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Democratic Socialist Jovanka Beckles Could Upset Buffy ‘the Bernie Slayer’ Wicks in CA

In These Times - October 18, 2018 - 8:57pm

When democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the June 26 Democratic primary for New York’s 14th Congressional District, her election made national news, launching her into the spotlight as the new standard bearer for the Left in the electoral arena.

Since that victory, other open democratic socialists have won primaries across the country, including Rashida Tlaib in Michigan, Sarah Smith in Washington and Julia Salazar in New York City. This new class of left challengers may soon gain company from California’s Bay Area, where another democratic socialist, Jovanka Beckles, is running in a high-profile election for District 15 State Assembly.

The November 6 election pits Beckles, a Bernie Sanders supporter and former Richmond city council member who currently serves as the town’s vice mayor, up against Buffy Wicks, an Oakland resident, state director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and former adviser in the Obama White House.

Wicks, who during her time as a Clinton state director was referred to as “Buffy the Bernie Slayer” has also been endorsed by former President Obama. Beckles, meanwhile, has the support of Our Revolution, an offshoot of Sanders’ 2016 campaign. The race conjures obvious parallels to the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. But Beckles is quick to point out that it’s all about issues and policy, not re-litigating the past.

“We’re Democrats. We’re working people. We need to not allow others to separate [or] divide us,” Beckles tells In These Times. “For me, this is not about Hillary versus Bernie. This is about money and outside interests coming in and telling us what we need as opposed to allowing leaders, particularly leaders of color, to have to a seat at the table. This is about whether or not we are going to have a top-down kind of leadership versus a bottom-up leadership.”

For her part, Wicks is not ceding the ground of progressivism. She tells In These Times: “Fundamentally, I think we progressives need to stand up for what we believe in and be bold about that; not be afraid to stand up for progressive ideology [and] advocate for the things that we believe in. Now is the time for us to really dig into the progressive mantle and stand strong by those values.”

But Beckles, who came in second to Wicks in the June primary, has the backing of a number of high-profile progressive groups including the Working Families Party and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), along with Our Revolution, more than a dozen environmental groups and over 20 labor unions.

Not everyone is on board. Ahead of the primary, East Bay Express, an Oakland based weekly newspaper, endorsed Buffy Wicks and Dan Kalb, claiming Beckles “had the fewest ideas for solving California's problems.”

Beckles, however, is not bothered by these criticisms. “I know that when you’re coming from a place of modern politics, I think it might be hard to give credit to someone who is being a revolutionary [and] being innovative,” she says. Indeed, Beckles is running on a solidly left-wing platform, including Medicare for All, universal affordable housing, a $20 statewide minimum wage, a 36-hour work week, free public college and a Green New Deal.

Born in Panama, Beckles moved to the Bay Area after college in 1989. Witnessing social injustice throughout her career as a mental health professional shaped her decision to get involved with local politics. She became the first openly lesbian member of Richmond City Council when she was elected in 2010. Her campaign was supported by Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), a grassroots coalition most known for challenging Chevron’s oil refinery and holding the fossil-fuel giant accountable to the city’s residents. In retaliation for her role reigning in the power of Chevron, the corporation spent over $3 million in ads to defeat Beckles and other opponents during the 2014 election cycle.

During her time on the council, Beckles has supported minimum-wage increases, protections for renters and the “Ban the Box” ordinance, which provides formerly incarcerated people with more equal opportunities in employment and education. She has also worked to improve community relations with the Richmond Police Department, an entity she has openly criticized.

Beckles says she wants to gain a larger platform in order to support policies that will help California’s most marginalized communities. Richmond City Council’s progressive policies can only go so far without changes in state legislation. The city passed rent control in 2016, for example, but it faces limitations with current state laws.

Not surprisingly, housing has been one of the focal points of the primary election. Beckles was the only candidate who ran on repealing Costa-Hawkins, a 1994 law that restricts rent control in California. Skyrocketing rents are an issue plaguing the state, especially longtime residents in Richmond and Oakland who are being displaced by thousands of people who have been priced out of San Francisco over the last decade. Wicks, meanwhile, has called for reforming the law.

The question of whether or not to repeal Costa-Hawkins will be put to voters in November through the Proposition 10 ballot measure. If passed, Prop 10 would allow California cities like Richmond to pass rent control ordinances and expand them to single-family homes and new construction.

Beckles believes Wicks buys into the argument that repealing the law will make housing worse. But she doesn’t. “What it’s going to do is stop people, particularly people of color, poor working people, from being displaced,” says Beckles. “When you see people working 40 hours a week having to live in their cars, on the streets, or on the Berkeley Marina, that is a huge red flag. We are in a crisis. Reforming Costa-Hawkins is not going to end this crisis. Repealing it is.”

One of the challenges facing Beckles’ campaign is fundraising, since she does not accept corporate donations. Her largest campaign donations to date have come from labor groups, according to Berkeleyside.

“We’re not going to be able to raise as much money as the other candidate, taking money from the 1%,” she says. “When the greater class invests in a candidate, you better believe they are looking for a return on their investment. They are not investing in me. They are investing in my opponent, and they are doing that for a reason.”

So far, Wicks has raised $1.2 million, 73 percent of which is from in state. A website set up by East Bay DSA has tracked where her donations have come from. By contrast, Beckles has so far raised $381,500, 95 percent of which is from in state.

But with all the progressive energy behind Beckles, why was Wicks able to outperform her in the primary?

Steve Early, Richmond resident and author of Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money, and the Remaking of an American City, thinks he knows. “There’s certainly a type of Democratic Party voter in one of the more left-leaning districts in the state, who [is] probably more comfortable with a nice policy wonk, Obama administration alum like Buffy rather than somebody like Jovanka,” says Early.

Abigail Gutmann-Gonzalez, Vice Chair of the East Bay chapter of DSA, concurs. “Buffy Wicks is a democratic establishment insider. She knows what to say. She has the policy language down right,” she says.

With just a few weeks left before the election, Early, who followed Beckles’ previous campaigns, predicts Wicks’ big business donors will attempt to smear Beckles. And it wouldn’t surprise him if those whose financial interests were threatened by Beckles’ accomplishments in Richmond seize the opportunity to join in.

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt endorsed Wicks, which was not a complete surprise considering the tensions between him and Beckles. While he has spoken against some of the harassment thrown at Beckles over the years, he has made his disdain for her known through his online newsletter. On April 26, he wrote, “I cannot in good conscience recommend that anyone vote to send her to the California Assembly where she would most surely be an unmitigated disaster.”

Beckles says she sees why Butt would go with Wicks rather than supporting her, given that the two do not agree on most issues, including passing Proposition 10. “He puts profit over people, unlike me. I put people over profit,” she says.

Gutmann-Gonzalez notes that Beckles stood in solidarity with University of California workers (AFSCME Local 3299) during their strike in May. “She is standing up for the interests of working people,” Gutmann-Gonzalez says. Beckles, who is a member of East Bay DSA, was endorsed by the organization in 2017, and they have since supported her campaign with 250 volunteers.

Beckles has been gaining momentum and recently scored the endorsement of powerful House Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). Her supporters hope that her volunteer-powered campaign, progressive credentials and bold vision are enough to help put her over the top next month.

“Jovanka is a working Teamster,” says Early. “She used to come work in the streets. [She] was part of that, you know, radical group in Richmond that took on Chevron. You can look at the same record and, depending who you are, you get nervous or start cheering her on.”

Beckles’ politics are not the only significant factor in this election. “My perspective as a black woman on the Left is so important and valuable in this race,” Beckles says.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, current AD-15 Assemblyman Tony Thurmond is the only black representative of the Bay Area in state government. If Beckles doesn’t win in the race to replace him, a demographic that makes up seven percent of California’s population will not have a representative who looks like them.

“I think we [people of color] really need to be able to have a seat at the table if we are going to successfully create the kind of laws that benefit us, level the playing field, and bring about equity and justice for all,” Beckles says. 

Categories: Newswire

The Terrible Trump Portrait That Explains Everything

truthout - October 18, 2018 - 4:22pm

In this business, you eventually become enured to Monday mornings that are the mental equivalent of a car accident. You get used to it, mostly, until a morning comes along that is more cognitively akin to a plane crash on the interstate during rush hour, and you find yourself wondering again if investing in a time-share on Neptune might be an idea whose time has come. That was this past Monday, in the form of a painting that falls somewhere in the shade between “Dogs Playing Poker” and Revelation 6:1-8.

Those watching Lesley Stahl help Donald Trump self-immolate during their “60 Minutes” interview on Sunday night spotted it first, right there on the wall above the vat of Starburst candies: a pastel creamsicle nightmare rendering of Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Calvin Coolidge, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush sharing a drink and a hearty Republican belly laugh with The Donnybrook himself.

Cue the squealing tires and shattered safety glass; I saw this thing before I could so much as blow on my first cup of Monday morning coffee, and I’m still trying to come to grips with the experience.

The internet had a field day, of course. Before Tuesday even had a chance to put its pants on, Twitter was bursting with Photoshop jobs that turned Missouri artist Andy Thomas’s annihilation of time and history into a legitimate cultural phenomenon.

One recreation has Trump sitting with Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly and other noteworthy perpetrators of sexual assault and harassment unmasked by the #MeToo movement. Another has Trump replaced by a miniaturized version of the baby blimp that has been following him around the world. Still another puts Plaid Shirt Guy over Trump’s right shoulder once again, looking appropriately astonished.

Yes, all in good fun, and next week some other poor slob’s magnum opus will become a punchline for half a billion online wiseasses, and Mr. Thomas’s tender attempt at whatever he was reaching for with this thing will be last week’s forgotten funny meme.

That’s a damned shame, because much of what we need to know about Donald Trump, the Republican Party and why we are all mired in this towering, disheartening mess is right there in that painting, staring us down with every eye-bruising brush stroke. It is a paint-by-numbers history lesson we should all take deeply to heart if we want to understand the strange ground we stand upon.

Nixon, Reagan and W. Bush made Donald Trump possible.

One could spend a bag of lifetimes parsing the collected failures of the individuals featured in the painting – yes, even Honest Abraham Lincoln, who had unfriendly newspaper editors arrested by the score – but I choose to stick to three of the presidents I have personally endured.

The administrations and legacies of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush combine to tell a long, sorry tale of corruption, greed, brazen lies, abused power and religious fundamentalism gone wild that, in whole and in part, put us where we are today. Remove any one of those men from that painting, and from history, and Donald Trump would likely be just another late-night punchline you slept through, again. Nixon, Reagan and W. Bush made Donald Trump possible.

It is telling, and perhaps deliberate, that the painting finds Donald Trump seated at the right hand of Nixon. Who better than the Beast of San Clemente to frame the groaning reality of this White House? Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” – courting brazen segregationists like South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond while stoking racial animosities wherever he and his fixers could find them – won him two presidential elections and greased the rails for every Republican presidential nominee to follow.

The construction of a Republican Electoral College fortress in the South began with Nixon and remains standing, very nearly brick for brick, to this day. Trump’s victory in 2016 happened because of that fortress. If he wins re-election in 2020, he will have Nixon’s deeply racist campaign strategy to thank once again. Beyond that, Nixon’s disdain for the rule of law, combined with his venomous hatred of the press, set the tone for the latter half of the 20th century and laid a precedent Trump has followed practically to the note.

Though he never served a day in prison for his crimes, thanks to a pardon from one of the other fellows featured in the painting, Richard Nixon was ultimately forced to pay a steep price for his transgressions. The same cannot be said for Ronald Reagan, whose administration sold missiles to Iran and used the proceeds to fund an illegal war in Central America. The Iran/Contra scandal was a vast, sweeping international affair for which the president eluded punishment by dint of 124 separate “I don’t remember” replies during the congressional inquiry.

Vivid public dishonesty by that president set yet another precedent Trump has taken full advantage of over the course of two long years. Lie straight to their faces, goes the thinking, and dare them to do something about it. The juggernaut rolls on.

Reagan’s most indelible imprint on the country, the one Trump has taken greatest advantage of, is cultural. He oversaw a rollicking festival of across-the-board deregulation while preaching the polluted gospel of trickle-down economics that endures to this day. Donald Trump came of age in the Reagan era, and learned the dark arts of the con man by watching the master in the White House.

Anyone who can say with a straight face that Trump has not benefitted from the mainline injection of racism into conventional Republican politics should immediately apply for a gig at the White House.

More than anything else, Reagan’s courting of what became known as the “Religious Right” changed the face of the country. Conservative Protestant evangelical leaders like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham actively helped solidify and expand the religious fervor of the Republican base, creating one of the most reliable voter blocs in modern US history. Their legendary loyalty to the GOP, even in the face of myriad scandals and shameful episodes, has proven to be one of Donald Trump’s great strengths.

Another lasting Reagan legacy that Donald Trump has capitalized on is the muscular approach Reagan’s strategists took to Nixon’s racist “Southern Strategy.” Reagan adviser Lee Atwater, the infamous Southern Republican political operative who showed Karl Rove the ropes, explained during a 1981 interview the long, sure process of making virulent racism mainstream by hiding it in plain sight.

“You say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff,” said Atwater, “and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, Blacks get hurt worse than whites. ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing.”

Anyone who can say with a straight face that Trump has not benefitted from the mainline injection of racism into conventional Republican politics should immediately apply for a gig at the White House. From Nixon to Reagan to Trump, the Republican “Southern Strategy” traded in the white robes of the Klan for a suit, a tie and some buzzwords to obscure the truth. The strategy has proven to be highly effective for the Republican Party, and toxic to the rest of the country, particularly to communities of color.

Sixteen years before the ascendancy of Donald Trump, George W. Bush adopted every fetid, discredited Nixon/Reagan ploy as his own. The 2000 GOP primary in South Carolina was a festival of racist gutter tactics that set Bush on course for the presidency, thanks entirely to the lessons Rove absorbed at Atwater’s knee. Bush survived the 2000 general election and was re-elected four years later, thanks in part to the thick white walls of that electoral fortress Nixon and Reagan built in the Southern states.

Like Nixon and Reagan, Bush had little use for the truth, and less use for observing the democratic norms that hold the republic together. Like Reagan, Bush embraced the power of the evangelical Christian right to the continued detriment of all. Nixon and Reagan lied about wars, but Bush lied us into a pair of wars that grind on to this day. Like his predecessors, George W. Bush paid no legal price for his serial crimes and astonishing dishonesty.

The rank racism of the “Southern Strategy.” The nonsense and classism of trickle-down economics. The grim fusion of politics and extremist evangelical Christianity. The bold power of the shameless lie. It has all flowed from Nixon to Reagan to Bush and finally to Trump, the inheritor of that poisoned estate. But for them, we would not have him. It’s all there in the painting, if you find your way to see it.

The post The Terrible Trump Portrait That Explains Everything appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: Newswire

Trump’s Post-Midterm Plans: Cut Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid

truthout - October 18, 2018 - 3:56pm

Following the news this week that under President Donald Trump, the federal deficit exploded to $779 billion in the 2018 fiscal year, the president said Wednesday that he would demand a five percent budget cut from each of his cabinet secretaries.

Stressing that the administration would “continue with the tax cuts, because we have other tax cuts planned,” Trump suggested the deficit was the result of spending on various programs at the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and other government agencies.

“It’s not as tough as you think, and frankly there’s a lot of fat in there,” Trump told reporters.

The president’s comments echoed those of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who explicitly blamed the rising deficit on social safety net spending on Tuesday.

The pro-Social Security group Social Security Works took Trump’s remarks as a direct attack on the program as well as Medicare and Medicaid.

Translation: Gut Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security

— SocialSecurityWorks (@SSWorks) October 17, 2018

As radio host Thom Hartmann warned Wednesday, “The billionaire fascists are coming for your Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. And they’re openly bragging about it.”

The newest threat to safety net programs comes less than a year after the Republican Party pushed through their $1.5 trillion tax plan, which offered an average $33,000 tax break to each of the wealthiest Americans and just $40 to the poorest, according to analysis by the Tax Policy Center.

Social Security Works President Nancy Altman seized on the GOP’s attacks on programs that millions of people rely on as a call to arms for voters who care about protecting healthcare and incomes for the most vulnerable Americans.

“The shocking part of McConnell’s statement, and those made by other powerful Republicans, is not the content, but the timing,” Altman wrote at Common Dreams on Wednesday. “Right-wingers have opposed Social Security and Medicare ever since they were first created. But because these programs enjoy overwhelming support from the American people, including voters of all political affiliations, they do not normally talk about their plans for benefit cuts three weeks before an election. If this is how they are talking now, imagine how emboldened they will be if they ride out the blue wave and keep control of Congress!”

In a video posted on Twitter, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) delved into the history of Social Security, which despite strong support from Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s, has come under attack by a GOP increasingly beholden to corporate interests in recent decades.

Eisenhower defended the program in a letter in 1954, predicting the assault President George W. Bush would wage on Social Security as well as Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and McConnell.

“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history,” Eisenhower wrote. “There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

During his 2016 campaign, the video notes, Trump promised voters he would not cut Social Security benefits.

But, the narrator says, “his party, with his backing, has spent the last two years doing everything they can to reach onto our pockets, steal our money, and give it to their pay masters on Wall Street. The problem is that that tiny, reactionary splinter group now controls the entire Republican Party.”

Did you know we once had a Republican president who expanded Social Security? Maybe today’s Republicans should listen to what he had to say about the program, instead of trying to destroy it.

— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) October 17, 2018

On Monday Sanders, the Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee, also released a report on just four major Republican policies and actions which have caused the federal deficit to explode, and outlined programs that the GOP’s spending could have strengthened if not for ballooning military spending and tax cuts for the rich and corporations.

“Instead of spending nearly $1 trillion on the military and tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations, the federal government could have paid for any of the following proposals — multiple times over for some — in Fiscal Year 2018 and still balanced the budget,” Sanders wrote.

If Americans vote with the intention of protecting the social safety net, the report suggests, they could help usher in a government that would be more likely to “Provide high-quality early care and education for children from birth to kindergarten” (estimated cost: $140 billion) and “Eliminate child poverty by simply boosting the income of all families with children (and children who do not live with their families) over the poverty line” (estimated cost: $69 billion) — mere fractions of what Republicans have happily spent in recent years on the Pentagon and tax cuts.

The post Trump’s Post-Midterm Plans: Cut Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: Newswire

Senators Call on DeVos to Listen to Survivors Before Proposing New Title IX Rules

Feminist Daily News - October 18, 2018 - 3:00pm
In a letter sent last Friday, a group of Senators, led by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), sent a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos calling on the Department to engage in meaningful consultation with survivors before proposing new Title IX rules that could impact the rights of student survivors of sexual harassment and assault. Related posts:
  1. Denying Justice to Campus Sexual Assault Survivors Saves Colleges Money
  2. Unaccompanied Migrant Children Transported at Night to Tent City
Categories: Newswire

Black Domestic Workers Demand Better Pay, Professionalism and Respect

truthout - October 18, 2018 - 2:43pm

“The thing I hate about the job is the wear and tear on your body,” caregiver Allena Pass says. “It breaks you down: the aches and pains and soreness. The frustration you have when you have people in the home that can’t help and won’t help. When you have people in the home that are never satisfied no matter what you do or how you do it. I know what I’m doing, and I know I’m doing right.”

“I want the public to appreciate me and treat me with respect because I treat my job with respect,” Pass says. She’s one of the many caregivers profiled in a new report, Pay, Professionalism, and Respect: Black Domestic Workers Continue the Call for Standards in the Care Industry, a collaboration between the Institute for Policy Studies and We Dream in Black, a project of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

The report authors spoke with black domestic workers across Durham and Atlanta, conducting citywide surveys to examine the challenges and desires of caregivers across the industry. Georgia and North Carolina were singled out as they have some of the highest number of domestic workers in the United States, as well as some of the lowest levels of pay in the industry.

Common threads run through many of the workers’ stories, including wage theft and inadequate compensation, job precarity, and lack of workplace protections. The caregivers share story after story of injuries on the job, and many of them describe working through the pain. A majority of workers in the survey — 57 percent in Durham and 55 percent in Atlanta — said they’d worked while sick, and workers in both cities cited injuries and health issues as a concern.

“I have torn ligaments, plus I have nerve pain from lifting and pulling,” said Durham healthcare worker Lurika Wynn. “Sometimes, I will go to these clients’ homes or even the facility in pain, but I’ve got to try to help [clients get] up. Yes, I have injuries to my back from this job. I’m never going to [get workers’ comp] for it. When this back is done, I’m out.”

The lack of workplace protections compounds the issue. “Despite the similarities to other professions that provide care and service, domestic workers are not afforded the pay, protections, or respect that they deserve for the critical services they provide and the skill with which they perform their duties,” write study authors Kimberly Freeman Brown and Marc Bayard.

Along with agricultural workers, domestic workers were excluded from the labor protections of the 1930s. The right to unionize was never extended to domestic workers. They weren’t given social security benefits until 1950, and had to organize to even receive a minimum wage and overtime pay 1974. Even still, live-in workers were exempt from receiving overtime pay, and home health care aides weren’t afforded minimum wage rights until 2015.

To this day, domestic workers aren’t covered by OSHA or civil rights employment laws, which only extend to businesses with more than 15 employees. They’re also denied the right to collectively bargain. The report draws a connection between the lack of workplace connections and the intertwined histories of domestic work and slavery.

“Domestic service, in many ways, became emblematic of racial inequality,” historian Pramila Nadasen wrote in the report. “African American domestic workers continue to encounter inequality in the labor market and experience systematic underpayment and racial and gender harassment. Like earlier generations, they also organize and fight back, refusing to submit to any situation they deem unjust.”

Black women in the field elevate their industry, the report says, both by setting standards for care that go far beyond what they’re paid to provide and by organizing for better working conditions. Two-thirds of domestic workers surveyed in both Atlanta and Durham said they didn’t have any work contracts, and about a third of respondents in both cities said they were asked to do work outside the scope of their job. In the face of these informal working arrangements, the report documents the professionalism the caregivers demonstrate every day on the job.

“Sometimes you don’t get things done at home. Sometimes your bills don’t get paid because you had to work,” Joan Samuel Lewis, a certified nursing assistant, said. “You go in when it’s dark and you come out when it’s dark. That’s for years. There’s no holiday; there’s no Christmas. You have to give up all of who you are and your life to fit your clients’ needs.”

“I don’t think the public sees us as people. That is what I want to change. You have to be someone that cares in order to do that kind of work—because I don’t think people see it as even a worthy profession,“ Lewis says. “People’s perceptions make me feel bad enough for me to change it. That’s one of my goals: to change it.”

We Dream in Black organizers share their stories and their hopes for the care industry.

Black domestic workers have a long history of organizing for better working conditions in their industry, which is even more remarkable given the often all-consuming nature of their work and their lack of legal protections. Nadasen cites strikes and worker actions dating back to the 1880s that have changed the nature of the industry. As the report recommendations make clear, offering more workplace rights and protections and strengthening the ability of domestic workers to collectively bargain are essential.

“Sometimes it’s hard to organize other domestic workers because they fear losing their jobs if their employers find out they’re a part of it,” home health caregiver Jasmine Okokhere told the authors.

“Then I ask them, “Do you have health insurance?” And they say no. And I say, “That’s one of the things we’re fighting for.” Then I’m like, “Do you get holiday pay? Do you get time off?” They’re like, “No. If my child is sick then I have to stay home with my child and I don’t get paid.” And I’m like, “See? We’re fighting for all of those things.”

There’s quite a lot to fight for, as the report’s surveys show. More than 90 percent of respondents in both cities said they had workplace concerns, ranging from low pay to fear of being reported to immigration authorities or police. But many of the caregivers said their collective power kept them hopeful.

“Our voices can make a change if we all come together as one; and that’s what we’ve done. That’s what we’re doing. We’re not stopping until we get what we want,” certified nursing assistant Sonia Myers said.

“We are just as important as anybody who is a millionaire, or a doctor or a lawyer. We are more than just the help.”

The post Black Domestic Workers Demand Better Pay, Professionalism and Respect appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: Newswire

ICE Gave $185 Million Deal to Defense Contractor Under Investigation

truthout - October 18, 2018 - 2:33pm
This story was originally published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Learn more at and subscribe to the Reveal podcast, produced with PRX, at

A private company in charge of transporting families separated at the US border earned a lucrative new contract from ICE while it was under investigation for housing immigrant children in vacant office buildings.

Records show that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement gave MVM Inc. a new contract worth nearly $200 million on July 20, just days after Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that the defense contractor held children overnight in two vacant office buildings in Phoenix.

Some children held overnight in the buildings – which had no kitchens, showers or yards – were among those separated from their families under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy.

On July 11, ICE said its contract with MVM “does not allow for children to be in these facilities more than 24 hours.” The agency said it would be reviewing MVM.

But nine days later, it awarded MVM a new five-year contract worth $185 million for translation and interpretation services, records show.

ICE previously had given the contract to MVM two other times, but both times the contract was voided because of problems. In August 2017, when the company was first awarded, three other contractors protested, saying MVM could not fulfill the needed interpretation services. ICE modified the contract and awarded it to MVM again in June 2018. However, after another protest from competitors, ICE soon rescinded the contract because it gave MVM $10 million more than was called for in the bid.

The third time MVM received the contract came after ICE had launched its investigation into MVM’s office buildings. That bid is also under protest from another vendor that lost out.

In early July, Reveal discovered that MVM detained immigrant children in two office buildings in Phoenix, in possible violation of the company’s own policies. Neither office building was listed among shelters that are licensed to operate through the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement or on Arizona’s child care licensing website.

According to ICE, its transportation contract with MVM did not allow the private company to hold children overnight but allowed MVM to use its offices as “waiting areas” for children awaiting same-day transport.

Following Reveal’s investigation, MVM admitted to holding children overnight in at least one of the vacant offices.

In an email dated July 16, Jennifer Elzea, a spokeswoman for ICE, said the agency was “looking into whether anything occurred that was outside the realm of our contract” with MVM. Neither she nor the contractor would provide copies of the contract. ICE has denied Reveal’s Freedom of Information Act request to view the contracts.

In a follow-up email July 26, Elzea did not respond to questions regarding the most recent translation and interpretation contract with MVM, stating, “You are welcome to FOIA for any contract documents.” She did not respond to subsequent emails.

The Arizona Department of Health Services actively regulates other facilities in the state that are currently licensed. However, a July 12 letterfrom the department said it “does not have the authority or influence to compel the federal government to change their practices or initiate an investigation.”

In a Sept. 17 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen and ICE Acting Director Ron Vitiello, US Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., requested “a thorough investigation of the treatment of unaccompanied children in MVM custody and suspend their contract pending the outcome of the investigation.”

MVM, founded by three former US Secret Service agents in the late 1970s, has supplied guards to CIA facilities in Iraq and the Guantanamo Bay Migrant Operations Center and provided protection to former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. One of its vice presidents is a former CIA special agent and former acting director of the US Marshals Service.

Records indicate that since 2014, the Virginia-based company has received contracts with ICE worth up to $248 million to transport children. Most recently, MVM has become the main transportation contractor under the federal government’s zero-tolerance border policy.

Arizona state Sen. Steve Farley, a Democrat, questioned the state’s lack of action in clamping down on MVM’s continuing business with ICE.

“Why aren’t you shutting them down? Children are at risk,” he said.

The post ICE Gave $185 Million Deal to Defense Contractor Under Investigation appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: Newswire

This 2019 Peace Calendar Reminds Us That We Are Not Alone

truthout - October 18, 2018 - 2:10pm

As 2018 ends, it can be overwhelming (and even exhausting) to try to reflect on the events of the year. Donald Trump entered the second year of his presidency and continued his upheaval of the White House; the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre horrified us all and sparked a national movement; the US continued to aid and abet human rights abuses across the Middle East; millions more refugees fled their homes worldwide; and the climate crisis deepened. This and much more has had a traumatic effect on the global consciousness. And while each event may seem to crush us under its weight, there are moments of hope.

The 2019 Syracuse Cultural Workers’ Peace Calendar brings these moments to light. Each month reminds and educates us on the resistance that remains stalwart in the face of such tumultuous and uncertain times. The calendar has sought to do this for 48 years not just with powerful images, but also with inclusive, multicultural holidays, lunar cycles and 13 native moons.

Opening the year is a stunning photo from choreographer Camille Brown’s BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play. The performance interweaves original music and dance to tell the complex story of Black womanhood in the US, where so often Black women are portrayed as one-dimensional. The image is joyous and boundless as it begins the new year.

A photo from choreographer Camille Brown’s BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play.Syracuse Cultural Workers

Other photographs and collages represent landmark events, such as the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and the Palestinian Right of Return. A gorgeous illustration by Hal Cameron depicts an Indigenous elder passing language on to a child, reminding us that we must still fight against assimilation and colonization as the American holidays approach.

Bookending the calendar is a Syracuse Cultural Workers collage of an expansive tree, with vast networks of boughs and branches representing The Charter for Trees, Woods and People. As an initiative that began in 2015 in the United Kingdom, the charter seeks to unify more than 70 organizations and 300 local groups to protect plant life for the mutual benefit of humanity. The collage reminds us of the interconnectivity of all life on Earth – that peace means understanding and helping each other achieve it. Closing the calendar with this image illustrates the unity in all the images that came before it.

“Refugees” artwork for August in the Peace Calendar.Syracuse Cultural Workers

When finding peace seems fruitless, or it seems that power will never bend its ear to listen to our voices, we must remember that we are not alone. Collectively, our voices are heard and amplified by one another. We need only to look at a calendar and remind ourselves, with each passing day, that we are in this struggle together.

The post This 2019 Peace Calendar Reminds Us That We Are Not Alone appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: Newswire

Moving Toward Plutocracy: Bill Moyers Talks to Ben Fountain About the Trump Age

truthout - October 18, 2018 - 1:59pm

If you only have time for one political book this season, I have just the one for you: Ben Fountain’s Beautiful Country Burn Again. It’s the boldest, bravest and most bracing book about politics that I have read this year. Fountain has a solid following for his fiction. Both his novel, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk — which received the National Book Critics Circle Award — and his collection of short stories, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, were best-sellers. In 2016 The Guardian asked him to cover the presidential election, a new experience for him. From the roadkill express of the Iowa caucuses to the spectacle of Donald Trump’s victory, he tracked the strange mutation of American politics that surely has George Orwell turning in his grave and our founding fathers wishing for a second chance. Here is a feast of sparkling prose, picturesque profiles, historical perspective, sharp insights, and eureka moments — Donald Trump taking down Senator Ted Cruz for the latter’s smarmy dismissal of “New York values,” for example. But here, too, is a finely spun analysis of how the two major parties lost their way, opening for an outlier like Trump the opportunity of a lifetime. Fountain has given us an original, informed and deeply felt take on the forces and stresses bearing down on America. He came up to New York from his home in Dallas recently, and I talked with him about Beautiful Country Burn Again. I have edited our exchanges for continuity and clarity.

Bill Moyers: There’s an emotional current running through your book that makes me want to know what you were feeling as you followed the candidates across the country in 2016.

Ben Fountain: I was feeling what I think a lot of Americans were feeling — equal parts confusion, frustration and anger, and at times hopefulness. But mostly confusion. Why were things happening the way they were? How did we get to this point? We were in uncharted waters. Donald Trump was doing and saying things no conventional candidate would have been able to get away with. So I had a lot of questions. And when The Guardian invited me to do a series on the election, I jumped at the opportunity. Now I had the excuse to dive as deeply as I could into the why of all this. Is this an aberration in American history and culture? Or is it the logical culmination of certain veins of American life?

I knew your work as a writer of fiction but was not aware of your interest in real-time politics. With this book you have reality reading like a good novel.

Well, I’ve just done what I’ve always tried to do in writing, and that is to be as disciplined and rigorous as I can in seeing the situation for what it is and finding the language to portray accurately what I’ve seen.

Were you entirely on unfamiliar ground as you started tracking the candidates?

When you launch into a book, you discover that you know things you didn’t know you knew. In a way, you’re digging into your own past, your own memories, your own experience. I come from a family that’s been involved in politics in North Carolina for several generations. My grandfather was in the state legislature. His brother was lieutenant governor. One of my cousins was in Congress for 30 years, and others were judges, county commissioners, and the like. Their wives were political wives, and they were at least as savvy as the men. So politics was in the air I breathed growing up.

Was there anything about national politics in 2016 that made you think of the politics you remembered in North Carolina?

The role played by religion in 2016 — the way it was used and abused to manipulate the electorate. And the role of money — especially money under the table, dark money. I call it black money (LAUGH). But like everything else now, politics on a national level has been blown up to cartoon proportions. The media show. The lights, bells and whistles. Highly refined professional expertise. The millions — I mean, billions — of dollars. It has exceeded human scale.

Why the title — Beautiful Country Burn Again?

I was reading excerpts from Joan Didion’s very fine book South and West and came across the line “Beautiful country burn again,” which I think she wrote in reference to that season’s wildfires in California, and it struck me as a kind of lament. And I thought, Oh, that’s it — that seems like the right title for a book about our current situation.Later I found out Didion had borrowed it from her fellow Californian Robinson Jeffers, from his poem “Apology for Bad Dreams”:

…Beautiful country burn again, Point Pinos down to the
Sur Rivers
Burn as before with bitter wonders, land and ocean and the
Carmel water.

Those words captured my mood, my feeling about what was happening in 2016. I felt that if America wasn’t yet literally burning, we might be on the cusp of its burning.

What made you think of fire as a metaphor for America today?

The partisan divide has become so stark, you can imagine a conflagration is coming. Working people and middle-class people in America are feeling more beleaguered than they have since the Great Depression. It’s harder to make ends meet. It’s much harder to get ahead and achieve some measure of financial security and psychological security. It used to be middle-class denoted a certain level of security. If you worked hard, played by the rules, applied your time and talents, then you could reasonably expect a decent living wage, educational opportunities for your kids, and a secure income in old age. That was the social contract. The last 25, 30 years, that social contract’s been shredded. The working and middle classes are working harder than ever and falling farther behind. Meanwhile, corporate profits soar, the stock market soars, and the one percent gets an ever-bigger slice of the pie. That’s not a situation that can be sustained long-term in a genuine democracy. Something’s got to give.

What Is Behind Trump’s Triumph?

You write of the election: “This wasn’t Democrats versus Republicans as much as the sad, psychotic, and vengeful in the national life producing a strange mutation, a creature comprised of degenerate political logic.” A Frankenstein?


(Continues reading) “The logic of this politics requires ultimately that the monster turn on its maker. It would be hard to devise a more spectacular conflict than this high-functioning creature of American schizophrenia versus the very system that brought him to power.”

Yes. Trump was elected — whatever you want to say about Russian bots coming from St. Petersburg, or Russian operatives possibly colluding with his campaign, 63 million Americans voted for Trump. He was duly elected according to our system. He’s a creature of our electoral system and our politics. And by every indication so far, he certainly seems capable, certainly willing to do extreme damage to our constitutional system in order to stay in power.

How do you think that might play out?

Obviously if Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation is allowed to continue to its rightful end — if we learn Trump broke the law or there was collusion or some kind of conspiracy with foreign elements to influence the election — will he bow to the law or will he use all the power at his disposal to defy the law? And that’s the very essence of our constitutional system. As we know, the founders were suspicious of concentrations of power. Will this president take more than his constitutionally allotted share of power going forward? In other words, will he defy the law? And what will Congress do if he does? Congress isn’t even doing its basic job of routine oversight at this point. And if a criminal case arises from all this, and comes before the Supreme Court, will the Supreme Court rule according to the law or to partisan politics?

So, yes, I think Trump potentially represents an existential crisis to the constitutional order. We aren’t there yet, and we may not get there. But I do not see him going quietly. This guy fights like a Comanche when his power and privileges are challenged.

You make it clear in the book: Donald Trump did not come out of nowhere.

That’s right. He’s not an alien. He’s homegrown. American politics and culture produced him.

So you write: “The scorched-earth tactics of the campaign, the wholesale retreat into fantasy, the daily outbreaks of absurd and disturbed behaviors, it seemed the only proper way to view these was as symptoms of tremendous stress. [And] whatever the trajectory of the forces and stresses in play, it seemed certain Trump would deepen and accelerate their trajectory.” What were the sources of that “tremendous stress”?

First is something I indicated a moment ago: the tremendous disparity in income and wealth that’s come about in the past 40 years and the basic, pervasive sense that the system is not fair. Fundamental fairness has been lost. When Trump — and Bernie Sanders, for that matter — said, “The system is rigged,” that rang true for great numbers of Americans. It spoke to their absolutely legitimate sense of grievance. And when you speak a truth like that, and say it over and over with what seems like real sincerity, well, that’s powerful stuff in politics. Millions of Americans are living precarious lives, and they’re looking around for the reason.

Second, white America — mainstream white America — has had its way for most of the history of the United States. In the last 50 years, as we have all seen, things have begun to change. Powerful voices are setting the historical record straight, making clear the degree to which American prosperity has rested on the backs of people of color, and at their expense. Uncomfortable truths are being presented to mainstream white America, and that’s bound to present a challenge to some people’s identity and sense of personal integrity.

We’re finally scraping the whitewash off our mythologies, and that’s painful for those whose lives were framed by those mythologies.

Yes, the paradigm of what it means to be an American is changing, and it needs to change if we’re going to have a realistic idea of ourselves and our history. There’s the old paradigm of mythic whiteness — John Wayne, on his horse: the big white guy who tames the frontier. Well, the reality was — is — much more complex and problematic than that. But a lot of white folks have felt demeaned and put-upon, especially by so-called “elites” — educated opinion, the intellectuals, the scholars and writers who are bringing historical truths to light and insisting that they be reckoned with. Not only do a lot of white people feel threatened by this, they feel insulted, condemned. That’s a fraught psychological state to live in.

People want their John Wayne back.

Oh man, do they. I saw it everywhere on the campaign trail: Trump gave a huge swath of white America back to itself. Gave them psychological, emotional affirmation as an antidote for all the anxiety, all the resentment they’d been feeling. He told them: “You aren’t bad; you’re good. Actually, you are the real America.” That kind of affirmation is powerful medicine in politics.

The Ghost of George Wallace

Backlash thrives on it. Think of the backlash after the emancipation of the slaves. Demagogic politicians rallied a defeated and sullen South to put the chains back on black people — all those segregationist laws of Jim Crow. Lynching that continued into the 20th century. Statues erected to Confederate warriors to preserve the memory of the “Lost Cause.” And then the backlash in our time against the Supreme Court’s order to desegregate the schools, against passage by Congress of civil rights and voting rights legislation, against the struggle and victories of the civil rights movement. Whites fled to the suburbs, opened private religious schools, created federal housing policies that institutionalized segregation on economic grounds.

And you were around when George Wallace [governor of Alabama] ran for president on a blatantly racist platform: “Segregation now. Segregation tomorrow. Segregation forever.” Literally blocked the door to black students trying to enroll in the University of Alabama. He was a major force in mid-century American politics, and both parties had to figure out how to neutralize or even co-opt his considerable support.

George Wallace blocking the doors of the University of Alabama, June 11, 1963. (Library of Congress)

Wallace ran for president four times — someone called him “the most influential loser” of the century. The backlash he both fomented and exploited became the core of Richard Nixon’s Southern strategy in 1968, inviting disenchanted whites to make their new home in the Republican Party.

And then Trump comes along some 40 years after Wallace’s last campaign, and rides Wallace’s message all the way to the White House. Who would have thought he’d be the guy to take up Wallace’s legacy? A guy from up north, a classic “Yankee,” in Southern parlance, a loudmouthed, swaggering, abrasive New York City real estate tycoon. But somehow he took up Wallace’s “Lost Cause” and became a hero to the South. You and I remember that for generations, Southerners had it in for Yankees. One of the worst things you could say about someone in the South was “He’s a Yankee. Come down from up north.” But early in his candidacy, in August of 2015, this Yankee filled a football stadium in Mobile, Alabama, with 30,000 to 35,000 supporters. In August, in Alabama. Can you imagine what the temperature was like that day? (LAUGH) Yet 30,000 Southerners came out for Trump, the guy from Sodom and Gomorrah!

He had a message: “You were wronged. You were right. Let’s go back and make the South great again.”

Variations on themes from the past. You know I don’t like facile comparisons of Trump to certain historical figures, but sometimes the parallels are basically hitting you over your head, you just can’t ignore them. Look at the history, the psychological state of Germany that prepared the way for Hitler. Ever since losing World War I, Germans had walked around in something of a daze, asking each other, “Why did we lose? Were we weak? Or were we betrayed by our leaders?” There was this very real existential crisis in the German psyche. Then along comes this powerful, charismatic, spellbinding demagogue who told them: “You didn’t lose the war. You weren’t weak. Your leaders betrayed you. Real Germans are strong and good. And you are real Germans.”

Donald Trump used the same psychology, and he coupled it with one of the oldest plays in the American power-grab book — blatant racism. Well, often blatant, usually thinly veiled, but everybody knew what he was talking about. Trump was only slightly less open in his racist rhetoric than Wallace.

J.R. Comes Home

So he’s less an aberration than a culmination —

— Of a certain strand of American life, yes. Well, several strands. We can’t discount the con man strand, for one. I found myself wondering how many tricks Trump poached from J.R. Ewing [the star of the TV series Dallas in the ’70s, played by Larry Hagman]. The creators of that hit saga had intended for J.R.’s “good” brother Bobby to be the star, but J.R. — a snake and bastard who cheated on his wife — stole the show. The man truly did not give a shit about anyone else. Yet the audience took to the villain — loved him. You can imagine Donald Trump watching J.R. and thinking, I can work with this. Just be myself. People loved J.R. not in spite of his nastiness and greed but because of it.

Donald Trump plays Donald Trump. And the applause meter goes bonkers. Being nakedly who he is — and winning — seemed to liberate him in his own mind from the contempt shown him by Manhattan snobs. He could be — to use your term — the “consummate New York asshole” and still win primaries. Still win the nomination. Still win the presidency. Why mask his real nature behind good manners when meanness pays off? Take that, Goldman Sachs!

What’s incredible is that this “consummate New York asshole” became the hero of the heartland. Southerners, Midwesterners, rural Westerners, they felt something genuine in Trump. He was giving them easy-to-digest explanations for why they felt so bad and beleaguered, why they’d been falling behind economically for years. Cultural explanations, in addition to the “system is rigged” line. He never missed a chance to rail on “political correctness,” and he loaded up that phrase with a tremendous amount of baggage — university professors, policy wonks, people of color, Black Lives Matter, Hollywood, eastern liberals, and so on. A real grab bag of bogeymen who’d been tearing down the “real” America for the past 20 or 30 years. And of course Hillary Clinton got lumped in there as well, and you could feel the anger and resentment toward her that Trump was able to channel. Those chants of “Lock her up!” — he was doing some powerful cheerleading there.

And the crowd roars back — in your words — “like Romans watching lions sink their teeth into Christian flesh.” You say this may be the most powerful medicine in politics, the leader who delivers a man to his natural self.

And his supporters loved him for it. There was tremendous confusion and angst coming to a boil in America by 2015, 2016, and Trump tapped into it with amazing instincts. The way he spoke to it, harnessed it, that became the most important thing about him. Anybody who cared to look could see he was the most blatant kind of phony in so many respects. Talked family values, quoted the Bible, all that, and he’d made his career as one of the most flamboyant libertines of our time. Divorces and affairs that were front-page news. His use and abuse of women. Genius business guy, but then there were all those bankruptcies in his past, all the partners and employees he’d left high and dry, and that $900 million loss he took on his taxes one year. Big on the military, but he ran as hard as he could from the Vietnam War. Big patriot who loves Vladimir Putin — how do you explain that? And he held himself out as a champion of working people, but he was offering nothing concrete that would really help working people in terms of wages and unions and secure, affordable healthcare.

And none of this was hidden.

It was all right out there — right in our faces, so to speak. And people, a critical mass of the American people, bought it. It makes you wonder about the state of our collective psyche, how easily we’re taken in when we’re hearing what we want to hear. Classic con man dynamic, that’s definitely at work here. But the bond he created with people at his rallies had a lot more to do with emotion and raw attraction than anything that might be called rational thought. He came across as authentic in spite of all the obvious contradictions in himself. He could brag and spew insults and swear and spout the most outrageous sorts of lies; they gave him a pass on it. It made him seem real. This wasn’t politics as usual, and what a huge relief that was for millions of people. Politics as usual the last 20 or 30 years certainly hadn’t done them much good, but here was a guy who seemed to be offering something different.

Yet 63 million people voted for him.

Yes. Yes. He certainly managed to convince millions of people that he really does care about them. And apparently they very much wanted to believe. They focused on the things that gave them a reason to believe and let everything else fall to the wayside.

There’s something else at work here — what you call the Fantasy Industrial Complex, the FIC. You say it “challenges our grasp of reality as nothing ever has.”

Well, (SIGH) humans have always had a talent for fantasy and escape —

— And a talent for distraction.

Yes. To daydream, imagine, and these days to project ourselves inside the fantasy lifestyle we see in all the advertisements and commercial propaganda touting expensive fashions, homes, resorts — all that. But I’m convinced that all these screens that surround us everywhere going 24/7 with movies, TV, internet, email, texts, tweets, news, ads, celebrities, politics and all the rest, I think the overall effect is that it numbs us out and dumbs down. It’s always been hard enough for humans to grasp reality as it is, but with the Fantasy Industrial Complex saturating our lives it’s harder than ever for us to see and understand the world as it actually is. Facts, lies, fantasy, reality — it’s all the same to the maestro of our mighty Fantasy Industrial Complex. Where does one begin and the other end?

Yeats got it right: “We had fed the heart on fantasies / The heart’s grown brutal from the fare.”

That says it all. Well, Yeats had the modern age vibed out before anyone else, didn’t he. Fantasy has become the air we breathe. And when the FIC kicks into high gear, with all the corporate power that’s behind it, all those resources and money, all that brainpower, it takes a supreme effort of will on the individual’s part to distinguish advertising and propaganda from facts, from the truth of a situation.

You said in The Guardian recently that Trump’s presidency has been pretty much what you expected: loud, boastful, bullying, reckless, ruder than the worst-bred minor royalty, tetchy as a wolverine in heat. But the main thing to note, you wrote, is the very most main thing: He’s still going.

Yeah, no matter what his opponents throw at him, he just keeps rolling. They go high, they go low, nothing works. He’s a kind of new breed of political Superman; he eats kryptonite for breakfast and just gets stronger.

He’s brought the Republican Party to its knees. And he owns it now. Lock, stock and barrel.

So much of the news coverage portrayed his campaign as a challenge to the establishment of the Republican Party, the way the Republican Party had conducted itself the last 50 years. But, come on, he was simply doing the same thing, talking the same game Republicans have been doing for years, but he did it better. He’s absolutely a virtuoso of the politics of paranoia and racism, cultural resentment, xenophobia, misogyny and all the rest that the GOP has prospered on for the past 50 years.

What IS a New Democrat?

Yet he would have lost, I’ll wager, if the Democrats had kept their house in order and their priorities straight. Your take on how both parties paved the way for Trump is tough and true, but your account of how the Democrats piled on the people they once represented is one for the ages, in no small part because of your eye for details. Your chapter “Hillary Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” is wicked in its particulars. You might have painted a big mural on the wall — and there is an impressive scope to your story — but it’s the pimples of guilt that are most revealing. Like how establishment Democrats, seeing Republicans raise so much money from the oligarchs, set out to tap into the loot by developing close relationships with big donors and big business. For one thing, they organized an outfit called the Democratic Leadership Council [DLC] with an “executive council” that included corporate behemoths such as ARCO, Chevron, Merck, DuPont, Microsoft, Philip Morris, Koch Industries. Among the trustees would eventually be the longtime chief political operative for Charles and David Koch. His nickname was “the Pirate.” I might think you had made that up if I hadn’t seen note 11, page 255.

Thank you. But let me make this point: In one sense the so-called New Democrats of the Clinton years were traditional Democrats in that they were still strong for civil rights, for cultural diversity, sensitive to sexual orientation and ethnicity. But in terms of rock-bottom economics, of all those people really hurt, even ruined, under globalization and the reckless financialization of the American economy, establishment Democrats became more and more like Republicans: They stopped making the case for government. Republicans were perfectly happy to wage class war against the constituencies Democrats nominally represent. Democrats didn’t exactly become pacifists, but — well, let me put it this way: Those eight years of Bill Clinton’s New Democrats served the party’s traditional constituency of the working class, the middle class, minorities, the poor and immigrants about as well as the second coming of Herbert Hoover.

One might say Democrats pulled up their roots on Main Street and repotted them on Wall Street, where Hillary Clinton plucked plenty of posies before and during the 2016 campaign.

Just as Bill Clinton left office in January 2001, Hillary arrived in the Senate to continue the work. She continued to be a star speaker at DLC events — even led its American Dream Initiative, which called for a strict pay-as-you-go budget process in Washington.

Watching her campaign in 2016, what was your impression?

Well, I was constantly reminded — her campaign made sure of that — that she’s done a lot of very good, genuinely good things for people. Starting with her early working life, she was a trench warrior on behalf of progressive politics. She was one of those young women who went out and knocked on doors to register voters in South Texas. She did advocacy for juveniles in South Carolina’s prison system. She went looking for underprivileged kids in Boston, trying to get them into the school system. That is not showboat work. That is work that comes from the heart. But (SIGH) you have to balance all those good works with the overriding fact that she has consistently aligned herself with big money, big corporations, big banks. And you have to lay the increasing economic insecurity of working and middle-class people to that same corporate elite. She didn’t understood why people might resent her earning millions of dollars for speaking to Wall Street firms. In her book What Happened, she said she never thought people would think that she would “sell out” a lifetime of principle and advocacy by making speeches for the one percent. But what she failed to see was that people viewed those speeches not as Hillary “selling out” but as Hillary doing business as usual. She was prospering — obscenely — in a morally bankrupt system that she played a large and active role in creating.

In the middle of the campaign, you pause and reflect on Memorial Day celebrations in a chapter of the book called “Doing the Chickenhawk with Trump.” You have a very moving meditation in the book on Memorial Day celebrations and what politicians say on such occasions. You express your disgust with talking fast and loose in a time of endless war, and what you write is a beautiful reflection on the sacrifice and suffering of our fighting men and women. You invoke one of my favorite all-time journalists, the eccentric and brilliant Ambrose Bierce, who survived some of the worst of the slaughter in the Civil War only to have his skull broken “like a walnut” by a sniper’s ball, and lived to write about combat with horrifying honesty. You quote Ernest Hemingway’s contempt for cant in A Farewell to Arms. You take on the warmongering of Washington’s armchair warriors — some by name — who loosely suggest sending 50,000 American troops to Syria. And you pour boiling water on politicians who have never seen war up close but orate on Memorial Day as if they had repulsed the enemy single-handedly. And during the campaign when Trump, asked in one debate what he would do about Syria, replies that he would “listen to the generals,” you fume: “Screw that. How about we listen to the sergeants, lieutenants, and captains who wore those boots on the ground the past fifteen years. The ones who’ve left the military, who are free to speak their minds and have no stake in the business-as-usual business of American war.”

Well, it’s one of the most profane aspects of our public life, the way the military gets used and abused by politicians to show how tough and patriotic they (the politicians) are, and a lot of these same politicians ran as hard from the military as they could when they were young. The hypocrisy is mind-bending; it’s more a form of schizophrenia than hypocrisy, and Trump is one of the worst offenders. And we get it every Memorial Day: politicians making speeches about courage and country and “the supreme sacrifice” — it’s so hollow it makes you want to puke. I mean, who gave our politicians permission to speak for the violently dead, as I call them in the book? I think we’d do a lot better — have a better chance of understanding ourselves and our history and our wars — if we make the politicians shut up for that one day, at least, and look to writers and poets who experienced war firsthand, then devoted heart and soul to finding the correct words, the true words, for describing the reality of their war. Put aside the fantasy and try for reality, at least on that day. That day of all days.

Is It a Plutocracy Yet?

I must say, you found some of the correct words to sum up the state of our democracy today. You’ve also been searching for “the correct and true words” to describe the state of our democracy today. I sense you want to be honest and call it what it is: a plutocracy.

I think if we aren’t there, we’re very close. Certainly the scale of money in our politics now, especially after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, is astonishing. It’s an ocean of black money floating out there, and they have blocked us from even knowing where it comes from. Certain organizations no longer have to reveal the identity of their donors. How do we ever know who’s giving all this money, who are the politicians working for? There’s no accountability without knowing who’s paying the bills. And where does this leave the everyday citizen?

Since the conservative Supreme Court declared money to be speech, without money they’re left speechless. And unrepresented.

Because these donors score big on the policy outcomes they want. They have access. Influence. They have a lot of money to put behind candidates of their choice, and they have a lot of money to throw against candidates they oppose. For me, the American identity is at its core a political identity, one based on the foundational principle of equality. But for the principle to be fulfilled, to be the lived reality of the country, requires equal citizenship stature for all. Equality before the law, in other words; the laws of the land as established and revised by genuinely representative government — not a government responsive mainly to donors. Equality is the foundational, guiding principle of the United States, and it’s right there in the Declaration of Independence. So how equal can citizens be if they’re not making enough to support a family, despite working two or three jobs, and with so little time to devote to civic and political duties? This is the reality. Does that citizen have equal stature with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company? With Sheldon Adelson? Of course not.

Your chapter “The Long Good Deal” prompts the question: Are the assumptions of hypercapitalism — what we’re experiencing today — compatible with democracy?

I think there is always going to be, at best, a real tension there. Can democracy thrive alongside a freewheeling capitalist economic system? Or will these great concentrations of power and wealth overwhelm democracy by virtue of their enormous power and influence?

Trump was right: The system is rigged. Big money, cartels and conglomerates, big media, huge investment banks, giant hedge funds, billionaires — these control so much of what goes on in this country. Ordinary Americans no longer have much agency over their lives. Oh, they can still vote, still say what they want to say, get together to protest. But the real power is somewhere else: Follow the money.

All you have to do is look at recent history. Start before the crash of 2007–2008. At, say, the deregulation of banks and banking that began under Ronald Reagan, with Democratic support. For 50 years since the Great Depression, there had been no major upheavals in American finance — from the early 1930s to the late 1980s. That was a testament to the soundness of the New Deal structure of banking and finance regulation that Franklin Roosevelt ushered in back in the 1930s — those safeguards that prevented reckless speculation by banks and Wall Street really worked. The 1980s came, and Washington took apart the regulatory structure of the savings and loan industry. Congress passed new rules that made it okay for the S&Ls to invest depositors’ money in very risky endeavors. Guess what? By the end of the decade, there was no savings and loan industry. It had freewheeled itself into oblivion. Boomed and busted all in the space of about six years. Taxpayers were out billions of dollars to make up for the loss.

That should have been a signal to us that the laws and regulations developed under the New Deal worked. They served a real purpose, and they were successful for over a half century in protecting taxpayers and depositors and the stability of the banking system. But under Reagan, deregulation became the mantra. For both parties, it should be noted. Deregulation continued into the 21st century as investment banks and commercial banks made tremendous amounts of money on high-flying speculation. Then we get to 2007–2008 and boom! The crash. The capitalists went too far, as capitalists will always do if they’re left to their own devices. The result? The worst financial crisis, the worst recession, since the Great Depression, and the global financial system was almost destroyed. Yet within a year or two the banks were doing great again, the bankers were pulling down huge bonuses again, while working people were still trying to climb out of the wreckage. So in 2016 Trump and Bernie Sanders were telling the truth: The system is rigged.

You write that Lincoln in the Civil War and Roosevelt in the economic crash of the 1930s had the vision and strength of will to lead the country out of two incarnations of hell. Will we be that lucky next time?

I hope we don’t get there. But if corporate power is allowed to operate unchecked, it will always go too far. The capitalists will overreach, and there will be blowback. History shows us that plainly enough. So I fear we’re due soon for an existential crisis. I think the plutocracy has so much power at this point that nothing short of a major upheaval is going to change things. If anything is going to change, pretty much everything is going to have to change at the same time, much like Roosevelt with the New Deal. There were tremendous changes wrought then in American society in what was a bloodless revolution. And that’s one of the miracles of the New Deal, that it was in fact a bloodless revolution. And, by the way, it saved capitalism. One example: FDR didn’t nationalize the banks; he gave them a holiday. And New Deal initiatives produced much of the infrastructure that we rely on to this day: the roads, waterways, bridges, sewers and water mains, courthouses, libraries and power grids. You could say that the New Deal was so successful that it’s become invisible. So many of the things we take for granted — from electricity to roads to the internet to the technology in our computers and cell phones — had their origins in the philosophy and framework of the New Deal.

Today, corporate power and concentrations of wealth have such a hold over our economic system that for the country to wrest some of that power from them, it can’t be incremental. It will take a political revolution.

“A Deep and Mighty Transformation”

James Baldwin saw a “deep and mighty transformation” as the country’s only hope. At the beginning of your book, you remind us that twice before in our history, the United States has been faced with a crisis so severe it was forced to reinvent itself to survive: First was the struggle over slavery, culminating in the Civil War, and second was the Great Depression, which as you just said led to President Roosevelt’s New Deal and the establishment of America as a social-democratic state. Now you argue that we may be facing a third existential crisis, one that will require a “burning” of the old order as America attempts to remake itself. I failed to mention at the start of this interview that the subtitle of Beautiful Country Burn Again is Democracy, Rebellion, and Revolution. Is that what you foresee — and can we get such change peacefully?

Rebellion happens in the streets — barricades, protests, uprisings, all of that. I think revolution takes place first in the mind, with ideas, vision and imagination. Oppressive and manipulative power structures try to limit our imaginations as to what is possible. And I think the American imagination has been stunted the last 40 years by a very aggressive sales program on behalf of free-market fundamentalism and hard-core capitalism. So part of the revolution, a good part, has to happen up here, where we think and imagine. We have to realize there are alternatives, that it wasn’t always this way and it doesn’t have to be this way.

Thank you, Ben Fountain.

Glad to be here.

The post Moving Toward Plutocracy: Bill Moyers Talks to Ben Fountain About the Trump Age appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: Newswire

The Proud Boys Have Revived Far-Right Gang Terror With GOP Support

truthout - October 18, 2018 - 1:56pm

Shaky video footage of screaming “alt-right” members has become so familiar at this point that journalist Sandi Bachom’s video footage of a group of Proud Boys’ violent assault in New York City last week might easily have been ignored as it surfaced. Instead, it has gone viral in what has become another flashpoint in recent white supremacist street violence.

The Proud Boys, a far-right street gang known for their public displays of violence, are seen running to surround counterprotesters on the ground. They hit and kick people, letting their friends edge into the crowd so they can get their pummeling in, all against a flurry of homophobic slurs. “Kick this motherfucker” and “Are you brave now, faggot?” can be heard as they kick a crouched person desperately trying to block what might have become lethal blows. As they start to dissipate, one Proud Boy calls out “Uhuru,” a Swahili resistance word that means “freedom” that has been appropriated by the group in a mocking tone.

Bachom captured the video while following the group down the street as they carried on screaming and insulting their victims, anticipating what was likely to come next after having observed the group’s actions across the US for two years now.

“They were like frat boys, yelling and taunting people,” Bachom told Truthout, recalling how the event brought back memories of the violent, far-right “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she was seriously injured during melees with white nationalists brandishing poles and shields. “They were just roaming the streets, and the cops were alongside of them. They had a police escort.”

Inciting Violence

The attack that occurred on October 12 came just after the Metropolitan Republican Club hosted an appearance of Proud Boys co-founder Gavin McInnes at their Manhattan clubhouse. McInnes has become a controversial figure after leaving Vice Media to write for white-nationalist publications, like VDare and American Renaissance, and to host a talk show that features white nationalists like Jared Taylor, founder and editor of American Renaissance. As the “alt-right” came into full swing, McInnes hung on the edge of the movement, forming the Proud Boys as a multiracial, far-right crew at the same time as open racialists were mixing with Trumpians.

As the larger “alt-right” fizzled, losing almost all its online platforms after Charlottesville, the Proud Boys managed to grow, in part, because it was no longer restricted to white men. The group’s politics are a confusing mix of civic nationalism, what they call “Western chauvinism“; anti-immigrant extremism; conservative traditionalism; and the veneration of violence as a key component of both masculinity and “Western pride.” This has led to more than two years of confrontations in spaces occupied by leftists across the country, where Proud Boys have continually attacked them in gang-style roundups.

McInnes’s speeches have long been protested. For instance, last year, student groups chased him out of the halls of New York University in one high-profile incident. This year, the night before McInnes’s event at the Republican Club, anarchist symbols were spray painted onto the building. A note was also left, reading, “The Metropolitan Republican Club chose to invite a hipster-fascist clown to dance for them, content to revel in their treachery against humanity.”

McInnes’s talk was on far-right Japanese murderer Otoya Yamaguchi, who stabbed socialist leader Inejiro Asanuma to death in 1960 with a sword. McInnes had promised on social media to re-enact the killing, calling it “inspirational.” Protesters gathered outside the venue, decrying the New York Republican Party leadership’s willingness to allow the Proud Boys in as a part of an acceptable range of discourse.

The Proud Boys, not willing to be one-upped by opponents, responded with aggression, singling out protesters for pointed attacks. McInnes, meanwhile, got out of his car to raise a sword into the air in a clear message to his supporters: The left must be dealt with through violent means – even political assassination.

On October 12, near Third Avenue and 83rd Street, more than a dozen Proud Boys caught up with protesters and unleashed such a display of violence that they didn’t even attempt to hide from the several onlookers and journalists who were shooting photos and videos, demonstrating the brazenness for which the group has become notorious.

This pattern has only intensified as Proud Boy chapters continue to crop up across the country. In Portland, Oregon, the group has become associated with Patriot Prayer, another far-right Trumpian organization with open white nationalists in their ranks. Patriot Prayer members have forced themselves into liberal cities, and once there, link up with Proud Boys who confront counterprotesters and residents with guerilla-style attacks.

In Portland, this has resulted in dozens of clashes, including several where Proud Boys have come prepared with body armor, intentionally rushing counterprotesters and leaving them hospitalized. The violence has spilled over into the larger community, as the gang has made a habit of going into spaces where they might encounter any opposition at all and using even the smallest protest against them as a signal to strike with impunity.

The “New” Street Violence

For places like Portland, Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul and other cities, the Proud Boys’ violent pattern rings familiar. In the 1980s and early 1990s, neo-Nazi skinhead gangs claimed entire neighborhoods as their turf, controlling music venues, bars and street corners. The skinhead gang phenomenon grew in the wake of de-industrialization and an effort by the white power movement to create a new line of recruits with a militant attitude ready to engage in “lone wolf” violence. They recruited among the most disaffected areas of the white working class. While their violence was distinct, these gangs signaled where the fascist movement was at the time: alienated but still violent.

Today, the far right has become more complicated, convoluted and disparate than it once was, but has a clearer path to power. The “alt-right” created, first, an intellectual veneer, and then a cultural space for far-right ideas. Far-right populist movements, including the Proud Boys, carved out a large space in the world of trollish blogs that flourished after Trump’s election.

Today, it is not uncommon for far-righters to create a multiracial subculture, even if it seems antithetical to their actual political goals. The rightward wave across US and Europe has allowed for anti-immigrant, anti-liberal and reactionary politics to be shared in a temporary alliance. While hardcore white nationalists will never cross the racial aisle, there remains a large periphery around them who will, making it much easier to grow right-wing populism’s political game while using the cover of plausible deniability for the racism of the far right.

In this new world, we have seen a dramatic shrinking of the neo-Nazi skinhead phenomenon. In Portland, Oregon, the 1988 killing of Ethiopian student Mulugeta Seraw by members of East Side White Pride brought a lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center against White Aryan Resistance, a white-power organization that had been propping up the violent growth of skinhead gangs. The lawsuit, along with anti-fascists’ years of political organizing in its aftermath, proved a critical blow against the movement.

Another factor that led to the skinheads’ decline was the inherent instability inside of the white power community that left many members in jail, out of work or dead. Skinhead organizations were founded entirely on street violence, and while the impulse toward male rage built on resentment still churns, today’s white supremacists have easier outlets than completely dropping out of society, as required by the neo-Nazi movement.

The Proud Boys, with their focus on camaraderie and strengthening male identity through violence, appears to fill the same void while dropping some of the previous barriers to entry so that more men feel comfortable in joining in to the group’s culture of violence. Now the pace of Proud Boys attacks is speeding up, showing a clear pattern of targeting marginalized communities, the larger left and anyone who refuses to give them open access to any space they choose.

Ready to Fight

The Proud Boys have been open about their motivations. In New York, a video posted presumably by a member of the Proud Boys in advance of McInnes’s speech, shows members admitting that they wanted to attack the protesters who were chanting across the street. “I want to go over there and instigate it, but the cops are here so we’ll be nice,” says a man behind the camera. He gets into a physical confrontation with a protester seconds later.

After McInnes’s speech let out, about 30 Proud Boys streamed out of the venue single-file, with bystanders reporting that they seemed drunk and amped-up by talk of the murder of Asanuma. “They wanted to do harm,” Bachom said. “They were an angry mob. They were a gang.” One video shows the Proud Boys taunting protesters as they left along with a police escort leading them away down the street, who then witness the attack. The video continues with the group mocking their victims, and posing for a group photo while flashing a hand signal that many claim is a code for “white power.”

Three fascist skinhead gang members, including Joe Bola and Dennis Davila of the ultra-violent 211 Bootboys crew, were caught joining the fight. Davila is best known for running the hate-music clearinghouse United Riot Records, which publishes compilations from the neo-Nazi skinhead festival “Oi!fest.” The third skinhead in the street fight goes by “Irv,” who often runs with a largely Latino skinhead crew who previously participated in the clashes at Charlottesville. His gang is another testament to the kinds of tacitly multiracial alliances in the skinhead world that target gender minorities, immigrants and Muslims. McInnis himself has been photographed with Bola, suggesting that the collaboration between the Proud Boys and Bola’s far-right skinhead gang is likely more than coincidence.

“They were hyped-the-fuck-up to begin with,” says freelance photojournalist Shay Horse, who caught photos of the attack and the later shot of the Proud Boys flashing hand gestures. “It wouldn’t shock me if we find out about more attacks that happened later in that evening.”

While the Proud Boys’ violence was pronounced and shocking, the mainstream right wing paid it little mind. Fox News ran a report focusing exclusively on the vandalism that occurred the night before while airing footage of McInnes brandishing a sword at protesters but providing no context. New York Republican Party Chairman Edward Cox blamed the violence on the Democratic Party, saying, “Democrats need to cease inciting these attacks,” and alleging some connection between anarchist protesters and the Democratic National Committee. His comments only further extend the GOP’s cover for the street gang.

While the injuries from Proud Boys’ attacks are entirely visible and well-documented, conservatives have become entrenched in a heated contest of victim-blaming counterprotesters. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have called for video of the incident to be reviewed and for potential prosecutions of Proud Boys based on video evidence. Mayor de Blasio recently tweeted, “Hate is never welcome in NYC and we will punish those responsible.”

Portland Patriots

The following day after the assault in New York, a separate Proud Boy chapter joined Patriot Prayer in a flash-mob-style action in downtown Portland, Oregon, attempting to subvert local police accountability actions organized by Don’t Shoot PDX. In a suddenly announced rally and march that brought out 40-odd participants, including both suited Proud Boys and flag-waving conservatives, they demanded that Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler step down for what they allege is soft-peddled policing around protesters in the city.

Proud Boys began attacking counterprotesters quickly after taking the streets. Video of the event later showed mass brawls interlaced with police pepper spray. Patriot Prayer members wielded clubs, making contact with protesters being thrown to the ground in what could accurately be called a gang beating, as counter-demonstrators curled themselves into the fetal position while Proud Boys surrounded and stomped them. In the world of the neo-Nazi skinhead gangs, this would have been called a “boot party”; for the Proud Boys, it has been labeled “self-defense.”

“What you saw in NYC was just a warm-up for [that day] in Portland,” said journalist Mike Bivins, whose videos provide a close-up view of the barrage. At one point, the police began a late-stage intervention, firing pepper balls into the crowd while four Proud Boys were doubling down on a trapped anti-fascist protester.


The Proud Boys’ violence reflects both a tone shift in US conservatism and their own importance in the world of street fighting, taking on the mantle that was carried by far more publicly reviled organizations like Volksfront and the Hammerskin nation. While the attacks from Proud Boy gang members have not turned into fatalities yet, there has been a steady pattern of escalation and an internal culture of denial when it comes to the consequences of their incitements.

“All we needed for one gun to go off…. It would have been a bloodbath. That’s what I am afraid is coming,” Bachon says, echoing a common feeling about what could be next if Proud Boy tactics intensify.

While other white supremacist groups have dissipated somewhat after Charlottesville, the Proud Boys are steadily absorbing angry recruits looking for a “fight club” aimed at the marginalized.

While continuing to foster relationships with more traditional fascist skinhead gangs and new white nationalist crews like the Rise Above Movement, the Proud Boys have been given a pass by most law enforcement institutions. The soft approach taken by police to the Proud Boys — in comparison to how they have treated counterprotesters in Portland and at the recent “Unite the Right 2” event in Washington, DC — reveals law enforcement’s belief that the gang poses little threat, and has left many wondering where to turn.

Those involved in last week’s attack were identified quickly, both by law enforcement and anti-fascist organizers, and the NYPD said they were set to charge nine of the Proud Boys involved. As of Monday, three arrests have been made.

While the marginalization of white power gangs has helped leftist activists target and eliminate many of them over time, the cover supplied by the more mainstream conservative right may actually undermine efforts to secure communities against Proud Boy incursions and to halt their attacks before they begin to engender a body count.

The post The Proud Boys Have Revived Far-Right Gang Terror With GOP Support appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: Newswire

Illinois Prisons Sued for Unconstitutional Ban on LGBTQ Literature

truthout - October 18, 2018 - 1:52pm

The Uptown People’s Law Center and the MacArthur Justice Center filed a lawsuit on October 17 that alleges Illinois prisons are censoring correspondence and publications that have been mailed to prisoners by Black and Pink, a prisoners’ rights organization focused on supporting incarcerated LGBTQ and HIV-positive people.

Jason Lydon founded Black and Pink in 2005 after his own incarceration and was the national director of the group until 2017. “Prisoners are entitled to communication with people on the outside and are entitled to knowledge and stories that validate their humanity,” Lydon told Truthout. “This lawsuit is about ensuring that.”

Black and Pink, which seeks the abolition of the prison system, produces several publications for prisoners featuring writing and artwork by incarcerated people. Nationally, Black and Pink distributes a monthly newsletter to tens of thousands of prisoners; in Illinois, there are hundreds of subscribers.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Chicago chapter of Black and Pink, alleges that Black and Pink publications and correspondence — including its Stop Solitary Zine, introductory letters, chapter updates, newsletters, and birthday and holiday cards — have been banned from several Illinois prisons since at least 2016. Lindsey Hess, the media administrator for the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), stated in an email to Truthout that “the publication has not been banned at any IDOC facilities.” It’s not clear which publication Hess was referring to, and further communication to the IDOC had not been responded to at the time of publication.

“Prison is isolating in general,” said Alan Mills, the executive director of the Uptown People’s Law Center. This isolation, which is particularly acute for LGBTQ prisoners, Mills says, is why it’s critical that Black and Pink “be able to communicate with people inside who desperately need that support.”

The censorship of Black and Pink in Illinois prisons has taken several forms, according to the lawsuit. Items from the organization have been marked “Return to sender, unable to forward,” “Contraband,” “Black & Pink-Banned Correspondence” or “Correspondence not approved.”

“Getting mail from people shows [that] someone on the outside is paying attention to what is going on,” said Kim Sammons, a volunteer with Black and Pink Chicago. “Prisons do a lot of work to dehumanize people. Any kind of connection is important.”

The lawsuit alleges that Western Illinois and Danville facilities informed prisoners a holiday chapter mailing, which included holiday cards, was rejected by stating: “We are discouraging communication between our prisoners and the Pink & Black [sic] organization, so we cannot allow the receiving of more propaganda.”

According to the lawsuit, people incarcerated at several prisons — including Western Illinois, Centralia, Danville, Decatur, Dixon and Big Muddy River — were told: “The [Stop] Solitary Zine promotes violence with strong language and strange artwork found on several pages. If we suspect that mail being sent to prisoners is encouraging any sort of rebellious attitude, we must keep that mail from them.”

The censorship, Mills said, has been “totally random,” as Black and Pink publications have been banned at some prisons in Illinois but not at others.

This is far from the first time LGBTQ publications have been censored in prisons. In 2016, the ACLU of Kentucky demanded that the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex end its ban on publications that “promote homosexuality.” In response, the Department of Corrections rescinded the ban.

“To us, it was just a very clear First Amendment violation,” said Amber Duke, communications director for the ACLU of Kentucky. Duke said the organization first learned of the policy when prisoners reported that their issues of LGBTQ publications like Out and The Advocate were being confiscated when they arrived in the mail.

A 2015 national survey of more than 1,000 prisoners conducted by Black and Pink found that just 20 percent of prisoners reported having access to “LGBT affirming books.” Of the respondents to the survey, 65 percent identified as LGBTQ before their incarceration.

While prisoners’ First Amendment rights are limited, they are “not annihilated,” explained David Fathi, director of the ACLU National Prison Project.

“The most clearly prohibited government misconduct under the First Amendment is viewpoint discrimination, which is suppressing literature or advocacy or speech because the government doesn’t like the point of view that’s being expressed,” said Fathi. “That’s something the government can virtually never do. To the extent that prisons are suppressing LGBT advocacy materials, that is presumptively unconstitutional.”

Targeting publications like those produced by Black and Pink is indicative of the broader experience of LGBTQ prisoners who experience higher rates of sexual violence, harassment and solitary confinement, according to Naomi Goldberg, policy director of Movement Advancement Project, a think tank that works to advance equality for LGBTQ people. Of the respondents to Black and Pink’s survey, 85 percent reported being held in solitary confinement.

Those who bear the brunt of this abuse are people of color who are disproportionately represented in the prison system, notes Goldberg, who is the author of “Unjust: How the Broken Criminal Justice System Fails LGBT People of Color.”

“[Censorship] is one data point of many around the harassment and discrimination [LGBTQ prisoners] experience,” Goldberg told Truthout. “Just as staying connected to family and friends is really important for people who are incarcerated, staying connected to a community is really important.”

Building community to combat the isolation imposed upon LGBTQ and HIV-positive prisoners, Lydon says, is at the core of Black and Pink’s mission.

“[Black and Pink] is a reminder that they’re cared for,” said Lydon. “It’s a reminder to everybody that they’re not forgotten.”

The post Illinois Prisons Sued for Unconstitutional Ban on LGBTQ Literature appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: Newswire

How Pro-War Democrats Use Russiagate To Bloat the Military—And Why That’s Dangerous

In These Times - October 18, 2018 - 12:23pm

There is no doubt this moment calls for a powerful mobilization against the Trump administration and the ruling-class, white-supremacist interests it represents. But establishment Democrats' strategy of hitching their “resistance” campaign to Russiagate is misguided and dangerous. By demanding Trump prove he’s tough on Russia, the same Democrats who warn that Trump is dangerous and unhinged are asking him to oversee an even more bellicose foreign policy. The net effect has been to push the U.S. government to take a more confrontational stance toward Russia and other geopolitical foes and—ultimately—expand its military empire.

Whatever one thinks about the aims and scope of Russian interference, the evidence is undeniable: Democrats’ overwhelming focus on Russia has led directly to a significant—and measurable—military buildup. The $716 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2019 is massive, marking an $81 billion increase over 2017 (adjusted for inflation). The bill explicitly targets Russia and China. From the outset, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle cited the threat of Russian interference to argue in favor of the NDAA. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, gushed, “This bill continues the absolutely critical work of pushing back against President Putin.” Smith, who earlier that month called for an impeachment investigation of Trump, appeared eager and willing to hand the president a giant check for war.

Bipartisan lawmakers handed a major victory to Trump by passing the defense bill, which includes $6.5 billion to fully fund the “European Deterrence Initiative” to build the military capabilities of European states near Russia. The legislation also instructs Secretary of Defense James Mattis to conduct a feasibility study on whether a “permanently stationed United States Army brigade combat team in Poland would enhance deterrence against Russian aggression.”

Most alarmingly, the NDAA earmarks $21.9 billion for nuclear weapons programs and $65 million to develop “a lowyield nuclear warhead for submarine-launched ballistic missiles.” This is another win for the Trump administration, which has called for more “flexible” and “loweryield” nuclear arms, largely to counter Russia. (The United States and Russia own over 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.)

This confrontational positioning has ramifications far beyond Russia. In July 2017, for example, the House and Senate overwhelmingly voted in favor of bipartisan legislation that bundled sanctions against Russia with sanctions against Iran and North Korea—even at the risk of upending the nuclear deal with Iran. To justify this move, Democrats cited Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Sen. Dianne Feinstein told The Intercept, “I just looked at the sanctions, and it’s very hard, in view of what we know just happened in this last election, not to move ahead with [sanctions]."

Meanwhile, other election scandals, from voter suppression to the fact the electoral college overrode the popular vote, garner far less scrutiny and outrage. As for collusion with foreign governments, leaders of the “resistance” aren’t exactly lining up to examine evidence that Trump’s transition team colluded with the Israeli government to defend illegal settlements in Palestine.

The nonstop specter of Russian “active measures” has all but ended any discussion of post-Snowden reforms to curtail dragnet government surveillance. The threat of our permanent national security state was, for decades, something the Left cared about. Now the FBI and CIA, we’re told by some ostensibly left media, are our allies.

There may well be something to the Russian influence story and the Trump administration should, of course, be held to standards of utmost transparency on this and every other matter. But Democrats and their loyal pundits are pegging their anti-Trump strategy to Russiagate, and not to the multitude of other scandals, precisely because Russia is a historic geopolitical foe—a convenient bad guy that can be invoked to demand the heightened national security state many centrist Democrats were already calling for. Some of these resistance heroes, like Sens. Chuck Schumer and Feinstein, brought us the war in Iraq, the occupation of Afghanistan, the war on Yemen and the intervention in Libya.

At times, Trump indeed expresses a strange affection for Putin—an affection animated, at least in part, by a Steve Bannon-esque love of strong white men. But then he turns on a dime and threatens escalation against Russia and its allies. It’s a bankrupt politics to reflexively advocate the opposite of whatever Trump says; we must look beyond the inflammatory rhetoric and examine the material policies our government is implementing. A sober assessment reveals that heightened tensions with Russia are fueling a measurable U.S. military buildup backed by Republicans and Democrats. Within this tinderbox, the Left should reject any expansion of U.S. empire, and challenge any “resistance” campaign that pushes Trump toward militarization.

Categories: Newswire

Van Dyke’s Guilty Verdict Was Made Possible By Decades of Activism Against Racist Policing

In These Times - October 17, 2018 - 6:55pm

On October 5, 2018, a Cook County jury comprised of one Black woman, three Latina women, an Asian man, and seven whites returned a verdict of guilty of second-degree murder against Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke. The jury also found Van Dyke guilty of 16 counts of aggravated battery — one for each of the 16 shots that Van Dyke fired into Laquan McDonald’s body over a 14-second period, all but two while he was writhing on the ground. The jury found that Van Dyke believed that he had the right to kill Laquan but that this belief was not reasonable, thereby convicting him on a charge of second-degree murder. The conviction carries a 4-to-20-year sentence with probation as an option. Meanwhile, each aggravated battery count — classified as aggrieved because the batteries were committed with a weapon — carries a 6-to-20-year non-probationable sentence. Hence, according to criminal defense experts, the most likely minimum sentence for Van Dyke would be 12 years, with a very unlikely maximum of 90 years.

The convictions were a victory for activists who waged the “Justice for Laquan” campaign in the streets and at the courthouse for nearly three years after the shocking video of police murder came to public light. Indeed, many Chicagoans applauded the verdict as just. However, the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), true to its racist history, called the trial a “sham” and a “disgusting charade,” and the verdict “shameful,” saying the jury was “duped into saving the asses of self-serving politicians at the expense of a dedicated public servant.” In the Southwest Side Mount Greenwood neighborhood, where many of Chicago’s white officers live, blue ribbons supporting the police were tied to almost every tree and light pole, and according to the Chicago Sun-Times, one resident went so far as to call Van Dyke a “political prisoner.”

The verdict was front-page news over the weekend, and the Chicago Sun-Times published an article claiming that “Van Dyke’s trial is now destined to be listed alongside other key Chicago police controversies, including the face-off with demonstrators outside the 1968 Democratic Demonstration, the 1969 police shooting of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, and decades of alleged torture committed by the so-called midnight crew overseen by Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge — who died during the first week of Van Dyke’s trial.”

I came to Chicago in the summer of 1968, a week after what the Kerner Commission called a “police riot,” and have been involved in the legal struggles that arose from the notorious events referenced by the Sun Times ever since. From that perspective, a deeper look into Chicago’s racist police history and its connection to the Laquan McDonald case is warranted.

The Murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark

On December 4, 1969, 14 heavily armed Chicago police officers assigned to the office of Cook County State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan, conducted a murderous predawn raid on a West Side apartment where numerous Black Panther Party (BPP) members were staying. Firing more than 90 shots from shotguns, machine guns and pistols, the raiders murdered the 21-year-old chairman of the Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton, as he slept in his bed. They also killed Peoria BPP leader Mark Clark, and wounded several other Panthers. A massive police cover-up followed, as did outrage in the African American community. The cover-up featured blatantly false police reports, perjured testimony, fabricated ballistics reports, and a slanderous official publicity campaign. President Richard Nixon’s Justice Department, led by John Mitchell of Watergate infamy, investigated but refused to indict any of the police raiders or the prosecutors who planned and approved the raid, but renewed protests led to the appointment of a Cook County special prosecutor.

Hampered by the chief judge of Cook County and a rigged grand jury, the special prosecutor was not able to obtain murder or attempted murder indictments, but rather only indictments for obstruction of justice against the raiders and State’s Attorney Hanrahan, who was running for re-election as Mayor Richard J. Daley and the Democratic machine’s chosen candidate. The case was assigned to a Democratic machine judge, and the raiders waived the jury and proceeded to trial before the judge. The special prosecutor rested his case the week before the 1972 election, and the judge dutifully granted a verdict for the defendants, thereby giving Hanrahan a clean record before the voters went to the polls. As was the case with the brutal police officers who victimized demonstrators and reporters at the Democratic National Convention, none of the perpetrators of the deadly violence went to jail. This reinforced the racist reality that Chicago police officers — acting with Cook County prosecutors, unblinkingly backed by the Police Union, and protected by Cook County judges and the police code of silence — could act with absolute impunity when it came to policing Chicago communities of color.

However, the mass movement in the African American community that had formed around the murders of Hampton and Clark returned its own verdict, voting Hanrahan out of office. Ten years later, this movement was largely responsible for electing Chicago’s first Black mayor, Harold Washington.

Jon Burge and Chicago Police Torture

Also, in 1972, Chicago police detective Jon Burge and his midnight crew of “asskickers” began a 20-year reign of terror in Chicago’s African American communities, torturing more than 125 people of color with electric shock, suffocation, mock executions, and other forms of racist brutality during interrogations. Prosecutors participated in the interrogations, falsely denied knowledge of the brutality, and used the confessions obtained to send the victims to prison and, in some cases, to death row. Ten years later, in 1982, the state’s attorney of Cook County, Richard M. Daley, who was Richard J. Daley’s son, was officially informed about the torture but chose to ignore it, leading to a second decade of torture and wrongful convictions. For their part, Cook County Judges uniformly rejected the mounting evidence of torture presented in their courtrooms.

In 1989, the cover-up was pierced, thanks in large part to a federal civil rights trial, an anonymous police source, and an investigative reporter. Activists led protests that compelled Burge’s firing in 1993, but no prosecutors, federal or Cook County, sought to prosecute Burge or his crew, and the police department and then Mayor Richard M. Daley suppressed, then rejected, an internal report that condemned the torture as “systematic.” Undeterred, the Fraternal Order of Police continued to defend Burge and his men and held them up as heroes.

The battle to expose the torture scandal and to seek justice for the victims continued, and nearly a decade later, in 2002, a Cook County special prosecutor was appointed, but he had close ties to the Daley machine. After a four-year investigation that cost Cook County taxpayers more than $7 million, the special prosecutor returned no indictments, instead releasing what was widely considered to be a whitewashed report.

Once again, the failure to indict occasioned outrage and disgust, so the Chicago City Council and the Cook County Board of Commissioners held highly publicized public hearings and issued resolutions calling for a federal investigation, a call that was underscored by similar findings made by the United Nations Committee Against Torture. This time the US Attorneys’ Office took heed, but the statute of limitations had long since expired on the torture itself. As a result, in October of 2008, the Feds indicted Burge for lying, under oath, about the torture that he had masterminded, and for obstruction of justice.

In front of a fair and impartial federal judge, Burge and his lawyers, who were paid handsomely by the Fraternal Order of Police, were forced to take their chances with a predominantly white federal jury. Five Black torture survivors powerfully told their stories, and were subjected to a transparently racist grilling by Burge’s lawyers. A Burge associate, testifying under a grant of immunity, demonstrated the power of the police code of silence by backing off from his prior grand jury testimony, in which he had admitted to witnessing Burge torturing one of his victims. Burge, sometimes tearful, denied everything from the stand.

Nonetheless, swayed by the enormity of the underlying torture, the jury convicted Burge of perjury and obstruction of justice in June of 2010. The following January, the judge, while condemning the police department, the state’s attorneys’ office, and the Cook County judiciary, sentenced Burge to four and a half years in the federal penitentiary. None of Burge’s confederates were ever prosecuted for their crimes.

Meanwhile, the struggle against torture continued. An intergenerational and interracial movement formed, and, largely as a result of its activism, the City of Chicago granted a historic package of reparations to the survivors.

Parallels to the McDonald Case

When we view the McDonald case through the lens of Chicago history, we can identify many parallels. We see outrageous and overtly racist police violence; a cover-up that is exposed despite the best efforts of the police involved; and the complicity of police superintendents, mayors, prosecutors and other high-ranking officials in the cover-up. We see the police code of silence reaching into the Burge and Van Dyke trials, with police partners and associates defying the prosecutors who granted them immunity in an attempt to aid their fellow officers. We see racism as the elephant in those court rooms, unspoken by the prosecutors, but fanned at every opportunity by the defense, which depicted the victims at every opportunity as subhuman monsters. We see a powerful and racist police union that has defended the indefensible for the past 50 years, exalting Burge and Van Dyke, paying for their defenses, and intimidating police witnesses in the courtroom when they are summoned to testify against their fellow officers.

But we also see that even a predominantly white jury can summon the courage to do the right thing, at least when the police crime is so enormous and the proof so clear as it is in the Burge and Van Dyke cases. Most importantly, we also see the power of public outrage, community activism and Black-led multiracial movements that march, demonstrate, disrupt and demand a seat at the table. These forces must continue to march forward, so long as the fundamentally racist criminal injustice system represses and incarcerates communities of color.

This story first appeared at Truthout.

Categories: Newswire

Major Voter Suppression Efforts Surface in Georgia

Feminist Daily News - October 17, 2018 - 4:00pm
As early voting kicks off, allegations of voter suppression are rising out of Georgia as voters choose between former-state house Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp in the tight race for governor. As Secretary of State, Kemp is responsible for crafting and carrying out voting policies in the state. Related posts:
  1. Today is the 53rd Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act
  2. Voters Are Choosing Progressive Women of Color
  3. Again, Judges Rule North Carolina’s Congressional District Map Unconstitutional
Categories: Newswire

The Complex and Frustrating Reality of Recycling Plastic

truthout - October 17, 2018 - 3:58pm

Global consumers now use a million plastic bottles every minute, 91 percent of which are not recycled. Our growing consumption of single-use plastic is evident in the form of ever-expanding landfills, as well as pollution on our sidewalks, along roadways and in natural ecosystems. Plastic that is littered or blown out of waste bins makes its way into storm drains, streams and rivers. Ultimately, up to 8 million metric tons of it enter the world’s oceans every year.

Scientists aren’t sure how long it takes for plastic to fully biodegrade—estimates range from 450 years to never, National Geographic reported in its June issue, which is devoted to the mounting plastic pollution problem. But we know enough to know that the staggering 9.2 billion metric tons of plastic produced since the 1950s isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. At this rate, our oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050.

Many now consider ocean plastic pollution an existential threat on par with climate change, but it seems like it should be an easy one to fix. Plastic is recyclable, after all, so why can’t we just recycle it? It turns out it’s not as simple as it sounds.

Around two-thirds of the plastic that enters the ocean from rivers is carried by only 20 waterways—the majority of which are on the Asian continent, where access to waste collection and recycling is often limited. Even in countries with established waste management infrastructure, the picture remains bleak: Less than 10 percent of the plastic used in the United States is recycled, according to the most recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data. Figures improve for select plastic materials—for example, around 30 percent of polyethylene terephthalate, commonly used to package household staples like bottled beverages, condiments and personal care products, is recycled—but even these rates remain woefully out of balance with our increasing reliance on single-use plastic.

To make matters worse, fluctuating demand for recycled material and consumer confusion about what is recyclable make it harder for US collection programs to remain economical. If nothing changes, municipal recycling programs across the country may be forced to scale back or even shut down—hastening our collision course with a new paradigm defined by toxic seas.

This grim reality begs the question: How can developing markets—which now produce roughly half of the world’s plastic—hope to establish effective recycling infrastructures if countries like the US are still unable to get it right? What’s holding us back from recycling more plastic, and what can we do to save our oceans before it’s too late?

The Cost of Confusion

For decades, PR campaigns and public service announcements touted the ease of recycling. “Just move your hand over a few inches,” spokesman after spokesman said, “and throw that plastic, metal or paper into the recycling bin instead of the trash.”

Our oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050.

The reality of recycling is far more complicated—even in nations like the US, where curbside programs have steadily proliferated since 1980. Neighboring communities can have vastly different recycling programs, and educational campaigns that hinge on industry jargon often do little to ease confusion for residents.

“Most people have the attitude that if they just put it in the blue bin, it will get taken away and somebody will figure out what to do with it, but putting something in the blue bin and actually recycling it are two very different things,” said David Biderman, CEO and executive director of the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA).

Motivated by good intentions, people throw everything from plastic shopping bags to garden hoses into their curbside carts. According to Biderman, on average, 10 to 15 percent of the material sent to US recycling centers is not recyclable, and it eventually makes its way to local landfills. “You may divert material on the front end, but it’s still going to a landfill in the back end,” Biderman said. “Meanwhile, someone is getting paid to do that processing.”

The results of widespread confusion can be prohibitively expensive for municipalities—and wasted work time is only the tip of the iceberg. Materials like those aforementioned bags and hoses can become tangled in sorting machinery, causing plants to shut down the processing line while workers remove obstructions by hand. If miscellaneous materials are not sorted out, or if containers are contaminated by food waste residue, the quality of the bulk scrap drops—and so does the price it will fetch on the open market.

Less than 10 percent of the plastic used in the United States is recycled.

The landscape is complicated even further by the wide variety of plastics now used to package foods, beverages and other household goods. Packaging manufacturers increasingly favor more lightweight plastics, which carry their own benefits. Namely, opting for lighter-weight packaging means a manufacturer uses less plastic and can ship more product in a smaller amount of space, cutting down on transportation-related emissions. But lightweight plastics are often not recyclable, even though they appear to be, and more of them are entering the recycling stream.

“The goal of a recycling program is to generate saleable material. Paper, plastic and metal can only be sold into the marketplace if it satisfies certain standards, and one of those standards is that it not contain other material,” Biderman said. “When the stream becomes contaminated, the material may not be able to be sold, or it will be sold at a lower price—which makes recycling programs less effective and efficient if they’re not breaking even or making money.”

“On the Brink of Disaster”

On a partly cloudy afternoon in May, recycling haulers and processors from across California converged on the Capitol building to warn lawmakers about a “recycling crisis.” US recyclers process around 66 million tons of material every year, a third of which is exported. Until recently, China was the largest purchaser of bulk plastic, paper and other recyclable materials leaving the United States, but new regulations have recycling programs “on the brink of disaster,” the haulers said.

At the start of this year, in an attempt to reduce local environmental problems associated with handling over 45 million tons of foreign waste annually, China imposed what some call an impossible purity standard on imported recyclables. Mixed paper and plastics found to have more than 0.50 percent foreign material by weight are rejected, and barges are forced to return to the United States or ship their load to other ports, mostly elsewhere in Asia, where they are sold at a lower price.

Relatively low oil prices make it cheaper to produce plastic from virgin material, further decreasing demand for recycled feedstocks.

“We have a major challenge right now, because the largest export market for American recyclables has basically been shut off,” Biderman said. “India, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia have ramped up some of their imports of American recyclables, but it’s still less than half of what China was taking.”

This shift comes as relatively low oil prices make it cheaper to produce plastic from virgin material, further decreasing demand for recycled feedstocks. “Plastic prices are down across the board,” Biderman told us. “Material is moving in most instances, but it’s moving at very low prices.”

California haulers are pushing for dramatic policy changes to help them adapt and told lawmakers they must do more to educate consumers about what is recyclable, but they aren’t the only ones feeling the pinch. At the start of May, Portland, Oregon, was forced to raise its waste-hauling rates for the first time in five years as it struggles to find new buyers for bulk plastic and other materials.

Portland haulers transport recyclables to regional depots, where they are sorted, baled and prepared for export. In years past, the modest fees they received helped to offset hauling costs for residents, but falling prices are leaving haulers in the red. “It hinges on the broader lack of recycling markets,” Bruce Walker, Portland’s solid waste and recycling program manager, said of the rate increase.

“The contamination issue is not solely responsible—there’s a vast oversupply [of recyclables] in the US right now, so if you’re looking at supply and demand, that contributes to lower prices—but contamination certainly plays a role,” Walker said. “Residents can help the program by keeping non-recyclable materials out, but it’s difficult to get that message across with so many very similar types of plastics that enter the household.”

The Role of Corporations

In the United States, the cost of recycling plastic and other household waste falls on cities—and their taxpayers. But as municipal programs seek new buyers for bulk scrap, many wonder whether the companies that produce single-use packaging should bear more responsibility for recycling it. “For too long, packaging companies have been externalizing the costs of their packaging on local governments,” said Biderman. “They’re changing how they package material and expecting local governments to pick up the tab for it.”

“For too long, packaging companies have been externalizing the costs of their packaging on local governments.”

Walker agreed, underscoring the power of US companies to take the financial heat off municipal recycling programs. “If American manufacturers and brand owners were willing to package products using recycled materials, we would be in a much better situation. Unfortunately, those commitments aren’t readily apparent.”

That’s beginning to change, albeit slowly. Launched in 2003, The Recycling Partnership uses funding from companies like PepsiCo and Starbucks to improve municipal recycling infrastructure. It tests contamination reduction and other best practices in the field with partner cities, such as Atlanta, Chicago and Denver, and makes them available to communities across the country. Last year, it joined the Association of Plastic Recyclers to get companies more actively involved. Their campaign, dubbed Recycling Demand Champions, asks companies to recognize that their demand for recycled plastic is vital to the health of US recycling programs and calls on them to purchase more of the material.

Top brands like Target, Procter & Gamble, Campbell Soup Co. and Coca-Cola signed on to the initiative and pledged to use more recycled plastic, primarily to replace virgin material in industrial items like trash cans, pallets and tote boxes. This type of application is typical for plastic; unlike other materials such as aluminum and glass, plastic is downcycled far more often than it’s used for new bottles or other containers. So, while initiatives like this one can help recyclers make ends meet and ensure less plastic goes to landfill, they do little to stem the demand for virgin plastic in packaging.

Some companies are going even further. French bottled water giant Evian, for example, plans to use 100 percent recycled plastic bottles by 2025—one of the most aggressive corporate goals on record. Meanwhile, others are looking beyond plastic for products and packaging. UK supermarket chain Iceland will become the world’s first supermarket to eliminate single-use plastic in its branded products within five years. Home-delivery startup ThreeMain says its cleaning products—packaged in aluminum bottles—will eliminate more than 80 percent of the plastic associated with home cleaning. Even toy company Lego may start making its iconic building blocks from sugarcane instead of plastic.

This is all positive, but businesses can do more—and their stakeholders are letting them know it. In response to mounting protest from NGOs, Coca-Cola pledged to “collect and recycle 100 percent of its packaging” by 2030, though Greenpeace says the company is still “dodging the main issue” of its increasing plastic use and pledged to keep the pressure on. Earlier this year, a group of 25 institutional investors with a combined $1 trillion in assets called plastic pollution a clear corporate brand risk and said they will engage consumer goods companies to fight the problem—beginning with PepsiCo, Nestle, Procter & Gamble and Unilever. Shareholder pressure also swayed McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts to move away from polystyrene cups. In announcing victory in the foam cup fight, the shareholder advocacy nonprofit As You Sow declared, “Shareholders [are] stopping the flow of plastics at the source: giant global corporations.”

What You Can Do

Cities across the country are taking action to clean up their recycling streams and preserve the viability of their programs. California instituted a statewide ban on plastic carryout bags in 2016, and cities from Chicago and Boston to Austin, Texas, have their own bag bans on the books. A handful of cities, including Portland, Minneapolis and Washington, DC, ban foam takeout containers. New York City may soon be the latest to ban plastic drinking straws, joining the likes of Seattle, Miami Beach and Malibu, California.

As with any other issue, citizens who are concerned about plastic waste and recycling can contact their representatives and voice support for similar legislation, although bans alone can’t solve the problem. “How many items are we going to have to ban?” Walker asked rhetorically. “That’s not a comprehensive approach either … though in my opinion there needs to be some consideration in other cities with respect to these items that pose problems to the recycling system.”

A massive problem like plastic pollution requires a multi-pronged approach that includes source reduction, reuse and recycling.

Even if you feel you know what is recyclable in your community, take the time to visit your local recycling program’s website and review the list of accepted materials. Make sure all recyclable materials are clean and dry before placing them in the bin to avoid contributing to contamination. For materials that are not accepted curbside, use third-party searches like Earth911 or RecycleNation to find drop-off or mail-back recycling options near you.

If your community has yet to establish a curbside program—or if you live, work or attend school at complexes that do not provide recycling—step up to make your voice heard. Connect with the waste management companies that service your area and contact your political representatives, as well as your local solid waste services director and staff, advised Jon Johnston, a retired EPA program leader who now sits on the board of the environmental nonprofit Keep America Beautiful.

Beyond a push for legislation, the plastic problem calls for individuals to take personal ownership of how they contribute. “Single-use plastics are a convenience, but at a resource cost,” said Lucas Mariacher, zero waste coordinator for the city of Phoenix. “The goal should always be to minimize waste disposal by reducing resource consumption [and] reusing resources. Recycling should really be the last resort.”

The Bottom Line

Is recycling enough to stem the tide of plastic entering our oceans? Not by a long shot, but a massive problem like plastic pollution requires a multi-pronged approach that includes source reduction, reuse and recycling—and we need everyone from governments and companies to individuals in the game.

“I would caution you against expecting or wishing that there be a recycling market for everything,” said Robert Reed, spokesperson for San Francisco’s recycling and compost collection company, Recology. “The consistent advice from environmentalists is ‘refuse’ single-use plastics. Refuse plastic straws. Carry a metal water bottle and refuse plastic water bottles … Refuse is the new R word.”

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The post The Complex and Frustrating Reality of Recycling Plastic appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: Newswire

Flint Legionnaires’ Disease Survivors Speak Out: “Every Day Is a Challenge”

truthout - October 17, 2018 - 3:22pm

Jassmine McBride’s mother calls her “a miracle.”

The 30-year-old woman is among the 90 or so residents of Flint, Michigan, who survived Legionnaires’ disease, a potentially deadly lung infection. And while the news focused mainly on the ones who died, families like the McBrides now feel lost and forgotten.

Forgotten is how many residents said they feel four-and-a-half years after Flint’s lead-tainted water crisis began, and six months after Republican Gov. Rick Snyder declared the water safe and stopped distributing free bottled water to people who have no trust in their government.

“It hurts. It really does hurt that you have people with that much power not even seem like they care,” Jassmine said last week about politicians who claim all is fine in Flint. “You can still smell the water. It’s still affecting people. We still bathe or brush our teeth with bottled water. It’s just hard, it really is, to have none of those people come around and say they are sorry.”

She sat in a chair on the porch, a blanket tucked around her. She’s tired all the time. She has lesions on her face and neck, tubes coming out of her, and she can barely walk without crutches. She wonders if she will ever lead a normal life.

How Did It Happen?

Jassmine was 26 when she was diagnosed in August 2014 with Legionnaires’ disease, a potentially fatal type of pneumonia. This was at the height of the water crisis in the “Vehicle City,” once the prosperous birthplace of General Motors, but which has struggled with poverty and pollution since GM left. The Snyder administration hushed up the public health crisis for months while lead-tainted water slowly poisoned the city’s 100,000 residents, who are largely poor or Black.

The city was under state control in April 2014 when Snyder’s administration switched the water source from Lake Huron to the highly corrosive Flint River, while failing to add anti-corrosive agents to treat the water in order to save about $2 million a year. Poor corrosion control allowed lead to leach from older pipes, and a lack of chlorine disinfectant and high levels of iron increased the likelihood of legionella bacteria growth, Michigan Radio reported.

In 2014 and 2015, Genesee County saw the largest outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in at least a decade. After reports of high lead levels and public outcry, Snyder switched Flint’s water source back to Detroit’s in October 2015.

Jassmine has diabetes and went for a checkup at the McLaren Flint Hospital, where they found her iron and oxygen levels low. They admitted her in August 2014, but her health rapidly deteriorated.

“I was in Lansing when they called me from the hospital and said, ‘We don’t have time, do we have permission to resuscitate her?’” her mother Jacqueline McBride, 49, told reporters last week in Flint.

Jassmine almost died. She said she doesn’t recall much from that time, “being on life support and all,” but said she was shocked when she regained consciousness in October and found she had been hospitalized for more than two months. “I never even heard of Legionnaires.’ ‘What’s that?’ I said.”

Legionella and Denials

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia caused by a waterborne bacteria called Legionella pneumophila. The bacteria exists naturally in freshwater systems but becomes a problem when it is can grow and multiply. Warm water with depleted levels of disinfectant foster that growth, and people get sick by inhaling mist or vapor from contaminated water systems. That’s how the McBrides thinks Jassmine contracted it.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has repeatedly blamed McLaren, saying that most of the reported legionella cases originated in the hospital. Officials from the hospital group slammed that report, calling it erroneous and an effort by the state to shift blame for the water crisis, Michigan Radio reported.

The disease is on the rise in the United States, and the Flint outbreak is the third largest outbreak in US history, with at least 87 people infected and 12 dead over two years, Science magazine reported.

A February report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that 80 percent of Legionnaires’ cases during the outbreak can be attributed to the change in Flint’s water supply — a claim that the state health department has disputed.

It’s still unclear how many people actually contracted Legionnaires’ disease at the time, since the symptoms mirror pneumonia. Reports indicate a dramatic increase in pneumonia deaths in Genesee County since the 2014 switch. A recent Frontline investigation suggests that some of the 119 deaths from pneumonia during the time the city relied on Flint River water should likely be attributed to Legionnaires’ disease.

Michael Moore’s documentary on the water crisis claims county officials were told to falsify blood lead test results, and records indicates the county failed to connect 85 percent of lead-poisoned children with follow-up care, according to MLive.

“A Scary Transition”

Once a happy, active woman who loved shrimp and potatoes, sang in church, and enjoyed dancing, Jassmine became bedridden. She spent two months sedated in the intensive care unit as doctors tried to control the infection. She started physical therapy in October 2014 and was in-and-out of the hospital until December, learning how to do basic things like eat and walk with tubes coming out of her.

“You don’t really think about those things until you lose them. It was a real challenge to learn to breathe on your own and do dialysis, which wipes you out,” Jassmine said. “Even with the breathing machine, I felt I couldn’t breathe. I was afraid to lie down. It was a scary transition.”

She used to drink gallons of water a day before she fell ill. Because of water retention and bloating issues, she was forced to cut down to two bottles a day. Dialysis gets rid of excess fluid and waste in the body, but it is nowhere near as effective as healthy kidneys. In the later stages of chronic kidney disease, normal amounts of fluid can build up in the body and become dangerous. Going over the recommended fluid allowance can cause swelling, increase blood pressure, and make breathing difficult.

Jassmine broke her ankle and said it never healed right; it still hurts to walk. “Every day is a challenge,” she said.

Four years later, every day is still a challenge for the mother and daughter who live in a small yellow house in Flint’s blighted north side, which is dotted with overgrown yards and abandoned homes. Like countless others in Flint, they struggle to pay their high water bills and escalating medical bills.

Jassmine uses crutches but struggles to walk more than a few yards, and uses an oxygen tank because her lungs were permanently damaged. She requires dialysis three times a week, a process that she described as long and exhausting. She cannot attend college but is trying to take online classes.

Her mother said she never gave up hope, not even when doctors warned that Jassmine might not make it. She know her daughter was lucky to come home — after all, she said, 12 of the Flint residents who contracted Legionnaires’ did not.

Where Is Justice?

More than a dozen state and city officials face criminal charges for failing to alert the public about the risks of legionella until well after the outbreak had subsided.

Among them is Nick Lyon, the former Michigan health director, who is being tried for involuntary manslaughter in connection with the Legionnaires’ deaths and denies criminal wrongdoing.

To add insult to injury, the state’s top medical officer, Dr. Eden Wells, was just awarded the highest individual honor given by the local public health community in Michigan despite facing involuntary manslaughter and other charges related to the Flint water crisis.

The state continues to fail Flint residents, many of whom say they have no trust in government. Snyder not only stopped the free bottled water distribution in April but allowed Swiss conglomerate Nestlé to nearly double the amount of water it pumps from a spring in the north of the state to 400 gallons per minute for a paltry annual fee of $200. Nestlé is continuing to provide free bottles of water to Flint residents until December.

Meanwhile, the Genesee County Health Department now has the authority to investigate and address the legionella cases in Flint. Pamela Pugh, who has been serving in the new position of chief public health advisor for the past two years, told Rewire.News that it has been a challenge; she has been barred from attending some state meetings.

“Mayor [Karen] Weaver and the administration recognizes that our residents still live with the devastation of what has happened and fear of the unknown impacts. There is no safe level of lead to consume and very little information on the impact of the biological pathogens they were exposed to, so those that were exposed, are left wondering what this means for themselves and their children,” she said in an email.

The mayor agrees there is work to be done, although the quality of water has improved since she declared a public health emergency in December 2015. The city continues to replace affected lead pipes, and Weaver continues to call for bottled water availability and properly installed filters in Flint homes.

“Mayor Weaver maintains that Flint residents did not cause the man-made water disaster, therefore adequate resources should continue being provided until the problem is fixed and all the lead and galvanized pipes have been replaced and interior plumbing and fixtures are replaced,” Pugh said.

The city is continuing to work to address Flint’s decades-old water concerns and improve communications with residents, she added.

The US Conference of Mayors meets in Flint on Friday to discuss ways to combat the water crisis, according to news reports. Tech billionaire Elon Musk has announced a $480,350 donation to pay for ultraviolet filtration systems in all 12 Flint school buildings and the district’s administration building by January 2019.

Meanwhile, the McBrides remain strong in their faith and are determined to beat the odds. They don’t wish anyone ill, but they are amazed that no one from Flint or the state has ever reached out to help them. (When asked why the McBride family has not heard from the city, Pugh said it’s “highly likely” that the city has not been given access to the McBrides’ information. Snyder’s office did not respond for comment.) What’s hardest for Jassmine are the continued denials of wrongdoing on TV, even as 15 city and state officials face trials.

Snyder’s term is up this year, and Flint residents said they don’t have much faith in the two longtime state government officials vying for his seat: Democrat Gretchen Whitmer of Lansing and the Republican state Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Both have talked about the importance of providing safe water to Flint, but residents there are fed up with promises and lies. Flint residents also worry about new water problems they have heard about, including PFAS contamination in the Flint River, which was discovered before 2014 but covered up by the state, as MLive reported.

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of manmade chemicals that don’t break down and can lead to adverse human health effects, according to the EPA.

But the Flint water crisis continues to be a talking point for politicians vying for power. Whitmer says she has a plan to invest $3 billion in a Rebuild Michigan Bank to expedite the replacement of lead pipes across the state, and she wants to restore bottled water for Flint residents. Schuette did not respond to emails seeking comment. Some residents claim he was among the officials who ignored the water crisis and has a history of ignoring complaints from the people of Flint.

Asked whether they plan to vote in November, the McBrides responded with an emphatic “Yes.”

The post Flint Legionnaires’ Disease Survivors Speak Out: “Every Day Is a Challenge” appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: Newswire

Why I’m Sick and Tired of Hearing About Russiagate

In These Times - October 17, 2018 - 11:00am

I'm a recovering Russiagate addict. Not so long ago, I awaited the latest Russiagate tweet from Seth Abramson as eagerly as a new installment of Serial. These days, I roll my eyes and scroll on.

I’m not a skeptic. I don’t doubt that Russia hacked the Clinton campaign, trolled social media or attempted to access election machines. This is entirely consistent with what we know of Russia, which, according to a 2017 Newsweek investigation, hacked both the McCain and Obama campaigns in 2008 and has continued phishing attacks on U.S. officials and politicians ever since, accessing the Joint Chiefs of Staff email system in 2015. Nor is Russia a newcomer to online manipulation. A former employee of Russia’s “troll factory”—the Internet Research Center in St. Petersburg—told NPR of creating fake social media accounts in 2014 to sow discord in the United States.

Nor would I be surprised if Donald Trump made backroom deals with Russia. Trump has never met an oligarch he didn’t want to do business with, including one described by a U.S. diplomat as “notoriously corrupt, even for Azerbaijan.”

What I question is the proportion of Russiagate coverage and amount of hope that liberals vest in it. In July and August, the New York Times ran 16 front-page stories about Russia and Rachel Maddow discussed it in 30 episodes of her MSNBC show. The Times also ran a breathless 12-page special report in September that calls Russia’s 2016 cyber-meddling “unprecedented”—ignoring the many precedents. Much of this reporting focused on the minutiae of the Mueller investigation.

Ultimately, the front page of the Times is limited real estate, and devoting it to Russiagate sidelines other Trump administration scandals unfolding in real time. During July and August, the National Labor Relations Board laid plans to restrict union organizing, the Department of Defense successfully lobbied for a $716 billion budget, and the Office of Management and Budget moved to penalize immigrants who use welfare. None of these stories made the front page.

What also galls is that the media focus on Russian influence contains a whiff of self-absolution. Recall that, as of March 2016, the Trump campaign had received $1.9 billion in free press, according to media firm SMG Delta; the next-highest was Hillary Clinton at $746 million. Les Moonves, then-chief of CBS, joked that Trump’s candidacy “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” The campaign invested little in ground operations or advertising. Would it have taken off without the media’s help?

Of course, the media cannot be separated from its eager consumers. Many of us wish to wake up from the nightmare of November 2016. The Mueller investigation, with its Watergate parallels, seems to offer that hope.

But here lies another, subtler danger of Russiagate. The fantasy of Mueller as savior relies on an inherent faith in the system. The wheels of justice are turning; we need only sit back and wait, and the aberration will be corrected.

But what if 2016 was no aberration? What if something is rotten in U.S. democracy? One clear sign is the dismal voter participation: 56 percent in the presidential race, 10 to 30 points lower than recent turnouts in much of Europe. To isolate Russia’s influence is to ignore long-gathering storms: the Republican suppression of the vote; the Democratic establishment’s failure to field a candidate who could credibly speak to growing rage over inequality and endless war; the misogyny and xenophobia that Trump was able to exploit; and the widespread disillusionment with our political system that made voting for Trump—or staying home—an attractive “fuck you” move.

In an election decided by 77,744 votes in three states, almost anything can be said to have tipped it. Our democracy should be healthy enough to stand up to Russia’s predictable, often ham-handed meddling. (How much sway should a “Hillary is Satan” Facebook post really have over public discourse?) To properly inoculate ourselves may mean something indeed unprecedented: insistent organizing for transformational change, whether that’s the public financing of elections, the restructuring of our political system for real participatory democracy or the fundamental redistribution of wealth and power. One crucial piece of any of this is a responsible and responsive media.

Categories: Newswire

Trump Considering New Family Detention and Separation Policy

Feminist Daily News - October 16, 2018 - 9:02pm
On Friday, the Washington Post reported that rather than reviving the forced separation policy that separated over 2,500 children from their parents in May and June, the Trump administration is considering a new family separation plan called the Binary Choice. Related posts:
  1. 6 Year Old Sexually Abused in Immigration Detention Told to Stay Away from Assailant
  2. Unaccompanied Migrant Children Transported at Night to Tent City
  3. Voters Are Choosing Progressive Women of Color
Categories: Newswire

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia Have Been Getting Away With Murder for Years

In These Times - October 16, 2018 - 7:46pm

March 2015 marked a decisive phase in what is now a more than three-year war in Yemen. Saudi Arabia, in coordination with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, initiated a military operation against Yemen’s capital of Sana’a in an effort to dislodge any fragment of Houthi presence while also fomenting a tide of psychological warfare that would signal the ruthless course of action to come. Yemen’s infrastructure was so thoroughly upended by coalition attacks that within a year and a half of the initial salvo, the local population was struck by the worst cholera outbreak ever recorded in modern history. Today, with an aerial and naval blockade choking off aid supplies, the number of Yemenis who are entirely dependent on humanitarian assistance is over 22 million. The catastrophic impact on mental health in Yemen has resulted in psychological trauma, including a surge in suicide rates. Despite worldwide condemnation, U.S.-backed coalition airstrikes have continued—targeting hospitals, medical facilities, religious sites, and even gatherings of mourners.

While the media landscape is saturated with concern for the whereabouts and likely demise of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whose reported disappearance has thrown the Kingdom’s advocacy campaign into overdrive, concern for Saudi Arabia's military offensive in Yemen has taken a backseat. Still, the bloodshed in Yemen has not abated for a moment, with American weapons lighting the way.

In August, after striking a school bus in Yemen’s Saada province—resulting in the deaths of 44 Yemeni children—the Saudi-led coalition apologized and admitted—to some extent—that “there were mistakes made in abiding by the rules of engagement.” This admission, while rare, was made in an effort to thwart international pressure against Saudi Arabia's military operations—a feeble exercise of propaganda that is inconsequential as its war machine rages on.

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is a deliberate and orchestrated blaze fueled by petrodollars and the U.S. military. Without the profitable relationship that Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies have had with the United States, with exchanges of military packages crossing all partisan lines, what is unfolding in Yemen would not have been possible. The laser-guided bomb used in the school bus attack that drew, arguably, some of the most striking opprobrium against Saudi Arabia, was made by none other than U.S. weapons-manufacturer Lockheed Martin. In 2016, after the intentional bombing of a community hall in Sana’a filled with mourners, fragments of a 500-pound bomb produced by Raytheon were found amongst the debri. At the time, Human Rights Watch reported that “at least two air-dropped munitions penetrated the roof of the hall and detonated a few minutes apart.” At least 140 were killed, and 525 were injured.

While the response of the United States to the actions of Saudi Arabia, under this administration and those before it, has been confined to a mixture of either bureaucratic silence or mournful, yet deceptive neutrality, the government's material interests have been clear from the beginning: The road to war in Yemen is paved with U.S. munitions and direct military assistance. In the war on Yemen, coalition yets are refueled in the air by American planes and weapons provided by U.S. arms sales. A month after coalition strikes pounded a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital and destroyed a potato factory in 2016, then-President Obama stood before the United Nations General Assembly and stated that “[a]cross the region’s conflicts, we have to insist that all parties recognize a common humanity and that nations end proxy wars that fuel disorder.” This wasn't merely a display of imperial sanctimony but another show of American callousness; impenetrable, and unwavering.

The investigative authority of the Saudi-led military coalition—after tasking itself with probing the school bus attack in August—made an unambitious request in September that “coalition forces should initiate legal action” against those responsible. Pockmarks from air raids and cluster bombs—the latter of which are prohibited by the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which the United States and Saudi Arabia never signed—litter Yemen and further intensify conditions of human-made devastation. Saudi Arabia's “Decisive Storm” in Yemen is being fought by air, sea and land, with critical support from the United States, beyond simple logistics and weaponry. In May it was revealed that American Special Forces, which now operate in 70 percent of the world's countries, are assisting Saudi Arabia in a secret mission designed to help bring an end to the coalition's stalemate. In September, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo certified to Congress that “the governments of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are undertaking demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and civilian infrastructure resulting from military operations of these governments.” Nearly one month later a coalition airstrike killed four civilians at a bee farm in al-Hudayda, Yemen’s fourth largest city.

Saudi Arabia and the United States are putting on a duplicitous show of regret and moderate assurance in order to undermine even the most short-lived occasions of public disapproval. Taking to The Washington Post, Chris Murphy, junior Democratic Senator for Connecticut and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, coupled his denunciation of Saudi Arabia's actions in Yemen with the argument that has been used time and time again to undermine criticism of the country's actions: that the Kingdom is “an important counterterrorism partner,” one whose relationship the United States should not abandon. And yet, there is no dog and pony show that can distract from the whole of these crimes, each one climbing in ferocity. The apologies and investigations buy time between military operations and a tightening blockade that threatens to further isolate Yemen and destroy whatever infrastructure remains. So long as the war continues, without material consequences for both Saudi Arabia and its allies, the propaganda efforts will follow.

Categories: Newswire

Trump’s Space Force Is No Joke

In These Times - October 16, 2018 - 11:00am

In the rush to heap scorn upon the Trump administration, the president’s critics sometimes miss the forest for the trees. Such was the case in June when Donald Trump announced the creation of the socalled Space Force, a sixth branch of the U.S. military.

Critics mocked the idea as “ridiculous,” “stupid” and part of an “imaginary space war.” “There’s no threat in space! Who are we fighting?” asked Stephen Colbert. Vox wondered if the Space Force would carry lightsabers.

It was easy to miss that the idea is not uniquely Trumpian—and poses a real threat. For all intents and purposes, a space force already exists in the form of the Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), a 36,000-person division of the Air Force that’s been operating since 1982.

Where Trump’s proposal differs is that it forms an entirely new military branch devoted to space, something James Clay Moltz, associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School and author of The Politics of Space, says is “largely unprecedented.”

According to Vice President Mike Pence, the Space Force would include a new centralized command structure for space operations that would take over satellite-based military tasks such as surveillance and navigation for ground troops, as well as monitoring and tracking missile launches, all currently performed by the AFSPC. It’ll also take charge of any offensive capabilities developed for space, such as anti-satellite weapons (ASATs), introduce an “elite group of joint war-fighters” to support the rest of the armed forces, and oversee a new agency dedicated to developing “cutting-edge warfighting capabilities” for space.

The proposal is viewed by the space-savvy in the military as “either unwise, unnecessary or premature,” Moltz says—and almost certainly expensive. It’s on the basis of its potential wastefulness and redundancy that critics such as Defense Secretary James Mattis, ex-astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly, Air Force secretary Heather Wilson and other members of the military have assailed the idea.

But there’s a much bigger debate to be had. International conflict in space is no longer a plotline ripped from a sci-fi paperback. A space war is becoming more and more likely. 


U.S. military dominance in space is really about maintaining military dominance back on Earth. Space infrastructure, particularly satellites, is key to the U.S. military’s global reach, servicing everything from navigation to weapons targeting to communications. A 2018 report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) trumpets: “Space capabilities enable the American way of warfare.”

The global space arms race began with the Cold War, when both the United States and the USSR began testing ground-based anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons. Reagan’s Air Force became the first to test one on a spacecraft, destroying an old observation satellite in 1985. (Reagan also, infamously, attempted to put in place the so-called “Star Wars” program, which would have used spacebased lasers to shoot down incoming Soviet nuclear warheads.)

The 1990 Gulf War—known now as the first “space war”—made U.S. empire and satellites inseparable. With 24-hour satellite support, U.S. forces could not only communicate across broad channels, but map out terrain, observe and predict enemy actions, and use new guided, “smart” weapons that were, in theory, less indiscriminate. Satellites make today’s drone warfare possible.

While the United States and Russia have adhered to what Laura Grego, senior scientist in the Global Security Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists, calls an “unofficial moratorium” on stationing dedicated weapons in space (as opposed to ground-based systems that target spacecraft), the United States—and, increasingly, its rivals—continue to invest in other forms of space militarization.

The United States leads the way in satellite capacity and space military technology, and has opposed past demilitarization efforts. In 2006, the George W. Bush administration blocked a UN resolution on arms control in space, issuing a National Space Policy that pledged to resist “new legal regimes or other restrictions,” including arms control agreements, on U.S. use of space. In response to this and other steps by the United States, other countries have moved to shore up their own space capabilities.

China tested an ASAT in 2007, and both it and Russia have increasingly invested in counter-space capabilities, such as ASAT technology and jamming GPS receivers. China and Russia’s advances left Washington spooked. In 2014, the Pentagon invested an extra $2 billion into classified offensive space programs. In 2015, the “emerging threats” of Russia and China were used to justify a $3 billion add-on for national security space capabilities, as officials openly talked about fighting a war in space.

We’re still a long way, however, from ray guns and X-wing dogfights. While in-orbit ASAT weapons exist, for the time being any space conflict would be fought from the Earth. For example, all three countries have capacity to disrupt enemy satellites by jamming them with their own, or to hack into a satellite’s ground operation.

But increased reliance on satellites for warfare— not to mention everyday life—opens up “a critical vulnerability,” warns the CSIS. Space infrastructure is fragile, vulnerable to hacking and able to be brought down by other spacecraft intentionally ramming into it, by ground-based ASAT missiles or even by loose pieces of debris.

Because space is unfamiliar terrain, nations don’t know how to interpret others’ behavior. According to Cassandra Steer, an independent consultant on space security and former executive director of the McGill University Centre for Research on Air and Space Law, when the United States and its allies have run war games centered on space, they can quickly escalate to nuclear war. 

“If one major power thinks the other is about to take out its satellites, it could take reciprocal action, or even launch a conventional or nuclear attack,” says William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.

And as space becomes increasingly cluttered with spacecraft, the chance of accidental calamity increases. Pentagon officials warn that space is becoming increasingly crowded. The U.S. alone operates 859 government and commercial satellites, nearly one in five of which are military.

For the first time, two satellites collided in February 2009, producing a “debris cloud” that added to the approximately 500,000 pieces of debris currently in orbit, threatening to tear through spacecraft and add yet more debris to this total. The destruction of spacecraft by ASAT tests, too, adds to the debris.

The more debris in orbit, the greater the threat to the nonmilitary use of space that makes modern life possible. Traffic lights, banking systems, telephones, the internet, plane travel—all rely on satellites whose destruction could suddenly leave us in the dark.

“If we have no information and we’re in a blackout, people hit the panic button,” Steer says. “And that may mean an actual weapons button.”


Given these dangers, many diplomats and activists are pushing to declare space a weapon-free global commons. But there’s been little movement on any legally binding agreement. Although “weapons of mass destruction” have been banned in space since the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, international regulation is sparse.

In 2008, Russia and China put forward a draft treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space (PPWT), which lacked a specific verification regime and included a carve-out for the kind of ground-based ASAT weapons both countries had been testing. Still, flawed as it was, Project Ploughshares called the PPWT “undoubtedly the most substantive effort thus far” to make weapon-free space a matter of international law. The United States, however, said it couldn’t support such a “fundamentally flawed” proposal.

Many analysts say a treaty is unlikely in the near future, and look to other avenues of demilitarization. 

A more realistic solution, Steer says, is non-binding instruments like guidelines that regulate conduct in space, which can work due to political buy-in and reciprocity. These norms might include, for example, best practices on approaching another country’s spacecraft.

The United States could be amenable to such agreements. John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command and a proponent of the Space Force, has urged the creation of “international norms of behavior in space.”

“Very few military off icers are enthusiastic about weaponizing space,” James Moltz says. “That said, many in the military are skeptical that war and weapons can be kept from space forever.”


The deeply vested interests involved—interests that have the ear of U.S. politicians—also make it difficult to roll back or halt the militarization of space.

The National Space Council, a group of cabinet members who shape U.S. space policy, has a “users’ advisory group” whose members include the CEOs of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and other corporations.

The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), a trade group that counts these and other companies as members, funded the 2018 CSIS report calling for government investment in national security space assets, and has called for greater national security investment in space at the annual Space Symposium.

The Symposium, now in its 34th year, embodies the close ties between industry and government on space policy. Co-sponsored by the AIA and its defense contractor members, the Symposium provides an opportunity for industry to network with representatives of think tanks and educational institutions, foreign leaders, and military, national security and other government officials.

This year’s event in April saw speeches from Vice President Mike Pence, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, U.S. senators and Air Force officials. The current AFSPC commander, Lee Levy, declared that plans for warfighting in space were no longer simply a discussion, and that the U.S. military needed to “gain and maintain space superiority.” 

Industry influence extends to the politicians who advocate further space militarization. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), reportedly instrumental in selling Trump on the Space Force, has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the defense industry. Reps. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), both big boosters of a more aggressive space policy, represent districts populated by the defense industry and have raked in similarly large donations.

The Space Force contributes to this build-up, further entrenching militarization and feeding money to defense contractors. “President Trump’s enthusiasm for the Space Force,” Hartung says, “creates a danger that existing norms, like keeping weapons out of space, are more likely to be set aside.” He says the resulting space arms race “could spark a general war.” 

Yet before efforts to rein in weaponization can gain momentum, public awareness must be raised, a task made harder by widespread media derision of Trump’s Space Force proposal. Conflict in space is a clear and present danger. We need to take it seriously.

Categories: Newswire

To Address the Climate Crisis, We Must Completely Rethink How We Produce and Consume Food

In These Times - October 15, 2018 - 9:06pm

The clock on climate upheaval is ticking fast with little time to lose, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made frighteningly clear last week. “Limiting global warming to 1.5ºC would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” the October 8 report warned. Yet just one month earlier, the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) brushed over what may be the most critical “aspect of society,” making only marginal mention of the crisis’s top cause.

Tucked away in a pastry-laden conference room in a downtown San Francisco office building, a “high-level roundtable” of international leaders discussed something pivotal to the fate of the planet yet sidelined by the summit: food and agriculture.

Led by New Zealand’s ambassador to the United States, Tim Groser, and top representatives from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Resources Institute and others, the roundtable posed the challenge, “How can we make agricultural climate action more attractive?”

Food and agriculture represents the single-biggest producer of greenhouse gas emissions—at between 19 and 29 percent including associated deforestation, more than any other sector in the global economy. Yet, “agriculture is always the last at the party,” noted Groser, former chair of the World Trade Organization agriculture negotiations process, during the roundtable. Other GCAS panels explored issues of deforestation, land use and food production systems—but these pivotal issues were largely absent from the summit’s main stage events, and were barely mentioned in the protests and teach-ins surrounding the summit.

The roundtable, hosted by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, featured a dissonant blend of urgency and lack of clarity: There was no consensus around how to rapidly reduce food’s greenhouse gas emissions, which stem chiefly from industrial agriculture’s removal of forests and other carbon sinks, alongside ballooning meat and dairy production. Livestock production alone spews 14.5 percent of all the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

A failing food system

“The way we produce food is failing us,” said Zitouni Ould Dada, deputy director of the UN FAO’s climate and environment division, in an interview after the event. “The whole system of land use has to change. We need to produce food with the land we have.”

    The roundtable raised a host of food and climate crises and challenges:

  • In a survey of 174 countries by the World Resources Institute, just nine had targets for reducing methane emissions from their food production.

  • Despite heaps of evidence showing industrial livestock is a top climate threat, global meat and dairy production and consumption continue to soar.

  • Massive food waste is a major hunger and climate problem: according to the UN FAO, a full one-third of all food is wasted or lost, and “if food wastage were a country, it would be the third largest emitting country in the world.”

As the FAO’s Dada explained, “We are trying to get production to shift toward efficiency because we know there is so much food wastage, from the time you sow the food to the time you have it on your plate,” including long-distance transportation, storage and processing. “Instead of producing more, we can produce more efficiently.”

The roundtable clarified a key dilemma: with nations dependent on trade, exports and economic development to maintain economic growth—and that growth invariably spurring greater meat consumption—how can countries fill their economic coffers while slashing food-related emissions?

As the world’s top exporter of goat and sheep meat, and a major beef producer, New Zealand illustrates this tension between trade and emissions reduction. The far-flung island nation faces a “very acute problem when it comes to our emissions program,” Groser acknowledged.

But, with global meat consumption rising and livestock’s climate hoof-print clear, how would top beef exporters reduce their climate harm while maintaining income for those nations and their farmers? When this reporter posed the question to the roundtable, Groser dodged the core challenge of production and consumption. “Production is not the problem,” he responded. “The problem is the how, the sustainability of production.”

While debate persists between better meat and no meat, more sustainable ranching has been on the rise, including grass-fed, smaller-scale and rotational grazing systems. Scientists and activists continue to debate the emissions reductions and carbon storage potential of these alternatives, but there is little question that producing and consuming less livestock would reduce food’s climate impact.  

Unfortunately, the big picture of meat and dairy is grim. Global per capita meat consumption continues to rise (with the United States and other industrial “developed” nations leading the way)—and with it comes climate-wrecking deforestation, along with methane and nitrous oxide emissions.

When asked about using national policy such as subsidies or other incentives to propel more sustainable food production, the roundtable offered meager response. Groser said there are efforts in that direction, but he stressed the contradiction of governments trying to price carbon in the marketplace while also subsidizing carbon production.

For Groser, the dilemma exemplifies “the enormous sensitivity of agriculture” in climate reduction, particularly for nations that rely on agriculture and exports to survive. According to the EPA, agriculture comprises 9 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—though given farming’s relatively small chunk of the U..S economy, “it is a disproportionately GHG-intensive activity,” the USDA Economic Research Service has noted. New Zealand, meanwhile, generates half of its emissions from agriculture, Ireland 30 percent, France 20 percent, and Uruguay around 80 percent, according to Groser. “There’s no incentive structure for anyone to worry about agriculture other than France, Ireland and New Zealand.”

Like the summit itself, the roundtable focused far more on market-driven approaches than on how governments can regulate or fundamentally change the market systems that require relentless growth and profits. Gail Work, CEO of One Earth Ventures, touted lab research suggesting “we can increase the size of cows and the volume of milk while reducing pollution.” Manish Bapna, executive vice president of the World Resources Institute, emphasized using “market forces” to sway corporate supply chains to address deforestation—but, he added, “what we’ve seen is not nearly enough progress.” Any notion of the public sector spurring or supporting more rapid change was missing from the roundtable conversation.

As the latest IPCC report spells out, aggressively tackling the climate crisis would have “clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems,” and “could go hand in hand with ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society.” While given short shrift by the climate summit and the movement  protests surrounding it, critical efforts are afoot to shrink food’s outsized role in climate change. From institutions such as schools and hospitals reducing their meat consumption, to global farmer movements pushing agroecology farming systems that boost resiliency while reducing emissions, there are signs of hope.

The chief question is whether this progress can be radically and rapidly expanded.  For that to happen, the issue must be more heartily embraced by high-profile climate summits, world governments and the climate movement, as a central component of both the crisis and its solutions.

Categories: Newswire
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