affects. We are no longer asking, but demanding, an end to all affiliation and ties with the Institute for Defense Analysis, a Department Department venture that collaborates the university into studies of kill and overkill that has resulted in the slaughter and maiming of thousands of Vietnamese and Americans.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Students at Columbia moved to take over buildings despite warnings from some campus officials.

STUDENT ORGANIZER 2: In order to show the solidarity of people with six strike leaders who they had tried to suspend, they decided to take Hamilton once again.

CAMPUS OFFICIAL: You are hereby directed to clear out of this building. I'll give you further instructions if this building is not cleared out within the next 10 minutes.

STRIKE LEADER: I'm asking how many of you here are willing now to stay with me, sit-in here, until…

STUDENT ORGANIZER 3: After three votes, a majority decided to stay.

STUDENTS: Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike! Strike!

CAMPUS OFFICIAL: If you do not choose to leave this building, I have to inform you that we have no alternative but to call the police, and each student who is arrested will be immediately suspended.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The students then set up barricades inside the administration building.

STUDENT ORGANIZER 4: The first day in Math, we set up a defense committee, which took care of putting up the barricades. We decided what our policy would be toward police, toward jocks. We soaped some of the stairs. We taped the windows. We emptied bookcases and put them up in front of the windows in case tear gas canisters did get through the tape.

STUDENT ORGANIZER 5: And it hung up a lot of people when there would be a little scratch or mar on one of the marble-top desks or something. And the second time we built barricades, these hang-ups disappeared, and we had decided that barricades were necessary politically and strategically, and anything went in making strong and, this time, permanent-type barricades.

STUDENT ORGANIZER 6: Defense is all taken care of. Security is a problem, letting people in and out of the buildings. Watches -- we need people to watch the windows every night.

STUDENT ORGANIZER 7: We had a walkie-talkie setup, citizens' band walkie-talkies, plus there were telephone communications to every building, which the university tapped. We had three mimeographs at work constantly, and there were people who did nothing during the strike but relay to the mimeograph machine. And there was a big sign on the wall, a quote from somebody in Berkeley, who says five students and a mimeograph machine can do more harm to a university than an army.

AMY GOODMAN: That's an excerpt of Columbia Revolt, Third World Newsreel. When we come back from break, we'll be joined by four of the student activists at the time who led the strike. They're now lawyers, working on housing rights, community activists and journalists. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "Draft Morning" by The Notorious Byrd Brothers, 1968. This is Democracy Now! The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González. We're joined now by four of the student activists involved in the Columbia strike.

In 1968, Raymond Brown was a leader of the Student Afro-American Society at Columbia, was one of the leaders of the black students who occupied Columbia University's Hamilton Hall. He's now a criminal defense lawyer who also practices international human rights law.

Nancy Biberman is with us. She's here in New York. She was a student at Barnard College at the time of the '68 strike, a member of SDS, Students for a Democratic Society, now a lawyer working in community development and founder of the Women's Housing and Economic Development Corporation in the Bronx.

Joining us from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Mark Rudd. He was chairman of the Columbia University chapter of SDS during the student strike of April 1968, elected national secretary in 1969 and was the last to hold that position.

And we're joined by Paul Cronin, editor of the new book A Time to Stir: Columbia '68. Paul Cronin made a 7-hour documentary about Columbia '68. He teaches at the School of Visual Arts here in New York.

And Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez, one of the student strike leaders, as well.

Now, you were all -- Raymond, Juan, Nancy, Mark -- you were all there on April 23rd, 50 years ago today. Juan, why don't you kick this off? Describe what happened that morning.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, there was a major rally called by the Students for a Democratic Society, as well as the members of the Student Afro-American Society, who joined the protest, as well, basically continuing the ongoing protest against the university's involvement in research for the Institute for Defense Analysis, a group that was doing a lot of research for the Pentagon for the Vietnam War, and against the construction of the gymnasium that Columbia was trying to build in Morningside Park. And a variety of forces came together -- the SDS students, the SAS students, a lot of other folks who were involved in the community struggles around the gym. And everyone gathered at the Sundial and, initially, marched to the gym site and then came back on campus. And we all ended up in Hamilton Hall, which was the main undergraduate classroom building for the Columbia College students. And that's when the sit-in began.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Ray Brown, describe the role of the Afro-American Society, your role. What happened that day?

RAYMOND BROWN: Well, the black student role has often been ignored, especially by the media. The New York Times managed to cover this in detail for days and never mention us. But we got a telegram from Chairman Mao. Somehow, the People's Republic of China knew what the black students were doing, New York Times did not.

But certainly, the black students played a pivotal role, because, first of all, we were more disciplined than any other group. We determined -- we were the first to determine to barricade buildings. We asked, in a manner that's become controversial in the ensuing years, the white students to leave and grab other buildings. And we barricaded that first building.

Our role was strategically pivotal because city had just erupted weeks earlier after Dr. King's death. There was a perception that Harlem might rise, and we did have a lot of community support. And so, the reason this lasted for seven days was because nobody wanted to arrest the black students, and, subsequently, that meant they couldn't arrest white students. So, our role was pivotal, though ignored historically and journalistically.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to go to a clip from the confrontation at Hamilton Hall when students first trapped acting college Dean Henry Coleman in his first-floor office. The audio was from the campus radio station, WKCR. It's narrated by, well, no other than Robert Siegel, class of 1969.

ROBERT SIEGEL: Dean of Columbia College Henry S. Coleman confronts demonstrators in the lobby of Hamilton Hall.

DEAN HENRY COLEMAN: Am I to understand then that I am not allowed to leave this building?

STUDENT: Well, let me ask. Is he to understand that he's not to be able to leave this building?

STUDENTS: Yes!

AMY GOODMAN: So, Ray Brown, remember that?

RAYMOND BROWN: We regarded Dean Coleman as our guest, not as a hostage. He had actually personally recruited me. Most of the black students -- he was very popular among black students. He was involved in admissions. He had also reached out a lot, perhaps more than any other dean. So it was ironic that he was there. And once we had seized control of the building, we didn't need him anymore, and we invited him to leave -- also because there were a couple of black students in the law school. They said, "You ought not mention words like 'kidnapping' and 'hostage.'"

AMY GOODMAN: And did the white students leave, by the way, and take over other buildings?

RAYMOND BROWN: They did leave, in response to a polite but firm request. The black students met that first night. You couldn't have black students effectively sitting cheek by jowl with the white students, who were everybody from Leninists and SDSers to kids who wanted to have a teach-in, people who were sort of countercultural folks. We couldn't have maintained it. We were disciplined and coherent. We knew each other well. And we were clear about the fact that this was not a revolution, but a demonstration, and that ultimately force would be used against us. And so, we were very firm on those issues.

AMY GOODMAN: Nancy Biberman, describe what you were doing there that day, April 23rd, 1968.

NANCY BIBERMAN: So, at noon, we all gathered at the Sundial in the middle of the college campus, and there was a rally. And the rally was about, you know, the ongoing anger at the war in Vietnam and, in particular, our university's affiliation with research for the war. And we were also very much aware, as Ray said, Dr. King had just died. You know, we were -- had been assassinated. You know, we were all in the streets, and I think everyone was in high-tension mode.

And, you know, what we were able to focus on -- I mean, symbols are as important as facts sometimes, and in this case, especially, the gym was the most powerful symbol of racism that we could see in our neighborhood. It was right there. It was on a bluff, the proposed gym between the university and Harlem. It was a public park. And it was, you know, designed for students, with a backdoor entrance to the community. It was offensive, and we were all rallying behind that.

AMY GOODMAN: And the role of women?

NANCY BIBERMAN: So, the role of women is more complicated. I would like to say, however, for a couple of my sisters who are listening out there, that two women were the ones to yell, after we couldn't get into Low Library, having just run from the Sundial, "To the gym!" Two women said, "To the gym." And it was from that moment that we all ran to the gym and, you know, jumped into the bulldozers.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I'd like to ask Mark Rudd to step in. Mark, your name is probably most associated with the Columbia strike of all of the protesters, yet today, in today's The New York Times, you attempt to try to correct the history or the narrative that has developed over the decades.

MARK RUDD: Right. There's a lot to be said, of course, about the Columbia strike, but that point that the leadership of the black students has got to be made. It's relevant today because too often the narrative of contemporary struggles focuses on the white kids. Well, it's going to be -- this particular movement that we have now, or movements, are being led by women and also by nonwhite people. So, this is a good time to look back and see what relevant history there is.

RAYMOND BROWN: I think it's important to point out that Mark and some of the leaders have been not only historically accurate, but gracious, in the last decade, in saying, "Look, there was a misperception as to how this happened at the time." Mark asked me to speak at his book launch. Bill Sales and other black students like myself get calls from the media: Mark Rudd said you should talk to you instead of him. So, there has been a recognition by some leadership. But that hasn't taken away the tension that still exists at a number of events on the part of white students who feel they were expelled improperly from Hamilton Hall, a very interesting kind of tension.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to this clip from the Columbia Revolt, the film. This is H. Rap Brown, now Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, reading a statement from black students who occupied Hamilton Hall during the 1968 strike.

H. RAP BROWN: The black students of Columbia University, joined by a few members of the black community, have been in Hamilton Hall for 56 hours -- more than that now. We have established a cafeteria with adequate stores, all continuously. A physician is in charge of our infirmary. Morale is high.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, that was H. Rap Brown, now Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin. But that's back in 1968. Protesters who barricaded Hamilton Hall renamed it Malcolm X University, Ray?

RAYMOND BROWN: That's true. We were very self-conscious about our role politically and that we represented a larger community. Many of us had been involved in the movement over the years. That statement was written by the Black Students of Hamilton Hall. Stokely Carmichael and Basil Paterson and other members of the Democratic political establishment came through, along with many community organizers, who said, "We'll do whatever you want, and we'll help foster this notion that the community really cares and is connected to you." And so, it's important to understand that organic connection, as well, as an important part of this uprising, one that, again, wasn't reported or covered very accurately at the time by the mainstream media.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I'd like to bring Paul into this discussion. You've been -- you've spent the last, what, 10 years of your life working on a project, both a book on the Columbia strike and this 7-hour marathon film that you've developed, and yet you're a British national, right, originally?

PAUL CRONIN: No, actually, I'm American, too. My mother is -- my mother is American.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Oh, OK.

PAUL CRONIN: So I grew up in a Mid-Atlantic household in London, it's true, yes.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Oh, OK. But tell us why you decided to do this, why you spent so much of your life on this.

PAUL CRONIN: Well, the bottom line is, it's just a fascinating story. And it's not as if anyone had revisited it in any detail since 1968. Some Ph.D. student had not come along and pulled all the material together. I was -- I knew there are plenty of people around from '68 who would be able to talk. The fact is, Columbia University was full of very smart people, very articulate people. And I've met some extraordinarily articulate people over the years. Also, the massive raw primary material that's come to light -- I have generated an archive of 30,000 photographs, most of which have never been seen before, thousands of pages of documents. So, it's just been a fascinating story to tell. It's a very dramatic story. I mean, the interplay between the black students and the white students, between the faculty and the students. I mean, any number of dynamics at play here make it a very interesting and dramatic story.

AMY GOODMAN: And you did --

RAYMOND BROWN: Paul is too modest. I mean, his ERICs have been Homeric. I mean, this guy spent 10 years talking to people, interviewing hundreds of people. And he's, I suppose, one person who's tried to really look deeply into what really happened.

AMY GOODMAN: It's the Shoah of protest films at university college campuses. It's seven hours, right?

PAUL CRONIN: It is seven hours. It's also the Rashomon, as Ray pointed out the other day to me. I interviewed 700 people on film for this project.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But you also interviewed police who participated in the attacks --

PAUL CRONIN: Well, right.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ:  -- city officials and --

PAUL CRONIN: Police. I mean, there's any number of so many different constituencies here at play, each one of which are at odds with the other. So, frankly, you can sort of -- you could focus the entire story in the mayor's office, for example, or in the police department. But even within the police department, for example, there's an interplay going on between the beat cops, the cops on the beat up in Morningside --

AMY GOODMAN: Morningside Heights.

PAUL CRONIN:  -- Morningside Heights, and, say, the TPF, the Tactical Patrol Force, which was this elite group of cops who were in existence, I think, from '59 to 1984. And by '68, they were sort of at the peak of their powers. They were sort of parachuted in to hotspots around the city. So, the beat cops were not terribly happy to have these guys on their turf. So, any number of these interactions creates interesting stories and interesting drama.

AMY GOODMAN: Let's go to a clip of your film, Paul Cronin, A Time to Stir. Here, former Columbia students who participated in the protests recall a key moment during which students take down a fence.

FORMER COLUMBIA STUDENT 1: It was a deeply symbolic moment, because on this side of the fence is legality, politeness -- I am part of the establishment, expressing my opinion -- and on the other side of this very humble chicken-wire fence is trespass, the realization that we are called upon to do more than simply express our opinions.

FORMER COLUMBIA STUDENT 2: I remember them pushing. I remember them feeling that finally they could grab the fence, but also grab history, grab the world, change it.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about what that fence was, Juan.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, that was the fence that was erected at the construction site for the new gymnasium. And, actually, I had been arrested trying -- in protesting in that construction site a couple of months before the actual Columbia protests erupted, when there were some community protests. And so, that fence was sort of the symbol of this new gym going up. And there had been various protests at the fence, at the construction site itself. So, when some of the students began to tear down the fence that day, that was sort of a symbol of, "OK, you're not going to hold us back anymore. We're dealing with this issue."

PAUL CRONIN: And what my film tries to do, and I think -- I mean, Mark is very good on this. I know Mark can speak to this. But the film is seven hours, in part, because April 23rd, 1968, 50 years to this day, doesn't come in until two hours in. I mean, there's a whole back story to 1968. And I've been reading, in the last two or three days, the very brief newspaper summaries of events. And they -- I mean, to say they barely scratch the surface is self-evident. There's an extraordinarily interesting story -- in a way, even more interesting than what happened in '68 -- the story of the founding of SDS on the Columbia campus, the founding of SAS, Student Afro-American Society, on campus, the growing organizing, the antiwar activism that's going on. It brings together extraordinarily interesting people.

RAYMOND BROWN: There's an interesting part of this --

AMY GOODMAN: Ray Brown.

RAYMOND BROWN:  -- that young people especially don't understand. 1964 is 10 years after Brown v. Board of Education, nine years after Emmett Till, nine years after Bandung. We were very conscious of the fact that the university was kind of saying, "Well, maybe if white supremacy isn't the thing anymore, we've got to have some brown students here." Their mistake was in assuming that brown students were white students with brown skin, and not engaging with us on the issues that we brought to this reality. But this is, really, shortly after the government, through the courts, have said, "Well, white supremacy isn't hip anymore, because we've got to persuade the rest of the people in the brown world that we're really better than the communists." So, that's the context in which this all took place.

AMY GOODMAN: So, how many black students were at Columbia in 1968?

RAYMOND BROWN: My class, which came in in '64, the class of '68, had 20 students -- biggest class they had ever had in the college.

AMY GOODMAN: How many students were there at the college?

RAYMOND BROWN: About 2,600, I think. So, it was tiny, minuscule. By the time of the demonstrations, we had maybe a hundred, although there were some graduate students thrown in the mix.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the same was true of Latinos. I think I was one of only two Latinos in my class, in my class at Columbia, and the same thing, class of '68.

AMY GOODMAN: And your year was?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I was class of '68. And there weren't even enough Latinos to have an organization back then.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Juan, let's go back to you, 50 years ago. This is Democracy Now!'s own Juan González speaking during the strike.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now we want to go into the dorms with all of you, with some of you who may not -- who may not agree with a lot of what we've been saying here, who have questions, who support us, who want to know more. Let's go to the dorms. Let's talk quietly, in small groups. We'll be there, and everyone in Livingston -- in Livingston lobby, in Furnald lobby, in Carman lobby. We'll be there, and we'll talk about the issues involved, and we'll talk about where this country is going and where this university is going and what it's doing in the society and what we would like you to do and what we would -- and how we would like to exchange with you our ideas over it. Come join us now.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Mark Rudd, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where you live now, this whole idea, as Juan is announcing the teach-ins, the different places to have discussions during the strike, talk more about this, and talk about your being head of SDS, the Students for a Democratic Society.

MARK RUDD: Well, first of all, I just want to say how exciting it is to be on with my old comrades. I wish I were present with you in the studio.

The couple of things that occur to me in regard to the conversation we're having at the moment is that the university was not prepared for the black students. Ray and other people have written about this. And I'd like to hear more from Ray about that, about the ways in which the university failed the black students. And I think probably most of us white kids, too, failed the black students. So, let's talk about that.

But I just wanted to say that the story of any action, any protest, usually goes way back. And in this particular case, it has to do with, in part, years of organizing that SDS engaged in. When I got there in September of '65, what became SDS, the students who became, who formed SDS, had already been organizing against the university's racism, in the form of the university refusing to allow black and Latino cafeteria workers to form a union -- it was clear racism -- and also the university's involvement in the war, which had just began, in April and -- well, with main force troops. The university was training naval officers.

So, the organizing, meaning the education and our self-education and our educating the campus and a number of tactics, like confrontations and petitions and meetings and teach-ins, all these things had been going on for a long time. That's what I mean about organizing, that we had goals, and we had a strategy and tactics to achieve those goals. In the case of SDS, the goals were to politicize the university and to build the antiwar and anti-racist movements. So, that was going on well before I got there in '65. And in a sense, we helped lay the groundwork for '68.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Mark, we're going to break and --

MARK RUDD: The great civil rights organizer and leader, Ella Jo Baker, has often talked about -- often talked about doing the spadework. Well, we did that spadework. So, that's a story, I think, is worth telling, because it's got to be done now. That organizing, strategic organizing, is the issue.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Rudd was the head of SDS in 1968, on this day 50 years ago, April 23rd, 1968, the Colombia revolt, when African-American students led white students of SDS, Juan González, one of maybe two Latino students, Nancy Biberman, all in Hamilton Hall, what they called Malcolm X University. When we come back, where this all led, one of the largest mass arrests a week later, 700 people. Again, this is the period between the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. Also joined by Paul Cronin, who's chronicled this all in a book, A Time to Stir: Columbia '68. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad" by Gwen McCrae, here on Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, 50 years ago today, hundreds of students at Columbia University in New York started a revolt on campus. They occupied five buildings, including the president's office in Low Library. The students barricaded themselves inside the buildings for a week. They were protesting Columbia's ties to military research and plans to build a university gymnasium in a public park in Harlem. The protests began less than three weeks after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The 1968 Columbia uprising led to one of the largest mass arrests in New York City history. A week into the strike, on April 30th, New York City police stormed the campus, with hundreds of students who were injured, and 700 -- more than 700 were arrested. Images of the police assault were broadcast across the country. This is another clip from Columbia Revolt by Third World Newsreel.

STUDENT STRIKER 1: They got over 700 of us on charges of criminal trespass, resisting arrest, all kinds of other [bleep], some of which was real and some of which was completely fake.

STUDENT STRIKER 2: I know of nurses and doctors that pleaded with the police not to proceed, to please let these men alone. And they would say, "No, no. Get away. This is our job."

STUDENT STRIKER 3: I was arrested. They would not allow me to see a doctor. I had broken ribs. My face was cut. I got hit with a pistol under the eye and was bleeding there. And I wasn't allowed to see a doctor 'til I got out of court, which was approximately 10 hours later. But I was awarded a fellowship for next year. What the hell does -- I'm sorry. What does it mean? I'm going to strike. I hope every -- I don't see how any teacher, I don't see how any student can attend this school anymore. And I was completely liberal about the whole thing. But this bust has radicalized everybody, and me very personally.

STUDENT: I was a nonviolent student. I was completely passive. I didn't care what happened. I was completely neutral. I'm not neutral any longer. I'll occupy buildings tomorrow.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Columbia Revolt, Third World Newsreel. Our guests are Ray Brown, who was head of the Student Afro-American Society, one of the leaders of the black students who occupied Columbia University's Hamilton Hall 50 years ago. We're also joined by Nancy Biberman of SDS, Students for a Democratic Society. We're joined, as well, by Mark Rudd. He's in New Mexico right now, chair of the Colombia University chapter of SDS, Students for a Democratic Society. Paul Cronin, editor of the book A Time to Stir: Columbia '68, and has made a 7-hour film on the Columbia revolt. And our very own Democracy Now!'s Juan González, who was one of the leaders of this protest.

Now, Ray Brown, you heard this video clip. We're going a week later, from April 23rd to April 30th, when it was one of the largest mass arrests, 700. You were one of them.

RAYMOND BROWN: That's true.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the people arrested.

RAYMOND BROWN: Well, we were clear from the beginning that we were going to be arrested. I mean, they made many overtures to the black students to leave, under various vague little scenarios. And we all said no.

AMY GOODMAN: Just to the black students?

RAYMOND BROWN: Just to the black -- they consciously tried to split us off from the rest of the students.

AMY GOODMAN: You mean the university.

RAYMOND BROWN: The university, the police -- we had visitors from the mayor's office, from the president's office. Everybody was trying to separate us, because we were the fulcrum. And it turned out, they couldn't lure us out with those promises. We knew there were going to be arrests. We took a lot of precautions. None of our people were injured at all, because we were very disciplined about it. We had studied counterinsurgency doctrine. We had met with police officials over the years to talk about how they handle demonstrations. We had thought about this, because the experience of black folks and police and civil disobedience is different from others. So we were quite prepared for this. None of our people were injured. That doesn't mean we endorsed the use of force against the white students.

But, in fact, this event changed police doctrine with respect to demonstrations. You'll never have a demonstration that lasts seven days again and builds up momentum. They'll act much more quickly. The rise of campus police forces, that are more "professional," in quotes, and that have more sophisticated doctrines and relationships to local police, all of that is a direct result of what happened here and in other campuses around the country, including places like Jackson State, where kids were actually killed, Orangeburg and elsewhere, Kent State.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, of course, Mark, you might want to talk about this, in terms of the students that were occupying the other buildings, both SDS and non-SDS, were obviously a much more amorphous group, various different political tendencies. There was a much more sort of participatory democracy approach to making -- decision-making, which made it very difficult to actually reach decisions and consensus on particular actions or tactics.

MARK RUDD: All true. But it didn't matter to the cops. They didn't care whom they attacked, as long as -- we were all fair game. In fact, I recall that they even attacked the jocks, who were supporting the cops. They were cheering the cops on, and the cops beat them up. No, they wanted -- they had a lot of hatred, possibly misplaced patriotism, possibly class hatred against us. At the 40th reunion 10 years ago, one of the city officials described the cops as having sat in their buses for days gnawing on their night sticks. Well, they took it out on everybody. And it didn't matter what political tendency you were or even if you supported them.

AMY GOODMAN: Nancy Biberman, you, too, were arrested on April 30th.

NANCY BIBERMAN: So, the arrests, what I -- the arrests itself, I would say, we did expect it. You know, people were barricading themselves in the buildings, you know, come what may. And "come what may" really meant that we expected that the police would come in. What I found the most shocking about the arrests was the police activity all over campus. I saw the university rabbi, who was standing in the middle of campus, being beaten up, bloody. And there were so many bystanders that night, people who had nothing to do with this. People who were running back into their dorms, you know, were just wantonly beaten up. So, people called it then a police riot. And I think it was.

RAYMOND BROWN: I focused a lot on race, but it's also --

AMY GOODMAN: Ray Brown.

RAYMOND BROWN:  -- important to see the class issue. When I was -- I remember the cop who was booking me, was a white cop. And he said, "I sort of understand why you colored kids would be raising heck over there at the university, but I don't understand these white kids, who have such privileges." And I didn't engage in a dialogue with him, because I was doing "name, rank and serial number." But it's interesting that there were a lack of discipline and a lack of focus. And remember, I think once they had removed the black students, which they thought was a potential powder keg, it was open season.

PAUL CRONIN: You know, quite a lot of the --

AMY GOODMAN: Paul Cronin.

PAUL CRONIN: Quite a lot of the students I interviewed have talked about what they considered to be the kind of class conflict between themselves and the police. But Mark might have said it more pointedly. I think they were just very bored. They had been up there from day one. As one of them put it, "We were in those police vans. I was losing a lot of money playing poker," he said. "And when the time came to let loose" --

AMY GOODMAN: You're talking the cops.

PAUL CRONIN: The cops. "And when the time came to let loose, we let loose." And as one of them said, and I suspect he's probably right, "If the students at the Colombia -- on Columbia in 1968 thought that we were being excessively brutal with them, they don't know what police brutality is."

AMY GOODMAN: The Columbia Daily Spectator reported -- this is two weeks before, April 10th, 1968 -- "Walkout Disrupts Memorial to King." It said Mark Rudd commandeered the microphone from the chaplain and declared the university was, quote, "committing a moral outrage against Dr. King's memory. We will therefore protest this obscenity." It said Mark Rudd then walked down from the pulpit and was followed out of the church by dozens of people who were part of the memorial. The chaplain, John Cannon, refused to condemn the action, saying, quote, "Any student who is moved by the spirit of the truth … is able to speak in this chapel any time." Do you remember this, Ray Brown?

RAYMOND BROWN: I remember it. I wasn't present. Remember, there was a very strange relationship between SAS and SDS. We had a wide variety of attitudes and ideological perspectives within the organization. And so, we were -- some of us perhaps affiliated more freely and watched SDS more closely, but that was a different path.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Rudd, remember that moment?

MARK RUDD: It's hard to forget. I remember being terrified and shaking as I held the microphone. You know, everyone was shaken to the core. Everyone in the whole country was shaken of the core by the murder of Martin Luther King. And the night that -- after he was murdered, Harlem went up in flames. I was there. I went down into Harlem from looking out over the Morningside Heights, Morningside Park, looking down. I said, "How can -- we got to go." I went down and checked it out. Wow! The anger, it gripped all of us. So, the university had been, for years, denying a union. Martin Luther King had been -- he died helping the sanitation workers in Memphis unionize. What kind of hypocrisy was this? So, it was kind of like it had to be done.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, you're all having a -- you're having a kind of teach-in this week at Colombia about what happened 50 years ago. And there is student organizing on campus, the graduate students. This is happening on campuses across the country. Harvard students just voted to unionize. Your event is happening Friday night. Also, I understand, there's an occupation going on right now around students deeply concerned about Columbia suicides and not feeling that there's not enough mental health facilities there, Juan?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, yeah, I think it's almost appropriate that the potential to disrupt or to somehow create dislocation in a commemoration of a strike by another strike. So I think it's perfect -- it's poetic justice for the university. The reality is that Columbia University, like all of these giant universities, they all attempted to reform in the aftermath of the protests of the '60s and '70s, but, institutionally, they are still giant corporations that see the need to train the young people of society to fill the jobs that the elite of the society want, so that they regress. They constantly regress. No matter what they say, they always regress back to the same policies of elitism toward the communities around them. I can't think of the urban university in America that is not gobbling up the land of the residents right around them and attempting to build more buildings -- the edifice complex of every university, that they all have to build the newest building. So, it's a continuing problem in America, the role of the universities vis-à-vis their communities.

RAYMOND BROWN: I agree.

AMY GOODMAN: Final comments, Ray Brown?

RAYMOND BROWN: Yeah, tonight I'm going to be at a black student event in Hamilton Hall. But it's interesting that the Times ran an in-depth story the other day, and Bollinger, the president, made a kind of wan -- W-A-N, not J-U-A-N -- comment about, "Well, we didn't like the way they went about it," as though civil disobedience was invented at Columbia in 1968. And it's astounding that the university isn't really engaging. It sells itself as a place for student engagement, and yet they've ignored '68, in most respects, and don't really seem to have had a pedagogical experience in '68 and have learned institutionally how to relate especially to impoverished communities around them, including communities of color.

AMY GOODMAN: And Nancy Biberman?

NANCY BIBERMAN: I would say that the university, you know, isn't really utilizing one of the collective learnings and realizations that women had, you know, going through a massive civil unrest and feeling somewhat at a distance from leadership and decision-making. And that is what we all failed. And some of us tried to sort of like punctuate, you know, puncture through it. But I think we came of age. We sort of painfully learned our place in the political movement. And, you know, most of us have been fighting ever since to redefine our roles in society, but that was our crucible.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we're going to have to leave it there, but we'll continue this conversation, of course, and, Juan, you will be speaking on Friday night. Ray, you're speaking tonight at Hamilton Hall. Raymond Brown, former leader of Student Afro-American Society, one of the leaders of the black students who occupied Columbia University's Hamilton Hall.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And Nancy will be speaking with me.

AMY GOODMAN: Nancy Biberman, also speaking, an organizer today, was at Barnard College with SDS. Mark Rudd, chairman of the Columbia chapter of SDS. And Paul Cronin, A Time to Stir: Columbia '68, he's edited the book, worked on this issue for 50 years -- rather, for 10 years. The event took place 50 years ago.

PAUL CRONIN: Feels like 50 years.

AMY GOODMAN: I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

Categories: Latest News

Texas Charter School Asked Students to List "Positive Aspects" of Slavery

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 21:00

An enraged father was in disbelief when he saw his eighth grader's homework assignment. The student was given a paper with two columns to fill out by listing the "positive aspects" and the "negative aspects" of life as a slave.

The worksheet was titled: "The Life of Slaves: A Balanced View."

"What the hell is this revisionist history lesson trying to achieve here?!?" asked father Roberto Livar in a furious Facebook post.

Roberto's child, Manu, attends the San Antonio, Texas charter school Great Hearts Monte Vista, CNN reported.

The school has now come out and distanced itself from the assignment.

"To be clear, there is no debate about slavery. It is immoral and a crime against humanity," Superintendent Aaron Kindel said in a statement.

He continued: "Our review of the situation found this incident to be limited to one teacher at just one campus. It was a clear mistake and we sincerely apologize for the insensitive nature of this offense. We want to thank the parents who voiced their concern and brought this to our attention."

The teacher who gave the assignment has been put on leave, the school said, and the textbook it relates to is under review.

The assignment is part of a larger problem in the United States. Since the Civil War, there had been a concerted effort to whitewash history and obscure the horrendous human rights abuses that were ubiquitous at the start of the nation and inherent in the institution of slavery. Presenting "slavery" as something with both positive and negative aspects is part of this effort to downplay the grievous misdeeds of the United States.

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Categories: Latest News

Net Neutrality's Slow and Insidious Death Officially Begins Today

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 21:00

Proponents of an open and unregulated internet attend a news conference at the US Capitol February 27, 2018, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Win McNamee / Getty Images)

Corporate media cannot be relied upon to bring you the truth about the Trump-Pence administration or the people organizing to resist it. Will you support Truthout's independent journalism with a tax-deductible donation?

Today is the day that net neutrality's "slow and insidious" death at the hands of the Republican-controlled FCC officially begins, and Congress is facing urgent pressure to save the open internet before it's too late.

With Monday marking 60 days after the FCC's net neutrality repeal entered the Federal Register, parts of the GOP-crafted plan -- spearheaded by agency chair and former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai -- will now slowly begin taking effect, while some still need to be approved by the Office of Management and Budget.

Net neutrality backers in Congress, meanwhile, are still struggling to compile enough votes to repeal Pai's new rules, despite the fact that they are deeply unpopular among the American public.

The Senate needs just one more vote to pass a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to restore net neutrality protections before it can move to the House, where it would face an uphill battle. An official vote in the Senate has yet to be scheduled, but could come in the next few weeks.

In a recent Twitter thread, the advocacy group Fight for the Future warned against sensationalistic headlines proclaiming that net neutrality will immediately be gone on Monday, noting that large telecom companies will ensure that the open internet's death is as quiet and subtle as possible in order to minimize public backlash.

"The ISPs aren't going to immediately start blocking content or rolling out paid prioritization scams. They know Congress and the public are watching them," the group noted. "And that's the worst part. What will happen is over time ISP scams and abuses will become more commonplace and more accepted. They'll roll out new schemes that appear good on their face but undermine the free market of ideas by allowing ISPs to pick winners and losers."

The most important thing for EVERYONE to understand is that nothing catastrophic or dramatic is going to happen immediately when the FCC rules go into effect. Telecom shills will immediately start saying "See? The sky didn't fall, we never needed #NetNeutrality." They're lying.

-- Fight for the Future (@fightfortheftr) April 19, 2018

So: don't fall for ISP lobbyists talking points. They're ALREADY claiming that #NetNeutrality was never needed since the sky hasn't fallen, and the rules haven't even gone into effect. But also don't panic. The Internet is not going to die next week. Keep calm and keep fighting.

-- Fight for the Future (@fightfortheftr) April 19, 2018

The Senate will vote in a matter of weeks on a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to block the FCC's repeal. Now is the moment to get engaged.

Everyone: take action at https://t.co/xSJHbLq2Wn

Small businesses: sign this letter https://t.co/fto5TanXbn

Retweet & spread!

-- Fight for the Future (@fightfortheftr) April 19, 2018

With net neutrality backers in Congress scrambling to rally enough votes to repeal Pai's rules, states like Washington and California are moving ahead with ambitious plans to protect the open internet from telecom throttling and manipulation.

As Common Dreams reported last week, California legislation that has been hailed as the "gold standard" for net neutrality protections has passed out of the Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee, despite a fervent effort by the telecom industry to tank the bill.

While advocacy groups have applauded state efforts to defend the open internet from Pai's FCC, they have argued that the only way to ensure net neutrality protections nationwide is to restore them at the federal level.

In a recent series of tweets, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) -- who introduced the resolution to bring back net neutrality safeguards shortly after the FCC voted to repeal them last December -- urged Americans to pressure their lawmakers to act before Pai's plan takes full effect.

With #OneMoreVote in the Senate, we can vote to reverse @realDonaldTrump's attack on the internet. The House can do the same with 218 votes. It currently has 160.

But we won’t get those votes unless lawmakers hear from people who care about protecting the future of the internet.

-- Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) April 20, 2018

"Momentum is on our side, but time isn't. Help us save the internet by making your voices heard now," Markey concluded. "Members of Congress need to know that there will be a price to pay for being on the wrong side of internet history."

Categories: Latest News

It's the Cop Way or the Highway

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 21:00

Three state senators have sponsored a bill that will allow New York to fast-track the repair of crumbling highway infrastructure -- on the condition that armed police be stationed in every school in New York City, public or private.

Democrat Simcha Felder joined Republicans Martin J. Golden and Andrew J. Lanza to propose Senate Bill S7867, which has a stated purpose of changing the contracting method for construction on the Bronx-Queens Expressway.

While there are many problems with the design-build method, it has broad support among politicians because it saves money and expedites the repair process.

Stipulating more cops in schools as part of an unrelated highway repair bill is a cynical political maneuver to pass a potentially unpopular measure. In essence, Felder, Golden and Lanza are holding necessary infrastructure repair hostage -- to be traded for the safety of Black and Brown youth.

Two of the bill's sponsors, Golden and Lanza, have benefited from significant donations from police unions throughout their political careers.

Golden has accepted $199,050 from the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, the New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and the NYS Court Officers Association. Lanza has taken $97,700 from the New York State Trooper Police Benevolent Association, the New York State Correctional Officers Union and the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association.

With political allies like these, perhaps Felder, who is one of a handful of Democratic state senators who caucus with Republicans, is hoping for a piece of the meaty cop union pie himself.

It is important to note that these figures include contributions from prison guard and court officer unions alongside police unions. While these unions historically formed tight reactionary blocs in New York and around country, the donations to Golden and Lanza strongly suggest that these politicians and their benefactors are aware that more youth will end up in the criminal justice system as a result of the plan.

***

S7867 is a calculated move by Republican politicians whose bills are paid by cop unions to callously sell Black, Brown, working class and queer youths' physical safety, freedom and futures in exchange for a fat campaign check. Not surprisingly, Felder claims that their motivations are far more heroic:

In the post-9/11 world, even schools are not safe from the threat of attacks against the safety and security of our children. New York's Police Department have earned the title of some of the bravest and most dedicated public servants in the nation. Requiring an NYPD officer to be at every school in New York City during the instructional day, as well as before and after classes are in session, will ensure that students are more protected in the event that a threat or the need for law enforcement intervention arises in New York City schools.

In other words, the same gang with a long ugly history of profiling, harassing and brutalizing Black and Brown people across New York City should be deployed to monitor all of the city's largely Black and Brown school population -- because of terrorism.

Putting more cops in schools will have the opposite effect of the stated purpose of school safety, since assigned school resource officers (SROs) deal with minor, everyday disciplinary issues as if they were criminal activities. Police in schools have incredible leeway to criminalize minor incidents involving students by employing the catch-all charge of "disorderly conduct."

There is the case of Lelani Pacific-Jack, a 15-year old sophomore whose mother and teacher gave her permission to leave school early because of severe menstrual cramps.

But Pacific-Jack was arrested by cops right outside of her Brooklyn school -- despite the pleas of her mother over speakerphone not to take her daughter away -- and handcuffed to a pole in the 70th Precinct for seven hours. Pacific-Jack says the officers grabbed and dragged her, then taunted her with threats and slurs while she was in custody.

Or take Danesiah Neal, an eighth-grader in Houston who became the subject of a police forgery investigation after she tried to pay for her chicken nuggets in the school cafeteria with a $2 bill.

Or take Kyasia and Nyasia Sorrells, twin high school students in New Jersey. Video shows a police officer attacking the sisters while they were simply standing in line for pizza, grabbing one by the hair and throwing the other to the ground.

Police also ticketed a school board staff member who tried to intervene, and charged both twins with obstruction and resisting arrest, and one with aggravated assault. Hundreds of their classmates walked out in protest.

***

A 2013 report commissioned by the New York State Unified Court System uncovered some startling facts about the connection between increasing police presence in schools and the school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately targets Black students.

Black students made up 63 percent of all school arrests in New York City for the 2012 school year, and half all suspensions, while making up only 28 percent of the student body. National numbers available for 2009-2010 show that Black girls were suspended at a rate 18 percent higher than male students of all other races.

Girls are overrepresented among youth who are incarcerated for low-level crimes, such as status offenses and technical violations. These are behaviors that would not be considered illegal if committed by an adult, such as skipping school or running away -- precisely the kind of activity students are criminalized for when cops are in schools.

The report establishes the connection between school suspensions, court involvement, dropout rates and incarceration rates, acknowledges the extent to which students of color are ensnared by the criminal injustice system, and makes a number of recommendations for reforms.

What it does not do is recommend the removal of police from schools altogether, instead advocating for "defining the role of the school safety agents and police officers and supporting the special skill sets they require to do their work well."

But it should be clear by this point to those who have been paying attention that no amount of trainings or policy recommendations will prevent police from criminalizing, harassing and harming Black and Brown youth as long as they are in schools.

***

Felder, Golden and Lanza are dismissing and insulting the youth movement against gun violence in schools that has broken out since the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. One of the demands emerging from many students of color who have taken part in the protests is an end to armed policing in schools.

At a press conference called to bring attention to the too-often overlooked perspectives and demands of students of color in the anti-gun violence movement, Tyah-Amoy Roberts, a Black student at Douglas High, demanded that police violence in schools be considered alongside other school violence.

"Black and Brown men and women are disproportionately targeted and killed by law enforcement based on population. These are not facts I can live with comfortably," Roberts said.

Sneaking a more-guns-in-schools provision into a highway bill in an attempt to avoid debate or any semblance of democratic process is a slap in the face to Tyah-Amoy Roberts, her fellow students of color and all those who want Black, Brown and all students to be free from deadly violence at school.

It is also insulting to the educators who are protesting and striking in several states and Puerto Rico for better working and learning conditions for themselves and their students.

Activists against racism, incarceration, police brutality and gun violence and for better resources in schools should be alarmed and outraged. Felder, Golden and Lanza are pushing to spend state money not on teacher wages and pensions, not on more classes and resources for students, not on school infrastructure repair, but instead on criminalizing and abusing students of color.

David Edgar and Bri Guzmán contributed to this article. Ready to challenge injustice and spark real change? So are we. Support Truthout's mission today by making a tax-deductible donation.

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California Leads Nation in Pushing Back Against Trump Administration Health Policies

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 21:00
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These days, when the federal government turns in one direction, California veers in the other -- and in the case of health care, it's a sharp swerve.

In the nation's most populous state, lawmakers and other policymakers seemingly are not content simply to resist Republican efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. They are fighting to expand health coverage with a series of steps they hope will culminate in universal coverage for all Californians -- regardless of immigration status and despite potentially monumental price tags.

The Golden State embraced the health care law early and eagerly, and has more to lose than any other state if the ACA is dismantled: About 1.5 million Californians purchase coverage through the state's Obamacare exchange, Covered California, and 3.8 million have signed up for Medicaid as a result of the program's expansion under the law.

While other states are making efforts to preserve the ACA and expand coverage, California stands out by virtue of its ambition and size, economic clout, massive immigrant population and liberal bent.

Its health care resistance movement is broad and includes Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has made a sport of suing the Trump administration. He is currently leading a coalition of 15 states, plus the District of Columbia, against a Texas-based lawsuit that seeks to strike down the ACA.

Even Covered California, the ACA marketplace, has jabbed at the feds. During the most recent enrollment period, which ended in January, it preserved its three-month sign-up window while the federal government cut the enrollment period in half for states that rely on the healthcare.gov exchange. Covered California also deployed a monster advertising budget of $45 million to encourage enrollment, while the federal government slashed its ad dollars to $10 million.

California's activism could be contagious, said Linda Blumberg, a fellow at the nonprofit research institution the Urban Institute.

"California has been in the forefront" on a lot of health policy issues, she said. To the extent that it is successful, she said, "that helps not only the state of California itself but other states as well."

Since last year, the federal government has allowed some states to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients; promoted temporary health plansthat have fewer consumer protections than Obamacare insurance; and, most recently, adopted a rule allowing states to lower the percentage of premium dollars that insurers are required to spend on medical care.

In response, California lawmakers are debating bills that would prohibit work requirements in Medi-Cal, the state's version of Medicaid; ban the sale of short-term plans in the state; and increase the percentage of insurance premiums that must go toward consumers' care.

"Look at what we've done in women's issues, climate change, protecting immigrants. … That's just the kind of thing we do. Health is no different," said state Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), the head of the Senate Health Committee and author of several proposals.

Four pending bills in California would provide some consumers with state-funded financial help to supplement federal subsidies created by Obamacare. One such proposal could cost the state about $500 million initially.

"We continue to move forward and push the envelope, now more than ever," state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) told a room full of physicians recently in Sacramento. Lara, a candidate for state insurance commissioner, is carrying a bill that would offer full Medicaid benefits to a group that's never been covered before: adults who are in the country illegally.

"We not only play defense, but we want to make sure we're more proactive," he said.

California's efforts to cover unauthorized immigrants under Medi-Cal predate the Trump administration. Achieving it now would represent not only a significant expansion of coverage within the state, but also a direct challenge to the federal government, which has made a point of cracking down on immigrants.

Critics point out that this spirit of defiance does not represent all Californians.

"We have some crazy things happening here," said Sally Pipes, president of the conservative Pacific Research Institute. "Nobody talks about how to pay for these. Well, you pay for it in increased taxes."

Sara Rosenbaum, a professor at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, said it's no secret that President Donald Trump doesn't like California -- and that the feeling is mutual.

While she believes his administration might try to punish the state for its defiance, California will nonetheless persist in its campaign to defend the ACA and expand coverage.

"I'm sure [federal officials] can try to do a million things to make the state's life miserable," she said. "They can jerk it around on the federal Medicaid payments. … But I just think this, too, shall pass."

It's not clear whether the pending legislative proposals will succeed. Assuming any of the bills make it through the legislature, their fate lies with Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat known for fiscal conservatism.

"If the past is any indication, it seems unlikely that bills with sizable and uncertain ongoing costs will move forward," said Shannon McConville, a researcher at the Public Policy Institute of California.

California is not alone in resisting health care policies put forth by the Trump administration. Other states, including Maryland and New Jersey, may establish state-based penalties for not having insurance -- a response to Congress' decision to kill the federal Obamacare penalty starting in 2019.

But California's approach, characteristically, is different.

"Rather than use the stick, use the carrot," said Hernandez. His bill would target $500 million from the state's general fund to help some income-eligible Californians pay their premiums or out-of-pocket medical costs. This assistance would supplement the federal financial aid for those on the Covered California exchange.

The Senate Health Committee approved the bill last week.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that about 4 million people nationwide will become uninsured when the tax penalty for not having insurance goes away. In California, the number would be about 378,000, according to a recent Harvard University study.

Three other bills would offer state-based financial aid to different groups of consumers, including those who make too much money to qualify for federal tax credits but still struggle to pay their premiums.

The biggest potential budget-buster of them all is a proposal to establish a single-payer health system, which was pulled from consideration last year, largely because of its eye-popping price tag: $400 billion annually.

Advocates for universal health care aren't giving up, though some have shifted their strategy to moving piecemeal toward universal health care in lieu of a massive single-payer bill.

"There are individual steps that we can still take to expand coverage to various populations that are falling through the cracks," said Gerald Kominski, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

One of those populations, and a large one, is immigrants living without authorization in the country.

Lara is not the only legislator with a proposal to extend full Medi-Cal coverage to income-eligible adult immigrants without legal status. State Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno) has introduced a separate bill that would do the same. Arambula's measure made it through the Assembly Health Committee on Tuesday, and Lara's bill passed the Senate Health Committee earlier this month.

Of the nearly 3 million Californians without insurance, about 58 percent are currently ineligible for full Medi-Cal benefits or Covered California insurance because they're not in the country legally.

California must "lead the nation in bold and inclusive polices" that support the health of all communities, said Arambula, who is an emergency room doctor.

In 2016, the state extended full Medi-Cal benefits to all children, and now more than 200,000 undocumented kids are enrolled. It's not clear how much it would cost to cover undocumented adults, but last year, the state budgeted $279.5 million for the children. Adults are generally more expensive to cover.

All of these measures, successful or not, add up to a campaign of defiance.

"It's a signal that California is willing to fight very hard, on multiple fronts … to protect certain values and policies," McConville said. "This shows we're not willing to go backwards on that."

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, a service of the California Health Care Foundation.

Categories: Latest News

The Irresponsibility of Fiscal Responsibility

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 21:00

(Photo: Michael Zwahlen / EyeEm / Getty Images)

It's official: New York Times columnist David Leonhardt pronounced the Democrats as the party of fiscal responsibility. In contrast to three of the last four Republican presidents who raised deficits with big tax cuts for the rich and increases in military spending, the last Democratic presidents sharply reduced the budget deficit during their term in office.

Leonhardt obviously intends the designation to be praise for the party, but it really shows his confusion about budget deficits and their impact on the economy. Unfortunately, this confusion is widely shared.

Contrary to what Leonhardt seems to think, the economy doesn't get a gold star for a balanced budget or lower deficit. In fact, lower deficits can inflict devastating damage on the economy by reducing demand, leading to millions of workers needlessly unemployed.

This has a permanent cost as many of the long-term unemployed may lose their attachment to the labor market and never work again. Their children will also pay a big price as children of unemployed parent(s) tend to fare worse in life by a wide variety of measures, especially when unemployment is associated with family breakup, frequent moves, and possible evictions. Also, lower levels of output will mean less investment, making the economy less productive in the future.

We actually have some basis for estimating the cost of long periods where the economy suffers from insufficient demand. If we compare the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) projections for potential GDP in 2018 made before the Great Recession, with their current projections, the gap is more than $2 trillion, or 10 percent of GDP.

That loss comes to more than $15,000 a year for every household in the country. In other words, the CBO's projections imply that if we had managed to sustain high levels of demand in 2008 and subsequent years, rather than falling into a severe recession with a weak recovery, the annual income of the average household would be $15,000 a year higher.

Perhaps the CBO didn't know what it was talking about when it made these projections back in 2008. (Of course, we are now supposed to take the CBO's projections of deficits and interest burdens as sanctified, but maybe they have gotten much smarter in the last decade.) Let's suppose that if we had managed to avoid the recession and maintain high levels of output, potential GDP would be just 5 percent higher today, half as much as the CBO had projected back in 2008.

In that case, the loss from too much fiscal responsibility (deficits that were too small) would be $1 trillion a year or $7,500 per household. That dwarfs the amount at stake in most of the policies we debate. For example, the International Trade Commission projected that the Trans-Pacific Partnership would generate gains of just 0.23 percent of GDP after 15 years, when its benefits were fully realized.

It would be difficult to get an accurate measure of the full costs caused by the weak recovery from the recession; both in terms of lost output at the time, and the permanent damage to the economy and people's lives, but there can be little doubt that it is enormous. Nonetheless, the proponents of fiscal responsibility, who are largely responsible for these costs, continue to be treated as paragons of virtue. After all, we are supposed to want balanced budgets or at least small deficits, right?

Economic policy will continue to suffer as long as the loudest voices in the debate have no understanding of how the economy works. Deficits can undoubtedly be harmful. When the economy is reaching its limits, as indicated by a shortage of workers or other inputs and rapidly rising wages and prices, a higher deficit will make this problem worse.

But we have not reached this point yet, and honest people who understand the economy will acknowledge that we don't know how close we are to this point. In that context, why should we think there is any big problem with a larger deficit. This does not mean we want to give more tax breaks to rich people and have useless or even harmful military spending.

Regarding the interest burden of the debt, it remains below the 1990s level when measured as a share of GDP. That is likely to be the case for many years to come under plausible scenarios.

Furthermore, the burden of interest on the debt is enveloped by the burden the government created by its grants of patent and copyright monopoly. These cost us almost $400 billion a year (2 percent of GDP) in higher prescription drug prices alone. And, if you don't understand how the burden from government-granted patent and copyright monopolies are like the burden of debt, it's time you do your homework.

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Categories: Latest News

Progressive Candidates Are Pulling the Democratic Party Left, Whether the Establishment Likes It or Not

Sun, 04/22/2018 - 21:00

Cynthia Nixon, a lifelong New Yorker, actress, progressive advocate and candidate running for governor presented her Climate Justice Agenda on April 20, 2018, at the YMCA in the Rockaways. (Photo: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images)

Left-wing candidates are running on platforms of universal health care, racial and economic justice, and opposition to Trump. The result is an unprecedented level of enthusiasm among progressives in the run-up to the 2018 election.

Cynthia Nixon, a lifelong New Yorker, actress, progressive advocate and candidate running for governor presented her Climate Justice Agenda on April 20, 2018, at the YMCA in the Rockaways. (Photo: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images)

This story was published because of support from readers like you. If you care about maintaining a free and independent media, make a donation to Truthout!

Something about New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has changed. He announced on Wednesday that he would be restoring the voting rights of paroled people convicted of felonies. Recently, he destroyed the Independent Democratic Caucus, a group of Democrats who effectively give power to Republicans in the statehouse, despite previously arguing they were beyond his control. He also claimed to be in "lockstep" with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a claim that one Sanders adviser dismissed as "100 percent Grade A American bullshit."

Governor Cuomo's sudden progressive turn, following his years of acting as the epitome of a centrist Democrat, has emerged in response to a primary challenge from Cynthia Nixon, who is coming after him from the left. Nixon's candidacy, an admitted long shot but a serious challenge nonetheless, is a good illustration of a broader trend of progressive pressure that is now shaping the Democratic Party -- whether those in charge like it or not.

For the better part of three decades, conventional wisdom in the Democratic Party has unequivocally stated that left-wing ideas and truly progressive candidates are unelectable outside of a few small pockets of coastal cities. But as the party gears up for what could be a 2018 election year full of wins, those assumptions are being challenged in ways not seen in a generation.

Across the country, progressives are running in primaries to challenge establishment-backed Democrats, or are already gearing up to take on Republicans in the general election. Where conventional wisdom says they should be tacking to the center, they are doing the opposite and doubling down on clear, unapologetic progressive values such as the right to universal health care.

Our Revolution, the political action organization born from the Sanders campaign, has endorsed 33 candidates at all levels of government, from school boards to US representatives to governors -- all of whom support Medicare for All. "Health care access is the top issue that our members care about," said Diane May, communications director at Our Revolution. "From working with the nurses to pass SB 562, California's Medicare for All bill, to endorsing the 'Whole Washington' ballot initiative, our members are passionate about ensuring health care as a human right, and will be actively backing candidates who also understand the need and will fight for universal health care." 

The new crop of progressive candidates is pursuing an agenda that extends beyond single-payer, too. Dan Cannon, who is running for Congress in Indiana's 9th district, is one of several Democrats to support abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Cannon is also challenging other pillars of Democratic Party orthodoxy, and is finding support along the way. "We have to talk about what's right because it's right, not because it's politically expedient," Cannon told Truthout in an email. He added:

When I advocated marijuana legalization at the beginning of this campaign, I lost support among many old guard Democrats who insisted that I wasn't a "serious candidate." Now candidates all over the Midwest are openly calling for the removal of cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act. I was the first candidate to call for the abolition of ICE. Now there are at least 15 other viable congressional candidates who support the idea. A guaranteed jobs program is now being supported by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and other mainstream Democrats who would not have touched it in elections past.

But even as some of these progressive ideas take hold, the old guard of the Democratic establishment is fighting to maintain its grip on the Democratic Party. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) made national news in trying to tip a Texas race away from progressive challenger Laura Moser, which backfired. Democratic leaders also backed the conservative Blue Dog Dan Lipinski over Marie Newman, a progressive challenger in Illinois. Still, the left wing of the party has momentum and enthusiasm on its side.

One of the candidates taking on the establishment is Kerri Harris, who is running to unseat Sen. Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware. Harris, who is a community organizer with the Center for Popular Democracy and an Air Force veteran, has been hammering Senator Carper on his decision to partner with Republicans to dismantle Dodd-Frank -- the law passed in the wake of the financial and housing crisis.

In a phone interview with Truthout, Harris criticized Carper for deregulation that will make discrimination against communities of color more likely, and make it harder for poor parents to pass wealth to their children in the form of homeownership. "Those who don't live the regular struggles of Americans, 50 dollars or 100 dollars more on your mortgage might not feel like a lot, but when you're trying to stretch every dollar, that takes away from food, from activities for your children," Harris told Truthout. "To have your representation not consider that when they sign on to co-sponsor a bill, that's a problem."

In addition to pushing for increased financial regulation, Harris is also in favor of a host of progressive priorities, including single-payer health care, a $15 federal minimum wage, universal pre-K that begins at six weeks of age, a federal job guarantee program that could not be privatized, national marijuana decriminalization and strengthening collective bargaining rights of workers. Those ideas once were considered far outside the mainstream, but activists have succeeded in bringing them to the forefront.

The shifts in public consciousness that have made the current progressive challenge within electoral politics possible have largely resulted in response to the social movements in the United States -- including the Fight for $15, the movement for Black lives, the Wisconsin uprising, Occupy, the Women's March and others – that in the last eight years have pushed for change mostly outside a framework of electoral politics. That Harris and so many other community leaders are running for office, and have a real shot, could be a sign that those movements could now have serious electoral muscle in addition to their presence in the streets.

"We're particularly inspired by the many organizers who have helped build power in their communities for years and now seek to turn that energy into electoral wins," said Jennifer Epps-Addison, network president and co-executive director at the Center for Popular Democracy Action. "These elections are a chance for communities that have long been left on the margins to play a leading role, and we look forward to working with them to win a blue wave this year."

Jess King, a progressive running in Pennsylvania's 11th congressional district, initially faced an uphill battle against the DCCC, which supported a more establishment-friendly rival. King, a former executive director of a nonprofit focused on local economic development, is now running unopposed following the redrawing of the congressional map mandated by the State Supreme Court. Her campaign was the second campaign to unionize this year, and she believes a pro-worker, pro-health care message will resonate in an area where Democrats often tend to run toward the center.

"A lot of folks in South Central Pennsylvania feel abandoned by the establishment in both parties," King told Truthout in an email. "Over the past 40 years, both Democrats and Republicans have rewritten the rules of our economy to favor the wealthy and well-connected."

Like other progressive candidates, health care is a major focus for King. "Premiums go up every year while the big insurance companies make millions in profits," she said. "When we talk to voters and say, 'Yes, we will work to guarantee health care as a right for all Americans,' people's eyes light up. It's just common sense, and it gives people hope that we really can change the status quo."

Greg Edwards, who is running in Pennsylvania's newly drawn 7th district, has also had problems with the Democratic establishment. Edwards accused the DCCC of trying to pressure him out of the race -- an allegation that the DCCC denied, echoing criticisms leveled at the DCCC following its attempt to stifle the candidacy of Moser in Texas.

The Indivisible Project, a loose affiliation of activists that emerged in opposition to Trump's agenda and has transformed into a formidable nationwide coalition of activists, is also wagering that progressives can get elected in areas that lean right. Two of the five candidates that Indivisible has endorsed, Shawna Roberts and Andrew Learned, are running on progressive platforms in districts that Trump won decisively.

"As recent special elections have shown, an undeniable 'blue wave' of grassroots energy is already putting progressive candidates over the top across the country," said Maria Urbina, national political director of the Indivisible Project. "The candidates who can best take advantage of this wave will be those with deep local grassroots support, a commitment to listening to their communities and the personal courage of their convictions."

Yet despite all the enthusiasm on the left flank, no one thinks the fight for control of the Democratic Party will be easy, and a victory for progressives over the corporate-friendly center is by no means assured. The Democratic Party is deeply committed to pleasing its donors, who maintain an oversized influence on who gets campaign funding and what issues get prioritized or ignored.

But as the New York governor's race shows, running progressive candidates can push centrist Democrats to the left even before a single vote is cast. That might not be a revolution, but it is progress.

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